The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury

September 19, 2021
17th Sunday after Pentecost
9:30 am


In this moment, gracious God, you have called us away from the world to a place and a time where we can commune with you and with one another. Hallow this communion, we pray. Calm our anxious spirits, that we may be set apart to hear your word of truth through which we receive grace to bring about the obedience of faith. Open us to the reality of your all-embracing love, both in this place and in the wider world. May we, by our words and actions, be bearers of your kingdom, in the name and Spirit of the Christ. Amen.

PRELUDE                   “Song of Peace”                     Michael Shea            


In sacred times of word, wonder, and awe, in ordinary days of work and play:
in every moment, God is with us.
Whether we are stuck in doubt’s mud, or standing on faith’s shoreline:
in every place, God is with us.
In those who teach us and those who trouble us;  in those who surprise us, and those who forgive us:
in every person, God is with us.

HYMN No. 726  “Will You Come and Follow Me”

“Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown; will you let my name be known;
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?”

“Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?”

“Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?”

“Will you love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?”

Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.


As we stand before God, we think of all the ways we bicker with others, all those times we have not shown mercy and grace to those around us. Let us bow our hearts and confess our sin to God, as we pray together, saying,


It is never easy for us to confess but deep down inside, we know that graced, we have trouble being grace-full to others; forgiven, we are eager to judge and punish all who hurt us; freed, we find ways to put restrictions on people we fear.  Forgive us, Servant God. You show mercy more often than we deserve; you pardon us more times than we can count.  And why? Because we are the Lord’s – sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ, who died and lived again, so we might live beyond death with you.  Amen. 

Silence is observed


God’s hand of mercy is stretched out to us, making a way through all that threatens us, to touch us with grace and hope.
We stand before our God, singing praise to the One who turns our despair into joy, our fears into faith. Amen. 

Click for: RESPONSE “Holy Holy Holy” v. 1

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!


In the Ark of this church, we are one family of faith. Sometimes it feels like close quarters! That’s all the more reason to greet one other with a sign of God’s peace. The peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you!

ANTHEM                   “The Shepherd of My Soul”                         arr. Austin Lovelace                                    

CHILDREN’S MESSAGE                              Marylynn Diehlman

(all children will remain in the sanctuary)

PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION                                                                    

SCRIPTURE   Exodus 14:1-31

14 Then the Lord said to Moses: Tell the Israelites to turn back and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall camp opposite it, by the sea. Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, “They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.” I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord. And they did so.

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

10 As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13 But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. 16 But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. 17 Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”

19 The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20 It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24 At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25 He clogged[a] their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.


If there is a single most important Bible story, this just maybe it. Scholars tell us that the Exodus, the saga of the people of God being led by God and God’s man, Moses, from slavery into the wilderness for forty years and then finally across the river into the promised land, contains within it all the major themes and motifs of the rest of the Bible. Walter Brueggemann calls it the “primal saving event.” It sets forth the idea that God calls people from slavery to freedom, that God provides, that God chooses men and women, that God will never abandon, and that, therefore, there is nothing to fear. All those ideas will come to full fruition in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Frederick Buechner, in a book I pulled from the shelf because of its relevance to our theme today and because it is one of my favorites, The Sacred Journey, writes:

All theology is at heart autobiography. . . . What a theologian is doing essentially is examining as honestly as he (or she) can the rough and tumble of his own experience with its ups and downs, its mysteries and loose ends.

This story is the autobiography of God’s people and, in an amazing way, as is always the case with the Bible, your autobiography and mine as well.

The twelve tribes of Israel are in Egypt because of a famine. At first they were refugees, guests. But over the years and decades, the Egyptians turned them into forced labor for Pharaoh’s ambitious construction projects. They were slaves. They groaned under their oppression. They cried out to God. God heard their cries and sent Moses to set them free. After some tough negotiating and seven plagues, Pharaoh concedes, decides the Jewish slaves are no longer worth the trouble, and tells them to leave. And so they do: gather all the children and grandparents, all their livestock, all their belongings, and walk out—into freedom, sweet freedom. But it’s also the wilderness. There’s no food or water. They don’t know where they are headed. When they arrive at the swampy wetlands known sometimes as the Sea of Reeds, sometimes as the Red Sea, they camp, and an unthinkable disaster looms. Back on the horizon they see the dust of an approaching army, chariots, horses, infantry. Pharaoh has changed his mind. And the people lose their nerve: “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” Their courage and commitment to their future as a free people disappear. “It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”

That is autobiography. Life is like that. People are like that. At the critical moment we lose our nerve. Safety and security always seem preferable to the risks and dangers of commitment made in freedom.

In Joseph Ellis’s fine biography of George Washington, a consistent theme is how Washington was a quintessential eighteenth-century English gentleman who loved, and never wanted anything more in life, than the security and pleasant comforts of his life at Mt. Vernon as a Virginia squire. But time and time again, Washington said good-bye to his wife, his comfortable orderly life, to lead the almost impossibly dangerous and risky venture of freedom, to risk everything—property, reputation, life itself.

I never preside at a wedding without gratefully acknowledging the courage required for their commitment to hold to each other “in sickness and health, in joy and sorrow, as long as life lasts.” They have no idea how this thing is going to turn out. As a matter of fact, we don’t really know who the other is or will be in the future when we make that commitment. It is a great, biblical moment when a couple steps into that wilderness.

I never preside at the Sacrament of Baptism without gratefully acknowledging the depth and power of commitment that parenting requires and how a new, unexpected, and risky future is about to begin.

A new venture, a new career, a new home, a decision to commit to a relationship or to end a relationship—it all comes with risk, danger, uncertainty at the very least, and there isn’t a one of us, in that situation, who doesn’t say or think, “Why am I doing this? The past wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was downright comfortable compared to what I’m getting myself into.” “It would be better to be a slave in Egypt than to die in the wilderness.”

At the heart of our tradition is the radical idea that God calls God’s people into a new future, that God is the one who agitates and disturbs us and makes us uncomfortable with the status quo. It is God who calls us to be on a journey, always following with courage and commitment into an uncertain future.

That’s how it goes for God’s people in the old story. Moses leads them into—of all places—the water, and somehow they summon the courage to follow. They walk in as refugees, scared to death, wishing for all the world they were sitting around the fireplace in the old slave quarters. They walk in scared refugees, and they emerge on the other side a nation, a people with a new identity and a new sense of purpose and meaning. They will regress again and again; they will continue whining in the wilderness. But they will continue following, day after day, year after year, into their future. As they looked back at it all, they could see the hand of God, but not at the moment. At the moment they were too busy dealing with the immediacies of threat, danger, and uncertainty. It was years later that they realized God’s gracious leading.

God’s relationship to the world and to the events of human history is always the question. And it is asked urgently and pointedly when disaster strikes: in birth defects, malignancy, plane crash, terrorist attack, hurricane. Did God do it? If so, why? Did God simply observe it? What does God have to do with it? Some are always quick to respond that God visits disaster on human beings to punish them for immorality and misdeeds. Somewhere someone is blaming immorality for the utter tragedy of _______________________. I do not believe it for a minute. I do not believe God causes human suffering. What I believe is that God is involved in human history in deep and mysterious ways. I believe accidents happen—accidents that derive from nature and tragedy that derives from human ignorance or human sin. What I also believe is that there is no event, no chance accident or seemingly arbitrary tragedy—9/11 or this current natural disaster—that God cannot use and through which God cannot speak to us.

God calls each of us, whoever we are, wherever we are on our journey, however old or young we are—God calls us to live into the future with courage and hope. God calls this church, I deeply believe, to a deeper commitment to the future—with courage and hope and compassion and generosity and a passion for God’s kingdom on earth. Our particular future at the moment is not clear. We have a vision—a hope, a plan—and, looking backward, a confidence that God will lead and God will provide.

God calls us, as a people and as individuals, to commitment and to courage—and to trust.

The one-word God always speaks is “Fear not. I will be with you.” From beginning to end, from Abraham’s and Sarah’s call to Moses’ burning bush: Fear not.” From the people peering into the wilderness to the harrowing journey through the sea: “Fear not.” From shepherds on the hillside to a woman encountering a stranger beside an open tomb early on a Sunday morning: “Fear not.”

“Do not be afraid. . . . I am with you”—it is the one word God speaks always and forever. And it is a saving word, a redeeming word, the one word we, all of us, need to hear: refugees from a natural disaster, totally cut off from the past, facing a new and unknown future; families and loved ones, victims—of hurricanes, terrorist attacks, military action. It is a saving word for the one facing a new job, a new adventure. It is a comforting word for the one facing surgery, critical illness, aging; an encouraging word for the newly married, new parents; a hopeful word for the newly unemployed, unattached: “Fear not. Stand firm. I am with you.”

Looking forward and backward at his own journey, Buechner writes, “What quickens my pulse now is the stretch ahead rather than the one behind.”

Wendell Berry, Kentucky farmer, author, and poet, has a new collection of poems, Given.

Here is one that seemed to suggest itself for this text and this day.

The question before me, now that I
am old, is not how to be dead,
which I know from enough practice,
but how to be alive, as these worn
hills still tell, and some paintings
of Paul Cezanne, and this mere
singing wren, who thinks he’s alive
forever, this instant, and may be.
(Given, p. 100)

How to be alive? The question for The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury, for you, for me. Do not be afraid. Stand firm. I am with you. Thanks be to God.

Illustration: Parting of the Red Sea

Commentary provided by Cameron B.R. Howard, John Buchanan, Phil Ware, Yolanda Pierce, Barry Robinson, Doug Bratt, and Ralph W. Klein

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.

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.


Dear friends, it is with joy that we gather to consecrate and dedicate the Florence Myer Library, its books and its furnishings to the glory of God and to the strengthening of God’s reign in this community. We are grateful for the opportunity to dedicate this space so the life of our congregation may be enhanced, deepened, and enriched through spiritual renewal, and Christian education found in our children’s and adult library.
Therefore, we the members of this congregation, with glad and grateful hearts, consecrate and dedicate this library to the glory and in the name of the holy and triune God.
In grateful remembrance of all who have loved and served this church in the past and for those who will serve it in the future,
We, with sincere gratitude, consecrate and dedicate this space, its equipment, and its books.
In appreciation of all who have freely given of their time, talents, and substance so that it might be erected,
We consecrate and dedicate this space, its equipment, and its books.
To provide an appropriate place where the minds and hearts of all may quest for truth, beauty, goodness, mercy and grace,
We consecrate and dedicate this space, its equipment, and its books.
To the Teacher of Galilee, who draws all peoples unto himself for instruction and renewal,
We consecrate and dedicate this space, its equipment, and its books.
To the ministry of education upon whose ability and faithfulness depends the wise conduct of our life together and our ministry in the world.
We consecrate and dedicate this space, its equipment, and its books. We also consecrate and dedicate ourselves anew to that service of humanity in which we perform the true service of God.

Almighty God, fountain of all wisdom, goodness, and love, to the truth that makes us free and to the community of all the humble  who seek after you; for faith, hope, love, joy, and  the communion of all believing souls; to the work of righteousness that brings  quietness, peace, and assurance forever; to the service of love that never fails,  but believes all things and endures all things; to the helpfulness that lifts human burdens by sharing them; to the following of Jesus by our laboring for the coming of God’s reign in our world—
We do now, consecrate and dedicate this space, its equipment, and its books. Establish the work of our hands, O God.

Furthermore, we give thanks to you for your servant, Florence Myer, whose faithful love and devotion, witness and service, have led us, and this congregation, into the joy of this day.  Help us guard this treasure, be blessed by it, nurture it, and pass it on to the coming generation, that they may serve you; in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 


MINUTE FOR MISSION                  Christian Education


In Jesus’ parable, the king forgave a debt that could never be repaid. The slave responded by withholding mercy to his own debtor. How fortunate we are that our God is like the king and not the slave! As we give today, may we do so out of the lavishness we have been shown by a God who forgives and loves us beyond measure.




Giving God, all we are and all we have come from you. We offer back to you what has always been yours. As you have entrusted your gifts to us, so we return these gifts to you, trusting that you will multiply them to the great glory of your kingdom on earth. We pray through Jesus who gave the totality of his life for us. Amen.

HYMN No. 250  “In the Bulb There Is a Flower”

In the bulb there is a flower;
in the seed, an apple tree;
in cocoons, a hidden promise:
butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter
there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence,
seeking word and melody;
there’s a dawn in every darkness,
bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future;
what it holds, a mystery,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning;
in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing;
in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection;
at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.


In every person, God is with us.
We will welcome God in the family we know all too well,
and in the strangers we will meet in the coming days.
In every choice, Jesus is with us.
We will welcome the Christ who serves us unexpectedly,
and in those who will offer us forgiveness.
In every moment, the Spirit is with us.
We will welcome the Spirit who calls us to live
as well as calling us to give of ourselves without question.