May 17, 2020

Prayer of the Day

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

Acts 17:22-31

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

Psalm 66:8-20

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

1 Peter 3:13-22

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

John 14:15-21

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

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A brief silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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