Scriptures for Sunday, December 8, 2019
Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19
Romans 15: 4-13
Matthew 3: 1–12
It’s beard-growing time again ! No, not so I can play Santa. It’s for that mysterious wild-man John the Baptizer. He’s back for another round, this Sunday and next.
St John the Baptist preaching (Matthew 3:1-12)
Thanks to Los Misioneros del Sagrado Corazon en el Peru
Notice John’s left hand folded and pointing in the sign of the Holy Trinity.
Notice John’s staff, which displays a cross.
Notice the camels’ hairs in his garment and his leathern belt— reminiscent of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8).
Notice the man nearest to John thumbing his nose, mocking the strangely- dressed character.
Notice the youngish- looking fellow in the foreground scratching his head: “Huh?”
Notice the guys with the little boxes (“phylacteries”) strapped on their foreheads in obedience to the law (in Deuteronomy 6:6 & 8). They are Pharisees and Sadducees, city slickers who had no respect for the wilderness preacher.
You would love John’s sermon:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven draws near!”
“You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Bear fruit worthy of repentance.
Do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’;
for I tell you,
God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees;
every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit
is cut down and thrown into the fire.
I baptize you with water for repentance....”
-Matthew 3:2, 7-11
Searching the New Testament for information about John the Baptizer yields some fascinating little hints as to how important he is in the story of God’s Good News coming to us humans.
For example, it is clear that John had his own disciples, several of whom stayed with him long after Jesus came to John to be baptized and set off on his own journey of ministry (Matthew 11:2, Luke 7:18). Also, a number of people whom John baptized migrated to other parts of the Roman Empire, carrying John’s teachings as their faith (Acts 18:25 and 19:3).
Jesus affirmed John the Baptizer’s ministry by praising him to his own audience: “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John....” (Matthew 11: 7-11)
But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it is very striking, in Matthew’s gospel, how Jesus began his own ministry by preaching the very same message as John:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven draws near!” (Matthew 4:17)
God sent John the Baptizer ahead of Jesus into Palestine 2000 years ago, and John made quite a splash (!) there and then.
God is sending you and me (us who have repented and been baptized in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) into our community now to prepare the way for Jesus to rule in people’s hearts. It is important for us to take our script from John. Instead of calling attention to ourselves, our assignment is to, like John, point to Jesus:
“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
It’s all about Jesus.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 17, 2019
2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13
Luke 21: 5–19
Not only is A.D. 2019 quickly slipping away from us, the church year in which we explore the Gospel according to Luke is passing away, too. As I pointed out during my sermon this past Sunday, Jesus spoke the words that Janice read to us during the week leading up to his crucifixion, in the city of Jerusalem where he would die. The previous week’s gospel lesson, the well-loved story of that “wee little man” Zacchaeus, took place in the city of Jericho, when Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. Now, so to say, Jesus is there.
Since we read the stories of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the Holy City on the Sunday before Easter each year, we won’t go through that again now. But during this month before the Advent and Christmas season (and the start of the new church year), we read things that Jesus said during his final week in Jerusalem. Luke reports: Every day [Jesus] was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard. (Luke 19:47-48) There is something special about someone’s “last words” – and we have these records of Jesus’ last words before his sacrificial death on the cross.
From the time Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem, all of his stories and sayings began to focus on the end of the world as they knew it, and on God’s final judgment. I think it’s important to note that when Jesus taught the people during his final week, he was not trying to bring them down: he was still telling them “the good news” (Luke 20:1). As we Christians read the Bible, we ought to notice that even ‘the end of the world’ is good news for us.
Thus says the LORD God: ...
I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
-Isaiah 65: 13, 17
[John the Revelator writes, ]
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth;
for the first heaven and the first earth
had passed away,
and the sea was no more.
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
-Revelation 21: 1 – 2
In our Sunday evening Bible study of the Book of Revelation, we keep coming upon scenes where wild and apparently horrible things are occurring, but careful reading reveals that God’s people are kept safe throughout, to the very end and beyond— even though they may be killed, martyred for their faithfulness. God always judges in favor of His beloved people and brings them at last into the New Jerusalem.
In this week’s reading from Luke, Jesus tells his disciples and the crowd, “they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify.” (Luke 21:12-13) I know what you must think about that: ‘Oh, goody!’ – right ?
Around our little country church and our quiet little town of Elkton (“how still we see thee lie...”), I have not yet managed to get arrested or dragged before the authorities on account of my faith. Have you?
But we might have been across the mountain in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017 to stand with the Christians against the Nazis and other haters, risking being harmed by them.
Or we might have stood with the family of Botham Jean in a Dallas courtroom last month, when Mr. Jean’s brother Brandt said to the policewoman who had killed his brother, “I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want for you.” “I love you as a person, and I don't wish anything bad on you.” And to the judge: “Can I give her a hug, please?”
I am not saying that facing the haters in Charlottesville or making a Victim Impact Statement in a courtroom is, in itself, “good news.” I don’t imagine that any of us would happily rush to stand in the shoes of the Christians in scenes like those. But Jesus warned us that we might have to do and say similar things, if we remain faithful to him.
More good news: Jesus also promised us that he would give us the words and wisdom we will need.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 10, 2019
Psalm 145: 1-5, 17-21
Haggai 1:15 - 2:9
2 Thessalonians 2: 1-5, 13-17
Luke 20: 27–38
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself
and God our Father, Who loved us
and through grace gave us eternal comfort
and good hope,
comfort your hearts and strengthen them
in every good work and word.
-2 Thessalonians 2: 16 – 17
Last Tuesday evening, I was privileged to join with some other chaplains to offer blessings to workers around our local hospital. We walked with a cart which held a pitcher of water and a basin, some oil in a dish, and some pretty pebbles marked with words such as “peace,” “strength,” “rest,” and “hope.” It was a night shift, and there was no way of knowing who we might meet, or who would want to take the time to meet with us. In the course of two hours, we poured water on the hands of nurses, custodians, lab workers, and physicians as a symbol of cleansing and refreshing. We also anointed their wrists with oil, representing grace, and let them take one of the pebbles. And we gave them some words of blessing, to cheer and encourage them in their vocation as people of healing. The workers responded to these blessings with words of gratitude, expressions of pleasant surprise, and in some cases tears of joy and release.
When we find ourselves in medical settings, it isn’t unusual for us to find workers with kind and caring attitudes, not to mention skills and knowledge for healing bodies. In fact, we expect that such workers will be not only professionally competent but also good-natured, positive people. But then when we are in our role as “consumers” of “medical services,” we may be tempted to exercise our critical impulses on the workers when we find the proverbial ‘fly in the ointment.’
Some of you are old enough to remember times when one or two local physicians were people’s main medical resource, and a trip to the hospital in Harrisonburg or Charlottesville was a pilgrimage to a temple of mysteries beyond the comprehension of lay-folk.
Now, we are told that we must watch each dollar of our health-care spending, checking in advance what each service and item and worker-hour is going to cost— knowing that severe financial penalties will hit us if we go ‘out of network’ or accept a prescription for a drug not covered by our policy. The health-care industry would reduce us to crass consumers in a money machine.
Still, we expect those workers to be angels of mercy bearing miracles of healing for our failing flesh.
When someone puts themself in front of the public knowing that expectations will be high even when things get bad, it’s a “vocation,” a “calling.” The idea is that God gives people gifts to use in His service and in the service of humanity, and God then calls us to use our gifts rightly, whether we are paid or appreciated or not.
We expect nurses and doctors to feel a sense of their higher calling, not just the businesslike drive to make a dollar any old way they can. Likewise with some other lines of work: florists and decorators, artists of many types, counselors, and teachers: if they’re only in it for the money, we feel there’s something missing.
And then there’s religion.
The old song said,
Well, the preacher he’s a dodger,
yes, a well known dodger,
well, the preacher he’s a dodger, yes,
and I’m a dodger, too.
He’ll preach you the gospel
and tell you of your crimes,
but Look out, boys! he’s a-dodgin’ for your dimes !
Well, we’re all dodgin,’ dodgin’ - dodgin’ - dodgin’
on the way through the world.
Yes, you pay me. And Yes, I believe God has called me to the work I do. Both. By the grace of God, it will come out right somehow. At best, we will both know that it’s right.
I want to call you attention to your own holy vocation, your own sense of God’s call on your life. Do you know what it is that God means for you to do in this world ?
The classic answer of Christianity is found in last week’s lesson from
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12:
Our God will make you worthy of His call and will fulfill by His power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let’s make God glad He called us.
Scriptures for All Saints Day,
Friday, November 1, 2019
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Scriptures for Sunday, November 3, 2019
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Luke 19: 1–10
The Ancient One came;
then judgment was given
for the holy ones of the Most High,
and the time arrived
when the holy ones
gained possession of the kingdom. ...
... their kingdom
shall be an everlasting kingdom...
-Daniel 7: 22, 27
This Friday will be November 1, All Saints Day. Many of us Protestants observe All Saints Day, even though we don’t share all of the Catholic practices that go with declaring someone to be a “saint.” We understand that certain people in this world live lives that are set apart to glorify God. One doesn’t have to “judge” very deeply to notice when we’re in the presence of someone who is deeply committed to serving God, who is walking the way of Jesus.
In both the Old Testament and the New, we read of “holy ones” among humankind: that is the meaning of the word translated “saints.” The authors of the book of Daniel and of most New Testament books are not shy when it comes to calling some people “saints.” So, while I don’t rush to label folks as “saints” myself, it seems silly to refuse to admit it when I find myself in the presence of a “holy one.”
Besides that, wiser people than I have told me, get ready to be surprised at who we meet in heaven.
This coming Sunday in worship, we will take a little time to say the names of people who have gone on before us. I urge you to pray about this, and to thank God for the people God put in your life to show you examples of holy living.
Did you know that “Halloween” gets its name from All Saints Day ?
In earlier forms of our English language, All Saints Day was called All Hallows. “Hallows” as in “Hallowed be Thy name,” part of the Lord’s Prayer. The evening before All Hallows is thus All Hallow’s E’en, which got shortened to Halloween. Each year, October 31 and November 1 stand at the center of the season of Autumn, halfway between the Autumnal Equinox (when dark and light are of equal length) and the Winter
Solstice (the shortest day of the year). The other cross-quarter days are May Day, Midsummer Day, and Groundhog Day.
On Saturday, October 19, Nancy B and I attended the Fall Meeting of the Shenandoah Association, which was held at St. Michael’s UCC, south of Bridgewater. About a dozen of our churches were represented. We received reports from our Treasurer and from our Central Atlantic Conference, and we approved our Association budget for A.D. 2020. Our budget is small, mostly funded by the annual “dues” of member-churches including Bethel. Church dues are based on their number of members, so if Bethel claims 100 members, our contribution amounts to $700.
Our budget helps ministers-in-training, pays toward the salary of Angela Megna (the secretary in the Conference Office in Catonsville who looks after anything relating to our Shenandoah Association), and supports programs which show churches how to improve our practices and our understanding in order to thrive.
At this year’s Fall Meeting, we focused on Justice. This program was led by Associate Conference Ministers Rev. Audrey Price and Rev. Marvin Silver, plus Rev. Katie Low (Chaplain and Professor at Mary Baldwin) and Rev. Mary Norville (newly ordained and installed pastor of Grace UCC, west of Mt. Jackson). Rev. Silver is our Conference’s leader of the Justice and Witness Action Network, which educates and engages members in community organizing, grassroots advocacy, prophetic witness and action, and shaping public policy that advances our vision of securing a just and compassionate world for all.
In our discussions of justice, we were challenged to stand up for anyone we see being discriminated against or oppressed. This touches upon not only racial prejudice but also injustice toward anyone based on their national origin, poverty, gender, disability, body type, and more. In the coming months, I hope to share more practical information with our congregation about working for justice. Justice is the work of each and every one of God’s people.
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice,
and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Scriptures for Sunday, October 27, 2019
Joel 2: 23-32
2 Timothy 4:6-22
Luke 18: 9-14
Over the past weeks in church, we have been reading through the books of the New Testament called “1 Timothy” and “2 Timothy.” These books contain some of the most memorable sayings in the Bible.
Here is an anthology of phrases which stand out to my mind:
1 Timothy 1:15--
“The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance,
that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--
of whom I am the foremost.”
1 Timothy 2:2-4--
“…God our Savior,
Who desires everyone to be saved
and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
1 Timothy 4:4-5--
“For everything created by God is good,
and nothing is to be rejected,
provided it is received with thanksgiving;
for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.”
1 Timothy 4:12--
“Let no one despise your youth,
but set the believers an example in love, in faith, in purity.”
1 Timothy 6:10--
“For the love of money
is a root of all kinds of evil,
and in their eagerness to be rich
some have wandered away from the faith
and pierced themselves with many pains.”
2 Timothy 1:7--
“God did not give us a spirit of cowardice,
but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”
2 Timothy 1:11-12—
“For this gospel I was appointed
a herald and an apostle and a teacher,
and for this reason I suffer as I do.
But I am not ashamed,
for I know the One in Whom I have put my trust,
and I am sure that He is able to guard until that day
what I have entrusted to Him.”
2 Timothy 2:9—
“Remember Jesus Christ,
raised from the dead,
a descendant of David—
that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship,
even to the point of being chained like a criminal.
But the word of God is not chained.”
2 Timothy 2:11-13—
“If we have died with him,
we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.”
2 Timothy 2:15—
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by Him,
a worker who has no need to be ashamed,
rightly explaining the word of truth.”
2 Timothy 2:24-25—
“And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome
but kindly to everyone,
an apt teacher, patient,
correcting opponents with gentleness.”
2 Timothy 3:2, 5—
“…people will be … holding to the outward form of godliness
but denying its power.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17—
“All Scripture is God-breathed,
useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction,
and for training in righteousness,
so that everyone who belongs to God
may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
Now we come to this week’s lesson, the last of this series in 1 and 2 Timothy. Here in 2 Timothy 4, Paul is depicted as living under house arrest at Rome, awaiting the second part of the trial which had requested, claiming his right as a Roman citizen (Acts 25:10-12, 27:32). Paul sees his trial as a sacrifice to God: whether he lives through it— to enjoy teaching, having visitors from the churches he founded, etc.— or whether he is put to death: either way, he knows that he has “fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith.
From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness,
which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day,
and not only to me
but also to all who have longed for His appearing.”
(2 Timothy 4:7-8)
In our life with God, it is good to have God’s words in our hearts and minds, guiding our actions. Each week, we suggest Bible passages to read.
Of course, you are totally free to follow any course through the Bible that you prefer.
Absorb all that you can, feeling God’s breath at your ear.
Scriptures for Sunday, October 6, 2019
Lamentations 1:1-6 and 3:19-26
Luke 17: 5 – 10
This Sunday is World Communion Sunday. Many churches around the world participate with us in this sign of unity as followers of Jesus Christ. The United Church of Christ desires to unite with all Christians everywhere as much as possible, to work at fulfilling Jesus’ prayer, “that they may all be one” – so World Communion reflects our basic values.
The words of the Communion prayers we usually use at Bethel state this clearly: “With the faithful in every place and time, we praise with joy Your holy name. Holy, holy, holy....”
Another part of our worship this week will be the gathering of the annual Neighbors In Need offering. While two-thirds of this offering supports Justice and Witness ministries of the United Church of Christ, one-third of our gift goes to the Council for American Indian Ministries (CAIM). CAIM is the voice for American Indian people in the UCC. CAIM provides Christian ministry and witness to American Indians and to the wider church. Justice issues that affect American Indian life are communicated to the whole UCC by CAIM.
Historically, the forebears of the UCC established churches and worked with Lakota, Dakota, Nakota, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arickara, and Hocak in North and South Dakota, Wisconsin and northern Nebraska. Today there are 20 UCC congregations on reservations and one urban, multi-tribal UCC congregation in Minneapolis, Minnesota. CAIM supports these local churches and their pastors. In addition, CAIM strives to be a resource for more than 1,000 individuals from dozens of other tribes and nations who are members of other UCC congregations and to strengthen their participation in the life of the church.
CAIM has 23 American Indian ministries on the reservations of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and the inner city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. These are significant ministries whose struggles are numerous: pastors serving in harsh social conditions, where distance, roads and weather make travel burdensome; people whose incomes are far below the poverty level of others, where unemployment is between 50 and 90 percent; where health care is made impossible because of lack of service and ability to buy wholesome foods. Alcoholism, drug addiction, and domestic abuse all play different roles to destroy life affirming lifeways. To address each of these needs, financial support is needed for pastors and programs, for congregations and for pastoral education such as that provided by the Eagle Butte Learning Center, a ministry of CAIM designed for the education of pastors and lay leaders on the reservations.
Mike Goze, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and of the All Nations Indian Church in Minneapolis, is a member of CAIM’s Executive Committee. He shares the following thoughts:
“Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, writes a fictionalized story of young Arnold Spirit, a reservation son, who asked his parents who had the most hope and where he could find hope. A parent tells him, you go where there is the most hope and add your hope to theirs and others will add their hope. You add hope upon hope and that is where there is the most hope. It seems obvious.
“Our greatest hope of being and doing the ministry God calls us to be is to add our hopes together with yours and strengthen our whole human family.”
This World Communion Sunday, we will hear these hopeful words:
God did not give us a spirit of cowardice,
but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. ...
I am not ashamed, for I know the One in Whom I have put my trust,
and I am sure that He is able to guard until that day
what I have entrusted to Him.
2 Timothy 1: 7 and 12
Until “that day” comes, we live to love God and to love our neighbors, all around the world.
SCRIPTURES for Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019
Psalm 91: 1-6, 14-16
Jeremiah 32: 1-15
1 Timothy 6: 6-19
Luke 16: 19–31
October 6 is World Communion Sunday. Here at Bethel, we will share the bread and the juice while remembering that we are fellow-citizens of this world with all kinds of people, on both sides of every border, for whom Jesus Christ gave his life.
On that Sunday, we will also receive the annual Neighbors In Need offering of the United Church of Christ. Neighbors in Need (NIN) is a special mission offering of the United Church of Christ that supports ministries of justice and compassion throughout the United States. One-third of NIN funds support the Council for American Indian Ministry (CAIM). Two-thirds of this offering is used by the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) to support a variety of justice initiatives, advocacy efforts, and direct service projects through grants. Neighbors in Need grants are awarded to UCC churches and organizations doing justice work in their communities. These grants fund projects whose work ranges from direct service to community organizing and advocacy to address systemic injustice. This year, special consideration will be given to projects focusing on serving our immigrant neighbors and communities.
Here is one example of a justice and witness project that is supported by Neighbors in Need:
[These are excerpts from an article in United Church News, written by Connie Larkman.
A United Church of Christ sanctuary church offering immigrants refuge in the Arizona borderlands will soon be offering a place of hospitality, support and hope on the Mexican side of the border for people who find themselves deported from the United States.
The Shadow Rock UCC Sanctuary Action Team and the Rev. Ken Heintzelman, in an extension of the spirit and intent of their ministry of sanctuary in Phoenix, are in the process of establishing Hope Station Nogales, in Sonora, Mexico.
"If Dreamers are going to be deported, their experience, their trauma and their grief will be most intense," Heintzelman said. “They've lived most of their lives in this country. They are going to want to be reunited with their families and they may take risks to cross the border. If they get caught, they will be going to prison.”
This ministry of hospitality and justice hopes to help resource an alternative reality.
“The core of the Gospel is new life,” said the Rev. Bill Lyons, Southwest Conference Minister. “Hope Station gives deportees a chance at new life near the border so they can stay as connected to their families as possible, mitigating the overwhelming temptation of crossing the border illegally because the only life they know is on the other side of the wall.”
The thought is Hope Station can be a place of transition, a place where people who are deported but have family in the U.S. can find a meal, safe lodging and assistance. Priority will be given to individuals who have an attorney and an administrative remedy in process, and no criminal record. Hope Station will be a community in formation for people who share the goals of reuniting with their families and working, rebuilding their lives....
“Justice and Witness Ministries was pleased to be able to support Hope Station ministry through the awarding of a 2017 Neighbors in Need (NIN) grant last fall,” said Bentley deBardelaben, Executive Associate, Justice and Local Church Ministries. “Our grant committee felt it was important to stand with this community who bravely offer support to people who await decisions in their pending cases within the immigration court system. ...
“Where is God in this dark hour? Hope Station offers an answer to that question when asked by young, undocumented, permanent residents deported because they were brought here as children. Or when American children, whose parents are ripped from their families in deportation proceeding, turn to heaven and cry, ‘What now?’ God is there, at the border, to hold and to heal and to help in tangible ways,” Lyons said. “Would we rather that God stop the suffering and soften the hard hearts of the perpetrators of our immoral immigration policies? Absolutely! But until those hard hearts soften and those ears begin to listen to the cries of their people, Hope Station will mend hearts broken by family separation.”
This is only one among many examples of Neighbors In Need dollars at work’ To see more, visit www.ucc.org/nin
“Listen to Moses and the prophets.”
SCRIPTURES for Sunday, September 22, 2019
Jeremiah 8: 18-12-9:1
1 Timothy 2: 1-7
Luke 16: 1–13
We are reading passages from the prophet Jeremiah these days. Last Sunday, Lucretia read to us from chapter 18, where God says to Jerusalem, “The whole land will be ruined,
though I will not destroy it completely.
Therefore the earth will mourn
and the heavens above grow dark,
because I have spoken and will not relent,
I have decided and will not turn back.
God was ready to punish His people for their long-term wickedness and idol-worship.
This week, we find Jeremiah and Jerusalem weeping over the horrors of destruction and captivity and exile that loom over them (8:22):
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
Also this week, we will contemplate Psalm 79, where the psalmist calls on God to hurt and destroy Jerusalem’s enemies (79:6)
Pour out Your anger on the nations that do not know You,
and on the kingdoms that do not call on Your name.
Notice that the psalmist was not threatening personal vengeance, but instead asking God to deal with the enemies.
This past Sunday, at least partly in recognition of the eighteenth anniversary of the terrorist hijacking attacks on New York, the Capital area, and Flight 93, our choir sang ‘This Is My Song.’ The first two verses that we sang were written by Hawaiian schoolteacher Lloyd Stone as a plea for international understanding following the First World War. Later, between 1937 and 1939, theologian Georgia Harkness wrote two more verses to go with Lloyd Stone’s poem:
May truth and freedom come to every nation;
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
that each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting every wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.
This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth's kingdoms:
Thy kingdom come; on earth Thy will be done.
Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him,
and hearts united learn to live as one.
O hear my prayer, Thou God of all the nations;
myself I give Thee, let Thy will be done.
On Sunday, we sang the latter of those two verses.
When they were writing the poem, Stone and Harkness did not know that the vast violence that we in hindsight call “World War II” lay ahead. But they wrote in hope, praying for God’s guidance to a better way and more: they were seeking the kingdom of God.
In one of the StillSpeaking Daily Devotionals this past week, Rev. Donna Schaper published the piece linked below. I want more time to consider her ideas before I can adopt them or let them go, but I believe they are so thought-provoking, I want to share them with you now.
SCRIPTURES for Sunday, September 15, 2019
Jeremiah 4: 11-12, 22-28
1 Timothy 1: 12-17
Luke 15: 1–10
With the passing of our dear Hazel Monger, I am meditating on some of the characteristic things she would always say to me. At this moment, a few rise to the top— no doubt, others will surface as we miss her.
“One day at a time— you know that’s my favorite song.” Over the years that we’ve been friends, this has often morphed into “one hour at a time,” or “one minute at a time,” when in the midst of troubles and pains. During her last days, a weird old riddle haunted my thoughts: How do you eat an elephant? One fork-full at a time! Living one hundred and a half years is achieved by living each day in turn. Many of those days may seem awfully unpleasant or tedious, but that’s how it’s done. And there will be joys along the way as well.
“Hang in there!” Also its corollary: “I’m hangin’ in!” This raises thoughts of the strength which is required simply to go on living. During the last week or so, it was a marvel that Hazel’s heart kept beating and lungs kept breathing. But then I remember the times when hardly anyone would join me in visiting in the nursing homes or or Bible studies or people’s houses except— Hazel. She was tenaciously clinging to a life of worshiping and visiting and fellowshipping as much as she could, for as long as she could. She was hangin’ in.
Hazel has for some time held the status of Longest- Serving Church Member of Bethel. Now that description must be applied to others. May they Hang in there, and so may we all, One Day at a Time.
† † †
Our Homecoming celebration last Sunday brought in a slew of visitors of various descriptions. By my reckoning, the categories included these:
† people who used to attend Bethel but who now attend some other church
† people whose parents or grandparents currently attend or formerly attended Bethel
† folks from the community giving Bethel a try
I believe there’s something wrong with encouraging neighbors to change churches. If the Holy Spirit wants them to change churches, may they do so promptly. But if they have a place to belong, I say, encourage them to be faithful where they’re
planted. On the other hand, if someone has gone away and feels moved to come back, who are we to hinder God’s Spirit ? Then the question becomes, Are we prepared to extend God’s extravagant welcome to whomever God sends our way ?
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Preparing for worship this coming Sunday, this week’s Scripture lessons set up a stark contrast between God’s tone in parts of the Old Testament and God’s tone as we may hear Him through the love of Jesus Christ. Listen to this (Psalm 14:1-3):
Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is no one who does good.
The LORD looks down
from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.
They have all gone astray,
they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good, no, not one.
And this (Jeremiah 4:22):
[Says the LORD: ]
“For My people are foolish,
they do not know Me;
they are stupid children,
they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil,
but do not know how to do good.”
Contrast with those the following, from 1 Timothy 1:12-14: I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He judged me faithful and appointed me to His service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
And from Luke 15:7, were Jesus says, “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
Spoiler alert!! There are only a handful of humans who have ever lived who fall into the category of righteous persons who need no repentance.
When I have to choose, I vote for the New Testament and the hopeful love of Jesus.
Rev. Dan Bassett