God of our Ancestors, God of our Descendants, God of us All, we pray in this time for You to remind us of who we really are: Your children, created in Your image, created for good. We are Your beloved. Help us to share Your love with all, that all of Your children might be reconciled to You and that we might be reconciled to one another. Help us to seek out those who are in need, and to share out of what we have been given. Help us to remember not only our call to follow You, but the call of our brothers and sisters. Help us not only to fulfill their needs, but to truly see them as our brothers and sisters. In Your love, grace, and mercy we pray. Amen.
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
O God who wrestles with us,
circle our hearts,
center our minds,
still our bodies
be present to us now.
SCRIPTURE ROMANS 9:1-5
9 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people,[a] my kindred according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5 to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah,[b] who is over all, God blessed forever.[c] Amen.
I typically start working on sermons by reading aloud the text for the week – in several different translations and paraphrases. The short passage of 9:1-5 felt like Paul paused to take a break from his theological argument in order to give a passionate plea to his people:
- “I am speaking the truth in Christ-I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit. I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.”
- “At the same time, you need to know that I carry with me at all times a huge sorrow. It’s an enormous pain deep within me, and I’m never free of it.”
- “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.”
- “speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.”
- “Truth I say in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing testimony with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great grief and unceasing pain in my heart”
- These are the words of a heartbroken man; a man filled with anguish for his people. A people who did not accept Paul’s message of God’s love through Christ that extended the boundaries of grace to include everybody. Paul was mystified at their refusal to receive it. In fact, Paul wished that he himself could be cut off from Christ for the sake of his people whom he so loved.
Lutheran theologian Martin Luther said, “It is by living and dying that one becomes a theologian.” I think he meant a theologian is not one who merely speculates ABOUT God as an intellectual enterprise. Rather, a theologian is one who has walked with God through the valleys and flames–one whose word about God comes from a lived and tested faith.
Paul was a theologian, tried and tested by life and suffering. He had had transformative experience with the living Christ on the Damascus Road that forever formed his mission and message. A profound spiritual experience leaves a person changed forever. Paul’s journeys were continually fraught with hardship. We can understand why at the heart of Paul’s theology was the cross of Jesus, and it shaped everything for him. He understood that Israel’s God was the God who suffered on that cross. And it was precisely because of Jesus’ suffering that all people were made righteous-whole and complete.
At the core of the Christian gospel is heartbreak. I don’t mean to overstate this, but Christianity is precisely a story of disappointment, doubt and death. You might ask, what about the resurrection? Yes. Alleluia! Death did not prevail! Death was not the victor!
Nonetheless, the scars of the crucifixion upon Jesus’ hands, feet and side did not disappear after his resurrection. He carried the marks of death on his own perfected body, and in that is something so profound. Death and suffering were not wiped clean from the Gospel story.
We ARE beloved children of God. We preach and teach that message in this church with conviction and a clear conscience week after week. We trust in the radical grace of God. But that does not mean we ignore the fact that our adoption as beloved children came at a price.
The scars on Jesus’ body were the marks of God’s own broken heart. Strangely, not glumly, that truth brings comfort. The longer each of us lives, hopefully, the wiser we get. Wise enough to know that life carries both pain and joy, grief and loss. To live is to suffer, the Buddha taught. I like that. It’s realistic.
One cliché that I’ve heard during my lifetime, repeatedly is, “Expect nothing and you won’t be disappointed.” A message of realistic hope however is not meant to sugar-coat life. A message of realistic hope is that loss and heartbreak don’t have to be the final word.
We cannot live with the delusion that life won’t bring hardship. Some folks believe they can control life; others think love should be predictable. And if it’s not, they’re not going to open themselves up to the risk of being hurt. Here’s the heads up on love: when a couple makes vows during their wedding to love “as long as they both shall live,” Some have the notion marriage will be like a romantic comedy. The truth is, there is no guarantee that the love shared on a wedding day will be shielded from the storms and temptations of life through the years.
Any time we open ourselves to love, to life, we open ourselves to heart break. The paradoxical truth is that the RISK makes us a little more alive, a little wiser, a little more open to others pain. If life came with a guarantee for happiness, and a warranty against sorrow, we would not understand the fullness of humanity the way God intended.
We have typically had about 125 people attending worship before the pandemic. Many brought heartbreak into this sanctuary with them. It might be big or small, from daily disappointments to life-altering injury. As warm and friendly as this congregation is, don’t be fooled. We aren’t immune to or in denial about life’s disappointments. Our pain is what makes us a family; it knits us together. I’ll tell you my story and you tell me yours. I guarantee the best stories are the stories of life’s pains- whether we are a pastor or a president.
In 2006, Joshua Shenk released a book about the 16th president of the United States entitled “Lincoln’s Melancholy.” Lincoln suffered with bouts of debilitating depression throughout his life. Lincoln held in the balance the depths of joy and despair. He appeared to understand wisely that it was out of his own suffering that true compassion for others could be borne. There was a creative tension between his despair and his hope for humanity. One story tells of Lincoln standing on the back of the train when he said goodbye to his friends and loved ones in Springfield, IL on his way to take the office of President of the U.S. His farewell speech focused on the divine call he felt at that time to face the crisis of division in the Union. He said, weeping, as Jesus in Gethsemane, I wish this cup could be taken from me, but alas I am called for this time. There were reliable records of Lincoln weeping openly in the Oval Office as the war waged on.
Lincoln stood in the lineage of leaders of Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and countless other men and women saints through the ages who each wept for their people. Their love was entwined with heartbreak.
We understand this kind of love: We know people who passionately love this country, or their city, or their congregation or denomination. We know the love and heartbreak parents feel for their children, and children for their parents; and friends for each other. We are disappointed sometimes in the ones we love best because we care so deeply and we desire so severely that they bring forth their best selves.
But, frustratingly, we cannot control others. We are not Creator nor Savior. We might work for change; but we cannot save the world, and we are insufficient to save ourselves. We can however trust that God loves those whom we love more than do we. Paul concluded that it was God’s business to take care of Israel’s salvation. Paul’s call was to trust the loving and gracious God he knew so well.
My prayer is that we can also trust the loving and gracious God–remembering that nothing can happen to us beyond God’s redemptive love.
Commentary provided by J.R. Daniel Kirk, Matt Skinner, Paul S. Berge, Israel Kamudzandu, Clover Beal, and David Lose
THE SACRAMENT OF COMMUNION – virtual
From the Beginning, followers of Christ have broken bread together.
Gathered at tables fancy and simple, sharing wafers or full meals.
In this era of pandemic and separation we continue to gather together.
Sitting in our homes, with our own supplies, but linked together by the bits and bytes and cables.
The meal we share is hosted by the God who meets us where we are. And so all who seek to live by the values of God’s Kingdom are welcome to join as we eat together, from a distance.
Let us break bread together in our homes.
May the Peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you.
Feel the wind of God blow in your lives.
Refreshing us, bringing in new air.
We offer the God who is in our every breath our prayers
With the breath of God in us we share our fears, our hopes, our dreams, our thanks.
God you speak Creation into being. We give thanks for all that You have made. For the waters from which life sprang forth, for the wind that fills our lungs, for the food that fills our bellies, for the fellow creature with whom we share the world.
We sing songs and shout cries of praise and thanksgiving.
God you call us to live in you and you choose to share our lives.
And so we pour out our fears and anxieties…
We scream our laments….
We dare to share our dreams and visions…
Trusting that you hear our prayers, trusting that in love you hold them and answer them.
God you meet us where we are, be that in our churches, or in the fields, or in the forest, or in our living rooms. You speak to us constantly through many voices. You remind us over and over again that even when we are distanced from each other we are not alone.
We thank you for all those voices that have shared your love and promise over the centuries: prophets and pastors, men and women filled with your Spirit, all those who remind us of who you would have us live within the world you have made.
And as followers of Jesus of Nazareth, who we call Christ, we join in the cry of the ages:
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!
As followers of Jesus, the one we name as the Messiah we remember his story.
Born of the young woman Mary, raised in a backwater town, he came out to share your vision for the world.
He modeled your Kingdom, lived by its values, and in doing so enraged those with power.
Knowing what was to come, he promised that we would not be left orphaned;
that an Advocate, the Holy Spirit would be there to sustain us always.
Then he was arrested, tried, convicted executed.
But the story was not over.
You, God of power in weakness, you raised him from death
and he returned to breathe hope and life into his fear-filled followers, into us.
As we gather for this meal we remember a meal Jesus shared with his friends on the night before his death.
We remember that he took some bread, blessed it, broke it, and passed it to the saying: This is my body broken by and for the world. Eat it and remember me.
Then later he took a cup of wine, blessed it, and passed it to them saying:
This is the Cup of the New Covenant, Drink it and remember me.
And so, even all these years later, we continue to eat and drink and remember, sharing in the meal of faith.
And pledging, as we remember, to follow the Way that Jesus laid out for us.
Holy Spirit, you blow though closed doors and into the places where we are.
You meet us in our homes and fill us with hope, you light the fire of transformation in our hearts.
As we pause to eat and drink this morning,
make us, while separate, unified in heart and hope.
In this bread and this cup may we meet the Risen Christ.
In this meal of faith and transformation may we feel the fire and wind of the Kingdom.
And once we have eaten, may we be unified in the common quest to share the dreams You have given us.
Willing to offer what we have so that those dreams and visions take shape in our world.
We pray in the name of the Risen Christ, who breathes hope and peace into our fear, and who encouraged us to pray together saying:
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
The Bread we break is the Bread of Life
The Drink we pour is the Drink of Love
These are Gifts from God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.
Shall we eat and drink together?
PRAYER AFTER THE MEAL
We have broken the bread, we have poured the drink, we have shared a meal together.
Even while we remain physically separated, we have been united in our souls.
May this meal we share with each other and with the whole Christian family across the centuries and miles change who we are.
May it feed the fire in our bellies. May it strengthen us when the storms blow through.
And now, as we continue to live as people who have had the Holy Spirit breathed onto and into us, may we love and serve God, our neighbor, and ourselves.
So that the Kingdom of Love is made real in our lives. Amen
As you leave this place
remember that you do not go alone.
God is close at hand.
He hears the cry of all who call on His name.
He honors those who honor Him,
listening to their prayers and coming to their aid.
So go from here with joy and confidence,
to love and serve God and one another.