Sept. 19, 2021

Prayer of the Day

O God, our teacher and guide, you draw us to yourself and welcome us as beloved children. Help us to lay aside all envy and selfish ambition, that we may walk in your ways of wisdom and understanding as servants of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen.

Psalm 54

1Save me, O God, | by your name;
  in your might, de- | fend my cause.
2Hear my | prayer, O God;
  give ear to the words | of my mouth.
3For strangers have risen up against me, and the ruthless have | sought my life,
  those who have no re- | gard for God.
4Behold, God | is my helper;
  it is the Lord who sus- | tains my life. R
5Render evil to those who | spy on me;
  in your faithful- | ness, destroy them.
6I will offer you a | freewill sacrifice
  and praise your name, O Lord, for | it is good.
7For you have rescued me from | every trouble,
  and my eye looks down | on my enemies

James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a

13Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.4:

  1Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8aDraw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Mark 9:30-37

30[Jesus and the disciples went on] and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
  33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus Teaches the Disciples

Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib
Walters Art Museum, Baltimiore, MD

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Have you ever said to someone, “I don’t think we’re on the same page”? It’s a description of a frustrating conversation. There seem to be similar words and concepts but also a clear disconnect. Finally, you pause, and you realize you are talking about two completely different things. It happens in our passage from Mark’s gospel today. 

Simon Peter had a moment of brilliance earlier. Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” He was on the same page as Jesus. And Peter’s conclusion was logical. Peter had been up on the Mountain of Transfiguration and been blinded by a radiant Jesus. Jesus had healed countless people. Jesus seemed like a savior, the Messiah. So, topping off these great moments was Peter’s confession.

On the other hand, there have been disturbing moments. Jesus speaks several times about his future suffering and death. Peter rebukes him for these unpleasant predictions. And Jesus scolds Peter for this rebuke. They are still talking about Jesus, the Messiah, but Peter’s idea of what a Messiah is, how he acts, is not in sync with Jesus. Jesus says, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands and be killed.” Jesus and the disciples are not on the same page.

Then, as they enter the town of Capernaum, Jesus turns and asks the disciples what they were arguing about. They must have been embarrassed. Their awkward silence is palpable. One writer [Eugene Peterson] calls the silence “deafening.” We have all been in that position.  

Imagine—some kids make a raucous in the basement. A parent calls down the stairs, “What’s going on down there?” The response is “Nothing, nothing!” The disciples have been discussing who among them is the greatest. Jesus has been talking about his death and they are talking about who is the greatest. Who would not be embarrassed? Of course, Jesus, like a parent, already knew what was going on.

We should not think ourselves superior to the disciples. We would probably feel similarly uncomfortable in their place. This is not an exercise in attacking their flawed ideas about discipleship. We could easily become distracted by judging ourselves greater than the disciples—more faithful, more aware, more on the same page as Jesus. Today’s stories are about how we, so many years later and with the full narrative of Jesus in mind, might follow Jesus today, in Canyon County, Idaho.

After interrupting the argument about who is the greatest, Jesus sits down like a teacher. We know this is not casual conversation. He is going to say something crucial. Jesus often uses more than words to teach his lessons. This case is not different. This time his illustration is a little child. We have several stumbling blocks to go over before we can truly understand this illustration.  

A child in our culture is deeply valued and put first in our priorities. At least we would like to think so, in spite of the number of children in poverty. We coo over babies. We cheer on kids when they sing and play. And youthfulness is glorified just about everywhere.

And artists through the ages have not helped us. Can you pull up in your memory a painting over an altar or in a church narthex portraying children? They were often, at least in the last century portrayed as pure and angelic. More importantly, there seem to be lacking in nothing. It is easy for us to sentimentalize Jesus’ action of picking up a small child and telling his followers to do likewise. It is a sweet scene—Jesus tenderly cuddles a child and appeals to the soft hearts under the tough exterior of these big rough disciples.

But that is not what is going on here. Instead of a sweet moment, the disciples are experiencing a radical up-ending of the way they think things should be.  In the time of Jesus, a child was lowest on the priority list. Children had no status. They were subject to the authority of their father. Often, they were expendable. And so Jesus gesture here is potent. 

The child that Jesus reaches out to is similar to many of the children in Charles Dickens’ novels. This does not include Tiny Tim, the star of the famous story “A Christmas Carol.” When I hear Jesus tell his disciples, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me,” I imagine characters like Jo from the great novel “Bleak House.” 

Dickens writes that “Jo lives in a ruinous place, known to the like of him by the name of Tom-all-Alone’s.  It is a black, dilapidated street avoided by all decent people, where the crazy houses were seized upon when their decay was far advanced by some bold vagrants who, after establishing their own possession, took to letting them out in lodgings…It must be a strange state to be like Jo!…To be hustled, and jostled, and moved on, and really to feel that it would appear to be perfectly true that I have no business, here, or there, or anywhere, and yet to be perplexed by the consideration that I am here somehow, too, and everybody overlooked me until I became the creature that I am!”  

Jo and other child characters in Dickens’ works are often referred to as urchins, small raggedly children who do their best to survive in an adult world. The root of the word comes from the Latin for hedgehog, a rather prickly unkempt-looking animal. The good news is that there are people who not only look out for Jo but who bring him into their home.

Jesus’ disciples are not there yet. This is a radical up-ending of the way they think things should be. This is not what they hope life will be like when Jesus comes into their idea of glory. They want to find their way to the top. They want to claim greatness. And he tells them to lay claim to the last and lowest place and people. When they welcome a child, they welcome him. They even welcome the one who sent him. Picture the urchin child Jo again.  

Jesus’ command makes no sense to the disciples. Welcome someone who does not have the power or ability or place to welcome them in turn? No expectation of reciprocity? No return on our investment. (There really is very little in the Jesus story that commends pure unchecked capitalism.) First, our teacher keeps talking about suffering and dying instead of victory and glory. Now we must welcome and even value small, insignificant, powerless people, the least among us?

Every generation of Christians in every geographic context gets to translate “the least among us” for our time and place. What does that look like in 2021 Canyon County? We might consider the Afghan refugees who will be coming to our state and many others. But we might also think of veterans who return and returned after unpopular wars and were shunned, with no consideration for their sacrifice or how their minds were harmed by what they experienced. Despite the progress made in understanding all sorts of mental illnesses, too many people are still ashamed to seek treatment. We think since it’s in our head, we should be able to to fix it ourselves, though no one has the same expectations for fixing a broken leg or a heart condition. We understand drug and alcohol addictions much better now than we did 100 years ago, but often people suffering from addiction are still viewed as the least among us. Who would you add the list today? Who are we being beckoned to welcome? What are the hurdles? 

One of the greatest mysteries in Mark is Jesus’ relationship with his disciples.  The conversations in Mark chapter 9 are part of a pattern. The disciples have moments of insight, but they often misunderstand Jesus, or they don’t like what he has to say.  The mystery is this—they all keep at it. The disciples keep following Jesus and he keeps teaching. The truth is no one can ever really get it.  

But the disciples are tenacious even when they don’t have a clue what Jesus is talking about. They don’t have it all clear in their heads.  But they know there is something about this Jesus. It is impossible to do anything but stay and listen to him. They keep talking with him, even when they get it wrong.

That is no small thing. We don’t like to hang out in settings where we are told over and over that we’re not getting it. But the disciples stayed. We will probably never get the paradoxes of the Christian story. Strength comes in weakness. Glory is found in the death on a rugged cross. Welcoming urchin children is like welcoming Jesus. We don’t have to understand in order to stay. Full comprehension is not required to hear the words of forgiveness or to share in the Lord’s Supper.  We stay as the disciples stayed, because we know that Jesus is the only place worth being. In him there is love and abundant life for the world.     

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

Made children and heirs of God’s promise, we pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.God of community, we pray for the church around the world. Unite us in our love for you. Help us overcome our divisions, that we are encouraged to work together for your sake. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of creation, we pray for this hurting earth. Awaken in us a new desire to care for this world and empower us to support agencies, organizations, and individual efforts to heal our environment. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of cooperation, we pray for nations of the world embroiled in conflict (especially). Inspire leaders to listen to each other and work towards peaceful solutions to disagreements. Protect the vulnerable, especially children, who cannot find safety in their home or country. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of comfort, we pray for all who live with mental or physical illness. Help them find appropriate care. Bring healing and wholeness when the path forward seems bleak. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of compassion, we pray for the young people of this congregation. Renew in us your call to welcome the children in our midst. As they grow, strengthen their faith and our commitment to them. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.God of consolation, we give you thanks for our loved ones who have died and pray for all who grieve today (especially). Shine your grace on all your saints. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Receive these prayers, O God, and those in our hearts known only to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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Sept. 12, 2021

Prayer of the Day

O God, through suffering and rejection you bring forth our salvation, and by the glory of the cross you transform our lives. Grant that for the sake of the gospel we may turn from the lure of evil, take up our cross, and follow your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen.

Psalm 19

1The heavens declare the glo- | ry of God,
  and the sky proclaims its | maker’s handiwork.
2One day tells its tale | to another,
  and one night imparts knowledge | to another.
3Although they have no | words or language,
  and their voices | are not heard,
4their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends | of the world,
  where God has pitched a tent | for the sun.
5It comes forth like a bridegroom out | of his chamber;
  it rejoices like a champion to | run its course.
6It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens and runs about to the end of | it again;
  nothing is hidden from its | burning heat. 
7The teaching of the Lord is perfect and re- | vives the soul;
  the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to | the simple.
8The statutes of the Lord are just and re- | joice the heart;
  the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light | to the eyes.
9The fear of the Lord is clean and en- | dures forever;
  the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous | altogether.
10More to be desired are they than gold, more than | much fine gold,
  sweeter far than honey, than honey | in the comb. 
11By them also is your ser- | vant enlightened,
  and in keeping them there is | great reward.
12Who can detect one’s | own offenses?
  Cleanse me from my | secret faults.
13Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion | over me;
  then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a | great offense.
14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable | in your sight,
  O Lord, my strength and | my redeemer. 

James 3:1-12

1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. 
  How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

Mark 8:27-38

27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

  31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
  34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan! – James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, NY

Sermon – Pr Meggan Manlove

I’m not sure exactly how many times in the four Gospels Jesus tells other people to follow him, but it is more than 20. The whole question of “Who is willing to follow Jesus Christ and how does one do it?” are the defining questions of Christianity.

Jesus talks about “losing yourself for his sake” and “denying yourself.” If we take those words seriously, what will our lives look like? How will we spend our money? How will we use our money? How will we vote? What are we like on the school playground, in the classroom, in the workplace? 

What does it mean to follow Jesus in your life, and in these times? These questions come to a head in today’s reading from Mark. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” The disciple Peter gets all excited to profess that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.  

Peter soon learns that this also means Jesus must undergo great suffering, deep rejection, and ultimately death. The instant Peter learns this, he backs away. He critiques Jesus. He rebukes Jesus. The glamour of following Jesus is suddenly gone for Peter. It no longer seems like a life that he is sure he wants to undertake.  

But there is so much more to this interaction between Jesus and Peter. Jewish thinking had never before entertained the idea that the Messiah must suffer and die. Absolutely no one thought a Messiah would be crucified. This was ludicrous, they believed. If anything, the Messiah was supposed to inflict suffering, not live with it as a personal reality. And what good would a dead Messiah be anyway?

If Peter was nervous about his life in Jesus Christ imposing a certain degree of suffering and self-denial upon him, he was not alone. Most of us would choose a religion and come to believe important things deeply because we feel they are good for us. Suffering does not sound good! If you were to offer me a scathed life versus an unscathed life, I would go for the unscathed variety. 

Who would welcome the idea of suffering if there were other options available? But this is where we must suddenly get very honest about the Christian life. Christianity is not about solving problems and making life easier. If anything, following Jesus is going to complicate your life.

The late Quaker philosopher Elton Trueblood understood this complicating nature of the Christian way.  “In many areas,” he wrote, “the gospel, instead of taking away peoples’ burdens, actually adds to them.”  On a number of occasions, Trueblood told the story of John Woolman, a successful Quaker merchant in the 18th century who lived a wonderfully nice life until God convicted him one day of the offense of holding slaves.  

After that, John Woolman gave up his prosperous business.  He used his money to try and free slaves and even started wearing undyed suits to avoid relying on dye that slave labor produced.  Elton Trueblood said, “Occasionally we talk of our Christianity as something that solves problems, and there is a sense in which it does.  Long before it does so, however, it increases both the number and the intensity of problems.”

Accepting this assessment of Christianity is one of the hardest things in the world. Maybe this is why Jesus had to repeat these words, these words we hear in today’s reading: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and the Gospel, will save it.”  This is an idea that is just hard to believe. It runs counter to what we want to believe. So, Jesus is left to repeat it, hoping to get it inside of our thick heads and our pleasure-minded hearts.

Few of us sitting here will have John Woolman’s story. This being the kick-off to the programmatic year, it seems fitting to lift up some of the ways we are trying, emphasis trying, to follow Jesus. In a culture that often answers pain and grief with empty platitudes or telling us to move one, we are going to tell the truth about how hard this year has been and the weariness that so many are feeling. This will begin with our Remember and Grieve Together event September 29. 

We will continue reckoning collectively with racism–a reckoning still needed in this country and in the larger church. We are going to keep relationships center–relationships with God, with our own souls, and with the marginalized. We will continue to partner with Trinity New Hope affordable housing, finding ways to tell our story to everyone plagued with “Not in My Backyard” whenever new affordable housing developments are proposed. Our leadership does not know where this will lead, and we will keep reviewing, listening, and discerning. People might join us, and that will be great. But let’s be clear, Jesus never said, “grow the church.” Jesus said, “follow me.”

Following Jesus asks for a life that in one way or another has the cross deeply embedded in it. There is sacrifice expected. We give up our lives.  Playing it safe is no longer acceptable. Death stops being a reality to be feared. The first half of Mark’s Gospel account is about “how to live.” Jesus gives instructions of one kind or another on how we might best fashion our lives. And then, at this pivotal point right in the center of the story, Jesus makes a shift. He begins to show us “how do die.” Now that we have been given life, he demonstrates how to give it up or how to give it away. 

We can try to safe-deposit-box our lives all we want.  We can try and be very very cautious about whom we even let into our lives.  But this is not commendable living.  According to Jesus, this is dangerous living.  We will lose our soul if we’re not careful. Living a life that really matters in the name of Jesus will not allow for clutching or hoarding or playing it safe. It asks instead for a less possessive way—a way that treats life more like a precious gift to be shared than a commodity to be stored up.

When Jesus asked his disciples that day, “Who do people say that I am?” they had no trouble answering that question. It was a nice question to which they could give objective answers. But then Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Suddenly, their confidence and investment in him, and all that he was, was being tested. This was a much more difficult question to answer.  They had to answer it with their lives not just with their brains.

“Who do you say that I am?” The minute we hear this question rattling around in our heads, we have a choice. We can hold back and talk about this Jesus person whose sayings and deeds are written down in a precious ancient book. Or we can decide to open up the fullness of our lives by using the language of love.  

 In what ways do we pretend that Jesus did not really mean to follow him fully? In what ways do we try to be our own messiahs and save ourselves? On what do we stake our lives? In what do we ultimately place our trust? Our bank accounts? Achievements? Prestige? Politicians? Jesus locks every one of these escape hatches. One scholar noted that “doctrinal confusion is not the Christian’s fundamental problem. Instead, it is disobedience: our refusal to accept Christ’s authority over our lives.”

We are privileged to know everyday folks who have so internalized this quality of discipleship. We know people who in the critical moment, they know what to do, they know how to follow Jesus. Most of us may never master such integral calculus of charity. But failure in that does not need to be the enemy of our aspiration. We know the way to follow Jesus. Thanks be to God that other disciples, gathered here, walk it with us. Jesus remains in the lead.

Prayers of Intercession

Made children and heirs of God’s promise, we pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.Revealing God, you have made yourself known through bread and wine, water and word. Continue to nurture your church, that it is a place where your presence is experienced and shared. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Creating God, you brought life into being and called it good. Bring new creation to lands devastated by tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, fires, and other disasters (recent destructive events may be named here). Restore forests and curb overflowing waters. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Protecting God, you desire all people to live in peace and safety. Provide for all who are in danger. Strengthen first responders to help meet to the complex needs of others. Provide care and compassion as they face trauma themselves. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Transforming God, you announce release to the captives and freedom to the oppressed. Break chains of discrimination and injustice. Amplify voices that go unheard and inspire us to advocate for the those who are overlooked. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Forming God, you gather this community together. Shape our communal life, that in our prayer, praise, and worship, we honor you and encourage one another. Keep our disagreements civil and increase our joy in working together. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Most merciful God, as we remember 9/11, bring comfort to those who mourn, relief to those who witness devastation, healing to those still suffering physical pain or emotional trauma, and reconciliation to a world in need of peace. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Redeeming God, you accompany your people through every stage of life. We give you thanks for the saints who now rest in your embrace (especially). Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Receive these prayers, O God, and those in our hearts known only to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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Sept. 5, 2021

Prayer of the Day:

Gracious God, throughout the ages you transform sickness into health and death into life. Open us to the power of your presence, and make us a people ready to proclaim your promises to the whole world, through Jesus Christ, our healer and Lord.Amen.

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

1A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
  and favor is better than silver or gold.
2The rich and the poor have this in common:
  the Lord is the maker of them all.
8Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
  and the rod of anger will fail.
9Those who are generous are blessed,
  for they share their bread with the poor.

22Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
  or crush the afflicted at the gate;
23for the Lord pleads their cause
  and despoils of life those who despoil them.

Charity Bazaar for Widows and Orphans (Library of Congress, D.C.)

Psalm 125

1Those who trust in the Lord are | like Mount Zion,
  which cannot be moved, but stands | fast forever.
2The mountains sur- | round Jerusalem;
  so you surround your people, O Lord, from this time forth for- | evermore. R
3The scepter of the wicked shall not hold sway over the land allotted | to the just,
  so that the just shall not put their | hands to evil.
4Show your goodness, O Lord, to those | who are good
  and to those who are | true of heart.
5As for those who turn aside to crooked ways, the Lord will lead them away with the |evildoers;
  but peace be | upon Israel.

James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17

1My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
  8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. [11For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.] 
  14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Mark 7:24-37

24[Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice,25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
  31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Sermon Pastor Meggan Manlove

Whenever a person is walking through a train station in the United Kingdom, there is one phrase which they are sure to hear over the intercom or read in multiple places, “Please mind the gap.” It is a warning issued to passengers to take caution while crossing the horizontal, and occasionally vertical, spatial gap between the train door and the station platform. “Mind the gap.”

Both our reading from Proverbs and our reading from James provide reminders to mind the gap in faith, the gap between knowing something to be true and acting, between the head and heart, between knowledge and wisdom. 

Proverbs itself is a collection of essays, poems, and sayings expressing the wisdom of ancient Israel. It acknowledges that interesting as big questions are, such as the problem of evil or the meaning of life, they do not really address day to day living. Day to day living includes all sorts of smaller questions related to financial affairs, relating to friends, healthy marriage, and helping the poor.

Our passage today is addressed to those who are not poor, but rich. They have been robbing the poor or crushing the afflicted. “The gate” is the place in ancient Israel where court was held. When they have been robbed, the LORD will take up their cause.

But if cheating goes on in the court — if the widow, the orphan, and poor are not treated fairly, there is Someone watching over them. This is the LORD, who will take up their cause, like an advocate in a courtroom.

This same language appears in the book of Isaiah, Chapter 3:

13 The LORD rises to argue his case; he stands to judge the peoples.

14 The LORD enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people:

“It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses

15 What do you mean by crushing my people by grinding the face of the poor?” says the LORD God of hosts.

Here we see the Lord in action, taking up the cause of the people, acting as their Advocate. The theme of caring for the powerless, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the stranger, the aged runs through the Bible. All of these people have something in common: they have no power in society. The widow has no husband, the orphan no parent, the poor no money, the aged has no strength. God is their advocate. We, as God’s people, are called to be their advocates as well.

Our passage from James includes the story of a well-dressed rich man who is given a best seat in the synagogue and a poor man who is not given a place at all. Here in the book of James we find the familiar triad of the powerless again: the widow and orphan and also the poor.

The theme of the essay we hear from today is that faith and partiality do not mix. That’s especially true when partiality is a reflection of the world’s way of playing favorites. James sets up a dualism that may be a lot of things, but no one can critique it for being unclear. You are a friend of the world or a friend of God. Friends of the world show a preference for the powerful and wealthy, neglecting those struggling to make a living. Friends of God suffer with those who suffer and seek an end to the causes of their suffering.

The rich are a consistent source of critique in James since the quest for wealth often results in the fraying of social bonds. One grows richer by taking advantage of someone else. And as one grows wealthier, greed and self-centeredness take hold making an individual more and more friendly with the world and less and less able to be a friend of God. 

I do not think we have anyone in the uber wealthy category at Trinity, nor is our congregation populated with national, state, or even local law makers, people who create laws and policies which make it easier or harder for wealth to accumulate among a smaller population. 

And yet, we are all part of a society and culture that seems to make an idol of money, or things money can buy. How then are we to talk about money in this space? How do we talk about it within our families? What power do we have and how can wield it for those with less power?

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber names how our morality is at stake in the economic conditions of the West. He calls the church to speak and act in ways that James would recognize as right and faithful for friends of God. Barber is a leader in the Poor People’s Campaign, which is calling out the complicated web of oppression that makes all of us sick, but most notably the poor. Barber’s is just one movement, but it is crucial one for us to learn from because it is based in the ethics of Christianity. Like James, he wants to change the status quo. He is reminding us to mind the gap between words and actions.

The moral imperatives James lines out promote equality and the beloved community. Any action that securers individual comfort and pleasure at the expense of another is wrong. The poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the sick are precisely whom the gathering must support as they struggle to flourish. Their welfare leads to the welfare of everyone, so there are no more gaps.

This can all feel like a lot, maybe especially right now. There is hope and perhaps some relief in talking about tackling poverty in the midst of community. After all, we each bring different gifts and passions to the world. If we all take on a few particular causes, that does indeed bring relief. Community also gives us some accountability. We can check in on one another–how is our prayer life, how are we doing with our relationship with God, how are we doing loving our neighbor?

Right now, the opportunities for working towards equality, for helping the poor, for closing the economic gap seem endless. You can help feed people locally or support global organizations like Bread for the World. You can call the Agency for New Americans and ask about helping Afghan families coming to the Treasure Valley or support Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services’ global efforts. You can write a letter to city council members asking to loosen up zoning rules to make affordable housing easier to build or you can support Trinity New Hope, September’s recipient of our noisy offering. You can be a court advocate for victims of domestic abuse or donate monthly to Nampa’s Family Justice Center. Each one of us does not have to do everything. But James and the writer of Proverbs are pretty clear that minding the gap means actions must follow hearing the Word. 

Scholar Elsa Tamez writes that “Word,” for James, means the perfect law of freedom. Those who only hear the Word, without practicing it, demonstrate a lack of integrity. They deceive themselves. If it is only heard, the Word loses its power. It is only in fulfilling the Word that it takes on life and is verified as true. Yet, if those who hear it practice it steadfastly, the practice itself will be a cause for joy. It is a sign of consistency, integrity. 

He also speaks against the lack of respect for the poor and admiration of the rich. The law of freedom is a unity. You cannot fulfill one part of it and not another. In other words, if you do not commit adultery but you do show favoritism against the poor, you have transgressed the law that “you must love your neighbor as yourself.” 

James challenges us to love with consistency and integrity in our words and deeds. Throughout his letter, James refers to the good works continually spoken of in the Gospels as the liberating deeds of Jesus. They are deeds that effect justice. 

For James, faith cooperates with works. James wanted to emphasize the unity between faith and works as part of the necessary consistency in trusting, hearing, saying, and doing. We see him do this in our passage today: 14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

We read a concern for integrity, consistency between words and actions. This is how he reminds his first readers and those of us listening today to mind the gap. We trust today that the Holy Spirit is moving among us still as we try together to align our words and actions each day.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

Made children and heirs of God’s promise, we pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.Holy One, you bring your people together in worship. Enliven your church. Guide all evangelists, preachers, prophets, and missionaries who seek to share your love through word and deed. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

You provide water for thirsty ground and sunshine to feed hungry plants. Bless all who advocate for healthy forests, unpolluted air, and clean waterways. Inspire all people to show care for the world you have made. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

You show no partiality. Increase justice in all nations. Encourage leaders and governments to work with one another for the good of our common world. (Especially as we celebrate Labor/Labour Day,) unite us in seeking the health, safety, and dignity of all. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

You accompany those who are most in need. Shelter all fleeing violence or persecution, protect any who are in danger, and sustain them through uncertain and unstable times. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

You support the work of your disciples. Continue to nurture the leadership and ministries of this congregation (especially). Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.You embrace all who have died in the faith and brought them into your glorious presence. We thank you for their example and rejoice in their lives. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Receive these prayers, O God, and those in our hearts known only to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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Aug. 29, 2021

Prayer of the Day

O God our strength, without you we are weak and wayward creatures. Protect us from all dangers that attack us from the outside, and cleanse us from all evil that arises from within ourselves, that we may be preserved through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen.

Song of Solomon 2:8-13

8The voice of my beloved!
  Look, he comes,
 leaping upon the mountains,
  bounding over the hills.
9My beloved is like a gazelle
  or a young stag.
 Look, there he stands
  behind our wall,
 gazing in at the windows,
  looking through the lattice.
10My beloved speaks and says to me:
 “Arise, my love, my fair one,
  and come away;
11for now the winter is past,
  the rain is over and gone.
12The flowers appear on the earth;
  the time of singing has come,
 and the voice of the turtledove
  is heard in our land.
13The fig tree puts forth its figs,
  and the vines are in blossom;
  they give forth fragrance.
 Arise, my love, my fair one,
  and come away.”

Like Deer Leaping Mountains, Peter Koenig

Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9

1My heart is stirring with a noble song; let me recite what I have fashioned | for the king;
  my tongue shall be the pen of a | skillful writer.
2You are the noblest a- | mong the people;
  grace flows from your lips, because God has blessed | you forever. 
6Your throne, O God, endures forev- | er and ever,
  a scepter of righteousness is the scepter | of your kingdom.
7You love righteousness and | hate iniquity;
  therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above | your companions.
8All your garments are fragrant with myrrh, al- | oes, and cassia,
  and the music of strings from ivory palaces | makes you glad.
9Kings’ daughters stand among the ladies | of the court;
  on your right hand is the queen, adorned with the | gold of Ophir. 

James 1:17-27

17Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

  19You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
  22But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
  26If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

1Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around [Jesus], 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 
 ‘This people honors me with their lips,
  but their hearts are far from me;
7in vain do they worship me,
  teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
  14Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
  21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

I may get home and think I was crazy to preach on the Song of Songs, a more accurate name for the book. Before I moved to Nampa in 2010, I never felt a need to preach on such a text. But that was before I met people who have been hurt by the way parts of the broader church have talked about sex and the church.

Earlier this week I was on a video call with people from across the country. Two of us who grew up in the ELCA Lutheran Church, or its predecessors, agreed that we have plenty we would like to reform about the ELCA, another conversation. But we have also learned to recognize that neither of us was damaged by the church’s purity culture, like so many people we have gotten to know in the last 10 years.

So what exactly is purity culture? It is a term often used to promote a biblical view of sexual purity. The language of purity comes specifically from 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8: 3For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; 4that each one of you knows how to control your own body in holiness and honor, 5not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6that no one wrongs or exploits a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. 8Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.

Taken alone, those verses are not the problem. The problem is what was built on top of those verses. Purity culture itself has a lot of claims that are not life-giving: women are responsible for men’s sexual sin, women’s bodies are something to be ashamed of, no one, but especially women, should have sexual desires, and of course sex only belongs in relationships between men and women. In addition, purity culture never addresses such helpful concepts as consent in sexual relationships. Mos importantly, the purity teachings that permeated the 1990s-2000s white evangelical churches had this common theme: a shame-based introduction to adolescence which has left deep, and I mean deep, scars through adulthood. 

Author Linda Klein puts it this way, “This theory that if we taught people about purity–which really is not an accurate way to frame it, it’s more if we shamed people into remaining pure…then they were going to have a fantastic, blissful life. They were going to be safe, they were going to be healthy, and they’re going to have awesome sex in their marriage.” (Sojourners, Mar. 7, 2019).

We might ask, how could purity come to exist alongside the Song of Songs, so clearly about the joys of loving relationship, a relationship that obviously includes physical desires? We have to understand how the Song of Songs has been interpreted throughout history. 

Pastor and theologian Nadia Boltz-Weber sums the history up this way, “since Song of Songs is a poem primarily about female sexual desire it should surprise no one that for most of its history, in the hands of male clergy, scholars, and theologians, it was not seen as such. It was read as allegory” (Shameless, 169).  

First it was read as an allegory of the love between God and Israel. Later Christians would read the same text as an allegory for Christ’s love for his church. We can trace a lot of this back to Origen, a man living in Alexandria in the 200s. Like so many people of his time, he took seriously the Platonic notion that the spirit is of a higher plane than the flesh. Combine this with the school of thought, very popular on and off through the ages, that Jesus could not himself be embodied. Yes, there were people who could not deal with the incarnation, so crucial to the Christian faith. And so, Song of Songs was transformed “into a spiritual drama, free from all carnality.” (Marvin Pope). 

It is truly bizarre that the Christian religion, based on the merging of things human and divine–a religion based on God choosing to have, of all things, a human body; a faith whose central practice is a shared meal of bread and wine, an embodied meal in which we say Jesus is truly present–could develop into such a body and pleasure-fearing religion. 

So, the allegorical reading probably allowed the book to become sacred scripture. And yet the Christian faith has at its heart an embodied divine. What then are we to do today with this secular poem about unmarried, human lovers? I think we use it to celebrate our embodied selves and to start to accept that our sexual desires are part of our embodiment. Most important, maybe the poems in Song of Songs can help us get rid of some of the shame people are carrying around as a result of the purity culture.

What all of that will look like needs to vary depending on lots of things. Are you a man, a woman, transgender? Are you single or married? Are you heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual? Are you divorced or widowed? Are you a teenager, a middle-aged adult, a senior citizen? Context matters whether we are talking about the spiritual, emotional, sexual, mental, physical journey of life. 

So now let’s turn to the poetry itself. Song of Songs is really a pretty interesting and well written series of dialogue. Even when one partner speaks at length, someone is presumed to be listening. The lovers often respond to each other and echo words in the other’s speech. Such dialogue reveals love not only as an emotion, but as the interaction and mutual influence of two equals. 

Did you catch that, “two equals.” If the ancient and more recent men doing most of the translating, teaching, and preaching needed one more reason to read the Song of Songs allegorically, it would be that the voices in the poem are equals. The couple’s relationship is strikingly egalitarian. Social constraints restrict the girl far more than the boy. Still, within the one-to-one relationship their possession is mutual. Their desires are indistinguishable, and their description of each other of much the same sort. This is, to be sure, an idealization of love, but one not devoid of roots in real experience. 

Chapter 2 verses 8-13 contains romantic lyrics sung by an unnamed young woman to her equally young “beloved.” One unique aspect of the Song of Songs, referred to earlier, is that the woman’s voice dominates the book. And, unlike some other biblical references to sexualized relationships, this book does not contain domination of the woman by her lover. That’s the egalitarianism mentioned already. This woman claims her voice, her desire, and her lover as her own, and does so proudly and poetically. 

Today’s portion of the woman’s song opens with her admiring her beloved from afar, comparing his physique to a majestic creature that can navigate any barriers to her. She watches him watching her. Her delight with him is palpable. We read “My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.’” We hear him beckoning her, through her voice.

Some of the most captivating poetry appears in these later verses where the woman shares the man’s words through references to springtime. We hear imagery of growth and fecundity fitting the season (flowers, turtledove, blossom, fragrance). Song of Songs’ singer uses her springtime scene to describe the wondrous newness of her relationship. We are drawn into the poetry, first recalling our joy at the return of spring each year and then move to our own experiences of new or renewed love. Remember, this is poetry, not nonfiction, not even a novel. Much is left unknown and unclear about the relationship. 

What I hope to have made clear is that physical expressions of love, sexuality, consent, and desire are not foreign to the Bible or the religious experience. They should not be off topic for this platform or for our conversations as people of faith. And they are not just topics for weddings. Today is only a start, but perhaps we as the church would be better off if we tried to create at least a little comfort in discussing these topics in our community of faith. It has to be better than relegating them to either popular culture or to the shame infused purity culture.

We follow a God who was born in human flesh–Immanuel, God with us. We worship a God who created us in God’s image–every single one of us. We trust a God who is moving among us still. The Holy Spirit keeps healing the community of creation. Might a recovery of the Song of Songs be part of that healing. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

Made children and heirs of God’s promise, we pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

We pray for the church, that it is a safe haven for all who seek your presence. Fill it with pastors, deacons, and leaders who echo your expansive and generous welcome. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We pray for the whole of creation, that plants and animals have the habitat and resources to thrive and flourish. Inspire us to protect threatened habitats and ensure a sustainable future for generations to come. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We pray for individuals in positions of authority (national and local leaders may be named). Raise up wise and discerning leaders in federal, state, and local governments and guide them to seek the benefit of every person. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are in need. Support and encourage those who are unemployed, underemployed, or experiencing poverty. Bring food, shelter, clothes, and stability for daily life. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We pray for this congregation, especially those beginning a new school year (students, teachers, or others may be named here). Empower teachers and school administrators. Guide students in their learning and development. Accompany parents, foster parents, and caregivers who provide encouragement and love. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.We give thanks for the faithful departed who showed us how to honor God with our heart. Inspire us by their example and renew our faith, trusting that we will be united with them in glory. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Receive these prayers, O God, and those in our hearts known only to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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Aug. 22, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Holy God, your word feeds your people with life that is eternal. Direct our choices and preserve us in your truth, that, renouncing what is false and evil, we may live in you, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen.

1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11] 22-30, 41-43

[1Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. 6Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. 10And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.] 
  22Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven.23He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, 24the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. 25Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ 26Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.
  27“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! 28Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; 29that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. 30Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.
  41“Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name 42—for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.”

Psalm 84

1How dear to me | is your dwelling,
  O | Lord of hosts!
2My soul has a desire and longing for the courts | of the Lord;
  my heart and my flesh rejoice in the | living God.
3Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest where she may | lay her young,
  by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts, my king | and my God.
4Happy are they who dwell | in your house!
  They will always be | praising you. 
5Happy are the people whose strength | is in you,
  whose hearts are set on the | pilgrims’ way.
6Those who go through the balsam valley will find it a | place of springs,
  for the early rains have covered it with | pools of water.
7They will climb from | height to height,
  and the God of gods will be | seen in Zion.
8Lord God of hosts, | hear my prayer;
  give ear, O | God of Jacob. 
9Behold our defend- | er, O God;
  and look upon the face of | your anointed.
10For one day in your courts is better than a | thousand elsewhere.
  I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents | of the wicked.
11For the Lord God is both sun and shield, bestowing | grace and glory;
  no good thing will the Lord withhold from those who walk | with integrity.
12| Lord of hosts,
  happy are they who put their | trust in you!

Ephesians 6:10-20

10Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
  18Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

John 6:56-69

[Jesus said,] 56“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
  60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
  66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

First Kings continues the story where 2 Samuel left off. Chapters 1-2 complete the presentation of the reign of David and the succession of Solomon. Chapters 3-11 depict Solomon’s glorious reign, highlighted by the construction of the temple.

Up to the time of King David, the presence of God had been represented by the Ark of the Covenant. It had been a movable tent structure. David successfully moved the Ark to Jerusalem, where his son and successor Solomon built the magnificent Temple now housing the Ark of the Covenant.

In previous chapters it was highlighted that Solomon and the rest of the Israelites were worshipping at Canaanite worship centers. This was not ideal because people might end up worshipping Canaanite gods rather than their own God. So, Solomon in building the Temple has removed, or tried to remove, that confusion inherent in worshipping at Canaanite centers. Israel now has its own worship center at a place that the Israelite God seems to have approved. 

After completion of the building of the Temple, Solomon leads the people in a dedication ceremony. The selected portions of this long chapter focus on some significant words in one of Solomon’ sprayers. Solomon is acutely aware that God who transcends creation cannot be contained in a building no matter how magnificent the building is. He prays, “But will God indeed dwell on earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!”

This statement gets to the heart of so much of what we and many other congregations have wrestled with this year, right? We know that God cannot be contained in a building. With the Sawtooths, Whiteclouds and Lost River Ranges all within a few hours’ drive, we might relate better than most to the biblical stories where people encounter God on a mountain. 

Furthermore, this year we encouraged you all to make home altars. Some of you already had nooks in your homes with Bibles, a candle to light, perhaps some devotional books. But last year everyone was encouraged to use whatever suitable props you could find to make a space holy. Does the glory of the natural world and the possibility of creating holy spaces in the home then mean we citizens of the 21st century do not need church buildings? Yes and no.

The Temple did not take the place of God, neither is it equivalent to God. It is not to be worshipped, but God is worshipped there. This is a place where individuals and the community will find divine forgiveness. In the portion that is skipped, Solomon highlights certain occasions for prayer that include; reconciliation between neighbors, national defeat in battle, drought, famine and various plagues; war, including when a foreigner comes to pray. Anything sound familiar?

The inclusion of foreigners at the Temple is an interesting one because of the exclusive nature of Israel pronounced in the Old Testament and also because of the non-coercive nature of the inclusion. What I mean is that it is not a militant conversion of non-Israelites but an openness that welcomes foreigners in a sacred space.

Solomon’s prayer deals with some of the mystery and the paradox involved in thinking about God’s presence with us. It starts from something that is presented as objective reality: a cloud filled the house. A cloud is a common symbol of God’s presence. It is a useful symbol because it is both a sign of God’s being present but also a practical means of protecting people from the overwhelming, blinding, electrifying effect of being in in God’s presence. 

Other books in the Old Testament talk about a column of cloud accompanying the people on their journey from Egypt, about God being in a cloud or thundercloud at Mount Sinai and speaking to the people from there. That same cloud is present in the temple in such a way as to signify that God’s presence continues to accompany the people. 

We do not know how literally the story means us to take this picture. Perhaps we are to picture the priests withdrawing from the temple because they knew God was coming there, so that speaking of the cloud is a metaphor. Of this we can be sure, God certainly became present there. From here on out, Israel could know they could come to the temple court and offer their sacrifice there and know they did so before the God who was present in the sanctuary. 

Talking about the temple as a place where God will live could imply that the Israelites had unsophisticated ideas about God. However, Solomon himself later makes explicit his awareness that the idea of God’s dwelling in a house on earth is silly. Nor did the Israelites naively think that God lived in the sky. The entirety of the heavens could not contain God, Solomon comments. 

Instead of trying to figure out exactly what the temple meant to the ancient Israelites, this passage’s greatest gift may be an invitation to keep reflecting on sacred or holy spaces in our own lives, especially but not only this sanctuary.

Our leadership pondered about sacred spaces when people voiced their appreciation for seeing our sanctuary during pre-recorded or live streaming worship last year. 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.

The yearning for the building made me just a bit nervous. Some of us have belonged to 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. Besides breaking the first two of the Ten Commandments, idolizing a building is simply not healthy for our relationships with God or the life of faith. 

I thought about sacred spaces once more while cleaning up after the second Sunday worship our congregation held on our lawn. We also held an evening Lament service and an evening Pet Blessing service. In addition, several teams 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. 

What of this space? Is the presence of God evident in our worship space? How? Is the purpose of the space clear to all who enter it? Is the nature of the God worshiped in the space evident? Put another way, what would a newcomer guess about the god we worship by looking around the sanctuary? How welcoming is our space of worship to those who feel lost, to those we consider as outsiders? Can the prayers of those who do not think, act or pray like “us” feel validated and heard? What is important in our spaces? Is it the space itself or the presence of God in it? Who or what is worshipped; God or the space itself?

Today, I am thankful the larger 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. 

At the same time, we are always going to need sacred places to gather with others—homes, sanctuaries, and pilgrimage sites. Instead of an either/or answer, this continues to be a time for both/and. It is a time to remember that the ordinary can be sacred space andwe should gather with other bodies in spaces (natural or built with human hands) that hold beauty or history or awe.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

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

Made children and heirs of God’s promise, we pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.God of courage, bless all leaders of your church. Make them ready to proclaim the gospel of peace and strengthen them to preach your loving word. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of creation, bless fields and orchards. Protect the land from drought and bring life-giving rain to support growth. Instruct your people in wise treatment of the world you have provided for all your creatures. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of community, bless all who seek justice between nations and peoples. Give guidance to bridge-builders, heal divisions, and inspire cooperation in times of crisis, disaster, and war. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of compassion, bless all who are in any need. Accompany all who are lonely and feeling abandoned and remind them of your abiding presence. Accompany all who are persecuted and exploited and open us to their cries. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of change, bless our transitions. Guide all who are embarking on new stages in life such as a new job, new school, or new community (especially). Sustain enduring friendships and kindle new relationships and interests. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.God of comfort, bless all who mourn the deaths of their beloved ones. We give you thanks for the saints who have gone before us (especially). Renew our confidence in your promise of resurrection and life in the world to come. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Receive these prayers, O God, and those in our hearts known only to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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Surveys and New Protocols-Aug. 20 2021

email sent to church members Aug. 20, 2021

Members and Friends of Trinity

Thanks again to everyone who completed the Return to Trinity survey. Our Covid task force met earlier this week and at tonight’s meeting, council approved their recommendations, as we have since the task force was formed. The full summary is attached and we commend it to you. Adopted Recommendations: 

  1. Due to Canyon County positive test rates @ 22% (covidactnow.org), beginning August 22, 2021 we recommend requiring masks FOR ALL in addition to spacing for all indoor worship. 
  2. Small groups that are able to maintain 6 ft spacing, masks are recommended for vaccinated individuals, masks are required for unvaccinated individuals. 
  3. Sunday school participants will not require masks as we are able to accommodate spacing with our current classroom sizes.  

Please read the full summary. I admit that this is not the email I hoped to be sending in August 2021. Nonetheless, know that we are the Body of Christ moving forward together in this time. I have had church meetings Monday-Thursday evenings both last week and this week. Instead of being depleted and exhausted I am full of gratitude for the many faithful people who keep showing up to dream, discern, care for one another, and do the work of discipleship. There is so much love in action put forth by our members through Trinity Lutheran, in your various work places, and in your homes and neighborhoods. None of us is alone. We have one another and we worship a God whose love for the world is boundless.

Peace,

-Pr Meggan

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Aug. 15, 2021 (Mary, Mother of our Lord)

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, in choosing the virgin Mary to be the mother of your Son, you made known your gracious regard for the poor, the lowly, and the despised. Grant us grace to receive your word in humility, and so to be made one with your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.

Isaiah 61:7-11

7Because [the] shame [of God’s people] was double,
  and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot,
 therefore they shall possess a double portion;
  everlasting joy shall be theirs.

8For I the Lord love justice,
  I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
 I will faithfully give them their recompense,
  and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
9Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
  and their offspring among the peoples;
 all who see them shall acknowledge
  that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
  my whole being shall exult in my God;
 for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
  he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
 as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
  and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
  and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
 so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
  to spring up before all the nations.

Psalm 34:1-9

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 de- | livers them.
8Taste and see that the | Lord is good;
  happy are they who take ref- | uge in God!
9Fear the Lord, you saints | of the Lord,
  for those who fear the | Lord lack nothing. 

Galatians 4:4-7

4When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30″

Luke 1:46-55

46Mary said, 
 “My soul magnifies the Lord,
  47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
  and holy is his name.
50His mercy is for those who fear him
  from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm;
  he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
  and lifted up the lowly;
53he has filled the hungry with good things,
  and sent the rich away empty.
54He has helped his servant Israel,
  in remembrance of his mercy,
55according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
  to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

The other day I ran across a magnifying ruler in my desk–something I picked up at a vendor table several years ago. It read, “Attorney General says, ‘read the fine print and be consumer smart.” The further I get into my 40s the more appreciative I am for such magnifying tools. They have a way of both magnifying and illuminating what was blurry or almost hidden. 

The glad song Mary sings functions in a similar way. It illumines. The song makes it possible to understand something that was there all the time but was difficult to see without an aid.  

That Luke created or preserved traditions regarding Mary was inspired, considering how infrequently she otherwise appears in the New Testament.  The gospel writer Mark skips the birth of Jesus altogether, and Mark’s Jesus seems indifferent to his mother when she shows up with his brothers.  

As for Matthew, his Mary is mute. Not a word leaves her lips. She is present, but silent as the night in a certain beloved carol. For his part, the Apostle Paul thinks it worth remarking that God’s Son was “born of a woman,” but he never bothers to mention her name. But Luke remembers her name, and his Mary does not keep silence in our churches. Luke’s Mary has something, and someone, to sing about.

In Mary’s song, which we call the Magnificat for all that she magnifies, she tells of her Savior who has “looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”  Lowliness.  The Greek behind our English word is not talking simply about humility, but about poverty. Mary is poor — dirt poor. She is poor and pregnant and unmarried. She is in a mess. But she sings! Why? Because Luke knows — from the vantage of the end of the narrative– that this lowly one, this wretched one, this woman, God raises up. Mary, despised and rejected by the world, is favored by God and will bring the Messiah to birth. And so, she sings.

What is more, Mary sings not just a solo aria about her own destiny. She sings a freedom song on behalf of all the faithful poor in the land. She sings a song of freedom for all who, in their poverty and their wretchedness, still believe that God will make a way where there is no way, that God will continue to be faithful.

Like John the Baptist, Mary prophesies deliverance. She prophesies about a way that is coming in the wilderness of injustice. She sings of a God who “has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts”; who “has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly”; who “has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” She exults in the God of Abraham; she exalts the God of Jesus Christ. Here at the beginning, Mary rejoices in God’s vision — for her, and for a world turned upside down.

A day celebrating Mary, Mother of our Lord might better be celebrated as Mary, Bearer of God. It is a slight shift, but an important one. Let me first talk about the various ways the church has thought about Mary. To do that, we have to cover, of all topics, original sin. 

There are at least two different traditions about the nature of original sin. In our Lutheran heritage, we have experienced both, particularly in the words we have used in confession at the beginning of worship. Some of you might remember the old red hymnal (the SBH). Using them we confessed, “We are by nature sinful and unclean.” But now we say, “We are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.”

Martin Luther would be more comfortable with the words we use today. If we are by nature sinful and unclean, then Mary needs to be superhuman in order to be the mother of our Lord. She found favor with God because she was a better person than we are. Indeed, she was not by nature sinful and unclean.

This idea led the Roman Catholic Church to affirm the doctrines like the Immaculate Conception (Mary was also immaculately conceived) and the Assumption of Mary (Mary did not di but was assumed into heaven). On the other hand, if we are captive to sin, it is only by grace that Mary can say, “Let it be.” Mary’s trust in God’s promise of a son, who would free us from the power of death and the devil, empowered her to become a bearer of God. With the words “Let it be,” Mary became a new Eve and a bearer of a new creation, which begins in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What then of the Incarnation? The Word became flesh. God comes and lives with us. Mary the Mother of our Lord, up on a pedestal, has a position that can no longer be filled because the Son of God has been born. The job has been completed. The only thing we can do with her is put her on a pedestal and honor her. 

However, Mary the Bearer of God is someone a bit different. Mary the Bearer of God becomes the first of what we all can be, how God enters our world and speaks a word of grace and mercy, forgiveness and peace, life and hope. In our own baptism into Jesus Christ, our old, captive self is drowned, and a new self rises out of the water. The new self joins Mary as a bearer of God in this new creation.

A God who becomes one of requires a new set of eyes. Instead of raising Mary on a pedestal as one who is special and near to God, Mary the Bearer of God reveals the truth that God comes down to us, all of us. An Orthodox scholar [Nicholas Zernov] put it this way, “In all the mysteries of his condescension, God approaches man from below; and man must be ready to stoop to meet him.”

Consider how this is revealed in Mary’s song. She sees herself as a lowly servant. The proud are scattered. The powerful are brought down, and the lowly are lifted up. The hungry are filled, and the rich are sent away empty. As a bearer of God, Mary rejoices in salvation, the freedom from captivity to death and the devil. As a bearer of God, Mary brings our eyes down to see God hidden in the least and lowest, the unlikely and unexpected, even in a piece of bread and a sip of wine. As a bearer of God, Mary teaches us to stoop down and reminds us that there are all kinds of job openings in the God-bearing business.

The problems of the world are overwhelming. They always have been but this latest chapter has taken everything to a new level, at least for me. We have to learn to live with this virus and love our neighbor and show kindness daily and try to make the systems we live in more just and merciful. The reign of God which Mary prophecies so clearly is still breaking in. But how can we mere mortals be part of something so big?

And yet God has always chosen the most unlikely to be God bearers. Mary Bearer of God is only one among many of the unusual and unlikely. We also are among them: imperfect David, not so good with public speaking Moses, foreigner Ruth, seeking power disciples James and John, denier Peter, and the list goes on. Some of the people who have heeded God’s call have had big stages and others are faithful in small circles and local contexts and neighborhoods. All of them echoed Mary’s, “Let it be” and then the Holy Spirit empowered them.

As you come to the Lord’s Table, you too are graced and empowered by God. Like the ordinary people God has called throughout the ages, God uses the very ordinary to strengthen and nourish. We do not understand the mechanics of the meal, but we trust that God keeps promises–that God is present and grants forgiveness and new life in ordinary bread and wine, along with the words, “given for you.” As you receive Christ’s body and blood through bread and wine, Jesus enters you to forgive your sin and makes you a new creation. As we gather together into this holy communion, you also become a bearer of God. 

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

Rooted in Christ and sustained by the Spirit, we offer our prayers for the church, the world, and all of creation.

A brief silence.You have revealed your love for people overlooked and cast aside, sending your son to be born among the humble and poor. Send your church to proclaim good news to those who feel abandoned, despised, or rejected and make our congregations places of genuine welcome and hospitality. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

All creation longs for healing and restoration. Thwart the destruction of plant and animal habitats and amplify the voices of those who advocate for wise stewardship of the earth’s resources. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We remember your promise to our ancestors and look to you for justice. Expose pride, greed, and exploitation wherever it is found and raise up humble leaders who act on behalf of those who are poor, oppressed, or in other need. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Your Spirit lives in our hearts and makes us heirs of salvation. Rescue us from shame and dishonor. Lift up the lowly, fill the hungry with good things, and have mercy on those who turn to you for help (especially). God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Mary’s song of praise and amazement echoes through this assembly. Attend to those in this congregation expecting a child and console those struggling to conceive. Come to the aid of those enduring a difficult pregnancy and those who have experienced a miscarriage. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.We give thanks for the saints who have found refuge in you, O God (especially Mary, mother of Jesus). As you have delivered them from all their afflictions, so save us from all our earthly troubles until that day when we sing your praise together in heaven. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We lift these and all our prayers to you, O God, confident in the promise of your saving love; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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Some Time for Rest

August 2021 Epistle/Newsletter column for Trinity Lutheran Church

Dear Friends and Members of Trinity,

I confess that I do not have anything particularly spiritual to write this month. I want to take you up one of Idaho’s high mountain peaks and give you the 12,000-foot view of Trinity this summer. We are now able to gather in person regularly and safely and it is life-giving. We also continue to offer worship online—also life-giving for people from many walks of life. The timing of being able to gather in person coincides with many of you hitting the road to see family and friends far away or explore the beauty of the natural world right here in the Mountain West. Another part of our current reality are the many members who put in multiple hours thinking, pivoting, learning, making decisions, and serving. Many faithful volunteers are now weary and worn and need some serious sabbath time before the fall. What this means is, if we are not full speed (whatever that means) until September, there are good reasons and most of those reasons have to do with rest and healing after a hard chapter of individual and communal life.

I truly believe we are living in an incredible time of creativity and recreating and transformation. Our leadership wants to be intentional about taking lessons from the pandemic with us and using new tools going forward. However, being intentional and thoughtful takes energy. So, this summer we are only doing a few things, but we hope to do them well (worship, campout, Peace Camp, Monday study group). Meanwhile, we are giving people space and time for rejuvenation. What lessons from the pandemic do you want to retain? What faith practices are you looking forward to resuming together? People at Trinity have never shied away from good questions. Let’s keep that as part of our DNA as we live into the future together, but let us also help one another rest and recover.

Peace, Pastor Meggan

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Aug. 8, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven to be the true bread that gives life to the world. Give us this bread always, that he may live in us and we in him, and that, strengthened by this food, we may live as his body in the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen.

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

5[King David] ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.
  6So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. 7The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. 8The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.
  9Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. 15And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.
  31Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.” 32The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.”
  33The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Psalm 130

1Out | of the depths
  I cry to | you, O Lord;
2O Lord, | hear my voice!
  Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my | supplication.
3If you were to keep watch | over sins,
  O Lord, | who could stand?
4Yet with you | is forgiveness,
  in order that you | may be feared. 
5I wait for you, O Lord; | my soul waits;
  in your word | is my hope.
6My soul waits for the Lord more than those who keep watch | for the morning,
  more than those who keep watch | for the morning.
7O Israel, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is | steadfast love;
  with the Lord there is plen- | teous redemption.
8For the Lord shall | redeem Israel
  from | all their sins.

Ephesians 4:25–5:2

25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil. 28Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5:1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

John 6:35, 41-51

35Jesus said to [the crowd,] “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 41Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

A Luther Heights counselor asked me last week, “Why do Lutheran pastors always preach on the gospel text?” I had to tell him that is not everyone’s experience. I suggested some reasons why pastors might do that and then I came to our lesson today from II Samuel. It certainly is not a happy or simple story and part of me is always a bit perplexed, wondering why so many details, many in the verses left out of the reading, are included. Nonetheless, in this particular chapter of our personal, communal, and global lives, David’s grief has much to say to us.

First, let me set up our text a bit. David’s reign has been in place for some time by now. He captured Jerusalem and made it his capital. David broke the Philistine power, united the country, brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Key to our passage today, David’s son Absalom killed his half-brother for violating his sister, then fled from Jerusalem. His father David later received him back. Despite David’s forgiveness Absalom tried to usurp David’s throne and forced David to flee. 

Our passage begins with words that might startle us, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” How did these words come out of David’s mouth? David has just been catapulted from a comfortable throne into a harsh wilderness. 

Only days before he was dealt the biggest shock of his life when he learned that Absalom for years and behind his back had been undermining David’s rule. Absalom plotting all these years to kill his father and take over as king! And David all the time oblivious to it. Any moment now, in this unforgiving wilderness, Absalom’s plot might succeed. 

II Samuel Chapters 15-20 are best understood as the natural working out of the consequences of David’s sin against Bathsheba and Uriah. Earlier consequences had included the rape of his daughter by his son, that son’s murder by his half-brother who became totally alienated from his father as a result. The meager reconciliation between father and son did not last. Absalom’s revolt drives much of these chapters and divides the nation as much as it divides David in his conflicted roles as father and king.

The punishment that the prophet Nathan said would always be with his family proved to be accurate, as no order to treat his son Absalom gently could save him from death. This is not quite the end of David’s story, but this encounter does serve as a kind of climax to David’s family drama. I can’t help but think that David’s cries for his son include a recognition of all that his sin and subsequent punishment has put his family and his country through.  

David’s actions have had collateral damage of epic proportions and this pain serves as a grave warning for any that have power and influence. Displaying the kind of self-centeredness that David displayed earlier in his rule is quite the temptation to anyone in power. Of course, one does not need to be a king or have that level of influence to cause great harm with their selfishness and shortsightedness.  

David’s words of mourning rank among the saddest, most heart-rending words ever spoken: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” They are wrenched out for David’s gut when the Cushite’s words sink home: his son murdered in the forest of Ephraim. David is no stranger to death, no stranger to tears, no stranger to murder, no stranger to disappointments, no stranger to sin. But no event in his life combines all these elements with such intensity, such ferocity, as does the matter of Absalom.

This is David’s most distressed moment, and perhaps his greatest. We had watched David grieve over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, and even his unnamed son. We have heard David grieve with eloquence, but his grief now is not an eloquent performance. It is too elemental and too desperate to be eloquent. In this moment when no friend or advisor dare intervene, David can only utter the name of his son. 

David’s cry is an anguished review of all that could have been and was not, of dreams so feebly enacted, of caring so selfishly limited. The specifics of the past are much too dep and too painful to utter. 

Now David in his abandon gathers all that past together in the simple, anguished acknowledgement, “My son.” Earlier, he had only been willing to say, “the young man Absalom.” Now it is not “the young man” but “my son.” 

One scholar [Eugene Peterson] used the metaphor of the bitter cup to drink. Will he drink it? This is David who experienced so many blessings, entered into such exuberant joys, gave us words that we use still to express the generosity of God in our lives. For example, “My cup runneth over” from the beloved Psalm 23. Will David take in the full measure of rejection, alienation, and rebellion and experience it in the depths of his being? At this moment, immersed in the experience and betrayal and ruin, we can almost hear the words spoken a thousand years later by Jesus, “Remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”

The cup is not removed. David, like Jesus, drinks it to the last drop, empties the cup. He tastes the bitterness, takes in the full reality of sin-sourced suffering. He speaks the name Absalom three times. He says “my son” five times. He experiences and then expresses in his lament the tangle of love and hate, righteousness, and sin, good and evil that come to a head in Absalom.

At the farthest descent from Jerusalem, deep in the wilderness forest, David’s story most clearly anticipates the story of Jesus that extends into our stories, passion stories, stories of suffering, but suffering that neither diminishes nor destroys us, but makes us more human, prayerful and loving.

We have all grieved individually, communally, nationally, globally, this past year. Some of our grief is connected to the normal stuff of life and death, but what connects more to our scripture passage today is the grief over things we helped perpetuate. 

During last weekend’s church campout, people were asked to name situations or stuff that had us feeling sorrowful, discouraged, and frustrated. Responses to the prompt included: the division of the country, a “me” mentality, grief, and “it’s made me sad to see people be anxious about certain situations instead of leaning on God.”

There is something very powerful in naming what we are grieving and lamenting. Many have named the inequity in our national health care system, laid bare by the Covid pandemic. We name veterans who die and now show caskets returning so that we recognize the cost of war on families and our country. After George Floyd’s murder, we were asked to “say the name” because naming Floyd humanizes him. Naming what grieves us is part of the truth-telling we are all called into. They are not ends in themselves, but stages of a process of transformation. 

There is a form of Christian meditation on Jesus that is structured along the route from Pilate’s judgment seat where he is condemned to death, the hill, Golgotha, where he is killed on a cross to the garden tomb where he is buried…The meditation formed on the fourteen “stations of the cross,” fourteen events (some real, some imagined) that occur on the last day of his pre-resurrection life, from his condemnation to his burial, is a way of praying our way into and through suffering. 

Our Christian ancestors have sometimes read this story of David’s flight from Jerusalem as an anticipation of Jesus’ route along the Via Dolorosa (the “road of sorrows”) from Pilate’s judgment seat to the cross on Golgotha, ending at the tomb. The parallels are not exact, and there are more differences than continuities. 

And yet, the theme is approximate: Both David and the “Son of David” (Jesus) are rejected and leave Jerusalem accompanied by both friends who help and foes who mock; at the darkest place both utter cries of dereliction; the rejection of “David” is a revolt against God’s anointed leader, and the rejections in both instances are unsuccessful—David is returned to Jerusalem to resume his rule, and Jesus, raised from the dead, ascends to the “right hand of the Father” to rule forever.

What is challenging in this moment of time is that we are not just remembering a past event, David or Jesus’ journeys. We are living through our own journey both as individuals and as members of many communities. On any given day I am not sure at what stage we are in. Like Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief, I assume that our journey will be a bit cyclical—naming, some clarity, prayer, transformation, more prayer, action and advocacy, new naming. 

Even though we do not know the end of this story, we can trust in restoration and new life. We know that God is faithful. We have abundant stories of God bringing life out of death, hope out of despair, a path where there was only wilderness. And God hears all our cries of lament, frustration, and grief. Through the meal of simple bread and wine, through words of forgiveness and absolution, through all we receive in this time, God nourishes us for this journey we continue. The Holy Spirit is with us through friendship, worship, sabbath rest, and prayer.

Prayers of Intercession (from Sundays and Seasons)

Rooted in Christ and sustained by the Spirit, we offer our prayers for the church, the world, and all of creation.

A brief silence.For the church of Christ in all its diverse forms. For mission developers, new mission starts, and all communities of faith exploring new models of ministry for the sake of the gospel. For congregations facing difficult decisions about their future. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

For the health and well-being of creation. For shade trees that provide refuge from the hot summer sun. For lakes, rivers, and oceans contaminated by pollution and all who lack clean water. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

For those called to positions of authority in our legal system, we pray. For judges, lawyers, law clerks, and court employees who ensure the fair administration of justice. For corrections officers and prison chaplains, that they would deal mercifully with those who are incarcerated. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

For all who cry out to you in their affliction. For exiles, refugees, and others who face long and difficult journeys, uncertain about the future. For all who mourn the death of a loved one. For all who are sick (especially). God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

For this assembly gathered around your table, we pray. For those among us who bake bread and prepare the vessels for our communion celebration. For those who bring the food from this table to those who are homebound or hospitalized. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.For those who have been raised to eternal life, we give thanks. With (Dominic, name/s, and) all the saints we praise you for the bread of life that keeps us in your love forever. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We lift these and all our prayers to you, O God, confident in the promise of your saving love; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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Peacemaking

Originally posted on tvprays.org

John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

II Thess. 3:16 “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with all of you.”

The week of July 19-22 was Learning Peace: A Camp for Kids at the Hispanic Cultural Center in Nampa. I had the honor of shepherding a group of nine-year-olds, mostly boys, for the four days. I love this role, shepherding, because it takes me back to being a camp counselor. There is nothing better than helping foster relationships and helping turn a group of individuals into a functioning group. A great deal of our bonding happened during lunch time when, after we were finished eating, every item on the table was examined for its worth in tower-building. 

The other aspect of shepherding that I value so much is that I get to move through the curriculum alongside the youth. This year I was struck by how applicable every lesson was to adults. The eight and nine-year-olds started each morning in Mindfulness, which for the first two days was led by a great yoga instructor. I loved starting each day with deep-breathing and different poses, each reminding me that I am in fact an embodied human. “Why don’t I start everyday this way?” I asked myself. I am so much calmer and more centered. In Conflict Resolution, we spend the first day learning one another’s names. Again, I was reminded of how important names are and how when we learn just one little thing about someone, like the motion they chose for our name game, it changes the relationship. Individuals are humanized. Think of all the important naming that happens in scripture and the way Jesus really saw people, whether he was calling disciples or healing a stranger or offering forgiveness to the thief on the cross. Our Conflict Resolution teachers also had us play the old game of Telephone and we recalled how important good communication is to both avoid and resolve conflict. Our final class each morning was Connecting with Nature. Walks outside have been essential to my inner peace for a long time. For some of you readers an equivalent activity might be biking or gardening or camping. As we demonstrated with the help of a ball of yarn in a Connecting Nature class, we are all connected to the natural world, part of a great web. Being mindful of these connections grounds me to the natural world and to our Creator.

Peace Camp is not a utopia. There have always been challenges, struggles, conflicts, and bumps during those four days and this year was no different. I sometimes comment that the gift and beauty of the experience is that we adults, trying so hard to equip the youth to be peacemakers, are reminded each day that none of us have arrived. We are all still on the journey of learning to create peace, be peaceful, and model peacemaking. We all need practice. We are always living in the already but not yet, recipients already of the peace of Christ, but not yet living in a completely peaceful world. Thanks be to God for glimmers we get throughout of our lives of the Peaceable Kingdom.

Prayer: Gracious and holy God, lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth. Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust. Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace. Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. (ELW p. 76)

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