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Full of It

Children's sermon
For July 29, 2018:
  • Full of It by Tom Willadsen -- Full of it. What does it mean to be filled with good things? Filled with God’s glory? Filled with knowledge? Filled with love? Filled with the fullness of God?
  • Second Thoughts: The Expansive Grace of Jesus by Mary Austin -- Being poor is burdensome, time-consuming and expensive. We can add to that burden by how we treat people, or we can meet them with the expansive grace of Jesus.
  • Worship resources by George Reed that focus on being filled with God; God cares for the poor.
  • Sermon illustrations by Ron Love, Chris Keating and Dean Feldmeyer.
  • Many Ways to Love -- Children's sermon by Bethany Peerbolte -- This children’s sermon hopes to affirm ways young Christians can practice their spirituality and regain God’s power in their lives.

Full of It
by Tom Willadsen
2 Samuel 11:1-15, Ephesians 3:14-21, John 6:1-21, Psalm 145:10-18

In the News
On a day when the Gospel lesson describes a crowd of hungry people being satisfied with abundant food, and the epistle lesson reminds believers in strong language that they have already been “filled with the fullness of God,” think about what we have too much of today.

One cannot preach a sermon this summer in the United States and not recognize the profound divisions in society. Whether partisan media have created the divisions or simply revealed what pre-existed the 24-hour news cycle is a matter of debate. Partisans on all sides have their opinions echoed, confirmed and bolstered by streams of information that confirm what we already believe.

As early as the middle of the 20th century, David Shenk writes in his book “Datasmog,” we began to produce more information than we could process. Shenk made that observation more than 20 years ago. Precisely-targeted niche broadcasting and the unimagined explosion of social media have only increased the amount of information, and made it more difficult for consumers of information to sort out what is reliable, trusted and trustworthy. More information has not made our lives more fulfilling; it has caused social isolation and Balkanized society. We sit at our information machinery as though we are in bunkers, shielding ourselves from what other people perceive as truth, though we know better.

What if we looked at this situation not as a surplus, but as a glut of information? Could it be that our lives would be better if we simply stopped partaking of so much information? Is it possible to feel fulfilled in the modern world? Could there be something like a media diet, a response to having too much?

Almost 15 years ago Barry Schwartz wrote “The Paradox of Choice -- Why More is Less.” He argues that American consumers have more choices than ever before, but we are not any happier. Having to make a selection of, let’s say, a glass of beer at a local watering hole famous for having more than 50 select microbrews leaves the drinker wondering if maybe he’d picked the 21st best one. He could have been happier if he’d only made the right choice!

Too much! Too many! We’re filled, but not fulfilled. What’s missing? Ooh, let’s look for that missing thing... The author of Ephesians has a better approach for us.

In the Bible
Ephesians 3:14-21
In a very concise, and powerful description, knowledge is praised, but for it to be really effective, knowledge must be rooted in love. Love’s power, which we see in Jesus Christ, comes into the heart of the believer, it takes root; it dwells in us. Christ takes root; Christ dwells in us. The author writes of his desire for believers to be strengthened by the “riches of (the Father’s) glory.” There is no limit to the riches of God’s glory.

The love of Christ surpasses knowledge. For the believer to live, feel and trust the power of God’s love is to know how vast God’s love is. God’s love is higher, broader, deeper -- better in all ways than we can imagine. To be filled with that knowledge, is to be filled with the fullness of God. Then the Lord can work through us and accomplish more than we are able to imagine with our limited, human minds.

Who knows? We might even trust God’s infinite love enough that we can let poor people eat more biscuits than we think they should.

Trusting the abundance of God’s love will remind us that we are already fully fulfilled by the infinite grace and mercy we know in Christ.

John 6:1-21
Jesus has been getting around. In John 5 Jesus was in Jerusalem for “a festival.” At the start of chapter 6 he has gone to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and Passover is coming. There was a large crowd following Jesus -- he’s been healing people all over and he’s gotten their attention. He’s with his inner circle, on the mountain. Maybe he’s looking for some down time, but his public has demands on him. We’ve seen this before, in Mark’s gospel, last week’s lesson for example. Large crowd -- no caterer is sight. Jesus calls on Philip, “Where are we going to buy bread for these people to eat?” Oh, Jesus knew the answer, but he wanted to see what Philip thought. “Jesus, we don’t have that kind of cash on hand. And there’s no ATM in sight.” (Book of Tom)

Philip was not the brightest bulb in the marquee. He was the fourth disciple mentioned in John’s gospel to follow Jesus, and the first whom Jesus called. Right away Philip told Nathanael, who wondered if anything good could come from Nazareth, but Nate was soon convinced and joined the other four.

Later in John’s gospel, right after Thomas boldly raised his hand and informed Jesus that they didn’t know where he was going, so how could they know the way? And Jesus replied, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Philip said, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” Jesus replies, “Dude, haven’t you been paying attention?” (BoT)

It’s fitting that Jesus would give the hard question to Philip, who is sort of rescued by Andrew, who found a boy in the crowd with five barley loaves and two fish. But it’s barely enough for such a large crowd. Jesus told his followers, “Make the people sit down.” This is a very practical way to start. A crowd of hungry people might run to the food when it first appears. People who are sitting down can’t run at anyone. Five thousand people sat on the grass. Jesus thanked God for the bread and passed it out. Then he did the same thing with the fish. And the people ate, “as much as they wanted.” “They were satisfied.” So Jesus told his disciples to pick up the leftovers. They filled twelve empty baskets with fragments from the loaves (no mention of the fish at this point.) It’s a miracle. Five thousand people saw this sign, and just knew that Jesus, the caterer, was a prophet.

“When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (6:15)

Hold onto “They were satisfied.”

There’s a lot to unpack in that verse. Could Jesus be made king against his will? What is it about being able to perform miracles, first many healings, now a banquet for 5,000 from a paltry amount of food that qualified Jesus, in the crowd’s opinion, to make a good king? Could he just elude the crowd that easily, by going up the mountain alone?

The passage ends with the disciples heading up to Capernaum against a strong wind. They were not making much progress, then Jesus walked to them on the water and immediately (John’s borrowing Mark’s favorite adverb!) the ship reached Capernaum. No more rowing against the wind on stormy water.

Psalm 145:10-18
An echo of God’s abundance as expressed in the John passage is found in Psalm 145:15-16:

The eyes of all look to you
And you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand
Satisfying the desire of every living thing.

In the Sermon
The church I served was looking for a way to connect with our neighbors. I started thinking about what we were good at, what we enjoy doing together. That was easy: eat. For years I’ve invited people to come to coffee hour following worship, saying, “The way Presbyterians say ‘We love you.’ And ‘You’re welcome here,’ is ‘Eat something.’” At my last church a woman defined “Presbyterians” as “Christians with cookies.” We love to eat; we’re proud of our fellowship hall; we’re downtown…it all made sense. Four years ago we started Community Breakfast. One Saturday morning each month we throw open the doors and serve breakfast to everyone who comes in.

There was a learning curve. In the early days someone would have to drive to Pick ‘n’ Save for Bisquick™ or a few dozen eggs. We could not run out of food -- that would be humiliating. We got better at shopping and gauging the crowd. Word spread. Most weeks our Community Breakfast attendance exceeded worship attendance, proof that this was a valuable ministry. We love cooking. Saturday mornings the church is filled with the smells of sausage, biscuits, pancakes, fresh fruit and even carnations. One worker each month saw to it that there was a flower, a real, fresh flower, nothing artificial, on every table.

We made friends. We learned names. We really cared for our monthly guests.

And someone was keeping an eye on who ate what.

“Did you see? He took twelve sausage links!”
“He must have been hungry.”

“Last month he wanted a ‘to go’ package because his mother couldn’t make it to breakfast. I bet.”

“Do you think the food he takes from here gets thrown away?”

“Are we the food police?”

The next month “What if we run out of food?” turned into “We’re running out of food!!” “We need a policy, a rule, so people don’t’ take advantage of us.”

“Are we really running out of food? I’ll make a trip to Pick ‘n’ Save. What do we need?”

“No, it’s just that we could run out of food, if everyone wanted a ‘to go’ package. We can’t have these people game the system.”

“There is no system, and there’s plenty of food. Every month there are leftovers and scrambled eggs don’t keep well. I’d rather have people eating the food than throwing it away. What’s really the issue?”

“These people don’t appreciate…they take more than anyone needs…don’t you see how heavy these people are? We should help them be self-sufficient; we’re not doing any good just giving them a hand out! We would run out if everyone wanted to take food home!”

We went from the embarrassment of possibly running out of food to the certainty that we would if we were…wait for it…generous.

We came up with a compromise. If there’s still food when we close the doors, people can take as much as they want home, until it’s gone. We want all the food to find its way to someone’s belly.

But the whole controversy was over crumbs from our table.

I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was sick or in prison and you visited me. I am so pleased that you found me worthy of receiving your kindness. Wait, it doesn’t say that!

Then one Monday morning, the mother of a guest who had taken food to her, came to church in a wheel chair. She knew she could get in because her son told her we had an elevator. She rolled in and told us that she needed cat food. Can we help her get cat food?

“Well, the food pantry has some pet food sometimes when someone donates it…”

We call the food pantry and let the lady talk to the staff. Yes, she needs cat food, but she also needs…food. She has not had anything to eat since Saturday when her son brought her some left over eggs and sausage links. But it was her cat’s hunger, her cat’s well-being, that moved her to come to a church where she didn’t know anyone. A church that she knew she could get into because her son spotted the elevator. A church she knew cared because they provided her with her most recent meal. It was a church that she took a risk in reaching out to, because her cat was hungry. Her cat was hungry and that was too much.

We worried that we might run out of food. We might run out of crumbs from our table. We might…we might…what if…

I’ve been in ministry a long time. I know the texts I need to justify eating too much: Psalm 34:8, “O taste and see that the Lord is good,” John 10:10 “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Enjoying good food can be an act of devotion, even worship. We are called to be filled. Filled with knowledge, with grace, with love. Filled. And rooted in God’s abundant, powerful love. What are we hoarding? Why are we hoarding? Have we ever used up God’s grace and mercy? When will we have enough to trust? When will we have enough to share such that our right hands don’t know what our left hands are doing? God wants us to be full of it. God keeps pouring grace, mercy, forgiveness, acceptance into us, but our hard hearts keep it from getting in, putting down roots and allowing the holy, living abundance of God’s grace to fill us completely.

Open you heart. Open your mind. Open your ears. Open your hands. God’s already given you more than you can see. God’s love surpasses understanding. So smile when the scrambled eggs leave on the lap of wheelchair-bound cat-loving person made in God’s image, just like you.

The Expansive Grace of Jesus
by Mary Austin
John 6:1-21

A Chicago alderman is proposing a Jesus-like experiment: giving 1000 poor families a guaranteed basic income, and seeing how it works for them. Alderman Amaya Pawar notes that technology is putting people out of work across the transportation, food service and banking industries, adding to the ranks of the poor. “This is where we are today in America: fighting over scraps. Poor white people are pit against poor black and brown people and all poor people are fighting each other at the bottom and nothing at the top changes," he says.

It goes against our grain to give people something for nothing, but the experiment holds the possibility of treating poor people like Jesus did. A guaranteed income each month would allow people to make their own choices about what to eat, how to get to work and how to care for their children. He’s proposing $500 a month, which isn’t going to send anyone to Disney World, but could make a difference in keeping the lights on, and getting to work with reliable transportation.

It also treats people with dignity, conveying the message that their choices are worthy, and they are competent adults who know how to run their lives. In contrast, our society is generally suspicious of the poor. Benefit programs come with myriad rules and requirements. Food stamps can’t be used for diapers, even if you have food right now and really need diapers. The wait for subsidized apartments is years’ long. In Michigan, where I live, if you want to get on the list, there are 111 separate lists where you can sign up, one by one. Then you wait, after providing proof that you need the housing. Food stamps require different verification of low income. The offices are open during the day, so if you do have a job, you have to take a day off to fill out forms and get on the list.

Adding to the burden of being poor, the House of Representatives recently passed a version of the Farm Bill that “requires able-bodied adults aged 18-59 to work or participate in job training for 20 hours a week in order to receive food stamp benefits that average about $450 a month for a family of four. Government auditors estimate that in 10 years, the SNAP caseload would shrink by about 1.2 million people in an average month if the bill becomes law.” Democrats all voted against the bill, along with twenty Republicans. The Senate bill did not include the same changes, so the two chambers have to agree on a final version. The SNAP program, commonly called food stamps, benefits “40 million Americans, or about 12 percent of the total U.S. population.” It already has income qualifications for everyone receiving benefits.

We make life cumbersome for people who are poor, always requiring them to fill out a form, provide proof of something, and explain again why they’re poor.

In contrast, Jesus doesn’t ask the crowd for anything, other than to sit down.

He sees them with a wealth of compassion that must be a balm for their spirits. Their physical hunger mirrors their spiritual starvation, and Jesus meets both sets of needs. His instructions make it feel like a festive picnic, instead of a stampede for food, a possibility Tom Willadsen notes in the main article. He doesn’t look down on the crowd for being poor, or demand that they do anything in exchange for the abundant meal he offers.

The crowd around Jesus wants much more than he can give them, especially while he’s hoping a break from healing and teaching. But, as calmly as ever, he meets the needs they have with what he has to give. His example reminds me of the grace we can extend to people when we serve them in the name of the church. We can hand out bags of food, or we can treat people as partners in keeping the neighborhood kids fed and educated. We can serve out of duty, or out of hospitality. We can treat people like failures, or like fellow travelers.

Rev. Gil Wise brings this spirit to his church, which he started from scratch after another church failed. He sent out a mailing, advertising the first worship service of the Solid Rock church, and “about 200 people -- many suspicious of institutions, including the church -- showed up. When he saw who had come, Wise understood he had to break free of the traditional, by-the-book Methodist model. Harnett County had a 17 percent poverty rate in 2007; according to the 2000 U.S. Census, the mean per capita income of $17,000. Only about 15 percent of the schools made “adequate yearly progress” last year under state accountability standards. “Formality was the furthest things from their minds -- their lives were chaotic,” Wise said. “They didn’t need someone to fix them and put them in order. They needed someone to meet them where they were.” Wise discovered something else that day: God had called him to be that person.”

Following in the way of Jesus, he saw what the community needed, and started a non-profit, so he could have a day care center. “Wise became one of the first employees of the daycare, doing administrative work and even subbing in the classroom. The first year, the daycare had nine children; by the next year it had 45…Solid Rock now is serving more than 200 children in three centers. Solid Rock gets some funding from the state, and soon will open a fourth site to offer before- and after-school care at another school. “A lot of our families now are members of the church. And one of the reasons is they bring their child here every day and they’re comfortable. So it’s the first step,” said childcare director Lynda Turlington.

Being poor is burdensome, time-consuming and expensive. We can add to that burden by how we treat people, or we can meet them with the expansive grace of Jesus, and lighten the burdens they carry. Jesus reminds us of the surprising grace available to all of us, where we don’t have to fill out a form, explain anything, or meet any qualifications. We just have to sit down on the green grass and take it all in.


From team member Dean Feldmeyer:

The Preferential Option For The Poor
It’s a phrase we hear from time to time, especially in the church. But where did it come from and what, exactly, does it mean?

As far as we can tell, it was originated by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, Superior General of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1968 in a letter to the Jesuits of Latin America. Three years later, in 1971, it became a focus of the World Synod of Catholic Bishops.

It refers to a trend, throughout the Judeo-Christian Bible, of preference being given to the well-being of the poor and powerless of society in the teachings and commands of God through the prophets and other righteous people. Jesus taught that on the Day of Judgment, God will ask what each person did to help the poor and needy: And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. (Mat. 25:40) Catholic canon law, states, “The Christian faithful are also obliged to promote social justice and, (are) mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor."

According to this doctrine, through one's words, prayers and deeds one must show solidarity with, and compassion for, the poor. Therefore, when instituting public policy, one must always keep the “preferential option for the poor” at the forefront of one's mind, for the moral test of any society is “how it treats its most vulnerable members. We are called to look at public policy decisions in terms of how they affect the poor because the poor have the most urgent moral claim on the conscience of a moral nation.

This preferential option for the poor and vulnerable includes all who are marginalized in society, including unborn children, persons with disabilities, the elderly and terminally ill, and victims of injustice and oppression. Pope Benedict XVI taught that “love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel.”

Pope Francis's apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium includes a long section on “The inclusion of the poor in society” in which he noted that “Without the preferential option for the poor, ‘the proclamation of the Gospel … risks being misunderstood or submerged’.”

(Option for the Poor, Major themes from Catholic Social Teaching, Office for Social Justice, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.)

* * *

The Poor Will Always Be With Us
As of June 2018, the Social Security Administration reports that some 62.5 million people -- many of whom are retired workers but also including the survivors of deceased workers and the long-term disabled -- were receiving a monthly benefit. About 62 percent rely on Social Security for at least half of their income.

SSA estimates that about 150 million workers and family members are covered for future retirement or in the event of a long-term disability and/or by survivor's insurance protection, should a worker die unexpectedly. Not all older Americans will be able to collect a Social Security benefit, however. “Despite often being referred to as an ‘entitlement program,’ Social Security is anything but an entitlement. In reality, it's a benefit that Americans need to earn through work, albeit there are a slim number of exceptions to this rule.”

In order to qualify for retired worker benefits, a person must earn 40 lifetime work credits. These credits are actually pretty easy to earn, but the key fact to remember here is that the maximum number of credits that can be earned in a given year is four. So, to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, you'll need at least 10 years of work history.

The vast majority, about 97 percent, of Americans are going to qualify for Social Security benefits based on their work and earnings history.

But that leaves about 3% of the population ages 60 to 89 (nearly 1.7 million people) who will never receive a benefit. Most of these folks fall into three categories: (1.) Infrequent workers, (2.) Late-arriving immigrants, (3.) Noncovered workers. What will happen to them? Will they simply fall through the cracks and be forgotten? Will the church of Jesus Christ be prepared to reach out to them with love and assurance?

Why nearly 1.7 million Americans will never receive Social Security (MSN News)

* * *

The Face Of God In The Works Of Our Hands
Monday was supposed to be Walter Carr's first day of work with a moving company but on Sunday his car broke down. Instead of calling off, however, he walked through the night to be on time.

Walter knew that he just could not miss his first day of work for the Bellhops moving company so he walked at least 14 miles of the 20 mile distance to the home where he was to meet his fellow workers. The police picked him up at 4 a.m. and, hearing his story, they took him to breakfast. Then, they gave him a ride the rest of the way to the home of the Lamey family, who he was scheduled to help move that morning.

Walter arrived at the home of Jenny Hayden Lamey and her family before the rest of the movers arrived. Jenny invited him to go upstairs and rest until his co-workers arrived but he declined and said he’d rather just go ahead and get started. So he and the Lamey family began packing up their belongings and chatting.

Lamey discovered that Carr and his mother were from New Orleans, but moved to Alabama after losing their home during Hurricane Katrina.

The rest of the crew arrived later in the morning and Lamey insisted Carr share the story of his grueling night with the other movers. “Walter said ‘I walked.’ That was it. Humble,” said Lamey.

Lamey shared the story of Walter and her move on Facebook -- the post quickly went viral. And word eventually got back to the CEO of the Bellhops moving company, Luke Marklin.

“I'm really proud to be on the same team as Walter,” Marklin wrote on Twitter, “We set a high bar on service and he just raised it. Look forward to thanking him in person this week.” But, Marklin did a bit more than just thank Carr -- he gave Walter his 2014 Ford Escape.

Man walks for miles to first day of work, CEO gifts his own car as thanks (MSN News)

* * *

Mission Accomplished?
Hold your fire! Cease fire, everyone! The war is over and we’ve won!

What war? Why, the war on poverty, of course.

In case you haven’t heard, there is no more poverty in America. Government programs can be wound down, community assistance programs can be dismantled, homeless shelters can lock their doors, and neighborhood food pantries can start selling their food.

All this is according to the president’s Council of Economic Advisers who, citing a measure of poverty that tracks poor people’s spending instead of their earnings. The CEA claims that the poverty rate fell from 30 percent in 1961 to 3 percent in 2016, the latest numbers available. (The government’s official rate is 12.7 percent for 2016.)

“Based on historical standards of material wellbeing and the terms of engagement, our War on Poverty is largely over and a success,” the CEA says in its report, published last week.

The fact that politicians and pundits have, for the past fifty years, been condemning anti-poverty programs as ill-conceived, poorly administered failures, does not seem to occur to the CEA. Even Capitol Hill Republicans seem befuddled by the White House’s declaration of victory.

The White House report goes on to say that, since poverty no longer exists in the US except by choice, Congress should increase “work requirements” in noncash welfare programs such as SNAP (also known as food stamps), Medicaid and housing assistance. Texas congressman, Mike Conaway, is the lead author of a bill that would impose new work requirements on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program beneficiaries, which the Congressional Budget Office has said would reduce program enrollment by more than 1 million. Lost on Conway is the fact that food stamps have helped eradicate starvation in the US and SNAP already has work requirements. Recent research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that most working-age SNAP recipients actually do work within a year of receiving benefits, but they’re often in unstable jobs with low pay and few benefits like paid leave.

Cut Food Stamps Because We Already Won The War On Poverty, White House Says (Huffington Post)

* * *

Charity Must Be Earned?
Three of the federal government’s largest means-tested safety-net programs are Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and housing assistance. To list these is to list the conditions against which we, as a humane and caring people, protect those who do not have enough money to protect themselves: sickness, hunger and homelessness.

Yet, we Americans are constantly trying to figure out ways to spend less in these worthy endeavors which make up less than 17% of the federal budget (compared to military spending and veterans benefits at about 59%.)

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation about 62 percent of working-age adults enrolled in Medicaid work full or part time; some 18 percent live with a working adult.

There is no connection, actuarially, between work and the need for health insurance. Universal coverage is far more efficient, overall, than attempting to cobble together a plan that links eligibility to work effort. Assuming there is a work requirement, and Medicaid-eligible people lose coverage they will still seek treatment. And it will still be at public expense, in hospital emergency rooms

A similar analysis applies to SNAP. Importantly, SNAP rolls have already fallen by more than 5 million as of 2017, because of a surge in employment. Many of those who do not work have minor children at home, which means the reasons for their not working may include a lack of child-care options. Any humane work requirement would have to address that issue, which costs a lot of money, as would training and other support.

Safety-net programs should be designed so as not to create disincentives to work. But means-tested programs are, at most, a minor cause of lagging labor-force participation. If we, as a nation, wish to reduce the cost of safety net programs we would do well to do so by perpetuating tight labor markets and all the benefits that accrue therefrom, not stereotypes about the undeserving poor.     

Work requirements won’t solve hunger and sickness (Washington Post)

* * *

Some Things We All Should Know About Medicaid
  • Children and adults make up the largest share of Medicaid enrollees, but most spending goes to senior citizens and people with disabilities.
(Enrollees who are children, older than 60, or disabled: 66%) (Spending on children, aged, or disabled: 80%)
  • Medicaid Makes Up Almost 10 Percent Of The Federal Budget
It is a joint federal/state program under which both costs and regulations are divided. Currently, it's an open-ended program, where the governments pay for any covered medical costs that beneficiaries need.
  • Medicaid Pays For Half Of All Births In The United States
It was established in 1965 as a program to help poor single parents on welfare, along with their children. Two decades later, the federal government required states to cover poor women who were pregnant for the first time. And in the early 1990s, Congress expanded coverage for pregnant women further to ensure that all pregnant women and mothers of children under age 6 with incomes up to 133 percent of poverty are covered.
  • Medicaid Pays For Most People In Nursing Homes
Medicaid pays the costs for about 62 percent of seniors who are living in nursing homes. The reason? Many seniors enter retirement with low incomes and few assets. Inpatient nursing care is some of the priciest healthcare there is so even though seniors accounted for only 9 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries in 2014, they used 21 percent of Medicaid dollars, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

From Birth To Death, Medicaid Affects The Lives Of Millions (NPR)

* * * * * * * * *

From team member Ron Love:

A new documentary has been released by HBO on the life of actor and comedian Robin Williams. The film was produced by Marina Zenovich and is titled Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind. The title is based on a routine that Williams used as an up-and-coming comic in the 1970s. The life of Williams is one of sadness when we learn about his addiction to drugs early in his career, and his suicide in August 2014 at the age of 63. His life is also one of celebration as we watched him evolve as an actor, from being a one-demensional comedian to being a multifaceted character actor. Zenovich said the purpose of the documentary is to celebrate the artist and her team “handcrafted” the project with love. Zenovich went on to say, “What is so great is hearing people say the film is so inspiring. It’s so joyful. And I don’t know, it touches on something deep. I mean, it’s about so many things. It’s about fame, the effects of fame. It’s about talent and kind of someone with an amazing talent, watching his trajectory.”

Application: As we read the life of David, we read of a leader with many flaws and a great deal of talent.

* * *

John Miller, 59, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, has just been arrested for the abduction, rape and murder of 8-year-old April Marie Tinsley. The crime occurred in 1988, and the advances in DNA analysis and the use of genealogy databases provided the evidence of the arrest. DNA taken from the child’s undergarments and DNA taken from Miller’s garbage provided the match. This new use of DNA and genealogy databases is how Joseph DeAngelo was arrested in April in California for dozens of rapes and 12 murders that were committed in the 1970s and 80s. Karen Richards, the prosecutor for Allen County in Indiana, said criminals should be worried about these new powerful crime-fighting tools. She went on to say, “This case should tell them something.”

Application: In our lectionary readings we learn about evil and the judgement of God upon evildoers.

* * *

In the newspaper comic The Family Circus, the creator Bil Keane presents a typical American family of Bil and his wife Thel, and their four children Billy, Dolly, Jeffy and PJ. In the comic strip, the family occasionally visits a city while on vacation. They are currently vacationing in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is known for the LOVE sculpture, a work created by Robert Indiana. The sculpture, installed in 1976, is located in John F. Kennedy Plaza, northwest of City Hall. The word LOVE is spelled out in large red letters with the “L” and “O” sitting on top of the “V” and “E.” What draws people to the sculpture is that the “O” is tilted to the right. In the comic we have 5-year-old Dolly standing in front of the sculpture yelling at her younger brother, 3-year-old Jeffy, as he runs away from her. Dolly screams, “Jeffy! Come back here with my pretzel! Oooh! I hate you, Jeffy!”

Application: We understand the meaning of love, but how hard is it for us to exercise it.

* * *

Tiger Woods recently played in The Open Championship for the first time in three years. Back surgeries had prevented him from playing competitively. The 147th Open Championship was played at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland. He led on the 10th hole, but failed to bring home the Claret Jug. He finished in 6th place, tying with two others, at 5-under par. The 42-year-old golfer enjoys links golf the most. Links golf is played on land that is typically characterized by dunes, an undulating surface, and a sandy soil that grows grass that creates a firm turf causing the ball to run. Woods said, “It’s my favorite type of golf to play…because it is creative. We’re not going to get the most perfect bounces. And I think that’s the fun challenge of it.”

Application: In the feeding of the five-thousand, the disciples had to learn to be creative. They had to accept the challenge.

* * *

Angelique Kerber defeated Serena Williams to win the woman’s singles competition at Wimbledon. This came two years after she lost to Williams on Centre Court. This was Kerber’s first major championship at the All England Club and her third major overall. Regarding her victory, Kerber said, “I think it’s the experience. You have to go through all things -- the good things, the bad things -- and then you need to learn.”

Application: As we read from our lectionary, the disciples of Jesus were always learning.

* * *

Angelique Kerber defeated Serena Williams to win the woman’s singles competition at Wimbledon. This came two years after she lost to Williams on Centre Court. This was Kerber’s first major championship at the All England Club and her third major overall. Regarding her victory, Kerber said, “I know that against Serena, I have to play my best tennis, especially in the important moments.” Kerber paused, and then repeated the words, “especially in the important moments.”

Application: Our lectionary readings instruct us that we must always be able to do our best, especially in the important moments.

* * *

Music can send chills up your spine and give you goose bumps. Greg Yasinitsky, a professor at Washington State University School of Music, said there are two situations that cause this. The first is when a listener hears something that is a surprise. The second is when a listener hears something that is not a surprise, but something they have been expecting.

Application: As you can imagine, the disciples of Jesus were always experiencing chills up their spines, especially when they saw him walking on water.

* * *

The 2018 Major League Baseball All-Star Game was won by the American League, defeating the National League by a score of 8-6. The 89th All-Star Game was played at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Thirteen years ago baseball returned to Washington after being absent for 33 seasons. When Ted Lerner and his son Mark bought the team, the first thing Mark did was write a letter to baseball commissioner Bud Selig, requesting the All-Star Game be played in Washington. The 2018 competition was the fourth All-Star Game played in Washington, but the first one since 1969. Mark said, “It was something I’ve wanted from the moment we got the team.”

Application: From our lectionary readings we learn that discipleship requires persistence.

* * *

Many people are getting tattoos to express their Christian faith. One patron in Gastonia, South Carolina, said, “I love sharing my faith, and I felt like this was a way to break the ice. Without saying anything, this is a way to share your faith.” That gentleman got an elaborate tattoo with a verse from Isaiah. Jeff Mauney, owner of Ink Link in Gastonia, said that many people who come into his parlor and do not know what Christian tattoo best expresses their faith. So, Mauney went on to say, “People come in and don’t know what they want, and they’ll settle on crosses.”

Application: The disciples may not have fully understood what was taking place, but they still found simple and uncomplicated ways to express their faith.

* * *

David Letterman was host of the Late Show from 1993 to 2015. Letterman suffered for decades with depression. He refused treatment because he was concerned that the medication would adversely affect his personality. In 2003, with an attack of the shingles, Letterman decided to get treatment. After the new health that the medication provided, Letterman shared in a television special with Oprah Winfrey what his new life is like. Letterman said, “It’s like seeing the world with 20/20 vision.

Application: Our lesson reads that Jesus went up into the mountain for a time of meditation. Though this was quickly interrupted, Jesus understood the importance of solitude and prayer. Meditation will allow us to see “the world with 20/20 vision.”

* * * * * * * * *

From team member Chris Keating:

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Bathsheba & #metoo
David is no ordinary man propelled by ordinary lust. As David and Diana Garland observe in their book, “Flawed Families of the Bible: How God’s Grace Works through Imperfect Relationships,” (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007): “Artists and interpreters over the centuries have turned this particular woman into a painted sex kitten who bewitched a divinely chosen king. They accuse her of deliberately choosing to bathe in a place where she knew she could be seen by the king. They imagine her coquettishly parading around naked to catch the king’s eye. As a consequence of this portrayal of the scene, seems almost a helpless victim in the sights of a conniving vixen determined to seduce him..”

The Garlands point out that “it is simply male fantasy to think women are being seductive when they are in fact being exploited.” (This quote accessed from a preview of the Garlands’ book from this website.)

Highlighted against multiple sexual assault allegations of powerful men Harvey Weinstein or Dr. Paul Nassar, or most recently the late Dr. Richard Strauss, the story of David’s preying upon Bathsheba and the resulting cover up takes on contemporary relevance. Allegations and accounts of abuse have become a recurring part of the news cycle, writes Samantha Schmidt. She quotes psychologist Dacher Keltner from the University of California at Berkeley:
Powerful men, studies show, overestimate the sexual interest of others and erroneously believe that the women around them are more attracted to them than is actually the case. Powerful men also sexualize their work, looking for opportunities for sexual trysts and affairs, and along the way leer inappropriately, stand too close, and touch for too long on a daily basis, thus crossing the lines of decorum -- and worse.
Illustration: Ignoring David’s action as an assault on Bathsheba misreads the text, and ignores the power dynamic at work. Bathsheba could never have refused the king’s approach, and the results become murderous. Ultimately, David’s misdeeds fulfill the warning God gave to Israel concerning the way kings would abuse power.

* * *

Sexual abuse liability
David’s actions against Bathsheba were individual sins, yet because of his powerful position, the actions represent a turning of Israel against the covenant with Yahweh. In a different, yet similar fashion, it is possible that criminal liability for the accusations of sexual abuse by the late Dr. Richard Strauss at Ohio State University could be extended to other members of the OSU community. Former wrestlers have accused Strauss, who committed suicide in 2005, of inappropriate touching during physical exams. Cevallos notes that though it is currently OSU policy that all employees with a knowledge of sexual misconduct have a duty to report, it might not have been a policy throughout Strauss’ tenure. Yet that does not eliminate the professional responsibility to report criminal behavior.

Illustration: Those around David would have certainly known about the king’s inappropriate behavior. But until the prophet Nathan dared to speak truth to power, those around the king were also complicit with his misconduct.

* * *

Ephesians 3:14-21
Not a generic prayer
Paul’s intercession for the Ephesians is filled with images of faith as being rooted in love surrounded in richness, strength, and nearly unimaginable possibilities. Far from a “generic prayer,” this is a prayer deeply connected to the lived experience of the Ephesians, a prayer that offers them transformative possibilities. Journalist Terry Mattingly notes that in the recent rescue of the Thai soccer team and coach from the cave where they were trapped, prayers from the families of the victims and from their community were hardly “ordinary” or “generic.”  The coach, who had spent years in a Buddhist monastery, practiced meditation and prayer, modelling strength for the boys. He quotes a professor from the State University of New York in Buffalo as saying the coach’s intercession’s served the group well. “I’d speculate it could be helpful -- even if it functioned solely as a way for the children to feel like their coach was doing something to help them,” said Michael Poulin, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “Feeling loved and cared for is paramount.” Mattingly says that “this is not your ordinary praying-in-distress angle,” and goes on to chide journalists for missing the importance of prayer in the story’s positive outcome.

Illustration: Paul’s prayer models strength, faithfulness, and assurance for the Ephesians. In a similar way, the Thai coach used Buddhist practices of faith to convey strength and assurance for the boys caught in the depths of the cave.

* * *

John 6:1-21
Imagining Abundance
John’s depiction of the feeding of the 5,000 is filled with vivid descriptions that make it a fruitful passage for practicing imaginative contemplation. Douglas J. Leonhardt, a Jesuit priest, offers a description of the Ignatian prayer practice of gospel contemplation, which may provide a preacher with both a tool for creatively engaging the text and a source for vivid sermon illustrations. Leonhardt’s template could be easily adapted to John 6:1-21:
  • Read John 6:1-21, and notice where God seems to be present in the various interactions.
  • Reconstruct the scene imaginatively: what does it look like for the crowd to be following Jesus? What would be it like for him to climb a mountain and to see a crowd coming after him? What is the importance of the approaching Passover feast? What sort of anxiety is present in the faces of the disciples, the little boy, the hungry crowd?
  • Engage these scenes with a cinematic vividness. Mull over the actions. What does abundance look like in this scene?
Illustration: Just as Jesus invites the disciples to wonder how they will provide bread to those who are hungry, Ignatian contemplation invites us to wonder what it is like to imagine abundance in the presence of God.

by George Reed

Call to Worship (Based on Psalm 24):
Leader: God looks on humankind to see if there are any who are wise.
People: God looks to see if there are any who seek after God.
Leader: We have all gone astray, we are all alike perverse.
People: There is no one who does good, no, not one.
Leader: The evildoers eat up my people as they eat bread.
People: They would confound the plans of the poor, but God is their refuge.


Leader: The One who fills all in all comes to meet us.
People: We welcome our God and asked to be filled. :
Leader: There is so much in our lives. Do we have room for God?
People: We are filled with empty things and not satisfied. :
Leader: God brings us love and life to fill our existence.
People: These are the things we need to be fulfilled.

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

I Sing the Almighty Power of God
UMH: 152
H82: 398
PH: 288
NCH: 12
W&P: 31
Renew: 54

Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies
UMH: 173
H82: 6/7
PH: 462/463
LBW: 265
ELA: 553
W&P: 91

Every Time I Feel the Spirit
UMH: 404
PH: 315
AAHH: 325
NNBH: 485
NCH: 282
CH: 592
W&P: 481
STLT: 208

Breathe on Me, Breath of God
UMH: 420
H82: 508
PH: 316
AAHH: 317
NNBH: 126
NCH: 292
CH: 254
LBW: 488:
W&P: 461
AMEC: 192:

Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life
UMH: 427
H82: 609
PH: 408
NCH: 543
CH: 665
LBW: 429
ELA: 719
W&P: 591
AMEC: 561

Cuando el Pobre (When the Poor Ones)
UMH: 434
PH: 407
CH: 662
ELA: 725
W&P: 624

You Satisfy the Hungry Heart (Communion)
UMH: 629
PH: 521
CH: 429:
ELA: 489
W&P: 705

All I Need Is You
CCB : 100:

Your Loving Kindness Is Better than Life
CCB : 26

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

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who fills all creation with your presence:
Grant us the wisdom to seek to be filled by you
so that we may be fulfilled in this life;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.


We praise you, O God, because you are the fulness of all creation. Your love, life, and Spirit are the true foundation of all life. Help us to empty ourselves of the things that do not satisfy so that you can fill us with yourself. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our insatiable appetite for things that do not satisfy.

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. Though we were created to be in communion with you, we have sought to be filled by things that are passing. We fill our bodies and our lives with things that do not satisfy. We spend our money on things that do not nourish us. We ignore the hunger in our hearts that long to be filled with your love and Spirit. Help us to hear you calling us back to a life that is fulfilled in you. Give us strength to break our bonds to those things that leave us empty. Fill us once more with your Spirit. Amen. 

Leader: God desires to fill us with good things. God rejoices to live within and through us. Receive God’s good gifts of love and life and share them with others.

Prayers of the People
All praise and glory are yours, O God, for you are the fullness of all. In you all creation rejoices as your flood us with your love.

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

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. Though we were created to be in communion with you, we have sought to be filled by things that are passing. We fill our bodies and our lives with things that do not satisfy. We spend our money on things that do not nourish us. We ignore the hunger in our hearts that long to be filled with your love and Spirit. Help us to hear you calling us back to a life that is fulfilled in you. Give us strength to break our bonds to those things that leave us empty. Fill us once more with your Spirit.

We thank you for your presence that blesses us day by day. You share your love with us in so many ways and through so many people. We give you thanks for this life that your strive to fill with good things.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another in our need. We pray especially for those who hunger for the basics of life. We pray for those who find it difficult to believe in your love when they are denied food, shelter, and safety by others.

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

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

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

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

Children’s Sermon Starter
Take a colander, a catch pan, some sand and some stones. Tell the children you want to fill the colander and pour sand into it holding over the catch pan. When it doesn’t fill ask the children if they think you need more sand. Of course you don’t. You need something that will stay in the colander. Pour in the stones and fill the colander up. This is like our lives. We want to be filled with good things but sometimes the things we choose don’t stay with us. We need to choose the good things of God that will not just sift out.

Many Ways to Love
by Bethany Peerbolte
Ephesians 3:14-21

Ephesians 3:14-21 talks about God’s power which is rooted and grounded in love. It also talks about how we have that power within us. There are so many ways for kids to connect with God, but often focus is on church attendance and caring for others. Children who do not enjoy the heavily social and structured atmosphere of church and mission work may not feel like they “enjoy” time with God. This can lead to feeling disconnected and powerless. This children’s sermon hopes to affirm other ways young Christians can practice their spirituality and regain God’s power in their lives. Finding God in hard places, learning about God, and experiencing nature, are also great ways for kids to connect with God’s powerful love.

Say Something Like:

This week our Bible lesson is about the power of God. How many of you think God is powerful? I do too! The Bible says that God’s power is rooted and grounded in love, which means that God’s power runs on love. Does anyone know what Superman must do when he feels weak and wants to get stronger? Yes, he flies toward the sun. Superman is made more powerful by the sun. God’s power is strong when there is love around. The Bible also says we have God’s power inside of us and that we can do amazing things when we remember we have God’s power and show love.

What I wanted to tell you about today are some people who showed love in interesting ways. We have talked before about showing love with hugs, or giving food to those in need, but there are so many other ways to love.

There is a Queen in the Bible named Ester who saw something scary happening in her country. She knew she could make a difference, but she was scared. God’s power helped Ester find the courage to speak up and change the thing that worried her. Ester showed love during a hard time by allowing God’s power to inspire her to change something scary.

Later in the Bible there is a woman named Priscilla and she loved to read. She would read about God and learned lots of things. But she also had lots of questions about Jesus so she invited Paul to her house because Paul knew a lot about Jesus. Priscilla showed love by learning all she could about God.

Another person who showed love in an interesting way was Elijah. He loved being outside in nature, in God’s creation. He would travel around and look at all there was to see. Elijah showed love by appreciating the world God created.

I hope these people will inspire you to show love so that this week we can make God’s power stronger with our love.

Let’s say a prayer:
Powerful and loving God, we are amazed that we have your power inside us. We want to be stronger and love in lots of different ways. Help us find ways to show love to you, to others, and to love our selves. Amen.

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

The Immediate Word, July 29, 2018, issue.

Copyright 2018 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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Christmas Eve/Day
29 – Sermons
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