April 28, 2024

Fifth Sunday of EASTER






Wondrous Vinegrower,

you make all things new in water and Word,
feeding your people with love, joy, and peace.
Lead us today and every day to the font of new beginnings.
Teach us to love what you have commanded
and to prune what does not nourish your creation,
in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,
one God, now and forever. Amen.


PRELUDE      “Rigaudon on ‘Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies’”         Dennis Janzer


We gather this day in joy and Christian fellowship,

for we are the church of Jesus Christ!

We pray for the Holy Spirit to be among us,

opening our hearts and minds to the worship of God!


*HYMN No. 401                    “How Lovely, Lord”

1 How lovely, Lord, how lovely
is your abiding place;
my soul is longing, fainting,
to feast upon your grace.
The sparrow finds a shelter,
a place to build her nest;
and so your temple calls us
within its walls to rest.

2 In your blest courts to worship,
O God, a single day
is better than a thousand
if I from you should stray.
I’d rather keep the entrance
and claim you as my Lord
than revel in the riches
the ways of sin afford.

3 A sun and shield forever
are you, O Lord Most High;
you shower us with blessings;
no good will you deny.
The saints, your grace receiving,
from strength to strength shall go,
and from their life shall rivers
of blessing overflow.


When we come before God, we remember and proclaim who God is: merciful, just, holy, and loving. We must also remember who we are, and we are a people who have not always been the people God has called us to be. We have not always been merciful, just, holy or loving. So let us confess our sin, trusting in God’s goodness to forgive us and create us anew for our lives ahead.



Gracious God, our hearts are restless until they find their home in you. Forgive our pursuit of things that separate us from you. We pursue success, realizing it will never be enough. We desire more possessions, knowing they are empty. We turn toward the world and hope we will find peace, knowing the world cannot provide it. Forgive us, we pray, and may our wandering hearts find their rest in you alone. Amen.





Hear the good news! In Christ, we are new creations. The old life is gone, thank God! A new life has begun. Know you are forgiven, and be at peace.

Thanks be to God! Amen.


*RESPONSE No. 581             “Glory Be to the Father”

Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.
Amen, amen.



Although we believe and trust in God, we have forgotten the covenant which God made with our ancestors, and we have sinned. However, God shows the mercy promised to our ancestors, and remembers this holy covenant; giving us the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of our sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the Dawn will break upon us, shining into the darkness and the shadow of death, guiding our feet into the way of peace.


Peace be with you.

And also with you.


ANTHEM                   “Offertory”                 John Ness Beck





Please join me in the unison prayer…

Gracious God may your Holy Spirit open our hearts and minds to your words of love and grace this day. Amen.


SCRIPTURE               1 John 4:7-21

7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.


14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.


17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.



This is the Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God!!


SERMON                   “A startling statement”

What’s the most startling thing you have ever heard?




1 John 4 contains one of the most startling claims in all of Scripture, but it is one that we have heard so often that perhaps its boldness is lost on us. We have to keep in mind that the name of God was so precious to the Jews that they would not speak it. God’s image was so precious and vast that it was not to be depicted in graven images. When God is spoken of throughout the pages of the Bible, it is most often done in metaphor. The writers of Scripture were far more comfortable talking about what God is like than they were to try and say with certainty who God is. But here, in 1 John 4, that carefulness and hesitation is thrown to the side and John writes, “God is love.”  God is love, and because we are made in God’s image, we are to love God and love our brothers and sisters.

God is love. Three words. But, apart from this truth, we have no hope at all. Without God, there is no love because love begins with God. Love begins with God, and love comes from God. While we were still sinners, God sent Jesus to save us because God loves us. Love is central to who God is, and as people created in the image of God, it has to be central to who we are, too. In fact, verse 8 says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”


Sometimes I wonder if radical statements like “God is love” have lost their depth and power when we hear them because we are constantly bombarded with weak concepts of love. We talk about loving certain kinds of food, or loving television shows, or loving sports. We equate love with something that makes us happy or something that makes us feel a certain way, but love extends so far beyond all of that.

Love is unexpected. It often comes to us as the exact opposite of what we thought we’d get. Love is unafraid. It knows that when all is said and done, the One we will stand before is One who loves us. Love wins. Even in the face of struggle and adversity, love will win in the end.


Throughout the pages of the Old Testament, we find the cultural idea that bad people get bad things, and good people get good things. Take for example, the book of Job. When suffering befalls Job, his friends jump to the conclusion that he must have done something terrible to deserve it. But, we all know that things do not always work this way. Sometimes people who do terrible things seem to get away with it, or even prosper, and have all kinds of wonderful opportunities fall into their laps. On the flip side, we have watched wonderful people suffer in ways they never could have deserved. And it doesn’t seem fair.

The amazing thing about God’s love is that while we were still sinners, God loved us. While we were completely and utterly undeserving, God sent Jesus to save us. When the wages of sin should have been death, God’s love issued forth a plan for life. When our separation from God should have destroyed us, God found a way to redeem. Before we could ask for it, God had already given. Love is unexpected.

Love is patient when we were probably expecting impatience or anger.

Love is kind in an unkind world. Love does not envy or boast, but celebrates with others. Love is not selfish and demanding, but other-centered and giving.

Love believes when belief seems crazy.

Love hopes when all seems hopeless.

Love is unexpected, but love is what endures.

So often, when we read the list of what love is in 1 Corinthians 13, we read it as though it was intended as a marital to-do list. But all love comes from God. 1 Corinthians 13 gives us a window into what godly love looks like. Love begins with God. And – as people created in God’s image – we love because God loves.

Along with 1 John 4 in the lectionary for this week, the Acts passage is from Acts 8:26-40. This passage is one of my favorites in all of Scripture, but I love the way it springs to life when set next to this passage from 1 John on God’s love. An angel of the Lord tells Philip to go down toward the road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza, and as a side note we are told that this is a wilderness road. I don’t know about you, but I think I’d be hesitant to set out toward a wilderness road. But Philip goes, and while he is there, he encounters an Ethiopian eunuch – the fact that he was a eunuch would have made him unable to convert to Judaism.

And yet, the eunuch is still headed to Jerusalem to worship. He is still reading from the prophet Isaiah. He is still longing to know and understand. Philip goes to him and answers his questions by teaching about Jesus, and the eunuch asks to be baptized. In the nearest water available, in a baptism that wasn’t scripted or planned, Philip baptized someone who had previously been kept at a distance from religious faith. God’s love is unexpected. It is given to us while we did not deserve it. It includes those we might least expect. And sometimes it comes about through unconventional means. Love is unexpected.


God’s love can be unexpected and may cause us to be scared.  I’m not saying that we’ll never have fears. I’m pretty sure I will continue to feel a shiver run down my spine every time I see a spider racing across the baseboard. When John says, “perfect love casts out fear,” he isn’t saying we’ll never be afraid of anything. We have to back up and read the rest of the verse right before it:

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

We do not have to be afraid of God because God is love. God’s holiness, God’s perfection, and all of God’s vast and infinite attributes have to be held together with God’s perfect love. In John Wesley’s Notes on the Bible, he says this of the verse “God is love”:

This little sentence brought St. John more sweetness, even in the time he was writing it, than the whole world can bring. God is often styled holy, righteous, wise; but not holiness, righteousness, or wisdom in the abstract, as he is said to be love; intimating that this is his darling, his reigning attribute, the attribute that sheds an amiable glory on all his other perfections.1

Love is the beginning point in the story of salvation, and it begins with God. It doesn’t hinge on our perfection, because if it did God would never have made a way for us in the first place. God is love, and even though God’s love is unexpected, and something we didn’t earn, God gives it to us abundantly. When we live into the fullness of the love that God has shown to us, we won’t be afraid of judgment because we will know that the Judge is the One who made the first move in showing love to us while we were still mired in sin.

Love is unexpected. Love is unafraid.


In other words, it begins with love, and it will end with love. And this is the best news there could ever be, even though sometimes it seems like a dream too good to be true. We can’t miss the struggle and brokenness of this world. We can’t miss the injustice, the hatred, and the suffering. And even though we know that love will overcome, even though we know that love will win in the end, sometimes we despair. Sometimes we wonder if this is as good as things will ever get.

And we feel afraid. When the hatred seems the strongest, when the costs seem too high, when it seems impossible for love to win in the end, love will triumph. In 1964, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He accepted the award at a time in history when the struggle was still very real, when peace seemed impossible, when justice and freedom and equality seemed like mere pipe dreams. He accepted the award at a time in history that is not much different than the world we face today – with threats of nuclear war, with systemic poverty and injustices – a time in which we may hear the assurance from God that love will overcome, and we find it hard to believe.

As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. accepted this Nobel Peace Prize, he acknowledged that peace had not fully come. He acknowledged that the struggle was still real, and powerful, and present. He also said this:

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even among today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Even though it is a messy system, God calls us to carry the love of God with us everywhere we go. Even though we are miserably imperfect at sharing God’s love, as people made in God’s image, we participate in the love of God by loving others. As it says in verse 19, “We love because he first loved us.”

The love of God is unexpected – it chooses the strange, the outcast, the imperfect, the broken. The love of God is unafraid – we can stand with boldness on the day of judgment because the Judge is the One who made the first move to show love to us. The love of God wins – God’s love began it all and God’s love will see it through to completion.

Because of God’s love: we can shake off the name “Unlovable” given to us by the world, and claim the name “Beloved” that was given to us by God. May we be filled with the love of God so that we may find the courage to go forth into the world with the unexpected, unafraid, and overcoming love of God.



Commentary and Liturgy from the Book of Common Worship (PCUSA), “Call to Worship” Website, Scott Hoezee, Tara W. Bulger, Teri McDowell Ott, April Fiet, PCUSA Book of Confession, and The New Interpreter’s Commentary



“Jesus is our living Lord”

Jesus was dead and buried,
but God raised him from the dead.
The risen Lord appeared to his followers.
They recognized him as their Master
who had been crucified.
Before Jesus left them,
he commissioned them to proclaim to all people

the good news of his victory over death,

and promised to be with them always.

We are certain that Jesus lives.
He lives as God with us,
touching all of human life with the presence of God.
He lives as one of us with God.
Because he shares our humanity
and has bound us to himself in love,
we have an advocate in the innermost life of God.
We declare that Jesus is Lord.
His resurrection is a decisive victory
over the powers that deform and destroy human life.
His lordship is hidden.


The world appears to be dominated

by people and systems that do not acknowledge his rule.
But his lordship is real.
It demands our loyalty and sets us free
from the fear of all lesser lords who threaten us.
We maintain that ultimate sovereignty
now belongs to Jesus Christ
in every sphere of life.
Jesus is Lord’
He has been Lord from the beginning.
He will be Lord at the end.
Even now he is Lord.


*HYMN No. 273                    “He Is King of Kings”

He is King of kings;
he is Lord of lords,
Jesus Christ, the first and last,
no one works like him.
O he is . . .

1 He built his throne up in the air;
no one works like him;
and called his saints from everywhere;
no one works like him.
O he is King of kings;
he is Lord of lords,
Jesus Christ, the first and last,
no one works like him.

2 He pitched his tents on Canaan ground;
no one works like him;
and broke oppressive kingdoms down;
no one works like him.
O he is King of kings;
he is Lord of lords,
Jesus Christ, the first and last,
no one works like him.

3 I know that my Redeemer lives;
no one works like him;
and by his love sweet blessing gives;
no one works like him.
O he is King of kings;
he is Lord of lords,
Jesus Christ, the first and last,
no one works like him.



Gracious God, you have promised to hear us when we pray to you, and we desperately need your guidance and care. We are a people who often walk around with a long list of concerns and worries on our minds. What a gift it is to come and offer them to you — for you are the author of all grace and goodness.


We worry about the state of the world. More people die in Gaza and Ukraine, and we grieve it all. We pray for your peace to come to every war zone in the world and for leaders to be filled with a spirit of reconciliation and care.


We worry about the state of our nation. In the run-up to the presidential election, it seems that divisiveness still reigns and that our very democracy is threatened. Remind us, Lord, of the greater good. May we focus not so much on ourselves, but on what we can do as a nation for those who need help the most. Let us live into our highest ideals and may we be agents of unity in a difficult time.


We worry about our communities. May your hand be in all of our decisions as a community so that we can be a light unto the world.


We worry about our those who are sick and suffering. It is difficult to witness illness, and we give you thanks for all the doctors and medical workers who live into their calling with grace and care. Help us each to offer a kind word and helping hand when we are able. May your Spirit be with all who suffer, giving them each a peace that passes all under- standing.

We worry about our families. We pray for your blessing on big families and small families, blood families and families of choice. We pray for our church family. May the bonds of loyalty and love that unite us with others be strengthened and may we share love with all.

Lord, all that we know of goodness and love is found in the person of Jesus Christ and so we now join our voices together in the prayer that he taught us saying, “Our Father…”.


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, for ever. Amen





Having heard the good news and being assured of God’s love and grace, our only response is one of gratitude. Let us give thanks with what we have and who we are. Let us give our offering.




*RESPONSE N0. 607            “Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow”

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
praise Christ, all people here below;
praise Holy Spirit evermore;
praise Triune God, whom we adore. Amen.



Gracious God, please accept these gifts and use them for the coming of your kingdom in this time and place. In gratitude for all we have and for your love for us, we pray with thanksgiving. Amen.


*HYMN No. 315                     “In the Midst of New Dimensions”

1 In the midst of new dimensions,
in the face of changing ways,
who will lead the pilgrim peoples
wandering in their separate ways?

God of rainbow, fiery pillar,
leading where the eagles soar,
we your people, ours the journey
now and ever, now and ever,
now and evermore.

2 Through the flood of starving people,
warring factions, and despair,
who will lift the olive branches?
Who will light the flame of care? (Refrain)

3 As we stand, a world divided
by our own self-seeking schemes,
grant that we, your global village,
might envision wider dreams. (Refrain)

4 We are man and we are woman,
all persuasions, old and young,
each a gift in your creation,
each a love song to be sung. (Refrain)

5 Should the threats of dire predictions
cause us to withdraw in pain,
may your blazing phoenix spirit
resurrect the church again. (Refrain)



As you go out into God’s world this week, be Easter people! Be those who say, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus is not here. He is risen.” Be ready to be surprised with what God will do next. Look for the risen Christ in those you meet. Let the Holy Spirit nudge and guide you. The tomb is empty because Jesus is out in the world, and now we must go out into the world too! May the joy and wonder of that first Easter morning live in your hearts today and every day. Amen.