The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
November 7, 2021
24th Sunday after Pentecost
PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Lord, you have called us to be fishers of people and shepherds of your flock. Teach us to follow, to love and to serve; to feed those who hunger and cast out our nets to welcome the world into your eternal realm; through Jesus Christ, the fish, the lamb, the Lord. Amen.
PRELUDE Partita on “St. Anne” Anthony Giamanco
CALL TO WORSHIP
In worship we tell a story:
A story of an unfettered love that changed the world.
In worship we tell a story:
A story of how we live and how we long to live.
In worship we tell a story:
Because we are forgetful people.
So, may we remember who we are.
May we release the narratives that trap us.
May we reimagine this world to see what God sees.
And may we work toward restoration.
It’s all that easy, and it’s all that hard.
Let us worship holy God.
HYMN No. 711 “God of All Good”
1 Lord of all good, our gifts we bring to you;
use them your holy purpose to fulfill,
tokens of love and pledges brought anew,
that our whole life is offered to your will.
2 We give our minds to understand your ways;
hands, eyes, and voice to serve your great design;
heart with the flame of your own love ablaze,
till for your glory all our powers combine.
3 Father, whose bounty all creation shows;
Christ, by whose willing sacrifice we live;
Spirit, from whom all life in fullness flows:
to you with grateful hearts ourselves we give.
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
We can hold on to hurt until our hands begin to cramp, and keep holding. Though they bow our back, we refuse to set our grudges down, because we don’t know what it would feel like to have that weight off us. And we think that is the way God operates as well. But God’s anger lasts for just a moment, while the grace, the forgiveness, and the hope God offers never goes away. Let us dare to bring our prayers to the One who hears us and heals us, as we pray together, saying,
PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
Holy God, To restore is to bring back; So today we bring our hearts back to you, our thoughts back to love, and our prayers back to peace. We try to stay in this place, but we confess, it’s never been that easy for us. We flirt with reconciliation and then back away. We come face-to-face with an opportunity for justice, but get scared. We are offered an opportunity to re-write our story, but we lose our way. Bring us back to this moment. Bring us back to your story where brothers extend grace to one another and even the one who denied it was forgiven. Bring us back. Restore us. Forgive us. Gratefully we pray, Amen.
Silence is observed
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Why should we weep? Joy comes to us this morning, and every moment of our lives. The Lamb of God has come, to share mercy and hope with us, so we can praise our God with joyous hearts.
We will lift glad songs of joy, for all the blessings God has given to us. We will offer our hearts and hands in love and serve to others. Thanks be to God, we are forgiven! 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.
PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
Our peace comes from knowing how much God loves us in Jesus Christ. With God’s help, we try to love and forgive one another as Christ loves and forgives us.
“The peace of Christ be with you,”
“And also with you.”
ANTHEM “Walking on High Places” Howard Helvetic
(all children will remain in the sanctuary)
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
God, We cannot do the work of restoration without your Word. We cannot do the work of remembering, releasing, or reimagining without your Word. We need you like the earth needs rain and a sailboat needs wind. We come to you in prayer to ask that you breathe new life into us. Grant us the clarity needed to hear your Word anew. And as you do, restore us to your breath. Restore us to your Word. Restore us to one another. Gratefully we pray. Amen.
Genesis 33:1-17 (Esau forgives Jacob)
33 Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. 2 He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. 3 He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother.
4 But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. 5 When Esau looked up and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” 6 Then the maids drew near, they and their children, and bowed down; 7 Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down; and finally Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. 8 Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor with my lord.” 9 But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” 10 Jacob said, “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor. 11 Please accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.” So he urged him, and he took it.
12 Then Esau said, “Let us journey on our way, and I will go alongside you.” 13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds, which are nursing, are a care to me; and if they are overdriven for one day, all the flocks will die. 14 Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”
15 So Esau said, “Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But he said, “Why should my lord be so kind to me?” 16 So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. 17 But Jacob journeyed to Succoth,[a] and built himself a house, and made booths for his cattle; therefore the place is called Succoth.
John 21:1-19 (Jesus appears to the disciples)
21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin,[a] Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards[b] off.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Every year at stewardship season, I lose sleep over the budget. I’ve tried not to, but I do, because every year for the past 7-8 we come up a little short which means I have to face telling committee chairs and staff to cut back and/or the Session takes a little more from our endowment which our financial people tell us is not sustainable. And I lose sleep because I feel partly responsible for fixing it.
Fixing it has basically meant one of three choices. We raise more money, cut back our spending, or take a little more from the endowment, a little more than we should if we want it to remain over the long haul. We could probably embrace any of these 3 as workable if we were all of the same mind. But we’re not. And as a result, we end up with tensions that can’t be resolved. Some who think we need to push harder get people to give more – if we just tithed we’d have more than enough! Others who emphasize that we need to “live within our means.” Still others who point out that we’re always so afraid of endowment spending, yet the thing has been growing for 20 years from interest and new gifts, despite our scarcity mentality.
As a result, I lose sleep over the budget. Over what’s good and right.
Recently, I’ve decided to accept this predicament rather than try to fix it. Partly because, well, I need my sleep. But mostly because accepting the reality that our money story together is not going to resolve itself so easily might actually be our spiritual work. The spiritual work of accepting that none of us is going to win our perspective, none of us is going to get our way. Our future is not going to work out exactly the way we want it to because, well, we’ve all got to deal with each other.
Esau and Jacob finally seem to come to a similar conclusion. We’ve got to deal with each other which means restoring the relationship, they decide. And, on its face, this story has every bit of a Hallmark reconciliation drama – twins, at odds with each other from the very beginning, who find themselves weeping and bowing, and embracing one another, finally burying the hatchet. In an elaborate ritual of reconciliation, they seem to find it here. This is what we need to find in life, the text suggests. Reconciliation. Or in the words of today’s stewardship theme, restoration.
But that’s not happening here with Esau and Jacob. For one thing, neither party seems particularly at ease in this entire interaction. Esau has 400 men with him which sounds more like an army than a family reunion. Jacob responds by using his least favorite wife, children, and maids as human shields, to protect his most favored family members in case things turn ugly. Prior to all this Jacob has sent 3 waves of extravagant gifts to Esau maybe to show his loving intent, or maybe to signal to his brother, I’m rich and powerful so don’t mess with me.
“But Esau ran to meet him,” the text says, “and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” Here is the tear jerker climax of a scene, you might think, except that “falling on someone’s neck” might actually be “bit his neck.” One of the early rabbinic interpreters suggested that Esau’s kiss was treacherous. In the text there are offers of more gifts which could also sound like posturing and flaunting power, plus awkward negotiations about whether the two should travel together or separately. Then, finally, after what a seems like agreement to accompany each other to the next town, Jacob goes somewhere else.
Some restoration. It’s really disappointing as a preacher to find all this out about the text. I’d prefer a reconciliation scene that lets me draw from my deep well of pure reconciliation stories that I’ve used in the past. You know, the mother of the child who is murdered, reconciling with her son’s murderer. The children abandoned by their parent only to find each other again in a tear-stained Hollywood scene. Those pure reconciliation stories are the ones that we love to tell because they are so clear and so clean.
But a lot of our stories are more like Esau and Jacob. Two siblings who can’t ever really go back and restore a relationship because there wasn’t really one there to begin with. Their relationship of competition started out in the womb, according to the story – a division so deep that there is no going back to restore what was. There is only going forward to see if they can create something in the future that might yet be.
A lot of the country right now is kind of obsessed with trying to get back and restoring stuff. “Build back better,” on the Democrat side has some similar overtones to “make America great again” on the Republic side – both make reference to the past as a kind of anchoring place. But what if those anchoring places, tether us to possibilities that aren’t real possibilities at all? What if instead of anchoring ourselves to some past, we latched onto a future possibility that we haven’t yet experienced together?
When we hear the word, “restore,” we think of putting things back the way they were – in their ideal state. But Esau and Jacob can’t do that. The twins, both seem bound to some impossible idea from their own past that they are supposed to be best buds – that’s what brothers are, after all. And yet what seems most significant on this day of their detente, is not their meeting itself, but what takes place after it. Each seems to move on in different directions. Jacob goes a different way and Esau doesn’t try to pursue him. It’s like they both are freed finally not simply from a frayed relationship – but from the expectations they had both followed of what that relationship needed to be.
The only thing that I can see that is restored, is their recognition that the old script has been put to rest. What lies ahead now is the opportunity to write a new story. And that must be a terribly frightening place to be. Because this non-existent relationship has governed both of their entire lives to this point. The division between them has ruled their existence, governed their choices, inflamed their fears, shaped their stories more than any other force until this moment in time. If anything is restored it is their own agency, the reality that from here on out their choices are their own to make.
It’s a frightening thing to realize that whatever story has governed your life around money – whatever value you have attached to it through the years; maybe you’ve never felt like there was enough so you had to suppress every desire, postpone every want; or maybe you needed to spend, spend, spent to feel better in some numbing exercise that has never silenced your pain; maybe you absorbed the idea that money was the taboo topic that you could never face and handle so you let it handle you; or maybe money is the marker that you wore like tattoo on your arm – an identity you wanted to advertise to others and to yourself – whatever that story, it’s a frightening thing when you realize you have been freed from it. You get to choose which story you will write. At the end of the day, you are accountable for your own money story.
And we are accountable for the money story that we write, together, about our congregation. I’m still not sure what that story will be. I just know that none of the choices that I’ve heard offered through the years really fit us well. Such as we’re a “rich church.” Okay, we have some wealthy members, yes, and those who have passed along their wealth to us and to those who will come after and we break bread with those who have experienced foreclosure and unemployment and have been paycheck to paycheck for their entire lives. Or that old money story that the church used to give ten percent of its budget to benevolences. It sure did and the city had ⅓ more of its population and the wealth of the church was so great that its pastor apparently lived in a church house. We can’t go back to these stories. We need to go forward into a future we haven’t yet experienced, with a story that we write together.
Peter faced the same uncertainty. Following his awful denial of Jesus, you can see why he would want to return to the beach, go back to the roots of his early years and do some fishing. That’s often where we go when our worlds are upended. We go back to what is familiar. But Jesus points him to a braver place – to a healed future where the past is past and Peter has an opportunity to write a new story – not marked by fear, not captive to sins of his past, but released from them. Freed to serve and give and love and live for others which is the story that Peter has always wanted to write.
That’s the gift that Jesus gives to Peter on the beach. The gift that I believe God wants to give to every single one of us. The gift not to be defined entirely by the past. To remember it and understand its mark, yes, but only so he can be freed to live differently in the future. To have our own sense of agency restored which is what happens when God heals us. There is nothing stopping us from living into the joy of letting our lives speak the way God intends. There is abundance all around.
I think this may be why I lose sleep every year. It’s not really about the budget. It’s the choices that the budget brings into our focus. The reality that stewardship is always about way more than money. It’s about how you’re going to spend your money, yes; how we’re going to spend our money together, but it’s about way more than that. Restored to serve and give and love and live for others, how are you going to spend your life? How are we going to spend our lives together?
Commentary and liturgy provided by Andrew Connors, Amanda Kerr, Lydia Hernandez-Marcial, Sarah Are, Richard Buck, Mieke Vandersalls, and Karoline Lewis.
*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
We believe in a restoring God,
Who restores our bodies through the gift of Sabbath.
We believe in a restoring God,
Who restores our souls through the gift of grace and second chances.
We believe in a restoring God,
Who restores this hurting world through the gift of mercy and God’s son Jesus Christ.
And we believe in a restoring God who invites us to join in this restoration work.
As people of faith, we seek to restore creation to God by feeding the hungry, loving our neighbors, forgiving seventy times seven, welcoming the children, seeing all, loving all, and living like we belong to all.
And so, we will work until God’s promised day.
This we believe.
*HYMN No. 697 “Take My Life”
300th Anniversary Hymn
Take my life and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee;
take my moments and my days;
let them flow in ceaseless praise;
let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands and let them move
at the impulse of thy love;
take my feet and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee,
swift and beautiful for thee.
Take my voice and let me sing
always, only, for my King;
take my lips and let them be
filled with messages from thee,
filled with messages from thee.
Take my sliver and my gold;
not a mite would I withhold;
take my intellect and use
every power as thou shalt choose,
every power as thou shalt choose.
Take my will and make it thine;
it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is thine own;
it shall be thy royal throne,
it shall be thy royal throne.
Take my love; my Lord, I pour
at thy feet its treasure store;
take myself and I will be
ever, only, all for thee,
ever, only, all for thee.
THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY COMMUNION
invitation to the table
On the night of his arrest, Jesus had dinner with his friends.
And for a moment, all was right in the world.
Betrayal would come, suffering would come, grief and death would come,
But for a moment—for that moment—they were together, and everything was holy. So many years later, we gather around this table to get a glimpse of that moment. For when we gather around this table,
we remember that all are welcome here.
When we gather around this table,
we release the worldly narrative that only those with status or wealth deserve to be fed. When we gather around this table,
we can reimagine what could be—what a world could look like when all belong.
And so we gather around this table as an act of restoration,
as an act of resistance, as an act of faith.
Come with your dreams and your memories.
Come with your full authentic self—scars and all.
Come with your questions, your wonderings, your hopes, and your prayers.
Come—not because you have to, but because you can.
Come because this is a moment of restoration,
a moment where everything is holy.
Great Prayer of Thanksgiving
I invite you to join with me in prayer, using a corporate refrain. When you hear me say, “Oh God, hear our prayer,” please add your voice to our refrain, saying, “Restore all of who we are to you.”
Restoring God, You have always been in the business of beginning again with us, of restoration and return. First you breathed life into dust. Then you guided brother back to brother after years apart. You sent prophets when the people lost their way. You fed the hungry and healed the sick. You let the little children come to you. You forgave us from the cross, And then you returned to remind us of our call. You have always been in the work of restoration— Of seeing us, claiming us, loving us, and inviting us to return to you. Today we come to you in prayer, asking that once more, you would restore us— All of all of us. Restore our narratives about who we are to truth. Restore our actions toward one another to love. Restore our dreams for this world to your dream for us.
And when our time and place tries to teach us that a man’s worth is his income, that men cannot display emotion, and that being sensitive is feminine, Oh God, hear our prayer:
Restore all of who we are to you.
And when our time and place teaches us that a woman’s beauty is more valuable than her soul, that a woman’s body is property, and that a woman’s “no” is optional— Oh God, hear our prayer:
Restore all of who we are to you.
And when our time and place teaches that brown bodies and black bodies are less valuable than white bodies, give us the strength to speak out and to expect more from our history teachers, our churches, our law enforcement, and our politicians. Oh God, hear our prayer:
Restore all of who we are to you.
And when our time and place tries to ignore the impacts of our consumer practices, may we remember the hurricanes, wildfires, and tornadoes of the last year— may we remember the consequences of global warming. Oh God, hear our prayer:
Restore all of who we are to you.
And when our church places shame, instead of caring for everyone, when we idolize tradition instead of making room for the Spirit to move, and when we forget your call to love our neighbors as ourselves, Oh God, hear our prayer:
Restore all of who we are to you.
Holy God, you have always been in the business of beginning again with us, of restoration and return. We trust that you hear our prayer. And we trust that you are with us in this ordinary meal of bread and cup, giving us a glimpse of what restoration looks and feels like. For we believe that a restored world will be a world where all are welcome at the table, where all are fed and where all belong. A restored world will be on earth as it is in heaven. So we lift our voices together in prayer, saying:
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.
Holy God, We are not sure what restoration for this world will look like, But we’re pretty sure it’ll feel like this— a meal where all are fed, a place where all are welcomed, and a table with a seat saved for each and every one of us. Remind us of this truth in the coming day, and continue to restore all of us to you. Gratefully we pray. Amen.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
Creator of all, the earth is yours, the world and all who live in it.
You have entrusted us with gifts— time, talent, energy, money— and asked us to use them to build your kingdom. With thanks and praise we respond to your call.
We bring these gifts you have given, returning your generosity, paying it forward.
We offer ourselves, our lives, our hopes and fears, our dollars and our hours. We commit ourselves to work for your world, to love and serve wherever you call.
We ask your blessing on this, your church, as we seek to follow you with heart, mind, and soul.
Bless also these gifts, our investment in your future, that they may multiply in faith, hope, and love. Amen.
Praise God, from whom all blessing flow, Praise God, all creatures here below. Alleluia, Alleluia Praise God in Jesus fully know; Creator, Word and Spirit one. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
* PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Holy God, there was Eden, and then there was east of Eden; Which is all to say—this world is not what you intended it to be. You planted a garden and dreamed of Sabbath—and it was good. It was so very good. However, when we look around today, we know that we have lost our way. So today we bring our hearts, minds, and money back to you in hopes that you will sow good. This is the work of restoration, for we want to be a restoration people. Use these gifts for your hurting world. Restore us to you, oh God. Amen.
*HYMN No. 716 “God Whose Giving Knows No Ending”
1 God, whose giving knows no ending,
from your rich and endless store,
nature’s wonder, Jesus’ wisdom,
costly cross, grave’s shattered door:
gifted by you, we turn to you,
offering up ourselves in praise;
thankful song shall rise forever,
gracious donor of our days.
2 Skills and time are ours for pressing
toward the goals of Christ, your Son:
all at peace in health and freedom,
races joined, the church made one.
Now direct our daily labor,
lest we strive for self alone.
Born with talents, make us servants
fit to answer at your throne.
3 Treasure, too, you have entrusted,
gain through powers your grace conferred:
ours to use for home and kindred,
and to spread the gospel word.
Open wide our hands in sharing,
as we heed Christ’s ageless call,
healing, teaching, and reclaiming,
serving you by loving all.
Now it is time to get up and go.
We will leave in order to follow God into the world.
Now it is time to enter the brokenness all around us.
We will go to bring the healing and peace of Jesus to all.
Now it is time to bring words of hope and grace to all.
The Spirit will give us the words we need in every moment.