May 26, 2020 Congregational Letter

May 26, 2020

Dear Friends in Christ,

The last few months have not been easy, and we are so thankful for the many ways that you have individually and collectively stepped into new ways of being the church. Learning new skills, caring for our neighbors, using our imaginations can be challenging in the best circumstance and these have not been the best circumstances. We had hoped that we would be back to in-person worship for Pentecost, May 31, and both of us are heart-broken that we will not be. If your heart aches, let it ache. Allow yourselves to feel and do not judge those feelings.

The Treasure Valley ELCA COVID-19 Task Force made its final recommendations May 25 (see attachment, full document will be on our website). At our May 21 meeting, Trinity’s church council discussed the draft from the task force and agreed to covenant with the other congregations in adopting the task force’s recommendations. The first of these recommendations is to create our own congregational task force which will work through the comprehensive checklist. The goal of this checklist is to ensure that when we come back, either in small or large groups, we are gathering as safely as possible. Love and care of neighbor guided the cluster task force, and it will guide our Trinity task force as well.

You may be wondering what is so complicated about bringing people back to corporate worship. There is a big difference between going to the store or walking past someone on a trail and worshiping with a group of people. It relates to the degrees of exposure. The longer you sit inside where someone is infected, the higher your risk of becoming infected. And COVID-19 patients may be most contagious before they realize they are sick (no fevers, coughs or other symptoms yet). They would not realize they need to stay home, and that complicates matters further. Finally, our task force will need to do a lot of work to bring us back to a worship that will not be the same worship we left or the worship we experience online (see pastor’s article in the June epistle “What Would Worship Look Like”).

What this means as far as a timeline is that we may gather small groups of people outdoors this summer. We hope to make some driveway visits to our most isolated members. We know we all have longings for in-person conversations. Assembly worship is still in the future and will depend on the progress of our task force.

So, if you have been putting off joining online worship with the very real hope that we would be together in June, we strongly encourage you to try it out soon. If your schedule or home life means that it is easier to listen to Pastor Meggan’s sermon while folding laundry or dusting your home, that is fine. We are all adapting. If you would rather read the scripture, sermon and prayers on pastor’s blog, do it. We also encourage you to try connecting with us through Zoom (fellowship time, coffee with pastor on Tuesdays, a study group, or business meeting). Please do what keeps you connected to God and to the Body of Christ. You church council members will talk you through the new technology so please ask for help.

Council President Kim Mills                                                  Pastor Meggan Manlove

Kim Mills                                                                                Meggan Manlove

Attachment: 3 pages

May 25, 2020

To:  ELCA Treasure Valley Cluster Pastors and Council Members

From: Members of the ELCA Treasure Valley Cluster COVID-19 Task Force

Please find below a final document of recommendations for moving forward with in-person church activities and worship in ELCA Treasure Valley Cluster congregations. The document represents our collective conclusions based upon three weeks of extensive reading, study, prayer, and zoom meeting dialogue among and between members of the task force supported by the professional expertise each member brings to this issue. Members of the task force include: Victor Bartling, Physician from Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran; Patrice Burgess, Physician from Immanuel Lutheran; Andrew Finstuen, Dean of the Honors College and Presidential Fellow at Boise State University, Redeemer Lutheran; Jim Girvan, public health professor and health sciences dean (retired), Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran; Steve Gustufson, retired military logistics professional, Grace Lutheran; Meggan Manlove, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran; Kim Mills, physical therapist, Trinity Lutheran; and Paul Olsen, Interim Pastor, King of Glory Lutheran.

Introduction: Loving Our Neighbors

At the request of area pastors and church councils, the Treasure Valley Cluster COVID-19 Task Force convened in May with the charge to offer recommendations and guidelines for in-person congregational activity. As a group, we grounded our work theologically by emphasizing “love of neighbor” (a commitment similarly emphasized by the national office of the ELCA) Centered by Christian love for one another and our congregations, the Task Force established three principles for its work. First, recommendations would not violate any state’s orders. Second, recommendations would adhere to the Center for Disease Control’s findings and other science-based authorities. Third, recommendations would align with the Northwest Intermountain Synod’s guidance, as well as that of sister synods across the United States (including the Oregon, Wisconsin, and Texas synods).

While most, if not all, of us would like to return to the time when we did not have to consider the negative personal and collective health implications of “going to church”, the existence of COVID-19 has changed much of what we took for granted. In fact, worship services have been singled out as an activity prone to spreading the virus quickly and efficiently. In some of our congregations, a high percentage of worshippers are in the vulnerable category for contracting the virus (age 60 and above or those with underlying conditions). These individuals are at higher risk for severe symptoms, which may lead to death. These concerns are only heightened by the reality that COVID-19 can be spread by asymptomatic individuals.

In this context, our committee raised significant concerns for the health and safety of our pastors. They are called to the office of the pastorate, but they also have a call as daughters and sons, fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, friends and spouses. Should precautions break down or relax it would potentially jeopardize the health of our pastors. As Bishop Kempel wrote to the synod: “how do we minister to those who minister to us?”

Consequently, public health preventive measures—including physical distancing (6 feet away), wearing masks in public, sheltering in place, washing hands, disinfecting surfaces, and testing for and tracing of infected individuals—are our only safeguard until a vaccine is developed. The public health measures are preventive only and do not absolutely insulate a person from being infected, even if those measures are followed by everyone. Chances of infection are greatly reduced if everyone does practice these measures, however.

With all of this in mind and after significant deliberation, we have erred on the side of caution with the three recommendations we offer below. The recommendations provide for congregational discretion—they are recommendations, after all—but that discretion is couched in a call for disciplined adherence to the preventive measures designed to curb infection rates. These recommendations may be superseded should state or Federal shelter-in-place orders resume or advice from medical and public health experts warn against gatherings outside the family unit. This approach reflects our commitment to the love of neighbor and our conviction of the severity of the health crisis the COVID-19 virus represents.

Recommendation #1: Congregational COVID-19 Implementation Team

Prior to opening the church building for in-person use, each congregation shall appoint an implementation team who will be responsible for completing and monitoring, specific to their congregation, the Northwest Intermountain Synod readiness check lists found in Appendix A of this document. The team, which reports to the church council, should be comprised of two-three lay, non-council members plus the Pastor. A lay person should be appointed to head the team as one of the intentions of this recommendation is to relieve the Pastor from serving as the main contact person for all issues related to worship and COVID-19. The team will be responsible for interpreting CDC, state, and local guidelines. They will serve as the congregational point of contact for all questions that arise concerning the recommended COVID-19 protocols and use of church space (please see Appendix B). Members need to lovingly yet firmly monitor and ensure the required use of masks, physical distancing, and other measures. Those in the worship community who desire not to participate in gatherings with such required measures are of course free to engage in worship online. Congregational consent on these matters—even if some members respectfully disagree—is paramount and, more importantly, it expresses our grace-filled covenant and commitment to the well-being of all.

Recommendation #2: Small Gatherings

The Treasure Valley ELCA Cluster Task Force recommends small gatherings of 10-20 people may begin no earlier than July 1, 2020. Small groups include weddings, funerals, baptisms as well as Bible study, prayer group, church committees. This recommendation is contingent upon congregations’ demonstration that they have the resources, plan, implementation team, physical space to ensure distancing, and commitment to meet the guidelines set forth by the Northwest Intermountain Synod (See Appendix A and B). In short, and among other precautions listed in the appendices, congregations should require masks of all participants, establish rigorous cleaning protocols, and prepare facilities with signage and markers ensuring proper physical distancing standards. These measures apply to both indoor and outdoor gatherings.

Recommendation #3: In-Person Worship

The Treasure Valley ELCA Cluster Task Force recommends that in-person worship remain suspended until a proven vaccine is readily available. For congregations who elect for in-person worship before a vaccine is available, the Task Force recommends that they gather no earlier than July 19, 2020. This recommendation is contingent upon congregations’ demonstration that they have the resources, plan, implementation team, physical space to ensure distancing, and commitment to meet the guidelines set forth by the Northwest Intermountain Synod (See Appendix A and B). In short, and among other precautions listed in the appendices, congregations should require masks of all participants, establish rigorous cleaning protocols, and prepare facilities with signage and markers ensuring proper physical distancing standards. These measures apply to both indoor and outdoor worship. Even with these precautions, in-person services would explicitly not include singing, passing of the peace, communion, passing of offering plates, and possibly liturgy spoken in unison.

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Summer of Baseball….Movies

Dr. Osterholm has become one of my trusted sources when it comes to COVID-19. This Iowa native and Luther College graduate runs the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. When I listened to his podcast, Osterholm Update, on Wednesday, he stated that we are still in the second inning of a nine-inning game. No, his podcast will probably not cheer you up. But he did say that just like in baseball, we do not know how long each inning will last.

I have no energy to write more about the pandemic and how the church will continue to adapt. But Osterholm’s analogy did give me an idea–an entire blog post about baseball movies. We will not be going out to the ballgames much this summer. We do not know if we will be watching major league baseball on the small screen. We can keep enjoying baseball films.

Trouble with the Curve (2012) (PG-13) A daughter joins her father, a decorated baseball scout, on what may be his final recruiting trip. Starring Amy Adams and Clint Eastwood.

Major League (1989) (R) The new owner of the Cleveland Indians puts together a purposely horrible team so they will lose and she can move the team. When the plot is uncovered, they start winning.

Fever Pitch (2005) (PG-13) Lindsey is tuck in the middle of her relationship with Ben and his passion for the Boston Red Sox. Starring Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon.

The Final Season (2007) (PG) Based on the true story of Kent Stock, played by Sean Astin, who in the early 1990s gives up a job to take over as head coach of the Norway, Iowa baseball team.

The Sandlot (1993) (PG) The adventures of young baseball team and their off-field adventures (including facing the dog, over the fence, known as The Beast) in the summer of 1962.

Bad New Bears (1976 version) (PG) An aging ex-minor league player, a perfectly cast Walter Matthau, coaches a team of misfits in California little-league.

The Pride of the Yankees (1942) The story of the life and career of famed baseball player Lou Gehrig, played by Gary Cooper.

The Rookie (2002) (G) A Texas baseball coach, played by Dennis Quaid, makes the major league after agreeing to try out if his high school team made the playoffs.

A League of Their Own (1992) (PG) Two sisters, played by Geena David and Lori Petty, join the first female professional baseball league during WWII.

The Natural (1984) (PG) An unknown, played by Robert Redford, comes seemingly out of nowhere to become a legendary baseball player with almost divine talent. Also starring Robert Duvall and Glenn Close.

61* (2001) Billy Crystal produced this film about this beloved Yankees, specifically Roger Maris and Micky Mantle’s race to break Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. You can almost understand being a Yankees fan, but not quite.

Eight Men Out (1988) (PG) A wonderful dramatization of the Black Sox scandal, when the underpaid Chicago White Sox accepted bribes to deliberately lose the 1919 World Series. This film helps build an appreciation for the next one on the list.

Field of Dreams (1989) (PG) An Iowa corn farmer, played by Kevin Costner, hearing voices, interprets them as a command to build a baseball diamond in his fields. He does and the 1919 Chicago White Sox come.  This film has a large and talented cast.

Moneyball (2011) (PG-13) If you think recruiting should be based on statistics, not the sound of the ball hitting the mitt (see Trouble with the Curve), watch this film about Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s successful attempt to assemble a baseball team on a lean budget by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill star in this film based on Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball: The Art of the Winning an Unfair Game.

For Love of the Game (1999) (PG-13) If Moneyball did not justify you in cheering against the Yankees, this film will. After 19 years of playing the game he loves, Detroit Tigers pitcher Billy Chapel, played by Kevin Costner, pitches one last game before retirement. Will he realize that Jane Aubrey, played by Kelly Preston, is the love of his life before she flies to London for a new job?

Bull Durham (1988) (R) The baseball season gets off to a  rocky start when the Durham Bull’s new catcher “Crash” Davis punches out the cocky young pitcher, “Nuke,” he’s just been hired to train. Matters get more complicated when Bull’s fan Annie Savoy gets involved. Starring Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, and Susan Sarandon.

42 (2013) (PG-13) In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball when he was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers. Chadwick Boseman, as Robinson, and Harrison Ford, as Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, are both fabulous.

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May 24, 2020 (Service of Healing)

Prayer of the Day

O God of glory, your Son Jesus Christ suffered for us and ascended to your right hand. Unite us with Christ and each other in suffering and in joy, that all the world may be drawn into your bountiful presence, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Acts 1:6-14

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35

1 Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him. 2 As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God. 3 But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy. 4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds — his name is the Lord— be exultant before him. 5 Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. 6 God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land. 7 O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, (Selah) 8 the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel. 9 Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad; you restored your heritage when it languished; 10 your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

32 Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; sing praises to the Lord, (Selah) 33 O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice. 34 Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies. 35 Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!

Guided Healing Meditation on Mark 2:1-12

(adapted from resources which are part of Thriving Leadership Formation)

Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits collected a number of spiritual exercises to help people develop an intimate relationship with Jesus. Over time Ignatius found that one of the most powerful methods for helping people receive and respond to Jesus was to imaginatively pray the Gospels. When people were invited to prayerfully imagine a biblical story taking place, their response and connection to Jesus was more intimate, reflective, and transforming. Ignatius invited people to enter Biblical passages by asking them to pay attention to their senses–a bit like entering into a movie and then interacting with the characters and scenes.

Today’s contemplation will be over Mark 2:1-12 the story of Jesus healing the paralytic. As I read the story, I will invite you at various times to notice what you see, hear, feel, and smell in order to bring the story to life. Without manipulating or forcing anything, allow yourself to be in the story and see if you might imagine bringing your own needs and wounds to Jesus.

Our contemplative prayer will last for ten to fifteen minutes.

Come to sense of quiet rest.  Get comfortable wherever you are sitting; shift a little if you need to. Allow yourself to attend to your breathing.  Imagine that with every in-breath you are breathing in God’s love and with each exhalation you are releasing whatever distractions or anxiety resides within or around you.

Seek to become attentive to God’s loving presence.  In your own way, just within yourself, dedicate this time to God.

Allow your imagination to compose the setting of this story. Pay attention to the sensory details.  Notice the sights, sounds, textures, and feeling of the scene.

Imagine yourself within the situation and events described in the passage. Maybe you become one of the figures or maybe you are there just as you are.

Relax and close your eyes or find something to focus on, either in our sanctuary or maybe the candle you have lit. Allow the Spirit to help you imagine the story.

Singing Bowl

2When [Jesus] returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them.

What do you see, hear, feel, and touch in this scene?  And what is Jesus like?

Minute of silence

3Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’

What do you see, hear, feel, and touch in this scene?  What is Jesus like? What is his presence like? What is his invitation to you?

Minute of silence

6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ 8At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”?

What do you see, hear, feel, and touch in this scene?  And what is Jesus like?

Allow yourself to rest and allow Jesus or the Holy Spirit’s presence to come over you once again.

Minute of silence

[Jesus continues,] 10But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic— 11‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’12And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’

What do you see, hear, feel, and touch in this scene?  And what is Jesus like?

For the next few moments simply allow yourself to rest in Jesus’ healing presence.

Minute of silence

I now invite you to offer thanks within you for whatever has occurred within your prayer and then, as you’re ready, gently begin to bring your attention back to your space and my voice.

Singing Bowl

Is there some invitation from the Spirit for how you might carry the fruit of this prayer into your daily life?  Take a moment to write down insights or perceptions that have arisen from the prayer. Take a moment to reflect on how you want to carry the grace of this prayer out into your daily life. What is one personal or public action you sense the Spirit is nudging you to undertake as a result of this exercise? Take a moment to listen and discern how the spirit is calling you to act. 

“As you consider the action you hope to take this week, does this action resonate…

With Jesus’ deepest yearnings for the world?

With Jesus’ deepest yearnings for you?

With Jesus’ deepest yearnings for the other?

With what Jesus would do himself?”

Prayers of Intercession (Adapted by Deacon Diane McGeoch from ELW Occasional Services for Assembly)

Together as a community of Christ, let us pray for the church, the world, and all those in need.

Loving God, we give you thanks for the gifts of new life in your creation all around us.  May these new beginnings in nature remind us of the good that you have created, and the renewing of life that is present in the earth. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Merciful God, we thank you for the ministry of healing we are given today.  Empower us to use the gifts of laying on of hands and anointing of oil as ways to bring your presence to hurting people. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Holy God, your spirit came upon us in the waters of baptism and brought us into the communion of saints.  Renew in us the grace of baptism, so that we can celebrate again and again the gift of community that brings us together in your name. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Mighty God, your Son Jesus brings wholeness and healing to all.  Bring your healing presence to all who are sick, suffering, and in pain.  We remember those who are depressed and lonely and need your loving touch.  In these days where physical touch may not be possible, may the whispers of your spirit hold us in your care. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Compassionate God, we give you thanks for all the healers in our midst.  For the doctors, nurses, and all hospital staffs, for our first responders and community workers, and retail and restaurant employees who are working in challenging times, grant them strength and protection as they serve others. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Healing God, watch over the caregivers and family and friends of those who suffer.  Lead us as your healers to daily acts of kindness and service that can relieve burdens and offer support.  Bring wholeness in body, mind, and spirit to all who are broken. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God, you have seen generations who have died through sacrifice, war, courage and folly. You have comforted generations who mourned and grieved and sang solemn songs and laid flowers on graves. As we remember those who have died in past wars and conflicts, help us remember that you were there when the mountains were formed. You were there to sooth our grief and breathe hope int the hopeless. You are with us still. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of great and abundant mercy, with your presence sustain all for whom we pray.  Drive away their suffering, give them firm hope, and strengthen their trust in you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  AMEN.

 

 

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What Worship Would Look Like

Dear Members and Friends of Trinity Lutheran, Nampa,

Idaho Governor Brad Little began gradually lifting the Stay at Home Order and included churches in Stage One of Rebound Idaho, congregational leaders (pastors and lay people) in the ELCA Treasure Valley Cluster have been discerning when we should return to in-person worship and, if so, what would it look like. Trinity’s Council President Kim Mills and I were asked to serve on the Treasure Valley Cluster COVID-19 Task Force.  We have been working with representatives from other congregations. Our synodical bishop also provided guidance in a recent letter, which I commend to you.

The whole process reminds me of what scholars call apophatic theology, or negative theology, in which we speak of God only in terms of what may not be said. I do not know exactly what worship would look like if we came back together soon, but I can definitely inform you of what it will not include.

  • Singing has proven to be like coughing, spreading aerosols of saliva further than plain speaking. So there will be no assembly singing.
  • Traditional ways of Passing the Peace (hand shaking and hugging) will be gone.
  • Gathering around the altar rail together to received Holy Communion will be impossible as we practice physical distancing. Some congregations have figured out a way to distribute Holy Communion, but it is hard for me to imagine.
  • Our Baptismal Font will remain covered because standing water is not safe.
  • There will be no lingering after worship or shaking my hand as you leave the sanctuary. Families would need to be spaced out and possibly even exit a different way than they entered.
  • We will not be able to read facial expressions because we will all be wearing masks.
  • Many of our church family will be missing. So many of our members are older and/or have underlying health conditions which will mean they cannot return for a very long time. (Here’s another article, about exposure+time, that I found helpful and understandable.)

I say all of these things not to be a downer but to catch up the entire congregation on that with which our council has been wrestling. I want to give you time and space to grieve, a most natural response in my humble opinion. Please know that I am longing for the day when we can all be together. One reason I entered public ministry 15 years ago is because I love being with people. While I give thanks for all of the technology at our disposal, it cannot replace an embodied gathering of people.

At the same time, I took the call to Trinity Lutheran, Nampa because I could sense a congregation that genuinely cared about the vulnerable, the marginalized, those who others cast aside. And the members I met when I interviewed and the members who have joined since also care about one another. This is a congregation that seems guided by a few verses of scripture which I have thought of often in the last few weeks, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor has yourself” (Galatians 5:13-14).

I really do not know what the next year will look like. But I can absolutely affirm that God is with us. As Bishop Kuempel wrote in her letter and as I said in my sermon Sunday, the Holy Spirit will continue to be at work. And the people of Trinity Lutheran, Nampa have a good track record of being attentive to the Spirit’s prodding. I do not think that ability or our longing to heed the Spirit’s guidance will end now. It may even be intensified. As several church leaders have been saying, we may not be going to church, but we can still be the church.

Pastor Meggan

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May 17, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and ever-living God, you hold together all things in heaven and on earth. In your great mercy receive the prayers of all your children, and give to all the world the Spirit of your truth and peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (ELW p. 34)

Acts 17:22-31

22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For “In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.’ 29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Psalm 66:8-20

8 Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, 9 who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip. 10 For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. 11 You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; 12 you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place. 13 I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows, 14 those that my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble. 15 I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats. (Selah) 16 Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me. 17 I cried aloud to him, and he was extolled with my tongue. 18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. 19 But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer. 20 Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.

1 Peter 3:13-22

13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

John 14:15-21

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

“The church had to change in a week,” that’s what one of my pastor friends in Iowa said when we talked in late March, oh how long ago that feels to me. There is much to lament about what we have lost. One of our members reflected on Facebook that so many of the things that we love in the more liturgical tradition, are things that we need to put on hold for a while. There is really no safe way to facilitate distribution of Holy Communion in the Assembly. What about anointing with oil during a healing service? Please don’t get me started on the articles and webinars that have taught me how dangerous singing in the assembly is. Will the handshake (part of passing of the peace and exiting the sanctuary) ever make a comeback? And those are just the rituals in the sanctuary. Coffee hour and potlucks are all on hold. I have grieved all of this and will grieve more.

And yet, and yet I return to what my friend said, “The church had to change in a week.” Congregational leaders and participants like all of you have adapted amazingly and quickly. The technology we needed is more affordable and intuitive to use today than it was even ten years ago. There is no doubt in any discerning Christian’s heart and mind that the Holy Spirit is up to something. We don’t know exactly what it is, but we are sure trying to pay attention.

Every week I publish my sermon, the prayers of intercession and the scripture passages on my blog and every week I have new subscribers. Who are those readers and what are they looking for? I know there are households accessing our worship, whether pre-recorded or on Facebook Live, who are not members.

How did they find us? What are they seeking when they tune in? And the church is not the only body wondering about what people are seeking during this chapter. This week I was sent a survey by Boise State Public Radio. I was supposed to rate how well words or phrases matched my feelings during the pandemic. Two questions startled me: Has “the pandemic has made me feel more spiritual” and has “it has made me feel more religious”?

Lots of us are wondering if the pandemic has people pondering more questions about life and relationship and purpose. Are people seeking what our community would call the divine? Is there a longing for meaningful rituals? Is there a longing for spirituality and connectedness to something beyond myself?

These questions lead me to another, what is our common ground? What language should we employ to engage these people? I have been asking these questions as I prepare to preach since taking the call to Trinity. Still, the questions about audience and common ground are amplified with a broader online presence. And here I think the Apostle Paul, in his appearance in Athens, has something big to teach us.

Paul meets the Greek world on its own ground and on its own terms. In the very heart of the educated world of ancient Greece and Rome, Athens was a kind of university town, a place where the ancient stories were visibly honored and philosophical discourse had never ceased. It is into the heart of this non-Jewish, nonmercantile city that Paul enters. He speaks to sophisticated folks eager for something new to chew on.

Paul’s speech is alert to his context. He quotes from a well-known Greek poet and speaks the standard lines about images, idols, and true deity. He refers in a generous way to the religious convictions of the local population. Perhaps more significant, he speaks of a creator who made all nations to search for God. This is generous speech indeed and includes all his hearers as children of God.

The passage has something to teach the church today as new people seek to make meaning of our current situation and as people put words to deeper longings. Paul adapts his speech to the level of his audience, seeking to address them in terms that are both open and familiar. Paul’s encounter points out the difficulty with understanding or accepting resurrection as a cornerstone of Christian belief. Most hopeful, the passage shows us that even a few who hear positively can be seeds for local communities of faith.

I love that Paul starts with creation. “The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth.” I can be on board with Paul’s instinct to start with the creator. Several hundred miles from the Sawtooth and White Cloud Mountains but only a few miles from the Snake River Valley Wine Country and the Boise Foothills, I know what it is like for people to tell me that they connect most easily with God the Creator. A friend went up to Stanley Lake a few weeks ago and shared some photos on social media. It made me long for the smells of the pine trees and lakes, the sound of the breeze through the trees, the sound of silence, the clear starry nights, the awe I experience when I see the mountains and yes, the closeness I feel to the Creator up in the mountain wilderness. That awe and wonder are common ground for people who never darken the door of a church sanctuary.

I think there is another space of common ground that our family of faith offers to the people who are seeking or searching right now—love of neighbor. Our gospel passage picks up in the middle of Jesus’ farewell discourse, his address to his disciples before his death on the cross. He is preparing them for the time when he will no longer be with them physically. He promises them another advocate, like him though distinct. We know this member as the Holy Spirit.

The word which is translated here as Advocate derives from the verb parakaleo, which has a wide range of meanings. They include “to exhort and encourage,” “to comfort and console,” “to call upon for help,” and “to appeal.” So the noun can mean the one who exhorts, the one who comforts, the one who helps and the one who makes appeals on one’s behalf. The Holy Spirit is all of these things. It’s a good thing the Spirit is so diverse because there is no way we could do the work Jesus gives us on our own.

Our passage today begins with these words of Jesus, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Which commandments? Love God and love your neighbor. Who that neighbor is and what she or he looks like might change over the course of a year or month or the day. A colleague was thinking about beginning her online worship service with the song “What the World Needs Now is Love.” The world needs a specific kind of love, neighbor love. Like the awe and wonder we experience in the mountain wilderness, this neighbor love also provides common ground for humanity. It is a starting place for conversation. What does that neighbor love look like right now?

More simple acts of kindness. More grace given to ourselves and those we come in contact with. More patience. More attention to those forgotten by society. Next week our country will celebrate Memorial Day, a day to remember those who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. I will honor their memory even as I worry about all the living veterans who are still haunted by memories of war or suffering from physical injuries. How are the aspects of the pandemic affecting them?

What about more attention to the racial justice? Last week a video came to light of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, gunned down as he was jogging, by two white men. These men where only charged with his murder when the public saw the video of the execution. Even in the midst of a pandemic, we have to lift up systemic racism when we see it. As the Holy Spirit is our advocate, we are called to advocate for others.

Food insecurity is real and may become more complicated to solve. Why? The weaknesses in our complex food supply chains are being revealed. I am thankful for all of the organizations, including our church and the Trinity Community Garden, that are helping people locally. I give thanks that I live in a place with a long growing season. Still, we may need to question and reform the food distribution systems in place. Food security is a justice issue too.

And I think love calls us to do really simple things for grocery store employees, medical personal, delivery men and women, and all the people now deemed “essential” who are in continual contact with the public. Wearing a mask in case you are asymptomatic is not that difficult.

Sometimes I think we would have more success getting people to comply with this guideline if the task were more difficult. Something like, “you’ll get your mask if you can run the 50-yard dash in x amount of time” or “if you go through this intense training, then you get to wear a mask.” It is actually quite simple. Wearing a mask says to the people serving you, “your health and safety are important to me.” It is one of many ways we are asked to love our neighbor during this chapter of our life together.

To love Jesus is to keep his commandments; to keep Jesus’ commandments is to love him. When we move outside of our own private experience of Jesus, when we live what Jesus has taught us and demonstrated in his own life, then we will find ourselves again in his love.

One theologian wrote that “the one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience, or devotional practice was that is must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology.”

The relationship with Jesus does not depend on physical presence. It depends on the presence of the love of God in the life of the community. And the love for God is present whenever those who love Jesus keep his commandments, when they continue to live out the love that Jesus showed in his own life and death. There is an insistence in these verses on love as the sign of fidelity to Jesus. Love is the way to communion with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It suggests that the faithful community in any generation, including our own, will enter into relationship with Jesus only when it takes on and lives out the love of God.

Prayers of Intercession (adapted from Sundays and Seasons by Mary Braudrick)

Uplifted by the promised hope of healing and resurrection, we join the people of God in all times and places in praying for the church, the world and all who are in need. 

A brief silence

Abiding God, you have revealed yourself to us in the form of your Son, Jesus Christ. Embolden your church, as your followers, to reveal your love to everyone in our speaking and in our living. May others know us by our love for you and for one another. May we practice only actions which exemplify You. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

You are the creator of heaven and earth. Revitalize the health of oceans, rivers, lakes, springs, glaciers, and other bodies of water that give life to your creatures. May we always be grateful for the water conveniences in our daily lives, and careful in our use. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

You call people of the world your children. Judge the nations justly, show mercy to the oppressed, and speak truth to power through your prophets and even us, when necessary. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

You come to us when we are lost, and you hear our distress. We pray for those who suffer in any way…especially…those who suffer with COVID-19. Please bring them recovery and full healing. Those who are mourning the death of loved ones. Those who are suffering economic and food insecurity due to job loss or other causes. Those who are on the edge of their coping skills. May all know You are with them in their sufferings. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

Your commands are good and merciful. Give us courage to take hold of our baptismal promises to work for justice, advocate for the voiceless, and free the oppressed and imprisoned in body, mind, or spirit. Remind us to daily live out these calls for justice & care. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

You remain with us always, O God, and your kingdom has no end. We remember the saints who have gone before us. Unite us forever in your final victory over death. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

With bold confidence in your love, almighty God, we place all for whom we pray into your eternal care; through Christ our Lord. AMEN.

 

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Accompaniment

Originally published on tvprays.org (May 14, 2020)

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

One of the online groups I am part of was reflecting recently on friendship. It is always interesting, sometimes disheartening and sometimes wonderful, but always interesting, which friends show up for a relationship when I am in trouble. Likewise, we reflected, it has been interesting during the time of the pandemic to see which friends have shown up to be in relationship.

After that conversation I decided I am extra grateful that God, through the Holy Spirit, always shows up. Sometimes the Spirit shows up in other people but sometimes the Spirit provides comfort and solace in silence, music, a scripture passage, a story in the newspaper, the beauty of the natural world. The Spirit is harder to describe than the other members of the Trinity, and I am not going to do much of that work here. But we can take some cues from the Father and the Son. The members of the Trinity are distinct, but I think it is safe to say that what we learn about one member is often carried over to another member. The creativity of God the Father and Creator is surely also part of the Spirit’s character. The love embodied in all of Jesus’ healing and eating with strangers and blessing so many is also part of the Spirit’s character.

Thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit is present and active and here to accompany us, sometimes comforting us and sometimes giving us a much-needed kick in the pants. Which of those I need during the pandemic may vary based on the day or even the hour.

This could be a great season in the life of the larger church and in our individual homes for becoming more comfortable talking with the Spirit and even talking about the Spirit. I of course know to pray for healing and wisdom and strength, but beyond that I do not always know how to pray these days. In another online gathering I was a part of, several people spoke of “decision fatigue.” That phrase captured much of my own feelings. I have a healthy network of support and I still feel overwhelmed and alone sometimes. I take comfort in the words from Romans, “That very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”  Thank goodness for the friend who will always show up—the Holy Spirit.

I take great comfort right now that the source of my strength does not have to come from within me. As I try to continue serving my neighbor, as I support my parishioners and colleagues, as I check in on my family and friends, I do not have to depend on my own strength or love or even will. There is something beyond me that provides. That something has a name, God, and in my everyday life, God has a specificity—Holy Spirit. We are not alone in our loneliness. We are not abandoned. The Holy Spirit will always accompany us.

Prayer: Christ Jesus, by your Spirit you come and kindle a burning light in us. We know well that it is not we who create this source of light, but you, the Risen Lord. To all of us, you give the one thing that matters and which is hidden from our own eyes: a peaceful trust in God and also poverty in spirit, so that with a great thirst for the realities of God, we may take the risk of letting you accompany us, O Christ, and of accompanying in our turn, those whom you entrust to us. (Brother Roger, Taize)

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May 10, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Give us grace to love one another, to follow in the way of his commandments, and to share his risen life with all the world, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Acts 7:55-60

55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

1 In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. 2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me. 3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, 4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge. 5 Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. 16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.

1 Peter 2:2-10

2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” 8 and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

John 14:1-14

1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

The promise and good news in today’s gospel lesson is pretty life-giving and beautiful. We worship a God who truly loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. I know that many people in the world and maybe a few in our congregation are experiencing anxiety. That anxiety may have many sources. Whatever the source of your anxiety, know that Jesus can bear it, as is made clear in our reading from John Chapter 14.

“In my Father’s house are many dwellings,” Jesus says, using a word which means “resting place.” This passage has been misinterpreted a lot. Some readers argue that Jesus’ statement that he is going to “prepare a place for you” means that he is going away, to heaven, to get a place ready for those who will be “raptured” out of their cars or houses for seven years.  There is a more faithful way to hear Jesus’ words.

First, let us remember that this entire speech of Jesus’ is the testament of a leader on the eve of his death. Death is in the air. Jesus is not speaking about ascending up to heaven. He is speaking about dying.

Just as important, Jesus does not specify where the Father’s house is located. Is it in heaven? Not necessarily, certainly not exclusively. We know this because later on, Jesus will say that he and the Father will come and make their dwelling in the believing or trusting person: “We will come and make are dwelling with them.” This is about God’s mystical dwelling in Jesus’ followers. It is in this way that the Father also “dwells” in Jesus.

If there is one gospel that does not want us to get caught up or sidetracked by locations or chronologies, it is John’s gospel. What this most mystical gospel wants us to grasp is that this is a relational God. The Father and Jesus have an intimate relationship. Through Jesus, God desires deep relationships with the disciples, including you and me. As followers of Jesus have abiding-places in Christ, so Jesus and the Father have an abiding-place in each follower. God makes a home with us.

The “father’s house” is not so much heaven as God’s household or family on earth. We, reading scripture some 2000 years later, are already living in the mystical dwelling place in the Father’s household which Jesus has prepared for us. This passage is not about mansions in the sky, but about spiritual dwellings in Jesus.

One scholar tells a story about a four-year-old girl who is asked by her father while boarding a plane, “Where are we going?” “To Grandma’s” the girl shouts. Not “to Pocatello” or “Seattle,” but “to Grandma’s” she says. For her, Grandma’s is a person, not a place. We find our home in those who love us, in people more than places.

So, also, with Jesus’ words for us today. What matters is not where the rooms are geographically, but whose rooms they are. “We are going to God’s.” Our home is with God, we are told. Today we hear assurance that Jesus is preparing a place for us with God. We are going to God’s. That is all that matters in Jesus’ long address. We are going to God’s because God has already come to dwell with us in Jesus.

Sometimes it takes my breath away, that we can have a relationship with God through this Jesus. I want such a relationship for all of the people in my flock; really, I want it for every human being on the planet. One of the new young bishops in our larger church, Leila Ortiz of Metro D.C., wrote beautifully about this. Of her girlhood years, she wrote “One day it occurred to me that I needed some time alone with God. I purposefully used all my lunch money and bus fare so I wouldn’t be tempted take the bus home. The 2-mile walk would be my alone time with God. I met up with my friend Jesus and told him about my day and my dreams. It was such a delightful walk that I did the same thing the next day.”

Ortiz continues, “Jesus was awe-inspiring to me, and I couldn’t get enough of him. Eventually, this devotional time evolved into a love affair. I looked forward to our intentional time together, and I talked about him to anyone who would listen. I loved Jesus then, and this love overflowed into the rest of my life, through today.”

Oriz has experienced that dwelling and abiding with Jesus that we hope everyone experiences, whether or not they can write about it as beautifully and boldly as she does. It’s not that this love affair and dwelling gets rid of anxiety and fear, but it certainly makes it easier to bear. Conversations or prayer time with Jesus, which some of us might be making more time for during the pandemic, can be calming and restorative. Abiding with Jesus will lead to something else.

Prayer includes bringing your intercessions or concerns to Jesus. It also includes listening. Ortiz again, “Nothing drew me in more than God’s incarnation: how Jesus turned tables in the face of abuse and injustice; healed the woman facing the issues of blood and marginalization; spoke to the ostracized and lonely woman at the well; and taught his followers how to love as they had been loved by him.” A relationship with Jesus is not an end in itself. It has to lead to relationships with neighbors.

Jesus says as much in our gospel passage, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in my will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” Greater, perhaps because although none of us can do what God did through Jesus’s death and resurrection, all of us together can bring a whole lot of love into our world as we care for our neighbors.

I have said and written a lot during the past two months on self-love and self-care. I do believe that we are called to care for the bodies, minds, and souls God created. But all of that self-care is ultimately for the sake of the neighbor. To return to airplanes, it’s like the flight attendant’s instruction that if there is a loss of cabin pressure, please secure your own oxygen mask first, and then assist those around you. You cannot assist those around you if you pass-out. But unlike an airplane where you may be in a row of adults who are perfectly capable of putting on their own oxygen masks, down here on earth, there is always a neighbor who needs us.

Some people are loving their neighbors in extraordinary ways: paramedics, nurses, doctors, and therapists. Some of these professionals are caring for people in their hometowns. Others have flown to hotspots like New York City to lend their hands, literally. Are they all Christians, or people of other faiths? No. But they are instruments of God’s healing, nonetheless. All of them have somehow grasped Jesus’ mandate to love our neighbors with both our words and our actions.

We celebrate those acts of love. They may seem out of grasp for us, but loving the neighbor is never out of reach. That neighbor may need a phone call of encouragement. That neighbor may need you to pick up groceries for them. What our neighbors need is for us to put their needs ahead of our wants. Martin Luther wrote, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.” We are freed, of course, but in that freedom is a call to be servant to our neighbors. And Jesus made it clear in his meals and healings and teachings that the neighbors who should receive preferential treatment are those who are most vulnerable.

If Jesus gives us the clear instruction, to love our neighbor by doing the works that Jesus’ does, then this morning’s passage from First Peter paints a picture for what that might look like for a church body. He writes to an early Christian community and addresses them as exiles. They may be actual exiles, or they may be experiencing abuse for the new faith.

It is of course impossible to put ourselves in their shoes. I hesitate to equate our time in quarantine with the plight of actual exiles or persecuted Christians. And yet, it is true that we have in a way been displaced. But like those early Christians, our ultimate identity is in relation to the priesthood of believers—the body of Christ.

The verse which precedes are reading tells us what behaviors and attitudes we should leave behind as we live into relationship with Jesus and our neighbors: “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, all slander.” That’s some pretty clear ethics, and this is already beginning to sound just a little countercultural as insincerity and slander seem to be widely accepted.

Then First Peter weaves geological images into his message. Resurrection makes somebodies out of nobodies by making us into living stones—hewing us, shaping us, building us together into a home, into a community with others. I love that image of living stones; as living stones, who dwell with Jesus serve our neighbors.

We reside in a world dominated by greed, individualism and violence. We are not all experiencing the pandemic equally. The 2700 employees speaking 80 languages at the Smithfield meat packing plant in my home state of South Dakota do not have the choices and options I have. So, is there anything more radical than the way of life to which we are called? It is life overflowing with love, selflessness, mercy, and care for all those who society reject. Community, hope, a table where everyone is welcome: these continue to be counter cultural. And what of a God of love and mercy? These beliefs and way of living are not the norm. But First Peter’s imagery brings good news too, for the letter speaks of the chief corner stone.

A cornerstone is not only the stone set at the corner of two intersecting walls. It is one prepared and chosen for its exact 90-degree angle.  It is the basis for the construction of the whole building. Choosing the right corner is basic not only to the aesthetics of the building but also to its stability and longevity. I hear the chorus of the great hymn, “No storm can shake my inmost call while to that Rock I’m clinging. Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?”

And in fact, First Peter declares, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” The author takes language right out of the Prophet Hosea and the Book of Exodus, scripture of the Hebrew People, and grafts this Gentile community onto the royal priesthood. Through Jesus, dwelling with God is a gift available for all people, including you and me. But that dwelling, that relationship cannot be hoarded. Those who dwell with God are to “declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Prayers of Intercession   (Adapted from Sundays and Seasons by Di Seba)

Uplifted by the promised hope of healing and resurrection, we join the people of God in all times and places in praying for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

Build us up, supporting God, as living stones united in your spiritual house. Continually strengthen your church as it is sent forth to proclaim your love. We pray especially for our congregations as they adapt to new ways of serving. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Humble us, creator God, as part of your creation. Fill us with respect and awe for the world you have made, and bless all those who care for it, including farmers, gardeners, veterinarians, and zoologists. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Align our ways to your love, O God. We pray for countries, leaders, and organizations as they deal with the complicated problems relating to the pandemic. We pray for wisdom for our leaders and health professionals, and especially for the scientists seeking a cure for covid-19. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Nurturing God, help those whose hearts are heavy and weighed down by trouble. Ease the distress of those dealing with disease and death, and bring them your comfort. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Mothering God, we pray for mothers and all families, those who tend and teach young children, for the safe pregnancies of expectant parents, and for families who struggle with infertility and miscarriage. We give thanks for all who have shown mothering care, and we remember all for whom this day is difficult. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Generous God, you call into your brilliant light all who have died. Give us faith to take hold of the promise of your eternal life and to live in your grace day by day. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

With bold confidence in your love, almighty God, we place all for whom we pray into your eternal care; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

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