The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
June 27, 2021
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Gracious God, once again you have called us together in this place.
Here we open our hearts and lives before you, here we seek to hear Your life-giving Word.
God in this time of song and prayer and speech,
open our very souls to receive your challenge, open our wills to accept your instruction. Turn our mourning into dancing, replace our sackcloths with garments of joy.
And when our time of worship is ended,
lead us back out into the world to share the Good News with the world around us.We pray in the name of the One who brought Your healing love, Jesus of Nazareth.
PRELUDE “Lord, Enthroned in Heavenly Splendor” Lachenauer
CALL TO WORSHIP
I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you God’s faithful ones, and give thanks to God’s holy name.
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
Let us confess our sins to God, confident in God’s promise to forgive us, heal us and transform us.
PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
Holy and loving God, you promise us that you are making all things new. Yet we see the pain and injustice in our world and in our lives, and we do not believe you. Forgive us for our tiny faith. Make us confident in your promises, that we may be people of courageous hope, healers in a world desperate for restoration. Amen.
Silence is observed
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Lamentations 3:22-23 tells us, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” God loves us, no matter what. I declare to you with confidence, in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Live in that forgiveness this day and always. Amen.
PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
In sharing the peace of Christ, we express the reconciliation, unity, and love that come only from God, and we open ourselves to the power of God’s love to heal our brokenness and make us agents of that love in the world. Since God has forgiven us in Christ, let us forgive one another. The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also with you.
ANTHEM “Brother James’ Air” arr. Pethel
(all children will remain in the sanctuary)
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Startle us, O God, with your truth, and open our minds to your Spirit, that we may be one with Christ our Lord, and serve as faithful disciples, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
SCRIPTURE Genesis 18:1-15 & Genesis 21:1-20
18 The Lord appeared to Abraham[a] by the oaks[b] of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3 He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6 And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures[c] of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” 7 Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
9 They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10 Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”
21 The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. 2 Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. 4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” 7 And she said, “Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
8 The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9 But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac.[a] 10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” 11 The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. 13 As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” 14 So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
15 When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17 And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18 Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” 19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.
20 God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.
SERMON “This I Know: Abraham’s Family Did Grow”
It’s a common story about a married couple, Abraham and Sarah, who are getting on in years. Now we are learning to be careful about our vocabulary when it comes to this topic, a matter about which I am increasingly sensitive. But there is no more accurate way to say it than they’re old. They’re at the time of life when, to put it delicately, you don’t make long-range plans. It’s time to downsize, sell the house, get rid of your stuff, and move to Pitman Manor or Riverwinds. It’s not a time to launch an adventure, start something new. As a matter of fact, the last thing in the world you would contemplate, the most outrageous thought you could think, is a pregnancy, a baby.
They are nomads. They own some sheep and goats. They move around a lot, to provide grazing for the flocks. Years and years ago, there was that business about God wanting them to move, to start a new life in a new place. And there was the matter of the promise: “I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you.” Or at least that’s what Abraham said God said. They don’t talk about it any longer. It’s much too painful. No children ever came.
Now they are old. They don’t talk about the promise anymore. If truth were told, they have forgotten about it.
And then one day three strangers appear in the heat of midday. Abraham is sitting in the shade at the opening of his tent. Sarah is inside. According to nomadic custom, Abraham welcomes the strangers, offers hospitality, asks Sarah to prepare a meal.
“By the way, where is Sarah?” one of the strangers asks. He knows her name. It’s the Lord. God says, “I’ll return and when I do you’ll have a baby.” Talk about surprise! Sarah, inside the tent, preparing the food, is listening in. When the stranger gets to the part about her having a baby, she can’t contain herself. She laughs. So like a man to be talking so confidently, so nonsensically, about a matter he obviously doesn’t understand at all. She laughs out loud at the absurdity. The stranger—God—hears the laughter and asks, “Why is Sarah laughing? Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” Sarah, embarrassed, a little afraid now, says, “I didn’t laugh.” “Oh yes you did,” the stranger—God—says. “I heard you laugh.”
Fast forward: Surprise. Sarah conceives, has a child, a son. They name him Isaac, which means “laughter.” Sarah laughs again. It’s a different laughter now—laughter at the surprising, unpredictable, unlikely grace of God. She says, “God has brought laughter for me.”
Distinguished Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says this is the elemental Bible story because it is about the elemental Judeo-Christian notion of God. God, not as an abstraction, not as a remote power off somewhere in the sky, but as a presence: a God who shows up in the barren lives of two old people, shows up with the promise of life and hope. The overwhelming and always relevant question here—“Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”—is at the heart of what it means to have faith.
If the answer to the question is “Yes, some things are too difficult for God,” then God is not God, and we have decided to live in a closed universe where everything is stable, reliable, and hopeless and where the end of the story is death.
If the answer is “No, nothing is too wonderful for God: nothing is impossible for God,” you have taken the leap of faith and decided to live in a world full of possibility, hopefulness, a world full of life, a world full of surprises.
The story of Abraham and Sarah is a story of two people, parents of us all, moving from hopelessness to hope, from despair and resignation to possibility, from barrenness to productivity, from death to life.
Faith in this God is not predictable. Faith is an openness to the startling, amazing, surprising grace of God coming at us, to us, in the most unlikely and unexpected of ways.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, faith is not about knowing everything there is to know about God. It is knowing that there is plenty about God that we don’t know. Faith is not certainty. Faith is acknowledging that God will not be reduced to the limits of human understanding. God will be God, and there will always be surprises. “God will make a way where there is no way,” Martin Luther King Jr. used to say. God will make a way through the sea. God will bring freedom out of oppression, justice out of injustice, life out of death. It’s not that God will do everything we ask, give us whatever we think we want, as the prosperity gospel preachers promise. It is that God is God and God will do God’s will and it will be a surprise when it happens.
The Bible is full of surprises from beginning to end. An old couple having a child. The old promise renewed. A God who time and time again comes to his people when they have given up, when they’ve concluded that God has forgotten them—if God even exists in the first place. A God who comes particularly when their backs are against the wall and their hearts are full of fear. A God who comes quietly, steadily, to be with them, to bind up their wounds, to strengthen their hearts and arms and legs, a God for whom nothing is too wonderful.
Christianity is about a God of surprises. What, after all, could be more surprising than God coming into the world in the birth of a child, another child, this child born of humble parents in an insignificant village called Bethlehem? What could be more surprising than that?
What could be more surprising than the incarnation, God coming to us in that child? Only one thing actually: that child becoming a man and teaching so amazingly and clearly, healing so lovingly, reaching out to the marginalized so graciously, dying so courageously, and then, the greatest surprise of all, defeating death on Easter.
Episcopal priest and popular author Fleming Rutledge says that she looks forward to Easter more keenly as she gets older because “there isn’t anything we can do about death. It is so damned inescapable and I do mean damned. We feel its presence as a hostile, invading power” (Help My Unbelief, pp. 196–199).
That’s exactly how Abraham and Sarah felt: two old people at the end of their lives and God coming to them with hope and possibility and life. What a surprise. A surprise that we sing about at VBS or Summer Camp:
Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord
Right arm, left arm
Right arm, left arm, right foot
Right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot
Right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot, Chin up
Right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot, Chin up, turn around
Right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot, Chin up, turn around, sit down
At first, this seems contradictory. From what I recall in Genesis, Abraham had only two sons: Ishmael and Isaac (respectively, the son of flesh and the son of promise, according to Galatians 4:22-23). That’s not “many.” Turns out, there were more biological children. In Genesis 25, we learn that Abraham took another wife / concubine, Keturah, who subsequently had six sons. Neither the chronology nor the terminology are clear in this case, but we know that Abraham actually had eight sons and who-knows-how-many daughters, since they weren’t usually listed.
All these sons ended up fathering whole people groups, just as Isaac became the progenitor of the Hebrew people. What did Abraham believe? First, he trusted God when God said he would have descendants even though it looked virtually impossible. But even more importantly, Abraham believed that his descendants would bless the whole world (Genesis 12 and 15). We now know that one of those descendants—a great-great-great-etc.-grandson—was Jesus, which makes faith way easier for us than it was for Abraham. He trusted a promise. We trust a Person. Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the Law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. -Romans 4:16
Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord
Liturgy and Commentary provided by Fleming Rutledge, Rachel Young, Chris Donato, Ken Camp, Mark Throntveit, John M. Buchanan, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dennis Bratchera
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH The Apostles’ Creed
I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
ORDINATION & INSTALLATION OF OFFICERS
Class of 2024
- Eric Campo (2),
- Dawn Witherspoon,
- Janet Dahmer (2),
- Joyce Mixner,
- Denise Campo,
- Larry Diehlman, jr
- Sidney Sexton(Y)
- Joe Federici (2),
- Jesse Edick (2)
Statement on ordination and installation
We are all called into the church of Jesus Christ by baptism, and marked as Christ’s own by the Holy Spirit. This is our common calling, to be disciples and servants of our servant Lord. Within the community of the church, some are called to particular service as deacons, as elders, and as ministers of the Word and Sacrament. Ordination is Christ’s gift to the church, assuring that his ministry continues among us, providing for ministries of caring and compassion in the world, ordering the governance of the church, and preaching the Word and administering the sacraments.
Representing the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, the session of the Presbyterian Church at Woodbury now ordains Joyce MIxner, Denise Campo, and Larry Dielhman, Jr to the office of deacon, and Dawn Witherspoon and (TBD) to the office of elder, and installs them to active service on their respective boards.
The session also installs to active service those who have been previously ordained: deacons Eric Campo and elders Janet Dahmer and Sidney Sexton.
The session also commissions to active service those called to serve as Trustees: Joe Federici and Jesse Edick.
Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?
Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?
I do and I will.
Will you fulfill your office in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?
Will you be governed by our church’s polity, and will you abide by its discipline? Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit?
Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world?
Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church?
Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?
Will you be a faithful deacon, teaching charity, urging concern, and directing the people’s help to the friendless and those in need? In your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?
Will you be a faithful elder, watching over the people, providing for their worship, nurture, and service? Will you share in government and discipline, serving in governing bodies of the church, and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?
Will you be a faithful trustee, faithfully receiving, holding, encumbering and managing the resources of this congregation? Will you share in the government and discipline, serving in governing bodies of the church, and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?
Do we, the members of the church, accept N. and N. as deacons and elders, chosen by God through the voice of this congregation to lead us in the way of Jesus Christ?
Do we agree to encourage them, to respect their decisions, and to follow as they guide us, serving Jesus Christ who alone is Head of the Church?
Laying on Hands & Prayer
Gracious God, through the waters of baptism, you have claimed us as your own and called us to share in Christ’s ministry. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us, that we may discern the gifts you have given, calling them forth from one another, and together use these gifts for the good of all. In obedience to Christ, and in the unity of his Spirit, may we proclaim good news, make disciples, be light and leaven, share our bread, offer a cup of cold water, wash one another’s feet. Make us strong in Christ to live as your people and show forth your saving love in the world, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Declaration of ordination and installation
Janet Dahmer, Joyce Mixner, Denise Campo, Larry Diehlman, Jr, Sidney Sexton, Eric Campo, and Dawn Witherspoon: you are now deacons and elders in the church of Jesus Christ and for this congregation. Be faithful and true in your ministry so that your whole life will bear witness to the crucified and risen Christ.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
O God, in these summer days, in this season of ordinary time, we ask that you would make our lives verdant with growth. We long for your restoration and your healing. We long for you to make all things new. We lay before you all our hopes, desires and fears, knowing that you lovingly receive them all.
For the places in our lives, our church and our society that are dry and thirsty, we pray for healing waters. For the places in our lives, our church and our society that are flooded with to-dos and overwhelmed by injustice and inequality, we pray for a receding of the waters, that we would be empowered and emboldened to act with justice, love and peace.
All this talk of fire and flood raises our awareness of the parts of our nation preparing for wildfires and hurricanes this summer. We pray your protection on all people living through the effects of climate change. We pray your courage and discipline to be able to make changes that will prevent deep suffering in the future.
For the needs of this community, we pray now, offering, in the silence of our hearts, the names of those in our midst who are suffering and need your sustaining love.
Shape us into people of bold hope that rest firm on the promise of a new heaven and new earth. Enable us to serve you wherever we are planted, not only in the everyday tasks at hand, but in the larger visions of justice, love, and peace for which we work.
We pray all of this in the name of Jesus Christ who taught us to pray, saying: Our Father …
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 flowers are given in the glory and honor of God by Are given in the glory and honor of God by Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Stevens and Sons in loving memory of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Haas, and by Nancy Webster in loving memory of her parents Doris and Les Dickensheets.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
Whether we have much or whether we have little, God asks us to offer what we have for God’s purposes, including our tithes, our gifts, our skills and our passions. Let us offer to God what we can, confident that God will take our small offerings, and multiply them to abundance for the good of our congregation and our community.
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
God of all provision, take these gifts, and use them for your glory and for the good of our world. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
People of God, go from this place confident in God’s promises. Love and serve the Lord. And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you, now and always. Amen.