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Searching for a Sign

Children's sermon
For February 21, 2021:Note: This installment is still being edited and assembled. For purposes of immediacy we are posting this for your use now with the understanding that any errors or omissions will be corrected between now and Tuesday afternoon.

Mary AustinSearching for a Sign
by Mary Austin
Genesis 9:8-17

“A visible sign of an invisible commitment” is one of my favorite phrases in the wedding service, reminding people that the wedding rings show something to the outside world that only the couple really understands fully. The depth of the bond between two people — their covenant — exists only between them, and yet other people know it’s there because of the ring. Neighborhoods with housing covenants are visible because everyone has the same six paint colors, or the same hard-to-find outdoor lighting fixtures. Some financial transactions also involve covenants, with a document to preserve the agreement.

God understands our human need to make our covenants visible, and makes a promise to Noah with the rainbow as its enduring sign. The soaring nature of that covenant merits a spectacular sign, one that makes us marvel every time we see it.

In our national life, our covenants are much less visible. The impeachment trial for former President Trump raises questions about the substance of our national covenant, and what we owe to each other. Is what Trump said to his supporters on January 6 free speech, or was it an incitement to riot? Are outgoing Presidents allowed to sulk publicly? To stir up their supporters? Trump’s actions between November and January 6 were so unusual that we hardly know how to understand them. In our lifetimes, we have never seen a departing President act the way he did.

All of that outside-the-norm behavior culminated in riots at the Capitol on January 6. The level of violence was horrific. Five people died that day, and it was one of the worst days for injuries to police officers since 9-11. Injuries “ranged from bruises and lacerations to more serious damage such as concussions, rib fractures, burns and even a mild heart attack. One Capitol Police officer, Brian D. Sicknick, was killed, and investigators are increasingly focused on whether chemical irritants were a factor in his death, according to a senior law enforcement official. The Capitol Police said in a statement that Officer Sicknick died from injuries sustained “while physically engaging with protesters.” Two officers involved in the response have died by suicide, the local police have said.” No respect for police officers was visible that day, and the rioters can be heard on recordings from the Capitol shouting “F--- the blue.”

Watching the landscape after the close of the trial, and the acquittal in the Senate, we wonder about the form of our national covenant going forward. There are no calls for Congress to move ahead on legislation, or even to chip in for the medical expenses of the Capitol Police officers injured in the riots on January 6. Trading threats, Senator Lindsey Graham suggested that Vice President Kamala Harris could be impeached if Republicans have a majority in the House.

What will make the invisible visible, in the months ahead?

In the Scriptures
After the sorrow of the flood, God outlines for Noah and his family the gifts that they will have. In an echo of the creation story, God says, “The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. 3Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” Perhaps sick of destruction, God adds, “Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life. 6Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind.”  God adds an instruction: “And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it.” God is re-creating the world, and the bonds between humankind, plants and animals.

Then God adds in the divine self, making a covenant not just with people, but with all of creation. “As for me,” God adds, “I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.” Never again will there be such destruction.

God goes to the trouble to add a visible sign of this promise, and asserts that it will be a reminder to God as well as the other parties. The rainbow is a striking, elusive sign, and yet it evokes God’s unseen promise whenever we see it.

God makes a multi-layered promise here, connecting the holiness of God’s presence to the future of humankind, and to the living creatures on the earth. God affirms the divine love for the created order, and moves toward a future of peace. Humankind has failed to live up to that vision of God’s, and the rainbow calls us back to it.

In the News
Among God’s people today, covenants are fraying everywhere. Following the end of former President Trump’s trial, Senate Republicans are exasperated with each other. Senator Lindsey Graham, an on-again, off-again, on-again ally of Trump’s, complained that Mitch McConnell “blamed the former president for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Graham warned on "Fox News Sunday" that this will be used against Republicans as they try to retake control of Congress in 2022. "I think Sen. McConnell's speech, he got a load off his chest, obviously, but unfortunately he put a load on the back of Republicans," Graham said. "That speech you will see in 2022 campaigns." Graham said GOP candidates running in states like Arizona and Georgia that could be key in Republican efforts to take back the Senate will be asked about McConnell’s speech. Likewise, he said incumbent candidates will be asked about whether they will support McConnell in the future.”

McConnell’s covenant with himself is also apparently in flux. Having trouble becoming clear in his own mind, McConnell said Saturday that Trump committed "a disgraceful dereliction of duty" by his actions prior to the deadly riot and was "practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day." He also voted to acquit Trump.

The Editorial Board of the National Review noted that Trump’s acquittal is not a vindication. “His conduct in the post-election period and on January 6 will blight his reputation forevermore. He waged a dishonest and poisonous campaign to overturn the election that culminated in a mob disrupting the counting of electoral votes at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The new videos played by the House managers at the trial brought home again the national embarrassment of that day.” The editorial called Trump’s behavior “unforgivably reckless,” suggesting that Trump broke a covenant with the American people.

The Pew Research Center, studying the impact of the Trump Presidency, finds that our connections with each other have weakened over the past four years. “Even before he took office, Trump divided Republicans and Democrats more than any incoming chief executive in the prior three decades.1 The gap only grew more pronounced after he became president. An average of 86% of Republicans approved of Trump’s handling of the job over the course of his tenure, compared with an average of just 6% of Democrats — the widest partisan gap in approval for any president in the modern era of polling.2 Trump’s overall approval rating never exceeded 50% and fell to a low of just 29% in his final weeks in office, shortly after a mob of his supporters attacked the Capitol.” Our gaps transcend this particular President, and hinge on our values. “In 1994, when Pew Research Center began asking Americans a series of 10 “values questions” on subjects including the role of government, environmental protection and national security, the average gap between Republicans and Democrats was 15 percentage points. By 2017, the first year of Trump’s presidency, the average partisan gap on those same questions had more than doubled to 36 points, the result of a steady, decades-long increase in polarization.”

We can hardly have a conversation with each other, let alone a covenant.

In the Sermon
Where to begin, on this First Sunday in Lent? Where to begin, in a congregation where people are probably divided about events on the national stage?

When God makes the covenant with Noah, his family and the creatures of the earth, it’s the party that has done harm promising those who were harmed that the injury will not happen again. God changes the divine mind. The sermon might look at how we change our minds, and how that’s often labeled as weakness in American political life, as if people are not allowed to learn and grow. The sermon might explore the power of mental change, and how we live when we know that we have been wrong. God sets a powerful example for us.

Or the sermon might explore the signs of a covenant. What might we see, if we had covenants with each other about politics? We don’t have to agree, and perhaps never will, but what if we shared values like genuine respect, no name-calling, careful listening, and more? What if politicians got off Twitter and moved toward more thoughtful ways of communication? What would our visible signs of an inviable bond be?

God announces some gifts before God sets up this new covenant. Are there gifts we can give each other, as the foundation for our civic or church covenants? It could be tangible gifts — a coffee meeting, or a shared lunch. Or perhaps intangible gifts, like the benefit of the doubt, or a sincere moment of praise. God’s covenant doesn’t start from scratch, and maybe we can lay a foundation for new covenants with each other, also.

Or the sermon might talk about the smaller covenants we need to make to observe Lent. What are our Lenten commitments? How will we live our prayer, fasting and almsgiving this Lent, underneath the promise of the rainbow?

Everyone loves to spot a rainbow. May it be that we can also spot ways to move forward, as citizens, as people of faith, as covenant partners, this Lent and beyond.

Wild Beast and Angel Caregivers
Chris Keating
Mark 1:9-15

As baseball Hall of Famer and master of the malapropic Yogi Berra might say, it is the First Sunday in Lent and suddenly we’re feeling déjà vu all over again. Much about our line-up this year sounds quite familiar. Limited or no in person worship? Check. Polar vortex blows across the nation? Check. Jesus walking the lonely valley? Check.

The lectionary re-visiting Jesus’ baptism in Mark for the third time since January? Check, check, check.

We begin the Lenten journey by walking down these well-worn and much preached pathways. Poring over the text in search of something novel (instinctively wondering if this will be the year our congregation will begin to love the hymn “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days,”) two details missing from Matthew and Luke’s account of the temptations pop into focus.

Every word in Mark’s sparse prose matters, which is why verses 12 and 13 are essential this week. Mark reminds us Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit, where he encountered not only Satan’s temptations but “the wild beasts.”

Scholars offer various explanations for the wild beasts, including suggestions that Jesus’ presence among the wild animals is a tipping of the hat to Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable kingdom (Isaiah 11:6-9), hinting at an Eden-like experience where all creation is at peace. Others suggest Jesus’ wilderness experience replicates Israel’s forty-year trek through the wilderness, with the wild beasts as enemies seeking to destroy Jesus.

But Mark provides no clues. Mark omits any mention of fasting and does not describe the temptations. Instead, he proffers Jesus as having been pushed into the wilderness. He is not gently led by the Spirit as if he was being escorted on a holiday tour. Moreover, apparently the wilderness was just as dangerous and inhospitable a place as it was for the Israelites generations earlier. There is no doubt that this is not a place you go on your own volition.

Mark’s gospel presents Jesus as immersed in a dangerous and unwelcoming world. As Douglas R.A. Hare notes, “The brief narrative suggests only that the Messiah learned in a hostile environment that he could depend on God’s sustaining power.” (Hare, Mark, Westminster Bible Companion, p. 20)

Contending with the untamed forces of nature will resonate with congregations facing another Lenten pandemic. On one level, we have managed to cope with things as best we can. Last year we binged watched “The Tiger King” on Netflix. This year we’re giggling over an attorney transformed into a cat by Zoom.

On the other hand, this week’s winter storm has impacted more than 150 million Americans, and has caused wide-spread power outages and horrendous car accidents. It’s been a vicious storm, striking a nation wearied by the pandemic. Snow and ice tore into highways like predators stalking prey, while warmer-climate states scrambled to mobilize seldom-needed plows. The storm left two million Texans without power, even as it created sledding opportunities for kids in El Paso. Parts of Alaska were warmer than much of the lower 48. Last weekend reported a 130-degree spread of temperatures across the country, with more than one-third of the United States below zero on Monday.

It has been more like a winter wilderness than wonderland.

Yet winter is only one of the beasts on the loose. Some are hidden, like the overlooked population of elderly hungry persons in the United States. There are no national statistics about the number of older persons who struggle to find food, but a study of New York City residents has found that one in five elderly persons could be classified as food insecure. That is about twice the pre-pandemic number.

Other beasts, like inadequate supplies of Covid-19 vaccine, are easier to spot. With supplies of coronavirus vaccines not keeping up with demand, people are hopping across counties and even stateliness in search of a shot. States are broadening categories of who is eligible to receive the vaccine and are now prepped to administer thousands of doses a day — yet there is simply not enough medicine to meet demand. Worse, several new, more contagious strains of the disease are adding to the pandemic’s threat. It is over a year into the pandemic, but face masks, washing hands and social distancing remain essential.

These are the beasts we face this Lent — not to mention the ongoing political strife, impeachment fallout, debates about proposed economic stimulus relief, or more personal struggles over grief, anxiety, or addiction. There are beasts that lead us into temptation, and beasts that strike the vulnerable. They are not located only in faraway places or locked up safely inside of zoos. The wilderness they inhabit is broader than isolated plots of scrub brush and tumbleweed.

A pediatric ICU unit can be as isolating as the wilderness surrounding Palestine, and the beasts of generational poverty and systemic racism as threatening as a leopard prowling across the Judean desert. These are places of threat and temptation, and it is in such places that the Spirit drives Jesus following baptism. Like every year, it is in these places that we begin our Lenten journey.

Having been immersed in the Jordan, Jesus is now immersed into human struggle and suffering. That is our good news as Lent begins. As Mark reminds us, even in the wilderness there are angels who minister to Jesus. Even in desolate places of pain and struggle, God is present.


Tom WilladsenFrom team member Tom Willadsen:

Genesis 9:8-17
Take a bow
The rainbow is a sign of the covenant that the Lord imposes on Noah’s family, all future generations and every living creature on earth. Note that is only a reminder to God, not to the living beings on earth. One can imagine it as a kind of cosmic string tied around one of the Creator’s fingers: pay the utility bill, pick up junior at soccer practice, remember the everlasting covenant between Me and every living creature of all flesh….

* * *

Genesis 9:8-17
The bow as a symbol of war
We see cheerful rainbows painted on the walls of church nurseries and imagine a happy, benign, colorful symbol. Those who first heard the story of Noah and the ark would likely have had a much different interpretation.

In ancient mythologies a rainbow represented instruments used by gods in battle. The bows would be hung in the sky as symbols of victory. In Babylonian tradition, for example, the god Marduk suspended his bow in the heavens after he had defeated Tiamat, the goddess of the deep waters. The Bible has retained aspects of such myths. The Hebrew word קשת­ means both “bow of war” and “rainbow,” but as usual the Torah has assimilated the material to convey a deeper meaning. (The Torah, A Modern Commentary, New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, edited by W. Gunther Plaut, 1981, p. 70)

* * *

1 Peter 3:18-22
Suffered or died?

The NRSV uses a Greek text that has ἔπαθεν in v. 18, which is accurately rendered “he suffered” other texts use απεθανεν which means “he died.” Perhaps this variant is not significant, because in the next sentence it’s uniformly attested that Jesus was “put to death.” Perhaps Peter is offering a little suspense stylistically by building from suffering to death.

* * *

1 Peter 3:18-22
Removal of dirt or drowning?
When Presbyterians celebrate a baptism we emphasize that one is baptized into “Christ’s death and resurrection.” For us the stakes are much higher than Peter’s equation of baptism with Peter’s “not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience.” One is not resurrected from the bath tub! Resurrection can come only after death. For this reason when Presbyterians celebrate a baptism we are instructed that the water should be “visible and generous” so that, as my Baptism and Eucharist professor drilled into us, “the peril and destructive power of water can be displayed.” Sorta like what Noah survived on the ark with all those animals.

* * *

Mark 1:9-15
Déjà vu all over again
If you’ve been preaching the lectionary, you’ve preached portions of today’s gospel lesson very recently. On January 10, The Baptism of the Lord, the pericope Mark 1:4-11; on January 24 it was Mark 1:14-20. If you noticed this repetition immediately, then you’ve been spending a lot of time with the shortest and oldest gospel. This week the action takes us from baptism to temptation in the wilderness to Jesus’ first words.

The redundancy, oh let’s call it “reinforcement,” extends back to last week’s passage for Transfiguration Sunday. The words that came from heaven to Jesus “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Are very similar to those that came from the cloud on the high mountain, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Those words were spoken to Peter, James and John, one of many times they simply did not understand what was going on.

* * * * * *

Dean FeldmeyerFrom team member Dean Feldmeyer:

Parole Means Promise (Covenant)
Parole is the early release of a prisoner who agrees to abide by certain conditions. Originating from the French word "parole" (“word” or “promise” as in “I give my word”) The term became associated during the Middle Ages with the release of prisoners of war who gave their word that, if released, they would not again take up arms in the present struggle against those who captured them.

The U.S. Department of Defense defines parole more broadly: "Parole agreements are promises given the captor by a POW to fulfill stated conditions, such as not to bear arms or not to escape, in consideration of special privileges, such as release from captivity or lessened restraint."

Current D.O.D. policy prohibits US military personnel who are prisoners of war from accepting parole. The Code of the United States Fighting Force states: "I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy. "The position is reiterated by the Department of Defense. "The United States does not authorize any Military Service member to sign or enter into any such parole agreement."

The practice of paroling enemy troops began thousands of years ago, at least as early as the time of Carthage. Parole allowed the prisoners' captors to avoid the burdens of having to feed and care for them while still avoiding having the prisoners rejoin their old ranks once released; it could also allow the captors to recover their own men in a prisoner exchange.

* * *

A Promise Kept (Covenant)
Booker T. Washington describes meeting an ex-slave from Virginia in his book Up From Slavery: "I found that this man had made a contract with his master, two or three years previous to the Emancipation Proclamation, to the effect that the slave was to be permitted to buy himself, by paying so much per year for his body; and while he was paying for himself, he was to be permitted to labor where and for whom he pleased.

"Finding that he could secure better wages in Ohio, he went there. When freedom came, he was still in debt to his master some three hundred dollars. Notwithstanding that the Emancipation Proclamation freed him from any obligation to his master, this black man walked the greater portion of the distance back to where his old master lived in Virginia, and placed the last dollar, with interest, in his hands.

In talking to me about this, the man told me that he knew that he did not have to pay his debt, but that he had given his word to his master, and his word he had never broken. He felt that he could not enjoy his freedom till he had fulfilled his promise."

* * *

Astor’s Promise (Covenant)
One stormy night an elderly couple entered the lobby of a small hotel and asked for a room. The clerk said they were full and they would probably find so were all the hotels in town. "But I can’t send a fine couple like you out in the rain. Would you be willing to sleep in my room?" The couple hesitated, but the clerk insisted.

The next morning when the man paid his bill, he said, "You’re the kind of man who should be managing the best hotel in the United States. Someday I’ll build you one." The clerk smiled politely.

A few years later the clerk received a letter containing and an aeroplane ticket; the letter invited him to visit New York. When the clerk arrived, his host took him to the corner of 5th Avenue and 34th Street, where stood a magnificent new building. "That," explained the man, "is the hotel I have built for you to manage."

The man was William Waldorf Astor, and the hotel was the original Waldorf-Astoria.

* * *

A Difficult Promise (Covenant)
Before C.S. Lewis became a famous Christian scholar and writer, he was a soldier in the trenches of World War I.

It was in those trenches that he met a man who would become a close friend but, as the war drug on and the two men took part in battle after battle, the friend became obsessed with worry about what wold happen to his wife and children should he be killed in battle. Lewis promised him that if such a terrible thing happened he would look after the man’s family and take care of them.

Not long, thereafter, the man was killed.

True to his word, Lewis took care of his friend's family. Yet no matter how helpful he tried to be, the woman was bitter, ungrateful, rude, arrogant, and domineering. Through it all, however, Lewis kept forgiving her. He refused to let her actions become an excuse to renege on his promise.

* * *

How Contract Law Works (Covenant)
In the United States, contract law requires five elements of a contract to be met in order for the agreement to be legally binding.

An offer must be made in a contract, e.g. an exchange of goods or services for something of value, or an offer to act or refrain from acting in a certain manner. For example, a construction contractor offers to build a house in exchange for a specified amount of money. An offer may be made in person (oral), or in writing (written).

Acceptance is the agreement of the other party to the offer presented. In many contracts, both parties add their signatures to demonstrate their agreement to the terms, others assume an acceptance of the offer to be made when one or both parties perform their duties under the contract.

All parties to any contract must provide the other parties something of value, which entices the other party to enter into the agreement. The “something of value” is referred to as “consideration,” and it does not necessarily need to be money. For example, Paul agrees to give Nancy his above-ground swimming pool in exchange for daycare services in her home.

All parties entering into a contract must have a legal capacity, or competency, to do so. Each must be able to understand their legal liability and responsibilities under the contract. This prevents someone from taking advantage of minors and those who are mentally incapacitated, as these individuals cannot legally enter into an enforceable contract.

Under the doctrine of mutuality, all parties must be willing, and have an intent, to perform their obligations under the contract at the time it is made. Without mutual intent, neither party would be bound by the contract. Additionally, mutuality requires any cancellation of a contract to be agreed to by all parties involved.

One might consider how these five apply to covenants we find in the Bible.

* * * * * *

Bethany PeerbolteFrom team member Bethany Peerbolte:

Genesis 9:8-17
God is an animal lover

God’s covenant after the flood is most often looked at through the lens of humanity. The sins of humanity caused great pain for other humans. Humanity’s sins caused wars and oppression to the point where God was done with their wickedness. However, God does not just save humans, God saves a remnant of all flesh. Beyond that God includes more than humans in the covenant. Animals are also part of this promise. God recognizes the harm human sin has on animals and the rest of creation. These verses ask us to think of the impact we have on animals. It also suggests lifting animals to know their full ability and worth. If animals are worthy of being mentioned as part of the covenant after the flood their value is more than we normally recognize.

One such example of undervaluing animals is our perception of pigs. When we think of a pig we think of dirty pens and smelly barns. While some may be cute enough to live in our homes, finding out someone has a pet pig brings up surprise and many questions. Even scripture does not hold pigs as valuable. The prodigal son sleeps with pigs at his lowest point, and Jesus casts a legion of demons into nearby pigs only to have them jump off a cliff.

Pigs however are proving themselves more valuable than we generally conclude. A recent study has shown pigs have higher intelligence that originally thought. They perform well above chance on video games tasks and beg to play the games when researchers come around. Learning more about animal intelligence may help us as we seek to be better stewards and covenant partners to creation.

* * *

Psalm 25:1-10
Worth of the Past

David begins this Psalm by asking God to lead him on a right path and to be protected from his enemies. He is submitting to God’s nature by invoking the protection God has promised. For his end of the partnership David is ready and willing to submit to what ever path God will show as right. This includes learning. David wants to learn God’s truth and how to be humbler, to be more merciful and loving. By agreeing to learn David is admitting he has not gotten it completely right in the past and submitting himself to the changing his ways. David even asks God to “not remember the sins of my youth” allowing even God to let the past go. David wants no record of life before his full commitment to God to play into his identity in the future. He is hoping for this learning to be so significant he can not even imagine what life was like before.

The process of learning is a lot like building. First we make a foundation of basics information in a topic, then we add more layers of complication as we are ready. When we teach children about the Bible they receive a simplistic version of the stories. Later they receive something a little more detailed, until they are ready for a full translation of the Bible. This makes the past a friend and foe of learning. It is a friend because the past is our foundation. It is a foe because we sometimes need to unlearn bad habits or half-truths. David seems to be siding with a forgetting of the past. He wants to let go of those childish former ways and step into a fuller partnership with God.

Another place in life the past can be sticky is dating. This week Kaley Cuoco, star of The Big Bang Theory, posted a gushingly loving post about her current partner.  In the post she said she was so happy she could not imagine life before and that it must have been boring for it to be so easily forgotten. In her effort the lavish her partner with love and praise she dismissed a part of her life many people were invested in, her relationship with Big Bang Theory star Johnny Galecki. When the actors dated years ago fans were committed to their relationship. Many hoped it would last forever. Though it ended amicably the valentines post from Kaley had a lot of people asking what about Johnny. They did not want her to forget her past and give credit to the learning or foundational work she must have experienced with her former partner. Johnny, in true form, was gracious and responded with a joke but just commenting “um.”

Another story that makes us wonder about the necessity of remembering the past is former President Trump’s acquittal. The US Senate voted to acquit Trump of the charges of inciting the January 6 insurrection. One of the many arguments against the house charges was it is not right to impeach a president who is already out of office. It is in the past. David seems to agree that these former wrongs should not be held against us and certainly aren’t when it comes to God. It still leaves us wondering if we can so easily acquit our past. If we praise our present without giving due to the past and the process of learning we may be doing a disservice to our foundation from which the learning was possible. Then again, maybe letting the past go may be the power that God is asking us to embrace.

* * *

Mark 1:9-15

Mark begins his gospel with God endorsing Jesus. The first way God does this is with an action. God sends a dove to physically be with Jesus showing God is on Jesus’ side. This physical movement to show support is reinforced by the words God pronounces over Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” These two ways of showing support, action and words, establish Jesus as God’s divine partner. Stating essentially if you mess with Jesus you mess with God. This endorsement does not remove all barriers for Jesus. He is immediately seen being tempted and facing a significant struggle after the endorsement. Hopefully knowing God is willing to take action and speak out in support of Jesus helped him get through the hard time.

There are many different ways people or organizations show their support for someone. We have just come out of a national election where people spoke or made posts in support of their candidate. NBC has finally shown their support of one of their greatest assets, Kenan Thompson, by giving him his own show. Kenan has spent his life in comedy and many have often commented on why he has never been given his own show. The show airs later this month and fans are looking forward to showing their support by tuning in. It won’t be an easy journey to make a hit and there are many struggles ahead. We shall see if NBC sticks to their endorsement or backs out if the show does not perform how they want.

Dr. Fauci received a 1 million dollar endorsement in the form of an Israeli Prize for “speaking truth to power.” The Dan David Prize was awarded to him for his work during the Covid-19 pandemic. The prize is given out every year to those who contribute to health and medicine. The endorsements will be paid forward when Dr. Fauci gets to establish scholarships with 10% of that money. Dr. Fauci, hopefully, is past the trying and temptation portion of his work.

* * * * * *

George ReedWORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship:
One: Let us lift up our souls to our God.
All: O my God, in you I trust.
One: Make me to know your ways, O God.
All: Lead me in your truth, and teach me.
One: Good and upright is our God.
All: The paths of God are steadfast love and faithfulness.


One: God calls us into covenant with God and with each other.
All: We gladly hear God’s call and welcome the covenant.
One: The covenant requires faithfulness so we can trust each other.
All: We will endeavor to be faithful members of the covenant.
One: Our covenant is with God but also with all God’s children.
All: We will seek to keep our covenant not only with God but with others.

Hymns and Songs:
Great Is Thy Faithfulness
UMH: 140
AAHH: 158
NNBH: 45
NCH: 423
CH: 86
ELW: 733
W&P: 72
AMEC: 84
Renew: 249

I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath
UMH: 60
H82: 429
PH: 253
CH: 20   

Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days
UMH: 269
H82: 142
PH: 81
NCH: 211
CH: 180
W&P: 252

Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation
UMH: 559
H82: 518
PH: 416/417
NCH: 400
CH: 275
LBW: 367
ELW: 645
AMEC: 518

Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart
UMH: 500
PH: 326
AAHH: 312 
NCH: 290
CH: 265
LBW: 486
ELW: 800
W&P: 132
AMEC: 189

Come Down, O Love Divine
UMH: 475
H82: 516
PH: 313
NCH: 289
CH: 582
LBW: 508
ELW: 804
W&P: 330

Holy Spirit, Truth Divine
UMH: 465          
PH: 321
NCH: 63
CH: 241
LBW: 257
ELW: 398

This Is My Song
UMH: 437
NCH: 591
CH: 722
ELW: 887
STLT: 159

O God of Every Nation
UMH: 435
H82: 607
PH: 289
CH: 680
LBW: 416
ELW: 713
W&P: 626

O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee
UMH: 430
H82: 659/660
PH: 357
NNBH: 445
NCH: 503
CH: 602
LBW: 492
ELW: 818
W&P: 589
AMEC: 299 

As the Deer
CCB: 83
Renew: 9
God, You Are My God
CCB: 60   

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

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who is the faithful keeper of promises:
Grant us the grace to keep our promises
both to you and to each other;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.


We praise you, O God, because you are the faithful one. Your promises are sure and strong. As you speak to us today give us the will to keep our promises to you and to each other. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
One: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our failure to keep our covenant with you and with each other.  

All: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We have not be true to our covenants. We have failed to live up to the covenants we have made as family, as community, as a nation, and as a world people. We have failed to care for each other and put our common good ahead of our selfish interests. We have failed to keep our covenant to you. We have placed other gods before you. We have forsaken your teaching and your ways. We have failed to be faithful disciples of Jesus. Forgive us and renew your Spirit within us so that we may faithfully be part of your covenant people. Amen.

One: God is faithful and always is ready to forgive us and welcome us back into the covenant of faith.

Prayers of the People
Praise and glory are yours, O God, because you are the Faithful One. You are the one we can trust for time and for eternity.

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

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We have not be true to our covenants. We have failed to live up to the covenants we have made as family, as community, as a nation, and as a world people. We have failed to care for each other and put our common good ahead of our selfish interests. We have failed to keep our covenant to you. We have placed other gods before you. We have forsaken your teaching and your ways. We have failed to be faithful disciples of Jesus. Forgive us and renew your Spirit within us so that we may faithfully be part of your covenant people.

We give you thanks for those who have been faithful to us and for those whose faithfulness to you has been a beacon to light our paths. We thank you for your faithfulness to us.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for those who are in need this day. We pray for those who feel that faithfulness has forsaken them. We pray for those who work to restore faith and bring people together in peace. 

(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
Covenant is a big word that we don’t use very often. It really just means promises we make to each other. When we play games, we have a covenant with each other. When we play Hide and Seek, the person who is the seeker promises not to peek when the others go hide. When we play tag we promise to admit when we get tagged. We don’t often talk about these promises because they are just part of the game but we talk about them if someone doesn’t keep them!

God has made promises to us. God promises to love us and show us how to live good lives. When we join the church, we promise to follow Jesus and help take care of each other. Covenant is important because it is always important for us to keep our promises.

* * * * * *

God’s Bow
by Katy Stenta
Genesis 9:8-17

Noah’s story is a pretty hard one. It’s a story where everything is changed forever. The way things used to be done isn’t going to work anymore. God works with Noah and humanity to do better after the flood swept away a lot of people and animals.

Suggested Cutouts: Raining Cloud, Boat, Sun, Bird, Twig, Rainbow

(Boat) When Noah was in the boat with his family and lots of animals, they were waiting and waiting and waiting for 40 days and 40 nights for the rain to stop and for the land to reappear. I bet you know what it’s like to have to wait.

(Sun) Finally the rain stopped and the sun came out.

(Bird) Noah sent forth the dove, and she came back to the boat quickly with nothing.

(Twig) Then Noah sent the dove out again and she came back with a twig.

The third time Noah sent out the bird, he waited for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 days and she didn’t come back, so he knew she had found a new home.

(Rainbow) Noah found some land to put the boat, and there was a rainbow. God said to Noah: Come out and find your new homes, and know that I have hung my bow, my rainbow in the sky, as a promise. I will again send natural disasters to earth, because of humanity. I am making a special promise — a covenant — with you and all of humanity, and even all of the animals and the entire earth. I will never again send a flood to destroy the earth.

God works with Noah a couple of different ways:
  1. God puts birds on the boat so they can search for land.
  2. God allows the bird to find a growing sign of life, and then the dove went off and found its own home giving hope that Noah and his family can do the same.
  3. God makes a promise that there will be new life, new hope and God also promises to not destroy the earth with another flood.
What’s amazing is this is the first time humans realize that God really wants peace. Why? Because God hangs a bow. Do you know what bows were? They were the weapons of the time. So God hangs up weapons and promises never to destroy the world again. This means that whenever scary things happen, we know they are not caused by God. In fact, God doesn’t want bad things to happen to us, and promises to be with us whether we are happy or sad.

God doesn’t just miraculously fix everything all of the time, because then we wouldn’t have any control over ourselves. We would be nothing more than robots controlled by God. God doesn’t write our story, but we can choose to participate in God’s story.

What are ways that you see God at work? What are some good things that you think God is behind? (Be sure to have a couple examples ready from church or the community.)

And isn’t it cool that God’s bow is all the colors? It’s beautiful. God makes it a decoration that shows up when it rains to remind us that God sends rain for things to grow — not to send us floods. Whenever we see the rainbow we can remember that it is a sign of life, and God’s love for everyone, and that God wants us to grow and take care of the earth, and that our God is a God of peace.

I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of God I want to worship. The one who is loving and nurturing and peaceful.

Dear God, Thank you for sending us signs of your love. Remind us with rainbows and growing plants and stars that you love us and know us each by name. Help us to look for the ways in which you are at work. In your name we pray, Amen.

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

The Immediate Word, February 21, 2021 issue.

Copyright 2021 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 Luke 1:68-79

(Distribute this sheet to the readers.)

Reader A:
Reader B:

(As the introit is being sung, Readers A and B come forward and stand by the Advent wreath until the music is finished.)

Reader A:
Please turn to the Advent litany in your bulletins.
(Pause as they do so.)
If we keep our minds steadfast and trust in God,
we will be kept in perfect peace.

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