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The Captivity of Calumny

Children's sermon
For June 2, 2019:
  • The Captivity of Calumny by Chris Keating — The late and much adored writer Rachel Held Evans said, “faith isn’t about having everything figured out ahead of time; faith is about following the quiet voice of God without having everything figured out ahead of time.” Evans helps us to speak the words of truth which will set us free.
  • Varieties of Religious Experience by Tom Willadsen — What would Christian unity look like if we really believed that the Holy Spirit works through all believers, and all believers have a unique relationship with the living God?
  • Sermon illustrations from Mary Austin and Ron Love.
  • Worship resources by Chris Keating that focus on unity; speaking the truth; proclaiming God’s righteousness.
  • Children’s sermon: United as One by Dean Feldmeyer — Jesus wants us to be united but not, necessarily uniform.

Chris KeatingThe Captivity of Calumny
by Chris Keating
Acts 16:16-34

If you know the truth, says Jesus, it will set you free. Of course, you may get sent to jail first.

That’s exactly what happens to Paul and Silas. One moment they’re walking down the street, and the next they’re tossed into the hoosegow on trumped up charges. When a fortune-telling slave girl begins following them and incessantly chanting “These men are slaves of the Most High God! They proclaim to you a way of salvation,” Paul’s patience wears thin.

After three days of her nonstop verbal stalking, Paul is pushed to the limit. In Luke’s words, he’s “very much annoyed,” and adjures the demon to come out of the girl. That ends her annoying disruptions, and also her ability to turn a profit for her owners. Obviously, the woman’s owners are less than thrilled with Paul and Silas.

Despite any evidence, the two are arrested an found guilty of stirring up the crowds. They’re stripped, beaten, and thrown in jail. There’s little room for truth in a culture of lies.

Luke’s little story is a reminder of how lies enslave us. Notice how deceit chews at the foundations of our culture, eroding trust. We see junk news popping up on our social media feeds more and more. Even more frightening is a new study that says unreliable news reports are shared four times as frequently as news gleaned from reliable sources. Having perfected the art of lying, politicians no longer dabble in half-truths. President Trump, for example, has taken shaving the truth to new levels. Last month, the Washington Post reported that the President had achieved the dubious honor of having told more than 10,000 false and misleading claims since becoming president.

But the lies go beyond Washington, DC. David Brooks observes that our culture’s dependency on lies has reached epidemic proportions. The mounting deceit, says Brooks, creates higher levels of social fragmentation, frustration, and widespread emotional dysfunction. “No wonder,” says Brooks “it’s so hard to be a young adult today. No wonder our society is fragmenting. We’ve taken the lies of hyper-individualism and we’ve made them the unspoken assumptions which govern the way we live.”

In her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, the late and much adored writer Rachel Held Evans said, “faith isn’t about having everything figured out ahead of time; faith is about following the quiet voice of God without having everything figured out ahead of time.” Evans helps us to speak the words of truth which will set us free. Like the Philippian jailer, we may soon be asking, “What must I do to be saved?”

In the News
Back in the 60s, comedian Lily Tomlin created the loveably precocious character Edith Ann, a five-and-a-half-year-old little girl whose monologues on everyday life are delivered from an oversized rocking chair, and punctuated by a juicy tongue-in-lips raspberry. From the porch, Edith Ann tells the truth about her neighbors, her dog and her squabbling parents.

Boy we could use a dose of Edith Ann’s winsome wit — especially in our post-truth era. Three years ago, the editors of the Oxford Dictionaries announced that “post-truth” was their choice for word of the year. The word, which their editors had been watching for at least a decade, is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”  Most often, it is used as an adjective to modify a noun, as in “post-truth politics.”

Between 2015 and 2016, the word watchers at Oxford noticed a 2,000% increase in the word post-truth. Oxford Dictionaries president Casper Grathwohl noted how social media, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump had fueled usage of post-truth. “I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time,” he said.

Grathwohl’s assessment was an accurate prediction of our current cultural climate. We’re lousy with speaking truthfully. President Trump seems to be leading the charge in this regard — during the seven weeks leading up to the midterm elections, his lying rate jumped to 30 per day. But since it's generally agreed that most — maybe all — politicians lie, does it matter?

More than 50 years ago, political theorist Hannah Arendt advanced the theory that dishonest communication contributed to totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. Lies bend the imagination of the public, Arendt suggested, so that leaders can more successfully coerce consent from the masses. In her essay, “Truth, Politics and Lying,” Arendt argued that “the result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lies will now be accepted as truth, and truth defamed as lies, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world — and the category of truth vs. falsehood is among the mental means to this end — is being destroyed.”

Truth researchers have discovered that when we imagine something could be true — even if we know that it is not true — we hold the person uttering the lie to laxer standards. In other words, a politician — any politician — escapes scrutiny by just convincing their followers a statement could be true. As an example, recall that few of President Trump’s followers were upset when he suggested the “alternative fact” that his inauguration was the best attended in United States history. Researcher Daniel Effron found that for most Trump supporters, this was not a moral issue. “Falsehoods that feel close to reality may be perceived as less dishonest when people imagine how they could have been true in alternative circumstances,” said Effron.

By way of comparison, pay attention to conversations between clergy at an upcoming denominational meeting, especially when the conversation turns to matters of attendance or stewardship. Some falsehoods may just seem more morally acceptable than others.

The problem, says Effron, is that once you have imagined how something could have been true, you begin holding the person to a lower standard of morality. That’s the place where the chains of dishonesty begin to cinch closer. It increases divisions in society and makes the sort of unity Jesus describes in John 17 nearly impossible.

"It’s hard enough to talk across a division that’s purely political; it’s harder to talk across a moral division,” says Dr. Effron. “Anything that increases differences in how moral we think people are makes me worried because it makes it a lot harder to work together.”

Last week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made it known that she is praying for the President, even though she’s finding it harder to work with him. Pelosi’s tactics, apparently designed to expose Trump’s unfitness, affirm the Trumpian style of politics: vulgar, cruel, and value-free. Pelosi has become Trump’s personal troll,” wrote New Yorker writer Masha Gessen. Fox News commentator Chris Wallace quipped that he wasn’t sure who was trolling whom in that exchange:

I think there is no question that Nancy Pelosi, when she starts talking about, ""I pray for the president" and perhaps "his family should have an intervention," was trying to get at the president. And clearly she succeeded to some degree in getting under his skin when yesterday at the press conference he called on what, about four or five members of his administration to confirm the fact that he didn’t have a 'temper tantrum' and didn’t lose his temper when he ended the meeting on infrastructure on Wednesday. On the other hand, he gives as good as he gets and talking about 'crazy Nancy' and that 'she is losing it' and he is worried about her. You know, look, as a political reporter in this town it’s all very entertaining but as an American what it means is that nothing gets done.  

In a tsunami of lies, staying afloat takes extra effort. That’s the moment when lies, alternative facts and post-truths seize our culture, throwing it into a captivity from which there may be no release. It’s at that point the question of the jailer in Acts 16:30 takes on new relevance: “What must we do to be saved?”

In the Word
Acts 16 narrates Paul’s excursion into Philippi. Last week’s story of Lydia’s conversion and her subsequent offering of hospitality and openness toward God is paired with the oddity of Paul and Silas’ encounter with the slave girl and their subsequent imprisonment.  Embedded within this pericope are images of the Gospel upsetting prevailing economies and the power of God’s gift of freedom.

In the beginning of the story, Paul and Silas are followed by a demon-possessed slave girl who has the knack for getting under their skin the way Nancy Pelosi seizes Donald Trump. “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” Ironically, she is speaking the truth. Her frenzied, demon-possessed self is an unwitting — if unwanted — witness to Paul and Silas’ missionary activities.

Paul finds this annoying for reasons which are not clear. She is not unlike many persons you might encounter on the streets of a city. Her shrill words get Paul’s blood boiling, but there seems to be no indication she was trying to cause them harm.  Was Paul’s temperament not suited for this sort of encounter, or is something else at work?

Perhaps Paul is reacting to the chains of dishonesty which keep this woman enslaved. Her condition has made her owners a tidy profit. They have capitalized on her pain, using her as an fortune teller in order to pad their own pockets. Yet she is a slave, held captive to a system that did not have her best interest in mind. Not only did her owners deny her true freedom, they were peddling their own brand of lies to unsuspecting worshipers of the oracles.

God, however, remains in control of this situation, even as the irate slave owners have Paul and Silas hauled before the authorities. Lacking any real reason to have them arrested, the girl’s owners make up charges that the two were stirring up the crowd. Accusing them of being anti-Roman agitators, the owners present Paul and Silas to the magistrates.  Having been found guilty, they are stripped, beaten, and jailed.

But God’s truth cannot be contained. Having been falsely convicted, the two sit in jail. What happens next could almost be told in the style of NBC’s Dateline.  God’s power intervenes. While it seems that Rome has the upper hand, God’s truth will always win. As they are singing hymns, an earthquake erupts, shattering the prison. Those who proclaim the truth of God cannot be silenced, nor can they be contained by chains of lies.

It’s an imaginative and wonderful tale, and the heart of the matter is still to come. While the rest of the prisoners remain in their cells — wink, wink — the jailer runs to see what has happened. Luke is clear: the earthquake was “so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken,” opening “all the doors,” and unfastening everyone’s chains. Knowing that he would be held accountable for the escape of convicts, the jailer prepares to take his own life.

Yet even that chain has been broken by the power of God’s truth. Paul halts the suicide and the jailer calls for lights. He summons the torches, but the jailer also seeks light of another kind. Shaken to his core, he asks the two missionaries, “What must I do to be saved?”

Truth sets them free, and soon he and his household move from contemplating the jailer’s own funeral to rejoicing in God’s gift of salvation.

In the Sermon
Our culture of lies keeps us chained. It’s a dark cell which is casting an ever-increasing shadow across nearly all sectors of society.

While President Trump may indeed be the liar in chief, the sort of post-truths populating the world go beyond 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. The network of lies in our culture extends to coffee shops where we avoid telling friends the truth about our own emotional despair. There are chains of half-truths and untruths which bind relationships. We tell lies to each other about issues concerning women’s health, the environment, the existence of white privilege. We eat a steady diet of carbohydrate laden lies and then refuse to believe we have developed a sort of resistance to the truth.

Notice that Paul and Silas never contend with the liars. Paul speaks a word of truth to the slave girl, and yet never defends himself until God has acted. Within this strange little story there are metaphors and images of God breaking chains, and of the power of truth bringing wholeness. For whatever reason, Paul learns to hold that famous tongue of his until the moment is ripe. When the doors of the jail are set free, he then manages to let it be known he and Silas are Roman citizens with all the rights, privileges, and perks thereunto appertaining.

Perhaps a sermon could trace the way God’s power works to defeat a culture of lies. Such power sees the prevailing half-truths and calumny as corrupt. The prisons built by lies will not stand — whether that is in Philippi, or Birmingham, or the Robben Island cell in South Africa that held Nelson Mandela. These prisons will fail, and the chain of lies will be shattered.

God’s power will overcome those who have traded in deceit, whether that is by profiting from a fortune telling slave or by political greed. What is essential in this story is the power of God which breaks apart chains and brings the gift of salvation — to the girl who is enslaved, to Paul and Silas, and to the Philippian jailer.

The sermon should not neglect the nearly Shakespearean conclusion to the story. All’s well that does end well, and this escapade has its ending with a wonderful evening back at Lydia’s house, where food and fellowship no doubt were shared. No wonder that Paul could eventually write to these Christians with delight in his voice, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice!”

Varieties of Religious Experience
Tom Willadsen
John 17:20-26, Acts 16:16-34, Psalm 97 Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

I have been an at-large member of Winnebago Presbytery since September 2018. I served Presbyterian churches for more than 25 prior to transitioning out of the parish. Sometimes I call myself “free range clergy;” sometimes “post-parish clergy.”

I have taken advantage of my newly free Sunday mornings and visited a wide array of Christian congregations in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I am a “cradle Presbyterian;” unlike most people my age, I have never belonged to a church of any denomination other than the Presbyterian Church (USA). For more than a year I have written profiles of faith communities for a weekly paper. I attend worship and visit the church’s website. I ask the leader—most of them answer to the title ‘Pastor’—if they would be open to having a profile written for a future issue. I try to meet the leader for coffee in the week following attending worship.

I had no idea how varied worship is in Christian churches in this city. I do not have words to describe how wildly different we Christians are.

I have worshiped in a bar, a living room, a basement of an office building, a chapel at a retirement community and a lot of buildings that anyone would identify as churches. I have visited 15 different Christian communities and 14, I think, different denominations. (I have also worshiped in two mosques.)

Music has been part of every service, but it has made by electric guitars, pipe organs, electric pianos and recordings. I’m not sure whether chanting qualifies as music, but this may be due more to my lack of familiarity with this style, than the leader’s lack of musical ability. 

The strongest associations I have had have come in the first few seconds of entering the worship space. This one smells exactly like the grade school I attended 50 years ago; my school had the same type of boiler. This one smells like a newly scrubbed dental office. Another is filled with the smell of coffee perking. The one next door smells of the freshly-ground, gourmet coffee they are getting ready for the guests. Then there’s the incense. Father Andy’s getting barley soup and fresh bread ready as worshipers arrive. Another group smells of glue and crepe paper; they will try to express praise to God in visible, tangible ways that they will take home.

This church puts all the liturgy on the screen. This one shows its announcements on the screen Sunday morning, but records them Thursday afternoon. Many churches do not have bulletins; others have tomes that make me want to say, “Thank you, Leo Tolstoy.”

In some churches people sit far apart, a dozen worshipers in a space that could hold 400. In some churches passing the peace is perfunctory, in others, hugs are offered, even imposed. Many do what I call the 360 Peace; people shake hands with the people in front of them, on their right, on their left and behind them, then sit down…and wait, seething, for the more social, boisterous worshipers to finally settle down.

John 17:20-26
When I was newly ordained I was cornered by someone who had attended a funeral at which I had presided. She informed me that it was “a scandal to the Gospel of Jesus Christ that there are so many Christian churches! Christ’s word could not be clearer; Christians are required to be united, unanimous, one in the spirit, just like that repetitive song from the ‘60s!” She cited John 17:20-22, though she did not use the New Revised Standard Version that appears here.

 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I day am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one…”

“If we’re not united, well, there’s simply no hope. For Christians, for the world, for Creation. Our one and only task is to seek to be united with other Christians!”  

When Presbyterians ordain and install Deacons, Ruling Elders and Ministers of the Word and Sacrament, they are asked, “Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church?”

Personally, I find this the most difficult question to answer in the affirmative. I’m totally down with peace, but I have seen peace in tension with unity. For example, I may not speak my conscience in a session meeting if it looks like all the other ruling elders hold the opinion opposite of mine. In the name of unity, I may sacrifice my own peace of mind. While the question does not ask to further unanimity, I still do not know what unity in the church would look like. There is certainly not uniformity of opinion on anything in any congregation I have ever worshiped in. What is Christ asking of his disciples and the church that will form around his ministry?

(As for purity, I conceive of a pure church as impossible, but I am only asked to further the purity of the church, not to achieve it.)

In the News
Recently the United Methodist Church has been in the news as it has wrestled with whether and how homosexuals and transgender people can participate in the life of the church. Every mainline denomination has had this wrenching conversation in the past two decades. Unfortunately, controversies like these are the only reason that churches are ever covered in the press. We run hospitals and homeless shelters, soup kitchens and after school programs, food pantries and schools, but we’re only in the news when we’re having our most bitter disputes. I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind when he gave the New Commandment. He said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (This was part of the gospel lesson for May 19.)

Jesus did not say, “Your bitter, vitriolic words will attract people to the good news I offer you, and intend for the world.”

What does unity in Christ look like? Dr. King said that the most segregated hour of the week is on Sunday morning. That is certainly true; and it is true for more than just race.

Acts 16:16-34
A few observations: the slave girl’s ability to tell the future is not questioned, just the healing power in the pool at Bethzatha in last week’s gospel portion was not questioned. She was her owners’ meal ticket and Paul ordered the ability out of her. She correctly identified Paul and Silas, but she was irritating to Paul.

The unnamed jailer, ready to kill himself when he feared that the prisoners he was assigned to guard had gone free, asks Paul what he must do to be saved. His job has been saved because the prisoners did not take advantage of what must have been a precision-guided earthquake. Paul’s answer is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” That “on” is not a typo. It was “in” in the Revised Standard Version, but changed to “on” 50 years later. This is for emphasis. It’s closer to “relying on,” than “trusting in.” Paul demands a strong commitment from the jailer and his family. Which raises another question: Is believing a “work”? If one relies on believing for salvation, then is salvation by grace alone?

The jailer is baptized, along with his whole family. Just as Lydia had her whole family baptized in last week’s lesson from Acts. Again, this verse has been used to defend the practice of infant baptism.

Varieties of Religious Experience
I have attended worship in a wide variety of Christian churches in the last year. I said earlier that I do not have words to describe how different they are from one another. For example, on Church Avenue in my town, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, seven different churches have worshiped in five different buildings. I have worshiped with all of these congregations and found I could only lead worship, doing what I typically do leading worship, in two of them.

One gathers at 9 a.m. and sunlight floods through the stained glass windows on clear days. They sing traditional hymns accompanied by an acoustic guitar. Ninety minutes later a different church pulls the shutters and dims the overhead lights and their seven piece rock band belts out praise choruses for 30 minutes before the pastor walks to the front of the sanctuary.

Earlier this year a Lutheran congregation moved to another facility after selling their building to a congregation affiliated with the Calvary Chapel Association.

One celebrates Eucharist (Spell check prefers “Eucharist” capitalized; I disagree...) every week with real wine and wafers. The other gathers for prayer and communion prior to worship and teaching. They use matzah and grape juice.  About a dozen people attend the sacrament; close to 100 are there for worship and teaching.

All these churches worship in English, identify as Christian, pray in Christ’s name and conclude prayers with “Amen.” They all worship on Sunday morning within a five iron shot of one another. All are led by people who are committed to following Christ. The leaders are all friendly, kind, articulate and engaging. They are confident that the Holy Spirit is leading them and their congregations on faithful paths.

Can this be the unity that Christ wishes for his followers? Unity that flows from God into Christ into Christ’s followers…It all reminds me of one of Billy’s indirect paths to his next door neighbor in Family Circus….

As I talked to the Calvary Chapel pastor about the congregations adjacent to his, he said, “We are all unique and all made in God’s image.” His comment echoed a rabbinic tale I remember from decades ago:

A man asks his rabbi why there is so much variety among human beings.

The rabbi thought for a moment, then said, “My son, it is because we are made in God’s image.”

What would Christian unity look like if we really believed that the Holy Spirit works through all believers, and all believers have a unique relationship with the living God? Would that be the kind of unity that would get the world’s attention as a model for Christian living?

Having seen a sliver of the variety of Christian expression in my town, I have to say it’s our best shot.

Mary Austin
From team member Mary Austin:

Acts 16:16-34
Cultivating the Truth
The story of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment highlights the value of people who seek and tell the truth. Gregory C. Ellison II believes that that telling each other the truth has a deep communal value, and can change our social bonds. Ellison, a professor at Candler School of Theology, is the host of Fearless Dialogues. “Fearless Dialogues is a nonprofit organization that creates spaces for unlikely partners to engage in hard conversations about difficult subjects such as racism, classism and community violence. The nonprofit partners with organizations ranging from sports teams to schools and businesses to lead community conversations. Three elements -- see, hear and change -- are woven throughout the organization’s curriculum, which employs various modules, or “experiments,” to encourage and stimulate conversation between people who don’t normally talk to each other.”  Dr. Ellison says he is aiming not just at honesty, but truth about difficult topics. He says, “We seek to create unique spaces for unlikely partners to engage in hard, heartfelt conversations about taboo subjects.”

Ellison say this way of cultivating truth-telling grew out of his fatigue with people arguing with each other in twenty-second sound bites. “I was on our local NPR station, and I put out a call. I said, “Several of you will be marching on the state Capitol in the coming days in memory of Trayvon Martin. For those who would like to try something different, please join us at Emory for a conversation about how we can improve the lives of young people, particularly African-American young men in our community.” Over 300 people showed up. It’s a rainy Saturday, and there are parents and high school students and Emory students and faculty and administrators and political officials and drug dealers from the local community that a few friends and I were mentoring. It was a very eclectic group. We greeted them in the parking lot, so before they got to the door, they received a unique greeting and then walked into the space curious about what they were about to experience. They were anticipating what they saw on TV, more of a debate, but we utilized some strategies that we still utilize today to encourage authentic exchange. After an hour and a half of dialoguing, we finished, but nobody left. People wanted to continue talking, so for another hour and a half, people lingered. Later, I was leaving, and one of the drug dealers said to me, “Greg, this is the first time I’ve been able to share my story and not feel judged. This felt like heaven.” At that point, we decided to figure out how we could re-create this.”

Participants are invited to identify themselves with a spiritual gift, instead of by their status or lack of it in the world.

Ellison explains, “We negotiate around working with strangers by creating a space that is radically hospitable. We greet people in the parking lot. We invite people to choose a badge with the name of a particular gift they identify with, something that identifies them beyond a role. So when they enter into the space, there isn’t the hierarchy there would be if a judge were sitting across from a drug dealer if they share the same gifts, as an artist or a healer or an activist.” He adds, “One example of how that took a very unique turn was in our first Fearless Dialogues session, when a judge and a drug dealer sat in the same circle. Both chose the label “healer.” If the drug dealer had known that he was sitting next to a judge and the judge had written, “My name is Judge Sarah Jones,” he would have gone to the other side of the room. But instead, they’re seated in the same circle and they’re talking about why they chose this particular gift… now they’re talking, and the judge says, “Before I give a ruling, I turn my back and I say a prayer for the family.” And the drug dealer says, “My mother and father aren’t present in the home, so I’m the one who cooks dinner for my younger siblings. I help them with their homework. I’m the healer in my family.” If they had been, as Parker Palmer said, identified by their roles, there’s no way that conversation would have unfolded. But they were connecting based upon the gifts of their souls, which provide an entryway into conversation.”

The truth is a radical connector between people.

* * *

Acts 16:16-34
Recognizing the Truth in Others

In a commencement address, noted preacher and educator Howard Thurman tells the story of a friend of his who became blind as an adult. Noting all the challenges she faced in navigating the world around her, and in adapting to new ways of doing her daily chores, he asked what had been most difficult for her. “I asked her: “What is the greatest disaster that your blindness has brought to you?” She said, “When I go places where there are people, I have a feeling that nobody knows that I’m here. I can’t see any recognition, I can’t see… and if nobody knows that I’m here, it’s hard for me to know where I am.”  Without seeing herself in the mirror of other people, it was hard to who she genuinely was. Paul and Silas give this gift of truly seeing the truth about someone to the enslaved young woman who follows them around, and then again to the jailer.

Thurman says that this is gift we all want. “I want to feel that I am thoroughly and completely understood so that now and then I can take my guard down and look out around me and not feel that I will be destroyed with my defenses down…” He adds that we are all seeking the gift that Paul and Silas already know how to give. “It doesn’t matter whether I become a doctor, lawyer, housewife. I’m secure because I hear the sound of the genuine in myself and having learned to listen to that, I can become quiet enough, still enough, to hear the sound of the genuine in you. Now if I hear the sound of the genuine in me, and if you hear the sound of the genuine in you, it is possible for me to go down in me and come up in you. So that when I look at myself through your eyes having made that pilgrimage, I see in me what you see in me and the wall that separates and divides will disappear and we will become one because the sound of the genuine makes the same music.”

Paul and Silas share with the enslaved young woman the gift of whom she really is, the gift we all long to receive from God.

* * *

Acts 16:16-34
Who’s Lying?

Interestingly, the enslaved woman is one of the few people telling the truth in Acts 16. The spirit within her recognizes the truth about Paul and Silas, and who they are, and yells that revelation out as she follows them around. Social scientist Paul Ekman says that the most common reason people lie is to avoid punishment. Next is to obtain some kind of reward, and then to protect someone else.   The more we lie, the easier it gets.  Lying, for most people, “takes work. [Studies of the brain in an MRI machine show that] some people told the truth instantly and instinctively. But others opted to lie, and they showed increased activity in their frontal parietal control network, which is involved in difficult or complex thinking. This suggests that they were deciding between truth and dishonesty — and ultimately opting for the latter.” In a follow-up study, “people whose neural reward centers were more active when they won money were also more likely to be among the group of liars — suggesting that lying may have to do with the inability to resist temptation. Scientists don’t really know what prevents all of us from lying all the time. Some believe truth-telling is a social norm we internalize, or a result of conflict in our brains between the things we want and the positive vision of ourselves we strive to maintain. But the curious thing about this preventive mechanism is that it comes from within.”

* * *

John 17:20-26

In the Kenyan village of Umoja, a group of women started the community, joined by the shared experience of surviving sexual assault. Umoja means unity, and in this village, “a group of 48 women live with their children in huts protected by thorny brush to keep away intruders. When a man trespasses, they notify the local police, who either issue a warning or arrest the culprit -- depending on the number of offenses. The village was started in 1990 by 15 women who became stigmatized in their communities after they were raped by British soldiers from a base at nearby Archer's Post, a trading center bordering Samburu and Isiolo. Some of the rape survivors say their husbands accused them of bringing dishonor to their families and kicked them out. They found a piece of land, moved there and named it Umoja -- Swahili for unity. It has since grown into a refuge, welcoming women escaping abusive marriages, female genital mutilation, rape and other forms of assault. Even some women whose husbands died have found solace and a home there.”

The women in this village, who all come from a background in a patriarchal culture, have formed their own traditions. “In the evening, the tiny, modular structures are full of life, with chattering women sitting around the fire to talk about their day as beans and corn simmer in large pots…Outside the huts, women sit on mats to watch children play. Sometimes, they sing and dance to traditional Samburu songs, their brightly colored ornaments and wraps moving with the beat. Other times, they quietly make the round beaded necklaces that are a trademark among Samburu women, which they sell to make money for the community.” The money is pooled, and the village matriarch allocates the funds to each family group. One young women who grew up in this village filled with unified purpose says, “I grew up surrounded by so many women…It's like having different mothers all around you."

Out of an experience of violence and shame, these women have found their own unique brand of community, and unity with each other.

* * * * * * * * *

Ron LoveFrom team member Ron Love:

John 17:26
“I made your name known to them…”
My 92-year-old mother, Marge, always jokes that she does not have a special day during the year to call her own. She was born on June 6, and that date became known for the Normandy Invasion in 1944. Her Wedding Anniversary is August 30, but then a few years later, in 1951 I was born on August 30. She does joke about it, but when she is being serious, she recognizes the important events associated with these dates.

* * *

Revelation 22:16
“bright morning star”
Names. Nicknames. Titles. These are all very significant to us for they provide a sense of personal identity. We take serious pride in personal designations for we accept them as a mirror of ourselves to others. Entwined with our ego they are inseparable from promoting or destroying our self-esteem.

The Secret Service has a long-standing practice of assigning code names to the presidents and presidential candidates they have sworn to protect. President Bush is “Tumbler.” This was the code name assigned to him when his father was president, reflective of his behavior prior to his life changing encounter with evangelist Billy Graham. His father, George H. W. Bush, was “Timberwolf,” respectful of his Texas heritage. Ronald Regan was “Rawhide,” the true cowboy who occupied the Oval Office. Bill Clinton was “Eagle” and his wife, Hillary, still carries the designation “Evergreen.” Jimmy Carter was “Deacon,” acknowledging his position as a Sunday school teacher. New England roots defined John Kerry with the word “Minuteman.” Barrack Obama, the only 2008 presidential candidate to be afforded Secret Service protection, is called “Renegade.” Dick Cheney is “Angler.” Al Gore was referred to as “Sawhorse.” After countless protest on his part it was changed to “Sundance,” a designation he found equally objectionable.

Jesus had a code name assigned to him, referenced only once in the New Testament. The title was “Bright Morning Star.” The title was not ascribed by a secondary source, but claimed by Jesus himself as recorded by John the Seer, “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

* * *

Revelation 22:16
“bright morning star”

George Armstrong Custer was dubbed by the Cheyenne in his military campaign to subjugate them as “Creeping Panther,” for his ability to pounce unexpectedly upon an unsuspecting encampment. During the Dakota Campaign the Indians changed his name to the “Son of the Morning Star,” for like Venus, he appeared out of nowhere and was seemingly everywhere.

* * *

Revelation 22:16
“bright morning star”

English theologian John Wycliffe (1330? — 1384) embraced the concept that the laity ought to be active participants in all aspects of congregational life, a view strongly divergent to that held by the Vatican. Promoting this transition, he maintained that all individuals ought to have access to the reading of the scriptures. Fulfilling this ambition, he became the first person to translate the Bible into English, which was then called the Wycliffe Bible. In an effort to restore the church to the laity, Wycliffe has become known as “The Morning Star of the Reformation.”

* * *

Revelation 22:13
“I am the Alpha and the Omega”
In Judaism God is considered the beginning and end of all things. The Hebrew word for truth is emeth. Hebrew originally had no vowels, so the word emeth is composed of three constraints, “aleph,” mem,” and “tau.” The word “emeth” came to symbolize God because “aleph” is the first letter of the alphabet, “mem” the middle letter, and “tau” the last letter. It was confessed that emeth stood for the beginning, middle, end, and therefore God. For a Jew, “the Beginning and the End” was a title for God.

The New Testament writers continued this presupposition when they translated “emeth” into Greek. Designating that Jesus was the beginning and the end, the first and the last, they took the phrase “from aleph to tau” and translated it to “from alpha to omega,” with “alpha” being the first letter of the Greek alphabet and “omega” the last.

There are a number of implications for this confession. It designates Jesus completeness and comprehensiveness for he is eternal on both ends of the spectrum of creation. It means that Jesus brings perfect continuity to creation which has no break, no points in which it can be shattered; it is unchanging, unvarying, unwavering and uninterrupted. Jesus is the beginning and the end. He was before all things. He will be after all things.

* * *

Revelation 22:13
“I am the Alpha and the Omega”
Arthur Rubinstein, one of the greatest piano virtuosos of the twentieth century, once said, “It’s all a miracle. I have adopted the technique of living life from miracle to miracle.” Living in the promise that all begins and ends with Jesus does allow us to live life from miracle to miracle, knowing we are secure in God’s act of creation.

* * *

Revelation 22:13
“I am the Alpha and the Omega”
Alpha and Omega. Jesus referenced himself with this phrase only once and it is absent from the gospels and the epistles. The title is found only three times in the scriptures, all of which are in the book of Revelation. The first two references are overtly ascribed to God. The third is clearly accredited to Jesus. John, unhesitant and without qualification, equates Jesus to God with this arrangement. No higher title can be attributed to Jesus for he is assigned the title reserved for God himself.

God proclaims, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” (Rev 1:8) and several chapters later reports, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega.” (Rev 21:6) The first passage is part of the book’s salutation. It is a statement of the finality of what is going to be read. The second reading is an assurance of God’s trustworthiness to make all things new, therefore it can be declared, “It is done.” Such a declaration can only be prescribed by the One who controls the destiny of creation.

The third affirmation is made by Jesus at the close of the book, “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Rev 22: 12-13) In this passage Jesus directly applies the title of God to himself.

This implies a Trinitarian relationship that is never forthrightly stated in the scriptures, only implied of the equality of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. It is made explicit when purported in the doctrine that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are of one nature, defined as “one in three, three in one.” This confession was finalized at the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. and the Trinitarian formula was officially canonized as church dogma. Having lived with the formula since that time we have the tendency to read it into the scriptures, but it was never formally articulated by the New Testament authors, only inferred. In the final book of the Bible the Incarnation is complete, God and Christ merge into one.

* * *

Revelation 22:14
“wash their robes”
“Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my king who saved me?”

This is considered one of the most important confessions in the history of Christendom. It was spoken by Polycarp as his last opportunity to recant before being executed as a subservient of the state. Though thousands of Christians met a similar fate and must be duly recognized for their steadfastness, Polycarp, because of his position in the church and his chronological age at the time of his death, has decorously received special recognition.

His family was converted to Christianity when he was a young child. John the Apostle personally taught Polycarp the teachings of Jesus. Through his relationship with the evangelist he had the opportunity to converse with many individuals, other apostles and commoners alike, who personally knew Jesus. Upon the death of the twelve apostles and Paul, the church looked to Polycarp and other individuals who knew the gospel writers personally as undisputed authorities for the interpretation of their writings. As bishop of Smyrna (now Izmir in Turkey) he forthrightly condemned the heresies of Gnosticism and Maricionsim.

Thundering upon the church was “The Fourth Persecution” under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus in 162 C.E. The days leading to Polycarp’s death are significant less for the drama, more for the universal application of human behavior in times of personal travesty.

Germanicus, a Christian, was brought into the arena to be slaughtered by wild beasts. To demonstrate the courage of his convictions he actually grabbed an animal by the tail and dragged it towards him. A sign of undeniable conviction of a willingness to die for the Lord. Inspired by this act of heroics Quintus rose from the stand, proclaimed his continuing loyalty to Christ, and voluntarily leaped into the ring to secure a similar fate. When the first lion approached, overcome with fear, he recanted, pledging his undying allegiance to Caesar. I would caution passing judgment on Quintus until our own exuberance is put to the reality of such a harsh test. The crowd, far more interested in satisfying bloodlust than political ideology cried, “Away with this atheist, let a search be made for Polycarp.”

Upon learning this Polycarp withdrew from the city and took refuge in a farmhouse. That night as he slept, he went into a trance and saw his pillow burning with fire. Upon awakening he said to those who accompanied him, “It must needs be that I shall be burned alive.” Authorities approaching, he retreated to another farm house. The Romans, torturing two slave boys, learned of his new location. Arriving at dinner time to make the arrest, Polycarp asked for an hour of prayer and requested that the soldiers be given a meal.

On the way to the arena he was seated in the carriage between Herod, the captain of the police, and his father, Nicetes. They tried to convince Polycarp that remaining steadfast in his convictions was a silly and inane gesture, “Why, what harm is there in saying Caesar is Lord, and offering incense.” Refusing, he was pushed out of the moving carriage, forced to walk to the stadium.

When he entered the stadium, a voice was heard by all. Whether it came from a spectator or from heaven is still in dispute, but what can be attested are the words, “Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man.” One last time he was afforded the chance to offer incense to Caesar, resulting in his now and well-known chosen words of his conviction. There was a cry to bring forth the beasts, but the procurator stated the games had been closed for the day; instead, Polycarp would be burned at the stake. The specters hurried from their seats to gather the needed firewood.

It was customary to nail the victim to the stake so as not to move. Polycarp assured them he would stand as immovable on platform as he was in his faith, thus only his hands were tied behind the pole. The fire was ignited, but he wind formed a vault about the body, failing to burn the flesh directly. It was ordered that the executioner would spear the body and so doing so much blood poured forth as to extinguish the flames. All marveled that there should be such a difference between the blood of an unbeliever and the elect.

* * *

Revelation 22:14
“wash their robes”
George Whitefield is one of the most recognized evangelists in American history. He was born in England but during his lifetime made seven cross-Atlantic trips. He had a powerful voice that could be heard by crowds that exceeded 20,000. Benjamin Franklin himself calculated this figure at a revival in Philadelphia. He was also a great humanitarian, establishing orphanages and raising money for their upkeep. The first home he established, Bethesda Orphanage in Georgia, still cares for the souls of youth this day. Whitefield and John Wesley were close friends. This is especially remarkable due to their opposing theological positions, with Whitefield a Calvinist who strongly adhered to the doctrine of predestination. Notwithstanding, it was Wesley who Whitefield requested to preach his funeral service.

At the Chapel in Tottenham-Court Road on Sunday, November 18, 1770, John Wesley delivered a eulogy for his good friend. There is a line in the sermon that all of us would like to have spoken regarding our service to the Lord, “Is there not a point of still greater importance than this, namely, to drink into his spirit? — herein to be a follower of him, even as he was of Christ?”

Wesley composed a hymn to be sung at the conclusion of the service to commentate his friend, challenging all to be servants of God. Titled “Servant of God, Well Done!” it reads:

Servant of God, well done!
Thy glorious warfare’s past;
The battle’s fought, the race is won,
And thou art crowned at last.

* * *

John 17:20
“of those who will believe me through their word”
Benjamin Gilman served in the United States House of Representatives for 30 years. He retired from Congress in 2003. Gilman represented New York’s 27th congressional district. Gilman served as the chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and he was the congressional reprehensive to the United Nations. Gilman, a Republican, was an outspoken critic of President Bill Clinton’s foreign policy. He especially disapproved of the favoritism that Clinton showed Russia over the former Soviet Republics that were able to gain their independence. Addressing the Clinton foreign policy Gilman said, “Instead of a strong, steady signal on foreign policy coming from the nation’s capital, regrettably the world has heard a series of wavering notes by an uncertain trumpet, leaving our allies concerned, and our adversaries confused.”

* * * * * * * * *

Chris Keating
by Chris Keating

Call to Worship
One: The Lord reigns! Let all creation rejoice!
All: From shore to shore let cries of gladness be raised!
One: Clouds surround God’s presence, and justice and righteousness form the foundation of God’s throne.
All: You, O Lord, are God most high, over all the earth! Rejoice in the Lord, all who are righteous,
One: and give thanks to God’s holy name. Let us worship and rejoice!


One: Jesus prays that we would become one, even as he is one with God.
All: He says, “I am the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
One: Through Jesus, we have seen the glory of God, and have known God’s love.
All: He says, “Let all who are thirsty, come.”
One: Jesus abides with us always, so that the world would see God’s love.

Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!

Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken

We are One in the Spirit (They’ll know we are Christians By Our Love)

O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright”

Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies

Shall We Gather at the River?

God Will Take Care of You

Steal Away

Why Should I Feel Discouraged? (“His Eye is On the Sparrow”)

Bind Us Together

There Is a Balm

For the Healing of the Nations

As a Fire Is Meant for Burning

Freedom is Coming

In God Alone (Taize)

Contemporary suggestions:
Make Us One (Twila Paris)

Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)

Great is the Lord

He is Exalted

How Great Is Our God

I Could Sing of Your Forever

Prayer for the Day:
Loving God, your Son prayed that we might be one. Gather us now, so that we might meet you in eagerness and faithful anticipation, joined together in worship with the faithful of all the ages who forever sing to the glory of your name, Amen.

Prayer of Confession:

Call to confession:
Leader: Listen to what the Spirit says in Revelation: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gate…let everyone who is thirsty come, let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” Trusting in God’s graciousness, let us confess our sins.

Prayer (unison) God of mercy, Jesus prayed that we might be one so that the world might know your love. Yet there are few signs of unity among us, O God. There are so many divisions in our world: borders which keep kinfolk separated; factious politics which divides family against family, and neighbor against neighbor; and desperate quests for power that corrode good faith attempts at healing. Forgive us, O Lord, and remind us of the prayer Jesus offered to you, that we might behold your glory and trust in your love, Amen.

Words of assurance:
Beloved, the grace of the Lord Jesus is with us all. God guards our lives and forgives our sin. Rejoice in the Lord, and give thanks to God’s holy name, for our sins are forgiven, Amen.

Prayer for Illumination
Lord Jesus, you are the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Allow the Spirit to enter our hearts now, and bring your light, so that these words of scripture may lead us closer to you and to each other, for we ask this in your holy name, Amen.

Prayer for Intercession
As the worship leader begins, the musician plays “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” softly. Following each line of the prayer, the musician will lead the congregation in singing the verses listed.

God, you are the giver of freedom. You deliver us from the captivity of sin, and remove the chains which keep us from experiencing life abundant. Your joy overflows within us, and we praise you for your faithfulness. Hear us as we pray to you,

(Singing) Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

Holy one, we offer to you our fears, our hopes, and all the worries which consume us. We pray that you will ease the frantic pace of our lives, and allow us to rest in the grace you provide. Hear us as we pray to you,

Singing: Before our maker’s throne, we pour our ardent prayers. Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts and our cares.

We raise to those who need your care. Be with those who are sick, who are struggling, whose hearts are broken by grief, oppression and injustice. Lead us in the ways of peace, and hear us as we pray to you:

Singing: We share our mutual woes; our mutual burdens bear. And often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.

Now lead us, O Lord, into the world as one people. Free us from evil and sin. Give us your words of truth and mercy, and let your love flow through us, so that all would know your glory and love. Hear us as we pray to you:

Singing From sorrow, toil, and pain, and sin we shall be free; and perfect love and friendship reign through all eternity.

The Lord’s Prayer

United as One
by Dean Feldmeyer
John 17:20-26

"I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one.” John 17: 20-21

Theme: Jesus prayed that his disciples would be united as one. Being united makes us stronger and our witness more perfect.

Overview: Jesus wants us to be united but not, necessarily uniform.

You will need:   Several pieces of string of different types, colors, lengths.


Good morning, brothers and sisters!

(The response will probably be anemic but even if it isn’t comment on how they can probably do better and try it again.)

Good morning, brothers and sisters!

(When a more robust response has been achieved, move on.)

That’s much better!

(Hold up a piece of easily breakable string.)

One piece of string. How strong do you think it is? Do you think you could break it? Okay, have at it. See if you can break it.

(Give the piece of string to one of the children and let him/her break it.)

Yeah, pretty lame, isn’t it? Pretty weak. One piece of string, all by itself is not much force. But what if we putit with a bunch of other strings?

(Bring out all the strings and put them together.) 

Now, how easy will it be to break all these strings? Who wants to try? Okay, here you go. Break ’em if you can.

(Give the bunch of strings to one of the children and let him/her try to break them.)

Not so easy, huh? No, when you put a bunch of strings together, they’re hard to break. Being together makes them all stronger, right?

But wait a minute! These strings aren’t all alike!

This one is blue and this one is red and this one is white. And this one is really long and this one is kinda short. And this one is made out of cotton and this one is made out of nylon. Etc., etc.

So they aren’t all alike, are they?

So they don’t have to be alike to be strong. They just have to be united, together.

You know, that’s what a rope is, a bunch of strings together.

And, a church is a bunch of people all together.

We don’t have to be alike to be the church, do we? We can be different. We can be tall or short or black or white or big or small but, as long as we’re together, we’re stronger than when we’re apart.

That’s why, in one of the last prayers that Jesus prayed, the one we heard read this morning, Jesus prayed that his disciples would “be one.” That is, that they would be together.

And, since we’re disciples of Jesus, we should be together, too.

Don’t you think?

Me, too!

Conclude: Conclude the children’s moments with a prayer similar to the one in the text, asking God to make all God’s disciples one so that they might be strong together.

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

The Immediate Word, June 2, 2019 issue.

Copyright 2019 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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New & Featured This Week


John Jamison

The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (vv. 22-23)
John Jamison
I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. (v. 49)

* * *

The Immediate Word

Dean Feldmeyer
Thomas Willadsen
Katy Stenta
Mary Austin
Christopher Keating
George Reed
For May 29, 2022:

Emphasis Preaching Journal

David Coffin
The enthusiastic exclamation of Easter Sunday, “He is risen” is a distant echo during the week of the 7th Sunday of Easter, as this season is headed toward the home stretch. A tired pastor in a small to mid-size church enters walks into the church office on Monday to find a thick booklet or church bulletin from a mega church a few hours away, on the desk. A short and sincere sticky pad stuck is on top of the full colored glossy papered bulletin. It reads, “We visited this church yesterday.
Mark Ellingsen
Bill Thomas
Frank Ramirez
Acts 16:16-34
John Wesley notes how this text testifies to the countercultural character of the Christian message:

But this is a property of the gospel truth: It has something in it peculiarly Intolerable to the world. (Commentary On the Bible, p. 485)
Mark Ellingsen
Bill Thomas
Frank Ramirez
Acts 1:1-11
In the American judicial system, a witness is a crucial component to attain justice. It wasn’t a big trial, but I was once called upon to be a witness in a Kansas City courtroom. The attorney made clear what I was supposed to do. She wanted me to relay exactly what I’d seen and to answer the questions directly. Being a witness, even in a small trial, seemed like a big responsibility.
Mark J. Molldrem
Note: This installment was originally published in 2001

In golf, Tiger rules. In tennis, Venus. Depending upon which teen you talk with, either Ricky rules, or Brittney does. In Iraq, Saddam rules -- for now. In America, the people rule, despite what some political cynics or party technocrats say. For Christians wherever, Jesus rules!


Peter Andrew Smith
Will stood in line at the cafeteria oblivious to the smells and noise and activity of the other students having lunch. He was still thinking about the scripture passage that had popped up on his phone that morning. He’d never really paid much attention to the story of the Ascension but for some reason the passage caught his attention and imagination today.

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
"I think," proclaimed Peter, lying on his back and gazing up at the trees, "we should become bully-busters."

"What?" said Jimmy, lazily. Karl simply rolled over, chewing at the blade of grass in his mouth.

"No, c'mon," said Peter. "Like ghost busters. We could identify all the bullies in school, then go bust them."

Karl laughed. "You mean you could! Jimmy and me'd just pick up the pieces afterwards! Anyway, how you think you're gonna bust a gang like the Robots?"


Elaine M. Ward
Some things we can't explain, and we call them mysteries and trust God's love no matter what. There is an old story about a rabbi taking a trip with his donkey, rooster, and lamp. When it was night, he had no place to sleep, so he slept in the woods. He lit his lamp to read his Bible before going to sleep, but a strong wind blew it over and broke it. "It must be time to sleep," the rabbi said, ending his prayers, "All God does, God does well."
Stephen P. McCutchan
Acts 1:1-11
As they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
-- Acts 1:9b

Stan Purdum
Both Psalms 47 and 93 (the alternative psalm for this day) are enthronement psalms, praise hymns celebrating God's rule over the nations. They were most likely used on festal occasions when Israel again declared that God was its king.

While Psalm 47 was for Israel's celebration, verses 1-2 call all the nations of earth to recognize God as their monarch as well. Verses 3-4, however, return to the specific relationship between God and Israel.

Donald Charles Lacy
When, dear God, shall Christians all be one? It is a first-century inquiry. It is a here-and-now recurring question. Countless programs have been launched. Numerous proposals have been given. Only God knows how many problems have risen in our quest for Christian unity.

Dallas A. Brauninger
More than anything else, Edward wanted God to forgive Keith. More than anything else, he wanted to forgive his son for taking his own life. For several months after his son's suicide, Edward feared that Keith was lost. The father could speak to no one about his heartbrokenness.

Then, prompted by the open, sky-filled space as he drove with friends across the prairie of Nebraska, he turned to the couple in the rear seat and told them the following dream:
Charles D. Reeb
A friend of mine once shared a story about his first visit to Niagara Falls. He said it was magnificent -- the rush and roar of the water -- the display of raw power. But as he looked upon the water gushing forth, he remembered a picture in a textbook. It showed Niagara Falls in the middle of winter, and much of the water was frozen. Big lightning-shaped forms of water were at a standstill. There was no movement, no action, no power.
Frank Ramirez

Call To Worship
If we must suffer, let it be for Jesus. If we are mocked, let it be for the Lord. If we are excluded, or hunted, or cast out from the midst of friends and family, let it be because our service to God upsets the comfortable order and calls all to repentance and service! Let us be God's people today.

Be present with us, Lord, today,
In all your minister might say,
In all your songs call from our heart,
In all your children's scribbled art.
In all the adults' restlessness,

Special Occasion