Nov. 22, 2020 – Reign of Christ

Prayer of the Day (from the Advent Project)

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

11 For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

20 Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22 I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

Psalm 95

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
    let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
    let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
    and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
    the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
    and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

O come, let us worship and bow down,
    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.

O that today you would listen to his voice!

Ephesians 1:15-23

15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love[a]toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God[b] put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

It’s the end of the church year, Reign of Christ Sunday. At the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, we heard the lineage of Jesus—linking Jesus to King David, the most famous king in Israel’s history. We heard the story of wise men from the east following the star, searching for the new king so they could pay homage.  

Again, and again, we have listened in as Jesus described the new kingdom, not the kingdom of David and Solomon. God is doing something new. It is not a far-off kingdom but a kingdom here and now in which everything is turned upside down—the poor, the meek, the merciful are blessed; we are to love our enemies; and Jesus is king above all others. It started with the strangest upside-down story of all—a king born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough.  

Yet this morning we see a ruling Jesus who sits on his glorious throne as the judge of humanity. No more parables of maidens and lamps or slaves investing talents.  Today’s text is a judgment scene. Jesus uses an agricultural metaphor, sheep and goats. The judgment is actual, real, decisive, threatening, hanging over humanity like a lowering thundercloud.  

Like all trials, it passes judgment not on thoughts, but on actual deeds–in this case, deeds done to the judge: feeding him when hungry, giving water to him when thirsty, welcoming him as a stranger, clothing him when ragged, comforting him when sick, and empathizing with him when in prison.

Those judged are equally surprised, whether rewarded or condemned. “When did we do such deeds to you?” The reply, “when you did these things to the marginalized, the outcasts, the weakest and neediest in society.” Christians see Jesus in the least, if they see him at all.

From the beginning of Jesus ministry there has been an emphasis on doing the faith. Jesus himself must “fulfill all righteousness.” The disciples acts of piety include giving alms, praying and fasting. These must be done before God alone, not with a view to demonstrating one’s faith for the world to affirm.

The Apostle Paul’s phrase “faith active in love” fits this view of the Christian life well.  Even right belief is not enough.  One of Jesus’ most severe words comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). To call Jesus Lord is the basic confession of faith in the early church, but it is not enough. Neither is prophecy, exorcism or miraculous deeds. Unless one does the will of the Father, Jesus will confess against those deeds. “I never recognized you; go away, you who produce that which breaks the [law].”

We are freed from sin and death by God’s mercy through Jesus Christ. We are freed for loving our neighbor. The parables leading up to today’s Scripture passage have set the stage. The bridge grooms, both those who did and did not have enough oil, remind us to keep awake and to be prepared for whenever the bride groom appears. The parable of the talents reminds us that God has gifted each of us uniquely but that investment in the reign of God is indeed part of our calling. How we do it will differ. That we invest our talents in the kingdom is nonnegotiable. 

What our neighbor love looks like might reflect today’s passage. You might actually feed people, clothe people, care for people in prison, or care for the sick. It might be neighbor love with a different expression. Most people we admire who love their neighbor do it so naturally. Like the characters in the parable, they wonder when they served Jesus. When was it? They ask. They have already been embodying what one scholar called “joyful living in mercy without calculation.”

The thing about today’s parable that I find fascinating is that it actually is not about the kind of individual acts of love I have mentioned. Those actions certainly fit a reading of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, and certainly our individual actions matter. But today’s text starts this way, “When the Son of Man comes in glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him…” All the nations. 

So, we might say that this is just addressed to the leaders of the nations, and we are off the hook. But in this particular nation, we all get to participate, not just on election day, but every day. Systems are made up of individuals. Individuals make up neighborhoods, communities, and systems.

Jesus, it seems to me, is not only concerned with how we care for our neighbor individually. How we do it communally matters too. It is always unfortunate, when reading scripture, that the English singular “you” is the same as the plural “you,” but it is especially unfortunate with today’s passage from Matthew. The parable would read more accurately if the king answered, “Truly I tell you, just as you nations did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,” or “just as you alldid it to one of the least of these.”

What precisely does this communal neighbor love look like? What does the reign of God look like for an entire community or country? The easiest way I can think about it in Nampa, Idaho is to share what I experience when I attend community meetings focused on feeding and housing. See, our feeding and housing ministries have made me curious about the statutes, practices, laws and systems that create the problems in the first place. 

Neighbor love expressed by an entire community, not just one person, not only helps someone move out of homelessness, it asks, “what is causing the affordable housing crisis right now?” a crisis that existed before the pandemic. Neighbor love expressed by a community wonders why the income gap has gotten so wide? Are the poorer people lazy, because it sure does not look like it—not when they are working three jobs. What laws and practices need to be changed to create more equity, more flourishing for all people? Neighbor love expressed by an entire community wonders why more people of color are being diagnosed with COVID-19 and then tries to provide more safe-guards. What needs to changed so that all people are blessed, not just spiritually but physically?   

These are the questions and framework used by German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The church, and really the entire country, because they were so united, of his day were basking in God’s grace and needed to be reminded of how to faithfully respond to that grace. Bonhoeffer wrote “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.” In contrast, costly grace is the hidden treasure in the field. “It is costly, because it calls to discipleship; it is grace, because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly, because it costs people their lives; it is grace, because it thereby makes them live.”

We might still wonder what costly grace will actually looks like in daily living. Bonhoeffer asks, “But how should disciples know what their cross is? They will receive it when they begin to follow the suffering Lord. They will recognize their cross in communion with Jesus.”  Discipleship is not about looking for the triumphs of Christianity or of Jesus. We look to the suffering of Jesus. Bonhoeffer writes, “The cross is at once what is necessary and hidden, and what is visible and extraordinary.” We are completely dependent on God for grace and mercy. There will always be conflict between the way of the world and the reign of God. The cross, including why Jesus ended up there, and resurrection remain central. 

Immediately following our gospel passage Jesus says to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” This is a king who continues to surprise. What kind of god shows power by dying on a cross? The same one who leaves the 99 for the one lost sheep. The same one who heals and feeds and restores the outcast to community. The God we worship is loving and tenacious. God’s reign is going to break in; it is in fact already happening. It is always both already and not yet here.  

Today our calling is not to cringe before an angry Judge who will wreak apocalyptic havoc on a creation gone bad. Instead, we have responsibilities as agents-in-Christ of God’s reign for a renewed creation. We are encouraged to look toward a hope that is neither millenialist nor rapturist. Instead, it is a vision perhaps best realized when it is set to the glorious music from George Fredrich Handel’s oratorio: “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever. Halleluiah.” 

Prayers of Intercession (from Sundays and Seasons)

Longing for Christ’s reign to come among us, we pray for the outpouring of God’s power on the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.

Sovereign of all, train our ears to hear your cry in the needs of those around us. Bless all social ministries of the church through which we seek to serve others as we ourselves have been served. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

You cause rain to fall on the just and unjust alike. Direct our use of creation to provide for the needs of all people in ways that are sustainable for the earth. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Bring peace to every place where conflict rages (especially). Grant opportunities for ending divisions among us and usher in your reign of unity and reconciliation. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Heal the sinful divisions we erect between us and release us from systems of oppression and prejudice. Restore our capacity to see your image in those whose dignity we have stripped away (especially). Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Pour out the gifts of your Spirit on children and youth throughout the church. Sustain those who work in children’s ministry, youth ministry, and campus ministry as they nurture the gifts of young people. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

Thank you for saints now departed who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and tended to the sick. Inspire us by their example, that we may see your presence in those in need around us. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Receive our prayers in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior, until that day when you gather all creation around your throne where you will reign forever and ever.

Amen.

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Nov. 15, 2020

Prayer of the Day

O Lord our God, you gave your law that righteousness might abound: Put it into our hearts to love justice for others as much as we desire it for ourselves, that, as we know you to be our judge, so we may welcome your reign as it is manifested through Jesus Christ our savior; to whom, with you and Holy Spirit, be dominion and praise forever and ever. Amen. (from the Advent Project)

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

Be silent before the Lord God!
    For the day of the Lord is at hand;
the Lord has prepared a sacrifice,
    he has consecrated his guests.

12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
    and I will punish the people
who rest complacently[a] on their dregs,
    those who say in their hearts,
“The Lord will not do good,
    nor will he do harm.”
13 Their wealth shall be plundered,
    and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
    they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
    they shall not drink wine from them.

14 The great day of the Lord is near,
    near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,
    the warrior cries aloud there.
15 That day will be a day of wrath,
    a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
    a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16     a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
    and against the lofty battlements.

17 I will bring such distress upon people
    that they shall walk like the blind;
    because they have sinned against the Lord,
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
    and their flesh like dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold
    will be able to save them
    on the day of the Lord’s wrath;
in the fire of his passion
    the whole earth shall be consumed;
for a full, a terrible end
    he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

Psalm 90

Lord, you have been our dwelling place[a]
    in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn us[b] back to dust,
    and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”
For a thousand years in your sight
    are like yesterday when it is past,
    or like a watch in the night.

You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
    like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
    in the evening it fades and withers.

For we are consumed by your anger;
    by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your countenance.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
    our years come to an end[a] like a sigh.
10 The days of our life are seventy years,
    or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span[b] is only toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.

11 Who considers the power of your anger?
    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

12 So teach us to count our days
    that we may gain a wise heart.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters,[a] you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved,[b] are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Matthew 25:14-30

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Intro and Sermon by Guest Preacher Kelly Sherman-Conroy

Prayers of Intercession (from Sundays and Seasons)

Longing for Christ’s reign to come among us, we pray for the outpouring of God’s power on the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.

Lord of the church, ignite your people with the passion of your love. By the fire of your Holy Spirit, unify us across ministries, congregations, and denominations, and refine us to participate in your activity throughout the world. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Lord of creation, we stand in awe at the works of your hands and praise you for the beauty of nature (local places of natural beauty may be named). Bless the earth for your glory and restore its integrity where exploitation has caused ruin. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Lord of the nations, sound forth your justice in the ears of all leaders. Increase concern for those who are most vulnerable, especially as international leaders forge trade agreements and cooperate to end human rights abuses. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Lord of all in need, search out all who cry to you in distress. Scatter the heavy clouds of depression, chronic illness, unemployment, and loneliness with your radiant light. Send us as encouragement and signs of your healing. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Lord of the stranger, stir up holy restlessness in us to extend love to those at the margins. Release our desire for control and open us to learn from the perspectives of others. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

Lord of the living and the dead, we give you thanks for all the saints at rest from their labors (especially). Rouse us to live by their example, that saints yet to come may also know your love. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

Receive our prayers in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior, until that day when you gather all creation around your throne where you will reign forever and ever.

Amen.

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Nov. 8, 2020

Prayer of the Day (From the Advent Project)

Eternal God, your Word of wisdom goes forth and does not return empty: Grant us such knowledge and love of you that we may perceive your presence in all creation and every creature; through Jesus Christ our oLd, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, now and forever. Amen.

Amos 5: 18-24

18Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!  Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;  19as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake.
20Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?
21I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.
23Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.  24But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Psalm 70

1Be pleased, O God, to deliver me;  O Lord, make haste to help me.
2Let those who seek my life be put to shame and confounded; let those who take pleasure in my misfortune draw back and be disgraced. 

3Let those who say to me “Aha!” and gloat over me turn back because of their shame.
4Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let those who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!”

5But as for me, I am poor and needy; come to me quickly, O God. You are my helper and my deliverer; O Lord, do not tarry.

1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18

13We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Matthew 25:1-13

1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. 

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

On this first Sunday after the presidential election, I assume that some of us come elated, some chagrin, some ambivalent. We learned that as a country we seem as divided as the ten bridesmaids in our gospel text. I believe this is an urgent moment in time, but not because of either our elation or chagrin. It is urgent because the God we encounter through Jesus Christ is always calling us into something new and that is surely true in this moment. Jesus’ parable in Matthew’s gospel could not be timelier.

First, let’s be clear that this morning’s gospel text is in fact a parable. It is a story Jesus uses to teach something. So far in his ministry, all of his teaching is somehow about the Kingdom of Heaven, or reign of God. This parable carries that thread. Sometimes it is okay to allegorize a parable, but most often it is safer not to. In other words, we should not assign characters in the parable to people or members of the Holy Trinity. 

The reign of God, God’s inbreaking, is something to stay awake for, to be prepared for. In previous parables it was like a pearl, a hidden treasure, yeast. It is surprising and often hidden and always valuable. Other agricultural parables also portray the reign of God as something that grows and has potential for abundance. 

This morning’s parable seems to be about a particular kind of waiting and watchfulness. “The kingdom of heaven will be like…ten bridesmaids [who] took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” The ten seem equal in their response and enthusiasm at first: ten lamps burning; ten bridesmaids sleeping; ten bridesmaids waking up, hearing the groom arrive; and ten bridesmaids excited to get the wedding started. 

And then comes the “but.” But, only five have enough oil with them to keep their lamps lit. So, while the five who are running on empty go out looking for more oil, the others go into the party and the door is shut behind them. The groom refuses to open up even when they return well supplied with lamps burning, crying their confession of faith, “Lord, Lord.” But the door remained slammed in their face with an unexpectedly terse and emphatic, “I don’t know you!” 

This is clearly not just any wedding party, nor is this regular lamp oil like a commodity to be traded, sold, gifted, loaned, or bartered. As much as the wise bridesmaids may want to share, they cannot do it. This seems like such a contrast to much of Jesus’ teachings about generosity and abundance. But that is not the point of this parable. This is about fuel and waiting.

As many who have studied this parable closely realize, this kind of spiritual fuel you just cannot get from someone else. Just as you can copy a friend’s math homework, but not the hours of studying he put in understanding all the steps in the process. Just as a person cannot borrow a scalpel and suddenly embody all surgical knowledge. Just as a surgeon herself may successfully transplant a heart from one body to another but can never transfer its original recipient’s love for her children, or her passion for gardening. 

There are some kinds of preparation we can only do for ourselves, spiritual reserves that no one else can build up for us. It is something we each have to receive, cherish, and deepen in our own souls for ourselves.

So, this parable impresses upon us the importance and the urgency of being fueled as we wait. As all ten bridesmaids awaken to realize, the time for acquiring oil and building reserves will run out suddenly and unexpectedly. Dark times come into every life, and it’s in the darkness that we most need the sustenance of the kind of oil Jesus is talking about–assurance of the abundant promises of God, peace that passes understanding, and a depth of hope that can sustain us through the darkness of disappointments and failures, devastating loss and grief–closed doors of all kinds. 

I have been speaking about this parable in terms of individuals having enough oil, and I certainly believe that is important. But I actually believe the parable is encouraging communities of faith to remain fueled. I do not mean enough savings, enough resources, a big enough building, enough people. I mean the kind of reserves that can only be described relationally. What is our communal relationship with God? In turn, how are our relationships with one another and with our neighbors, even those who voted differently than we did? I would actually contend that Trinity Lutheran’s relationships are healthy and that is one reason why we are weathering the pandemic disruption as well as we are.

But, as the parable so starkly portrays, we have to stay awake. Complacency is not an option. We, this faith community in Nampa, need hope urgently as the world is experiencing this pandemic. We need peace urgently when we realize our nation is divided by visions of who we are. We will need love urgently when we are afraid. We will need joy urgently when the pain of loss and grief seems never-ending.   

And, we never know when we are going to be called into something new. If the election has shown us one thing it is that we are divided as a country. I also think there is a lot of fear—about so many things. And we have a hard time talking across and through the fear and the divide. What is the call of the church in such a time? 

Perhaps it is to ignore our different political views and keep doing the work of housing, feeding, and evangelism. Perhaps it is a call to deepen our relationships with one another and our larger community—to truly hear what our heart’s desires for our families and church and country are. 

I give thanks today that this parable about having enough oil reserves and keeping awake is but one part of the gospel. When we look at Jesus life, death, and resurrection we are reminded of the story so foundational to the life of faith.

One renowned scholar [Brueggemann] put it this way, “It will be a story not grounded in fear, greed, and violence, but a story that pivots on the generosity, civility, and restorative justice that honors all neighbors, that provides for all the impoverished and neighbors in need. This alternative story is deeply grounded in the gospel. But it is not only a gift. It is an assignment. It is a task to be done in the intimate places where we tell our treasured stories, in the market places where we bargain and trade, and in public places where we make policies concerning debt and taxes. This is a time to get our story straight, to engage that narrative that we have nearly forfeited in our narcoticized indifference.”

The parable ends with an imperative to “keep alert” and be on notice. Why? Because the new world erupts here and there without warning. It is the work of the faithful to watch and to notice. It is the work of the faithful to identify and celebrate wherever it is that new, neighborly actions are committed that make all things new.

Today we begin our expanded Advent, a good time to keep awake and to return to disciplines which will keep our lamps full of oil—worship, prayer, reading scripture, acts of love and generosity. The last weeks of Advent have us look back on the incarnation, God coming to earth in the human person of Jesus. But the first few weeks of our seven-week Advent focus on future. That may sound scary, but it is not. It is perhaps one of our most hope-filled acts. 

The death and resurrection of Jesus outside of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago calls on us to reimagine the future and to reconsider how we participate in the here and now. As we act out our parts in the unfolding plot of history, we already know how the play will end. Accordingly, we are free to dream what we otherwise might not dare to envision, and to work for a reign of peace and justice that the world seems incapable of imagining.

Despite the claims of the popular “left behind” genre of theology, God does not pluck a select group of people from the earth, abscond with them to another place and abandon the world. Instead, God comes and dwells with us, swallowing up death forever and bringing joy without end. In the meantime—a period in which we experience God’s promised future “already but not yet fully”—we are to live as if God’s reign were finally established.

In other words, if God’s promised future includes the dismantling of hunger, suffering, division, prejudice and shame, and the dawn of joy and life without end, then we, who are marked with the cross of Christ, boldly need to get on with it! 

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

Longing for Christ’s reign to come among us, we pray for the outpouring of God’s power on the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.

Holy God, rouse us to deep praise as we gather for worship. Enliven our worship with sincere and heartfelt song. Sustain the work of all church musicians and artists who lead us in praise and prayer (especially). Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Holy Creator, surprise and delight us with the beauty of the world you have made. Bless the work of landscapers, architects, and artists whose work invites us into harmonious living with your creation. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Holy Judge, let justice roll down like waters over this world. Reign over the courtrooms of every land, in the hearts of those who guard the law and those who stand accused of crimes. Be present in cases where we long for both justice and mercy to prevail (especially). Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Holy Companion, console those who feel lonely or abandoned. Share the hours of those who live and eat alone. Comfort those who have few friends or who struggle with their identity and place in this world. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Holy Protector, be with all observing Veterans Day. Guard the lives of active duty and retired military personnel. Comfort all who mourn those who have died in the line of duty. Heal the wounds, both physical and mental, experienced by service members. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Holy and Immortal One, we pray in thanksgiving for the lives of all who have died. Remind us of the frailty and shortness of our own lives and inspire us to use them for the building up of your kingdom. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Receive our prayers in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior, until that day when you gather all creation around your throne where you will reign forever and ever.

Amen.

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Predecessors

A recent Living Lutheran article, titled Foremothers of Mission, was about domestic missionaries for a predecessor body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Women were finally invited to do this work when men were fighting in World War II. Every year, 18 women served as domestic missionaries, also known as survey workers. Suzan Farley’s article featured one of them, Bernice Severson, now age 96. Later in the article came this sentence, “Severson was responsible for developing congregations in Chicago’s Oriole park neighborhood (1946) and in Nampa, Idaho (1947).” She was the survey worker for Trinity Lutheran Church, Nampa!

Severson’s story spurred me to reflect on the people who came before me at Trinity Lutheran Church and I felt welling up within me some kind of witness to the three pastors who served before me. There were other interims, or short-term pastors, but it is these three who I want to write about. I know that none of these pastors was probably perfect, but I am so grateful for the gifts they left me and the congregation. Let me first give thanks that all three conducted themselves professionally. That means no misconduct for many years. People at Trinity have never had to relearn how to trust a pastor. That is no small gift. But they actually gave us more than simple professional conduct.

Barak Anderson served as Trinity’s pastor from 1984-1989. That may seem like a short time, but Barak’s name is still spoken. There are people who joined the congregation during Barak’s tenure and who were in leadership who still talk about his instruction and teaching. As a lifelong learner and someone who really wanted to teach in the parish, I am thankful for any influence Barak had on making this a curious congregation, a congregation full of the people who borrow my books, ask questions, show up for adult education, and expect that new members will be offered thoughtful classes where we really get to know one another.

Erik Wilson Weiberg served as Trinity’s pastor from 1990 to 1996. When I was in the call process, my family friend contact for the Northwest was Pastor Maynard Atik, who was serving as an interim in Seattle. I still remember the response from Maynard when I emailed him about the call to Trinity: “My friend Erik says you’re going to good people.” I already felt good about the call, but that assurance gave me an extra lift. Little did I know how Erik’s time at Trinity would impact my own tenure. It was during Erik’s call that Trinity Lutheran entered a 50-year ground lease agreement with Mercy Housing for 16 single-family homes, then called New Hope. It was a controversial move for the church and led to an exodus of church members and a neighborhood association expressing the Not in My Back Yard sentiment. My office held VHS recordings of the hearings in front of Nampa Planning and Zoning and City Council. I watched the hearings so I could listen to both Erik and the Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy from Mercy Housing. In 2005, five-years into my call, Mercy Housing moved out of Nampa and Trinity Lutheran, with help from IHFA, created Trinity New Hope Inc. (affordable housing), a separate nonprofit.

Wendell Hendershott served from 1997 to 2009. Wendell helped the Trinity Community Gardens Inc. get started on the front lawn of Trinity. He encouraged the founders to be their own nonprofit. This is the legacy of Wendell’s most easily visible to a visitor. I am incredibly grateful for the garden’s presence. I know many people who have joined our congregation because, even if they do not garden, they want to be part of a church who uses its land to produce vegetables for the community. I actually believe the gift of equal importance which Wendell left me is the congregation’s ability to move between Holy Communion musical settings and learn new songs. The Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal was introduced to Trinity during Wendell’s time, when I was in my first call in rural Iowa. It did not take me long to figure out that he had the congregation learn just about every setting and a plethora of new songs. The result being that when I want to introduce new settings or songs, including songs from other parts of the world, no on blinks. Wendell was also close with his colleagues at the local Presbyterian and Episcopal congregations. This made it easy for me to continue fostering Trinity’s reputation as an ecumenical collaborator.

Trinity, Nampa, like most congregations, has done a lot of adapting since the COVID-19 Pandemic began. I have leaned on colleagues, lay leaders, and my family as I navigate through this new terrain with the congregation. On this All Saints Day, also my tenth anniversary at Trinity, I give thanks for all the pastors and lay people who helped shape this community of faith long before I arrived.

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Nov. 1, 2020 (All Saints Day and Confirmation Sunday)

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Revelation 7: 9-17

9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”  13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Psalm 34: 1-10, 22

1I will bless the Lord at all times; the praise of God shall ever be in my mouth.
2I will glory in the Lord; let the lowly hear and rejoice. 

3Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord; let us exalt God’s name  together.
4I sought the Lord, who answered me and delivered me from all my terrors.

5Look upon the Lord and be radiant, and let not your faces be ashamed.
6I called in my affliction, and the Lord heard me and saved me from all my  troubles. 

7The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear the Lord and delivers them.
8Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who take refuge in God!

9Fear the Lord, you saints of the Lord, for those who fear the Lord lack nothing.
10The lions are in want and suffer hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.

22O Lord, you redeem the life of your servants, and those who put their trust in you will not be punished.

Matthew 5:1-12

1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Faith Statement by Kevin Mills (Confirmation Sunday)

Over my years in confirmation, I went through the biggest changes in my life. I’m not talking about puberty, I mean that I’ve learned so many things pertaining to my life, which have helped me grow as a Friend, a Lutheran, and a member of this society. most of which about myself, my faith, and the world around me.

I’m sure all of you know, but dramas a real thing that happens in middle school, and especially in high school. When it comes up, drama is typically very stressful and often results in negative effects such as friends growing apart. But sometimes, that drama creates great learning opportunities to improve yourself. I’m the past year alone, I’ve said and done so many things that had negative impacts on me and the ones I care about. But if it weren’t for these experiences, I never would have learned the effects that my actions had on my friends and family.

As I learned these lessons, the stories from confirmation began to mean more and more to me. One story that I specifically remember studying multiple times was the story of the Prodigal son. The first time through, I remember not understanding the father’s choices and took the side of the older brother. But the second time through, I understood that the father had forgiven his son and loved both him and his brother the same. This taught me that you can forgive anyone for anything. But the third time through is what made this my favorite of Christ’s parables. What sunk in was the beginning and middle of the story. I believe that the father knew what the son would do with the money, and in turn, let him spend it all to teach him many lessons. But the ending also teaches the older brother some life lessons, as he seems to need to learn how to forgive as his father did. This is just one of the many parables I studied in confirmation that affected my life in a positive way. 

The lessons that we are taught by the bible are meant to make us servants of God. But what is a servant of God? I believe it means to treat others with kindness and try to be a light in their world that brings them up rather than a shadow that brings them down. A realization I’ve made throughout these years has been that kindness is contagious. Think about it, when you’re in a bad mood, are you generally very kind? No, you’re not. Treating someone badly will likely cause that person to treat others badly, and the chain continues spreading like a virus. (Covid joke)

The time I spent in confirmation helped me towards becoming a better person in general. I learned many lessons that will contribute to my success in being one of God’s own servants.

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Today is all about saints and blessings, and perhaps how those two fit together. I believe the scripture passages both from Matthew and Revelation are protest passages. That is, they show us that the way things are is clearly not what God envisions. This is why we still pray, “Your kingdom come.” 

We acknowledge in that prayer that the “kingdom of heaven” is not yet a reality on earth. And yet today, All Saints Day, we recognize people who died who the church holds up as exemplars, those individuals who continue to give us glimpses of the kingdom of heaven or reign of God—people like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther King Jr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Mother Teresa. We also recognize that all of us who strive to bring in the kingdom are in fact called saints.

One of the many things we celebrate today is the gift of baptism, the sacrament of Water and the Word, in which we are united with Christ’s death and resurrection.  We drown, we are washed clean, and we are given a new name, Child of God.  God shows know partiality.  Because of Jesus Christ God’s love and grace are free gifts.  But once we are united with Christ, once we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, it is quite a journey. Kevin, who will soon affirm the promises made at his baptism, named that this journey is one of learning, discovery, and regular transformation. The living word of God which he has encountered has transformed his thoughts and actions already.

In our reading from Matthew, we see what behavior got Jesus’ followers into such trouble. They were “merciful” and “peacemakers,” seeking reconciliation rather than revenge on someone who wronged them. They were “pure in heart,” and as Jesus defines purity, that meant doing things — like eating with any who would break bread with you — bound to render them impure in others’ eyes. Jesus gathers in all of these people who are completely bereft and without honor in their culture’s eyes.

Jesus gives them blessing, or honor. In front of all the crowds, Jesus ascribes honor to them, declaring that these are the people whom the God of Israel honors. Their human families may have disowned them, but they are children of the God who created the universe, to whom all honor belongs.

What does God require of us? Not sacrifices of blood, not impressive buildings, not achievement or respectability: just justice, and mercy, and humility. Sounds simple but living into that way of life has costs. 

What would it mean if we honored those whom God honors? What would happen if we stopped playing all of our culture’s games for status and power and privilege? What would it cost us if we lived more deeply into justice, and mercy, and humility? And more importantly, what blessings await us on that journey? 

What threads together the Beatitudes and our passage from Revelation are the threads of vision and protest. They both portray God’s vision for the world and speak to God’s solidarity with the marginalized, those crushed by the power of empire. Both passages should surprise us, the first with who God chooses to bless or honor, the second with how precisely God shows up.

The best way to understand Revelation’s message is to place ourselves alongside its earliest readers. Revelation was written to comfort beleaguered churches struggling under Roman imperial violence and power. The author, John, lived in exile on the Island of Patmos, off the coast of modern-day Turkey. Patmos was a place of banishment used by Rome.  

John himself writes of past and expected persecution of Christians who refused to worship the Roman Emperor. John writes that Rome is not the great eternal power it claims to be. John writes an apocalypse. In Greek, Apo means “from” and kalypsis means “covering” or “curtain.” John’s apocalypse pulls the curtain from the Roman Empire. It shows that Rome must not be worshiped.

John writes because he has been given his message directly from God; the message may or may not contain predictions. It is a revelation from God, from the Lord, the risen and exalted Lord Jesus of the Christian community. John prophesies to the Christian communities to remain faithful to the risen Lord, to remain faithful even in their time of crisis under the rule of Rome. The saints whose stories we still tell today were exemplars in this faithfulness to the risen Lord Jesus.

No other apocalypse ever pictures the divine hero as a Lamb. Revelation is unique among apocalyptic writings in this image. A lamb is weak and helpless. The depiction of Jesus as a Lamb shows him in the most vulnerable way possible. And John depicts Jesus as a victim who is slaughtered but standing. He is crucified but raised to life. He has conquered death but not in any Roman way.

The Lamb of Revelation became the victor not by militaristic power and slaughter but rather by being slaughtered. From beginning to end, Revelation’s vision of the Lamb teaches that God’s power is made manifest in weakness.  This Lamb theology is the whole message of Revelation. Evil is defeated not by overwhelming force or violence but by the Lamb’s suffering and love on the cross.  The victim becomes the victor. John of Patmos reveals what Barbara Rossing calls “Lamb Power.”

John takes his time revealing this Lamb Power. In Chapter Six, the first six seals are opened in rapid succession. This unleashes the four deadly horses and other symbols of Rome’s terrible oppression. We expect that the seventh seal will continue the rhythm of horror.  Instead, the letter reveals an amazing surprise.  

In place of the seventh seal we get a beautiful vision of white-robed martyrs from all “nations, tribes, peoples, and languages.” They are waving palm branches and singing before the throne of God and the Lamb. Then we arrive at a wonderful paradox. The Lamb himself becomes their shepherd, leading people to God’s shelter and to springs of the water of life.  

Today’s reading presents the church after the battle. Those who have conquered are dressed in the white robes of the victors; martyrdom is seen only from its heavenward side. We must cautiously remember that they have “won” only from the heavenly perspective of the Lamb’s redefinition of winning; on earth they have been killed.

John’s paradoxes keep coming.  The robes of the martyrs are white not with liquid bleach but because they are washed in the blood of the lamb.  Their own death is not an accomplishment of which they can boast. They don’t earn their victor’s robes with their own courage and determination. Their death becomes one with the Lamb’s death. John lets us see the suffering love of the One who dies for others enthroned. The Lamb rules at the heart of the universe.

There is amazing hope here. We are reminded that at those moments when judgment threatens most to overpower us the Lamb breaks into our world with God’s unexpected grace and love. Throughout all of Revelation, such songs and declarations of salvation break out in heaven—often at some of the most difficult moments, sustaining our faith on earth.    

What does any of this have to do with All Saints Sunday?  I’m sure this text is included today at least partially because of the image of God wiping away every tear from their eyes, a comforting image for all of us who have lost loved ones this year or in years past.

I think there is more to it.  Today our readings and liturgy call us to remember those who have died in Christ. The Christian community speaks honestly about human frailty and mortality. We don’t dismiss these realities.  At the same time, we confess every Sunday our faith in the risen Lord, in the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. While we face death with fear, the liturgy calls us to hear the Lord’s promise that he is with us in life and in death. In that strange and wonderful reversal, the Lamb is our shepherd—with us in life and in death.

Prayers of Intercession

Longing for Christ’s reign to come among us, we pray for the outpouring of God’s power on the church, the world, and all in need. Please respond to “Hear us, O God” with “Your mercy is great.”

A brief silence.

Lord of all the saints, we praise you for evangelists and martyrs whose sacrifices witness to your gospel across time and space. Inspire us by their courage to carry our faith to new people and places around us. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Lord of every place, the universe proclaims your greatness from generation to generation. Bless the work of naturalists, conservationists, and park rangers who train our attention to the wonders of the world you have made. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Lord of every nation, you crafted the universe as a divine tapestry in which the well-being of the entire cosmos is forever intertwined. In this election season, give us hearts and minds focused on nurturing all that you have made. Forgive us when we are unjust or accept unjust behavior in our leaders. Remind us of your call to not withdraw from the world, but to be in the world as your very own broken and beloved people. Ignite in us a passion for the welfare of those who are most vulnerable, and empower us to lead with a love that reflects your love revealed in Jesus Christ our Savior. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Lord of every blessing, your Son’s blessing came to those living with poverty, grief, hunger, thirst, and persecution. Shape our vision of the saints to match his own. Awaken in us your call to serve all who suffer. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Lord of every venture, anoint us with the missionary spirit of the early church. Empower testimony from new communities of faith to shape a diverse witness to your saving power. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Lord of every time, countless are the multitudes you have called by name and gathered to yourself. Comfort us as we grieve those who have died in the past year:  All those in our world who have died from COVID-19, Howard Winwood, George Pascua, Ron King, Margaret Peerson, Chuck Knipple, Ashley Fisherman, John VanEvery, Robert MacDonald, Allyn Topp, and Robert Torrey. In faith, may we join with them in ceaseless praise. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Lord of new beginnings, we give thanks for those baptized since the last All Saints Sunday, the new saints: Olivia, Michael, Sophia, and James Duarte. Bless them in their life in Christ. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Receive our prayers in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior, until that day when you gather all creation around your throne where you will reign forever and ever. Amen.

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Oct. 18, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Sovereign God, raise your throne in our hearts. Created by you, let us live in your image; created for you, let us act for your glory; redeemed by you, let us give you what is yours, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Psalm 99

1The Lord is king; let the people tremble. The Lord is enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth shake.
2The Lord, great in Zion, is high above all peoples.3Let them confess God’s name, which is great and awesome; God is the Holy One.
4O mighty king, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. 5Proclaim the greatness of the Lord and fall down before God’s footstool;
  God is the Holy One.
6Moses and Aaron among your priests, and Samuel among those who call upon your name, O Lord, they called upon you, and you answered them,
7you spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; they kept your testimonies and the decree that you gave them.
8O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; you were a God who forgave them, yet punished them for their evil deeds.
9Proclaim the greatness of the Lord and worship upon God’s holy hill; for the Lord our God is the Holy One.

1 Thessalonians 1: 1-10

1Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 2We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. 6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Matthew 22:15-22

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Is it possible for us to compartmentalize our lives in a way that gives God a compartment? This question is at the heart of today’s gospel text. The reading tells the story of the first of three attempts by the religious leaders to entrap Jesus and discredit him with others. The question of paying taxes to Rome was a thorny one in Jesus’ day.  

The opponents this time are the Pharisees and Herodians. The Herodians were comprised of supporters of the Herodian rulers (Herod, the Great, Herod Antipas).  The Pharisees were lay Jews who had taken upon themselves to obey the whole of the biblical law, including even those parts required only of the priests. They were devout Jews who tried to be as faithful to the law as they possibly could be.

When they asked Jesus whether it was “lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not,” they thought they might trap him into saying something offensive, either about the Romans or about his Jewish faith. A group of Jews were toying with the idea of withholding taxes from Rome and believed that it was fundamentally wrong to support the empire which was oppressing their people. If Jesus said no, it is not lawful to pay the Roman tax, he would be aligned with the rebellious minority and offend the Romans. If he were to say yes, it is lawful, his loyalty to the Jews would be questioned. 

Jesus asks to see a coin and then asks whose inscription was on it. A denarius of that time would have had the image of the Roman emperor’s head, along with the inscription, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the Divine Augustus.” Jesus’ opponents replied that the inscription was of the emperor. Then came the response that settled the matter: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.”  

We know that Jesus had outfoxed the religious leaders again. However, his words have been the source of much controversy. They have been taken entirely out of the context of taxes to become the basis for the absolute separation of religion and politics. By equating the emperor’s and God’s due, people argue that we must never mention matters of politics or social issues in the church, much less from the pulpit. This use of Jesus’ words is not legitimate.

Another interpretation is that this saying of Jesus urges us to make at least a clear distinction between our religious loyalties and those involving the state. We pay taxes. We support our nation. We involve ourselves even in political and social matters. But another loyalty is due to God. But what does that mean? After our political, national, and social debts are paid, what’s left for God? 

What is there that is not God’s? Is there a loyalty to elected local, state, and national leaders that has nothing to do with our loyalty to God? If all there is, is ultimately a result of God’s work of creation or redemption, then everything is due to God.  

Jesus solves an insolvable challenge by reminding us that some things matter more than others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer distinguished between ultimate and penultimate issues. The emperor’s claims, as weighty as they may be, are penultimate, not ultimate. Caesar’s authority goes no further than his face on a coin. The things that are God’s, know no limits. The coin, the emperor, the empire–all are God’s

Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees and Herodians is a freeing one. Some things matter more than others. Taxes, money, human power look small next to the grace of God, which knows no bounds. That grace always frees us.

God’s grace through Jesus Christ frees us from something and for something. I saw a meme on social media encouraging pastors to share it and, in so doing, ask members of their congregations what we say most often from the pulpit. I assume if I did that, or did a word search through past sermons, one phrase that would pop would be, “We are freed from something but also freed for something.” This brings us to the opening verses in the Apostle Paul’s very first letter: First Thessalonians. He gives these early followers of Jesus a lot of praise for receiving the Word—Jesus. How does Paul know they truly received the word?

The ‘receiving of the word’ by the Thessalonians is made evident by their ‘work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope’. Just as the Holy Spirit confirms the ‘receiving of the word’ in us, so we demonstrate to others that we have ‘received the word’ through our work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope (1:7). Paul will use this trifold formula throughout his letters: faith, love, and hope. Here it is for the first time. 

Furthermore, he writes the Thessalonians, “you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.” I love that phrase, hard as it is to follow through on—”imitators of us and of the Lord.” And yes, being a follower and imitator of Jesus will include some hardships. What that looks like will vary by geography and generation. This is what it looks like to not compartmentalize our lives, but for God to have the ultimate say always, for God to permeate everything.

God permeates every corner of our being.  Thomas R. Kelly was a Quaker missionary and writer. In A Testament of Devotion he explains this permeation. He says that we are trying to be several selves at once.  We try to do this without all our selves being organized by a single, mastering Life within us.  

Each one of us tends to be, not a single self, but a whole committee of selves and so each of our selves is in turn a rank individualist.  Each of the selves is not cooperative but shouting out his vote loudly for himself when the voting time comes. It is as if we have a chairman of our committee of many selves with us who does not integrate the many into one but merely counts the votes at each decision and leaves disgruntled minorities. We are not integrated. Instead we are distraught.  We feel honestly the pull of many obligations and we try to fulfill them all. But that does not work. Life is meant to be lived from a Center, a divine Center.

This will manifest itself differently in each of our lives–who do we vote for, what issues do we care about. And surrendering all to God will certainly permeate two of the most precious commodities in our culture–our money and our time. How and where will we spend money? How will we spend our time? Who will we spend time with? The answers to these questions will most likely transform throughout our lives and there are and will be times when we do not surrender all to God.  

What will never change is God’s grace–that gift that knows no bounds and that frees us whenever we are trapped.  We believe that we relive our baptisms daily, drowning in the waters and rising with Jesus each day.  God’s grace washes over us each new day.  The key is in the remembering—yes, remembering God’s grace and remembering to let God permeate every moment of our day.    

Prayers of Intercession

With confidence in God’s grace and mercy, let us pray for the church, the world, and all those in need.

A brief silence.

Gracious God, you call us by name and invite us to share your good news. Send your Holy Spirit among preachers, missionaries, and evangelists. We give thanks for the witness of your servant Luke, the evangelist, whom the church commemorates today. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of praise, the heavens and all creation declare your salvation. From the rising of the sun to its setting, may the whole universe show forth your goodness. Raise up devoted stewards of all that you have made. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of all, may your word of justice sound forth in every place. Restore divided nations and communities with reconciling truth. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of light, we pray for those living with pain, illness, isolation, grief, anger, or doubt. Join their voices in a new song, assuring them that you call them each by name. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of truth, you show no partiality. May your spirit guide the work of justices, magistrates, court officials, and all vocations of the law, that your promise of restoration may be known. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Living God, as you raised Jesus from the dead, so raise up those who have died in you. We give thanks for their witness, confident of your rescuing welcome for all. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Listen as we call on you, O God, and enfold in your loving arms all for whom we pray, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Holidays in 2020

The evening of Wednesday, October 14, a dozen Trinity Lutheran, Nampa members gathered on the church’s lawn. We brought our own dinners, many were take-out, split into two smaller groups and brainstormed how to safely celebrate the fall/winter holidays in our homes and communities. Most of us had read about traditions we might need to put on hold, but we wondered, what can we do? Here is what was shared:

Halloween: Costume Party on Zoom, candy hunt (like and Easter Egg hunt) in the house or backyard, Scavenger Hunt, go big on yard decor, tour homes decorated for Halloween. Local news coverage of CDC guidelines.

Thanksgiving: Find a neutral and somewhat secluded spot and rent a home for the family, take food orders and have one person dish up plates (rather than passing food around the table), eat in smaller groups, stagger dinner seating (different times for different people throughout the afternoon).

Christmas: Secret Santa, Send cards to those you do not know well, reach out to those stuck in town, use an Advent Calendar (different activity each day), give holiday baskets, Christmas lights tour, caroling with your family unit, group video Christmas calls, exchange Christmas ornaments, send lots of Christmas cards.

Here is a link to the CDC’s Holiday Celebrations page.

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Sacred Spaces

Originally published on tvprays.org.

1The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,

the world and those who dwell therein.

2For the Lord has founded it upon the seas

and established it upon the rivers.

3Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord,

and who may stand in God’s holy place?

(from Psalm 24, ELW translation)

I have been thinking a great deal about sacred spaces since the pandemic began, but especially in the last few weeks. I was an early encourager of all of us creating sacred spaces in our homes, posting photos of what a home altar might include. When we were in quarantine in the spring and I was participating as best I could from my kitchen table, with candle and cross on hand, that place become something of a sacred space. (Here is a resource from Women of the ELCA on creating sacred spaces.)

I thought about sacred spaces again when people voiced their appreciation for seeing our sanctuary during pre-recorded or live streaming worship. This led to us offering times when people could come sit in the sanctuary in silence—a weekday morning and a Sunday afternoon. No one signed up. Interesting, I mused.

The yearning for the building made me just a bit nervous. I have belonged to a variety of churches with different architecture, histories, and degrees of attachment to buildings. I whole-heartedly agreed with the sentiment expressed all over my social media feed, “Buildings are closed. But church is open.” For weeks I could not get Jay Beech’s The Church Song out of my head, “The church is not a building where people go to pray; it’s not made out of sticks and stones, it’s not made out of clay….The church, it is the people living out there lives, called, enlightened, sanctified for the work of Jesus Christ.”

Most of us know whole congregations or individuals who make idols of buildings which is not healthy for our relationships with God or the life of faith. I wonder if we need so many church buildings across the Treasure Valley. In the year before the pandemic, I read multiple articles about churches across the United States repurposing the spaces in their buildings for their neighbors.

I thought about sacred spaces once more while cleaning up after the second Sunday worship our congregation held on our lawn. We have also held an evening Lament service and an evening Pet Blessing service. In addition, several teams have had meetings on the lawn. I reflected that the lawn has become a sacred space for me in 2020 and it is because I have so consistently spent time there with other bodies hearing scripture read, praying, and discerning. 

This new feeling about our lawn made me think about other sacred spaces in my life. I thought about the rock outcroppings above the house I grew up in, in the central portion of The Black Hills. I thought about meadows in the Absaroka Mountains of Montana where I led Bible Studies and worship. I thought about beautiful and old churches I have visited—St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans’ French Quarter, Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, and the Church of Reconciliation at Taizé. Whenever I have visited these places, or other sacred spaces, I feel connected to the bodies who I am with or who have been there before. I like knowing that bodies of Christians have been gathering for centuries and reading the same old, old story of Jesus’ love.  

Today, I am thankful that the church has consistently had people and events to remind us that God is certainly in the everyday, which includes our homes, our workplaces, our schools, our gardens and lawns. The ordinary can be and is sacred. I am always going to need sacred places to gather with others, because I am single—homes, sanctuaries, and pilgrimage sites. Instead of an either/or answer, this may be a time for both/and. 2020 is a time to remember that the ordinary can be sacred space and we occasionally should gather with other bodies in spaces (natural or built with human hands) that hold beauty or history or awe.

Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for making creation good and blessing it. Help us see the sacred and holy in what we might consider ordinary. Watch over us as we safely gather bodies together to offer you our thanks and praise.

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Senses Awakened

Pastor’s Column for October 2020 Epistle

Dear Friends in Christ,

It seems only appropriate that our Old Testament readings the end of September through October (every Sunday but Reformation Sunday) report the Israelites time in the Wilderness. They are free from the Egyptians, but they have not yet arrived in the Promised Land. Once they reach Mount Sinai, they will start receiving instructions about how to live together in community. It is actually the time before Sinai that I find even more informative for our current circumstances because they wonder where God is. In Exodus 17, Moses ends up naming the “place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” (17:7). We are in a middle space and time right now, occasionally wondering if the Lord is among us. Many of the rituals, totems, traditions where we have experienced the Lord have been taken away or altered. And yet, in my conversations with you, in cards and email and texts I receive, in stories I hear second-hand, I know that you and I are learning to recognize God in our midst. It is as if one of our five senses has been taken away and the other four are elevated. (One of the most unique Bible Studies written by the camp director I worked for during my college summers was about Scripture and the Five Senses). Maybe we did not always see God in clear, blue skies, but now we do (I am writing this on Sept. 21-FYI). Maybe we did not always notice God in the friend who took time to call or visit in person. Maybe we never heard the love of God revealed in that particular passage of scripture, but we do now. Maybe we never paid attention to this particular movement or individual or organization, but now the Holy Spirit seems so apparent in whatever it is they are doing. Maybe wild blackberries never before made us think of the sweetness of Jesus, but they did this summer. I hope you journal or write a letter or send a text to share how you are seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, even tasting God at work in your midst. As I said, part of the wilderness journey for the Israelites and us is learning how to live together as God’s people. We need one another’s stories and epiphanies now more than ever, to give us life and hope and nourishment. Yes indeed, the Lord is among us!

Peace,

Pastor Meggan

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Oct. 11, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Lord of the feast, you have prepared a table before all peoples and poured out your life with abundance. Call us again to your banquet. Strengthen us by what is honorable, just, and pure, and transform us into people of righteousness and peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Exodus 32:1-14

1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” 6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel. 

7 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” 11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” 14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people. 

Moses Indignant at the Golden Calf c.1799-1800 William Blake 1757-1827 Bequeathed by Ian L. Phillips 1986 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T04134

Psalm 106: 1-6, 19-23 

1 Hallelujah! Give thanks to the LORD, for the LORD is good, for God’s mercy endures forever. 2 Who can declare the mighty acts of the LORD or proclaim in full God’s praise? 

3 Happy are those who act with justice and always do what is right. 4 Remember me, O LORD, with the favor you have for your people, and visit me with your salvation; 

5 that I may see the prosperity of your elect and be glad with the gladness of your people, that I may glory with your inheritance. 6 We have sinned as our forebears did; we have done wrong and dealt wickedly. 

19 They made a bullcalf at Horeb and worshiped a molten image; 20 thus they exchanged their glory for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.

21They forgot God their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt, 22 wonderful deeds in the land of Ham, and fearful things at the Red Sea. 

23 So you would have destroyed them, had not Moses your chosen stood in the breach,to turn away your wrath from consuming them.

Matthew 22:1-14

1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

I will confess that when I first read this passage from Exodus, I thought I would focus on the first half of the passage, during which the Israelites go astray. Later I supposed I would focus on Moses’ conversation with God. I never really planned to spend much time on God’s anger, right there in the middle. But eventually I came to see that the entire narrative has much to say to us today.

God giving the commandments on Mt Sinai earlier, the passage we heard last Sunday, was a high point in Israel’s story. It was a gift, the beginnings of God’s vision for community. Despite having those commandments, the Israelites fell into chaos and apostasy. It all happens as they wait for Moses to return from the mountain. We are left wondering, how did the relationship between God and Israel go so wrong?

Aaron is Moses’ brother and helper. Moses is the go-between for the people and God. 40 days seemed to be too long for the people. Aaron is left to lead the people during Moses’ absence and what happens could be described as a failure in leadership. Reading different translations and commentaries, it is hard to say if the people end up worshiping another god, altogether, one formed for them out of gold, or a replica of the one true God. Either way, false god or false image of God, they are breaking the commandments. 

It is easy to criticize the Israelites with our perspective, and yet I know that idolatry is something I easily fall into. We may not think of it as worship, but we surely put our trust into material things, systems, and even people. Pope Francis called the people in his charge, Roman Catholics, to account in a recent document. The Pope warned against creating an idol of pure Capitalism. The Pope knows we will have economic systems, and that Capitalism is here to stay. But I think he is right and that Capitalism unchecked leaves no safety for the poor, the voiceless, the homeless. Here is an entire system that groups of people put their trust in.

In our individual daily lives, we are offered opportunities to put our trust in all sorts of other idols: power, material possessions that make us feel powerful, money, things that give a sense of security. Some of those things can actually be helpful tools. But they can also all become idols.

A piece of the Exodus 32 story that I find fascinating, is how one particular phrase gets repeated but with slight changes: “brought us up out of the land of Egypt.” The first time the phrase is uttered, it is by the people, complaining to Aaron. They say, “Come, makes gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt.” Perhaps this should have been our first clue that something was amiss. The Israelites have forgotten that is God who delivered them. Yes, Moses led the way through the Sea, but God was the deliverer. Is it just a slip of the tongue, “This Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt”? I do not think so. 

This past week and through Election Day, most of us will hopefully carryout the civic duty of voting. How easy it is to turn human beings into our idols or gods! Or maybe that is just something I do. How do I know when I have turned a human into an idol? Usually about the time they disappoint me and what I feel is not just disappointment but utter heart break. How could they let me down this way? It is like I have temporarily forgotten that God alone is the redeemer of my life.

I am speaking about this with a little humor, in part because this is such a fabulous story. But worshiping idols is no small thing. And if we needed a reminder, just feel the anger from God in verses 7-10. After unleashing on go-between Moses, who has not even been down there with the disobedient people, God finishes, “Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” 

This may not be the Great Flood. God is not destroying the cosmos, but God does seem okay with starting over with another group of people, so long as Moses is their human leader. God goes so far as to deny God’s own people by saying, “Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely.” Clearly worshiping a false god or creating a false image of god stir up God’s anger.

God’s seemingly resolute behavior makes it even more shocking when Moses is able to change God’s mind. He does so by reminding God that it was God who brought the people out of the land of Egypt. He reminds God of God’s power and might. He reminds God of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel to multiply their descendants. Killing the Israelites now would not foster offspring and certainly would give the Egyptians the edge. Moses’ threefold imperative — “Turn from your wrath,” “Change your mind,” “Do not bring disaster on your people” — is bold and effective. God does change God’s mind.

I wonder who we need to intervene on our behalf. I wonder if in our impatience we have bowed to more tangible, accessible, and shinier gods rather than relying on the one who brought us out of the power of sin, death, and the devil. And sometimes I wonder how God quells God’s anger at such atrocities.

Nearly every day in the news we are reminded that, as a whole, humanity wefall short of God’s will for us. That is not shocking news anymore. I do not want to minimize the depth of our idolatrous tendencies. Still, I do think the more shocking and profoundly hopeful news here is that God sticks with us. God continues to claim us as God’s own despite it all. Instead of God’s wrath burning hot against us and consuming us, God the Father’s beloved son Jesus reminds us there is joy when even one sinner repents (Luke 15:10).

Instead of waiting for an Aaron to help us offer burnt offerings and sacrifices to gods of our own making, or instead of waiting for a Moses to intervene on our behalf, we might ourselves pray the Psalmist’s prayer as our own, “Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people; help me when you deliver them.”

Prayers of Intercession

The prayers are prepared locally for each occasion. The following examples may be adapted or used as appropriate.

With confidence in God’s grace and mercy, let us pray for the church, the world, and all those in need.

A brief silence.Gracious host, fill your church with a spirit of joyous hospitality. We pray for bishops, teachers, church leaders, and all children of God as they invite others to your table of boundless grace. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious host, as creation waits with eager longing for redemption, protect your creatures that are mistreated. Restore valleys, mountains and pastures, and still and running waters. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious host, as you set a table in the presence of enemies, so bless the efforts of diplomats, international peace workers, and world leaders who navigate conflict. May they proceed with dialogue and understanding, so that justice and peace prevails. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious host, let your gentleness be known among those who are weary or ill (especially). Strengthen doctors, medical care workers, and caretakers who see to their needs. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious host, when we are quick to judge outward appearance, remind us how you clothe all in your mercy. We pray for ministries that provide needed clothing and other personal care assistance in this community (local ministries can be named). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.Gracious host, as we remember those who have died and are gathered at the heavenly banquet, comfort us with your presence. Assure us of your peace at all times. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Listen as we call on you, O God, and enfold in your loving arms all for whom we pray, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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