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Be Prepared!

Children's sermon
For January 19, 2020:
  • Be Prepared! by Bethany Peerbolte — God can use every experience and skill we have accumulated no matter how mundane it may seem to us to work through us to bring love into the world.
  • Second Thoughts: Nothing But the Truth by Chris Keating — In the opening chapter of the Gospel of John, John the Baptist is summoned to take the stand as a witness. His testimony provides an insight into the work all of us are called to do in proclaiming what we have seen and heard in Jesus Christ.
  • Sermon illustrations by Mary Austin, Dean Feldmeyer, and Ron Love.
  • Worship resources by George Reed that focus on being prepared; witnessing: how the impact of our story helps others witness to their story.
  • Children’s sermon: What's In A Name? by Tom Willadsen — In the Bible when people get new names it’s because they have gone through something really dramatic.

Bethany PeerbolteBe Prepared!
by Bethany Peerbolte

In the Text
Isaiah 49:1-7
The prophet Isaiah has been ministering to an exiled Israel. His message to them has been that God has chosen them and called them and they need to respond accordingly. Isaiah personally feels uniquely called by God, so he speaks to Israel out of his own experience of being a called person. In the beginning of the Book of Isaiah, the prophet talks about himself as the servant of God. As he recounts his doubts, struggles, frustrations, and joys he is setting a mold into which Israel can pour itself.

In the chapters leading up to the verses for this week, Isaiah has switched from only talking about himself as the servant to also talking about Israel as being God’s servant. In chapter 49 Isaiah goes back to talking about his sense of call to be a servant. Since he has spent time calling Israel God’s servant too, these verses are supposed to evoke the listener to thinking of how Israel is similarly called. Isaiah is talking about himself, but he hopes Israel will also see themselves in his experience with God.

Isaiah acknowledges that Israel is in exile, on “foreign shores,” showing he is aware of their struggle. Isaiah passionately believes that even though they are “far away” God is still with them. Isaiah then talks about his call. He says God called him from before he was born. This belief is seen throughout scripture. Jeremiah feels called from birth, Paul feels this way too, and we hear about John the Baptist leaping in the womb when Mary visits while pregnant with Jesus. All these people have experienced the truth that God’s call is not done on a whim or impulse. God’s call is planned and an integral part of a person from the beginning.

Isaiah goes on to give creative credit to God for his sharp tongue, “mouth like a sharp sword,” and his charismatic personality, “a burnished arrow.” Burnishing is when a metal is rubbed until it is smooth. Isaiah is saying God made him something shiny so that people would want to look and listen. Both characteristics have helped him do the ministry Isaiah is called to, but they have also gotten him into trouble. When that is the case Isaiah feels like God protects him when ministry gets dicey. Putting Isaiah in the “shadow of his hand” or concealing him in a quiver. Isaiah does not feel like God has been haphazard in his use of Isaiah. God has equipped him well and taken good care of him throughout the call to be a servant.

That does not mean Isaiah is always thrilled by the work God asks of him. There are times when Isaiah has felt empty and like the work is worthless. Isaiah admits these feelings come from his flawed humanity, they are his own thoughts, not from God. When Isaiah takes a moment to reconnect with God, he feels his purpose fill him again. Giving his life value and giving him strength.

John 1:29-42
These verses from the Gospel of John show Jesus gaining disciples from John the Baptist. A disciple was supposed to give their life to learning how to be like their rabbi. Usually a rabbi chose their disciples from the schools, picking the best and the brightest. Jesus chose a little differently. Instead of the strongest academics, Jesus wanted the strongest hearts.

The disciples Jesus chooses would have known they could not make a rabbi’s cut. They were not in school, in fact they had probably failed out. While the smartest prepared by reading and studying scripture, these men were already in the workforce. However, something inside them kept them attune to the modern teachers. They listened to John the Baptist so they would know when the messiah had come. This meant learning, but nothing as rigorous as their peers still in school. They would not be as respected as those who studied under a “proper” rabbi. John the Baptist was not a popular rabbi. Yet, something in them kept their attention on these teachings.

Then one day Jesus comes by and John points to him as the Messiah. He tells the men who have been following him if they feel like they must, they should follow Jesus. Their time with John has helped prepare them to follow Jesus. They may not have felt like they were studying or learning or growing spiritually, but when the time comes to follow the Messiah, they are prepared. A couple of the men do take the leap and become disciples of Jesus.

In the News
As news comes out of Australia about the wild fires, stories about people using their preparedness to help is getting headlines. In some of the stories, how they prepared and how they fit into the fight are obvious. American firefighters have joined the effort to put out the fires. Even an elite crew from California who have faced these kinds of blazes before. These women and men have specialized educations in the science of fires and have trained in various methods of controlling and extinguishing the flames. Their careers have given them the experience and hard learned lessons to make them especially helpful for this crisis.

Other people who have come to the aid of Australia have not prepared especially for this moment, but their hearts and talents turn out to be very helpful. People are making meals for the firefighters. One group of women drove 4 hours and brought 5 trucks loaded with food to cook for the firefighters. Doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are giving extra time to meet the needs of everyone effected by the fires. Everyday citizens are opening their homes to those whose houses have been destroyed, organizing drives to collect water and other goods, and having BBQ’s to raise money. These people may not have set out to become specialized to help in an event like this but they have accumulated skills that are helpful and are willing to use them.

Even people who are far away are finding ways to help. One young boy is making Koala sculptures to raise money for the Wildlife Rescue South Coast. Any donation of $50 or more on his Go Fund Me page will get a koala sculpture. The fund has raised $3,200 so far. Other crafters have put their creativity to use by making pouches and mittens for injured animals. These items will help rescue efforts make the animals feel comfortable and safe until a new permanent home can be found. By far my favorite story is Operation Rock Wallaby. They are dropping vegetables around the perimeter of the fires for fleeing animals to find, eat, and regain their energy. Mr. Rogers said to look for the helpers in a crisis, and there are a ton of them in Australia and around the world.

Another story that struck me as a great illustration of the idea of life preparing us for our call is about the man who invented the playground staple “the ball pit.” Eric McMillian had a hard childhood with very little opportunity to play. He went on to become the world’s leading designer of play structures. His life set him up to be especially sensitive to fun. He may not have set out to design play grounds, or started school to do that kind of work, but that is what he was called to do. Each step of his life, the good and the bad, prepared him to bring fun and joy to the world.

In the Sermon
If you put the words “fortune favors” into a google search you will get back multiple answers. Some say fortune favors the bold, or the brave, but Louis Pasteur believes “fortune favors the prepared.” The scriptures this week seem to agree with Louis. Preparedness is vital to fulfilling God’s call. That preparation can come from hours of study and experience. Whether it takes 10,000 hours or 20 hours to master a skill is still up for debate. That preparation could also be gained without us realizing what is happening. Either way God is active in preparing us for whatever we are called to do.

Some calls lead us on a path of active preparation. We must study and practice to get to a point where our call can be lived out. I think of the firefighters and the tests and stress they have endured to make them exactly who is needed to put out the fires in Australia. A call that has a strict preparation path comes with obvious setbacks, classes are failed, and promotions pass by. These setbacks can throw someone off their goals completely. If, however, they feel called to the work, their resilience in hard times is higher. Isaiah knows he, and Israel, are called to serve God. They face setbacks, exile and rejection, but their sense of call makes them determined to get through hard times.

Some calls lead us on a path where what we are being prepared for is hidden. Often hardship is the essential ingredient to success. Eric McMillian did not get many chances to play as a child. Poverty and forced labor at an early age robbed him of the joy of play. Those days dreaming of what he would rather be doing left a spark of imagination inside him that he later made a reality for other children. The hundreds of people helping as they can in Australia and around the world show how we might not be aware of how prepared we really are. God can use every experience and skill we have accumulated no matter how mundane it may seem to us to work through us to bring love into the world.

We may be on a journey like those first disciples. Following one person and thinking our lives will be one way, then suddenly Jesus shows up and we realize we are ready to follow another path. That doesn’t mean our time before is wasted, God uses that preparation for the next journey, too. When God calls, which happens before birth, God equips well and protects well, even when we aren’t aware it is happening.

Nothing But the Truth
by Chris Keating
John 1:29-42

As soon as the witness is seated, the courtroom is hushed. Sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, the witness steels himself for coming questions.

“State your name for the record,” ask the inquisitors.

“I’m not the Messiah,” confesses John. His interlocutors frown. They should have known this was not going to be easy. “Are you Elijah?” Nope. “The prophet?” Not on your life.

John’s terse replies get under the skin of his prosecutors. “If it pleases the court,” yelps the red-faced Levite as he adjusts his glasses, “May the witness be instructed to answer us?”

“I already have,” replies John. “I’m a witness, just a voice crying out in the wilderness. The one you really want is coming after me.”

As a witness John provides the essential testimony to what God is doing. While the synoptics make him appear a bit like a street preacher or doomsday prophet, in John’s Gospel the Baptist is primarily a witness. The emphasis is on the testimony John brings. The writer of John’s Gospel takes away his camel’s hair suit and locust and honey sandwiches. Instead, the audience is called to hear the testimony of one who has been sent by God.

Commentator Karoline Lewis is correct in suggesting that we drop “Baptist” and rename him “John the Witness.” The theme of testimony arises early in John’s Gospel and continues to dominate the lectionary text for the second Sunday after the Epiphany. His testimony about Jesus is the theological framework for this week’s passage, and functions to tee up Jesus’ forthcoming revelation. “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God,” John concludes.

The next day, according to John 1:29, John moves from character witness to eyewitness. “Look!” he tells his students, “here is the Lamb of God!”

As a witness, John speaks a disrupting truth that begs the famous question from the classic movie “A Few Good Men.” Can we handle this word of disruptive truth?

When Jack Nicholson’s character in that movie is cross examined on the stand by a brash young Navy litigator played by Tom Cruise, he bristles. “You can’t handle the truth,” snaps Col. Nathan Jessup. Soon enough, however, even the powerful commander is ensnared by his own less than truthful testimony.

Likewise, John’s Gospel is a reminder that the power of testimony lies in its ability to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth — even if that challenges long-held lies. A good example is Martin Luther King, Jr’s prophetic witness from a Birmingham, Alabama jail. His “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” unequivocally name the ways southern white moderate Christians had benefited from privileges withheld from African Americans. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” wrote King. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

King’s testimony functions a bit like John the Baptist’s cry. “Look!” he declares. “There is the Lamb of God.” He is pointing to the light which shines in the darkness, though the world prefers living in darkness rather than adjusting to light.

God’s disclosure in Jesus Christ forms the core of our testimony. Witnesses declare what they have seen and heard, offering compelling reminders of where to find truth in a culture of lies. Nothing could be more important in this time and place than the testimony of faithful witnesses.

Look, for example, at the images of Australia’s unprecedented brush fires. Americans may be moved by the news accounts or satellite images of the millions of fires burning in Australia, but eyewitness testimony is even more convincing. Take, for example, the emotional interview 16-year old Robert Irwin, son of the late Australian wildlife celebrity Steve Irwin. The younger Irwin was moved to tears as he described the animals flocking to his family’s wildlife refuge.

“[Animals are] getting hit by cars and are being attacked by domestic animals, so there’s a horrific knock-on effect,” said Robert. “We’re seeing all kinds of different injuries,” he continued. “Obviously smoke inhalation and burns are happening frequently, but also animals are going into areas where they’re not supposed to be to escape the horrific conditions. It’s definitely an ongoing issue and we’re just trying to do our best to help in any way we can,” Robert added. “It’s a pretty tough situation. We’re absolutely heartbroken.”

The Irwins have received over 90,000 displaced animals at their zoo, which is located in areas considered safe from the fires. The fires have been burning for months. It is an unimaginable disaster that has consumed millions of acres. Until recently, however, most of the world has not been paying attention to what’s been happening. Unfortunately, we may well be approaching the time when we can no longer afford the privilege of ignoring testimony of the witness.

It is becoming hard to dismiss what the witnesses from down under are telling us: for weeks temperatures in the entire continent have exceeded 100-degrees; smoke in Sydney has set off indoor smoke alarms; nearly 500 million animals have perished, and the entire nation’s annual carbon output will likely be double what it was last year.

Like the Australians, John points to what he knows to be true. He testifies to what what he has seen and heard. We know this to be true, and science confirms it. In a recent study, researchers discovered what happens when boys witness their peers acting violently toward girls. Those who witness acts of violence are two to five times more likely to repeat that behavior. Even more telling is the impact of a positive behavior. The study also showed that boys raised with more equitable understandings of gender were less likely to be abusive.

A witness speaks to what she or he has observed. It is the same with John the Baptist. He squints toward the figure on the horizon. He doesn’t hesitate, however. He immediately knows that this is the one who will rank ahead of him. He sees the light, the dazzling brightness of God’s light. In response, he tells  the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.


Bethany PeerbolteFrom team member Mary Austin:

John 1:29-42
Come and See
“Come and see,” Jesus invites his would-be followers, drawing them into a journey of seeing much more deeply. Takashi Tanemori, now in his 80's, finds that his physical sight is failing, and yet his insight is growing. Tanemori was eight when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and he has lost his eyesight as a result of the bomb blast. A longtime resident of the US, Tanemori started by wanting revenge. “When Takashi Tanemori came to the United States in 1956 at the age of 19, he had one thing on his mind — getting vindication in some form for the atomic bomb blast in Hiroshima, Japan, that killed his family.”

“I wanted revenge against Americans,” said Tanemori, 81, of Berkeley. “I wanted to get even with Americans. Americans dropped the bomb, destroyed my family and especially my daddy. He was like the sun, the captain of the ship. Americans put me through all this.” But after struggling with his emotions for 40 years, Tanemori has transitioned from feeling vengeful to forgiving. Along the way he’s experienced several life-changing events — a heart attack in 1982, the loss of his eyesight from the blast beginning in 1983.”

The tradition of samurai warriors runs in Tanemori’s family, and he felt that revenge for his family was one of his duties. Having a heart attack and losing his vision prompted him to see things differently. “Tanemori couldn’t let go of his sense of duty, and revenge remained a driving force in his life until 1985. His little daughter’s voice pleaded, “Daddy, if you go after American children, won’t they just come for us?” Tanemori said God spoke to him then and said, “If you bring judgment, God will bring the judgment for the next four generations.” “I just couldn’t let that happen,” Tanemori said, so he decided to let his feelings of anger and revenge go. Ten days later, Tanemori said he received approval from his father in a dream or vision. He recalled what his father said on the last night of his life. “He said, ‘Son, the greatest way to avenge your enemy is to learn to forgive — learn to live for the benefit of others,’ ” Tanemori said.”

After that, “Tanemori became a prolific artist, writer and an anti-war activist who began speaking out about his experiences as a Hiroshima bomb survivor. He appeared at art exhibits and museums, at Hiroshima vigils and anniversaries, in front of anti-war groups and also at colleges.”

The loss of his eyesight revealed deeper truths to him, and he has spent the years since then offering the invitation that Jesus offers: come and see.

* * *

1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Looking to the End

Paul writes to the believers in Corinth that God “will also strengthen you to the end,” reminding them that “God is faithful.”

The late Elie Wiesel has talked often about losing his faith when he was imprisoned in the German concentration camps of World War II. When asked what he did next, he says he started praying. His prayers changed over the years, but he maintained a connection to the God who so disappointed him in the evil of the Holocaust. He could not say forever that his faith was gone. As he recalls, “I couldn’t make it ten minutes…then I went back to prayer. What is prayer? You take words, everyday words, and all of a sudden they become holy. Why? Because there is something that separates one word from another and then you try to fill the vacuum. With what? With whom? With what memory? With what aspiration? So when words bring you closer to the prisoner in his cell, to the patient who is dying on his bed alone, to the starving child, then it’s a prayer.”

Even in the absence, God was present, as God is for us, too.

* * *

Psalm 40:1-11
A New Song

People who are experiencing grief find that the psalmist speaks words that echo their anguish. After a period of deep grief, we might also say, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”

Sheryl Sandberg has reflected on this after the sudden death of her husband in 2015. Having grown up in an observant Jewish family, she says, “when I lost Dave and lost Dave so suddenly, religion is, in many ways, the first place you turn because it gives you some things you’re supposed to do. Religion told us that we were supposed to sit shiva, meaning people came over to the house. Religion told us how we were going to perform the burial.” She adds, “There’s this — in Judaism, when you bury someone, you lower a casket into the ground, and the people themselves, the people closest to them, shovel dirt on the casket. And I buried my grandparents, so I had done that before. And in the face of something so sudden and so tragic, the traditions around the burial, the funeral, the shiva, impossible though they were to live through, I think, were actually very important and very comforting because without them I just would have not known what to do. That was, I think, hugely important because death ushers in such nothingness, such blank — I thought of it as a void, sucking you in and pushing on my chest so I could barely breathe. And religion was something to hang to in that void.”

Sandberg says that she learned from her own sorrow how isolating hard experiences are. “What happens is that when bad things happen, we deal with the repercussions of that, the grief, the loss, the cancer treatments, the chemotherapy, the nausea, the financial hardship of a parent going to prison. But then we also deal with all of the things that come from silence, isolation, lack of support, in many cases, shame. If you want to silence a room, get diagnosed with cancer. No one knows what to say…I realize having been on the other side of this, I got this wrong many times. If I had a friend — and I’ve had many friends who have been diagnosed with cancer over the years — I used to say, “I know you’re going to get through it.” And I would say it once, and not mention it again…And then I would never mention it again because I thought if I brought it up I was reminding them they had cancer. Losing Dave taught me how ludicrous that was. You can’t remind me I lost Dave. I know that. So when no one says anything, I just feel alone. It’s not that I forget. And so now what I do if someone gets diagnosed with cancer — and unfortunately, this has happened many times since I lost Dave — I will say to them, “I know you don’t know if you’re going to get through this, and I don’t know either. But you’re not going to go through it alone. I’m here to help you. I’m here to do it with you.” And then the next time I see them, I will ask them, “How are you feeling?” Not, “How are you?” but, “How are you feeling? How is it going? Do you want to talk about this?” And sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t, but I don’t let the silence overtake our relationship.”

Hardship taught her — as it teaches many of us — how to help one another when we’re in the desolate pit that the psalmist describes.

* * *

Psalm 40:1-11
Saving Help

As Sheryl Sandberg reflects on what she has learned since the unexpected death of her young husband, she says she found hope in her faith, and in the help of friends, and also in taking back parts of her life that she thought were over forever. The psalmist proclaims, “I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation,” and Sandberg does the same as she recounts the mysterious lessons of grief. “After Dave died — I think it was about four months later — I was at a friend’s bar mitzvah, and a childhood friend pulled me onto the dance floor to dance to a song I loved in childhood. And a minute in, I just burst into tears. I mean, it was embarrassing. I had to be kind of ushered out of the room really quickly. And I didn’t really know what was wrong. And then I realized what was wrong was I felt OK. I felt OK. For one minute four months later, I felt happy. And I felt so guilty feeling happy.”

A friend told her, “Of course you haven’t felt happy. You don’t do a single thing that would make anyone happy since Dave died…You’re waiting to feel better to do something that will make you happy, but really it goes the other way.” She realized, “that the big a-ha… I was waiting to feel better to feel happy…I decided I was going to take things back. My kids and I would take things back.” They began to play family games again, and to go to events. She adds, “My brother-in-law, in an unbelievably generous move, called me months after Dave died crying — I could hear it in his voice — saying, ‘All Dave ever wanted was for you to be happy. Don’t take that away from him in death.’”

Her children have learned similarly wise lessons. She says, “Those problems that seemed so big before are tiny and small and completely surmountable. And it’s not just me — I’m not the only one with this perspective. My kids have it. A few weeks ago, my son’s basketball team lost in the playoffs, and all the other kids were super upset. And I looked at my son, and I said, ‘How are you?’ And he looked at me, and he goes, ‘Mom, this is 6th grade basketball. I’m fine.’”

All kinds of saving help came to her in this journey of deep grief, from the people around her, and from the God who redeems us from the pit of our hard experiences. She was able to say, with the psalmist, “Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.”

* * * * * *

Dean FeldmeyerFrom team member Dean Feldmeyer:

Da Vinci’s Sketches                         

That Leonardo DaVinci was a genius is nondebatable.

That was borne out to me a couple of years ago when my wife and I took our grandchildren (boys 8 & 11) to the Cincinnati Museum Center to see an exhibition of the master’s works. Sculptures, inventions, and reproductions of his paintings filled the halls of what used to be the great art deco Union Terminal train station.

We walked and talked for what seemed like hours, Grandma and I reading the plaques and explaining to the best of our ability, what we were seeing.

One room, in particular, was fascinating to all four of us as it contained notebook pages and scraps of paper with sketches and rough, partially finished drawings. Why would a masterful genius like Leonardo spend his time drawing on what appeared to be the equivalent of cocktail napkins?

The plaque explained: Leonardo was a student of the visual. He was fascinated with how things appeared to the eye and this was his way of making notes. He would see something interesting — a person’s hand or foot, a dog’s tail, a bird’s wing — and draw them and save the drawings so he could incorporate these items into his now famous paintings.

Leonardo prepared to paint masterpieces by making throw-away sketches of everyday things that he saw.

* * *

Painting Birds
A story goes that a long time ago, Tokugawa Leyasu (1543-1616), the Shogun of Japan, commissioned an artist to create a painting of a bird. A number of months passed, then several years, and still no painting was brought to the palace. Eventually, the great Shogun went to the artist's home to demand an explanation. Instead of making excuses, the artist placed a blank canvas on the easel. In less than an hour, he completed a painting that was to become a brilliant masterpiece. When the emperor asked the reason for the delay, the artist showed him armloads of drawings of feathers, wings, heads, and feet. Then he explained that all of this research and study had been necessary before he could complete the beautiful painting.

* * *

Dad Says
In the parking lot at the mall:
She’s in her mid-twenties,
    lithe and blond and beautiful,
    dressed in sleek, stylish black.
And she has a flat tire.
The security guard helping her
    change the tire
        is her age.
    Haircut high n’ tight. Hard arms.
    Good looking in a military way.
She hands him the tire iron.
“My dad said this tire looked funny
and I should have it checked out.
    But I didn’t.”
He asks, “You got Triple A?”
“No. My dad said I should get Triple A.
    But I didn’t.”
He lifts the tire off, looks up at her, says:
    “I think you should listen to your dad.”
She sighs.
    “My dad says that, too.”
By Dean Feldmeyer

* * *

Untold Story Leads To Tragedy
The message of the gospel is an important one which God has given to Christians to deliver to those who haven’t heard it. However, many of us, fearing that we might offend, are reluctant to deliver this vital message. One cannot help be reminded of the undelivered message in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

Condemned and rejected by her parents because of her love for Romeo, Juliet visits Friar Laurence for help, and he offers her a potion that will put her into a deathlike coma for "two and forty hours.” The Friar promises to send a messenger to inform Romeo of the plan so that he can rejoin her when she awakens. On the night before the wedding, she takes the drug and, when discovered apparently dead, she is laid in the family crypt.

The messenger, however, does not reach Romeo and, instead, Romeo learns of Juliet's apparent death from his servant, Balthasar. Heartbroken, Romeo buys poison from an apothecary and goes to the Capulet crypt. He encounters Paris who has come to mourn Juliet privately. Believing Romeo to be a vandal, Paris confronts him and, in the ensuing battle, Romeo kills Paris. Still believing Juliet to be dead, he drinks the poison. Juliet then awakens and, discovering that Romeo is dead, stabs herself with his dagger and joins him in death. The feuding families and the Prince meet at the tomb to find all three dead. Friar Laurence recounts the story of the two “star-cross’d lovers,” who died all because of an undelivered message.
* * *

Witnessing As Seeing and Doing
One night last November, David Walker was sitting in his car, waiting for his shift to start at the 7/11 store in Otay Mesa, near San Diego, California, when he heard the gunfire that killed a woman and injured two men at a Church’s Chicken restaurant next door.

Immediately, he said, the scene became chaotic as people in the drive-thru sped away from the area while others started shouting and running back inside.  

Walker saw the shooter leave the Church’s Chicken and then, as he watched, one of the male employees fell out of the back door, bleeding. He ran to the man and used skills he had learned from his sister and his ex-partner, both nurses, to help the man until help arrived. He used his belt as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding from one bullet hole in the man’s arm and applied pressure to another wound. While he was giving medical aid, Walker talked with the victim, a man in his 50s with three children, about his kids and family, trying to calm him.

The victim was able to identify the shooter to Walker as a man he had seen around the neighborhood.

The victim survived and the armed robber was later captured.

* * *

Witness, The Movie                                                                        

In the 1985 movie, “Witness,” the title carries more meaning than the viewer realizes until the end of the movie.

It begins with an Amish widow (Rachael) and her 9 year-old son (Samuel) on their way from the Amish country of Pennsylvania to Philadelphia to visit the widow’s sister. In the restroom of the train station the boy witnesses a murder and is taken, with his mother, to the police station to look through mugshot books where he discovers that the murderers are actually police officers.

Police Captain John Book, played by Harrison Ford, is charged with taking the two back to Amish Country where he is to protect them as they hide until the crime is solved and the bad cops apprehended.

Near the end of the film the bad guys have figured out where Captain Book is hiding with Rachael and Samuel and they show up at the farm intending to kill all three of them. In a prolonged, lethal, cat-and-mouse game Book manages to dispatch two of the dirty cops and sends Samuel to ring the signal bell that will bring the other Amish farmers on the run.

The last bad guy, however, manages to corner Book and is just about to shoot him when he realizes that the barn loft is filling with people. About twenty Amish farmers and their families have arrived, unarmed witnesses, to what is happening.

The bad guy realizes that he is undone. He can neither kill all of these witnesses nor lie his way out of the testimony they will bring. He surrenders to Book.

The good guys have won.

* * * * * *

Ron LoveFrom team member Ron Love

Isaiah 49:1
The Lord called me before I was born
Bobby McFerrin is best known to us for his iconic 1988 feel-good hit song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Since then he has received ten Grammy Awards. McFerrin’s love of music came from his childhood. Whenever he was sick his mother would give him two things, medicine for his illness and “she’d give me music for my spirit.” He went on to say, “Music does have incredible power to rearrange your insides, rearrange your thoughts, heal your body.”

McFerrin later released his album titled spirityouall in 2013. This reads as “spirit you all,” which is McFerrin’s personal testament of faith. The album includes his adaptations of traditional African-American spirituals and devotional songs that he composed. McFerrin believes that music has a transcendent spiritual power saying, “It elicits so many emotions. Music has a way of communicating … that language does not. It can go past language.”

* * *

John 1:29
Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century and the founder of Lutheranism, described Jesus’ action with these words, “All this he did for the purpose of drawing us to himself. He wants us to recognize that this poor, weak and humble man is the almighty and eternal God. Therefore since we could not bear to hear God in his majesty, he humbly adopted flesh and blood, assuming not only our nature, that is, flesh and blood, but also all the frailties with which body and soul are afflicted, as, for example, fear, sadness, anger and hatred. This is really burying and concealing his divine majesty!”

* * *

John 1:34
And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.
“Jesus Loves Me” remains the most popular children’s hymn. It is also the most notable hymn that missionaries use to teach children the message of Jesus. The hymn was originally written as a poem in 1860 by Anna Bartlett Warner. Her sister, Susan, was a novelist. Behind Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Susan’s novel, The Wide, Wide World was ranked second in popularity. The hymn comes from another novel that Susan wrote at the time, titled Say and Seal. Today few are aware of that novel, but everyone is familiar with the poem that Anna wrote for one of the characters in Susan’s novel. In the nove,l as Mr. Linden comforts the dying child Johnny Fax by reciting the poem, “Jesus loves me! this I know, For the Bible tells me so.” In 1861, Dr. William B. Bradbury put the poem to music. It first appeared in 1862 in his hymnal publication, The Golden Shower. The hymn has remained unchanged ever since.

* * *

Isaiah 49:6
as a light to the nations
The unofficial anthem for Boston Marathon is “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. Several days after the bombing that occurred during the Boston Marathon, Neil Diamond led a tearful crowd of 35,000 at Fenway Park to a rousing rendition of “Sweet Caroline.” The soft-rock classic became an unlikely anthem for those who were shaken by the events at 2:49 p.m., on April 15, 2013, killing three people and injuring 264 others.

* * *

John 1:34
I saw the Spirit descending like a dove
Origen (184–254) was a scholar, early Christian theologian, and a Church father. He  was born in Alexandria and spent the most of his career in that city. He was a prolific writer in multiple branches of theology including textual criticism, biblical exegesis, hermeneutics, philosophical theology, preaching, and spirituality. Gnosticism was a heresy in the third century. Gnostics believed that the world was divided into the physical and spiritual realms. The created, material world is evil, and therefore in opposition to the world of the spirit, and that only the spirit is good. Because the material world is evil, Jesus only appeared to have human form but he was actually spirit only. Gnosis, which means knowledge of spiritual mysteries, put forth the Gnostic doctrine that Jesus could only be known from knowledge. Origen asserted that Jesus was both divine and human when he wrote, “He is called a servant because of the ‘form of a servant,’ and became as he is ‘of the seed of David,’ but son in accordance with his power as firstborn. So it is true to say that he is man and that he is not man. He is man insofar he is capable of death; not a man insofar he is more divine than man.”

* * * * * *

George ReedWORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship:
Leader: God has multiplied wondrous deeds towards us.
People: We delight to do God’s will in all we do.
Leader: Do not hide God’s saving help in your heart.
People: We speak of God’s faithfulness and salvation.
Leader: Give us your mercy, O God.
People: Let your steadfast love keep us safe forever.


Leader: God is here and we are blessed!
People: Thanks be to our God and Savior.
Leader: God has been active in all of our lives.
People: We rejoice in the presence of God among us.      
Leader: Share the good news of God’s loving presence.
People: We will tell the story of God’s love in our lives.

Hymns and Songs:
O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing
UMH: 57/58/59
H82: 493
PH: 466
AAHH: 184
NNBH: 23
NCH: 42
CH: 5
LBW: 559
ELA: 886
W&P: 96
AMEC: 1/2
Renew: 32

I Love to Tell the Story
UMH: 156
AAHH: 513
NNBH: 424
NCH: 522
CH: 480
LBW: 390
ELA: 661
W&P: 560
AMEC: 217

Tell Me the Stories of Jesus
UMH: 277
AAHH: 331
NNBH: 67
CH: 190
AMEC: 550

O God, Our Help in Ages Past
UMH: 117
H82: 680
AAHH: 170
NNBH: 46
NCH: 25
CH: 67
LBW: 320
ELA: 632
W&P: 84
AMEC: 61
STLT: 281

Pass It On
UMH: 572
NNBH: 417
CH: 477
W&P: 557

O Zion, Haste
UMH: 573
H82: 539
NNBH: 422
LBW: 397
ELA: 668
AMEC: 566

This Little Light of Mine
UMH: 585
AAHH: 549
NNBH: 511
NCH: 524/525
ELA: 677
STLT: 118

We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations
UMH: 569
NNBH: 416
W&P: 562

Sing Unto the Lord a New Song
CCB: 16
Renew: 99

We Will Glorify
CCB: 19
Renew: 33

Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELA: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who prepares our way with grace:
Grant us the courage to tell our stories
that others may find them pathways to you;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.


We praise you, O God, because you pave our way with grace. Give us courage to walk in grace and share our stories so that others may use them as pathways to you. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our failure to tell the stories of our faith.

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We have been blessed in so many ways by you and yet we fail to share these stories with others. We say that you are the most important part of our lives and yet we are embarrassed to talk about you. Forgive us and empower us with your Spirit to speak out and share the good news of your love and grace. Prepare us to be your heralds this week. Amen.

Leader: God knows our frailty and our weaknesses. God also knows what we are capable of doing and being. Receive God’s grace and share with others the wonders of God’s love.

Prayers of the People
Praise and glory be to you, O God who blesses all the world with your presence, grace, and love.

(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We have been blessed in so many ways by you and yet we fail to share these stories with others. We say that you are the most important part of our lives and yet we are embarrassed to talk about you. Forgive us and empower us with your Spirit to speak out and share the good news of your love and grace. Prepare us to be your heralds this week.

We thank you for all the ways in which you share yourself and your love with us. We thank you that you claim us as your own children. We thank you for the ways in which you supply us with all we need to live into your joy and peace.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another this day. We pray for those who have not heard about your love and grace. We pray for those who are afraid to share their stories with others.

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

All these things we ask in the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together saying:

Our Father....Amen.

(Or if the Our Father is not used at this point in the service.)

All this we ask in the Name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. Amen.

Children’s Sermon Starter
Have you done anything that was fun this past week? Has anything good happened? It is fun to share with others when good things happen. Here at church we hear stories from the Bible about when God has helped. We share good news. We can also share the good news of how God loves us.

What's In A Name
by Tom Willadsen
John 1:29-42

John 1:42, NRSV: He (Andrew) brought Simon (his brother) to Jesus, who looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter).

Jesus does something extraordinary at the end of today’s gospel reading; he gives Simon a new name. John’s account is much different than Matthew’s. In Matthew, Simon is the first person to identify Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus immediately says of, and to, Simon, “On this rock I will build my church.” “Peter” means “rock.” (This is also true in Aramaic, “Cephas” means “rock,” and French, “Pierre” means “rock,” perhaps this is true in other languages, too.) In Matthew, seconds after Simon says Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus calls Simon Satan. At this point Peter must have been feeling something like identity whiplash!

I’ve heard preachers say it’s as though Jesus was calling him, “Rocky.” I’ve also shared the interpretation that some of the time Peter is about as perceptive as a rock.

For today’s time with the children, focus on names. If you know their names, call them by the wrong name. Perhaps give them a name based on something they’re wearing. Ask if sometimes people have trouble learning their names, perhaps calling them by their sibling’s name. Parents often call their children by the names of their other children. This is because they love us.

Really, the scientific basis for misnaming is essentially that people put other people in “cognitive buckets.” (This is my term, the article linked above says it more scientifically.) When trying to retrieve the name of their child, sometimes a parents (mothers more often than fathers) pull out the wrong name. It is usually the name of another person they love, who occupies the same categorical bucket. While this is different from Jesus changing Simon’s name in John’s gospel, it might be a pleasant digression as you talk to kids about being called the wrong name.

For the record, the name “Simon” is rooted in the Hebrew word “shema” שׁמע which means “hear” or “listen.”

Ask why the kids think that Jesus would change someone’s name. Why would Jesus change someone’s name the moment he met that person?

Does it mean something that his name went from “Listen” to “Rock?”

Tell the kids that names are really important. It hurts when someone forgets your name. It’s as though they’ve forgotten you. And remind them that you were just being playful when you called them by the wrong name.

Tell a story about a time you were called by the wrong name. What did you do? How did it make you feel? Personally, once in 6th grade when I had my hand up, the teacher looked at me and called me by my brother’s name. I smiled and kept my hand up. It took her a moment to realize why I had not spoken. This was really a simple case of her putting me in the same cognitive bucket with my brother. I was not hurt, offended or angry, but neither am I my brother. Silently, I insisted she call me by my name.

In the Bible when people get new names it’s because they have gone through something really dramatic. (That is, except for when “Sarai” becomes “Sarah;” the name change is decades before she gives birth to Isaac.) Abram became Abraham; Jacob became Israel; Saul became Paul. All these changes came at dramatic moments in those people’s lives.

In this case, the dramatic moment in Simon’s life was the moment he met Jesus! That’s a pretty good dramatic moment for anyone!

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Immediate Word, January 19, 2020 issue.

Copyright 2020 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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