Jan. 9, 2022

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, you anointed Jesus at his baptism with the Holy Spirit and revealed him as your beloved Son. Keep all who are born of water and the Spirit faithful in your service, that we may rejoice to be called children of God, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.

Isaiah 43:1-7

1But now thus says the Lord,
  he who created you, O Jacob,
  he who formed you, O Israel:
 Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
  I have called you by name, you are mine.
2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
  and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
 when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
  and the flame shall not consume you.
3For I am the Lord your God,
  the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
 I give Egypt as your ransom,
  Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
4Because you are precious in my sight,
  and honored, and I love you,
 I give people in return for you,
  nations in exchange for your life.
5Do not fear, for I am with you;
  I will bring your offspring from the east,
  and from the west I will gather you;
6I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
  and to the south, “Do not withhold;
 bring my sons from far away
  and my daughters from the end of the earth—
7everyone who is called by my name,
  whom I created for my glory,
  whom I formed and made.”

Psalm 29

1Ascribe to the | Lord, you gods,
  ascribe to the Lord glo- | ry and strength.
2Ascribe to the Lord the glory | due God’s name;
  worship the Lord in the beau- | ty of holiness.
3The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of | glory thunders;
  the Lord is upon the | mighty waters.
4The voice of the Lord is a pow- | erful voice;
  the voice of the Lord is a | voice of splendor. 
5The voice of the Lord breaks the | cedar trees;
  the Lord breaks the ce- | dars of Lebanon;
6the Lord makes Lebanon skip | like a calf,
  and Mount Hermon like a | young wild ox.
7The voice | of the Lord
  bursts forth in | lightning flashes.
8The voice of the Lord| shakes the wilderness;
  the Lord shakes the wilder- | ness of Kadesh. 
9The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the | forests bare.
  And in the temple of the Lord all are | crying, “Glory!”
10The Lord sits enthroned a- | bove the flood;
  the Lord sits enthroned as king for- | evermore.
11O Lord, give strength | to your people;
  give them, O Lord, the bless- | ings of peace. 

Acts 8:14-17

14Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16(for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

  21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The Holy Spirit and Fire with Baptismal Fong – Church in Mexicali, Mexico

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

It seems a bit out of season to ponder and speak about the Holy Spirit the second Sunday of January. Shouldn’t we wait for Pentecost in the spring when the Holy Spirit descends upon all those gathered in Jerusalem? But the Holy Spirit shows up in several of our scripture passages today. Furthermore, I have been pouring over all the annual reports submitted over the past few weeks and am keenly aware of the Spirit’s activity and presence among our congregation. 

In our gospel reading we hear that after Jesus had been baptized and was praying, “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.” Many of us can conjure up portrayals of this scene from children’s bibles or art hung on walls of churches or museums. 

It’s hard to say exactly what happened in this moment, but there is no doubt that the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus. That’s the same Holy Spirit that came upon all of us in the sacrament of baptism. For Jesus, it is going to empower him for ministry–for teaching, healing, and performing signs and miracles.

If we were to pull together various baptism passages from the New Testament, a clear picture would start to emerge. Jesus’ baptism and the baptism of Jesus’ followers bear a striking resemblance. Baptism by water is assumed or supposed to be accompanied by baptism of the Holy Spirit.

There is more. Baptism is how God’s family is demarcated on the earth. It starts with Jesus as the son, receiving the Spirit. And it expands to everyone who receives the Spirit of adoption as God’s children. Baptism is about belonging to God and belonging to a community. Baptism is about following Jesus. Because of this, baptism is also about receiving the Holy Spirit.

What in the world are we to make, then, of our story from Acts Chapter 8, in which people do not receive the Holy Spirit when they are baptized? It’s only after the apostles came from Jerusalem, prayed, and laid on their hands, that they receive the Spirit.

The Spirit shows up in unique way in the books of Acts. The dramatic arrival of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts happens when the gospel breaks through a new geographical or sociological barrier. In other words, Acts does not show that the Spirit comes dramatically and tangibly on each individual when they come into the community. 

Instead, the Holy Spirit serves as proof that the gospel has reached a new group of people. It starts with Jerusalem at Pentecost. In this morning’s story the Spirit comes to the people of Samaria. Next, we see a dramatic arrival to the Gentiles. 

Let’s get some deeper perspective on our particular story from Acts. First, the Samaritans were among the last people that many Judean and Galilean Jews would have wanted to socialize with, let alone share good news with. 

From the Jews’ perspective the Samaritans were descendants of Hebrews from the ancient Northern Kingdom of Israel. Long ago they had married people from other nations and therefore forfeited God’s blessing. They made false claims to the identity “the people of God.” As far as the Samaritans were concerned, however, they were the true descendants of Abraham. 

However, and thanks be to God, the deep legacy of enmity appears not to be stumbling block for Philip. He simply goes to Samaria, delivers people from illness and demonic power, and tells everyone that Jesus is the Christ. As a result, the Samaritans go all in.

Philip, it should be noted, was not one of the twelve apostles. Still, no one seems concerned about he validity of his actions. And yet there is something peculiar about what happens when he is with the Samaritans. They do not receive the Holy Spirit even though they are baptized in Jesus’ name. So the apostles Peter and John make the journey northward, pray for the Samaritans, lay their hands on them, and the Holy Spirit arrives.

One scholar points out that a lot of people today are uncomfortable with this story, with the idea that certain church leaders and not others might be empowered with the ability to dictate exactly where God’s Spirit may or may not go. No where else in Acts is there a suggestion that one’s baptism needs an extra apostolic jolt in order to become complete. What explains this anomaly? 

Maybe it’s simply because this is Samaria. If anyone might seem unqualified or unworthy to join the young church of Jesus Christ, it’s probably the Samaritans. The Samaritans’ receptivity to the good news and the willingness of God to dwell within Samaritan people would have flabbergasted many Jews’ notions of who this new church was for. 

This and this alone is why it is crucial for apostles from Jerusalem to come to Samaria. They must experience in person the new thing that God is doing. God does not need Peter and John to come and grant their approval. Instead, Peter and John need to come so they, as representatives of the Jerusalem church, can know that Judeans, Galileans, and Samaritans all possess the same Holy Spirit. They are all included together in a new, diverse community centered in Jesus Christ.

God has no plans to build a special “Samaritan church” and a separate church for Jews. Peter and John are so convinced of this that when they finally journey back to Jerusalem, they do not ruth. Instead, they proclaim the good news to many villages of the Samaritans.

Willie James Jennings asks, “Could it be that God waited for Peter and John so that they could watch the intimate event? Here and now these disciples, especially Peter, will see a love that extends into the world. They will watch as God stretches forth divine desire over the Samaritans. They must see again the Spirit descend and sense afresh the divine embrace of flesh. Disciples of Jesus must be convinced not only of God’s love for the world but also God’s desire for people, especially peoples we have been taught not to desire.”

I serve a congregation full of people willing to reach out to people I would often not desire. I for one am grateful to be among people willing to ask, who are the people outside our faith community God wants us to welcome, include, and commit ourselves to? Who are the strangers in your personal lives God is calling you to personally welcome? 

We too were once the people outside the faith community, or our ancestors were. Correct me if I’m wrong after worship but although some of us may have Jewish friends and in-laws, none of us traces our DNA to the Jewish community of 1st century Palestine. 

Acts well maps Jesus’ commission in Acts. 1:8. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Most if not all of us qualify, or our ancestors qualified, as those people from the “ends of the earth.” Though Christianity has held center stage for many years in this country, at one time our people were grafted into the family of God. I find that a humbling and ultimately helpful perspective which these stories from Acts helps foster.

At the same time, I assume that each of us has felt on the outside at some point, either personally or as part of an ostracized group. My nephew and his wife Leigh came and stayed with my mom and I in Oakland around New Year’s. Leigh has had a big medical year and part of it included a genetic test to see if she had the same heart condition has her sisters. The test confirmed it and Leigh had surgery but what struck me in her telling was her complete conviction until the test results came back that was not a blood relative of her family. She felt totally loved and cared for but like she did not belong, almost as if she had been adopted and never told.

When have you felt that way? In your family of origin or the family you married into? After a separation or divorce? Maybe you felt that way in a new workplace or neighborhood? Maybe you felt that way as you or a loved one struggled with addiction? I wonder how many people have lived with depression in the last few years who felt that they were the only ones experiencing it. 

Digging into these memories can be painful and we need to take care with ourselves for what they might trigger. And yet, they are part of helping us create empathy, helping us see with clear lenses who the strangers are today who God is calling us to welcome. And collectively, we can continue to ask who are the people outside our faith community God wants us to welcome, include, and commit ourselves to?

It does not mean that they will join our congregation. It does not necessarily mean that we will remain static–often relationships with the strangers transform everyone involved. It simply means sharing the love and sense of beloved community which was one day extended to us.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

The Spirit of the Lord is poured out upon us in abundance; so we are bold to pray for the church, the world, and all that God has made.

A brief silence.By the Holy Spirit, you gather your church and send it out in mission to share the good news of Jesus. Inspire your faithful people to be fervent in prayer and service, that all people know they are precious in God’s sight. God of grace,hear our prayer.

You reveal your love and power through water and the Spirit. Guard rivers, seas, and all bodies of water from destruction and pollution. Secure access to clean water for all, and protect the land from drought and flood. God of grace,hear our prayer.

Establish among the nations the blessings of peace. Raise up leaders who will protect vulnerable people in their care. Strengthen advocates who risk reputation or retaliation for the sake of mercy and justice. God of grace,hear our prayer.

You protect us through the fires and troubled waters of this life. Assure us that we will not be cut off from you by illness or despair, anxiety or pain, confusion or weakness. Comfort all who are in need (especially). God of grace,hear our prayer.

We are joined in baptism to Christ and to one another. Bless those who are newly baptized and those who are preparing for baptism. Help us to be faithful in fellowship, worship, evangelism, service, and justice-seeking. God of grace,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.You created each of your saints for your glory. We give thanks for those you have called by name into your eternal embrace (especially). Comfort us in grief and release us from fear. God of grace,hear our prayer.

Since we have such great hope in your promises, O God, we lift these and all of our prayers to you in confidence and faith; through Jesus Christ our Savior.Amen.

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Dec. 26, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Shine into our hearts the light of your wisdom, O God, and open our minds to the knowledge of your word, that in all things we may think and act according to your good will and may live continually in the light of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26

18Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy wearing a linen ephod. 19His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. 20Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord repay you with children by this woman for the gift that she made to the Lord”; and then they would return to their home.
  26Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.

Psalm 148

1Hallelujah! Praise the Lord| from the heavens;
  praise God | in the heights.
2Praise the Lord, | all you angels;
  sing praise, all you | hosts of heaven.
3Praise the Lord, | sun and moon;
  sing praise, all you | shining stars.
4Praise the Lord, heav- | en of heavens,
  and you waters a- | bove the heavens.
5Let them praise the name | of the Lord,
  who commanded, and they | were created,
6who made them stand fast forev- | er and ever,
  giving them a law that shall not | pass away. 
7Praise the Lord| from the earth,
  you sea monsters | and all deeps;
8fire and hail, | snow and fog,
  tempestuous wind, do- | ing God’s will;
9mountains | and all hills,
  fruit trees | and all cedars;
10wild beasts | and all cattle,
  creeping things and | flying birds;
11sovereigns of the earth | and all peoples,
  princes and all rulers | of the world;
12young | men and maidens,
  old and | young together. 
13Let them praise the name | of the Lord,
  whose name only is exalted, whose splendor is over | earth and heaven.
14The Lord has raised up strength for the people and praise for all | faithful servants,
  the children of Israel, a people who are near the Lord. | Hallelujah! 

Colossians 3:12-17

12As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Luke 2:41-52

41Now every year [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
  52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus as a Carpenter – Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Who among us had not lived through or heard a story of parents losing a child and later, after a long search, finally finding them? I cannot remember how old I was, but I was still in elementary school so maybe I was 7 or 8. I was with my mom at Wild West World in Custer, South Dakota, my hometown. West World was a small sort of amusement park with rides behind what was then the Chief Hotel and Restaurant. 

In her capacity as Chamber of Commerce director, my mother was deep in conversation with someone important and I was having none of it. I left her and the other person on the boardwalk and defiantly walked away. Of course, when I returned, she was not where I had left her. 

I have never revisited this incident with my mom but if her terror and not being able to find me matched my own, it was awful. Time felt like hours instead of minutes, until we finally saw each other and fell into a big hug. My actions were as far from Jesus’ as can be. However, I assume my mom, and any parent who has lost a child, can resonate at least a bit with Mary and Joseph. Their reaction to their twelve-year-old son seems completely reasonable and downright human.

Today we continue to rejoice in the birth of Jesus, the coming of the Messiah, of Immanuel, God with us. And yet, this morning’s gospel story invites us to already begin learning more about who Jesus is. For example, up to this point in the gospel, the child has been named Jesus and designated as holy, but only in this morning’s passage does he appear as God’s son.

Tension is also introduced at this early stage. On the one hand we know already that Jesus’ earthly parents Mary and Joseph are exemplary in their piety. There is no doubt that Jesus is reared in a household that sided with the purpose of God. This pious Jewish family pilgrimages to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, not surprising. 

So, Jesus is being raised in a pious environment. And yet, his commitment to God’s purpose transcends that piety and that environment. Jesus does not stick by his parents’ side but goes on his own to his Father’s house, to the temple. In this case at least, acting on behalf of God’s aim places Jesus’ behavior in opposition to his parents’ expectations. This is not the last time that Jesus’ behavior will go against traditional authority. This morning it’s his parents; later it will be religious and political authorities. 

And there is more turning and foreshadowing in today’s passage. As our story opens, Mary and Joseph are the subjects of the action. But as it unfolds Jesus takes on an active role, for the very first time in Luke’s gospel. In fact, as the scene closes, Jesus goes to Nazareth accompanied by his parents, the text reads. In other words, he has become the subject, the main actor. 

The pivot happens in verse 49 in which Jesus responds to his mother, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” This verse is the center and the nexus of this morning’s story.

Here is that tension again. The story makes clear that it is a good thing to keep the Passover. However, the sort of pious environment to which Jesus has become accustomed at home serves and must serve the more fundamental purpose of God. Not even familial claims take precedent over aligning oneself decisively on the side of God’s purpose. 

This story also makes clear that Jesus’ recognition of his identity as God’s Son does not begin at his baptism, something I had never noticed before. It is already present here in the temple when he is still a child. Jesus was fully human, but he was also fully aware that God was his Father. Jesus finds his own identity by affirming this relationship. 

The public ministry of Jesus remains in the future. But the occasion of his remarkable interchange in the temple provides us with a foreshadowing of what is to come. For the present, he will return with his parents to Nazareth. 

If we can relate most easily to the fear of the parents at the beginning of the story, that may be a hint to return to his parents at the end. They, like us, are the onlookers, trying to interpret the event and understand Jesus more deeply. 

Throughout the season of Advent and then on Christmas Eve we had very clear signs of what is ahead in the gospel. There was John the Baptist calling us to repent, to have a new perspective. There was Mary’s song in which she sang of God’s mighty acts, or God’s bringing down the mighty and lifting up the lowly. There was the baby wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a feeding trough. And there was the light in the darkness, the heavenly host bringing the news to the lowly shepherds. 

And between Christmas Eve and the child Jesus leaving his parents, infant Jesus was presented in the temple and the priest Simeon sang, “my own eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory to your people Israel.” 

The stage has been set for Jesus to usher in something new, fully in God’s character. Today Jesus starts to own all of his identity–Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God, teacher, Savior. Again, just imagine Mary and Joseph, witnesses to his birth, dedication in the temple, and now this morning’s scene in the temple with the teachers.

We read that “Mary treasured all these things in her heart.” This phrase is reminiscent of her response to the birth of Jesus and the visit of the shepherds earlier. We might also recall Mary being perplexed and pondering when the angel Gabriel first visited her or when mute Zechariah wrote that his son should be named John; the whole neighborhood talked about these things and “All who heard them pondered.”

As with those events, we are invited to respond in kind. Might we put aside hasty conclusions? Instead, could we maintain an openness to the course the narrative will take? There are many questions that remain as Jesus’ birth and childhood conclude. What shape will God’s redemption take? How will it be accomplished? What will the human response be to God’s purposes? And, to bring this a little closer to home, what might redemption and healing and abundant life look like in Canyon County in 2022? What difference does Jesus make for us and the neighbors and strangers in our midst today? Like Mary, we might be served well to ponder such things.

Pondering is not a verb that is used often or an action that is nurtured widely among adults today. I think it is something of a mix of experiencing wonder and curiosity. I imagine Mary being overwhelmed both by the birth of Jesus and by watching him in the temple. This wonder surely inspired in her the wish to understand. And this led her to be curious. 

To quote Brene Brown again, as I did Christmas Eve, “Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty. We have to ask questions, admit to not knowing, risk being told that we shouldn’t be asking, and, sometimes make discoveries that lead to discomfort.” 

Choosing to be curious about Jesus and curious about following Jesus is a pretty good intention for the first Sunday after Christmas, on the precipice of a new calendar year. We cannot predict what our pondering, wondering, curiosity about Jesus, Immanuel, Son of God might lead to, and it could look different for each of us. 

It might be trying to see Jesus in every stranger we encounter. It might mean reading the gospels or all of scripture with new lenses. It might be experiencing the natural world here in Idaho with new eyes, ears, and empathy. And this pondering, wondering, and curiosity could certainly lead to some discomfort. That’s okay. The Holy Spirit will walk with us, prodding us and encouraging us along the way. 

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

Joining our voices with the heavenly host and Christians throughout time and space, let us pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.You come to us in gatherings of your church across the globe. Unite us with those who celebrate your birth even when they are weighed down by grief, loss, poverty, hunger, or injustice. Hear us O God. Your mercy is great.

You come to us in the diverse splendor of the universe. Grant us the humility to trust our place in the network of creation, that we live in service to you and the natural world. Hear us O God. Your mercy is great.

You come to us through relationships of many kinds: families, friendships, communities, and nations. Guide us in these relationships, that we recognize the Christ child in one another and show your love to those most vulnerable. Hear us O God. Your mercy is great.

You come to us through people whom the world forgets. Poor shepherds and an imprisoned Paul announced your good news. Send your Spirit to all who are imprisoned, struggling with addiction, unwell, or in any need this day (especially). Hear us O God. Your mercy is great.

You come to us in acts of justice and forgiveness. Open our hearts to forgive one another, without permitting injustice. Supply us with the wisdom to be clothed with love, binding all things together in perfect harmony. Hear us O God. Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.You come to us through those who have died yet live with you forever (especially). We give thanks for Stephen, deacon and martyr, who gave his life to tell the story of your love. Hear us O God. Your mercy is great.

Rejoicing in your Word made flesh among us, we commend these prayers to you, confident of your grace and love made known to us in Jesus Christ, our Savior.Amen.

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Christmas Eve 2021

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, you made this holy night shine with the brightness of the true Light. Grant that here on earth we may walk in the light of Jesus’ presence and in the last day wake to the brightness of his glory; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.

Isaiah 9:2-7

2The people who walked in darkness
  have seen a great light;
 those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
  on them light has shined.
3You have multiplied the nation,
  you have increased its joy;
 they rejoice before you
  as with joy at the harvest,
  as people exult when dividing plunder.
4For the yoke of their burden,
  and the bar across their shoulders,
  the rod of their oppressor,
  you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5For all the boots of the tramping warriors
  and all the garments rolled in blood
  shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6For a child has been born for us,
  a son given to us;
 authority rests upon his shoulders;
  and he is named
 Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
  Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7His authority shall grow continually,
  and there shall be endless peace
 for the throne of David and his kingdom.
  He will establish and uphold it
 with justice and with righteousness
  from this time onward and forevermore.
 The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Psalm 96 

1Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. 2Sing to the LORD, bless the name of the LORD; proclaim God’s salvation from day to day. 

3Declare God’s glory among the nations and God’s wonders among all peoples. 4For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised, more to be feared than all gods. 

5As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; but you, O LORD, have made the heavens. 6Majesty and magnificence are in your presence; power and splendor are in your sanctuary. 

7Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD honor and power. 8Ascribe to the LORD the honor due the holy name; bring offerings and enter the courts of the LORD. 

9Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness; tremble before the LORD, all the earth. 10Tell it out among the nations: “The LORD is king! The one who made the world so firm that it cannot be moved will judge the peoples with equity.” 

11Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea thunder and all that is in it; let the field be joyful and all that is therein. 12Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy at your coming, O LORD, for you come to judge the earth. 

13You will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with your truth.

Titus 2:11-14

11The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Luke 2:1-14

1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
  8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
  and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Shepherds – John August Swanson

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

The angel’s message to the shepherds is for us as well, gathered so many years later, “Do not be afraid, for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  It’s that one word “joy” that has stood out so prominently to me this year. 

But first, how, and why did we get here? Why is the Messiah born in this way and what difference does it make that some shepherds are the first to receive the news? Jesus’ mother sang about a reordering in her song, “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly (or the poor).” What God has done before, God seems to be doing again.

Our storyteller had taken great pains to set the world stage. Mary and Joseph go up to Bethlehem because the emperor has ordered it to be so. Instead of being born in a palace, Jesus is born in an overcrowded inn and first placed in a feeding trough. The new king is wrapped in swaddling cloths. This is a strange beginning.

We now know who the world powers are and yet the angel, the messenger from God, does not bring the good news to those men. The scene shifts to outlying fields where shepherds are watching their flocks. Away from kings and governors, even away from Mary, comes brilliant and overpowering light. One angel brings a clear message, and it is soon followed by a chorus of messengers from God. There is light come to lighten the shepherds’ darkness.

One writer summed up our scene poetically, “Heaven and earth meet in obscure places, not in the halls of power. Shepherds and angels. A birth in the city of King David, but far from a royal residence. And that birth, that joy is for all people, just as the census was said to have been…The light came in those dark fields and that dim room in Bethlehem because God longs has always longed, for us to know and love God.”

“Do not be afraid, for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” In her new book, Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown explores 87 different emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. I love how she defines joy, “an intense feeling of deep spiritual connection, pleasure, and appreciation.” I imagine that joy is not only what the angel promised, but it is what the shepherds experienced. It is what we might, in the midst of this broken world, experience tonight as we hear the story of Jesus’ birth once again. 

Another scholar explains that people find experiences of joy difficult to articulate. The very nature of joy pushes the boundaries of our ability to communicate about lived experiences with spoken language. So sometimes when we experience joy we do a happy dance in our living room, we turn to music that can express far more than mere words, we take a blessed moment to simply savor the joy filled experience. Occasionally we might weep tears of joy.

Brene Brown tells the following story about her daughter Ellen, then in first grade. “We played hooky one afternoon and spent the day at Hermann Park. At one point we were on a paddleboat in the middle of a pond when I realized she had stopped pedaling and was sitting perfectly still in her seat. Her head was tilted back, and her eyes were closed. The sun was shining on her uplifted face, and she had a quiet smile on her face. I was so struck by her beauty and her vulnerability and the joy on her face that I could barely catch my breath. I watched for a full minute, but when she didn’t move, I got a little nervous. ‘Ellie? Is everything okay, sweetie?’ Her smile widened and she opened her eyes. She looked at me and said, ‘I’m fine, Mama. I was just making a picture memory.’ I had never heard of a picture memory, but I liked the sound of it. ‘What’s that mean?’ ‘Oh, a picture memory is as picture I take in my mind when I’m really, really happy. I close my eyes and take a picture, so when I’m feeling sad or scared or lonely, I can look at my picture memories.’” Brown concludes, “She used the word ‘happy,’ as we often do, but there’s no question that I was witnessing joy, the swirl of deep spiritual connection, pleasure, and appreciation.”

Someone proposed that we do not lose ourselves while experiencing joy, we become more truly ourselves. Colors seem brighter, physical movements feel freer, smiling happens involuntarily. We become more truly ourselves. On this joy-filled night, what would it mean for whole world to become more truly ourselves? 

God has come to earth in human form, the incarnation, Immanuel, God with us. That in itself is good news. But there is more. Divine power looks like a baby wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a trough. It is entirely in God’s character, God’s preferential treatment of the poor, God’s solidarity with those on the margins. It should maybe not surprise us, except that it is so otherworldly. It is certainly good news of great joy for all the people. 

On this holy night, we might do well to create a picture memory together–the infant Jesus in the trough wrapped in bands of cloth, the angel, all the heavenly hosts, the lowly shepherds kneeling, and most of all the light breaking into the darkness. God wants joy for us and found an incredible way to deliver it. God sign is surprising, but it is God’s sure way of showing us that God’s favor is for all people, in whatever darkness we seem to exist.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

Joining our voices with the heavenly host and Christians throughout time and space, let us pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.Love proclaims that a Savior has been born to us! Inspire your church throughout the world to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ birth to all who seek salvation, hope, and new life. Merciful God, receive our prayer.

Love whispers to a weary world that the time for rest and restoration has come. Maintain healthy cycles of wake and sleep for all creatures. Where light pollution disrupts natural rhythms, encourage new practices. Merciful God, receive our prayer.

Love cries to a warring world that the time for peace is at hand. Direct those in power who make decisions on behalf of others, that they nurture and sustain all that is healthy, good, and holy. Merciful God, receive our prayer.

Love sings through the wails of a newborn baby. Respond to all who cry out in pain, despair, or need this night (especially). Bring comfort to those for whom separation, grief, or loss makes the Christmas season especially difficult. Merciful God, receive our prayer.

Love murmurs words of comfort to a newborn child and exhausted parents. Bless new and expectant parents or caregivers, especially those who are alone or afraid this night. Pour out your love upon families of every kind. Merciful God, receive our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.God’s ever-present love is proclaimed through the faithful who came before us. We give you thanks for Mary, John the baptizer, Elizabeth his mother, Joseph the dreamer, and all who point toward your love (especially). Merciful God, receive our prayer.

Rejoicing in your Word made flesh among us, we commend these prayers to you, confident of your grace and love made known to us in Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.

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Dec. 18, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that binds us, that we may receive you in joy and serve you always, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Micah 5:2-5a

2But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
  who are one of the little clans of Judah,
 from you shall come forth for me
  one who is to rule in Israel,
 whose origin is from of old,
  from ancient days.
3Therefore he shall give them up until the time
  when she who is in labor has brought forth;
 then the rest of his kindred shall return
  to the people of Israel.
4And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
  in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
 And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
  to the ends of the earth;
5aand he shall be the one of peace.

Luke 1:39-55

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
  46And Mary 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.”

Visitation, Church of El Sitio, El Sitio, El Salvador

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Last week’s wonderful Christmas Pageant ended with Mary’s Magnificat, so named because she magnifies God. Diane recited the words beautifully. We have sung the words this morning and you heard me read them, putting the song in its narrative context. But even with the repetition, there is a lot packed into those ten scripture verses.

What’s more, it is hard to know where to place oneself in this song about the reordering of power and resources and wealth. We, gathered in this space, do not represent the top 1% in this country. We are a somewhat economically diverse congregation. Some of us have lost jobs. Many of us have walked alongside people who are not paid what they should be paid. All of us have seen the inequity in our economic, healthcare, education, and other systems. The inequity has been laid bare in our region and country recently and in years past. In other words, we have been, or we have walked closely alongside the lowly, the hungry.

And yet, by the world’s standards, most of us are well off. Whether looking to various developing countries across the globe or to the poorest counties in these United States, we are in contrast the rich, the powerful, the proud. We have such luxuries as shelter, clean water, food, electricity, and plumbing. And most of us also have such luxuries as emotional support, friends, and some leisure.

Back to my original question, where do we see ourselves in Mary’s song? How do we at Trinity Lutheran, in Nampa, Idaho at the close of 2021 hear or sing this song? It is natural to hear, and sing is with an individual perspective. Mary herself begins the song that way, “My soul magnifies the Lord…for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”

She talks about herself only so long as it takes every English teacher to approve. Did you ever have a teacher implore you, “show me in your writing, don’t tell. Show me.” Mary does not just tell us about God, she shows us with her own body–the poor, young woman. It is this poor, young woman who the creator of all has chosen to carry God with us, Immanuel, Jesus. 

But Mary herself does not stay individual or personal for long. Although Mary begins with the very personal, she quickly moves to the collective. And there is the invitation for we who listen and sing her song 2000 years later. Certainly this song is about me, but more importantly it is about us, us the congregation, us the larger Christian church.

Mary is singing specifically about her people, Israel, God’s chosen people. She sings not just of herself, the lowly one, but all the lowly, all the poor. She sings not just of a reordering for her own life, but for all of Israel, the corporate, the collective. But in singing about all the lowly, all the hungry, all the poor, she invites into her song more than Israel. In just a few lines, she has made this a global song for all the lowly poor. 

It is so much, this call for systems to be overturned, for a basic leveling, enough for all. Perhaps the very best news in Mary’s song is the main actor. It is not Mary, not her cousin Elizabeth, not Joseph, not even us. The subject of the verbs of powerful action is in every case God

And though God is certainly doing something new in the birth of Jesus, Immanuel, it is not out of God’s character. Mary’s song has echoes from her own ancestors’ songs sung throughout what we call the Old Testament: Moses and Miriam after the Exodus, Deborah, and mostly of all Hannah, the mother of Samuel. These echoes are significant for the way they so clearly extend the activity of God celebrated by Mary far back into the past. Mary’s song is continuous with the old old story of God’s love for all creation. 

So, let’s be clear here, Mary’s song is not a revolutionary call to human action but a celebration of God’s action. God’s dramatic work is against those who would take power into their own hands, according to Mary’s song. 

On the other hand, the story of God’s redemption is not God’s story only. Through his gracious initiative, God seeks out other actors, partners like Mary, who will share in God’s work. Mary’s song cannot be defined as a clarion call to revolutionary activity, then. And yet, there’s always an “and yet,” Mary’s song does solicit from its audience outside the narrative, from us, a similar choice. 

So, the good news is that God is faithful, and God continues to act. We tend to think of the Holy Spirit showing up first at Pentecost, but that was the Spirit given to the church. Remember that the Spirit of God moved over the waters at the beginning of creation. Already in Luke Chapter 1 an angel has promised Mary that the Holy Spirit will come upon her. We give thanks for the good news that the Holy Spirit has and continues to act.

Is there actually any hope for us if we are in fact the collective rulers? Absolutely. God’s triumph over those who oppose him is itself a redemptive act, placing his opponents in a position whereby they might elect to join God’s project. One commentator suggested, “God flings the proud of heart to the earth, in the hope that they will be…delivered from their ridiculous vaunting and flaunting, to become free and obedient children of God and brothers and sisters to others.”

The other not so good news is that all of this happens in the Holy Spirit’s own time, and sometimes it takes longer than our human hearts would desire. But Mary’s song is speaking of big systems and structures that cannot always be toppled overnight. But occasionally we can look back and really see the Holy Spirit’s action.

That was my experience this week. Trinity New Hope affordable housing is in the middle of our annual online multi-week fundraising campaign, which always makes me pause and think, if not sing like Mary, of our ancestors. I cannot help but reflect on the ancestors of our faith, some gone and some of you still with us, who were part of this congregation when we first leased a portion of our land to Mercy Housing. That was in the mid-1990s. The houses were built, and they just sat there, occupied by different people for 25 years.

Meanwhile, I was growing up in South Dakota with a father who talked pretty regularly about Millard Fuller, the father of Habitat for Humanity. My father helped found the Black Hills Habitat for Humanity Chapter. And I went to a college that sent hundreds of students, including myself, every year on Habitat for Humanity Spring Break Trips. I did not speak the language of affordable housing when I took the call to Trinity, but that housing was a basic human right had been drilled into me from an early age.

This winter I was asked to serve on the Leap Housing Board. Why? Because Leap thinks a premiere way to solve the housing crisis in the Treasure Valley is to use access church land and they want someone who can tell the story. The staff and board saw this congregation as a key to changing the culture of our housing, changing the conversation from Not in My Backyard to Yes in God’s Backyard.

So, this Wednesday, when I attended my first Leap board meeting, I was singing and praying with Mary, “according to the promise he made to our ancestors.” We’re talking over 30 years, which feels like forever in my lifetime. But what a gift, to have a glimpse of what the Holy Spirit can do, of how God is the actor, but we are in fact invited to partner. 

What song will we sing next? As a congregation? As the larger Christian Church? I am not sure exactly, but Mary’s song can help us again. Her words are clear. The invitation is not in code. God’s vision for the world, spelled out in the Magnificat, is consistent with songs of the ancestors, with Moses and Miriam and Deborah and Hannah. On this fourth Sunday of Advent as we physically wait for the world to turn, for the days to get longer, we can hope and trust that the Holy Spirit is still active. With hearts open, we can join the song.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

In this season of watching and waiting, let us pray for all people and places that yearn for God’s presence.

A brief silence.Nurturing God, you give us life and care for our every need. Use the church’s gifts and ministries for your service, bringing your word to all who seek your transforming grace. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Creator God, you proclaim your boundless love for all that you have made. Renew barren lands, polluted waters, and melting ice caps. Make us servants of your creation that brings forth abundant life. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Righteous God, you bring down the mighty and lift up the lowly. Strengthen those who seek justice. Bless the work of community organizers, activists, journalists, and all who call our attention to imbalances of power. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Compassionate God, you proclaim your love and mercy. Show your lovingkindness to teen parents and those who are pregnant. Comfort any struggling with infertility and those who await test results, are in treatment and hospice care, and others in need (especially). Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Gracious God, you fill the hungry with good things. Bless the feeding ministries of this congregation and community. Guide us to share your bounty with those who hunger or live in poverty. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.Faithful God, you stir up the hearts of those who love you. We give you thanks for those who, like Mary, were courageous in their witness (especially). Give us such courage until that day when you fulfill all things. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

God of new life, you come among us in the places we least expect. Receive these prayers and those of our hearts, in the name of Jesus.Amen.

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Dec. 5, 2021

PRAYER OF THE DAY

Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming give to all the people of the world knowledge of your salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Malachi 3: 1-4

1See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?   For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Luke 1: 68-79

68Blessed are you, Lord, the God of Israel, you have come to your people and set themfree.
69You have raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of your servant David. 
70Through your holy prophets, you promised of old to save us from our enemies,
71from the hands of all who hate us,
72to show mercy to our forebears, and to remember your holy covenant.

73This was the oath you swore to our father Abraham: 74to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship you without fear, 75holy and righteous before you, all the days of our life. 

76And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way,
77to give God’s people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.
78In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
79to shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. 

Philippians 1: 3-11

3I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 9And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

John the Baptist, Altar of St. Catherine, Church of St. John and St. Martin, Schwabach, Germany

Luke 3:1-6

1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, 
 “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
 ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
  make his paths straight.
5Every valley shall be filled,
  and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
 and the crooked shall be made straight,
  and the rough ways made smooth;
6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

God’s word comes to John in the wilderness around the Jordan River.  It is also in the wilderness of the political world: during the reigns of emperor Tiberius, governor Pilate, and “ruler” Herod.  Did you hear that?  The word of God comes to John when the people are under the thumb of the native ruler Herod, the local but foreign governor Pilate, and the final authority who sits above all, Tiberius.

This is a top-down look at the political reality of the day. This situates the word John speaks and the Messiah whose path John prepares, in very bottom-up terms.  The small, the unexpected, the apparently trivial comes as the answer—the answer to the problems of the hierarchical political structure under which it is apparently pinned. 

We are given a list of the “spiritual” or “religious” power-structure as well. Not only are Tiberius, Pilate, and Herod noted.  The high priests Annas and Caiaphas are highlighted as well. 

The word comes to John like a two-edged sword.  The word divides religion and politics and speaks directly to a wounded world.  So what is the word, which comes, interjecting itself in both the political and religious realms? 

John quotes the prophet Isaiah: Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

This quotation, in Isaiah, has to do with a promise of return from Exile. God will make straight paths through the wilderness, a smooth and easy return. This is about bringing the people of Israel out of bondage in Babylon and back to the Promised Land. The path is for the people; God-made, God-led. This is the proclamation of the prophet Isaiah, made to the people. It is declarative, promising, and hopeful.

Now John, instead of Isaiah, is the one who is out in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord. The people are called to repentance, to return themselves to their Lord.  This is the promise of the prophet himself.  John calls for a different kind of return to God.  His message is exhortation, challenge, command.

John preaches a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John’s invitation is to ritual action, ritual cleansing.  This will be symbolic of a turning from sin and a re-turning to God—this is the call for us today. The baptism that John proclaims is not to be confused with the baptism, the one baptism, which Jesus brings. John’s baptism is summed up in the daily efforts to live into the grace, which is in Christ Jesus.

The appearance and words of John the Baptist often remind me of Eustace, a character in C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Eustace was a monster. Literally.

He did not start out that way. He began life as a boy – an annoying boy, a lazy boy, but still a boy. When Eustace got caught up to Narnia with Lucy and Edmund, he did not know what to do. A magical land? And when they kidnapped him to with that dreadful King Caspian fellow on a voyage on that terrible boat the Dawn Treader, oh horrors! So, when the ship landed on an uncharted isle and everyone expected Eustace to work, he ran away and hid. And then he took a nap. And when he woke up, he was a dragon.

It took a change in his form to make him realize what a monster he had always been. He recognized how dreadfully he had acted. That Lucy and Edmund and Caspian and all the rest of the crew were good people who had not kidnapped him. He was the one in the wrong. But now he was a dragon…and what could be done?

Sometimes it takes something drastic to wake us up and realize what monsters we all are. I do not know anyone who has been physically transformed into a dragon. However, I do know plenty of people who have lost friends, family, homes, jobs, and more before realizing what they were doing. I can point to times in my life, some distant and some recent, when I realized what a monster I had become. The truth is, these days it seems far easier to think about all the other people who are monsters, who need God’s forgiveness. 

And it is not just individuals, though I can come up with plenty of them, but whole systems that seem utterly broken and need of God’s mending. What can be done? Eustace wept great big tears… but he was stuck as a dragon. There was nothing he could do.

But Aslan, the great lion, was another matter entirely. After some days as a dragon, Eustace saw the great lion approach him. Even as a dragon, Eustace quaked in fear. He was not afraid that the lion would eat him. He was afraid of the lion himself.

The lion led him to a deep well. Eustace wanted to bathe…but the lion told him to undress first. Oh! Maybe dragons are like lizards. They could remove their skin. So Eustace raked his skin with his claws, and it came off easily without pain. But underneath lay a hide just as terrible. Eustace took of that layer…and found another terrible coat of scales. Again, and it was as if nothing had happened. Eustace realized he could not change.

But Aslan the lion approached Eustace. In the boy’s own words:

Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay down on my back and let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought he’d gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling off the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off…and [he] threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. And After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone…and then I saw why. I had turned into a boy again…After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me.”

Eustace could not shed his skin. Only Aslan could free him from the dragon he had begun. Only Aslan could cut deep enough to sever those bonds. Only Aslan could wash Eustace. Only Aslan could dress him and put to death the monster in him. 

I honestly do not know how I feel about C.S. Lewis’ metaphor, of human beings being compared to monsters. I take Genesis One pretty seriously and will tell any person struggling with self-worth that he or she was made in God’s image and that God called creation, including the person I’m talking to, good. 

And at the same time, I look around the world, around the community, I look in the mirror and I know that there are times when I have been a monster. And there will be more times. We start worship facing the baptismal font to remember that in addition to being occasional monsters, we have been reborn children of God. 

Most Sundays we confess all that we have done and what we have left undone, sins committed and sins of omission. It’s a way of shedding our skin each week. And later we come to the table for bread and wine. We receive gifts of forgiveness and nourishment for the journey. This gives us strength to forgive others, part of what we are called to do as followers of Jesus. We are baptized at the font into ministry, ministry to bring new life and one way we do that is through acts of forgiveness.

Advent may not be the church season of repentance as we experience during the Season of Lent each spring. But on this second Sunday of Advent, John the Baptizer calls our entire world to repentance. It is not simply a call to say we are sorry. It is about a new perspective. It is about getting right with God–something possible in a new way because of the one for whom we wait, the one who is already Immanuel, God with us, Jesus.

Prayers of Intercession

In this season of watching and waiting, let us pray for all people and places that yearn for God’s presence.

A brief silence.

You send messengers into the world to proclaim the day of your coming. Make our bishops, pastors, deacons, and lay preachers confident in their preaching, that their words and our lives witness to your grace. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Send your Spirit to all living creatures that are endangered. Provide them with shelter and care, and bring us into right relationship with the earth that you create and call good. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Send leaders to our nations, cities, schools, and businesses to work on behalf of those who have lost parents, spouses, and loved ones; immigrants; the imprisoned; those living in poverty; and all who are oppressed. Make them bold in their commitments to justice and reconciliation. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Send your servants to care for those who suffer. Use our ministries and our lives to reach out with compassion to those who are hungry, oppressed, lonely, or ill (especially). Grant them healing and wholeness. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Send prophets to speak difficult truths, even when they are poorly received. Embolden those who ask hard questions and challenge accepted ways. Instill in youth and elders alike a passion for pointing to Jesus in all things. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

We remember your saints, both those publicly celebrated and those more humbly remembered. Confident that your work will be completed, we live in faith until the day of your coming. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

God of new life, you come among us in the places we least expect. Receive these prayers and those of our hearts, in the name of Jesus.

Amen.

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Nov. 28, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection alert us to the threatening dangers of our sins, and redeem us for your life of justice, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.

Jeremiah 33:14-16

14The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Psalm 25:1-10

1To | you, O Lord,
  I lift | up my soul.
2My God, I put my trust in you; let me not be | put to shame,
  nor let my enemies triumph | over me.
3Let none who look to you be | put to shame;
  rather let those be put to shame | who are treacherous.
4Show me your | ways, O Lord,
  and teach | me your paths. 
5Lead me in your | truth and teach me,
  for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all | the day long.
6Remember, O Lord, your compas- | sion and love,
  for they are from | everlasting. 
7Remember not the sins of my youth and | my transgressions;
  remember me according to your steadfast love and for the sake of your good- | ness, O Lord.
8You are gracious and up- | right, O Lord;
  therefore you teach sinners | in your way.
9You lead the low- | ly in justice
  and teach the low- | ly your way.
10All your paths, O Lord, are steadfast | love and faithfulness
  to those who keep your covenant and your | testimonies.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
  11Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Luke 21:25-36

[Jesus said:] 25“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
  29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
  34“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Advent is one of the favored seasons of the year. The bright blue, the music, the evergreen wreath, and the themes of anticipation and hope make for a great season. The overarching theme of hope is one of the primary reasons it is so fulfilling to work alongside a church like ours–to speak and live a Word of hope.

And yet, for all the delights of the Advent Season, the first Sunday of Advent could be a curious day to visit a church for the first time. After a year of natural disasters up the mountains and across the globe and distress among nations, a visitor could think, how is this book, the Bible, describing the current situation? Sometimes it feels as if the world is crashing down, and this scripture passage seems accurately descriptive. A response could either be “no thank you” or “has the world felt this way before?”

The refrain in our text from Luke’s gospel is the coming of the Son of Man. Beyond the end of time (the end of my time and the end of the whole world’s time) stands the Lord, who has come among us in the person of Jesus. Those whose lives are lived under Jesus’ Lordship can live expectantly. You can fill each day with activity that is meaningful. Why? Because you are contributing to the fulfillment of God’s purposes for human life. 

But there is more. The end of time and the end of your life holds no terror for those who know God’s love. We do not know the reality that lies beyond what we can know here today. But we do know the one, God, who determines the reality that lies beyond what we can know here and now.  That is the only way we can follow the imperative in v. 28 and stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. 

There were years when I stood in the pulpit and had to remind people or illustrate what might cause hopelessness, exhaustion, torment, all the things that might make a person looking for someone or something outside him or herself who could change the world, who could give hope. This year is different. 

We, who are gathered here in Nampa on the Sunday after Thanksgiving may not be under the power of the Roman Empire like Luke’s early readers. We may know that people in other parts of the world face more challenges than us. But we are all tired. It’s more than tired. It’s a social weariness the likes of which I have not experienced in my time as a pastor. It is paired with lots of grief, which adds to the weariness. And, if we are honest, we cannot see exactly where we are going. One writer (Beaumont) has described this time as one in which we have left one side of the canyon and we are on a bridge, one of those wooden plank bridges. And God is building the bridge as we walk along. But we cannot see the other side yet. 

So, it should be very good news to hear that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Some things are steady, even when it feels like so much is uncertain. God’s faithfulness is steadfast. That’s what grounds us.

Maybe because we planted two new trees this year at Trinity, I found myself drawn to Jesus’ parable of the fig tree in a new way. Having grown up in the Black Hills surrounded by Ponderosa Pines, I did not have deciduous trees to look at daily. But up on the hill above the house I grew up, tucked behind my favorite rock formation, was a grove of Mountain Aspens. I knew spring had come to the Hills when they started to bud. There might still be a snowfall, but every year, spring came when the green came out of those branches.

That Jesus talks about a fig tree would have been significant to his audience. The fig tree is often used as a metaphor for the peace and prosperity of Israel in the Old Testament. When God promises to bring the people into a land of milk and honey, the land includes fig trees (Deut. 8:8).  In Micah we read, “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees.” 

In other words, the fig tree is no stray detail in this morning’s passage. It would be as if someone writing a short story, casually dropped in a reference to an olive branch and a cornucopia. We would know that peace and abundance were behind the images.  

Jesus says to his followers, “So also, when you see these things taking place [the leaves on the fig tree sprouting], you know that the kingdom of God is near.” And we, along with those disciples, connect abundance and peace among and within nations with the kingdom of God. 

These verses today provide encouragement when the very foundation of life seems to be shaken. What do you do when others grow faint “from fear and foreboding” and “the powers of the heavens” are shaken? These descriptions can easily evoke the distress that we feel during anxious, trying, and dangerous experiences in life. What gives you direction when earthquakes occur, loves ones are in harm’s way, your own livelihood is jeopardized, and the future is grim? 

Jesus speaks of the coming of the Son of Man. We can hear assurance that in the worst of times the Son of Man is at hand, coming “with power and glory.” The message is ultimately one of hope, “your redemption is drawing near.” God’s Word will never pass away. God is present.

The other side of this is a bit more instructional. The other side of the assurance is the instruction not to debase life through overindulgence or worry but to pray. That is part of how we actual depend on God for strength to meet life’s challenges.

What might we pray this Advent? How might we voice our dependence on God as everything accelerates in our culture toward the end of December? One suggestion is to use the tool so many of us depend on, whether we like or not: our smart phones. 

As you scroll through text messages, take a breath, and lift up in prayer to God the names attached to your messages.  Look at your last 5-10 photos and pray for the people or places captured. I am an advocate of not constantly checking the news on your phone, but if that’s where you get your news, take a pause with several headlines and pray for God’s kingdom to come.

Another option, the words of our psalm for today could be adopted by one and all during this season of hope and waiting, “Make me know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” That is a pretty great mantra, to be repeated at the dinner table or while driving or even brushing your teeth: “Make me know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth.” 

A word of warning, be careful to not sentimentalize this prayer. You might get a jolt. God’s truth and God’s ways may not be what we want to hear. They might be far different than the course we had charted. Furthermore, trusting God’s revelation, trusting that God will reveal the truth to us takes some intentionality and practice. 

Fortunately for us, it does not take brilliance or superpowers or perfection. For our reassurance that God will speak to any and everyone, we only have to remember the cast of characters we will be reintroduced to in the month ahead: John the Baptizer, Elizabeth and Zacharia, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds watching their flocks. They all had very different roles to play, but they all could have prayed, “Make me know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth.” 

Prayers of Intercession

In this season of watching and waiting, let us pray for all people and places that yearn for God’s presence.

A brief silence.God of presence and peace, strengthen your church around the globe to proclaim the message of your love coming to the world. Open our hearts to recognize your face in all people and in all of creation. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

God of mighty redwoods and microscopic plants, fields and city parks, the wind and the waves, be a healing balm to our wounded planet. May we nurture what you have lovingly created. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

God of equity and compassion, bring righteousness and goodness to all peoples of the earth. Give a heart of discernment and integrity to leaders in our communities (local, state, and national government officials may be named). Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

God of comfort and care, be present with those who watch and wait. Come to all who await births, deaths, divorces, new unions, new jobs, retirements, healing, and life transitions of every kind (especially). Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

God of promises kept and new dreams awakened, shelter your people from destructive storms. We pray for those whose lives have been upended by natural disasters (especially), for the work of Lutheran Disaster Response, Lutheran World Relief, and other relief organizations. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.God of companionship and community, we give you thanks for the saints who journeyed with us and now abide in you. Even in distress and uncertainty, make us confident that your promises endure forever. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

God of new life, you come among us in the places we least expect. Receive these prayers and those of our hearts, in the name of Jesus.Amen.

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Nov. 21, 2021 (Reign of Christ)

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and ever-living God, you anointed your beloved Son to be priest and sovereign forever. Grant that all the people of the earth, now divided by the power of sin, may be united by the glorious and gentle rule of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

9As I watched,
 thrones were set in place,
  and an Ancient One took his throne,
 his clothing was white as snow,
  and the hair of his head like pure wool;
 his throne was fiery flames,
  and its wheels were burning fire.
10A stream of fire issued
  and flowed out from his presence.
 A thousand thousands served him,
  and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
 The court sat in judgment,
  and the books were opened.
13As I watched in the night visions, 
 I saw one like a human being
  coming with the clouds of heaven.
 And he came to the Ancient One
  and was presented before him.
14To him was given dominion
  and glory and kingship,
 that all peoples, nations, and languages
  should serve him.
 His dominion is an everlasting dominion
  that shall not pass away,
 and his kingship is one
  that shall never be destroyed.

Psalm 93

1The Lord is king, robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and | armed with strength.
  The Lord has made the world so sure that it can- | not be moved.
2Ever since the world began, your throne has | been established;
  you are from | everlasting. R
3The waters have lifted up, O Lord, the waters have lifted | up their voice;
  the waters have lifted up their | pounding waves.
4Mightier than the sound of many waters, mightier than the breakers | of the sea,
  mightier is the Lord who | dwells on high.
5Your testimonies are | very sure,
  and holiness befits your house, O Lord, forever and for- | evermore.

Revelation 1:4b-8

4bGrace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. 
  To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
7Look! He is coming with the clouds;
  every eye will see him,
 even those who pierced him;
  and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.
  8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Christ Monogram with Alpha and Omega, Christian Catacombs-Sousse, Tunisia

John 18:33-37

33Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

I have been singing the chorus to “Ride on King Jesus” in my head all week, preparing for Christ the King or reign of Christ Sunday. A few years ago the song leaders at our regional church conference led a workshop during which they taught us this gospel, in four-part harmony: “Ride on, King Jesus, No man can a hinder me, Ride on, King Jesus, ride on, No man can a-hinder me.”

Explaining what the song meant to the first people who sang it, one historian wrote, “The enslaved people had a powerful imagination that was captivated by the notion of having a king who was powerful enough that absolutely no one could “hinder” him. If Jesus could not be hindered, then they felt agency in their own lives as well, giving them hope. Some versions of this life-affirming song add, “He is the King of Kings, He is the Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ, the First and Last, no man hinders me”! This song captures the aspiration of the hearts of enslaved peoples. Jesus was born a baby, yes, but he was also a king, recalling his triumphal, un-hindered entry into Jerusalem (Eileen Guenther/CMH. “Ride On, King Jesus.” ).

I never know exactly what to do on Reign of Christ Sunday, a festival that can only be traced back to 1925. It is about the end of time which sounds gloomy and dour. But today is about imagining the world as it could be, as God intends it to be. The reign of Christ is breaking in. It is already and not yet here. Reign of Christ is about hope, the hope that enslaved people put in a King who no one could hinder, the hope we have as we wait for Jesus to be born in the manger, the hope we embrace as we imagine what Canyon County could look like for all of its residents. It is the hope that is ours when we ask what future do we imagine? We do well to listen to our various scripture passages for the day.

In Sunday School, many of us learned the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.  But Daniel was also a dreamer. Grand associations of kingship fill Daniel’s dream. He dreams of the ancient one riding the heavens. Daniel imagines an eternal lord receiving dominion, glory, and service. He says, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.” The future is firmly in the hands of the one seated on the throne.

In the book of Revelation, we see a similar ruler. This one is a faithful witness of glory and power. He is “the Alpha and the Omega,” the beginning and the end, the one “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” This king is a liberator, but he is a strange one. This king challenges just about everything we associate with kingly power because the one seated on the throne is a lamb, not the first animal we connect with power and glory.

These two visions from Daniel and Revelation can make us gasp and make our hearts skip. The books of Daniel and Revelation were both written for people oppressed by the forces of empires—first the Hellenistic Empire and then the Roman Empire. Kingship and the reign of God ends up having a whole lot to do with turning things on their heads, subverting the power of empire, and bringing a new order. Daniel and Revelation are both talking about the judgment of the nations—history’s end.  

The word “end” points to the heart of Reign of Christ Sunday, and not merely because we are at the end of the church year and Advent officially begins next week. “End” means the passing away of what is. It means a transition so pronounced that we can say, “Things will never be the same.”  Facing “the end” means that we must finally recognize our attachments to what is now. This most often happens when some event or illness makes us face our mortality, but a text like today’s can have a similar effect. Ultimately, we must recognize our limitations as mortal human beings. 

In the scene today Pilate hears Jesus say, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Soon after this, Pilate sends Jesus to be crucified. According to Pilate, Jesus is guilty of treason against the Roman Empire. I do not think Pilate does this because he fails to understand Jesus. I think he sends Jesus to be crucified because he does understand Jesus. 

The reign of God was breaking through even then—through Jesus’ ministry among the people. What exactly is the reign of God? This reign of God is not just a reshuffling of this world’s power structures as they are. Jesus is not seizing the Emperor Caesar’s throne in order to replace Caesar. Jesus is not leaving Caesar or his generals in exile to plot a return to power. That would have been more than enough for Pilate to send Jesus to the cross.  But Jesus’ plan is far more radical.  Jesus is not seeking a throne in the world as it is. Jesus is inaugurating the end of this world.

To be clear, I am not talking about the destruction of the planet.  This is crucial to understand in the wake of the Left Behind series and other stories that send a similar message. Destruction of the planet does not make sense from a biblical perspective. There is a clear mantra in Genesis 1.  Each part of creation is deemed “good.” And when God made humankind God said it was “very good.” And the most famous Bible verse reminds us that God so loved the world that God sent the Son that we might have abundant and eternal life. God does not intend destruction for Creation or for humankind.

So, what do we mean when we talk about “the end of the world” in Daniel, Revelation, and the gospel?  We mean that a sharp transition is on the way.  Pilate liked the world ordered by empires. He did not like Jesus’ plan for a transition. Someone who likes the world ordered by empires will probably receive the news of the world’s end as very bad news, at least initially.  

We long for change, for daily changes and for big structural and systemic changes. Have you ever spelled out or drawn your vision for our larger community? One of my favorite writing exercises was for a poem whose title was Borrow My Vision. Borrow my vision and you will see, and I had to write all the things one could see in my picture of Canyon County as it could be. The next prompt was, “with my ears.” What sounds could we hear? Whose voices would we hear if the reign of God came fully to our region? Then “with my mouth,” “with my arms,” “with my mind,” “with my feet,” “with my heart.” Each one of us has within us a vision of the world and our locale as it could be if the reign of God was fully realized. 

This is a powerful exercise because it opens up our imaginations and helps us picture what we are working towards, not just what we might want to fight against. What are the small and large images, smells, and sounds percolating in your imagination as you dream about our region as it could be?

This week I have also been humming to myself Joy to the World, which is of course traditionally a Christmas hymn. However, it also fits today’s festival perfectly. It is so ingrained to us to imagine the Christ child while singing the first verse, but what if we imagined it as a prayer for the end of the world as it is, for Christ’s reign to come fully now, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king; let every heart prepare him room and heaven and nature sing.” The third verse imagines the world as it could be, “No more let sin and sorrow grow nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow.”

Every week we pray the Lord’s Prayer together and we ask for God’s kingdom to come. And each time two or three of us gathers, Jesus is come.  Each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Christ is come—in the bread and wine, in the words “given for you for the forgiveness of sin.”  Christ is come when a baby is brought to the font and made a child of God, a member of the body of Christ, even when the infant has no idea what is happening. Every time we proclaim the Good News that the world of empires is passing away, and God’s dream for Creation is breaking through even now, Jesus is come. When we proclaim that Jesus alone is Lord, Jesus’ reign breaks through. Amen.  

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

Eternal God, you hold firm amid the changes of this world. Hear us now as we pray for the church, the world, and everyone in need.

A brief silence.God, you sent your Son Jesus to testify to the truth. We pray for preachers, missionaries, evangelists, and teachers who carry your forgiveness and love to the world. Fill their words and actions with compassion and kindness so that your truth will shine. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God, you sent your Son Jesus to liberate all of creation. We pray for all living things longing for the freedom to flourish, from ancient trees and wild grasses to endangered animals and rare insects. Give human beings compassionate hearts to care for them. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God, you sent your Son Jesus to lead us into the way of peace. Direct the members of international alliances in choosing a nonviolent path toward the future. Give them the humility and wisdom to make just decisions to benefit all. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God, you sent your Son Jesus to make us into your own people, set free to serve you. We pray for people who serve the well-being of others, especially ministries in our community (local social ministries or agencies may be named). Renew them in their work. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God, you sent your Son Jesus to rule in all times and places. We pray for the friends of our congregation who are unable to join our worship in person and for all who are sick and suffering (especially). Join their prayers with ours and unite them with us in the body of Christ. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.God, you sent your Son Jesus to be our beginning and our ending. We give thanks for those whose lives have given us a glimpse of Jesus’ reign of justice and peace. Empower us to join their witness. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God our hope and strength, we entrust to you all for whom we pray. Remain with us always, through Jesus Christ, our Savior.Amen.

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Nov. 14, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, your sovereign purpose brings salvation to birth. Give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world, trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen.

Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25

11Every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” 13and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. [15And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
16“This is the covenant that I will make with them
  after those days, says the Lord:
 I will put my laws in their hearts,
  and I will write them on their minds,”
17he also adds, 
 “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.] 

  19Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Mark 13:1-8

1As [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
  3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

My focus this morning will be on our passage from Hebrews chapter 10, particularly those final verses that seem to say a great deal to a people experiencing in-person gathering after some time away. I must admit that I have a weird relationship to the book of Hebrews. As a whole, it would perhaps not make my top-ten list of favorite books of the Bible and yet there are a few choice passages that I absolutely love.

The book is a sermon written for a community of people who were never eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus. The sermon addresses a situation of malaise experienced by Christians some decades after the ministry of Jesus ended. It brings a word of encouragement to discouraged Christians. They once had a vivid sense of God’s presence and later showed bold support for others during an outburst of persecution. Yet, as time dragged on, the malaise set in. 

The author attempts to embolden them by telling of the way Jesus went through suffering into glory, making a way for others to follow. As high priest, Jesus Christ brings others into a new covenant relationship with God. People are therefore called to persevere in faith, knowing that God will be faithful.

The passage most applicable to our life together today begins with some language that may feel as distant as the Middle East: 19 Therefore, my friends,g since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

It helps to know that the inner chamber of Israel’s sanctuary was the holy of holies, where only the high priest was permitted to approach God. People like you and me simply would not have access to God. Yet here, the author of Hebrews invites all who have been redeemed by Christ the high priest to follow him into the presence of God in the sanctuary. 

The invitation flips everything. First the invitation does not refer to a physical movement into a holy place. Instead, the invitation is to a movement of faith. By holding firmly to the confession of faith in what Christ has done, people can approach God confidently in prayer and continue joining together with others in worship. 

It might be hard for us to imagine not having access to God through Jesus. In some ways that’s a good thing, it illustrates our familiarity with the miracle of the incarnation, God living among us. But we don’t want to fall into a type of malaise like the original hearers of Hebrews. 

The primary reason we read scripture, alone or in an assembly like this one, is to be reminded of the good news of Jesus Christ–bringer of salvation and healing for a broken world and broken people. God did not look down from a distant heaven and say, “There, there, it’s all right.” Instead, in Jesus, God entered into the full range of human suffering and tragedy.

The author of Hebrews has two interconnected goals: renew a sense of personal trust in this God of healing and wholeness and a revitalized commitment to life in community. It seems that this last chapter was a great time to nurture habits and practices in our personal trust in God. There was time and opportunity and need. 

Many of us experienced isolation, to varying degrees. In some cases, our bodies got sick. In other cases, our minds and spirits were hurting. I hope you found or rediscovered ways to connect personally with the God of healing and wholeness. The words from Hebrews were an exhortation for all of us, “let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” What is this “faith” the author speaks of? In the very next chapter we read, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for.” Bring to God your faith/hope or your hope/faith. And never doubt God’s own faithfulness; it is the thing that gives us hope.

In this particular moment in time, we may be more appreciative than ever that the author lifts up both the need to approach God on one’s own and the necessity of community. German Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about this balance in his book Life Together: “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.” 

Why is the embodied community part of the life of faith? Can’t we simply know that Christian community exists? Is actual participation necessary? When participation is possible, we would have to say yes, because that’s how Jesus set it up. Following Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, being Christian means being part of a meal-fellowship. 

Hearing the Word and gathering at the table is central to who we are and how we are shaped. We return to the table to meet one another and to encounter the risen Christ in wine and bread. We are sent from the table for, as this morning’s author says, love and good deeds. As the author is exhorting the original readers, so the readers are to exhort one another.  

“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” The author’s specific words are almost eerie to me, as if peering centuries ahead into America’s culture of individualism. The writer emphasizes that these practices are best cultivated within the life of the Christian community as it comes together to worship, enjoy fellowship, and provoke one another to acts of Christlike service.

Before her Affirmation of Baptism, Diane talked about how our Confirmation classes gave her an opportunity to be around other people who had the same questions, which helped her feel more comfortable asking questions about faith. Children and youth who attend Luther Heights Bible Camp share a similar sentiment, that being around other youth who are on similar faith journeys buoys them. Jason summed this up in his quote in the recent camp publication. Reflecting on the program the final night of camp he wrote, “it gave us time to slow down, realize how much we had grown, how each of us were different but had many gifts, and God’s love for us.”

Most of us have been adults for quite a while, but I would venture to bet that each of us still needs that kind of experience. That’s hopefully the chief reason we show up in assemblies like this one. Where exactly we meet is not nearly as important as what we do: hear the Word, share the meal, pray for the world, be sent out for love and good deeds.

Dorothy Day puts it this way, “We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know [God] in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.

We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

Thanks be to God.

Prayers of Intercession (from Sundays and Seasons)

Eternal God, you hold firm amid the changes of this world. Hear us now as we pray for the church, the world, and everyone in need.

A brief silence.God our creator, you show us the path of life. Bless faithful people everywhere with humility as they extend compassion to those who have experienced harm in religious spaces. Cultivate healthy congregations that tell of and enact your reconciling love. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God our constant, you love our universe from beginning to end. As the seasons change, protect animals that migrate and hibernate. Bring them safely to a sheltered place and a more abundant season. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God our ruler, you write your law on human minds and hearts. Give wisdom to all elected leaders and officials to govern with insight and compassion. Make them mindful of the well-being of all people so that your world will flourish. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God our stronghold, you are present amid disaster. We pray for those affected by natural disasters (recent natural disasters may be named). Come to the aid of all survivors of earthquakes, famines, floods, hurricanes, and wildfires, and the first responders who support them. Calm their fear, supply their need, and be the solid ground beneath their feet. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God our guide, you are greater than we can imagine. Surround congregations with your expansive inclusion. Be present in the midst of disagreements, differences, and questions. Unite people of diverse viewpoints in the love of Christ. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.God our beginning and our end, your beloved people shine like the brightness of the sky. We thank you for the lives of all who rest in your eternal mercy, from famous saints to the people we have loved (especially). Assure us of your resurrection promise. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God our hope and strength, we entrust to you all for whom we pray. Remain with us always, through Jesus Christ, our Savior.Amen.

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A Father’s Love

Originally posted on tvprays.org

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:12-13). 

I realized this last year that there were many pieces of my dad that I lost before his actual death in December 2020. My dad, whose birthday was Nov. 10, used to give the best bear hugs but depending on a walker and sitting in his individual chair rather than the sofa changed the frequency with which he gave hugs. I am convinced I am a pastor, at least in part, because of singing with my dad’s beautiful baritone voice for years in the car and in the church pew. But he did not sing as much in the last few years. Everyone who met my dad talked about his laugh and that too tapered off with age. What never left was my dad’s love. One of his last good days in the residential Hospice, after mom and I decided to go home for the day, I told him I loved him. He grabbed my arm, looked me straight in the eye and said in an urgent whisper, “I love you too!” He meant it and he wanted me to hear it. Dad’s love for kids, for those experiencing homelessness, for the marginalized was also steady throughout his life, including his final days. He tried to always see with the eyes of faith and a heart full of love. He yelled at the television over injustices even in the last weeks of his life. Whenever we talked, he asked about Trinity New Hope (affordable housing) and Peace Camp–ministries serving the neighbor. Love remained even when other pieces of him faded away. So much has changed for followers of Jesus in the past 18 months–the way we gather for studies, the way we worship, the needs of our local community and the global community. What has remained steady is God’s love for the world and the imperative to love our neighbor. The incarnation is one of the greatest reminders of God’s love. Not unlike my dad making sure I heard him voice his love for me, God says “I love you so much world that I am going to come and live among you!” 

Gracious God, you came as Immanuel, God with us. You are love and for that we give thanks. Teach us to love one another. Amen.

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Nov. 7, 2021, All Saints

Prayer of the Day

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

Isaiah 25:6-9

6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
  a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
  of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
7And he will destroy on this mountain
  the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
  the sheet that is spread over all nations;
  8he will swallow up death forever.
 Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
  and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
  for the Lord has spoken.
9It will be said on that day,
  Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
  This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
  let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Psalm 24

2For the Lord has founded it up- | on the seas
  and established it up- | on the rivers. 
3Who may ascend the mountain | of the Lord,
  and who may stand in God’s | holy place?
4Those of innocent hands and puri- | ty of heart,
  who do not swear on God’s being, nor do they pledge by | what is false.
5They shall receive blessing | from the Lord
  and righteousness from the God of | their salvation.
6Such is the generation of those who seek | you, O Lord,
  of those who seek your face, O | God of Jacob. 
7Lift up your heads, O gates; and be lifted up, O ever- | lasting doors,
  that the King of glory | may come in.
8Who is this | King of glory?
  The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, might- | y in battle!
9Lift up your heads, O gates; and be lifted up, O ever- | lasting doors,
  that the King of glory | may come in.
10Who is this | King of glory?
  Truly, the Lord of hosts is the | King of glory.

Revelation 21:1-6a

1I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 
 “See, the home of God is among mortals.
 He will dwell with them;
 they will be his peoples,
 and God himself will be with them;
4he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
 Death will be no more;
 mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
 for the first things have passed away.”
  5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6aThen he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

John 11:32-44

32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

  38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Raising of Lazarus  —  Vincent van Gogh, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Someone wise pointed out the combination of complaint and confidence in this morning’s gospel story. Mary says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” In that one statement alone, we hear the complaint that Jesus was not here and the confidence that he is able to heal, to overcome death.

Mary’s words and their motivations speak volumes for what it has always meant to be a follower of Jesus. But they are especially appropriate for All Saints Sunday–when we grieve the ones who have died and simultaneously confess our faith in a God of resurrection. Complaint and confidence. These two words may also capture how we feel and what we want to express in every challenging season of life.

We were dropped into the middle of the story this morning. Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days. His death is final. Jesus did not come when he first heard that Lazarus was ill. He delayed so he could show God’s glory. In raising Lazarus, Jesus conquers death. 

Raising Lazarus from the dead was Jesus’ seventh and greatest sign. This sign was also the final straw. The decision to put Jesus to death results from his giving life to Lazarus. The village of Bethany, the scene for this text, is just east of Jerusalem. As he performs his last sign, Jesus is approaching his own death and resurrection. Raising Lazarus is the miracle, but more awesome is what is being illustrated.

Earlier in the story, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” God has power over life and death. Today’s text from Isaiah is clear about this. “God will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; God will swallow up death forever.” 

Jesus is one with the Father and he shares God’s power over life and death. But Jesus is not only one with God. He is fully human. Because he has so clearly identified with us, his death becomes our death. But his resurrection also becomes our resurrection. This resurrection gives us freedom to face the future in a counter-cultural way.

Today, we are again reminded that what truly gives life is Jesus himself. Jesus raised each one of us in holy baptism. In the waters of the baptismal font, we hear God speak this word of life and resurrection. Lifting us out of the waters, God frees us from death and dresses us in the royal clothing of Christ. At the table, we feast with the God who swallows up death forever. The holy meal is a foretaste of the great and promised feast where death and pain will be no more. The last word is not death, but life as a beloved child of God.

So Jesus is the giver of life. But we are the ones who unbind. Jesus tells us, as he told the onlookers by Lazarus’ tomb, unbind him. “Unbind one another,” Jesus commands us. We might be called to unbind one another from obsessing about how to take control of our lives. We might be called to help unbind so many from fear. Or maybe we are called to physically unbind people from abusive relationships or other conflicts. 

One challenge of following Jesus is discerning the specific calling to unbind. It varies by context. But wherever we are located, we have freedom, freedom to care for the world God has made. Our hope is no longer that we might escape from this world. Escaping this world is neither the goal nor the hope nor the focus. Jesus turns things on their head. Our hope is transformed. Our hope is in God’s plan of healing and reconciliation and recovery for the world.

Today we lift before God those who, during the past year were brought into the sainthood through the waters of Holy Baptism. We lift before God those who, during the past year, entered into the eternal sainthood of the Church. In Jesus, death will be no more. In Jesus, God makes a home with humankind and all creation. 

I love All Saints Sunday because we remember the giants of the faith who have gone before us and set an example. In my first internship church in Chicago we had banners up on this Sunday of modern saints, people not yet canonized by our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters but recognized as pillars: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Junior, and Oscar Romero. Every continent and country and ministry can lift up and be influenced by particular saints who create the great cloud of witnesses.

On All Saints Sunday, we also take time to remember all those who have died in the past year. We know through conversations with one another and through the prayer concerns listed in our bulletin that many of us have lost family members and friends dear to us, some listed but many are not. 

Losing people is hard and painful and life is not the same after someone we love dies. When Jesus learns that Lazarus has died, he is greatly disturbed. His world is not the same. The same is true for us, and no one should belittle another individual’s or community’s grief. It is right and good to take time to honor our grief.

Finally, All Saints Sunday reminds us that we Christians mourn death in a particular way. We grieve, to be sure. But we grieve as a people with hope. We trust that resurrection follows death. We cling to those promises made in Holy Baptism. When we place the white funeral pall over a coffin, we remember that our loved one remains clothed with Christ.

What do we pray in the midst of our collective story, our grief and our hope? I’d like to close with the prayer from our graveside committal service. Let us pray, “Holy God, holy and powerful, by the death and burial of Jesus your anointed, you have destroyed the power of death and made holy the resting places of all your people.  Keep our brother safe, whose body we now lay to rest, in the company of all your saints.  And at the last, O God, raise him up to share with all the faithful the endless joy and peace won through the glorious resurrection of Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

Prayers of Intercession

Eternal God, you hold firm amid the changes of this world. Hear us now as we pray for the church, the world, and everyone in need.

A brief silence.Merciful God, we give thanks for all missionaries who have brought your message of hope to new communities and wiped tears away (especially John Christian Frederick Heyer, Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg, Ludwig Nommensen whom we commemorate today). Continue to raise up courageous missionaries to share your gospel of hope. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Creating God, we praise you for abundant harvests and the goodness of creation. Create communities of care for your earth so that all land, water, and soil will be celebrated and cherished by future generations of saints. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

God of peace, we give you thanks for nations of peace that serve as a refuge for all whose homelands are afflicted with violence. Strengthen those who continue to work for peace and support all veterans who carry the scars of war. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

God of healing, we give you thanks for health care workers who labor around the clock to answer cries for help. Bring wholeness to all who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, addiction, and all who long for healing in any way (especially). Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

God of justice, we praise you for the feeding ministries and for all meals that bring people together for nourishment and fellowship. Bless chefs, bakers, servers, dishwashers, communion assistants, and meal ministry coordinators. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.God of the ages, we give you thanks for the saints of this congregation who have inspired, challenged, loved, and taught us (those who have died during the past year may be named). Wipe away our tears and lead us by their example until we feast together on your holy mountain. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

God our protection and strength, we entrust to you all for whom we pray. Remain with us always, through Jesus Christ, our Savior.Amen.

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