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Prayers for Third Graders and Graduates

Prayer for Presentation of Bibles for Third Graders

God of Love, your Word is a light for our feet as we walk upon our path. You have given us the Bible as the words which guided your people of long ago. Now we are your people of today. Guide us also by these words, and new words which you continue to speak. Help us to hear your voice in the Bible and in the community of faith. Give your Spirit to these children, we pray, and bless them as they walk by the light of your word. And guide us as a church to care for these children, for in baptism we are all one family in Christ. Amen.

 

Prayer for High School Graduates

Faithful God, through the years we have made promises to the children of this congregation. In baptism we gave you thanks and pledged our ongoing support of their discovery and journey of faith. Now as they stand on the threshold of adulthood, completing high school and preparing to embark on the next stage of their lives, we pray for your ongoing blessing upon them. Give them courage to embrace the greater responsibilities with which we will entrust them. Remind them of your love whenever they have doubts. Empower them with your Spirit to serve others in love and to participate in your redemption of the world through Christ. Protect them, we pray, from the deceptions that will surround them. Preserve them in the circles of your grace. And as they explore their own calling, more apart from this congregation than ever before, may they always know the assurance of our eager welcome and enthusiastic support. Through Christ we pray. Amen.

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Eucharistic Prayer on Mothers’ Day

God our Creator, Psalm 139 says you knit us together in our mother’s wombs, and in the depths of our mother earth you intricately weaved us together. These metaphors of motherhood offer some balance to the preponderance of male-dominated images of you in the Bible. We remember Jesus’ teaching that you are neither male nor female, and so we may approach you confidently under the address Father or Mother.

Today we give thanks to you as our Mother.  Like our earthly mothers, you gave us life. You fearfully and wonderfully made us. In our absolute dependence you sustained us with milk. As we learned to walk, you called to us by name to follow you. We thank you for your enduring faithfulness to us throughout our lives, that even now, according to Proverbs, your feminine Spirit of Wisdom invites us to walk in your ways.

We thank you for Jesus’ mother Mary, who received your word and in her womb gave life to the Savior of the world. Through her ministry of mothering Jesus learned how to listen for your voice and to faithfully follow, even through public disgrace. As she did, he offered life to the world through his body, and suffered in the labor of giving birth to eternal life. But in the rebirth of his resurrection, so we all are born again, not just by water but by the Spirit.

Send your Spirit again we pray, that we may receive your Word into our bodies through the bread and cup of this sacrament. Feed us we pray, in addition to the words we have read, and those we have heard, and those we watch in the bread being broken and the cup being poured. Feed us as we receive the bread in our hands and the cup from our lips, making Jesus and your motherly grace as real to us as this heavenly food in physical form. And then send us to be Christ’s faithful disciples, bearing his life in our lives, and offering your life to the world. Amen.

05.13.18 Acts 27.20-26, 33-36 Ministry in the Rain Sermon Summary

Note: This sermon was delivered in first person as a passenger on the boat.

Let me testify to you about a life changing experience, not just for what happened, but for what I have continued to learn from it. I wanted to remember it so I wrote it down. The author of Acts picked it up and included in his book.

We’ve all heard it said that “bad weather is necessary.” That’s easy to accept when the weather is slightly bad or it doesn’t last very long. Bad weather is easier to accept when it leads to beautiful results. “April showers bring May flowers,” you say. “Into each life some rain must fall.” That’s OK until too much rain is falling in yours.

It’s even worse when it’s not just some rain, but a storm! Then it’s not slightly bad, but really bad. It’s not temporary, but apparently unending. Storms don’t lead to beautiful results but only darkness, loss, and loneliness.

And that’s when we set sail! Ours was a merchant vessel but also floating prison. We had people from all over: Merchants, sailors, prisoners, and of course guards. We had a rough beginning but it only got worse.

Tradition said not to sail past September or October. Our experience was confirming that. But the guards and the sailors pressed on. One person, a prisoner named Paul tried to speak some common sense. “It’s dangerous,” he said. “It will lead to damage of property and loss of life. We should slow down.” He seemed an experienced traveler. They didn’t listen.

There are reasons people don’t listen to tradition or nature or experience or common sense. The Centurion was rushing to get the job done. The Captain believed in positive thinking. Others just listened to the majority. So we took off. It was stormy but we held out hope.

Then days went by. There was no sun or stars. It was a tempest and we abandoned hope. Many of us were praying to whatever god we thought could help us: Neptune, Jupiter, Anyone! And we had begun fasting also. Anything to get the gods’ attention!

But one person remained calm throughout: It was Paul. Even when we decided against him and he turned out to be right, he still remained calm and encouraging.

How did he remain calm? Part of it was he knew his purpose. He had a message to deliver to the emperor. When you know your purpose and really believe in it you don’t lose your cool, even in adversity or challenge. You just look for a creative way around it.

Another reason was Paul prayed differently. While we asked for deliverance, Paul knew he was already delivered. So his prayers were more like listening. And he received a message that reminded him of his purpose and assured us of salvation also.

A third reason was his perspective. Paul didn’t stress about material loss. He was candid about it. The boat would be destroyed; we would run aground. But what mattered most—our lives—God would deliver.

Being an itinerant evangelist, Paul had started many churches and come to know lots of people. He encountered different cultures and this had taught him: People and churches go through trials but God delivers them. Later I found a letter he wrote in which he said, “If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:15) He knew what was important and so he wasn’t anxious.

So Paul knew his purpose, and his prayers were mostly listening, and his perspective had an eternal horizon. And so he weathered the storm with faith.

This lasted another fourteen days! Two full weeks, two full cycles of prayer and fasting. Then, while it was still dark, Paul urged us to break our fast. He took bread and thanked God and broke it and began eating. It seemed a kind of ritual to him, like he was remembering a story of deliverance, like he had done it many times before.

We watched and listened to him. We saw his peace. We saw his confidence, joy, and faith as he remembered and ate. And we were encouraged also. We also broke our fast. And you know what was amazing? Everyone ate and was satisfied. There were 276 of us on board. Then the morning broke.

The ship ran aground, just as Paul said, and it disintegrated beneath us. We swam for beach. But I never saw a storm the same way—neither a literal storm nor the metaphorical ones.

You can avoid some storms by closer attention to tradition or experience or nature or common sense. But some storms spontaneously appear, like when your job or your health changes, or when you’ve been victimized, or a loved one dies.

Even then you can still listen to tradition, experience, nature, and common sense. But you can also have faith—like Paul. You can remember God has a purpose. You can pray more as listening. You can keep a longer perspective.

And like Paul, during the storm don’t forget to enjoy God’s providence, offering thanks and remembering past deliverance. In these faithful ways we can weather any storm together.

 

05.06.18 Acts 20.18-35 Making the Most Sermon Summary

Note: this sermon was delivered in first person as Paul.

I’m winding down my “Third Missionary Journey.” Mostly I’ve been evangelizing in synagogues or in their absence, sometimes at prayer circles. I’ve also spoken in market places and before authorities, especially as a prisoner.

But this is my first speech to a Christian audience, the Elders from the church at Ephesus. I founded this church three years earlier, and now that I’m on my way back to Jerusalem I called them together to give them something of a farewell speech. You may receive it also as my speech to YOUR church. I wanted to urge them to “make the most” of their lives by making the most of their ministry.

I made the most of my life by making the most of my ministry. I did not count my life of value to myself if only I could finish the ministry I had received from Christ. I also made the most of my time, from the first day I set foot in Asia (or anywhere I went!). I even made the most of times of trials and opposition. I found opportunities, or created them, like that night in prison in Philippi.

Speaking of prisons, I made the most of every other venue also. I helped out with chores whenever I could. I taught in public places and house to house. I also made the most of my various audiences. I spoke first to Jews then to Greeks. I even spoke to magistrates, prisoners, jailers, and women!

I made the most of my itinerary, wherever my travels happened to take me. On this trip, I was in such a hurry to get to Jerusalem I skipped Ephesus and docked in Miletus. But I called elders to meet me. It was like this for me, city by city, class by class, meeting by meeting, attending to the Spirit even when the Spirit’s news wasn’t good, like the fact I was told that imprisonments and persecutions awaited me.

But I made the most of my life by making the most of my ministry, sharing the hope of repentance, inviting people to walk by faith in Christ, and testifying of “good news of God’s grace.”

We have to make the most of our lives because we’re all judged by what we do. It’s not a moral standard against which we’re judged, but against what we’ve been given, what we’ve earned, and what we can do. God expects us to make the most of our lives. God’s judgment isn’t scary. It’s just God saying, “I gave you this; what did you do with it?”

I wanted the Ephesian church—and every church, even your church, even you—to make the most of life by making the most of ministry. My instructions for the Ephesian church and your church were two-fold.

First, I told them to be responsible overseers. Build up the church and protect it against wolves. Wolves don’t look like wolves. They come in sheep’s clothing. They distort the truth of the Gospel. They come dressed as what is popular. Or dressed in what is convenient. Or dressed in the easy, low-cost option. They come dressed in nationalism. Responsible overseers protect against such wolves.

Second, I told them to generously provide for the ministry. For example, I had outside support (my own work included) which I combined with gifts from other churches to further my ministry. This was my example for the church’s to follow: To work to supply the needs of the church and to be able to give to needs of others. It’s what Jesus taught me: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

So I worked and I gave. I discovered that work is holy when it leads to giving. Or to put it backwards, generosity makes any work holy. Even yours. So I worked and I gave and guess what? I was blessed. That’s how a church is blessed also.

Faith Presbyterian Church—your church—shows signs of being blessed, of making the most of its life and ministry. You have responsible overseers building up the church. You care for children from the nursery through to the youth group. You care for the lonely and the mourning. You serve one another in worship.

And your responsible overseers protect you against the wolves. They listen to God’s Word not only with their heart but also with their mind. They not only entrust the world to God in prayer, they envision God’s will for the world and put it in prayer!

Your church also generously provides for the needs of others. You serve meals and provide housing to homeless people. You support your denomination. You give away $1,000 every month to ministry partners around the city and world.

I knew I was leaving. I envisioned the church without me. I said to them, “You can make it. You can make the most if you work together, keep faith, and walk the line as disciples of Christ.” Well, the elders from Ephesus took it to heart. We knelt and prayed together, embraced, kissed, and wept together. One of them even wrote the book of Ephesians in my name!

What about you? Will you take my words to heart? Will you make the most of your life by making the most of your ministry? I offer you my prayers and this promise—straight from Jesus, through me, to you—it is more blessed to give than to receive.

 

04.29.18 Acts 17.1-9 Remembering Who’s King Sermon Summary

Note: this sermon was preached in first person as Jason, a 20-something resident of Thessalonica living in community with others.

My name is Jason. Today is my feast day in Orthodox Church! My name means “one who heals.” It’s a Greek version of the Hebrew name “Joshua.” I’m a Jew with Greek influences.

Recently I got in trouble with the authorities. I had to post a bail ensuring my cooperation, a promise that I wouldn’t cause any more trouble. You see there were these visitors to town. I had heard about them from my uncle Dzvezda in Philippi. You know him also? Rough guy.

These visitors were named Paul and Silas. They had a reputation of “turning the world upside down.” They were proponents of “the Way” which refers to people follow who the teachings of Jesus. Did they “turn the world upside down”? In some ways, maybe.

People of the Way shared things in common. None of them were in need. Those who had shared with—or sold off in order to share with—those who didn’t.

They also welcomed outsiders like my Greek friends. And women.

They cared for people others hated like lepers and tax-collectors.

That’s how they turned the world upside down: By loving each other in sacrificial ways.

They didn’t really do anything to hurt Caesar. Caesar still had his armies; they just refused to serve in them since they followed the Way of the Peacemaker. Caesar still had his self-worshiping rituals; they just didn’t participate. They worshiped the God of Jesus.

But nothing Christians did took away from Caesar. They simply had Jesus as their king and kept a higher allegiance to him above anyone else.

But some other Jews didn’t follow the Way. Paul used to be one of them. He wanted to exterminate the Way and its followers.

When I heard it said that followers of Jesus were “turning the world upside down,” I remembered Jesus’ trial before Pilate, the Roman governor of his day. There were the same kind of accusations back then—that Jesus taught we need not pay taxes to Caesar or that Jesus was setting up an alternative kingdom in which he was king. (see Luke 23:2)

Pilate questioned Jesus about these things, and Jesus refused to answer. And Pilate couldn’t force him to answer. It was like Jesus had a freedom Pilate couldn’t take away. When you have the security of the Kingdom of God you don’t have to answer. You just live.

Pilate marveled at this, and he was going to let Jesus go (after a beating). (see Luke 23:16) But the Chief Priests of Jesus’ day couldn’t allow that. They wanted Jesus dead. They didn’t want to follow Jesus and they didn’t want anyone else to either. They even pledged allegiance to Caesar! (John 19:15)

Some people can be tolerant like Pilate basically was. They don’t agree, but they don’t feel particularly threatened so they go one with their lives. But some people can’t accept that there may be another king or lord for other people. And that was the fear the Jews in Thessalonica were playing on, that Caesar might get mad and do something.

I find it interesting they framed Jesus against Caesar and not against Yahweh, our God. We are Jews after all. You’d think they would say, “There is no other King but Yahweh. Jesus is no king!” But instead they said, “There is no other king but Caesar. You politicians should do something about these people turning the world upside down.”

You know what really troubled them? It wasn’t just that they didn’t want others following Jesus or that they were afraid of Caesar. It was Paul’s reinterpretation of “Messiah.” Jesus’ death was a scandal. Here was a Jewish Rabbi who taught heresy and acted in blasphemous ways. This is what Paul used to believe until he met the resurrected Christ.

Then he realized Jesus was the Messiah. Paul began to read scripture differently. He concluded that, “it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead. Jesus is this Messiah!” That was Paul’s message.

In Jesus’ resurrection God showed that the hope we Jews had for the Messiah applied to all people. It applies to the whole cosmos, in fact. Messianic hope wasn’t just for national peace and prosperity or for political freedom. Messianic hope is for freedom from sin and death.

This is what Paul taught. “Impossible!” said the traditionalists and those with power and prestige to loose. That’s why they wanted Paul out of the picture. He preached an upside down world by preaching a world that was redeemed and transformed, where sinful systems like religious hierarchies and political oppression and economic exploitation gave way to love.

Some of us were convinced or at least intrigued. So we welcomed Paul and Silas into my house. After a few weeks the critics came looking for them, and instead they found me and my roommates. They accused me of entertaining Jesus—like “aiding and abetting traitorous people.” Now I was party to “turning the world upside down.” I got kind of nervous.

Then I remembered the people Jesus entertained. One time he was at home of Simon the Pharisee, one of those righteous religious folks. And during dinner this sinful woman came and anointed him. With disapproval, Simon noted the company Jesus kept.

Jesus told a parable about two debtors, one who owed a great amount, and one a small amount. Both were forgiven, and Jesus asked Simon which debtor would have greater love for the one who forgave them. The point was, Who loved Jesus more? Simon the host who put on the dinner? Simon the religious one? Or the guest who came with Jesus—the sinful woman?

I thought about that when they accused me of entertaining Paul and Silas. I wish I had said, “Yeah, I welcomed them! And regardless of what happens to me now, it was the right thing!” But instead, I posted bail and promised there would be no more trouble from me or my house. I guess I’m somewhere between Simon and the sinful woman. I love Jesus, but not as much as she did.

What would you have done? Would you welcome the world-changing way of Christ? Or would you compromise to keep the peace? I guess it’s a matter of remembering who’s king—is it Caesar or Jesus?—and then standing with your answer.

04.22.18 Freedom all Around Acts 16:16-34 Sermon Summary

Note: This sermon was delivered in first person.

My name is Dzvezda. It means “Star” in Macedonian. I live in Philippi, where there aren’t many Jews. In fact, there aren’t enough men to have a synagogue. They just have prayer groups. I got myself in a little trouble, and I found myself in prison.

That’s where I met Paul and Silas. For them, as is so often the case, their trouble started with a girl. She was said to have a spirit of divination and was a fortune-teller. She was enslaved to these owners who made a lot of money off of her.

But I have to wonder, How good a fortune teller could she have been? We were told she FOLLOWED Paul and Silas, repeating their message after them. She did not go ahead of them and predict it. . . But there must have been some money in it somehow, because her owners it go on for days. They were probably hanging back and peddling it somehow.

Anyway, eventually it upsets Paul, and he orders the spirit out of her. You know, it’s dangerous to interfere with big business, especially with bad guys like traffickers. It’s even more dangerous when the trafficking is legal exploitation, which is more common than you think.

So the owners dragged Paul and Silas to the authorities—in fact they took them to the marketplace. It would have been a friendly audience. And as if it weren’t bad enough that they had upset big business, the owners threw religion and politics into it. They said, “These men are Jews and they are advocating customs we Romans can’t adopt.”

Now everyone was upset, because you know, private religion is OK, but you start to upset the market and challenge the government, there will be hell to pay. So the magistrates had Paul and Silas stripped of their clothes and then beaten with rods. They were severely flogged and imprisoned.

It seemed to me a really harsh reaction just for casting out a spirit. Which got me thinking: Maybe it wasn’t simply a spirit of divination Paul addressed. Maybe it was the spirit of exploitation. Here was this financially enslaved girl who obviously understood Paul’s message. Maybe he saw her hoping for salvation but recognized that her circumstances possessed her.

Anyway, they were thrown into prison and way back in the innermost cell. We all heard the stocks lock around their feet and we thought, These must be some really bad guys!

About midnight we heard singing and prayers and laughter! Then we thought, These guys are on something. But later we thought, No, they’re on TO something. Because the place started shaking like the year King Uzziah died and the Prophet Isaiah saw God in the Temple—everything shaking everywhere. It was like God had shown up in our prison!

All our doors swung wide and our chains fell off. We heard those stocks down the cell block open. We were amazed and terrified, and looked down to innermost cell. It was astounding, but Paul and Silas just stood there, completely unsurprised, tranquil and confident.

But at the other end of the jail, we heard screaming. The jailer had drawn his sword. He despaired for his job and then for his life thinking we had all escaped. But then Paul’s voice rang out from the darkness: “Don’t do it; we are here!”

The jailer, he runs in, not with a sword but with torches. He brings Paul and Silas out and asks how he can be saved. Isn’t that ironic—the jailer asking the prisoner how to be free? To be honest, we were wondering the same thing all night. How did Paul and Silas do it?

In the middle of the night. At the end of a very long day. During the darkest hour. Trapped in the deepest bondage. Bodies beaten by the crowds. How were their spirits free to sing?

We listened attentively for the answer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus.” “Lord Jesus!?” That’s really dangerous talk. Everyone knows there’s only one Lord and his name isn’t Jesus—it’s Caesar. Again, private religion? Fine. But call Jesus Lord—or worse, live like it—and that’s going to cause you a lot of trouble.

But none of us, not even the Roman jailer, could deny these guys were free. They were free in a way no one else was: More free than the slave owners. More free than the jailer. More free than the magistrates. More free than the crowds.

I was like that slave girl said: They were slaves of the Most High God. And they knew a way of salvation. And that made them free.

So the jailer, he believes. He takes Paul and Silas and washes their wounds. Then they wash his wounds in the waters of baptism. Then they eat together, breaking bread and sharing a cup. The rest of us heard them talking and praying and singing. Then Paul and Silas joined us again back in the prison, freer than anyone on the outside.

And I realized something. The jailer could be free of fear. The slave owners could be free of greed. The girl could be free of exploitation. And I, Dzvezda, I could be free also. I know a way of salvation. I can believe on the Lord Jesus.

And if I can be free, so can anyone. So can you. Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. Amen.

04.15.18 Corrupt no More Acts 13:30-43 Sermon Summary

Note: This sermon was delivered in first person as David.

So I don’t mean to frighten you, rising up from the grave and all. But you know me. I’m David. I’m the little shepherd boy who killed the giant Philistine Goliath with a sling shot. By the way, I looked nothing like Michelangelo’s statue. I actually resembled more the depiction by Donatello.

I was the court musician to Saul, and as a song writer, I was also a psalmist. Some of my Psalms have received some interesting interpretations. This happens, especially with sacred texts. They get picked up and applied to new situations, and their meaning changes.

Take Psalm 16 for example. I wrote it out of a personal struggle—I can’t even remember now what it was. I started by calling out to God for help: God—and only our God—not other gods, like others did: Offering a sacrifice here, making a pilgrimage there, in the hopes that one of these gods would help, hedging my bets. No. I went to our God and our God only.

Then I remembered my blessings. And I professed being open to God’s guidance—even through my dreams! Then I continued by praising God for not abandoning me to death and not letting me see the decay of death. Instead, I wrote about God guiding me in the paths of life.

Psalm 16 is only 11 verses. It’s a good Psalm for guiding your life. . .

Anyway, the author of Acts really liked verse 10: “God, you will not let your holy one see decay.” Or some of your translations say God’s holy one will not “experience corruption.”

Well, eventually I did die. And my body did see the decay of death. But Acts applied the verse to Jesus, my descendant. He also died. But he was resurrected by God so that his body does not see decay or experience corruption.

Acts thinks I saw that coming. In a sermon in the second chapter Peter calls me a prophet. I have to say I really didn’t see it coming that way. I was writing about my life. But sacred texts get interpreted and applied to new situations.

I guess after the resurrection, everything looks different. Remember those two disciples on the way to Emmaus? There they are grieving Jesus’ death and confused about reports of his resurrection and along comes a stranger who interprets the Bible for them around these events of death and resurrection. Then, when it appears he’s going to keep traveling on, they invite him to stay. He agrees, blesses bread, breaks it, and their eyes are opened. They recognize him! It’s the resurrected Jesus!

They start seeing new meaning in suffering, new meaning in doing good, new meaning in death, and new meaning in sacred texts. Just like Acts does with my Psalm 16. I don’t mind.

Paul says that what God promised long ago to his ancestors—to me—God  has begun to fulfill in Jesus’ resurrection.  Well, if that’s true it really is good news, because God only intends good things for his children, and God is faithful to bring them about.

In my day, we thought that meant in this life. So we prayed to live long enough to see it. But by Jesus’ day, they were envisioning a life after death. And there, in the afterlife, after our resurrection, God could sort things out and fulfill his promises.

When will that resurrection take place? It still hasn’t happened. The Bible says God is patiently waiting, giving as many people a chance to turn to God, not wanting anyone to perish.

But with Jesus’ resurrection, Paul says, we know it’s going to happen. Jesus is the first fruit of resurrection, but everyone else will follow. And then God’s intention for the creation will be fulfilled: Everything is set free from the power of sin; the judgment of death is cancelled—for everyone, from the first Adam on down!

This is how Acts interprets my psalm “God will not let his holy one see decay.” I wrote it about my own hope of deliverance in this life. Acts applied it to Jesus’ resurrection. That is good news indeed, and I hope you believe it. It’ll give you hope and comfort and strength in the face of injustice, but also in suffering, and especially in death.

But please don’t forget my other point in that Psalm. I trusted God that if I was faithful to him and didn’t pursue other gods, God would keep me safe and guide me and lead me in the path of life. This is another way I wouldn’t see decay.

As I’ve said, “corruption” is the word your Bible uses. Today that word has primarily a political meaning. You talk about “corrupt politicians” and a “corrupt justice system.” What is true, just, and right is bribed away, distorted, and bent.

This is the “corruption” I don’t want you to forget. And neither does Paul. In his letter to the Galatian churches (6:8) he writes, “If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.”

Listen, you will experience corruption if satisfy your pride, if pursue your self-centered ambitions. You’ll wander from the right path, from the path of life, from Jesus’ narrow road and small gate. Your spiritual life will be corrupted.

But it doesn’t have to be if you remember that Jesus is resurrected. He’s your high priest. He’s praying for you right now. He’s also with you by the Spirit—not just with you, IN you. You CAN be faithful to God. You CAN follow God’s guidance. You CAN overcome your ego. You CAN walk the narrow path and enter the small gate. You CAN avoid the corruption of your spiritual life by remembering Jesus’ resurrection and God’s promises being fulfilled in it.

Remember your sins are forgiven and your life in God begins now in this life and continues in the life to come.

Now I’m going back to bodily decay. I’m waiting for the general resurrection just like you. Let us keep faith until it happens, trusting God’s promise of corruption no more. Amen.