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Don’t Give Up On the Whole for a Few Bad Apples

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For October 11, 2020:

Bethany PeerbolteDon’t Give Up On the Whole for a Few Bad Apples
by Bethany Peerbolte
Exodus 32:1-14

In the Scripture
The chapter begins with Moses at the top of the mountain meeting with God. As he sits with God, the people, under Aaron’s leadership, are at the bottom of the mountain. They have been waiting to hear what God has said to Moses and what comes next for them as a people. Time stretches too long and the people get antsy. In their world, going too long without assurance of a god's protection means one cannot be sure one is safe from the spirits that lurk.

The world of the Israelites was filled with angry spirits and vengeful gods. The spirits preyed on anyone left unprotected. The best way to get protection was to worship and give offerings to a god. As the Israelites escaped they had Moses to assure them God was protecting them. Now they fear they have lost their leader and that protection. What makes it worse is that gods were always tied to a geographic region. The Israelites have moved and they are now on some god's land who might be getting very angry they are not making the appropriate offerings. They believed Moses when he said this god, YHWH, could move with them, but they are getting less sure as time goes by.

The people begin to worry. They do not know if Moses and God are fighting in their meeting or seeing eye-to-eye on top of the mountain. They stress about whether or not Moses is even alive to lead them anymore. This uncertainty causes them to finally plead with Aaron to make them a god to worship so that they can feel better about their situation. Aaron is an untested leader. He does not calm their fear or reassure the people, he gives in. His fear of revolt is stronger than his confidence in Moses. He tells them to get the golden earrings from their wives and children. When they return they take off their earrings and Aaron makes the golden calf from the melted down gold.

Let me describe that a little clearer for us. The ones complaining are told to go back to their wives and children, which means the ones who lost hope first are….the men. We then notice that the next verse says they took off “their” earrings. This detail is pointed out in some Jewish midrash to highlight the men were told to go get earrings from their family but ended up having to take off their own earrings to make the calf. It is believed that between these verses the women refused to hand over their earrings and the earrings of their children — forcing the men to give up their own gold if they wanted to do this idolatrous thing. The women’s refusal to succumb to idolatry is honored during the minor Jewish holiday of Rosh Chodesh (a festival held on the first day of each month). On the first of every month women are not permitted to work, they take a well-earned rest because they stayed true to God and Moses. The men still work.

This might help us understand why Moses is able to defend the people’s actions to God when God threatens destruction. Moses knows the people well enough to be sure there would be some who have not surrendered to this evil. Moses has faith in the people he is leading. He knows some will have held back from participation. He is also hopeful that the ones who have strayed can be reformed. His confidence and willingness to lead them even now that they have messed up so badly saves them from destruction.

Moses argues against God’s will and wins. It is not the first time God has made a threat and let a human talk them off the edge, though. Abraham successfully changes God’s mind about the people of Sodom (Genesis 18:16-32). When God decides everyone needs to go Abraham tests God’s resolve. He asks if God would feel as good about the choice if God knew some good people would be punished too. Moses hits the same “abort” button in God’s psyche when he defends the Israelites. Moses points out to God that not everyone is part of this sin. Not only should God pull out of the plan to save them but God should also think about how this will look to other nations if God saves them only to kill them all. God agrees to let Moses talk to the people and turn them back on course.

Moses’ plea will not be the last time someone successfully argues with God either. Mary convinces Jesus to perform his first miracle (John 2:1-12) even though Jesus does not think it is his time. She sees a need at the wedding of Cana and asks Jesus to fill the need. After hesitation Jesus agrees to help. Another example of how the needs of the whole, which includes good, faithful people, can override God’s initial choice.

In the World
There are two debates growing in the United States of America right now. One is about the viability of the Republican Party. Some wonder if the GOP should be saved if Trump does not win the next election. The other growing concern is the use of the American flag. It seems more and more the only people using the flag are hate groups, and Americans are worried about what that means. Both debates get at the heart of Moses’ argument with God about the capability of the whole when a few have turned the wrong way.

In the debate about the Republican Party there are those who believe that the Trump administration has done too much damage to justify salvaging what is left. They believe this is not just a problem of one administration or one man, they say we can clearly see how the structure inside the GOP caused this. The inability to question leaders, stubbornness of belief, and laxity when it comes to white supremacy, is not going away when Trump is out of office. They believe things will remain and will give rise to another “trump” again, eventually. This group shouts they should not be given the chance to do it again.

Others, however, think this is a blip in an otherwise strong historical showing and the GOP can be saved. This side is asking Republicans to, begrudgedly, vote for Biden and allow the party to rest and detox. The popularity of the Lincoln Project, a group of high ranking republicans who are campaigning against Trump and Trump supporting Republicans, shows how many are hoping the party can be saved. They hope to be able to regroup after the tornado of the last four years and get back to “normal.” It was done after the overconfident “win” of the Cold War, after the nation’s lurch to the left in the sixties, and after the premature declaration of “victory” after 9/11. Surely, they can do it one more time.

The second issue that is drawing ever more attention is the use of the American flag. When Mike Pence accepted the Vice Presidential nomination he said:

Let’s run the race marked out for us. Let’s fix our eyes on Old Glory and all she represents. Let’s fix our eyes on this land of heroes and let their courage inspire. And let’s fix our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith and freedom and never forget that where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom — and that means freedom always wins.

The Washington Post pointed out why that sounds so familiar to Christian ears. Pence takes two scripture references and inserting “Old Glory” where it talks about God. Some Americans are claiming this idolatry of the flag is popping up more. It also seems to be more popular among Trump supporters and groups against things like Black Lives Matter.

This issue is becoming a heated one. On a recent flight there was an altercation when the flight attendant asked a passenger to switch their gaiter style face covering for an approved face mask. Guess what the design was on the gaiter...the American flag. (By the way, this is a violation of flag code a, b, c, d, e, and h.) The argument was not about flag code though, it was about a rule that was clearly stated by the airline as mandatory for all passengers to fly. The enforcement of that rule sent the flag wearer over the edge and assuming their rights were being violated.

The scene was even more violent when a man was standing on a corner in Pueblo, Colorado, with an American Flag and a body camera. The video he captured was of a man smashing the windows of his truck with a shovel. When he runs to stop the man a fight breaks out with the American flag being used as a weapon (flag code violation) alongside mace spray. The man claims he did nothing to provoke the man but carry an American flag. This scene led others to wonder why the flag is so offensive to some and if it is time to reclaim the flag — including lowering the flag nationally for Black lives. When the flag becomes a fearful sight for some in our country we should examine how it is being used and why that is the case.

In the Sermon
The relationship God has with the people is one of partnership. God does not use the position of power to oppress. God is willing to be an equal partner in this covenant. When God wants to destroy Sodom, Abraham can call a meeting and persuade God as an equal partner. God listens and Abraham convinces God to let the few who are faithful escape the destruction. Then, a few generations past Abraham, Moses uses this precedent to argue God out of destroying the Israelites.

Moses even achieves more than Abraham was able to. When God is angry about the golden calf, Moses is sure there are a few who are still faithful down there. Moses knows his people. Moses speaks to God as an equal partner and points out it is unclear who is to blame and who is innocent. Moses’ plea wins a bigger victory for humanity and takes God’s willingness to be a partner to a new level. This time God will save the whole people for the sake of the few who stayed faithful — allowing those who did turn away the chance to repent and start over.

This is a huge moment for humanity and for God’s story. This is the first time we see a clear path to the salvation we get in Jesus. Jesus’s sacrifice is the next move of salvation. The faithfulness of one is enough to save everyone. God’s interaction with leaders like Abraham and Moses reflect back to God what devotion to one’s people can produce. Both men are sure there are good people, even among the most wicked. They also know the power of those few good ones. They have seen how the influence of a few can plant seeds and encourage growth in the whole community.

I think God, of course, already knows this, but seeing the dedication of these leaders proves to God that humanity is progressing. Abraham was willing to argue with God to save a few from destruction. Moses was willing to argue with God to save a community that he knew could do better. When leaders take these chances for their people God is reminded of God’s commitment to God’s people. When God comes to earth as Jesus God solidifies this trait in humanity, by being the one who is willing to die to save everyone.

When we think about the issues of saving the GOP or rescuing the flag from hate mongers, we should see this as another opportunity to prove to God that we believe in humanity. Not all Republicans are Trump. Similarly, the American flag should be a symbol of which every American is proud. We can reflect God’s saving nature and further demonstrate that good can survive even among evil.


Dean FeldmeyerSECOND THOUGHTS
We Can Work It Out
by Dean Feldmeyer
Philippians 4:1-9

In the News
"When they go low, we go high." That was the admonition of former first lady Michelle Obama at the 2016 Democratic convention. And, for a short time, it became a sort of informal motto of the Democratic Party. Unfortunately for them, however, the concept, so highly praised and regarded was, in fact, practiced only infrequently. Low, as it turned out, was more popular and won the election.

Since then, the victor, President Donald Trump has taken what The Hill refers to as a scorched-earth approach to opponents and critics, as demonstrated in the nationally televised presidential debate on Tuesday, September 29, when the president interrupted his opponent more than seventy times and the former Vice President responded by telling him to “shut up, man.”

As the debate bombs fell, pastor Dan White Jr seemed to surrender to despair when he tweeted that “The debate we are watching is a mirror, it is us, we are seeing our marriages, our relationships, our churches, our social media engagements reenacted on national television.”

Personally, I do not join the good pastor in the depth of his despond. My church and my marriage don’t even begin to approach anything like the ninety-minute donnybrook we saw on that Cleveland stage. I would have felt more comfortable if Pastor Dan had used more “I,” “me,” and “my,” and less “we” and “our.”

Okay, admittedly, the political picture in the United States has gotten ugly of late. If possible, even uglier than it was in 2016. President Trump has explored whole new depths in going “low.”  Mocking people with disabilities, disrespecting women, name calling, misrepresenting objective facts, devaluing science, misappropriating religion, and demonizing immigrants and minorities seem to have become his stock in trade. Meanwhile, some Democrats have decided to fight fire with fire, following the advice of former Attorney General Eric Holder, who is calling for a new, more combative Democratic Party with a new motto: “When they go low, we kick them.”

The recent announcement that President Trump and the First Lady have been infected with the coronavirus with only 30 days left in the heated campaign, and the subsequent hospitalization of President Trump, have brought us to a moment’s pause, a brief ceasefire in negative ads, if not a total armistice.

Campaigning continues but more low key, less personal than before. Everyone is waiting for news about the president’s condition before returning to the bomb lobbing of September, social media notwithstanding. To mix a metaphor, the ball seems to be in the president’s court. The Biden campaign won’t go low, again, until he does.

One wonders if this respite in what has become the normal, political vitriol might provide us with an opportunity to consider an alternative route to the White House or, for that matter, any political office. Is there a better way for resolving our differences, be they political, theological, ecclesiastical, marital, or personal? Or must we all surrender to Pastor White’s judgment, riddled, as it seems to be, with hopeless resignation?

Well, being Christians, I suggest that we turn first to scripture and, in particular, Paul’s closing words to those early Christians at the First Church of Philippi as they appear in this week’s lectionary selection.

In the Scripture
It seems there are two women in the church, Euodia (YO-dee-ah?) and Syntyche (SIN-te-key?), who have had a falling out and are not getting along. There is a danger that their animosity for each other will become toxic for the community, dividing the church as people feel forced to take sides in their argument.

Ah, we’ve all experienced or at least feared such a division happening in our churches, haven’t we? There are certain topics we just don’t bring up in church — politics, sexuality, even theology — for fear that there will be a disagreement. And, as everyone knows, disagreements disrupt the peace, the calm, the wa or harmony of the group. They create cracks and fissures in that peaceful unity and conformity within a social group, the conformity in which members prefer the continuation of a harmonious community over their personal interests.

But is that really peace or harmony?

Sure, small groups like families or clubs or teams can all go along to get along for short periods of time, on a vacation, say, or for the length of a meeting or a game. But over the long haul and with larger groups — churches, for instance — it is rarely successful or even desirable. If we require people to be inauthentic in order to be part of the group it will not be long before they feel bound to abdicate their membership.

Better that we find some healthy and productive way to be honest and open about our disagreements and work together in the midst of them.

Paul goes on, in the text, to offer some guidelines toward this healthier way of living together.

First, he encourages a third party, an anonymous “loyal companion,” to intervene in the dispute, not with blame and recrimination but with “help.” Presumably, this help would come, not in the form of advice, which is rarely successful, but with assistance in remembering their work together in the mission field with Paul.

That’s the second thing he suggests, that we remember all that we have done and are capable of doing when we work together. The work is the thing. We don’t have to agree about politics or theology to feed the hungry, or visit the sick, or clothe the naked, or tell others of the grace of God as it comes to us in Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, he offers a reminder that gentleness toward one another is a sign that Jesus is near to us and with us in our common life and work.

Fourth, he allows that humble prayers of gratitude and sincere desire are often met with the peace that nourishes not just our own, individual souls but the collective soul of the entire community.

He concludes by encouraging the Philippians (and us) to think, as we try to work out our differences, not about what divides us but about what is honorable, just, pure, pleasing and commendable — what is excellent and worthy of praise.

If these things we do, to the degree that we commit ourselves to them, perhaps, as the Beatles said, “we can work it out.”

Amen.


ILLUSTRATIONS

Ron LoveFrom team member Ron Love:

Exodus 32:1
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain…

NBC News reported on October 3, 2020, that after seven months “coronavirus fatigue” has come upon the nation. In a published report NBC stated, “For many Americans, the coronavirus pandemic started on the night of March 11. News of a trio of events spread quickly across the United States: The actors Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, announced that they had caught the virus, President Donald Trump addressed the nation and announced a ban on foreign nationals entering the US from many European countries, and the NBA indefinitely suspended its season.” Prior to this there were reports of Covid-19, but on March 11 it became a national reality.

Since then, NBC reported, people have grown tired and frustrated by the restrictions and the seeming endless nature of the virus. The issue for individuals has now become “that the US was reopening too slowly and that they regarded the coronavirus as more of an economic crisis than a health crisis.” Adding to this attitude is “an environment in which the pandemic has been heavily politicized for months…”

Since it was reported on Friday that President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have been infected there has been a renewed interest in the virus. It is questionable if it will change the attitude of the nation, offsetting “coronavirus fatigue.”

Dr. Howard Koh, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who was assistant secretary of health and human services in the administration of President Barack Obama, said, “I think, until now, so many have underappreciated the risks despite how long this has all gone on. Unfortunately, the president has contributed to that by downplaying the risks. It's time to put all that behind us and double down on the best scientific and public health guidance and move forward.”

* * *

Exodus 32:8
they have been quick to turn aside from the way I command them

The first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was held on Tuesday evening, September 29, 2020, at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. It was required, except for the moderator Chris Wallace and the two candidates, that everyone would wear a face mask. Everyone in the audience wore a protective mask as to not to contract or spread the coronavirus. First Lady Melania Trump initially wore a face mask, but, like the rest of Trump’s family, removed it and refused to put it back on. A Cleveland Clinic staff member went to their row of seats and offered them a face covering, but he was waved away.

Chris Wallace is the anchor for Fox News Sunday. The Sunday following the debate he interviewed Steve Cortes, a Trump campaign advisor. Wallace, being very blunt and straight forward asked Cortes, “Everybody was told to wear a mask. Why did the first family and chief of staff feel that the rules for everybody else didn’t apply to them?” Cortes responded that “everybody was tested before that event,” and he went on to point to the belief “in some element of individual choice.” Wallace challenged this by saying, “there was no freedom of choice. They broke the rules.”

Wallace continued to persist, but Cortes refused to answer the question. Upended by the question Cortes finally retorted, “Chris, the way you’re starting to harangue me now actually reminds me of what you did with the President during that debate on Tuesday night.”

* * *

Exodus 32:8
they have been quick to turn aside from the way I command them

I attend First Presbyterian Church in Florence, South Carolina. From what I can observe FPC is representative of most congregations and how they have not properly or safely adjusted to the coronavirus.

Churches are known for their traditional Wednesday evening family dinner and program.

Wednesday evening, September 9, 2020, the church held a dinner and program for the youth pastor who is leaving. Even though I am 69 with the underlying condition of leukemia, I was curious of how this evening of festivities could be done safely in a Covid-19 environment. Curiosity got the better of me, so I knowingly entered the “hot zone” of the CLC fellowship hall.

Only a few of the youth were wearing masks, but most adults were. The round tables were placed six feet apart, as the number six has become the magic number for safe social distancing. Six feet is still very close, especially now when we know the virus travels sixteen to twenty feet.

We sat at a table with five chairs instead of the usual eight — as if three missing chairs created an invisible Plexiglas barrier of protection. Masks came off and people chomped food as they talked to one another. Hardly a safe scenario.

We remained seated, unmasked, as servers brought cake and ice cream to each table.

Few put their masks back on during the program. You’ve been there — testimonials, slide show, gifts.

The program ended with the youth leading us in singing with the words projected on the big screen in front of us. The senior pastor must have had an epiphany at this point. He went to the front of the gymnasium and asked us to wear our masks while singing, as not to spread any germs. So, we sang a muffled tribute.

Dr. Fauci of the CDC said on Sunday, September 20, that the two most dangerous places an individual can visit to catch the virus is in a restaurant or in a bar.

The CLC fellowship hall at First Presbyterian Church was, for all intense and purposes, a restaurant. Is your church more like a restaurant spreading the virus or a sanctuary offering protection from the virus?

* * *

Philippians 4:5
Let your gentleness be known to everyone.

As we now wear face masks in public, we are unable to smile at one another. Tyra Banks, in an October 2020 interview, offered a solution for this. We may best remember Banks when she began her acting career in television in 1993 on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. More recently we recognize her as a host of Dancing with the Stars. In that interview Banks said, “For years I’ve been trying to get the word ‘smize’ in the dictionary. The word “smize” means to, according to Banks, “smile with your eyes.”

* * *

Philippians 4:5
Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
I was alone. Well, not really alone, as the aquarium was crowded that morning; but, alone nonetheless as everyone rushed past me, up the ramp, to watch the mighty sharks. Was it their massive jaws or their huge, muscular gray bodies that drew such attention? I suspect it was a fascination with the creature that everyone feared, though now encountered through the safety of thick Plexiglas. They marveled at the ruler of the depths of whom all those stories are told and movies made.

Overlooked was the real splendor in the small glass enclosures before me, housing fish no more than a few inches in length. The Flame Angelfish, a brilliant orange highlighted by a yellow body, outlined in fluorescent blue. The Purple Masked Angelfish was hooded in blue with a brilliant golden body. And how do you describe the Queen Angelfish, with alternating colors of brilliant blue, yellow, and white? They may lack the mystique of the shark, but their gentleness solicits awe and astonishment.

Standing there I wondered if there was any truth to Jesus’ teaching that the meek shall inherit the earth. From my perspective there seemed to be more admiration for power than appreciation for beauty. But then as one child after another returned, bored of the mammoth gray hulks that swim aimlessly about, my confidence was renewed. Nose pressed against the glass; one youngster excitedly described the “coloring book” fish. I knew then it will be our childlike gentleness that will one day restore us to the serenity of the Garden.



* * * * * *

Chris KeatingFrom team member Chris Keating Chris Keating:

Exodus 32:1-14
Aaron’s inability to lead

Moses’ extended absence generates red-hot anxiety from Israel. The people are unsure where he has gone. Their questions will sound familiar to pastors who have spent time listening to a congregation’s anxieties. “Is he really working?” “She’s never in the office anymore!” “Why does she have a day off?” “Where on earth is the pastor now?”

Aaron avoids responding to their concerns and instead caves to their demands. Instead of faithfully responding to their fears, Aaron offers them the temporal solution they crave.

Thoughtful leadership is grounded in humility. While Aaron may have sensed that Moses’ absence gave him the chance to shine, he missed the chance to become a real leader. As Ray Williams observes, research backs up the idea that the most effective leaders are not the “extroverts, the flamboyant narcissists, the psychopaths, the incompetents, and mostly men.” Actually, he says, the best leaders are often those who are more modest and less impulsive.

Williams says,

Study after study shows that the failure rate for CEOs and senior executives is very high; many executives exhibit more overconfidence than competence; and the main reasons why they fail are due to hubris, and a lack of emotional intelligence. Calls for leader humility have intensified in the wake of corporate and political scandals attributed to the unbridled ego, sense of entitlement and self-importance of the leaders involved. Multiple researchers have identified leader arrogance and narcissism as the reasons why leaders make bad decisions.

* * *

Exodus 32:1-14
Contemporary idolatry
In words that appear timeless, 59 years ago acclaimed theologian Karl Barth remarked that “today, and at all times, precisely the church is the place on which false gods are established and worshiped.”

Barth continues, “For the church has succumbed to the temptation to believe in the goodness and power of her own tradition, morality, and religious activity. So the church has come to believe in images of man (sic), of the world, and of God, which she has fabricated of her own means. She believes in the excellency of the Christian and in the depravity of the indifferent, the atheists, and the Communists. Thus she does exactly the same as those believing in money, in sports, in technics, in sex, or simply in the glory of affluent and comfortable living. It is the church’s high calling to demonstrate that she believes in that God who has redeemed (human beings) from all false gods.”

* * *

Exodus 32:1-14
Naming the idolatry of white supremacy
Of all contemporary acts of idolatry, continued promulgation of white supremacy is most pernicious — and alluring. Perhaps most difficult to understand is the church’s complicity with racism and its struggle with dismantling racist structures within the church. Robert Jones, CEO and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute, addresses the intractable nature of white supremacy of American Christianity in his book “White Too Long.”  

Jones draws on personal stories, experiences of being raised Southern Baptist, and social science research in exploring how white supremacy became embedded in the DNA of American Christianity.

“It's nothing short of astonishing,” Jones writes, “that a religious tradition with this relentless emphasis on salvation and one so hyper attuned to personal sin can simultaneously maintain such blindness to social sins swirling about it, such as slavery and race-based segregation and bigotry.”


* * * * * *

Mary AustinFrom team member Mary Austin:

Matthew 22:1-14, Isaiah 25:1-9
Banquet at Shoney’s
Like the original guests invited to the wedding feast, Roberta Messner almost turned down her banquet invitation. She was on high alert, preparing to host a perfect Thanksgiving dinner at her home when her dad called to invite her to Thanksgiving dinner at Shoney’s. She had been planning menus and table settings to get everything just right, and she couldn’t imagine Thanksgiving at such a casual restaurant.

Her parents, in declining health, had become regulars at Shoney’s. The waitresses called to check on them if they weren’t there, and the staff knew their favorite foods. Her dad had his heart set on having Thanksgiving there, so, she says, “there I was on Thanksgiving, climbing out of a car in the Shoney’s parking lot. Mom and Dad aren’t well, I thought as we headed for the door. This might be our last Thanksgiving together—and it’s all wrong! “Look, there’s our next-door neighbors!” Mom said, waving to a couple across the parking lot. Oh, no, I thought, hiding behind Mom. What must they be thinking to see us? How I wished instead of my tasteful dress I’d just worn a billboard declaring: I Offered to Cook Thanksgiving Dinner! “I don’t know what you’re so worried about,” Mom said, stepping aside so her friends could see me. “They’re not cooking either.” Dad pushed open the door to the restaurant. Waitresses popped up like toast all around us, begging to be introduced.”

The family got to their table, and then set out for the buffet. Roberta says, “I got to the buffet just as another diner scooped a mound of mashed potatoes on Dad’s plate. “Can’t have you wasting away,” she said. I studied them critically. I’m sure they’re nowhere near as good as Mom’s oyster dressing, which we’d be eating now if we were at home, I thought. I put some mashed potatoes on my plate anyway, then added some steamed veggies. I was surprised to see that the turkey legs looked juicy and tender. I took two. “Hey, Tinsel Teeth,” Sherry [the waitress] said, motioning to my sister Rachael. “Remember when I had braces when I was a kid? You wanted them so bad you came to Sunday school with tinfoil on your teeth.” A lady at the next table burst out laughing. So did Rachael’s two children. “Tell us more funny stories about when you were little, Mom!” one of them begged.

The family stories began. “Soon the table was overflowing with funny memories — and desserts. Everyone told a story, each one overlapping and inspiring another. By the time Sherry returned to the table with our bill I’d forgotten we weren’t all back home around the table. I put on my coat feeling silly — not for being at Shoney’s, but for taking so long to enjoy myself. I looked at Mom, with her big blue badge, and Sherry, the waitress who’d really helped make our Thanksgiving one to remember. If there was an angel at Shoney’s, she was it. As we got up to leave, the lady at the next table tapped me on the shoulder. “This is my first Thanksgiving away from home,” she confessed. “I wondered how I’d ever get through it. But having you all here was like being with my family.” I smiled. I actually felt thankful for our change of plans.”

The banquet turned out to hold the presence of God, even in a different form than she had imagined.

* * *

Matthew 22:1-14
Banquet Guests
After their only daughter’s wedding was cancelled, Willie and Carol Fowler lived out this parable exactly. The wedding was canceled forty days before the date, and they pondered canceling everything and losing just their deposits. Instead, they decided to go ahead and spend the money, and to “change the guest list — to 200 homeless people…The Fowlers called Hosea Feed the Hungry, an organization that their daughter had volunteered for when she was younger.” At first, the staff thought it was a prank call. “The Fowlers persisted and eventually had a meeting with the organization to prove their good intentions and plan the event.” They rented buses to bring 200 people without homes to the venue. They included face-painting, juggling and crowns. The kids had chicken fingers, and the adults had salmon and chicken. At the end of dinner, the plates were empty. No one took the invitation for granted.

The Fowlers took their work as the hosts seriously. “They were very involved in the whole event and enjoyed greeting all of their guests. Their daughter was also on hand for a day that was "bittersweet but rewarding" for her, Willie Fowler said. The family declined to comment on why the wedding had been cancelled. "There is no way to explain how it makes you feel, but it's wonderful," Willie Fowler said of seeing the joy at the event.” They encouraged other people to think about doing the same thing, in a similar circumstance, and their invitation is living evidence of the parable — and God’s grace — at work.

* * *

Philippians 4:1-9
Travel Light
Perhaps Euodia and Syntyche could have benefited from a shared laugh, to lighten the way in their tense stand-off. Karen Ridd tells about a frightening moment among her enemies in El Salvador. As she recalls the moment, she says, “Five or six men stood over me yelling as I sat in a chair at the Ministry of the Interior in San Salvador in 1989. I was there to renew my visa as a member of Peace Brigades International (PBI), an NGO that provides 'protective accompaniment' for teachers, trade unionists, students, indigenous leaders, church workers and other activists when faced by threats of violence. I was on the verge of tears, with horror stories fresh in my mind about people who had been detained, deported or ‘disappeared’ after visits to the Ministry. But I’d been living with, and being inspired by, Salvadorans and Guatemalans who had found many ways to act creatively and nonviolently when under pressure. I had to try something. “No, I said, I’m not a terrorist, I’m a clown.” The men reacted with more taunts: “Can you believe these foreigners, what liars they are? This one says she’s a clown.” As calmly as I could, I pushed a photo of myself in clown make-up across the table, and pulled out an animal modeling balloon that I kept in my bag.”

She adds that as she inflated the balloon, the tension is the room lowered. “The shouts and jeers died away. By the time the rubber was twisted into the shape of a dog, the atmosphere had been transformed. “Can I have a green one?” one of my interrogators asked, “Do you make rabbits?” Out came the 143 other balloons that I’d brought with me. I was stunned. The turnabout was so rapid and so absolute. I got my visa, and in the process I learned a fundamental lesson about the role of humor in situations of potential violence.”

Ridd adds that this is an adept strategy, and also hard to remember when we’re full of rage, or terrified. “Humor can be very effective in establishing a human connection between parties in a conflict, and thereby defusing the conflict itself, though it can be very hard to remember when the heat is really on. In fact humor is a time-honored strategy in the repertoire of nonviolence. But like any strategy it has to be appropriately applied. And that means exposing the folly in what someone is doing without ridiculing the person or the group they belong to: “humor but not humiliation.”  It’s a fine line to tread. Aside from its effects on opponents, humor is also a great way to relieve tensions in activists themselves. Mahatma Gandhi once said that if it had not been for his sense of humor, he would have gone mad long ago in the face of such disharmony and hatred.”

* * *

Philippians 4:1-9
Conflict
Dr. Christian Conte is not your average peacenik. Heavily tattooed, he looks more like someone required to take an anger management class than the teacher. He says his mother’s instructions are at the root of his work. “My mom is this incredible person; she was a disciplinarian as a teacher. She was a high school English teacher, and I was going to be attending the high school where she taught. I went to school in the 80s where kids would circle up and fight, just like if young people today don’t know that, and I hope they don’t have to know that same kind of stuff that we went through, but they would circle up and fight. And my mom said to me when we got to the high school, she said, "Listen, I better never find out that you ever watched a fight, and didn’t step in and break it up." Listen, my mom might be small, but I was definitely more afraid of my mom than I was of the kids. I would step in all the time. I’d be breaking up fights, kids would be mad at me, "Let them fight. Let them go." "Nah. You want to face my mom? You do that." I think that I learned early on, when I see conflict, don’t run from it, go toward it, and combining that journey of personal growth, going into the depths of my own psyche and learning about myself, focusing constantly on what I can learn about me and then realizing that when something goes wrong, step in and do something, I think that’s the impetus to get me in the direction I was going.”

Conte offers a thought experiment that might help Euodia and Syntyche — or us. He had “this vision that if somebody was in a car and they were going down the highway the wrong way, and you wanted to stop them and you’re in a car too, and you think, "Well I could have a head-on collision, I would stop them," sure you’d stop them, one or both of you might get awfully hurt. Or what if this happened? This is just a hypothetical, just a thought experiment, but what if you were to drive your car and merge with them, kind of at that yield sign and yield with them, merge with them, and you’re driving along the road in the same direction they’re going? Side by side. Eventually they start thinking, "Hey listen, this is going to be a long trip, let’s save some gas," they invite you into their car. Again, hypothetical. Now you’re in the passenger seat and you’re starting to see out of the same windshield they’re seeing out of. Now you’re starting to get a little bit better understanding. Then eventually…they trust you to drive, and in that spot you can help steer them down a different path…I love the idea if I walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, but this goes deeper than that. I imagine, what if I spent every day as the other person? In other words, not just my cognitive functioning, but their cognitive functioning. Not my ability to experience emotions, but their affective range. What if I had their life experiences? What I’ve come to is I believe I would have made every single decision that that person made.” There, understanding and healing begin. Euodia and Syntyche could have used his intervention in their conflict.



* * * * * *

George ReedWORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship:
Leader: O give thanks to our God who is good.
People: God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Leader: Who can utter the mighty doings of our God?
People: Who can declare all God’s praise?
Leader: Happy are those who observe justice.
People: Happy are those who do righteousness at all times.

OR

Leader: Let us bless the God of love who created us.
People: We praise our Creator who made us for love.         
Leader: Let us share God’s love with all God’s people.
People: We bless all who are created by our God.   
Leader: As we bless others, we bless our God.
People: May love fill our hearts and our deeds.       

Hymns and Songs:
Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
UMH: 103
H82: 423
PH: 263
NCH: 1
CH: 66
LBW: 526
ELW: 834
W&P: 48
AMEC: 71
STLT: 273
Renew: 46

God of Many Names
UMH: 105
CH: 13
W&P: 58
STLT: 198

Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven
UMH: 66
H82: 410
PH: 478
CH: 23
LBW: 549
ELW: 864/865
W&P: 82
AMEC: 70    
Renew: 53

Hope of the World
UMH: 178
H82: 472
PH: 360
NCH: 46
CH: 538
LBW: 493
W&P: 404

There’s a Spirit in the Air
UMH: 192
PH: 433
NCH: 294
CH: 257
W&P: 133
Renew: 282

Tú Has Venido a la Orilla (Lord, You Have Come o the Lakeshore344)
UMH: 344
PH: 377
CH: 342
W&P: 347

In Christ There Is No East or West
UMH: 548
H82: 529
PH: 439/440
AAHH: 398/399
NNBH: 299
NCH: 394/395
CH: 687
LBW: 259
ELW: 650
W&P: 600/603
AMEC: 557

Where Charity and Love Prevail
UMH: 549
H82: 581
NCH: 396           
LBW: 126
ELW: 359

Here, O Lord, Your Servants Gather
UMH: 552
PH: 465
CH: 278
ELW: 530
W&P: 597

Help Us Accept Each Other
UMH: 560           
PH: 358
NCH: 388
CH: 487
W&P: 596
AMEC: 558  

We Are One in Christ Jesus (Somos uno en Cristo)
CCB: 43

I Am Loved
CCB: 80

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
ELW: 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 is love and who is relationship:
Grant us the wisdom to understand that we are like you
and we cannot exist, much less thrive, in isolation;
through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen.

OR

We praise you, O God, because you are love and you are relationship. Your very being is in a triune relationship with yourself. You have made us in your image and we cannot be whole if we cut ourselves off from others. Help us to open ourselves to you by opening ourselves to others, friends and foes alike, so that we may be made whole. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our failure to truly reach out to others.

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. You have made us in love like yourself and yet we find it very difficult to act lovingly towards others. We are much more likely to judge than to forgive; to condemn rather than to accept. Renew your Spirit within us and help us to look at the world with your loving eyes. Amen.

Leader: God is love and is always ready to help us reflect that love. Receive God’s love and grace and share it with your neighbors.

Prayers of the People
We praise you, O God of Love, because you have created us like yourself. You have placed your own Spirit, your own life, within each of us. 

(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. You have made us in love like yourself and yet we find it very difficult to act lovingly towards others. We are much more likely to judge than to forgive; to condemn rather than to accept. Renew your Spirit within us and help us to look at the world with your loving eyes.

We give you thanks for all the blessings of this life. We thank you for your love that greets us each day and that surrounds us in every moment of our lives. We thank you for those who have shared your love with us through their own acts and words of kindness. 

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for all your children. We pray for those who find it difficult to think of you as loving because of all the misery that surrounds them. We pray for those who are faced with hatred and bigotry. We pray for those who are forced to live without the abundance your earth has to offer.

(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
Play nicely! Did your parents or teachers ever say that to you? It is good advice. And it is advice not only children need to hear but all of us. It is part of scripture lesson today. God as our parents reminds all of us that we are God’s children and we are always to play nicely.



* * * * * *

Tom WilladsenCHILDREN'S SERMON
God’s Nose Got Hot
by Tom Willadsen
Exodus 32:1-14

Today’s Old Testament lesson is about the notorious Golden Calf. Moses had gone up the mountain and while he was away the people got anxious. Or afraid. Or restless. Maybe bored. Moses’ brother, Aaron, his second-in-command and “mouthpiece” instructed the people to bring him their earrings. Note that people of both genders wore earrings in this story. Aaron made a Golden Calf for them. Perhaps the most egregious instance of idolatry recorded in scripture. “Here’s the god who led you out of Egypt; tomorrow we’re going to have a huge party!” It was made of metal. Aaron had made it with donated parts. You’ve got to be asking, “What were they thinking?!”

This sojourn into unfaithfulness made God the Creator angry. Really angry. Super-duper angry! The Lord, who’s been in a meeting with Moses, informs Moses that he wants to be left alone, “that my anger may blaze forth against them.”(Jewish Publishing Society) One could say that the Lord is literally hot and bothered. The Hebrew idiom for becoming angry comes from the verb for “to heat” or “to kindle.” Originally, anger was expressed as one’s nose getting hot.

Ask those gathered up front:

Have you ever gotten angry?

Have you ever been so angry that your nose got hot? That’s how angry God was at the people!

Have you ever been so angry you broke something? I have. (If you’ve got a fairly benign anecdote about a time when you lost your temper, share it, especially if looking back, you can see how silly it was. Don’t go too far; Children’s Time is not a confession.)

When you’ve been that angry how long did it take you to calm down?

Was there something, or someone, that helped you calm down?

Resume the story:

God was so angry with the people that God was going to destroy the people and start over. But Moses talked God out of it. Moses pointed out that other nations would look at what the Lord did — leading the people out of slavery into the wilderness, then slaughtering them — and that would generate a lot of bad press for the Lord. (I’m paraphrasing here; but you get the idea.) Moses reminded the Lord of the promises the Lord had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel. And God's mind was changed.

There are not a lot of stories where God's mind gets changed. This is a wonderful message for everyone in worship, not just children. No matter how angry you are — even when you have every reason to be angry because something isn’t fair, for example, you can change your mind. God did.


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


The Immediate Word, October 11, 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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Not the Hour or the Day
by Peter Andrew Smith
Acts 1:1-11

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