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Mustard Seeds and Mulberry Trees

Children's sermon
For October 2, 2022:

Dean FeldmeyerMustard Seeds & Mulberry Trees
by Dean Feldmeyer
Luke 17:5-10

A little girl who lived in a poor, rundown neighborhood decided to do her bit to improve her environment. She saved her money until she could afford to buy some marigold seeds. She took them home and, using some pieces of scrap metal that she had found, she dug up the dirt next to the stoop of her building and sprinkled the seeds in it.

She watered the area from time to time and, before long, the seeds grew into a lovely little garden.

One day the local priest stopped by while she was tending her garden. He admired it and said, “What a beautiful little garden you and God have made, together.”

The little girl rolled her eyes, “Yeah. You shoulda seen it when God had it all to himself.”

We work hard, we pay our taxes, we don’t lie, cheat, or steal, and we go to church whenever we can. We’re good people, like that little girl, and God’s lucky to have us.

Right? Right?

In the Scriptures
Sometimes I really don’t understand how the lectionary committee choose the passages they do and makes the beginnings and endings in the places that they make them.

Today is a good example of this conundrum.

If we read it as the lectionary gives it to us, we begin with the statement of the mustard seed. If we read it as it is given to us, you would think that the disciples just blurt out this request for more faith apropos to nothing.

They’re just walking down the road and, all of a sudden, they all run up to Jesus and shout, “Increase our faith!” There’s even an exclamation point after it. But, in fact, this request of theirs for more or stronger faith comes in response to something and to fully understand what’s going on we have to know what exactly it is that Jesus has said to illicit such a request.

So, let’s step back a few verses and see if there isn’t some context that will help make this passage a little clearer. It’s part of a long teaching passage and it starts with one of the lessons Jesus is teaching to his disciples.

In verses 1-4, Jesus lays two pretty weighty admonitions on his disciples:

First, he warns them about causing a new Christian to stumble on their spiritual journey. Stumbling happens, he says. That’s inevitable. But woe to those who are the cause of that stumbling. Better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around your neck.

Secondly, and this may be related to the “stumbling” business, he gives them a commandment. If one of your fellow Christians offends you, go to them and talk to them. If they repent of their behavior, “You must forgive them.” Note the word “must.” This is not Jesus saying that it would be nice if you forgave them. He’s saying, “you must.” He even pushes it further. If they sin against you seven times in a day and repent seven times you must still forgive them.

Whoa! This discipleship thing is hard. It takes a great deal of faith. Strong faith. So they say to Jesus: “Increase our faith.”

And now comes Jesus’ reply:

The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.

The mulberry tree described here is most probably ficus sicomorus or the Sycamore Fig tree. That’s why the gospel of Matthew calls it a Sycamore tree. This is also the tree that the tax collector, Zachaeus, climbs to see Jesus passing by. They are common in the middle east, and their fruit is the common fig that we eat and put in Fig Newtons and they produce fruit just about year-round.

They grow to be about 60 feet tall and their foliage usually spreads out from fifteen to twenty feet wide.

Jesus is not speaking literally, here, of course. He’s using hyperbole and metaphor. The point is that faith in God allows us to do amazing, nearly miraculous things — things we would not have thought possible, things that would amaze us if we would just allow ourselves to act on faith — not lots of faith, just a little teeny, tiny bit of faith. Like a mustard seed.

If we would just act on our tiny little faith, we would be able to do amazing things.

The Rev. Dr. Fred Craddock pointed out that, in ancient Greek there were two kinds of “if” statements — one negative and one positive — each of which would have been obvious to the original readers but for which there is no adequate translation in English. (Interpretation commentary series, 1990. “Luke.”)

The fist kind of “if” statement is the “if only” kind. “If only you were stronger or wiser, but you aren’t.” The second kind of “if” statement is the positive form that is used in statements like, “If Jesus is Lord,” which, of course, he is.

The use here is of the positive form. Jesus isn’t admonishing his disciples for having little or no faith, he’s pointing out to them that they have all the faith they need. “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, which, of course, you do…”

And if you would just act on that tiny little faith, you would be able to do amazing things.

This kind of faith is not just belief. It has nothing to do with accepting certain intellectual propositions to be true even in the face of contrary evidence. It has nothing to do with rejecting science in favor of the poetry of the Bible. It has nothing to do with using prayer instead of medicine to heal our illnesses and injury.

What Jesus is talking about is taking care of each other and forgiving each other.

What he’s talking about is getting along with each other in a healthy, supportive, loving community, a community that is only possible when we act on faith in God’s promises.

And wouldn’t it be nice if the passage ended right here with the promise that all we need is a little faith in God and we will be able to create a Christian community that will change the world? Wouldn’t that be nice?

Except this is Jesus talking and he never makes it easy, does he? He has just one more thing to say.

‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”’ (17:7-10)

Faith, whether it’s the size of a mustard seed or a bowling ball, is not an accomplishment, it is a gift of God. Our job is not to create the faith that is in us. It has already been planted there by God. Our job is to nurture and cultivate that faith so that we can do the amazing task of nurturing and cultivating our supportive, helping, and loving community called the church.

And when we have done that we are not to think that we have done anything special or that we deserve some special consideration from God.

No. Jesus says that when we have done all of that, we have done only what is expected of us. It’s what is required if we are going to call ourselves Christians. We have simply been the servants we are called to be.

So much for the indicative, which, I realize, is a lot and will, very likely, take most of the sermon. But there is still an imperative to which we must attend, if only briefly.

In the News
“We just decided we were going to make it work and then hope for the best.” A statement of profound faith from The Rev. Vincent “Chip” Seadale, pastor of St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Edgartown, Massachusetts, part of the greater Martha’s Vineyard community.

A September 16 dispatch from the Religion News Service (quoted extensively in this article) reports that the Rev. Seadale “was at a denominational meeting in North Carolina when he got a call that something was brewing on Martha’s Vineyard.”

The caller, a counselor who often attends the St. Andrews Episcopal Church where Seadale is pastor, had just learned that about 50 migrants from Venezuela had landed at the airport on Wednesday and needed help. They’d been sent to the Vineyard, about 28 miles offshore of Cape Cod, by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as part of a strategy by Republican governors to send immigrants to blue states.

The report goes on to say that Seadale and other members of the Martha’s Vineyard Island Clergy Association did what clergy do when a crisis happens: They jumped in to lend a hand.

St. Andrew’s played host to the Venezuelans for two nights, providing meals and a place to stay at the parish house, which hosts a shelter four nights a week during the winter. The church hall is already equipped with cots, a large kitchen, showers and laundry for the shelter.

Other churches and community members sent food, clothes and other supplies — while the Martha’s Vineyard Community Fund collected funds to support the Venezuelans. Immigration lawyers and other volunteers showed up to help them figure out where to go next. Many were in the US to seek asylum and have contacts here but needed help connecting with them.

The Rev. Janet Newton, a minister at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard, said that clergy, like other community leaders and residents of the island, had no idea the migrants were coming.

“Ironically,” she said, “we were prepared, even though we had no warning.”

The Vineyard, she said, is often seen as a playground for the rich and powerful, but that’s not the whole story. In the off-season, she said, many people struggle. Affordable housing is hard to come by, and at times, folks who work seasonal jobs can’t make ends meet. As a geographically isolated community, Newton said, year-round residents have learned to take care of each other.

Newton said clergy on the island and other community services had learned to work closely to solve long-term and short-term crises.

She worries the Venezuelans are being used as pawns in a political drama, lied to about jobs and opportunities that supposedly awaited them in Boston, where they were told they were going. Newton sees that as an act of cruelty, one that Christian leaders are obliged to respond to with acts of love.

“We are taught to welcome the stranger,” she said.

The Rev. Kenneth Young, associate director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, said that faith groups in the Bay State have long assisted immigrants because of the island’s reputation as a playground for rich elites. But similar stories happen all the time, he said. “A lot of people are playing games with people’s lives right now.”

Catholic Bishop Edgar Moreira da Cunha of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, which includes the Vineyard, pledged to continue to assist the migrants from Venezuela.

“Our welcome to them must be marked by respect and compassion and be coupled with our prayers for them in the weeks and months ahead,” he said in a statement.

“Immigration is not just a political issue but a fundamental human and moral issue,” the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement. “For immigrants are not faceless numbers — but human persons. They are our brothers and sisters.”

Seadale said he was grateful for church members who rallied to help the Venezuelans and for the aid from other congregations and the broader community. Because he was out of state, most of his job was making phone calls when people in the church responded on the ground.

And the response of the St. Andrews church and the community shows that when people listen to their hearts, they can still rally together.

Love, he said, still is the answer. And faith leaders can choose to help heal the nation’s divides — rather than fueling them.

“It’s becoming much clearer to me these days that there is a role for responsible people of faith,” he said. “We need to step up and fill this void in a responsible way — caring for everyone, no matter what they say or think.”

In the Sermon
“Christianity is not a cheap or easy club to belong to.” Thus observed and proclaimed my bishop, Dwight Loder, of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church at a meeting of first year ordinands sometime during the early 1980’s. 

I was one of those ordinands and that sentence has stuck with me even though I don’t remember the question that elicited it. And the intervening 40 years in the ministry has done nothing to disabuse me of the truth of that observation.  

Discipleship is hard.

Oh, it has its rewards, of course. The love and fellowship of the church that feeds our souls. The assurance of God’s loving and forgiving grace. The opportunity to learn and grow in a safe and encouraging congregation. Love, peace, joy. All that stuff.

But there is a profound imperative that comes with that indicative. The gospel comforts and reassures us, but it also places demands on our lives. Yes, it says, you are saved. So what? What are you going to do about it? How, it invites us to ask, are we going to give an appropriate and heartfelt thank you to God?

What are we going to do when 50 immigrants are dumped at our doorstep after they’ve been lied to and used by uncaring and cynical politicians?

And, more importantly, how are we going to react when millions of people, innocent people, fleeing violence, oppression, poverty, and hunger are standing at the border and knocking, crying desperately to be let in? And how are we going to react when the states that sit on that border shout out that they can’t handle the number of people coming across that line in the sand?

Will we sit back, relaxing in our far away comfortable, safe states and simply utter under our breath, “Yeah, it sucks to be you?” Or will we step up and say, yes, fill your planes and send them to us. We will love them and care for them and help them because, well, we’re Christians.

And that’s what Jesus told us to do.

That is the Mulberry tree that stand before us, brothers and sisters. And we can move it if we have sufficient will and faith.

Lord, increase our faith!

Surrender to the Flow
by Tom Willadsen
2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10, Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

In the Scriptures
Psalm 137
Scripture in the Top 40! The Afro-German-Caribbean group Boney M had an international hit in the late Seventies with their version of “By the Rivers of Babylon.”

While there are several versions available on YouTube, the one linked to above, though dated, holds up pretty well. Boney M’s version is faithful to the original gospel song.

Habakkuk 1:1-2, 2:1-4 — How do you pronounce that?
It’s Sunday morning, three minutes before worship is to begin and the lay reader asks how to pronounce a difficult word. Give props to your lay reader; she’s given some thought and planning to leading worship this morning. Most of the time I have a ready answer to their question. I usually follow that up by adding, “If you say something else, we are the only two people who are going to notice.” While you want people to take reading scripture seriously, you don’t want them too nervous about mispronouncing something.

Then there’s today’s reading from the prophet Habakkuk. In Central Illinois we emphasized the first and third syllables: HAH’ buh CUCK’ There are those on the internet, however, who prefer ha BOO’ KOOK’. In this case simply advise the worship leader to pick one and be consistent.

While most versions begin “The oracle,” another, equally faithful translation would be “The burden.” Given the discussion of the costs of discipleship in the New Testament readings, you might want to explore that rendering.

It’s interesting that the book begins with the prophet’s complaint against the Lord, who then responds beginning in v. 5.

In chapter 2 the prophet stubbornly (defiantly?) stands awaiting a response to his complaint. The Lord instructs Habakkuk to write the Lord’s response on tablets “so that a herald may run with it.” (NIV) While this is commonly understood to be something like asking the prophet to erect a billboard on a busy stretch of an interstate, another potential translation is to write the words to encourage those who are running that they not lose heart.

2 Timothy 1:1-14
Timothy is a third-generation Christian and Paul has personally laid hands on him.

There’s a good chance that vv. 9-10 are an early credal statement.

God saved us and chose us
to be his holy people.
We did nothing
to deserve this,
but God planned it
because he is so kind.
Even before time began
God planned for Christ Jesus
to show kindness to us.

Now Christ Jesus has come
to offer us God's gift
of undeserved grace.
Christ our Savior defeated death
and brought us
the good news.
It shines like a light
and offers life
that never ends.

(Contemporary English Version)

(For some reason it reads better as verse, in my opinion.)

Paul writes to Timothy to encourage him, reminding Timothy of what he already knows and experiences as a follower of Christ. He has already received the gift of the Spirit of the living God, Tim just needs to fan it. He’s already received the spirit of power, love, and self-discipline — an interesting combination. He should hold onto, guard, the message, and not be ashamed of it, either on Paul’s behalf or for his own actions as he walks with Christ.

Luke 17:5-10
The disciples think they need a pep talk after Jesus tells them to forgive their brother up to seven times in one day. It’s as though they ask for a booster shot of faith because forgiveness is hard. Jesus encourages them by reminding them that only a tiny bit of faith connects them to the power of God. There’s an implicit (and you do!) after Jesus,’ “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed.” He’s not rebuking them for lack of faith, but rather for overlooking what is already theirs.

In the same way that the grace they know in Christ cannot be exhausted — they know that extending Grace to their siblings can be exhausting — the next parable reminds them that obedience is also never used up. This is a nice tie-in to the spirit of self-discipline Paul reminds Timothy to draw on.

In the News
Work and the expectations of employers and employees were profoundly disrupted by the pandemic. Many workers found working from home worked really well for them; they did not miss commuting or the camaraderie of the water cooler. Some studies found that workers were more productive when they worked remotely.

A huge proportion of the work force began to leave their jobs about a year after the pandemic began in what has been called The Great Resignation, the Big Quit and the Great Reshuffle. Wages have risen modestly. The real stress is on employers filling jobs. The shortage of labor has given workers greater leverage and many are pushing for greater flexibility in their work schedules.

Coinciding with high inflation, supply chain difficulties and acute labor shortages in some industries and areas, a new phenomenon is emerging: Quiet Quitting. While the term was coined in 2009, “In 2022, quiet quitting experienced a surge in popularity in numerous publications following a viral TikTok video. That same year, Gallup found that roughly half of the US workforce was quiet quitters.” (Quiet quitting — Wikipedia)

Some see Quiet Quitters as passive-aggressive slackers, while others see them as seeking a healthy work-life balance. Some actions that are associated with Quiet Quitting are leaving the office at the end of the work day, not replying to emails during off hours and not working during lunch. The line between being willing to pitch in and go the extra mile in a pinch and being exploited and taken for granted can be a fine one, and each worker and employer draws it in a different place.

The teachers in a school district in Wisconsin in the 1980s worked only their contracted hours. The school district, parents, and students immediately came to realize how many hours teachers put in for which they are not paid. The teachers did not go on strike, per se, but they only graded papers during their prep time and did not plan lessons at home.

In the Sermon
More than 30 years ago someone told me he never wants to hear the “Be Better, Try Harder” sermon. “It’s hard being a Christian. I come to church to hear that God loves me. I need encouragement to keep walking that path. Don’t beat me up and tell me I’m a sinner; I already know that. Tell me God loves me. No matter what.”

There are preachers who bravely take stands against sin and preach as though their flocks need to be shamed into something like faith. I am not one of them.

I need to be reminded of whom I am and whose I am.

Paul started his second letter to Timothy by reminding him of the faithful members of his family who have blazed a trail for him. That the flame of the Holy Spirit has already been kindled in Tim’s heart. Tim’s task was to fan the flame, not gather the wood and start the fire.

The disciples asked for more faith. Jesus told them, “What you’ve got already connects you to the Creator of the Universe, try working with that.”

Enough. You’re enough. Right now. You work enough. No, I take that back, you work too much. What would happen if you went home at the end of the day? What would happen if you took one day out of seven to just stop, breathe and trust God to provide for you?

I heard about a sermon (did not hear it personally, but heard about it Monday morning from a worshiper who was moved by it) about the call of Moses. Moses raised a number of obstacles to accepting God’s call to go to Pharoah and ask for a long weekend. He stuttered. He didn’t know God’s name. He needed a sign. The leaders of the Hebrews wouldn’t believe him. In the sermon every time Moses started to negotiate with the Lord, the Lord reminded Mo of his staff, a symbol of authority, which could turn into a snake when Moses felt like showing off God’s power.

“It’s in your hand!” the Lord kept urging Moses. “You already have everything you need! Trust me! Let my power flow through you. I am the Lord.”

As I began my sabbatical 15 years ago a colleague confessed that she often suffers from Practical Atheism, the conviction that since there is no God she must step in and take over. A lot of us are practical atheists, in our families, at work, at church. What would the world be like if we could each recognize the true power of the mustard seed’s worth of prayer, or the fire that has already been kindled in our hearts?

I’m willing to give it a try if everyone else will.


Mary AustinFrom team member Mary Austin:

Lamentations 1:1-6
Lament Classes
Lament is an ancient practice, often overlooked in our time. It turns out that lament is being revived in Finland. Pirkko Fihlman is a lament teacher, offering lessons in her living room, as people learn the act of lament singing. This is, she says, “a very old, traditional way to express your feelings. If you are hurt or you have sorrows or you want to express your feelings, you cry it out. You let it come out. That’s what they would do in the old times.”

“In the past, the custom was observed at funerals, weddings, and during times of war. But today, practitioners have a modern application for it: musical therapy. By providing an opportunity to process emotions through song, lament singing can confer mental health benefits to modern practitioners. While the custom resembles many “new age” practices, Finnish lament singing has a feature that those neo-spiritual systems don’t: It teaches a tradition specific to the region instead of borrowing from other cultures.”

Lament crosses cultures, giving voice to sorrow and rage. Following the wisdom of Lamentations, we can all speak — or sing — our laments to God.

* * *

2 Timothy 1:1-14
Living Inheritance
In this epistle, Paul writes about the inheritance that Timothy has received. “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” In Northeast India, girls receive a similar gift of sustenance from their mothers and grandmothers. All three major tribes in the region are matrilineal. Children take the surname of the mother’s clan and girls inherit traditional lands — the youngest daughter typically receiving the largest share. In this place, daughters inherit the gift of farming.

One farmer, Bibiana Ranee, says, “When I was five years old, my mother took me to the fields. I learned about the foods in the fields and the forest from her.” She is part of a group of women across India, who are “keepers of the seeds that form the foundation of their food sovereignty, a conscious choice by small food producers to define their unique food systems and culture. Indigenous women are also holders of traditional knowledge that enables them to gather medicinal plants and wild edibles in the surrounding forests, and gives them deep understanding of the ecology.”

“Ranee grows more than 32 food crops in her field and home garden, an astonishing diversity that’s in stark contrast with the wheat and rice monocultures that were promoted during India’s Green Revolution. She names three varieties of yams, four varieties of millet, two varieties of tapioca, and a medley of other vegetables — pumpkins, cucumbers, wild potatoes, beans, and sesame that diversify her food basket. Her home garden has rich offerings — a natural pharmacy with an abundance of medicinal herbs and shrubs, along with vegetables and fruit trees. The surrounding forest adds to the nutritious bounty, offering wild greens, nuts, medicinal plants, fruits, and mushrooms.”

This gift of mothers and grandmothers, like Timothy’s gift, continues to give life and health across the generations.

* * *

2 Timothy 1:1-14
Despised Inheritance

“I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you,” Paul writes to Timothy. Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie found that gift of faith rekindled in a way he never expected. He recalls that his father, an Orthodox Jew and a Holocaust survivor, always began the day with prayer. “In the mornings, he would put on his tefillin, his leather phylacteries, and his prayer shawl, and he would drink a glass of tomato juice simultaneously and glimpse at the morning paper. He was a journalist. And my memory was my father having this religious ritual at home at the dining room table while multitasking with tomato juice and a newspaper that later on became CNN.” This practice was alien to his son, who recalls, “I mocked him for many years. I remember as a teen I said, like, “Really? You’re not praying. This is like — what is this? It’s a checklist.”

Later, after his father’s death, he inherited his prayer shawl, and now puts it on every morning. “I realized that this was his way of sticking to discipline and committing to a path of persistence, even if the big answers and the big questions are not quite clear.”

He adds, reflecting on his inheritance, “It’s daily practice. It’s ironic to me now — I’m in my late 40s, and I’m a father, and I’m a rabbi, and I’m looking at my life and how it’s evolving and who knows what else. And I sit every morning for a few moments, wrapped up in my father’s prayer shawl. I meditate and write in my journal. I rarely use any of the liturgical texts. And what it’s about is discipline. It’s just daily discipline. It’s a workout. And it’s the workout for gratitude. And it’s a workout for what Heschel called radical amazement and wonder. And it’s just an exercise in meditation in silence. Sit for a few moments and cultivate love.” That’s the biggest inheritance — the rekindling of faith. (From On Being)

* * *

Psalm 37:1-9
Dashing the Babies Against the Rocks

Cursing the Babylonian captors, the psalmist writes, “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” To our ears, this is unsettling. Perhaps it’s the communal voice of grief, which is missing in our culture

Psychotherapist Francis Weller says that our culture demands that we carry too much of our grief alone. He says, “Through most of human history grief has been communal. The Pueblo people of the Southwest, for example, have “crying songs” to help move grief along. The Mohawk traditions have the “condolence ritual,” where they tend to the bereaved with an elegant series of gestures, such as wiping tears from the eyes with the soft skin of a fawn. The healers in those traditions know it is not good to carry grief in the body for a long time.”

He adds, “But now we’re asked — and sometimes forced — to carry grief as a solitary burden. And the psyche knows we are not capable of handling grief in isolation. So it holds back from going into that territory until the conditions are right — which they rarely are. The message is “Get over it. Get back to work.” Again and again in my practice clients come to me with a depression that is more of an oppression: a result of so many years of sorrow that have not been touched with kindness or compassion or community.” The people weeping together in Babylon — and cursing their captors — understand this place of shared grief.

Weller says, “For thousands of years we were nourished by being members of a community, gathering around the fire, hearing the stories of the elders, feeling supported during times of loss and grief, offering gratitude, singing together, sharing meals at night and our dreams in the morning. I call these activities “primary satisfactions.” We are hard-wired to want them, but few of us receive them. In their absence we turn to secondary satisfactions: rank, privilege, wealth, status — or, on the shadow side, addictions. The problem with these secondary satisfactions is that we can never get enough of them. We always want more. But once we find our primary satisfactions, we don’t want much else.” It’s easy to imagine the words of this psalm emerging from the community of exiles, gathered around their loss, supporting each other.

* * *

Luke 17:5-10
Increase Our Faith

“Increase our faith,” the disciples ask. “It’s pretty simple,” Jesus answers. “You only need a little, and it can turn into a lot.” In church life, it turns out to be simple, too. In Courageous Faith: How to Rise and Resist in a Time of Fear, Emily C. Heath says that gratitude marks the difference between dying churches and thriving ones. “I’ve often said that the best indicator that a church is dying is that the people in it cannot tell you about God’s grace in their own lives. By contrast, members of spiritually thriving churches can not only can tell you how God has interceded for good in their lives, but they also are people who want to say “thank you” to God with everything that they do. In short, gratitude.” If we increase our gratitude, we can increase our faith.

* * * * * *

Chris KeatingFrom team member Chris Keating:

Lamentation 1:1-6
Her children have gone away
According to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the number of persons worldwide who were forced from their homes due to conflicts, war, and human rights violation exceeded 89.3 million, more than double the number from ten year’s ago, and the highest number since the end of World War II.

“However,” UNHCR notes, “it is impossible to ignore the developments that have happened in early 2022. UNHCR predicts that the total number of displaced persons in the world will exceed 100 million people — about 1 in every 78 persons globally. In 2021, the agency predicted, “the question is no longer if forced displacement will exceed 100 million people — but rather when.” Today their website adds: “The when is now.”

* * *

Lamentations 3:19-26, Psalm 137:1-9
Dancing in a foreign land
For Ukrainian dancers Anna Myloslavska, Vitalia Vaskiv, Darya Koval and Anastasia Ivanova, the plans for 2022 had been to figure out ways of rebuilding their professional careers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, pushed from their homes, the four they are in living in Poland, trying to figure out what it means to be war-struck refugees.

Following Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, Polish dancing star Maciej Kuźmińk, creator of the Polish Dance Network, also began to rethink his assumptions and values. Though Kuzmink was not a refugee, he found himself reflecting on how his art could bring meaning to the current situation.

Kuzmink realized that serious consideration of using dance to probe the meaning of the brutal violence happening in Ukraine would require enlisting the assistance of Ukrainian refugees. The five dancers connected this year and began collaborating in a creative work that documents the experiences of being torn away from their homeland in the language of dance. “Every Minute Motherland,” eventually grew to include seven Ukrainian and Polish dancers as collaborators, and was performed in late August in Poland.

Writing for the Wilson Institute, blogger Blair Ruble notes:

The dance partnership formed by Kuźmińki, Myloslavska, Vaskiv, Koval and Ivanova signifies a fulcrum in the artistic journey prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In seeking meaning in their own agony, Ukrainians are now helping European and international artistic communities to reassess their values and artistic principles. The search for a Ukrainian creative voice is no longer just about Ukraine. As Kuźmińki observes, “the war set the whole world in motion… Everything that we used to take for granted has taken on completely different meanings.”

* * * * * *

Katy StentaFrom team member Katy Stenta:

2 Timothy 1:1-14
Grandmother’s Faith
My grandmother always wanted to be a social worker. She was not allowed to do that because “ladies do not do that” according to her mother. Instead she went to college, worked for a meteorology office and then got married and became a housewife.

Instead of being a social worker, she joined the church and became a deacon. There, she ran the food pantry, the working women’s wardrobe and made countless friends. The spare bedroom and couch were almost always being used by someone in need, and crafts and old clothes were always being recycled. We always said my grandmother was a social worker, she just never got paid for it. It was the church that allowed her to use her gifts of care, because she believed in her heart of hearts in helping people. That was my grandmother’s faith in action. It’s good to know what your grandmother’s faith is — whether it is by blood or your spiritual grandmothers, because we all know that without the spiritual grandmothers, there would not be a Timothy, or indeed a church at all.

* * *

Psalm 37:1-9
Do not worry

I confess, I worry a lot about the wicked. I know that the Trumps and Putins will turn into dust, and God remains forever, but it seems to me that they are doing a lot of damage now. What if God’s justice is so bright that we cannot see it? What if it is so blinding that we cannot recognize it even when it is right in front of us? Kind of like angels unaware? It makes me think about justice in a new way!

* * *

Luke 17:5-10

Faith grows. It needs tending, but it grows. The work of growing needs to be done. It is likely that the work is communal. God tells us to depend on God’s self, but never to give up our responsibilities. Faith does not seem to be the issue here. What then is the issue? Stop praying, get to work.

* * * * * *

George ReedWORSHIP
by Katy Stenta

Call to Worship (Psalm 37)
One: Trust in the Lord and do good.
All: Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him.
One: Take delight in the Lord. Commit to God.
All: Come, let us wait for the Lord together.


(Based 2 Timothy 1:1-14)
One: God of our mothers, we remember you.
All: God of our grandmothers, we worship you.
One: God give us a spirit of power, love and self-discipline.
All: God of Grace, let us praise you today.

Prayer of the Day/Collect
God help us to lean into the faith of our grandmothers. If not those who are related by blood, then those who are our spiritual grandmother of faith — remind us that we have family in the invisible church. Help us find real and true connections in the church we pray. Amen.

Call to Confession
One: We can trust in God, for God waits for us. Come let us confess ourselves before the Lord.

Prayer of Confession
All: God, you are so patient, we confess that we do not like to wait. We have trouble being still before you. Your justice is so bright, I confess that sometimes I am a blinded by it. It is hard to see it. Remind me how to seek your security, teach me how to trust you and commit to you. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon
One: God’s justice is beautiful and full of grace, so we know the good news. In Jesus Christ you are forgiven. Amen.

Prayers of the People
God says: Do not fret because of the wicked. Do not be envious of wrongdoers. Let us pray for all wrongs in the world:

(Lift concerns)

Let us take delight in the Lord. Let us praise God for all the good God has done. Let us lift our joys in the world:

(Lift Joys)

Let us pray for those who need God’s care:

(Lift the ill)

Let us be still and wait for God’s work together:

(Moment of silence)

Let us give God thanks by praying as Jesus taught us to pray…

The Lord’s Prayer

Hymns and Songs 
Amazing Grace
UMH: 378
H82: 671
PH: 280
AAHH: 271/272
NNBH: 161/163
NCH: 547/548
CH: 546
LBW: 448
ELW: 779
W&P: 422
AMEC: 226
STLT: 205/206
Renew: 189

It Is Well with My Soul
UMH: 377
AAHH: 377
NNBH: 255
NCH: 438
CH: 561
ELW: 785
W&P: 428
AMEC: 448

Lift High the Cross
AAHH: 242
CH: 108
ELW: 660
PW: 371
UMH: 159

Blest Be the Tie That Binds
AAHH: 341
AMECH: 522
CH: 433
ELW: 656
PW: 438
UMH: 557

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

* * * * * *

Quantisha Mason-DollCHILDREN'S SERMON
Big Faith and Small Faith
by Quantisha Mason-Doll
Luke 17:5-10

  1. Children as our tangible future.
  2. Small Faith and Big Faith.
  3. Planting faith.
  4. Big Faith vs. Small Faith
I want to teach you all the difference between what I like to call big faith and small faith. Smaller faith is the belief in the little things of life. For me a small faith is the belief that the sun will rise when the morning comes. For me there is no reason why the sun will not rise in the morning. It is a small faith that I can count on.

A big faith on the other hand is life's many risks. A big faith for me is when I plant seeds. There are so many factors that play into whether that seed will sprout into something that can produce healthy fruit.

How many of you have a garden at home or are part of or have been to a community garden? (Wait for them to raise their hands.)

Have any of you helped your parents with planting seeds and watching them grow? (Wait for them to raise their hands.)

Do your parents let you handle the little seeds on your own? (Wait for them to raise their hands.)

Do you remember how small and fragile those seeds looked?

We ask these questions because of Jesus’ call to increase our faith. Have you ever heard the parable of the mustard seed? We often use this parable as a metaphor for our faith. A metaphor is a term used as a placeholder for a concept or feeling. Words used to describe something you might not be able to hold with your own two hands.

Our story for today is a continuation of that parable. Jesus calls us to increase our faith, yet he questions our assumptions that doing so will be easy. Jesus is warning us against being lazy with our faith. Big faith, like a garden, requires much work, a skilled hand, and patience. Big faith, like plants, can start from something as small as a mustard seed.

Jesus reminds us that we cannot assume the riches of big faith are given just because we say “I am faithful.” Jesus has given us the tools, so we should not be afraid of doing a little hard work.

(At this time it would be great if there is a reminder given to parents and guardians that children cannot find Big Faith — a faith that can get them through the hardest times. Children are those fragile seeds that need the hand of an attentive gardener.)

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

The Immediate Word, October 2, 2022 issue.

Copyright 2022 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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For January 29, 2023:

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Micah 6:1-8


Peter Andrew Smith
Teresa stood reading the new sign outside of the church.

“Nice sign,” Kevin said from beside her. “Where did they come up with those sayings?”

She turned to him. “They’re words of Jesus from the Bible called the Beatitudes.”

“Huh.” He squinted at the sign. “Usually I like what he has to say about love and all of that. These are just confusing. If I’m mourning or poor in spirit, how does that make me blessed?”


John Jamison
Object:  A jar of honey. I used a 16-ounce jar, but if you use another size just do the math to change the number of bees that would have been needed to create that much honey. It takes at least 12 bees to produce 1 teaspoon of honey. Sometimes I have given the children a taste of the sweet honey at the end of the message, but that depends on whether any of your children might have allergies to honey or have problems with that much sugar.

* * *

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
Call to Worship:
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the people how they could be blessed by God and experience God's kingdom. In our worship today let us explore the Sermon on the Mount.

Invitation to Confession:
Jesus, sometimes I'm full of pride instead of being poor in spirit.
Lord, have mercy.
Jesus, sometimes I'm overbearing and pushy, instead of being meek.
Christ, have mercy.
Jesus, sometimes I'm not exactly pure in heart.
Lord, have mercy.



Stephen P. McCutchan
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
-- Psalm 15:1

Kenneth Cauthen
Bradley wanted to be good for nothing. His mother was. That was sufficient for him. This is how it came about. Bradley was a little boy. One morning he came to breakfast and laid a note on his mother's plate. The note said: "Mother owes Bradley, for running errands, $.25; for being good, $.10; for taking music lessons, $.15; extras, $.05; total, $.55." At lunch time Bradley found some change on his plate that totaled $.55. He was excited and pleased that his initiative had worked so well. There was also a note with the money, which he picked up and read.
John T. Ball
We Christians should be very careful about putting a limit on serious questions concerning human and godly existence, for we are the beneficiaries of those who have put serious questions up against the mysteries of life. The young Albert Einstein asked the compelling question of what things would be like if seen from the perspective of the speed of light. Charles Darwin wanted to know why there were so many different species of life.
Susan R. Andrews
Our text says that Jesus "went up to the mountain" and, oh, what a beautiful mountain it is! The Mount of the Beatitudes is not all that high, but in Galilee it is the equivalent of Mount Everest. Stretched out below is the most fertile agricultural land in Israel, intricately laid out next to the jeweled sea, that breathtaking, blue prism reflecting the hot beauty of the Middle Eastern sun.

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