Oct. 31, 2021 Reformation/Confirmation

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, gracious Lord, we thank you that your Holy Spirit renews the church in every age. Pour out your Holy Spirit on your faithful people. Keep them steadfast in your word, protect and comfort them in times of trial, defend them against all enemies of the gospel, and bestow on the church your saving peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

[Moses said to the people,] 1Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. 3Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.
  4Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Psalm 119:1-8

1Happy are they whose | way is blameless,
  who follow the teaching | of the Lord!
2Happy are they who observe | your decrees
  and seek you with | all their hearts,
3who never do | any wrong,
  but always walk | in your ways.
4You laid down | your commandments,
  that we should | fully keep them. 
5Oh, that my ways were made | so direct
  that I might | keep your statutes!
6Then I should not be | put to shame,
  when I regard all | your commandments.
7I will thank you with | a true heart,
  when I have learned your | righteous judgments.
8I will | keep your statutes;
  do not utter- | ly forsake me. 

Mark 12:28-34

28One of the scribes came near and heard [Jesus and the Sadducees] disputing with one another, and seeing that [Jesus] answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Peace  —  Andre Michnay, Oroszlány, Hungary

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

What a great gospel for a festival Sunday! This morning we will all participate as Diane affirms her baptism in the presence of this assembly. I will ask her if she intends to continue in the covenant God made with her in holy baptism, specifically to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. 

At the heart of these collective promises and at the heart of the Christian faith are the two great commandments that Jesus names in Mark chapter 12: Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. These commands provide the framework for ethical thinking and actions, theological reflection, and biblical interpretation. They also guide much of our instruction and conversations in Confirmation classes. So, echoes of the two great commandments were heard in Diane’s responses just moments ago.

It should not surprise us that Jesus first quotes Deuteronomy 6, known as the Shema: Hear O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This was central to the people’s identity and life. More surprising is Jesus quoting the verse from Leviticus.

It may help us to know that this verse is the culmination of a litany of commands prohibiting the oppression and exploitation of the weak and poor. The litany includes- leave your field for the sojourner to glean, do not steal, deal falsely, or profane God, do not oppress the neighbor, exploit the employees, or discriminate against the disabled; do not show partiality in judgment. 

The two commands Jesus names make us ask if our words and actions reflect and embody love of God and love of neighbor. When we read Scripture, we might ask whether the text inspires us to love God and neighbor. The 16th century church reformers, who we also celebrate today, knew that love of God and love of neighbor needed some specificity, needed interpretation for each time and space. 

Martin Luther’s explanations of the Ten Commandments adds a positive command, instructing us what to do after explaining what we shall not do. The explanations are surprisingly relevant today. Take for example his explanation to the 7th Commandment, you shall not steal: “We are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbors’ money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income.” 

Or the explanation to the 8th commandment, you shall not bear false witness: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead, we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”

Neighbor love has always been about both our daily interactions with individuals (co-workers, next door neighbors, strangers on the interstate) and changing the systems and networks we all live in. Yes, it absolutely matters how we treat the cashier and the relative with whom we disagree on everything. Neighbor love is also expressed in how we spend our money and time and how we vote. 

Interconnected to our love for God and love of neighbor is self-love, which Jesus’ words absolutely imply. One of my teachers [RHW] writes powerfully about this: “My faith journey has led me to understand that loving yourself is necessary to loving others. The more that I have leaned into God’s love for me, the more that I understand how revolutionary and absolutely necessary it is to love myself, without apology. And when I love myself and my God, I can love others in ways that I didn’t even know were possible.” 

I, Meggan, think it is no accident that Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. If there is not deep, authentic, self-love, it’s nearly impossible to truly love our neighbors. 

We are called back, once again, to the heart of faith for the sake of the kingdom of God. Jesus’ words to the questioning scribe offer a sharp critique of the teachings of the scribes, who have been guardians of the religious establishment. At every turn the scribes have opposed Jesus with questions about his authority and the source of his power. 

Jesus has demonstrated that the scribes are on the wrong side of the work of God. But in today’s story, a scribe stands in solidarity with Jesus. The scribe shares Jesus’ anguish over a temple cult that has lost its soul and purpose, its moral authority, its heart for renewal, and can no longer hear, discern ore respond to God’s voice. 

Martin Luther and the other reformers were not Christ come again. They were flawed human beings. And yet their legacy of reforming the church is one worth celebrating. Maybe it is their very imperfections that give us hope today–hope that we who follow in their footsteps can reform the church once again, help bring the larger church back to these two crucial commands. 

Instead of pointing fingers at who is getting it wrong, we can show love and acceptance to people who have been hurt by the church. Instead of fighting over all that might divide us we can come together over neighbor-love practices that most of us agree on, such as food access, affordable housing, child poverty, saving the planet, and sharing the good news about a God who first loves us with abundance.

Today we celebrate this good news. In the ministry of Jesus, the proclamation of the good news is accompanied by the casting out of demons and the healing of many who are sick. It is the good news of God that does not command, coerce, or mandate love, but rather evokes worship, love and obedience. 

The story of love is not complete until we see the cross of Jesus and power of God wielded there. The Gospel presents us with love, worship, and discipleship. It invites us to anticipate that the scribe will experience the full life of love of God, neighbor, and self when love embraces him. In joyful response, we follow where only love can lead.

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

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

God of true might and redemptive mercy, We pray for all who long for a word of truth and long for the radical grace that flows from the cross. Inspire congregations to freely and boldly proclaim your love for all people, with persistence and hope. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.God of new beginnings, 

We pray for your creation, for mountains, rivers, streams, cities, homesteads and neighborhoods. Write on our hearts a new love and care for creation. Give us the will to curb wasteful habits. May we hold accountable those people who have not cared enough and have damaged the earth. May we do our part to restore it. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God, the giver of life, You intend for humans to live together in peace. In these days of grief over gun violence, we pray for your presence among us. We remember before you the victims in the recent shooting in our community: Jo Acker and Roberto Padilla Arguelles. Bring comfort to their families whose lives are forever changed. Grant healing and wholeness to the survivors who were wounded or traumatized. Each name you know. May your mercy be upon the one who fired the weapon and also died; whose name you also know. Console his family with your grace. We commend them ALL to your steadfast love. Lord in your mercy,Hear our prayer.

God of compassion,We give you thanks for the first responders, for police officers, firefighters, EMTs and all who offer compassionate aid in situations of tragedy.  Give them courage, sound judgement, safety and support as they risk their lives for others. Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer

God of justice, We pray for all who aspire to public office and for all who will vote on Tuesday at local polling places. May we see clearly our civic duty to vote as appropriate. Pour wisdom and understanding upon all who govern so that communities of justice and peace may thrive. Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

God of righteousness, We pray for all who, in these present days, seek to grow in faith and love of you. We give you thanks for all the saints and reformers who have gone before us who dwell in your holy habitation. Give us courage through their example to challenge unjust systems and work toward life-giving reformation. Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer. 

God of peace, By your mercy, make us instruments of your peace. Receive these earnest, spoken prayers, O God, and those in our hearts known only to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

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Grief and Hope

Originally published on tvprays.org

Psalm 13 (from Evangelical Lutheran Worship)

1How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

2How long shall I have perplexity in my mind, and grief in my heart, day after day?

How long shall my enemy triumph over me?

3Look upon me and answer me, O Lord my God;

give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death;

4lest my enemy say, “I have defeated you,”

and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.

5But I trust in your unfailing love;

my heart is joyful because of your saving help.

6I will sing to the Lord,

who has dealt with me richly. 

I keep toggling back and forth between grief and hope. Whether it is the news about Afghanistan or Covid, the death of a friend, another forest fire or hurricane, another diagnosis for someone I care about, I am pulled into grief. The psalmist’s cry becomes my own, “How long, O Lord?” The grief somehow opens my memories and I remember every other death, evacuation, and conflict.  Memory is powerful. Sometimes a song brings me to tears. Music and memory combined are very powerful. The tears are at once exhausting and cathartic. Dreams also tend to be a common place for me to work out grief and memory. I wake up crying and feel sad but also restored. It is healthy to acknowledge our grief, whether it manifests as sadness, anger, or bewilderment. We also need rituals or totems or conversations to help us move through the grief. I am grateful for the funeral liturgy, for grief support groups, for conversations, and for certain psalms that remind me that people have been naming their grief with language for centuries. 

I have found pauses for laughter and joy through good stories, read in books or watched on screen. But the moments of deep hope creep in primarily through relationships or listening as people I admire wrestle with our present condition. Sitting around a campfire with a friend on a clear evening reminds me I am not alone. Praying the prayers of intercession with my congregation has grounded me and given me hope in ways I cannot explain. Helping with monthly food distribution connects me to the community and lets me see the results of a few hours of labor–so satisfying and hopeful. Walking around my neighborhood or along the Nampa greenbelt reminds me that time marches on; one season changes to the next. There is much to grieve, but the language of faith reminds me of resurrection hope. There is also much to be learned from these last chapters, whether the past 18 months or the past 20 years. Hope is found in conversation partners, some are in my congregation and some I will never meet, I just eavesdrop thanks to webinars and podcasts. There are so many people who really do want transformation and justice and restoration and healing for their communities and world. There is hope that something new is being born. My deepest hope comes from the well of faith, sometimes my own and sometimes the faith of another human. Memory is powerful once again–memories of and stories about God who is faithful, who keeps showing up with grace and mercy for the entire world. The psalmist’s words become my own again, “I trust in your unfailing love.”

Prayer: Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work or watch or weep, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, comfort the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen. (ELW p. 74)

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Oct. 24, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Eternal light, shine in our hearts. Eternal wisdom, scatter the darkness of our ignorance. Eternal compassion, have mercy on us. Turn us to seek your face, and enable us to reflect your goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen.

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

1Job answered the Lord:
2“I know that you can do all things,
  and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
 Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
  things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4‘Hear, and I will speak;
  I will question you, and you declare to me.’
5I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
  but now my eye sees you;
6therefore I despise myself,
  and repent in dust and ashes.”
  10And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lordhad brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. 12The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. 13He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. 17And Job died, old and full of days.

Psalm 34:1-8 [19-22]

1I will bless the Lord| at all times;
  the praise of God shall ever be | in my mouth.
2I will glory | in the Lord;
  let the lowly hear | and rejoice.
3Proclaim with me the greatness | of the Lord;
  let us exalt God’s | name together.
4I sought the Lord, who | answered me
  and delivered me from | all my terrors. 
5Look upon the Lord| and be radiant,
  and let not your faces | be ashamed.
6I called in my affliction, and | the Lord heard me
  and saved me from | all my troubles.
7The angel of the Lord encamps around those who | fear the Lord
  and de- | livers them.
8Taste and see that the | Lord is good;
  happy are they who take ref- | uge in God! 
19Many are the troubles | of the righteous,
  but the Lord delivers them from | every one.
20God will keep safe | all their bones;
  not one of them | shall be broken.
21Evil will bring death | to the wicked
  and those who hate the righteous | will be punished.
22O Lord, you redeem the life | of your servants,
  and those who put their trust in you will | not be punished. 

Hebrews 7:23-28

23The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; 24but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
  26For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. 28For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Mark 10:46-52

46As [Jesus] and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Lord, That I Might See! – Matyas Church, Budapest, Hungary

Sermon – Pr Meggan Manlove

Jesus continues on the way in today’s gospel text. He and the disciples reach Jericho. Jerusalem is next, but not before one last encounter. There is so much in this vignette that reaches back into earlier parts of the Jesus’ story. The goal all along has been a changed perspective. At the beginning of the gospel narrative we heard Jesus say, “The time if fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” 

The call to repentance was a call for a changed perspective. At the very beginning of the pandemic, our first devotion on tvprays.org was titled, “The Rules of Perspective.” My colleague wrote, “Perspectives shift with the incarnation. In Jesus, we are given an additional point of perspective. In art, the two-point perspective gives an object the appearance of being three-dimensional. The incarnation is God embodied, flesh and bone, birth, death, and beyond. God in 3-D.”

Along with calling people to repentance, Jesus has been asking people to follow him. Repent and follow are the overwhelming verbs, and they are completely interwoven and interrelated. When both commands are followed, a changed perspective comes naturally.

Following Jesus is always supposed to include a particular way of seeing, a particular perspective. I do not believe it is the only good perspective in the world. Other religions and philosophies have similar and complementary perspective. However, we gathered here continue to be compelled the way of seeing that comes with being a follower of Jesus. Ultimately, we find it life-giving and life-affirming. It is life-giving for we individuals and for the collective, the world, the cosmos.

This particular perspective or lens is one that, in Jesus’ words, includes servanthood, where the one who wishes to be first among you must be slave of all, where little children set the example for receiving the kingdom of God, where power is manifest by dying on a cross, where the last are first and the first are last.

The disciples, those closest to Jesus in proximity, have struggled with this new perspective, this lens of faith. There have, to be sure, been a few moments of incredible insight. There were times when they truly got it. And they are not alone in their blurred vision. Other would-be-followers of Jesus have struggled as well.

For example, a rich man came to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him he lacked one thing, “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The man went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 

The man could not adopt the new perspective. Jesus’ instructions, Jesus’ way of life, was not going to leave the rich young man destitute. Jesus’ command had been to redistribute the wealth, for the good of the collective, so everyone, including the man himself, could truly flourish. We do not hear the rest of that rich man’s story. Maybe in the end he changed his mind. We also never learn exactly what hindered him.

We know better what hinders our own inability to change perspective, to adopt fully and completely the lens of faith. Chiefly, we are overwhelmed by fear. Fear dominates the headlines we read. It drives the advertisements on television, on the internet, on the radio. Fear seeps into daily conversations and interactions. Yes, fear can be good when teaching a child to look both ways before crossing the street, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

It is not just illness or technology or natural disasters we are told to fear. Often, we are encouraged to fear other people. In my lifetime, the litany of people to fear has highlighted: communists, gay people, black people (especially black men), immigrants, and Muslims. The fear about these groups of people has been a driving force for all sorts of messaging. Messaging about fear drives policies, marketing, elections, and now algorithms in cyber space that we can hardly comprehend.  

Sometimes even the gospel itself becomes a tool in this fear-dominant culture, as in “confess that Jesus is Lord, or you are going to hell.” Well-intentioned as that message is, it is not true to the good news. It is not life-giving. 

The perspective of faith and trust in Jesus is not in fact dominated by fear. The lens of faith is shaped instead by hope, abundance, belonging, and promises that are irrevocable, “You are a child of God. Now and always” and “God’s grace and mercy know no limits.”

Blind Bartimaeus has some of this perspective, even without physically seeing Jesus. He shouts out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” He foreshadows Jesus’ own passion with the title Son of David, Israel’s great king. Jesus will accept that he is the anointed one. Jesus has a kingship, be it a surprising one. So Bartimaeus perceives something correctly at the beginning. 

The great hope in today’s gospel story comes soon after Bartimaeus shouts to Jesus. Like the rich man, Bartimaeus encounters Jesus “on the way.” The rich man could not liquidate his fortune. But poor Bartimaeus throws away his garment, his sole element of livelihood. Beggars spread out their cloaks to receive alms. The one on the bottom of the social scale does not even wait for a call, springing up and “following Jesus on the way.” 

The story immediately precedes Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem, where he will be put on trial by those in power. And here is Bartimaeus, following Jesus on the way. The poor join in the final assault on the current order, and the rich have walked away. The first have become last and the last first. Bartimaeus shows us that it is possible to follow Jesus. Can we see like he does? Can we adopt his perspective?

His response to Jesus is quite a contrast to Jesus’ disciples’ James and John. Upon their approach, Jesus had asked James and John, “What do you want me to do for you?” He responds to Bartimaeus with the same words. The disciples wished for status and privilege. Bartimaeus wished simply for his “vision.” The status and privilege Jesus cannot grant. The vision he can. It is Bartimaeus who is told to “take courage.” And it is Bartimaeus who follows.

A favorite commentator wrote, “The narrative discourse of hope is now clear in this last discipleship/healing episode. Only in the disciples struggles against the internal demons that render us deaf or mute, only if we renounce our thirst for power–in a word, only if we recognize our blindness and see true vision–then can the discipleship adventure carry on.”

We also are on the way. We are invited each day to be followers of Jesus. Sometimes this means calling him teacher, another title Bartimaeus used for Jesus. We recognize that our vision gets blurry. We need refreshers in precisely what it means to follow Jesus on the way. We gain insight by praying, reading the old old story found in holy scripture, worshiping with other followers.

This story provides deep and abiding hope because Bartimaeus does follow Jesus, even throwing off his cloak as he runs. “Let me see again,” he asks Jesus. Whatever is broken in our lives, individually, as a community, as a global community that is more and more interconnected, isn’t our prayer the same, “Let me see again, Jesus.” 

Let us see abundance of loaves and fishes. Let us see those on the margins we would rather ignore. Let me see the love that neighbors are showing neighbors. Let us see God’s love and mercy for each one of us. Let us see the power of God wielded in ways that astound the empires and kingdoms of this world. Let us see how God is in relationship with us and how we could be in relationship with one another. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

Set free from sin and death and nourished by the word of truth, we join in prayer for all of God’s creation.

A brief silence.Risen One, we give you thanks for congregations and ministries throughout the world that serve as centers of prayer and action. Empower missionaries, teachers, healers, evangelists, and all who are sent to share your song of joy. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Holy One, we give you thanks for generous land that produces abundant harvests. Strengthen and protect all soils, from rooftop gardens to prairie farmlands, to patio planters to fertile valleys, and bless all who lovingly tend them. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Ruling One, we give you thanks for leaders of nations who work to build up the common good. Strengthen efforts of reconciliation among all nations (especially), that peace extends in every direction. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Healing One, we give you thanks for all who labor for the health of others. Comfort and strengthen all who struggle with chronic pain. Send healing and relief to all who are sick (especially). Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Providing One, we give you thanks for all who provide for others. Inspire generosity in your people, so that we carry out the work of making disciples of all nations. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.Living One, we give you thanks for the saints who have increased our faith. Give us courage to follow in hope until you gather us all around your table of abundance. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Confident that you hear us, O God, we boldly place our prayers into your hands; through Jesus Christ, our truth and life.Amen.

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Oct. 17, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Sovereign God, you turn your greatness into goodness for all the peoples on earth. Shape us into willing servants of your kingdom, and make us desire always and only your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen

Job 38:1-7 [34-41]

1The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
2“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3Gird up your loins like a man,
  I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

4“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
  Tell me, if you have understanding.
5Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
  Or who stretched the line upon it?
6On what were its bases sunk,
  or who laid its cornerstone
7when the morning stars sang together
  and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

34“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
  so that a flood of waters may cover you?
35Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go
  and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
36Who has put wisdom in the inward parts,
  or given understanding to the mind?
37Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?
  Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
38when the dust runs into a mass
  and the clods cling together?

39“Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
  or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
40when they crouch in their dens,
  or lie in wait in their covert?
41Who provides for the raven its prey,
  when its young ones cry to God,
  and wander about for lack of food?”

Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35b

1Bless the Lord, O my soul; O Lord my God, you are | very great!
  You are clothed with majes- | ty and splendor.
2You wrap yourself with light as | with a cloak
  and stretch out the heavens | like a tent.
3You lay the beams of your chambers in the wa- | ters above;
  you make the clouds your chariot; you ride on the wings | of the wind.
4You make the | winds your messengers
  and flames of | fire your servants. 
5You set the earth upon | its foundations,
  so that from now until forever it shall nev- | er be moved.
6You covered it with the deep as | with a garment;
  the waters stood a- | bove the mountains. 
7At your rebuke the | waters fled,
  scattered by your | voice of thunder.
8They went up into the mountains and descended down | to the valleys,
  to the place where | you assigned them.
9You set the limits that they | should not pass;
  never shall they return to cover the | earth again.
24How manifold are your | works, O Lord!
  In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full | of your creatures.
35bBless the Lord, | O my soul.
  Hal- | lelujah! 

Hebrews 5:1-10

1Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
  5So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, 
 “You are my Son,
  today I have begotten you”;
6as he says also in another place, 
 “You are a priest forever,
  according to the order of Melchizedek.”
  7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Mark 10:35-45

35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
  41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Sermon – Meggan Manlove

It is easy to be hard on James and John in this morning’s scripture passage. Jesus has just predicted his death for the third time, the most detailed description, and they ask about being seated at his right and left hand, in Jesus’ glory. What are they thinking?

The truth is that this is not strange behavior, even or maybe especially for revolutionaries. Remember, that’s what they believe they are witnessing–a revolution, a change in power, and they are not completely wrong. It’s just that Jesus’ way of turning the world upside down is not what they anticipate, even when he has just spelled it out for them.

Consider those jockeying for power shortly after this country’s revolution. If you have seen Hamiltonon stage or on the screen, picture everyone in the first act. They may have their differences, but they are all so passionate about the revolution, being finished as colonies and continuing the American experiment. Act One ends with Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr both on stage singing to their newborn babies: “You will come of age with our young nation. We’ll bleed and fight for you. We’ll make it right for you. If we lay a strong enough foundation. We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you.” There seems to be so much unity.

Alas, Act Two is all about Hamilton, Burr, and Thomas Jefferson jockeying for power. There is palpable tension between their love for the new nation, the vision for what could be, and who is going to leave the greatest legacy, or as the song goes, “who’s gonna be in the room where it happens.”

We could think it’s just revolutionaries like James and John and the Founding Fathers who get caught up in the desire for glory. On careful reflection, this passage hits a little close to home. I remember the first year Trinity New Hope affordable housing participated in the Avenues for Hope campaign, a state-wide online fundraiser for nonprofits involved in housing and homelessness. Prize money is given to organizations who have the most dollars or most unique donors statewide and by region. 

There were a few days towards the end of that first campaign that Trinity New Hope was neck and neck with a nonprofit from Boise, for third place in our region. Getting third would have meant another $1000. I got just a little obsessed with the glory of third price. I finally laid back on my pillow and decided it was ridiculous. We were all working to impact housing and homelessness after all! It was a strong reminder of the allure of glory.

James and John are not the only disciples enticed by visions of their own glory or of a triumphant reign. The other ten disciples fume over the brothers’ bid to be the most prominent. Jesus corrects their vision by holding up the conventions of the Roman Empire’s political authorities as negative examples. They regularly “overpower” and “tyrannize” others. They rely on coercion and control to maintain their dominance.  

Earlier in Mark we read the story of John the Baptizer’s death. In John’s case, the authorities’ self-interest, and self-protection trump justice to ensure John’s death. Jesus’ trial will display a similar kind of strong-armed political theater.

In absolute contrast, greatness among Jesus’ followers is measured by their ability to live as servants. That life will probably also include suffering oppression at the hands of those who wield power. Jesus will embody weakness in his trial and death. He will affirm the promise of his glorification and at the same time relinquish the power to prevail over others.

Jesus says, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Jesus’ death will be an example for such a way of living. His death will exemplify a radical rejection of authority and privilege. What makes the rejection so radical is the identity of the one who does it. It is Jesus, God’s own uniquely authorized agent.

 Consider all that that one word means—ransom.  Jesus’ mention of a “ransom” means that his death will be more than just an inspiring example or a martyr’s tragic protest against an unjust system. The word suggests that his death does something; it secures a release. “Ransom” does not mean a specific type of payment, as this passage has often been interpreted.

Jesus is talking with his disciples about power and servanthood. A ransom is a liberation created by divine strength, not by payment. Jesus declares that God, through Jesus’ death, will free people from oppression and captivity to another power. How this happens is a bit of a mystery, but the liberation is no less real.

Discipleship will finally mean more trouble, not less. Following Jesus is likely to be disruptive. True discipleship is characterized by a costly pouring out of one’s life for another. It may be an aging parent, a difficult spouse, a special child, another member of the Christian fellowship who has unusual needs, or any person whose situation calls for neighborly service at personal cost. Jesus came to serve and to give his life. His followers are also called to servanthood.

There are disciples all through the Christian family album, past and present. As archbishop in San Salvador in the 1970s, Oscar Romero spoke out against social injustice and violence amid the escalating conflict between the military government and the insurgents that led to the Salvadoran Civil War. He was again and again the voice advocating for the poor, those caught between the violence. 

In 1980, Romero was shot by an assassin while celebrating mass. This made him a martyr, but Romero would have been the first to profess that he was not the or any messiah. Jesus was the one and only savior. It was only Jesus, the son of God, whose death could do something–provide liberation.

This notion is crystalized in words often attributed to Romero, “We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

This afternoon, some of us are participating in the Crop Hunger Walk in Caldwell. Every October, we remember the workers or ministers who left us this legacy. Have you ever wondered what that CROP in CROP Walk stands for? 

CROP began in 1947 under the wing of Church World Services. CROP was an acronym for the Christian Rural Overseas Program. Its primary mission was to help Midwest farm families share their grain with hungry neighbors in post-World War II Europe and Asia.

On October 17, 1969, a thousand people in Bismark, North Dakota, walked in what may have been the first-ever CROP Hunger Walk. They raised $25,000 to help stop hunger. Several other CROP Hunger Walks occurred soon after. Before long, there were hundreds of Walks each year in communities across the United States.

Today, 25% of the funds raised stay in each Walk’s community. The other funds help provide food and water and resources that empower people to meet their own needs—seeds, tools, wells and water systems, technical training, and micro-enterprise loans. In sum, this afternoon we continue a legacy born out of the compassion of Midwest farmers who knew they had been blessed.  

They had made it through the Great Depression. They had surely rationed food so that soldiers overseas would have enough to eat. Coming out the other side of both the Depression and the war, they decided to share their abundance with hungry people across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. They were prophets of a future not their own.

I think they had some idea of the reign of God Jesus Christ wanted to usher in.  They glimpsed a different kind of glory—self-sacrifice and unconditional love, even for those who they had never met in person. I doubt they were glorified by society then. Surely they would not be today.

Might we be inspired by those farmers, committing their grain to hungry people across the globe.  In every generation, in every place, discipleship takes on new specific forms.  

For us, as in past generations, it will mean a change in our worldview and the values ingrained in us. But we contemporary followers of Jesus hear the same call, and the same offer, that our ancestors did long ago. We are set free from the powers of this world by a God who lay in a manger and died on a cross. We trust the promise that we will never walk alone.

Prayers of Intercession (from Sundays and Seasons)

Set free from sin and death and nourished by the word of truth, we join in prayer for all of God’s creation.

A brief silence.Holy One, for the gift of the church handed down through the ages and for all who carry on the servant ministry of Jesus, we praise you. Send your Holy Spirit upon all who are discerning calls to ministry in its many forms and equip them with your gifts. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Creating One, for the lush and abundant habitat you provide for all your creatures, we praise you. Provide healing for the earth so that waterfowl, reptiles, wild horses, dolphins, and all living things flourish as you intend. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Suffering One, for all who work toward peace and who lead nations with a servant’s heart, we praise you. Bring justice for all who suffer violence, persecution, discrimination, hunger, poverty, and homelessness, and create places of refuge for all people. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Merciful One, for all who do the work of healing in mind, body, and spirit, we praise you. Surround and comfort all who struggle with depression, anxiety, cancer, diabetes, dementia, or any illness (especially), that all may be healed. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Sustaining One, for all who volunteer for the vitality of this congregation, we praise you. Strengthen and encourage greeters, ushers, office volunteers, bakers, counters, committee and group leaders, teachers, students, evangelists, singers, builders, nurturers, and all who serve with generous hearts. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.Risen One, we thank you for those who have shaped your church and shared your gospel. Through the witness of your saints (especially Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch), continue to inspire us with hope until we all are gathered at your eternal feast. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Confident that you hear us, O God, we boldly place our prayers into your hands; through Jesus Christ, our truth and life.Amen.

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Oct. 10, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us your gift of faith, that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead, we may follow the way of your commandments and receive the crown of everlasting joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen.

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

1Job answered [his friend:]
2“Today also my complaint is bitter;
  [God’s] hand is heavy despite my groaning.
3Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
  that I might come even to his dwelling!
4I would lay my case before him,
  and fill my mouth with arguments.
5I would learn what he would answer me,
  and understand what he would say to me.
6Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
  No; but he would give heed to me.
7There an upright person could reason with him,
  and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.

8“If I go forward, he is not there;
  or backward, I cannot perceive him;
9on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
  I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
16God has made my heart faint;
  the Almighty has terrified me;
17If only I could vanish in darkness,
  and thick darkness would cover my face!”

Psalm 22:1-15

1My God, my God, why have you for- | saken me?
  Why so far from saving me, so far from the words | of my groaning?
2My God, I cry out by day, but you | do not answer;
  by night, but I | find no rest.
3Yet you are the | Holy One,
  enthroned on the prais- | es of Israel.
4Our ancestors put their | trust in you,
  they trusted, and you | rescued them. 
5They cried out to you and | were delivered;
  they trusted in you and were not | put to shame.
6But as for me, I am a worm | and not human,
  scorned by all and despised | by the people.
7All who see me laugh | me to scorn;
  they curl their lips; they | shake their heads.
8“Trust in the Lord; let the | Lord deliver;
  let God rescue him if God so de- | lights in him.” 
9Yet you are the one who drew me forth | from the womb,
  and kept me safe on my | mother’s breast.
10I have been entrusted to you ever since | I was born;
  you were my God when I was still in my | mother’s womb.
11Be not far from me, for trou- | ble is near,
  and there is no | one to help.
12Many young bulls en- | circle me;
  strong bulls of Ba- | shan surround me. 
13They open wide their | jaws at me,
  like a slashing and | roaring lion.
14I am poured out like water; all my bones are | out of joint;
  my heart within my breast is | melting wax.
15My strength is dried up like a potsherd; my tongue sticks to the roof | of my mouth;
  and you have laid me in the | dust of death.

Hebrews 4:12-16

12Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

  14Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Mark 10:17-31

17As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
  23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
  28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler  —  Heinrich Hofman, Riverside Church, New York, NY

Sermon – Pr Meggan Manlove

Following Jesus is radical. It is counter cultural. His message is sometimes downright shocking. It does not get any more radical than this morning’s gospel text. Convenient as it might be, this teaching is not just for the Jeff Bezoses of the world. It is not even just for the rich. This scripture passage, which I fully admit is uncomfortable to sit with, is for all of us who are trying to be disciples, followers of Jesus. 

The passage is full of interesting and important details, which illumine the scene and give us clues about discipleship. Let’s start with the rich man himself. First, we know that he is a deeply religious man. He has kept all of the commandments. Yet he knows that there is something more. There is something about this man Jesus. He is the way to abundant life. Jesus will guide the man he supposes. The rich man wants to become a true disciple. So the man runs when he sees Jesus.

As he reaches Jesus, he kneels down. We have seen this posture before. Picture other instances when people knelt at Jesus’ feet. A leper came to Jesus, kneeled and begged for healing. Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, fell at Jesus’ feet and begged Jesus to heal his little daughter. And now here comes yet another man who believes that Jesus can give life. This man is breathing fine and does not need any physical healing. Still, he comes and kneels at Jesus’ feet and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“You know the commandments,” Jesus says. He lists them for the man. “Teacher,” the man says, “I have kept all these since my youth.” This man knows he is still lacking. 

The gospels more often show rather than tell us about Jesus’ love. We see Jesus’ love again and again through his actions. But here, we read specifically, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing.” Jesus’ instruction is paired with his love, even when the teaching will be difficult to hear. Keep in mind Jesus’ love for the rich man in this moment.

Jesus’ precise instructions are also significant. Jesus does not tell the rich man to burn the possessions and walk away. Instead, Jesus tells the rich man to sell the possessions and give the money to the poor. He instructs him to redistribute his wealth among the poor. Jesus calls for more than a change in the man’s bottom line. He calls for a relinquishment of his possessions for the sake of those people who are poor. What could the results of such actions be? Jesus is telling the rich man to change his relationship with the poor. At its heart, this entire passage is all about relationships.

The man is “shocked.” He cannot do what Jesus has told him. It is so radical. The costs are too great–financial, social, and political. And so the man who had run to Jesus, wanting to be a disciple, turns and walks the other way. The man goes away grieving. 

Jesus’ disciples have watched this whole encounter. After the rich man leaves, Jesus then looks at the disciples and says, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

It is impossible for us to hear Jesus’ words as his first disciples did. In their time and place people viewed the wealthy as blessed by God. Put another way, they believed God blessed people with wealth and riches. And so, if the rich, who have seemingly been given their by God, cannot enter the kingdom of God, then who can? The disciples ask one another, as we might, “Then who can be saved?” 

This last part of our passage sometimes gets overlooked. The disciples have already renounced much of their lives, security, and identity to follow Jesus. Peter does not boast but speaks out of panic. “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus explains that he does not call people to severe simplicity. He calls people into a new community with an alternative richness. Again, Jesus points to changed relationships.

Listen to the two lists Jesus gives. “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age–houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life.” 

The lists are not identical. Fathers is missing from the second list. At the very least, this is a nod to the fact that the kingdom of God is led by Jesus’ Father, the creator of the universe. This loving father has invited us all into a relationship of adoption–to be children of God. This new family might include all or part of the family you were born into, but it will certainly including new family members. It is expansive and as radical as Jesus’ vision of the reign of God.

You might be wondering [Don Juel], “Is the call to follow Jesus a call to abandon the world?  Is there no way to follow Jesus and also live in the world in such a way that one can be involved with such ordinary and essential matters as property and possessions?”

Yes, there is a way, “Jesus’ response heads off any notion that discipleship requires … abandonment of the world.  It also affords a glimpse of community life among Jesus’ followers…To those who have suffered the losses attendant upon following him, Jesus promises, not simply rewards in the life to come, but concrete rewards in this life: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands.”  

The early Christians were not impoverished.  For the homeless there will be homes; for those who have abandoned families there will be new families.  New social units will take the place of the old.  Jesus’ words sketch a vision of a real community of believers prepared to live in this time.  Implementing the ideal is hardly ever easy.  In the end it is life giving.  The potential for community is immense.  There is strength and new life when everyone has enough.

The man whom Jesus loves cannot free himself to follow Jesus. His possessions hold him fast. His survival depends upon being freed to spend himself on his neighbor—and that means spending his money. He is unable to get himself free.  Jesus tells his disciples, “With God all things are possible.” Our own captivity might look different. It might be wealth, or the desire for wealth. We might be captive to something else, like individual freedoms or complete security or a vision of a career. 

Rather than condemning the rich man’s “sin,” Jesus confronts the man with his weakness, his captivity to possessions that prevents him from living into the full life of the reign of God. Jesus here names the “power” that holds the man captive and invites the man to step into freedom.

Although we are freed once and for all in the waters of baptism, the truth is that we struggle with captivity daily. It’s one reason we confess our sins together each week and gather at the table to receive forgiveness and new life. And, importantly, we confess not alone, but communally. And we share the bread and wine together.  

In today’s passage, Jesus promises that those who have spent themselves and suffered for the sake of the gospel will not have to wait until the age to come for full life. He promises new family, fields, homes, and friends, “a hundred-fold in this age.” God does not intend that we live solitary, empty lives. Discipleship involves discovering a new family.  

Hard as it is to swallow, I am grateful for Jesus’ vision. Before my mom and my vacation to Oregon last week I will admit to being quite weary. My heart was broken from so many things–big and small, local and global. But what was worse was that my imagination was cloudy. I was having trouble imagining, visioning. The beauty of Crater Lake, the Umpqua River, the Central Oregon Coast helped a lot to restore my imagination. 

But the beauty of the natural world is not enough. Fortunately, scripture is full of visions and dreams of what the world could look like, of what we need to watch for, of how to catch a glimpse of the reign of God breaking into the here and now. One interpretation of scripture that I’ve leaned into off and on the past year is the song “Beautiful City” from the musical Godspell. I assume that composer Stephen Schwartz had, as his inspiration, the passage from Revelation 21, in which we see the holy city.

The second verse goes, “We may not reach the ending. But we can start. Slowly but truly mending. Brick by brick. Heart by heart. Now, maybe now. We start learning how. We can build a beautiful city. Yes we can, yes, we can. We can build a beautiful city. Not a city of angels. But we can build a city of man.”

Prayers of Intercession

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

A brief silence.Uniting God, you call forth different gifts in those who follow you. Encourage us to welcome the diverse benefits and blessings of the whole church in teaching, preaching, prophecy, healing, and more. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Nurturing God, you bring forth crops from the soil and bounty from the trees. Increase the produce of the land and bless all who toil in fields and orchards. Provide for good working conditions and keep them safe. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Empowering God, you offer compassion for those who are overlooked or forgotten. Open the hearts of local, national, and world leaders to show such compassion and love for their neighbors. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Sheltering God, in Jesus you travelled among us without a place to lay your head. Provide safe places to sleep and rest for those who have no place to live. Sustain ministries that offer food, clothing, and peace of mind (local ministries may be named). Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Renewing God, you bring life out of death. Help us part with those things that are no longer beneficial to us and open our hearts to see where new life is budding in this congregation. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.Eternal God, we thank you for the lives of those who have died (especially). Make us confident in your promise of salvation and support us in our own journey of faith. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

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

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Sept. 25, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Generous God, your Son gave his life that we might come to peace with you. Give us a share of your Spirit, and in all we do empower us to bear the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen.

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

1[King Ahasuerus] and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther.2On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 3Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. 4For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” 5Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” 6Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. 9Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.
9:20Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

Psalm 124

1If the Lord had not been | on our side,
  let Isra- | el now say;
2if the Lord had not been | on our side,
  when enemies rose | up against us,
3then would they have swallowed us | up alive
  in their fierce | anger toward us;
4then would the waters have | overwhelmed us
  and the torrent gone | over us;
5then would the | raging waters
  have gone right | over us.
6Blessed | be the Lord
  who has not given us over to be a prey | for their teeth. 
7We have escaped like a bird from the snare | of the fowler;
  the snare is broken, and we | have escaped.
8Our help is in the name | of the Lord,
  the maker of heav- | en and earth.

Mark 9:38-50

38John said to [Jesus,] “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
  42“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
  49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Jesus lays things out quite clearly for his disciples. They were a bit put out because someone seemingly outside their circle was able to use one of God’s gifts. Jesus does not have a problem with the person casting out demons in his name. Nothing is supposed to stop us or the collective we from bringing in the reign of God. We don’t have to look past our Old Testament lesson to see unusual characters being instruments of God’s reign.

Esther and her cousin Mordecai were living in Susa, one of four capitals in the great Persian Empire. It was 475 years before Christ. A hundred years previously, the Jewish people have been overrun by the Chaldeans. They had been taken into exile in Babylon. Fifty years later, Babylon was conquered by the Persians and the Jews were allowed to return home. But some Jews chose to stay where they were. They had discovered something important. God did not just live in the land of Israel. God was here too. Mordecai and Esther were among the Jews who stayed.

However, living as a Jew at the heart of the Persian Empire was risky business, as the book of Esther makes clear. Straightaway we meet King Ahasuerus and we find the most powerful man in the empire to be a reckless, extravagant, and easily manipulated character. This is especially dangerous because when he passes a law, that law cannot be changed, even if it turns out to be a disaster. 

Not only do the Jews live under an unreliable monarch and an unworkable legislative system, they also have sworn enemies. One is Haman. Haman and Mordecai despise each other. When Haman rises to the post of prime minister, Mordecai riles him so much that he manipulates the king into issuing a decree that will wipe out all Jews in the Empire. We need to remember that Israel was still part of the Persian Empire at the is point. So, the king’s decree threatens to eliminate the Jews from history altogether. 

There is one faint hope for the Jews. Five years before the passing of the decree, Mordecai’s cousin Esther, without revealing her ethnic identity, had joined the king’s harem, undergoing a year-long grooming to prepare her for a one-night stand with the king. The king liked her so much that he made her his new queen. But being queen did not give Esther automatic intimacy with the king one might imagine. The king still kept his harem and no one got to address the king unless he took their fancy and he waved his golden scepter at them. 

Esther is queen, but she is still so isolated that she did not even know that the Jews were due to be exterminated in a few months’ time. Back in Chapter four, Mordecai told Esther about the catastrophic decree. “Look, Esther,” Mordecai says, “You’re the only one who can do something about this.” Esther tries to escape but Mordecai explains that being queen is not going to save her. He says, “Maybe this was exactly why you became queen. You thought it was saving yourself, but God thought it was for saving God’s people. Maybe God put you here for exactly this moment, for just such a time as this.”

In the end, Esther stops denying, stops ignoring, stops making excuses, stops running away. She realizes this moment needs more than her own strength, so she falls back on the devotional habits of her people and calls on the Jews to fast with her. She resolves that she will face up to her responsibility and go to the king. She also recognizes that she must disclose her true identity as a Jew. She takes stock of the realities of her situation. One scholar [Sam Wells] goes so far as to say that Esther becomes Christ. She is a kind of Jesus, at the right hand of God, laying down her life for the salvation of the Jews. Esther requires a mixture of courage, charm, and luck. The king issues a new decree that enables the Jews to live another day.

The story of Esther teaches us many things. One among them is that there are biblical characters who have had to hide their identity. I assume many of us have kept parts of ourselves hidden when in group settings. However, if you have LGBTQ people in your life, they may be the ones who most easily relate to Esther’s predicament. One minister wrote, “Esther’s task is to figure out how to come out in such a way that turns the king’s heart away from the slander and stereotypes he’s heard about the Jewish people, Esther’s people. Her goal must be to save all the Jews, including herself.” 

Another lesson Esther teaches its readers is the history of the Jewish festival of Purim, celebrated in late February or March. Esther also teaches that maintaining community and religious identity in foreign territory is a tricky but very important task. And the book has much to say about power, ethnic tension, and the sin of pride.

But the heart of the story lies in those words from Mordecai, which Esther took to heart, “Perhaps you have come to this place, to this moment, to these people, to this challenge, for just such a time as this.”

Just ponder Esther for a moment. Yes, she had some things. But she lacked other things. She had beauty. She had a certain kind of training. She had an ambitious and loyal cousin. She had a very powerful husband. But she did not have any power over her own life. She did not have any security in the face of those who planned to kill her and her people. And she did not have any real personal intimacy with her husband.

Think about Esther, and then think about yourself. You have some things. You lack other things. Maybe you have the gift of great intelligence. Maybe you don’t have great brains and are free of the burden of feeling you have to be clever all the time. Maybe you have good looks. Maybe you don’t have good looks and are free of the expectations good looks can bring. Maybe you have had a calm and stable family life and understand what trust and security mean. Maybe you have known none of these things. But maybe you have experienced anxiety that helps you understand the panic Esther felt. 

What makes you uniquely you? And then think about your context. Think about the number of times you have said “What Trinity needs”, or “What Canyon County needs”, or “What my family needs”, or “What the world needs”. Think about the number of times you have thought there was nothing or no one that could do anything about it.

And then feel this exasperating man Mordecai tap on your shoulder, and say “Perhaps you have been given these skills and experiences, these privileges and deprivations, so that just at this very moment you could do what no one else could do, you could be what no one else could be. God made you just as you are because he wanted someone just like you. Maybe you came to be here for just such a time as this.”

Think again about Esther. She found herself at a crucial moment — not a moment for sudden action, but a moment when she realized the rest of her life must be given for one cause that went way and above her own safety, her own privilege, her own status. You could call it a moment of conversion. And what she was converted to was a further time of preparation, of fasting, or planning, of biding her time, of waiting till it was worth taking an enormous risk and then of executing a careful plan. And perhaps most curious of all, the person who brought her face to face with her destiny was no saint but Mordecai, her stubborn, proud, scheming cousin who’d done a whole lot to put his people in this mess in the first place.

Esther listened. Without Esther there would have been no Jesus, because there would have been no Jews. The founders of Trinity listened. On All Saints Sunday, Nov. 7, we will celebrate so many people in the Christian tradition who have listened. But today is a day to celebrate the times when each of us gathered here have listened and to strengthen us to keep listening and paying attention to the tap on the shoulder. Has God put you right here, right now, for just such a time as this?

Prayers of Intercession (From Sundays and Seasons)

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

A brief silence.We pray for the church and its ministry. Bless the newly baptized and encourage them in their journey of faith. Sustain all members of the body of Christ in lives of prayer, service, and worship. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We pray for natural wonders of your creation (local waterways, forests, and natural areas may be named). Restore damaged forests, waterways and natural habitats and lead us to be good stewards of what you have provided. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We pray for those in authority. Give them wise minds and compassionate hearts. Strengthen in them a desire to protect the vulnerable and care for those underserved. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We pray for those who are struggling with cancer, dementia, or any other disease. Provide them with peace and resilience for the days ahead. Sustain caregivers with energy and patience. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We pray for the worship leaders of this congregation: musicians, readers, acolytes, and ushers (other roles may be added to reflect your context). Bless us through their ministry and grant them the passion to continue in their service. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.We give thanks for all your saints, those we have loved and known and those from every time and place. Continue to guide us by their example and reassure us of your promised salvation. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

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

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Rest and Healing

Newsletter/Epistle Column for August 2021

Dear Friends and Members of Trinity,

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

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


Pastor Meggan  

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Sept. 19, 2021

Prayer of the Day

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

Psalm 54

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

James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a

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

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

Mark 9:30-37

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

Jesus Teaches the Disciples

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

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sept. 12, 2021

Prayer of the Day

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

Psalm 19

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

James 3:1-12

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

Mark 8:27-38

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

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

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

Sermon – Pr Meggan Manlove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayers of Intercession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sept. 5, 2021

Prayer of the Day:

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 125

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

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

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

Mark 7:24-37

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

Sermon Pastor Meggan Manlove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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