Scripture - Matthew 21:23-32; Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32 (NRSV)
23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
Philippians 2:1-13 (NRSV)
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the NPR news quiz “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” – it’s hosted by Peter Segal with Bill Kurtis and includes a celebrity panel – usually a collection of comedians and humorists – that provide a funny commentary on the week’s news while ordinary people call in to answer questions. The first game is “Who’s Bill This Time” where Bill Curtis reads a quote said that week and the first contestant has to guess who said it or what the quote is referring to. Most times it’s pretty easy to figure out from context what the quote refers to, but sometimes it’s a bit more challenging.
We live in an age when figuring out who actually said what can be pretty hard. Take a scroll through Facebook and note the blanket statements that encourage people to “COPY AND PASTE IF YOU AGREE!” (usually written in all caps). Or posts that attribute an author without citation. Or images with statements on them that are clearly meant to play to our emotions. I just took a quiz last night from the Clemson University Media Forensics Hub where you had to guess if the profile they showed you from Twitter or Instagram or Facebook was a real person or a Russian troll.
Or even – and this is the case if you’ve ever been a part of any community – you get the “many people are saying” or “I know of someone for whom” or “I heard from x that y person said z about whatever current controversy is flaring its head at the current moment.” There are rumors of every sort flying around the internet about everything from what mask-wearing *really* does to your lungs to who were the real violence inciters at the latest protest to people stockpiling supplies for post-Election Day and everything in between. It’s almost like you have to scrutinize everything you hear and read:
Who said it? What did it relate to? Did the speaker really mean it? Is it someone trying to cause more trouble? Is it truth or fiction or what was the person trying to do in saying what they did?
We live with the constant influx of all that information. Or misinformation. Or - who knows what it is.
In our text from the gospel of Matthew this morning, Jesus is in the Temple. It’s the day after he arrived in Jerusalem to shouts of Hosanna and save us - the day we remember and celebrate as Palm Sunday. But what’s important to remember about this story is that upon his arrival, Jesus goes straight to the Temple to overturn the tables of the money changers and lenders - in an act that had nothing to do with the Jewish worship practices and everything to do with the fact that these people exchanging foreign currency for local coin were gouging people who had come to offer sacrifices, thus exploiting and harming the poor and preventing access to God. Jesus, in this act, opens the Temple to all and he sticks around to offer healing to the blind and lame who come to him. The chief priests and scribes were none too pleased about the crowds gathering to honor Jesus, and so he leaves and spends the night in Bethany.
But the next day he comes back. He comes back and goes right back into the Temple, which is where we find the exchange we heard read for us this morning - again with the chief priests. And boy, do they have a question for Jesus:
“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Like - who told you you could come up in here and shake things up?
In traditional rabbinic fashion, Jesus answers them back with a question - a question that made the chief priests pause and gulp and realize, “well, if we say this, he’ll say that - and if we say that, other people will be mad, and we can’t risk that, so let’s just hedge our bets and say “We don’t know.” Does that kind of maneuvering sound familiar?
The chief priests wrestle with Jesus’s authority - and also with that of John the Baptist. Does it come from human origin or heavenly? Does John - and by proxy, Jesus - have authority because of the will of the masses, or is Jesus truly who he says he is - the Son of God? And if he is the Son of God, well, shoot -- what does that mean for how we live now?
Authority these days is under constant negotiation. We don’t know who to trust anymore - when the CDC publishes information and then withdraws it, when there’s the constant undercurrent of anything published by journalists as “fake”, when believing one thing gets labeled you as a sheeple and unable to think for yourself, when faith in our system of governance is crumbling by the hour, when facts and statistics are manipulated to support whatever argument anyone wants to make, when character assassination draws attention away from injustices in our system – the foundations of what made our society work are falling apart at the seems...and all these competing claims on who and what to believe are all fighting to hold sway in our lives.
And so perhaps the question for us as I think about our text this morning and about our current landscape isn’t so much about by whose authority Jesus is doing these things – but about whose influence holds authority with us? Who are we trying to please? Who are we ultimately serving? Both in our words…and in our actions.
Both Jesus - and his challengers - knew that God was the ultimate authority. There’s no question in that. And that’s no less true for us today, as we consider the influences in our own lives. God’s will, God’s kingdom, God’s hopes and dreams should be at the forefront of our lives - and as we search for ground to cling to, as we search for resonances of truth in the world around us, the movement of God’s spirit should allow us to evaluate what is in line with what God wants for us and for the world - and what isn’t.
Of course, that isn’t to say that we disregard facts or science or deem what others are experiencing as invalid - what it does challenge us to do, however, is to bring God’s perspective as we seek to evaluate information, as we consider whether or not what we heard through the grapevine should carry weight within us, as we think about whether or not we should really reshare that picture on Facebook poking fun at the other side, as we look to respond to the world around us, as we look to serve one another in love, as we look to witness to God’s reign of peace and justice among us.
I think about the Philippians passage. “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus...Therefore, my beloved, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
For me, this is one of the metrics I use - this text from Philippians - as I look to allow God’s voice, God’s will, God’s hopes for me and the world to have more airspace in myself, to allow God’s influence to have more authority over me. Am I serving my own interest - or that of others? And when I think about others, I’m not just thinking about the people in my immediate life, most of whom look like me or behave like me, I’m also thinking about the others who Jesus would have stood with - the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, the disregarded, the people that Jesus lifted up in his ministry. Am I patterning my actions and attitudes around Jesus, who had the highest privilege as being God incarnate and yet handed it over so that others - humanity - could be fully alive? Am I basing my decisions or responses to the world around me on my own fears and insecurities or am I acting in acknowledgement that it is God who is at work in my life - enabling me to will and work for the sake of God’s goodness and delight in God’s children?
Those are the kinds of things that I want to have more authority in my life, and when I look out in the world, being able to find places of care and compassion, places of radical love and hospitality, places where people sit together in the broken spaces, places where pride and privilege and power kneel to serve the lonely and the least - those places are of God, and that means being able to see God working even in the most desperate and difficult of circumstances...and perhaps that means also that I can consider what God might be trying to say instead of what else might be trying to get in the way.
Whose authority and influence matters? God’s. Who should we be trying to please? God yearns for us to live in ways that point to the kingdom Christ ushered in. Who should we be serving? Not ourselves or our own interests, but those of others. And if a few Temple tables are turned over in the process - well - God gives us the ability to be co-creators of the kingdom, to be witnesses of God’s justice and righteousness, to be a part of making a different world, which means that we will come up against values and systems that the world holds as authoritative.
But my encouragement for all of us is this - reading again the words of Paul in Philiipians, but this time from The Message:
5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
9-11 Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.
12-13 What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.
Scripture - Exodus 14:5-31 (get a few different readers)
READER 1: Gretchen
As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up and saw them—Egyptians! Coming at them!
They were totally afraid. They cried out in terror to God. They told Moses, “Weren’t the cemeteries large enough in Egypt so that you had to take us out here in the wilderness to die? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Back in Egypt didn’t we tell you this would happen? Didn’t we tell you, ‘Leave us alone here in Egypt—we’re better off as slaves in Egypt than as corpses in the wilderness.’”
Moses spoke to the people: “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation for you today. Take a good look at the Egyptians today for you’re never going to see them again.
God will fight the battle for you.
And you? You keep your mouths shut!”
READER 2: Sharon
God said to Moses: “Why cry out to me? Speak to the Israelites. Order them to get moving. Hold your staff high and stretch your hand out over the sea: Split the sea! The Israelites will walk through the sea on dry ground.
“Meanwhile I’ll make sure the Egyptians keep up their stubborn chase—I’ll use Pharaoh and his entire army, his chariots and horsemen, to put my Glory on display so that the Egyptians will realize that I am God.”
The angel of God that had been leading the camp of Israel now shifted and got behind them. And the Pillar of Cloud that had been in front also shifted to the rear. The Cloud was now between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel. The Cloud enshrouded one camp in darkness and flooded the other with light. The two camps didn’t come near each other all night.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and God, with a terrific east wind all night long, made the sea go back. He made the sea dry ground. The seawaters split.
The Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground with the waters a wall to the right and to the left. The Egyptians came after them in full pursuit, every horse and chariot and driver of Pharaoh racing into the middle of the sea. It was now the morning watch. God looked down from the Pillar of Fire and Cloud on the Egyptian army and threw them into a panic. He clogged the wheels of their chariots; they were stuck in the mud.
The Egyptians said, “Run from Israel! God is fighting on their side and against Egypt!”
God said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea and the waters will come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots, over their horsemen.”
Moses stretched his hand out over the sea: As the day broke and the Egyptians were running, the sea returned to its place as before. God dumped the Egyptians in the middle of the sea. The waters returned, drowning the chariots and riders of Pharaoh’s army that had chased after Israel into the sea. Not one of them survived.
But the Israelites walked right through the middle of the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall to the right and to the left. God delivered Israel that day from the oppression of the Egyptians. And Israel looked at the Egyptian dead, washed up on the shore of the sea, and realized the tremendous power that God brought against the Egyptians. The people were in reverent awe before God and trusted in God and his servant Moses.
How many times have you wished we could go back to the way things were? When I look back six months ago or a year ago and think about the relatively carefree existence I had - being able to call someone at the drop of a hat for a cup of coffee or walk, gleefully handing over my baby to whomever was nearest and ready to hold her, making plans for concerts or outings to the children’s museum - I could not imagine the situation we have now found ourselves in. I continue to live in this weird time loop where on the one hand, life has moved on - Michael is now in school and Genevieve will be starting daycare soon and the rhythms of my daily life have for the most part realigned to pre-pandemic days - and on the other hand, there is an indefinite pause on very important parts of my life - casually visiting family, errands to the mainland, impromptu parties with friends, gatherings held digitally instead of in-person. I joked the other day to someone “what is time anymore anyways?” when I realized that I had scheduled something over Labor Day weekend and it hadn’t occurred to me that that was in any way significant or different than any other weekend in my life.
When this all started, I didn’t think we would still be here six months from now. I thought that this would be over by the end of June. I still check the daily COVID counts from Maine. I still follow the news about the coronavirus - and the rest of the world - with a mixture of dread and frustration. I still breathe a bit easier and give thanks for how things have played out in Maine even as I worry about the rest of our country.
But I still wish for things to go back to the way they were...even as I realize that the way things were was not sustainable or just for a vast majority of people in this country, and I’m reminded again of the inflection point we have right now to create a new normal - a new more just, more equitable, more compassionate future both for those that have been hit the hardest by this pandemic and for our earth.
I feel sometimes a bit like the Israelites in this passage here - stuck between Pharaoh’s army and the sea with no apparent way out. In this moment, they start to do what seems perfectly reasonable to do in a situation like theirs - complain. Wish for the past. It was better back then even though we were slaves, they say to Moses. Better that we were slaves in Egypt than corpses out here in the wilderness. We want our old lives back - we have doubts and worries about what the future might bring.
What the story reminds me however, is that God is a God who makes a way when there is no way. God is with us when we take a look around us and all we see are barriers to hope. God is with us when we try to navigate the daily impossibilities of living in this world. God is with us when we get stuck and can’t see a way through. God is with us in the midst of our bitter complaining and our grieving for what once was. God is with us when we can feel God’s hand on our backs pushing us onward - and even when we can’t. God is with us as we feel like we are slogging through the muck and mud. God is with us when we leap and dance across dry ground.
And sometimes, when we’re feeling stuck, when we feel like we’ve got no good options before us, when we are yearning to be free but feel the heat of Pharaoh’s armies at our back - we have to move forward in faith not knowing how things are going to play out. Sometimes we have to step into the waters before the sea is parted - and trust that God will lead us through if we’re really seeking to follow God’s promise and leading.
As you think about your own life - or maybe even the life of this church or the wider community - what resonates for you? What are the places that you may feel stuck between a rock and a hard place? What needs an intervention of God’s power and glory to make a way through the sea for you?
There’s this beautiful movement for the Israelites from fear to faith as they find their deliverance through the sea. God’s might and power certainly came through in dramatic ways. Yet - Moses was the one who God used to make it happen. Moses stretched out his hand over the waters to act on God’s behalf for the sake of freedom and transformation.
So as we think about the kingdom of God - the promises of God that there will be a world defined by righteousness, justice, compassion, peace and hope - as we know that we are agents of God to prepare the way for this reality - What are you willing to stretch out so that God can work with you and from you? Stretch out your hand, sure, but stretch out your resources? Stretch out your security? Stretch out your worldview, your belief that only people who look like you and sound like you and believe like you can be followers of God? What are you willing to stretch out so that God can bless your effort with transformation, that just might be your own transformation instead of those folk out there?
We don’t know what the future will bring. We don’t know what will happen as we open ourselves to be used by God - I’m willing to bet that Moses didn’t know what God was going to do - but God acted and made a way -- and God will continue to make ways in our own lives and in our own world as we trust and step out in faith, even if the path isn’t clear, even if we’re wading out into murky waters.
Scripture - Exodus 12:1-14
Exodus 12:1-14 (The Message)
12 1-10 God said to Moses and Aaron while still in Egypt, “This month is to be the first month of the year for you. Address the whole community of Israel; tell them that on the tenth of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one lamb to a house. If the family is too small for a lamb, then share it with a close neighbor, depending on the number of persons involved. Be mindful of how much each person will eat. Your lamb must be a healthy male, one year old; you can select it from either the sheep or the goats. Keep it penned until the fourteenth day of this month and then slaughter it—the entire community of Israel will do this—at dusk. Then take some of the blood and smear it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which you will eat it. You are to eat the meat, roasted in the fire, that night, along with bread, made without yeast, and bitter herbs. Don’t eat any of it raw or boiled in water; make sure it’s roasted—the whole animal, head, legs, and innards. Don’t leave any of it until morning; if there are leftovers, burn them in the fire.
11 “And here is how you are to eat it: Be fully dressed with your sandals on and your stick in your hand. Eat in a hurry; it’s the Passover to God.
12-13 “I will go through the land of Egypt on this night and strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, whether human or animal, and bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am God. The blood will serve as a sign on the houses where you live. When I see the blood I will pass over you—no disaster will touch you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14 “This will be a memorial day for you; you will celebrate it as a festival to God down through the generations, a fixed festival celebration to be observed always.
Sermon - Melissa
The passage that we just heard comes in the middle of a much larger story - the journey of the Hebrew people, enslaved in Egypt, leaving their old life behind and before the promise of their own land that God would bring them to where they could be a sovereign people. God is about to liberate them from their oppressors by initiating the final plague against Pharaoh and the Egyptian people where the Angel of Death will sweep over the land, killing all the firstborn, human and animal alike. In this passage, God gives Moses and Aaron the instructions that would ensure the safety and protection of the fleeing slaves and instituted a ritual meal that would serve as reminders for generations to come of their chosen status as God’s people. In this act, they are no longer slaves, but family...known as the descendents of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - in this act, they are no longer oppressed, but liberated - in this act, they are no longer bound by a present full of despair, but launched into a future of hope and promise. So this is not only a story about liberation, but a story about the formation of identity as a people of God.
To be sure this isn’t a comfortable story. In it, we have to face a God that exacts painful judgment on a people and we wrestle with the fact that some are spared while others are not. God here brings down disaster after disaster on an empire that most likely also cried out for relief from locusts, darkness, frogs and flies, boils - to name a few. To be fair, Moses warns Pharaoh before each and every plague. This final violent act, God promises Moses, will be the one that changes Pharaoh’s mind - so the Israelites must be ready to move with whatever they could carry.
So why do we, in this day and age, need to consider these things? Why can’t we leave this story to the history books and focus our hearts and minds on kindler, gentler aspects of life and faith?
I believe our time calls for a similar sense of urgency as we find in the Exodus story. God’s people ready to move, ready to resist the powers and principalities of this world, ready to drive the transformation needed in our church and in our wider culture. As Rev. Dr. Derek Weber writes, “that there are things worth killing, things that need to die for truth to live is a harsh reality that we cannot avoid. And some of those things are like firstborn children to those who hold on to them.”
In this story from Exodus we find instructions for the careful preparations the Israelites will need to make for the journey from slavery to freedom. In these preparations, there is acknowledgement for the suffering that has been experienced, the suffering that will enable their escape, as well as the suffering to come. The road to liberation is not an easily traveled one. Some things will have to be set aside and left behind for the journey to be successful.
Walter Brueggemann provides commentary on this text, on the people's "large sense of protectedness from the midnight violence that is loosed in the empire." On one hand there is some sense that we are "abidingly cared for in a world that is under profound threat" -- that God abides with us, provides for us, and protects us from all manner of evil on every side.
However, Brueggemann also sees Pharaoh and Egypt in "every agent of oppression and abuse (including one's own socioeconomic system)," and urges us to "an important restlessness. Indeed, when the community of faith no longer has this 'festival of urgent departure,' it runs the risk of being excessively and in unseemly ways at home in the empire."
The invitation in this story, then, is to both be like the Israelites - ready to move, ready to be a witness of God’s liberating, transforming power -- and acknowledge the ways that we’ve accommodated ourselves in Empire and be ready to set those things aside for the sake of the freedom journey.
Certainly there are attitudes and behaviors within our own hearts to leave behind. There are also practices and beliefs prevalent in our churches and our culture that need to be sacrificed for the sake of God’s kingdom. Our nation’s history of white supremacy on a cultural level and our own personal emotional reactions as we talk about racism with our families and neighbors. Our global climate crisis where we’re seeing huge shifts in weather patterns with devastating effects and our own personal consumptive habits. Our worsening political tensions that divide friends and families and neighbors and our own needs to be right. Or - again in the words of Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, “What gods do we worship today? What gods that we are holding as sacrosanct, as precious to our self-identity, does our God want to execute judgement upon?”
I want to invite us into a time of confession, as we offer to God those things we want to leave behind, the places where we are complicit with the powers and principalities of this world, the gods we are holding on to that require God’s judgment. These confessions can be personal, they can be communal for our church or our nation. If you have pen and paper nearby, jot those things down as you reflect on them. We’ll have several minutes to examine ourselves before moving into a time of prayer.
[reflection - play Jars of Clay “Oh My God” - lyrics: https://genius.com/Jars-of-clay-oh-my-god-lyrics]
During our time of prayer, there will be opportunities to name the places that you’ve identified within yourself or within our church or our culture. You can unmute and share them aloud or use the chat box and I will name them.
Let us pray.
God you call us to be ready - to be a people on the move, to be a people unveiling your kingdom around us, to be a people that shows forth your liberating love and power in our lives and in our world. And yet we confess that all too often, we express complacency and comfort. We sometimes unknowingly perpetuate suffering in this world. We sometimes inflict harm on others. We find ourselves more like Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Forgive us, Lord. We name before you the places we yearn to set aside and leave behind on the journey toward your justice and wholeness.
[people name places]
Hear us, O God, as we pray to you. Enable us to more faithfully follow Jesus, who proclaimed release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed and healing for the sick. Equip us with urgent passion for the transformation of this world for the sake of those bound by the chains of slavery and oppression. Amen.
In all this, I pray that we are given a continuing restlessness for the liberating work of God in our world as we remember this story where on the one hand we have judgment for oppression and injustice and on the other hand who cares about all God’s children. May we remember that this isn’t an easy or safe calling….it is not about keeping silent and hoping for the best. It is not about keeping the status quo or not rocking the boat. It is about rising up and being ready to move towards the transformation of our own hearts and towards that of society as a whole - as God’s kingdom is seen within us...and as God’s kingdom is seen around us. The journey is long, the journey is hard, but God walks alongside us, leading each one of us to freedom - and leading our world as well. May we ever be ready to take each next step along the way. Amen.
Before we dive into our scripture for this morning, I have a quick activity I’d like us to do. Take your piece of paper and a pencil and write down how you would describe yourself - particularly what can you say about yourself that is important to you. We’ll take a couple minutes to write those things down.
Does anyone want to share a few things from their list or anything that jumped out at you as you did this exercise?
Now with all that in mind, hear these words from the Gospel of Matthew - chapter 16, verses 13-20. (put into chat and invite someone to read it)
Scriptures - Matthew 16:13-20
13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Reflection - Melissa
Anyone want to take a moment to do a quick revision to their list?
There’s something about this passage that keeps me coming back to it again and again. It’s a powerful story about identity - that of Jesus as he asks his disciples first who do people say the Son of Man is and then asking them who they understand him to be. And there’s a lot to reflect on in that - the richness of understanding Jesus as the Messiah and what that means both on a cosmic and as a personal level. That Peter is the one to get it - Peter who had Jesus yank him out from a certain watery grave, Peter whose mother-in-law was healed by Jesus, Peter who enthusiastically wanted Jesus to wash his whole body instead of just his feet on the night he was betrayed, Peter who denied Jesus three times - Peter who was just in the middle of this rich relationship with Jesus -- I wonder how Peter's experience of Jesus’s Messiahship changed throughout the course of his life as a result of all that they went through together.
But there’s another identity revealed in this passage - it’s Peter’s. In this exchange, Peter names Jesus, but Jesus also names Peter. “And I tell you,” Jesus says, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” Peter’s identity and purpose takes on new meaning in light of Jesus’s proclamation. It’s not only Peter the fisherman, Peter the follower, but Peter the foundation - the rock - Peter the blessed. Just from that simple assertion that yes, Jesus is who he says he is - the Messiah, the son of God.
Peter may not have understood completely what that meant or how everything was going to play out - after all, the disciples are known for their inability to get things right, for their missing the point on many of Jesus’s teachings, for their petty squabbles about who will be the greatest, for not being highly educated or well-read or wealthy. In fact, the disciples are human beings, full of faults and failings and are just like us. But Peter knew God was up to something in Jesus - Peter had enough insight or intuition, Peter had seen enough of what Jesus had been doing to know that there was something of God going on. There wasn’t anything special about Peter - and yet Jesus calls him blessed and transforms Peter’s own identity and role in God’s hopes and dreams for the world.
That’s what happens with us. As we draw closer to God - as we understand who Jesus is in our life, as we learn the rhythm of life he invites us into, as we tune our hearts to his, as we surrender our lives in acknowledgement of Christ’s saving power - our very selves are transformed. We understand ourselves - and others - as God’s beloved children. We understand the ways that we are a part of God’s greater kingdom in the world around us. We understand that we are seen for who we truly are by Jesus - the good, the bad, the in-between - and we are still beloved and Jesus still calls us for God’s purposes in the world.
I’d like for us to take a look at our lists again - and make sure that something is on it if it wasn’t there before -- put “Beloved Child of God” on there. It’s foundational to who each of us is and if we start there and seek to live with that reality, we gain more clarity about how we are to relate to ourselves and to the world.
But take a look at your list - all the things that you put down to describe yourself that are important to you -- parent, friend, justice-seeker, spouse, reader, educator, artist, activist - look at those lists.
How would you look at yourself differently….or what invitation might there be for you...if you understood that part of you to be named for you by Jesus? In other words, imagine Jesus saying to you - and I’m going to pick on ________ here, ____________, you are blessed! For you are _____ and you have a part to play in God’s kingdom?
Jesus tells Peter that he is the Rock upon which he will build his church. As we consider the ways that we are known and transformed by Jesus as we walk with him, let it, too, be for the building up of the church - the church here in this place, the church across time and space, the church that witnesses to the deep and abiding love God has for us and for the world. In this may we all be blessed - and know ourselves as God’s beloved children. Amen.
On Sunday, July 19th, Rochelle Rice shared a beautiful dance for us set to "Together" by for King and Country. For those of you who weren't able to join us, you can find Shelly sharing her gifts with us at the link below.
These are Kathy Grannell Kihanya's suggestions for how you can make a difference when it comes to learning about white privilege, about racism and anti-racism.
Scripture - Mark 6:31 - 44
31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And all ate and were filled; 43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
This week I’ve been thinking a lot about our Food Pantry - the way that we have stepped forward in this season to assist in feeding our community - keeping each other nourished not only in body, but in spirit - I heard someone this past week stop over to the Parish House and she said “I needed to lay eyes on another human being.”
In contemplating this ministry - a ministry that has impacted 35 - 40 families on Chebeague - this scripture passage that we just heard came to mind about Jesus feeding the five thousand -- probably more, because it says five thousand men, and there were bound to have been women and children in the mix.
I want us for worship this morning to reflect together on this passage using a method called Ignatian Imagination. It was developed hundreds of years ago by a man named Ignatius of Loyola who believed that God can speak to us through our imaginations in addition to our thoughts and memories, and he developed a set of spiritual exercises designed to do just that. He called this kind of prayer “contemplation” - an active form of prayer that engages the heart and mind and stirs up thoughts and emotions.
He developed this method of experiencing the scriptures by placing ourselves fully within the narrative. The idea is that we become onlookers or participants in the story and give full rein to our imaginations -- there’s no worry about letting your imagination run wild because for Ignatius, the Holy Spirit is the one guiding our perceptions as we enter the story.
And so when we place ourselves in the story, we not only see Jesus as he speaks to a blind man, we feel the heat of the sun on our faces, we see the dust kicked up by the road or the smell of fish by the sea. We see the emotions on the faces of those around us - hope, desperation, curiosity. We may even be the one Jesus interacts with. But above all, we watch Jesus in the way he walks, his gestures, the expression on his face, the look in his eyes, the sound of his voice. We not only hear the words he speaks, but imagine the words he might have spoken, the miracles he may have accomplished, the other lives he might have changed.
In his spiritual exercises, Ignatius selects some passages that might be fruitful for imaginative exploration. These passages are scenes of Jesus acting - interacting with others, making decisions, ministering, healing, and moving. In this, we aren’t supposed to think about Jesus, but experience him as he encountered others. In this way, we can meet him for ourselves, see him in action, and draw closer to him.
So we’ll hear this passage read again, and I’ll break from time to time to ask questions that are meant to prompt your imagination, and we’ll have a couple of moments of silent reflection to let your creative juices flow. Notice what arises...and notice the thoughts and feelings that are sparked by this.
31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
Take a moment to enter the scene. What is the setting? What are the sounds, sights, and aromas?
Imagine that you are one of the disciples, coming back to Jesus after he had sent you out into the countryside, so busy you had no time to eat. How does your body feel after a day of speaking with people, walking from town to town, healing, and teaching? What expression is on Jesus’s face as he speaks?
32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
What do you feel upon arriving to this deserted place? What do you feel watching the crowds approach? What’s going on in your mind as you watch Jesus interact with the crowd? Do you speak to anyone? If so - who are you talking with and what do you say?
35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?”
What do you feel in this moment? How does Jesus react to these words and how do you respond? What is the crowd doing right now? What do you hear around you?
38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all.
What is going through your mind as you are watching Jesus perform this act? Are you still one of the 12 - or do you find yourself in a different location - a bystander, one of the crowd, or someone else? What are you feeling as you see this scene unfold?
42 And all ate and were filled; 43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
How do you imagine everyone receiving the food? Eating the meal? What expressions are on the faces around you? What does the atmosphere feel like? How do you envision the leftovers being collected? How does this experience leave you feeling?
As we come our of our time of contemplating this story - what struck out to you? What did you notice or feel in the story that you hadn’t given consideration to before?
What did this experience leave you with? An invitation? A challenge?
What might you be feeling led to offer that God might bless and multiply?
I offer this poem as we start to move into prayer:
"Just a housewife"
By Cordelia Baker-Pearce.
I packed five cakes of bread and two small fishes,
Sent him off, my youngest lad,
To take his father's dinner to the field.
Came back alone he did, all goggle-eyed.
My fresh-baked bread that varmint gave away
To some young travelling preacher out of Galilee.
It fed five thousand people.
What a tale!
It can't be true... but if it is.
What kind of dough did these hands knead
Melissa: It may feel odd that we’re still in this virtual space on the Day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to those first disciples, known as “the birthday of the church.” We’re going to hear two different stories about the gift of that Spirit, first from the Gospel of John - which gives us one story, and second from the book of Acts - a story that may be more familiar to us.
First we will hear John’s account, which takes place on the day of Jesus’s resurrection.
Gloria: 19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” - John 20:19-23
Melissa: Jesus breathed onto his followers the Holy Spirit - which is a beautiful image of the life of Jesus being breathed into us. Spirit and breath often go hand in hand. Our next reading explores a different image - that of wind and fire! We’ll be hearing this scripture read in a variety of languages.
Melissa: Throughout this season, we have proclaimed that love is that which binds us (the root of “religion”) to God, to Jesus, to each other. Love IS our religion. On the day of Pentecost, the church received the power of the Holy Spirit to let this message flow out from all, to all. The power of this message is ever-so important to offer to the world today. The Spirit is poured out on each one of us so let us be a community of messengers letting living compassion flow from our hearts.
Two things from these passages stand out to me - even as they make different claims about how the Holy Spirit came to be with the disciples.
The first is from the Gospel of John. This is the same day as the resurrection, it’s the first time Jesus is appearing to the men, they’re all locked away in the house after Mary Magdalene had shared the news that Jesus was, in fact alive, and they’re all afraid. Jesus comes into their midst, speaks peace - breathes the Holy Spirit onto them, and says “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In the Greek, the verb tense used is a command. And order. Take it. It’s not an invitation, it’s not a suggestion, it’s something you have no choice but to do. And with this power of the Holy Spirit comes the authority to forgive and absolve sin...or not.
The second is the image of fire from the book of Acts. Tongues of fire descending on those early followers of Jesus - again, hidden away together - fire that empowered them to speak boldly and that enabled the crowds to hear the message of Jesus in their own native language.
Fire and wind - forces that are uncontrollable, that have the power to change the environment. Fire warms, and wind cools - but both can unsettle and destroy - tearing down what was built and forcing reconstruction and renewal.
The crowds on that day witnessed the wind and the fire disrupting and deconstructing everything they thought they knew about who God was, who they were as a people, and about what God was up to in the world through Jesus. The Holy Spirit blew through that community so fiercely, the crowds thought that people were drunk. And instead of dismissing the event or saying, “well, that was interesting” before getting back to their regularly scheduled lives, or trying to stifle the message that God was about a new thing in the world and pretend like it never happened and get back to normal - the crowds responded by aligning their hearts with the Spirit of God - choosing to let the wind and fire burn away the old and carry them into the waters of baptism and into the way of Jesus.
In the midst of the disrupting power of the spirit, they chose not to go back to normal.
It makes me think about where we are today, Jesus breathing on the disciples to confer the Spirit...and we’re in the middle of a pandemic that manifests primarily in difficulty breathing...and we’re in this moment when our Black siblings are having their breath taken away…. And the tongues of flame sweeping through those early Jesus followers…can bring the refining fire to point us to a new way of being and living - painful and uncomfortable as it is.
We have this unique inflection point where we have choices to make about what we’re going to do going forward. There is immense pressure to act as if nothing ever happened when it comes to the pandemic - albeit a socially distanced, masked, increased attention to hygiene kind of normal. And that push towards normal comes from our government, from marketing, from the left and the right - all wanting us to move on as if nothing disrupted our routine.
Lest we forget, however, that normal was the problem...the normal we’re being pushed to get back into is one marked by exploitation of our planet, extreme wealth inequality, racial oppression and violence - we saw that one pretty clearly this week, a broken health care system, and injustice throughout the entire fabric of society. This pandemic has revealed the cracks in the system built to support the privileged.
We’ve seen how Brown and Black people are more likely to contract COVID because they are more likely to work frontline jobs and live in crowded conditions where social distancing is impossible. We’ve seen how much of a difference a reduction in carbon emissions has made for our planet. We’ve seen hospitals unable to have the protective equipment needed to do their jobs. We’ve seen people who make more on unemployment than they do at their day job. There are things we’ve witnessed during these past two months that we cannot unsee. Knowledge that we cannot forget. Stories that aren’t just stories, but people’s daily lived realities. And just like the crowds on Pentecost, we have the choice, to say, “oh, well, that was an interesting time, wasn’t it?” as we are pressured to get back to the normal that may have worked for us but not for many, many people - or we can stop and choose to live a different way. Refuse to go back to normal. Let the wind and fire finish its work in our hearts to bring us to a more just way of living with each other and with all creation.
I believe this is part of what the church is meant to embody in the world - a different way of being together, a community of people following Jesus that invites and challenges the world to strive for right relationships between people and between all of creation. As Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill of the BTS Center put it, the church is to be “a Gospel-shaped, Love-fueled, Spirit-led, peace-loving, justice-seeking, destabilizing agent of change, not a stabilizing preserver of the status quo. And that’s what Pentecost is all about.”
To me, this circles back to the first disciples receiving the Holy Spirit as depicted in the Gospel of John, where Jesus basically commands his disciples to take the Holy Spirit, and as a result, to be the ones to hold others accountable for their sins. Some of what we’ve put up with as normal has perpetuated our cycles of systemic injustice and global devastation. We have an opportunity in this moment to call our culture to account - and to examine ourselves as well - as we, too, have this challenge as a church to not go back to normal, but to use this moment to continue following the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit and be the church.
We’ve been on this discernment journey over the past eight months as we’ve considered our relationship with the wider United Methodist Church. We completed the required sessions together, and that’s something to celebrate. We’ve put in hard work together, we’ve learned together, and we’ve had honest conversations about our values and the incompatibility of our values and that of the UMC. But I think what has also become clear is that there is more work for us to do - not only in terms of what we wrestle with being part of the UMC...but also in terms of where the Holy Spirit truly is leading us. I believe we have seen glimpses of that as we’ve seen what we’ve done as a church in serving this community - both those near and far - during the pandemic. The movement of God’s spirit has been powerfully present with the food pantry ministry - what else might God be inviting us into as we serve? What about in the ways we worship? There, we won’t be able to go back to normal - no singing, no hugs or handshakes - in worship we will have to find new ways to worship God together. I think, too, about our children, and the opportunity we have to address how we can help them become the people God has created them to be - as I think about the way many of them have disengaged from church to be the clearest sign that our normal wasn’t working. We have questions to answer about how we nurture one another’s faith.
We’re in a moment when the Holy Spirit has swept through and deconstructed much of what we knew about our world, about church, and about ourselves. Are we willing to resist the urge to go back to normal so that we can follow the Holy Spirit into a new way of being?
Melissa: So take a moment to look around the room you are in. Find one object in the room that represents the pressure to get back to normal - and if you can go get it, I invite you to do so. If you can’t get it, just make note of it. We’re going to share about our objects in a moment. [pause to allow time to do this]
Breaking Open our Lives with Discussion
Leader: Our theme scripture says, “they ate their food with glad and generous hearts.” One way we can be glad and generous is to share about how we are finding strength, hope, love and peace in these days. This is part of “breaking bread” with each other as we break open our hearts to one another as well. Maybe even help each other rekindle the Jesus fire within.
Share about the object you found - what pressure to get back to normal does it represent? How do you feel called to live differently?
What is it that your heart is on fire for?
What winds of change you want to blow through your life?
Finally, what do you feel is at the heart of the matter of life?
Each week, we have an activity or two to spread Goodwill throughout our communities. This week - chalk art! Get out onto the roads, since many of us don’t have paved driveways, and write some messages to share with your neighbors that they are loved, that there is hope, love, and peace!
(Many thanks to Marcia Mcfee and the Worship Design Studio for providing these resources free during this pandemic! We have adapted them slightly for use in our context. I'll post both the Word and Reflection and Action Response, as well as the Have Goodwill action for the week.)
Melissa: Jesus used the metaphor of a shepherd several times in his ministry. We will hear a song using the most famous instance from Psalm 23 later in our worship. In this passage from the Gospel of John, the sheep know that the Shepherd really cares about them and offers what they need–good, abundant, green pastures to eat in. They recognize this Shepherd who takes care of them as they hear his voice.
John: I assure you that whoever doesn’t enter into the sheep pen through the gate but climbs over the wall is a thief and an outlaw. The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The guard at the gate opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. Whenever he has gathered all of his sheep, he goes before them and they follow him, because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger but will run away because they don’t know the stranger’s voice.” Those who heard Jesus use this analogy didn’t understand what he was saying.
So Jesus spoke again, “I assure you that I am the gate of the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and outlaws, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest. - John 10: 1-10
Melissa: There are so many ways to live life to the fullest right now–or, as another version of the scripture calls it–“living life abundantly.” Being together, either physically or virtually, is one important way for us in this moment. Perhaps we can keep up some of our “connection habits” we have exercised well beyond our time of isolation. This next scripture is an extended version of our theme scripture for our Easter Season series and shows us the value the early Christians, some of whom had to gather in secret and isolation, were supporting one another “abundantly.”
Cheryl: The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved. - Acts 2: 42-47
Melissa: In these two scriptures we see the desire of God for us to be taken care of, for us to live to the fullest, and for us to support one another in having abundant life and community, food and gladness. The “thief” in the first passage could be anything that robs us of those things. Sometimes the sacrifices we have endured because of our attempts to slow this virus can feel as if we’ve been “robbed” of our well-being. But we can also turn that around and see that these sacrifices are how we share goodwill and well-being with one another. Our hearts overflow with the grace and guidance we know from the Shepherd and we want that goodness for everyone. Glad and generous hearts overflow with love in so many ways.
I was thinking about what I’ve been robbed of these past few weeks, visiting family, margin that was provided by regular childcare, ability to get off the island and run errands, eating whatever I want just about whenever I wanted it...and it reminded me of a post I saw going around social media a couple weeks ago. I’ll read it to you - it’s from an anonymous author.
I heard that we are all in the same boat, but it’s not like that. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Your ship could be shipwrecked, and mine might not be.
Or vice versa.
For some, quarantine is optimal. A moment of reflections, of re-connection, easy in flip-flops, with a cocktail or coffee. For others, this is a desperate financial and family crisis.
For some that live alone, they’re facing endless loneliness. While for others it is peace, rest, and time with their mother, father, sons and daughters.
With the $600 (US) weekly increase in unemployment, some are bringing in more money to their households than they were working.
Others are working more hours for less money, due to pay cuts or loss in commissioned sales.
Some families of four just received $3400 from the stimulus package, while other families of four saw $0.
Some were concerned about getting a certain candy for Easter, while others were concerned if there would be enough bread, milk, and eggs for the weekend.
Some want to go back to work because they don’t qualify for unemployment and are running out of money. Others want to kill those who break quarantine.
Some are at home spending two to three hours a day, helping their child with online schooling, while others are doing the same on top of a 10–12 hour work day.
Some have experienced the near death of the virus, some have already lost someone from it, and some are not sure if their loved ones are going to make it.
Others don’t believe this is a big deal.
Some have faith in God and expect miracles this year.
Others say the worst is yet to come.
We are not in the same boat. We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different.
Each of us will emerge, in our own way, from this storm. It is important to see beyond what is seen at first glance. Not just looking, actually seeing.
We are all on different ships during this storm, experiencing a very different journey. — Unknown Author
I think it’s fair to say that the pandemic has certainly robbed us of a lot - and I think to some degree all of us have felt it. It’s been hard, there is no doubt - and it will get harder as we all start to get a bit stir crazy! But as we consider Jesus’s invitation to life abundant and the situation we’re in right now - what can seem like deprivation, what we experience as sacrifice and hardship - because this is hard work we are all doing - is for the sake of love of neighbor.
What I really love is this picture - and for those of you who attend our Friday afternoon class meetings, you’ve seen this - but it’s three simple questions: [share screen]
And what I love about it is that it not only allows us to name the grief we feel, the struggle we’re going through, but it also challenges us to name the things that the pandemic can’t take away from us...and the unexpected gifts in each day. This, I believe, is part of what Jesus invites us into with life abundant.
I think about this, too, with the early Jesus followers - those who came into the fold after the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. That early church gathered together in homes and at synagogues often at great personal cost. Many of these gatherings had to be secret for fear of being persecuted. Being a Christian meant subverting the authority of the Roman Empire; it meant alienating yourself from your friends and neighbors...perhaps even your family members. It meant you distanced yourself from many of the activities that were a normal part of your life. Eating different foods. Being in community and sharing food with different people - those you wouldn’t have associated with before. It meant new religious habits and rituals that marked you as an outsider. And yet - even with the sacrifice of so much, there was this beautiful sharing of food, possessions, money, shelter...life together. The fear and worry I’m sure were still there - what would happen to you if you were found out as a Christian could very well cost you your life. But there was something so compelling about the way these early Christians lived that people were willing to let go of their old way of being and relating and live for something new.
That’s still true for us today - life abundant means acknowledging the fear, the worry, the grief - and entrusting it to God’s care. The Shepherd’s care. It doesn’t mean those feelings won’t go away - but it does mean that we can chose to see them for what they are and surrender ourselves instead to the love and grace that is always there ready for us.
Leader: And so I invite us today to take our stones and place them in a full bowl of water. This glass of water filled to the brim symbolizes the state of grace and love that is always and already what God gives to us. When we drop our worry and grief into it, we will see the love spill over. Placing our feelings and trust into God’s love helps us to pour out love all around us, making that love available to everyone. There is always enough to go around.
(Many thanks to Marcia Mcfee and the Worship Design Studio for providing these resources free during this pandemic! We have adapted them slightly for use in our context. I'll post both the Word and Reflection and Action Response, as well as the Have Goodwill action for the week.)
Word and Reflection
Melissa: Here is how the story of Jesus’ surprise visit on the road and at the dinner happened. Imagine yourself walking down the road and a stranger comes along…
Sharon: On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. They were prevented from recognizing him.
He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast.
The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”
He said to them, “What things?”
They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.”
Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.
When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”
They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread. - Luke 24:13-35
Melissa: After Christ was no longer with his disciples in the flesh, several letters began to circulate, making the rounds to the early Christian communities. This one is from a letter called “First Peter” that is recorded in our New Testament. It reminds people that the story of Jesus is about new birth for all people, and we are to be seeds of God’s life-giving love.
Eldon: Christ was chosen before the creation of the world, but was only revealed at the end of time. This was done for you, who through Christ are faithful to the God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory. So now, your faith and hope should rest in God.
As you set yourselves apart by your obedience to the truth so that you might have genuine affection for your fellow believers, love each other deeply and earnestly. Do this because you have been given new birth—not from the type of seed that decays but from seed that doesn’t. This seed is God’s life-giving and enduring word.
Melissa: Jesus’ table ministry was a preeminent way that he showed and shared a depth of love unseen in his time. He ate and spent time with those considered unworthy of his attention. Even in his post-resurrection appearances, it was in the breaking of bread that he was “recognized”–perhaps because so many times in his ministry, it was at tables that he invited people to open up and share “straight from the heart”–getting right to the heart of the matter. As we gather this day, we remember that, at the heart, his message was unconditional love. To offer ourselves “straight from the heart” is the seed he planted in us, and this is the growth we must continue to nurture.
Ben and I keep a running list of legendary meals that we’ve had - meals that just stand out in our memory...one of them was at Evo for our 12th wedding anniversary a few years ago...one of them was at a dinner party when we were living in Haverhill and from time to time - usually when we’re out at a new place - we’ll go through the list and while excellent food certainly does make a difference, part of what makes the meal memorable is the connection and conversation around the table. It’s the energy that’s flowing as we eat and drink and share, it’s the talk about things that matter, that are closest to our hearts, it’s about who you are sharing the experience with that makes the most difference.
I can’t think of the number of times where twelve or more people were crammed into the kitchen of someone’s house, sharing food together, even though there was ample space in the dining room or the living room. But equally memorable are the morning long conversations spent in coffee shops with scones and lattes or the times sharing beverages and appetizers on the porch on a warm summer evening.
There’s something about how breaking bread together breaks us open as well - and allows us to share more of ourselves with others…that allows us to offer ourselves “straight from the heart.” For me, I have to think that’s part of what Jesus meant when he said to remember him in eating the bread and the cup - that when we share food together, there’s something sacred happening that binds us together in ways that reflect Jesus’s love. At the table, we offer one another more than food and drink, we offer ourselves to one another, an act of love that is far greater than whatever else is on the menu.
Leader: I invite you to put both hands on your heart, close your eyes for just a moment, and think about a message of love. Then reach out your hands to your sides and imagine two people on either side of you who you want to offer love to right now. You can reach out with text or call later to let them know you were thinking of them at this moment. In this moment, we just let this gesture plant more seeds of love, straight from the heart.
Every week, we’ll have a time to put what we’ve shared and talked about into action. This week we talked about Jesus breaking bread with the disciples and the seeds of love planted within us that allow us to offer ourselves to the world “straight from the heart.” Because more and more, I think many of us are realizing that this is the truest gift we can offer the world. This season is stripping away so much and that allows us to discern the heart of things in our own lives.
This week, I encourage you to have a Zoom dinner party or cocktail hour or coffee date with friends. Zoom for free allows for a 40 minute call with 100 people at any time so invite some folks to share a meal with you! (Gloria puts https://zoom.us/pricing link in the chat)
If you are Zoomed out - this week, bake a loaf of bread to share with a neighbor. There’s an easy artisan bread recipe if you need one (Gloria link: https://www.itsalwaysautumn.com/homemade-artisan-bread-easiest-bread-recipe-ever.html) - and as you mix the ingredients and let the loaf bake in the oven, be in prayer for the person or family you’ll be giving this to.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and three year old son and 6 month old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.