Sept. 4, 2022

Prayer of the Day

Direct us, O Lord God, in all our doings with your continual help, that in all our works, begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy name; and finally, by your mercy, bring us to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Jeremiah 18:1-11

1The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2“Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
5Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. 11Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

1Lord, you have | searched me out;
  O Lord, you | have known me.
2You know my sitting down and my | rising up;
  you discern my thoughts | from afar.
3You trace my journeys and my | resting-places
  and are acquainted with | all my ways.
4Indeed, there is not a word | on my lips,
  but you, O Lord, know it | altogether. 
5You encompass me, behind | and before,
  and lay your | hand upon me.
6Such knowledge is too wonder- | ful for me;
  it is so high that I cannot at- | tain to it.
13For you yourself created my | inmost parts;
  you knit me together in my | mother’s womb.
14I will thank you because I am mar- | velously made;
  your works are wonderful, and I | know it well. 
15My body was not hid- | den from you,
  while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths | of the earth.
16Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb; all of them were written |in your book;
  my days were fashioned before they | came to be.
17How deep I find your | thoughts, O God!
  How great is the | sum of them!
18If I were to count them, they would be more in number | than the sand;
  to count them all, my life span would need to | be like yours. 

Philemon 1-21

1Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, 
  To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, 2to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God 5because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. 6I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. 7I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

8For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. 10I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. 15Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
17So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Luke 14:25-33

25Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus;] and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Today we begin a season that is new for Trinity Lutheran, at least in my time here, The Season of Creation, an ecumenical movement begun in 1989. It begins with Sept. 1, a day of prayer for creation and culminates Oct. 4, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi. Having grown up in the Black Hills of South Dakota and serving here in Southwest Idaho since late 2010, I was particularly drawn to this year’s theme, The Burning Bush

I still remember the big fires of the west from my youth. Custer State Park and Yellowstone National Park both burned in the summer of 1988. My stepbrother Mike worked for the Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota. He first served on the fire line across the American West every summer and then moved to law enforcement in the fire camps. When I moved to Idaho, I learned about the Great Fire of 1910 that destroyed Wallace Idaho, the fire that impacted how we think about forest fires and forests themselves in this country. 

The planners of The Season of Creation, writing about The Burning Bush, remind us that “the fire that called Moses as he tended the flock on Mt. Horeb did not consume or destroy the bush. This flame of the Spirit revealed God’s presence. This holy fire affirmed that God heard the cries of all who suffered and promised to be with us as we followed in faith to our deliverance from injustice. In this Season of Creation, this symbol of God’s Spirit calls us to listen to the voice of creation.” Listen to the voice of creation.

There is a family of writers who have lifted up stories in our country of when humans have not lived well with the natural world, writers who woo their readers to listen to the voice of creation. I can think of no one better to begin this Season of Creation with than Timothy Egan

In his book The Worst Hard Times, Egan writes about the environmental disaster of the Dust Bowl by following a dozen families and their communities. Egan writes, “The drought was in its fourth year, and it was the worst in at least a generation’s time. But long dry periods were as much a part of the Great Plains as the grass itself. What was different in 1935 was that the land was naked. If the prairie had been held in place by adequate ground cover—grass, or even the matted sprouts of wheat emerging from winter dormancy—the land could never have peeled away as it did, with great strips of earth thrown to the sky.” We can hear the high plains crying out for restoration.

One of the prominent characters in Egan’s narrative history is Hugh Bennett, who FDR appointed as director of the Soil Erosion Service. Egan quotes Bennett, “Of all the countries in the world, we Americans have been the greatest destroyers of land of any race of people barbaric or civilized,” Bennett said in a speech at the start of the dust storms. What was happening, he said, was “sinister,” a symptom of “our stupendous ignorance.” 

Perhaps of greater interest to those of us living in the Intermountain Region is Egan’s book The Big Burn, about the Great Fire of August 1910, which killed 86 people over two days and burned more than three million acres of forest. The fire is also credited with saving the then fledgling Forest Service, so grateful was the public for the service of the fire fighters.

What I love about the way Egan writes is that he tells the history of the land and human interactions with it. Whether it’s the high plains of the Texas panhandle or the forest of the Idaho panhandle, he begins with how the Indigenous peoples lived with the land. He then introduces his audience to people like the cowboys on the XIT ranch in Texas, cowboys who loved the grassland and warned newcomers to not take the plow to grass. In The Big Burn we meet Gifford Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt’s chief forester, who shared with Roosevelt a deep interest in conservation and was a man ahead of his time.

Egan never suggests that we should go back in time. He recognizes, like the biblical authors we heard from today, that human beings have a propensity for greed but that we also have a desire to correct, to repair, to transform our relationship with the land as individuals and as communities. We have, today, so many disciplines at our disposal. We can learn from history, ecology, biology and even psychology. And to all of these, people of faith, which includes we Christians gathered in this space, can add faith. Faith, our relationship with the Divine, the Holy Trinity, can help us transform our relationship with the natural world. 

The famous passage in Jeremiah about the piece of clay and potter’s house reminds us that God cares about what we do—as individuals, as the church, and as communities. God is not indifferent. When God is angry, it is because God cares. Anyone who is a parent can understand and relate to this. Loving and caring for a child brings with it a whole host of emotions. 

What does God desire? Justice, the biblical justice in which there is enough for all and there is true equity. So, we have this image of God as a potter who works with clay (the people). God wants the best possible vessel to emerge. I love the image of God as artist because it brings with it a trait that is right there in Genesis Chapter 1 but that we seem to often forget—creativity. This passage from Jeremiah reminds us that we worship a God who take initiative, who is creative, and who responds to the clay, the people. 

Will the people repent and turn toward God? Will we be open to new ways of being on this planet with the rest of natural world? To return to forest fires and their history and future in this country, I confess that I do not come today with clear answers. I am not a trained ecologist. My gut tells me there is no one perfect answer. And yet I take heart from stories of land management agencies and firefighters today, stories of those working with Indigenous people to set purposeful fires. For thousands of years many tribes used small intentional burns to renew local food, medicinal and cultural resources, create habitat for animals, and reduce the risk of larger, more dangerous wildfires. 

Going forward, I believe we will need a mixture of the best of ancient practices, the best of modern science, and finally the will to keep trying new things and to sacrifice. We depend on the natural world for so much. Extreme weather events may continue. If they do, fires, floods, and drought will of course bring the most harm and danger to those who are already the most vulnerable. When God is first in our lives, as our Gospel commands, then we have to shape our lives to care for the most vulnerable.

 In Luke 14, Jesus makes it clear that while grace and forgiveness may be freely received, discipleship comes at a cost. If we are to be disciples, to really follow Jesus, we are called to put him, and his Kingdom values, before all else. The examples Jesus gives address two areas which can easily dilute our discipleship: family (v.26) and material possessions (v.33). These words about family may strain our ears so many years later. Take heart, Jesus is not encouraging animosity between family members. The meaning is not literally to hate, but to ensure family does not prevent our single-minded focus on following Jesus. 

Writing to Christians in the context of Nazi Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way, “The cross is laid on every Christian. It begins with the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man [woman] which is the result of the encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship, we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with His death—we give over our lives to death. Since this happens at the beginning of the Christian life, the cross can never be merely a tragic ending to an otherwise happy religious life. When Christ calls [someone], He bids [them] come and die.”

A disciple of Jesus must be ready to carry the burden not only of tensions in the family, but even of civil disobedience to the point of legal punishment. This was often the experience of the Gospel writer Luke’s first readers. By the time Luke wrote it was clear that things would not be easy withing the Roman Empire. We, trying to follow Jesus so many years later, to live well with the natural world, to help bring in the kingdom of God, may not have to contend with the Roman Empire. What we face instead are materialism, consumerism, greed, and a me-culture that begs all of us to ignore any notion of the collective good, including the beautiful planet we all call home.

That may bring us to despair, but we have so many stories to give us hope. We have the story of God the potter going back to the wheel again, never giving up. We have stories of people who lived in harmony with the untamed high plains and giant forests. And finally, we have stories of people who destroyed that harmony but later learned from their mistakes. 

We want enough food, water, clean air, and natural beauty for everyone who inhabits this corner of the universe now. We want it for those who come after us too. What are we willing to sacrifice? What are we willing to change? We will exercise our power with our votes, our money, and our time. Our desire to heal the world will be manifest in a million little ways empowered always by the Holy Spirit. For the same Spirit who appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush is with us still, giving us all the strength and creativity and wisdom we need. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession

As scattered grains of wheat are gathered together into one bread, so let us gather our prayers for the church, those in need, and all of God’s good creation.

A brief silence.

We pray for the church around the world and for the mission of the gospel. Refresh the hearts of your people, deepen our understanding of every good thing we share, and strengthen our partnerships in the faith. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

For the well-being of the earth and all its creatures: for trees and forests, for all that will yield fruit this season, and for streams and other bodies of water. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

For the nations and those in authority: for the elected leaders of our towns, states, and country, and for international organizations. Grant wisdom to those who govern and raise up citizens who make decisions in the best interest of their neighbors. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

For all in need: for those who suffer from disease, who struggle with homelessness or food insecurity, for those whose family life is difficult, and for all in this community who need your care (especially). God of grace,

hear our prayer.

For this community of faith: for all our labors—begun, continued, and ended in you—that they glorify your holy name. Bless your people with the strength to live into their many vocations for the sake of the world. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

We give thanks for the saints who now rest from their labors. Give us faith, like them, to love you with all our hearts, and by your mercy, bring us to everlasting life. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Gathered together in the sweet communion of the Holy Spirit, gracious God, we offer these and all our prayers to you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Amen.

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