Alternative Ways to Worship
First Presbyterian Church Worship – 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, 01/24/21
“We Are Here To Help You in Your Walk With God.”
Surely goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Welcome to our Worship and thank you for joining us today. We pray blessings on your day and welcome you in joining us as we worship God. Today will be my last recorded message as the pastor at First Presbyterian of Howard Lake. Thank you to you who have faithfully watched these recordings, and I pray blessings on you as you continue to seek the Word of God. So, let’s begin our worship by lighting the Christ candle, remembering that Christ is with us in our worship and in our lives each and every day.
So now, let us begin our worship together:
Call to Worship:
L: Love one another,
P: For the one who loves has fulfilled the law.
L: Love one another,
P: For all the commandments are fulfilled, if we love our neighbor as ourselves.
L: Love one another,
P: For this is the law of Christ.
L: Love does no wrong to a neighbor,
P: Therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Come, worship Christ, who calls us to love one another. Amen.
Prayer of Confession:
Almighty God, we confess that we insist on our own way. We think we know what we are doing. We think we know better. We think that our way is the right way. Forgive us for not seeking your ways. Forgive us for not silencing our ego and listening to the needs of others. Forgive us for justifying ourselves and our way of living while others go hungry and homeless. Call us back into Your ways of love and justice, humility and mercy. In the name of Christ, whom we follow, we pray. Amen.
Let us approach the Lord with our silent confessions.
Assurance of Pardon:
L: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. But love is how we know. We are forgiven because we are loved by God. We are restored because we are loved by God. We have faith because we have God’s love in us. Let us go and share forgiveness, and love.
P: God has loved and forgiven us. Help us to keep the faith, and share the love. Amen.
Scripture Reading: Luke 4:21-30
21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers[a] in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Message: Sugar-Coated Jesus
A grad student at Cambridge University made the short daytrip to Bedford, Massachusetts the hometown of John Bunyan, the writer of The Pilgrim’s Progress. He was not disappointed. There in the middle of town was a life-size statue of the tinker/preacher/writer, with his restored house, a museum, and the church he pastored in the 1600’s.
The grad student had a great day wandering around town, praying in the church, examining the house, looking over artifacts in the museum. Finally, it was time to go home, but he lingered in the gift shop of the museum, looking over the various editions of The Pilgrim’s Progress for sale, when he struck up a conversation with the young clerk and asked her where she was from.
“Right here in Bedford, born and bred,” she said. He asked her about Bunyan and she told him all the vital statistics (when and where he was born, the books he’d written, his times in jail, the information of his death, etc.). He chatted with her about the different copies of the book available, and she told him all about covers and paper quality and print size. Finally, he asked her what her favorite part of the story was, what bit of The Pilgrim’s Progress really stuck with her? She replied, “Oh, I wouldn’t know, I’ve never read it. It’s quite old and boring isn’t it?”
In today’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus talks about how a “prophet is not without honor except in his hometown.” Bunyan was honored; but his teachings are now ignored. Is this the way it is with the church today; remembering Jesus but forgetting his message?
It reminds me of a college class that I took a very long time ago. It was called The Wizard of Oz and Walt Disney’s America. It was a very interesting class, obviously, because I still remember it! The Wizard of Oz part was good, I learned a lot about the author L. Frank Baum and the effects of the gold standard on our economy, but the Walt Disney’s America part was a real eye opener to me. We learned that Disney changed the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, sugar coated them because he thought they were a bit harsh for children. In Disney’s version, the Princess always got the Prince and everyone ALWAYS lived happily ever after.
And those thoughts made me ask, have we sugar-coated Jesus’ message to make it easier for more people to like and accept him? Have we honored him, but forgotten his message? If Jesus stood at this pulpit this morning, would he say to us, “Well done good and faithful servants,” or would he say, “Woe to you, you brood of vipers?” I almost feel like I should say Selah, as they say in the Psalms which means stop and think about that for a while. But then again that might be a bit uncomfortable, so I’ll continue on with the rest of the story.
Following his baptism and time in the wilderness Jesus has come to his hometown of Nazareth and goes to the Synagogue and reads the text from Isaiah about being the Lord’s anointed. It is here that our text begins, Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
At first it seems as though the people were pretty impressed. Verse 22 says, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” They were impressed.
But, it is in verses 23-27 that he makes them angry. Apparently, they were pleased with his preaching, but they had heard that he had done miracles and healings elsewhere and they wanted him to do some for them. And Jesus refused. Apparently, he believed what they wanted was a show, an exhibition. They weren’t interested in people being healed; they wanted to be entertained and Jesus was having none of it. We can read between the lines and hear the homefolks saying things like, “Who do you think you are? What’s the matter, you too good for us now? You’ve gone off to the big city and now you’re too big to do miracles for us?”
Jesus responds with two Hebrew Bible stories of healing; Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath and Elisha and Naaman. What’s important here is that both the widow of Zarephath and Naaman, were gentiles, foreigners, aliens. Let that sink in a minute.
Jesus points out that there were many widows and lepers in Israel, but God chose to use Elijah and Elisha to heal the outsiders, and God has chosen Jesus to bring God’s love to everybody, not just the Children of Israel. This made the crowd furious. So they ran him out of town and tried to kill him, but he eluded them.
So here we are back to the question for today. Are we like the people in Bedford, honoring the memory of Jesus without actually knowing what he said or meant? Are we like the people of Nazareth, pleased with Jesus as long as what he says sounds good to us, but turning our backs on him when he says things we don’t like?
Most of us would never come right out and say we disagree with Jesus, so we often use wiggle room to avoid it. Whenever we hear something we don’t like coming out of Jesus’ mouth, we blame it on somebody other than Jesus: the Biblical scholars, the liberals, the bleeding hearts, the conservatives, the fundamentalists, the progressives; anything to avoid admitting that Jesus said it and I’m supposed to believe it and obey it.
For example; I know that at one time I was a little hard-hearted about poor people and homeless people, and I’ve heard others who have said similar things, “Why can’t they just get a job, go to work, get busy? If you’re poor, it’s your own fault.” And yet I’ve read countless articles and heard speakers and know that there are other issues that keep the poor from working. Somewhere in a place I don’t like to visit very often, somewhere deep in my psyche, I still feel that way. I’m willing to be understanding, but only to a point. And it hurts me greatly to admit that.
And yet Jesus said the Holy Spirit had anointed him to preach Good News to – the - poor. Did you hear that? The poor. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor. There is that great judgment parable in which Jesus said, “If you did unto one of the least of these, the cold, the hungry, the naked, the poor, you did it unto me.” And he said many more things about the poor and my – our - obligation to help them. We have to deal with that. We are called to obey.
Do we sort of ignore it, like the nice lady at the Bunyan Museum ignored reading Pilgrim’s Progress, while still spouting off facts about it? Do we get mad about it and turn our backs on Jesus, like the people of Nazareth? Or do we swallow our pride and obey our master.
Have we – stopped - listening to Jesus? He says many things about loving the stranger and the foreigner, about turning the other cheek, about living a life of prayer, about selling what we have and giving it to the poor. Do we take Jesus seriously; or are we giving him the “yada, yada” treatment, nodding and smiling, but not really listening, putting him off and only obeying when it’s convenient or something that we like to do? And I’m not just preaching to the choir here, I’m holding up a mirror for myself as well.
Listening to Jesus is hard. Many things he said challenge us; they challenge our ideas and our prejudices and our actions. But Jesus not only challenges us, he also invites us. He invites us to think about things in a new way, to think about others in a new way, to act toward others in a new way. Jesus invites us to join him in living in the world by the rules of the Kingdom of God, not the rules of earthly success and happiness.
Jesus invites us to join him in blessing the world with God’s grace and acts of kindness and love. Jesus invites us to join him in going out to all lands and all peoples with the great Good News that the Kingdom of God has come and we are all invited to be a part of it. Amen.
Prayers of the People:
Holy and Gracious God, we give you thanks for the gift of life, for the gift of your Son, and for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Lead us through the trials, the suffering and sorrow, the challenges and struggles, the tired times and dark places. Be with those who weep or cannot sleep, those who have no peace and who seek release.
Lead us with grace, with love, and with peace. Fill us with hope, with patience, with stamina and courage to follow Christ. Not the easy Christ, but the one who charges us to love and care for all of those around us, and to follow in His ways with courage and stamina.
As we care for one another Lord, we remember those from our congregation and those who are in need of our prayers, we lift up: Alice, Delores, Phyllis, Sonja, & Rose’s daughter Cheryl as well as Lee and Reta, and Andrea’s Mom Jan.
We lift up Eugene Lorentz and pray for his health and healing as well.
Lord I lift up this congregation as they move into the future and seek new leadership. I pray that they will find a loving and caring person to lead them and help them to grow into your love and purpose of reaching out to all those who wish to know you and follow in the ways of Christ.
Transform us in your image, in your Son, in your Name. Transform us to grow, to understand, to see. Transform us, so that we can be made whole, and in that wholeness may we be the hands and heart of Christ. And even know we know Christ’s presence among us as we say together the prayer that he taught us:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed 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.
And now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The fellowship of the Holy Spirit
And the Love of our Mighty God, be with you all. Amen.
Closing Hymn: Go Now In Peace
Go now in peace. Never be afraid.
God will go with you each hour of every day.
Go now in faith, steadfast, strong and true.
Know He will guide you in all you do.
Go now in love, and show you believe.
Reach out to others so all the world can see.
God will be there watching from above.
Go now in peace, in faith, and in love.
Music by Don Besig
Words by Don Besig and Nancy Price
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CCLI License # 2065690
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