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There’s Bad News and There’s Good News

Children's sermon
For January 17, 2021:

Mary AustinThere’s Bad News and There’s Good News
by Dean Feldmeyer
1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)

Years ago, I saw a cartoon where a minister in a clerical collar is sitting at his desk obviously suffering from an illness. His nose is swollen and red, there are bags under his eyes, and he has a bad case of bed hair, he is holding a handkerchief in one hand and a mug of hot beverage in the other. His secretary is standing in the door. She is speaking:

“The chairman of the church council just called. The good news is that they’re praying for you to recover quickly from your illness. The bad news is the vote was six to five.” 

That’s my favorite good news/bad news joke. My second favorite is this:

After the engines on the plane fail, the pilot manages to crash land it in the desert. He has gathered the passengers beside the plane and says: The bad news is that we drifted two hundred miles off course and crashed in the desert with scant hope of being rescued and with little water and no food. The only thing to eat around here is sand. The good news is there’s plenty of sand.

We Christians are people who believe and put our faith in the Gospel or “Good News” of Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t mean that we are immune to bad news. Bad news comes to all, rich and the poor, righteous and unrighteous, good and the bad, ordinary and extraordinary.  

As the People of God, we would do well to construct our personal theology so that we are able to deal gracefully and faithfully, as Eli does in today’s Old Testament lesson, when bad news comes our way.

In the News
Watching the people get lairy
It's not very pretty I tell thee
Walking through town is quite scary
It's not very sensible either
            “I Predict a Riot” – The Kaiser Chiefs

A man is being interviewed in front of a TV camera while, behind him, rioters are marching toward the Capitol Building, shouting, chanting, some making obscene gestures at the camera. The camo-clad, gun toting, white supremacists who call themselves the “Proud Boys” are there. Members of the mob carry American flags and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags and Confederate flags and Q-anon flags, and there’s one flag that just says “Jesus.” Some people are carrying children. There are lots of MAGA hats and signs, and signs with “Stop the Steal” written with Magic Marker on corrugated cardboard. Now, we are told, they have ascended the Capitol steps and are breaking windows and knocking down doors, illegally entering the Capitol building. The Capitol Police, unprepared for this eventuality, scuffle with the first intruders and then, overwhelmed, back off. At least one poses for a selfie with a couple of the rioters.

The mob enters the Capitol as mobs do. They break some things, they sit and put their feet on desks, they show blatant disrespect for the place and those who work there. Their motive? To scare. To intimidate. To break down and tear up. To destroy and, ultimately to force the powers that be to give them what they want, which is to have the election overturned.

The man being interviewed expresses the reason for their outrage. The election of Joe Biden to the presidency was illegitimate, he says. Why? Because there was no way he could have gotten 81 million votes and Trump only 74 million. How does this man know this? Biden’s rallies were too small. Trump’s rallies, on the other hand, were big. So, he must have won the election.

The man also rattled off half a dozen of the 59 alleged “proofs” that the election was rigged or stolen, all of which have been debunked by audits, recounts and rejected by the courts.

Nearly two months ago, these people received some bad news. Their candidate lost the election and his opponent won. They weren’t prepared for it. They were certain that they would win. That they might lose had not even entered their consciousness. There was no place called “lose” on their mental map. Their loss left them lost.

So, when the final results were announced and all the challenges were rejected, tossed out, or proven to be fatuous, they were left with a profound sense of grief and loss with no preparation, no knowledge of how to handle it.

As with children, their grief turned to anger and their anger turned to violence. They acted out and struck out at the closest and most visible objects of their frustration. In other words, they threw a tantrum. It was as predictable as it was inevitable for any who dared to see it.

All they could see was the bad news – they had lost the election. They could not see or they chose to ignore the good news – even though we lost, our ancient and venerable republic has worked as it was designed to work and is still working even through a peaceful transfer of power, something that is rare and wonderful in the 21st century world.

Martin Luther King Day
Tomorrow we celebrate the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who spoke truth, often unpopular, even hated truth to power in America. His good news for the poor and people of color was bad news to the powerful, the wealthy, the comfortable, and the privileged.

How many heard it as good news and how many more as bad news when he condemned the profit motive in our capitalist society? “We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society,” he said. “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

We tend to define news that disappoints us, that challenges our assumptions, that requires us to change our perspective, our understanding of the world and how it works, as bad news? Good news is the news that affirms our assumptions, reinforces our prejudices, tells us that we are right and others are wrong, and makes us comfortable with who and what we are.

That’s why we hate and resist bad news and those who bring it.

In the Scripture
The text unfolds at the temple at Shiloh and begins by identifying Samuel as a boy which means that he was probably younger than 12 years old.  Say 10 or 11. And it’s at that age that YHWH decided to call him to be a prophet and gave him his first assignment.

The author of the story, however, prefaces that calling with three important remarks: 1) Samuel is ministering to YHWH under the tutelage of his mentor, Eli. 2) Eli is old and blind or nearly so. 3) God rarely spoke to anyone and authentic visions were few and far between in those days. Then the author sets the scene: Eli is in his room asleep and Samuel is sleeping in the temple with one eye open to make sure the Lamp of God doesn’t go out until it is extinguished at dawn.

Now, when the voice of the Lord is heard by Samuel, he doesn’t understand it and thinks it’s Eli. On the third occasion, however, Eli “sees” what’s going on and instructs Samuel how to reply when the Lord speaks to him a fourth time.

Sure, enough, YHWH speaks again to Samuel and the child responds appropriately, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” The voice tells Samuel that YHWH is going to do something that will astonish everyone in Israel who hears of it. But first, Samuel must deliver a message to Eli, and it ain’t good news.

Eli has two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, both priests in the temple because they are sons of a priest. But these two are bullies, selfish and wicked. It is accepted practice that when meat is offered by the people as a sacrifice to God, a fork is stuck into the pot where the meat is boiling and that which is drawn out on the fork is to be given to the priests. Hophni and Phinehas, however, are not happy with this arrangement. They insist that the choicest cuts of meat be removed and given to them so they can roast it themselves before any boiling has taken place. And if anyone complains, they are threatened with violence.

Further, they are using their power and position as priests, to force the women who work in the temple to have sexual relations with them and, again, threatening violence upon anyone who resists or objects.

Eli has called his sons out on these behaviors and scolded them for being wicked and evil in the sight of God, but his admonitions have fallen upon deaf ears. The boys simply don’t care. So, God announces a judgement upon Eli and his sons. The sons, for their wicked behavior, and Eli for not controlling them. Their family will be removed from the priesthood. Theirs will be the last generation to serve in the temple.

Unbeknownst to Samuel, this has all happened back in Chapter 2. So, when God tells Samuel to make this same bad news announcement to Eli again in Chapter 3, it doesn’t come as a great surprise to the old man. This repetition simply means that any hope of talking God out of it, of altering God’s intention, or changing God’s mind, is now null and void.

We might argue, here, that Eli is being treated unfairly. He is never accused of any apostasy or unrighteousness, himself. He is an old man and his sons are adults with minds of their own. We often hear of that Old Testament principle wherein “the iniquity of the father is visited upon the sons” (Ex. 20; Num. 14; Deut.5; and Jer. 32) but this is the opposite case. The iniquity of the sons is being visited upon the father. Eli, however, never makes that argument. He simply accepts it as a fact of life. “It is the Lord. The Lord does what the Lord does.”

Bad news reluctantly and gently delivered. Bad news received with grace and equanimity.

[The lectionary ends this reading at verse 18 but there is no reason why the story should not be continued through to the end - verses 19-21 and 4:1a – as they form the transition from Samuel the child to Samuel the adult who continues to receive the word of the Lord at Shiloh and preaches it throughout all of Israel, often bringing bad news to those in power, especially, as it will come to pass, to King Saul.]

In the Sermon
Don’t kill me, I’m just the messenger!

David made war against Saul for years but he wept when he heard that Saul had been killed in the battle of Mt. Gilboa. It was a young soldier who brought David the news of the king’s death, thinking it would make him happy but, alas, it was the opposite.

The young man, an Amalekite, reported that he had come upon Saul who was wounded and dying and the enemy was bearing down upon him so he asked the young man to finish the job and kill him, which the young man did, thinking it an act of mercy.

David did not see it that way, however. He ordered the young man to be executed, immediately. “Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, I killed the Lord’s anointed.”  As the cynic says: “No good deed goes unpunished.” Also, it is not healthy to bring bad news to the king.

Historians relate that it was common practice for pharaohs to kill messengers who brought them bad news from a battle.

1 Kings 18:4 reports that “Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets” who objected to her bringing Baal worship into the Lord’s promised land. And, of course, we cannot speak of prophets doomed for announcing bad news without remembering John the Baptizer who was killed for calling out Herod’s illegal and incestuous marriage to his sister-in-law.

Outside the Judeo-Christian tradition we have the story of Mirza Badi, a native of Khurasan and a disciple of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith.

Baja’u’llah was in prison for his unpopular beliefs when he wrote a series of letters to the world leaders asking them to set aside their weapons and end their wars. He plead with them to work together to end their wars before the world was destroyed by their quests for power and riches. Search instead, he pleaded, for peace, community, cooperation, and love.

These letters went out to Napoleon III, Queen Victoria, the German Kaiser, the Sultan of Turkey, the Czar of Russia, the Emperor of Austria, the American president, the Pope, and other world leaders. Several were delivered, in countries where postal services functioned well, through intermediaries like governmental ministers and envoys. Only one of Baha’u’llah’s Letters to the Kings was delivered by hand — the one that went to the Shah of Persia, Naser al-Din — by a young volunteer.

The young volunteer was Mirza Badi who felt that the letter was so important it could be delivered only by hand to the Shah himself. Denied an audience, he sat on a rock outside the palace where he fasted and prayed for three days.

One day the Shah was looking out his window and saw the young man and asked why he was there. His advisors told him that the young man was a nobody with a meaningless message. The Shah, however, said that if he was willing to make such a sacrifice to deliver the message, it should be read.

The Shah’s ordered the letter to be brought to him and the young man held so he, the Shah, could contemplate the letter and give it his full attention. His advisors thought that the Shah meant the young man was to be arrested and, upon reading the letter, thought it to be an insult to the king. They supposed that the young man was an assassin there to do harm to the Shah. So, they arrested Mirza and tortured him to make him confess his plot and name his associates. Miraz died, unconfessed, under torture.

When no confession was forthcoming, the Shah read the letter and wept. He is reported to have said, “This man was but the channel of a correspondence. How doth anyone punish such a one as this?”

A judgment, a warning, a piece of advice, and sometimes just a fact, a piece of information -- any may be considered by the recipient to be bad news.

As Christians we are often called to deliver news that can be heard as bad news by those who receive it. And while we are called to deliver it with conviction we are also called to deliver it as gently as possible.

We are also called to be present with grace and dignity when bad news is delivered to us. To not kill the messenger, as it were. Ours is to prepare ourselves, spiritually, so we can receive the news knowing that, God’s presence in our lives through Jesus Christ will see us through the pain.

Telling the Truth
by Katy Stenta
John 1:43-51

Nathanael is a blunt kind of guy. When he’s told of the wonders of who Jesus is by Philip, he doesn’t say “that’s amazing” or “I don’t believe it” he asks the blunt question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth.” My husband is like this. He and his family make no bones and telling people the way things are. Early in my seminary career, I patiently explained to many people that I am probably not a good fit for an associate. I am a leader, I hate doing things that are against my nature, I’m an extrovert and a woman. It’s a tough combination. My husband is fully aware of this. Once we were hanging out with a friend, who was contemplating being associate to slowly take the steps to becoming a head pastor. This friend is more set in his ways, and more extroverted than I am, and not really cut out for the traditional associate roles of youth ministry or pastoral care. My husband, who is very blunt, looked him in the eye and said “B — — y, If Katy can’t be an associate there is no way you can ever be one.” The truth set him free.

Nathanael is blunt! He asks what is on everyone’s mind. Nazareth is not known for great scholars, teachers and prophets. It’s the New Jersey of Israel, the Arkansas of Judea (yes I have lived both of those places), the butt of the jokes, the culturally different place, the sight of extra poverty and need. Of course that’s where Jesus is born, our God is the God of margins, but it is the least of the region! It’s only claim to fame is the prophecy, one so obscure Herod wasn’t familiar with it. “But you, Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are by no means least amongst the rulers of Judah….” This in a time and place when the Hebrews are second class citizens and their faith is under great debate and stress during an occupation. Some opinions about how Nazareth was perceived at this time can be found her at Bible Hub.

Can anything come from a place that is in turmoil? A place where infighting is so bad that the Pharisees and and the Sadducees and the Second Temple rule followers argued with the Mosaic law. Wikipedia does a good summary. Nathanael is not sure, and he is honest about it. In light of the state of deep political debate in the United States, it is not inconceivable that we hold deep prejudices about what is and isn’t good. Uncertain, Nathanael approaches.

Jesus says “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit/guile.” What a compliment. What a need for this day and age. In a time of turmoil and competing factions and uncertain power, Jesus highlights truthfulness in Nathanael. Because this is the time for truth. This is the time for tough questions “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Forget the niceties. As we look to what is going on politically. As we look to Martin Luther King Jr. and what his work really was — truth telling, bluntness, a reality check. We are looking for those without guile. That’s what Jesus wants in his followers.

No guile, no deceit, follow Christ: what a set of instructions to contemplate in this day and age. 


Tom WilladsenFrom team member Tom Willadsen:

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
Find three speakers for this text
If you divide this reading — through verse 20 — into three parts: narrator, Samuel and Eli, and read it aloud, it can be very effective. You do not need to add a word to the text. The narrator and Eli can be out of sight of the congregation. Samuel can run to the chancel and leave each time after he speaks. No extra staging is required. Just hearing the words from different voices and places helps tell the story. Someone with a strong bass voice is good for Eli.

* * *

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
“Here I am!”
The Hebrew word  הנני is translated “Here I am!” in the NRSV. It literally means “Look at me!” a better translation would be “Ready!” There’s an eagerness to respond that “Here I am!” just doesn’t convey.

* * *

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
“Fearfully and wonderfully made…”
There is a striking juxtaposition in today’s psalm reading. Verse 13 reads, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” This verse (NRSV) is often cited by opponents of reproductive rights as proof that abortions should be severely restricted, if not criminalized, in the United States. The very next verse begins, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” It is often cited by gender non-conforming people as proof that God’s image, in which we are all made, per Genesis 1:27, includes them. Politically, those who oppose reproductive rights also tend to oppose full inclusion and acceptance of gender non-conforming people. It is striking that these two groups draw strength and comfort from two verses side-by-side in this psalm. Perhaps that is a basis for hope for mutual understanding across two deeply divisive issues in our country today.

* * *

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
Eli demonstrates amazing courage, accountability, honesty, and integrity by prodding Samuel to reveal the word that he’d heard during the night. He does even better himself by accepting Samuel’s painful news and recognizing its accuracy. Eli can handle the truth. You may want to invoke Jack Nicholson’s famous line from “A Few Good Men,” at this point: “You can’t handle the truth!” You may want to invoke Pilate’s icy indifference, as portrayed by David Bowie in “The Last Temptation of Christ,” as he signs, “What is truth?” Better yet, some quotes about truth’s power may be in order. For example, Emily Dickinson’s “Truth must dazzle gradually, or every man be blind.” Finally, for those of you who are willing to be edgy, I suggest a quote from Brother Brown, a sage I encountered more than 30 years ago in Chicago: “They say ‘The truth will make you free.’ Brother Brown says, ‘The truth, at the wrong time, will f*** you up!’” Timing is everything, friends.

* * * * * *

Mary AustinFrom team member Mary Austin:

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20); John 1:43-51
Making It Rain
John’s story of Jesus calling his disciples, and 1 Samuel’s story of the calling of Samuel, both speak of moments when the inner and outer worlds line up. An inner truth becomes apparent on the outside.

The story is told of a Taoist master and a group of people who sought his help, and the story could easily be about a Methodist pastor or a Presbyterian minister.

During a time of great drought, the people of a village asked the teacher if he could make it rain. “They confessed trying many other approaches before reaching out to him, but with no success. The master agreed to come and asked for a small hut with a garden that he could tend. For three days, he tended the garden, performing no special rituals or asking anything further from the villagers. On the fourth day, rain began to fall on the parched earth. When asked how he had achieved such a miracle, the master answered that he was not responsible for the rain. However, he explained, when he came to the village, he had sensed disharmony within himself. Each day, as he tended the garden, he returned a little more to himself. When he returned to balance, the rain came naturally.”

In the same way, Samuel and Jesus remind us that when we see the truth within ourselves, we are able to bring that truth out into the light.

* * *

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20); John 1:43-51
Looking for the Truth
Both John’s gospel and 1 Samuel point to the importance of the truth, and Journalist Paul Van Slambrouck says that he believes journalists are advocates for the truth, in a world where information is complex and unfiltered. Van Slambrouck says that “The pursuit of the truth is a pretty pure thing,” and is necessary work for all of us as citizens of the world, and consumers of media. He adds, “We all know the traps of denials. We all know the traps of deliberately keeping things a little fuzzy. To the extent of the way society functions, journalism’s job is to say, no, no. That’s not good enough. We really need to get to the bottom of this, as painful as it might be.”

We all do the mental work of filtering information, he believes, in search of the truth. “Go on the internet and you might see an image of somebody dying in Syria, followed by a pornographic image from tonight’s reality show TV, followed by an ad to sell you a product. There’s this fire hose of information. There’s no filtering. There’s just one thing after another. So people, without even knowing it, are learning something about filtering. It’s almost like if you point a fire hose at somebody and they need a drink of water, they’ll find a way to get some water out of that.”

Van Slambrouck served as a journalist in South Africa in a time when the truth was hard to come by, and he recalls, “It was a highly segregated, restrictive, oppressive society. But those circumstances often produce heroes and some of my biggest heroes were there...You have to appreciate that white South Africans who stayed in South Africa always carried the weight of the question: am I complicit? And what was the right thing to do? I met Beyers Naude, an Afrikaner. He was a high-ranking member of the Dutch Reform Church, which provided a kind of theological justification for Apartheid in South Africa. He was a member of the Broederbond, which was the secret society of Afrikaners. He was at the center of Afrikaner power and then, fairly late in life, he woke up one day and said, “It’s all wrong!” And he said it publicly. It would be like a senator standing up right now in Washington and saying, “We’re all bought and sold by the lobbyists,” or something like that. He was basically banned and put under house arrest. So I got a chance to interview him. The rules of house arrest were that people could only see him one at a time. I went to his modest home in a working class white suburb. It was just a remarkable encounter. It took so much courage to do what he did at a late stage in life. He stood up to the entire establishment, and to all of his friends and social circle. He had become a pariah and was banned at home.”

The calling to see and speak the truth is the work of the Spirit for all of us.

* * *

John 1:43-51
Slipping Away from the Truth
Here is someone in whom there is no deceit, Jesus proclaims about Nathanael. If only he could say that about each one of us!

Author Dan Ariely says dishonesty first starts small, and the first steps are incredibly dangerous. “I have had lots of discussions with big cheaters — insider trading, accounting fraud, people who have sold games in the NBA, doping in sports. With one exception, all of them were stories of slippery slopes. You look at the sequence of the events — you look at the end — and you say, my goodness, what kind of monster would do this? But then you look at the first step they took and say, I can see myself under the right amount of pressure behaving badly. Then they took another step, another step, and another step.”

Untruth is contagious. “Imagine a consulting company that has a policy that says if you stay until nine o’clock in the evening, you get to order in dinner and get a black limo to come and pick you up to go home. Some people stay late. One person stays in until nine, orders food, and takes it with him. At 9:01, he is downstairs. This is incredibly salient to everybody that, if he waited one minute, he obeyed the law. What happens in cases like this is that very quickly everybody is gone at 9:01. It is clearly not fulfilling the goal of the organization. It stays within the rules, but is really abusing things. From there on, you can see other deterioration.”

He also notes that small ways of cheating are common — and easy to rationalize. “The common thing is little cheaters…. What we find is that lots of people can cheat a little bit. If we cheat a lot, we… face the possibility that we will feel bad about ourselves. So we play a game within ourselves… You say to yourself, I want to think of myself as a good, honest, wonderful person. I selfishly want to benefit from dishonesty. It turns out that you can cheat a little bit and still feel good about yourself.”

Would that we would be people in whom there is no deceit!

* * * * * *

Bethany PeerbolteFrom team member Bethany Peerbolte:

1 Corinthians 6:12-20
The body of Christ within the mob

Porneian is the word this text translates into “fornication” and it has traditionally been preached on as condemning sexual immoralities. This word is prevalent in 1 Corinthians and serves as a kind of ringing bell to signal readers to Paul’s larger idea. Every time it is mentioned it is meant to remind readers of what was said before so they can begin to link together the big picture Paul is painting. While Paul does speak about sexual immorality he is also hinting at anything that becomes an idol in our lives. Those idols may seem to the rest of the community to be “their problem” but it does have an effect of the rest. Much like a couple becomes one flesh in marriage, a community becomes that close when they form. Paul wants the whole community to recognize their connectedness and responsibility to each other to watch for idols.

On a basic level the word “porneian” indicates a selling off or surrendering of one’s body. It is often used in reference to prostitution or unchastity. As Paul uses “porneian” in the letter he often talks about how the individual’s actions affect the larger community. In chapter 5 Paul suggests the sin of one member causes harm to the whole community. He says it would be better to call out, and even cast out, the one so the whole community can move on and heal.

Paul is clear to single out the sin of the one who is in community with them. The other partner in the immoral act has no consequence since they are an outsider. In chapter 6 he reiterates this when he clarifies that “all things are lawful, just not beneficial” and says dominance is the indicator of something becoming unlawful in a community or personal life.

When we get to chapter 6 verse 12 Paul is still talking about “porneian” from a sexual immorality angle but the full meaning of the word in Greek means he is also speaking to other idolatries. Anything we sell ourselves to and surrender to other than God becomes and idol. Paul is pointing out how these idols a few may hold can quickly infect the whole community and take over. Since the community is joined so closely together they become “one flesh” — like in marriage it is important to stay aware of the idols of others and call them on it before it becomes a huge problem. The community will suffer either way, Paul says. Either by having a growing idolatrous force inside them or when it comes time to cast out the wrong doers. Paul urges the community to handle things early to avoid having to cast anyone out.

The insurrection at the Capitol building on January 6 began as idolatry. American Christians began handing over the reins of their faith and morality to Donald Trump six years ago as he began his campaign for president. While many spoke out against Donald Trump fewer were able to clock the issue for what it was, idolatry. That sin has grown within American Christianity for the past four years and reached a peak on the steps of the capitol building. We, Christians, are one flesh with the mob that rushed into the congressional chambers. It’s not comfortable, but it is the reality this text is begging us to see. The choice now is to either address it and reintroduce them to the kin-dom work of God, or suffer the immeasurable pain of casting them out at some point in the future. This author, for one, would like to reclaim the name of Jesus from hateful signs and chants, and save the Christian body from a death dealing fracture.

* * *

1 Samuel 3: 1-10, (11-20)
Speak Lord, for women have been listening

In this chapter Samuel hears his call from God to begin his ministry. Eli and others around Samuel may still view him as a boy God is moving to make Samuel the prophet he is meant to be. Though it takes some time to get the message across. At first Samuel cannot make sense of the voice. He has spent so much time listening to Eli that he assumes it must be him calling for him. The confusion is sorted when the seasoned Eli realizes it is God who is speaking and instructs his student to listen closely and be ready for God’s leading. “Here I am” Samuel says and by simply being willing to be there he is off to a grand journey with God.

Women in the church have always been present. While some denominations have recognized their call to leadership, others drag their feet on affirming women’s leadership. The Catholic church has allowed women to be lectors and acolytes in practice it has technically been against code of Canon Law to allow women to fill those rolls, until now. Pope Francis has officially changed the code to allow what some have been doing already. Women who have said “here I am” will have another way to live out their faith in the church.

* * *

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
How well we are known
This psalm speaks about God’s knowing of us. It is an in-depth knowing. Before we decide on the words we want to say, God knows them. No matter where we are, from the gates of heaven to the pits of hell, God knows. If we are upright, God knows. If we are laying down, God knows. The psalm sees this knowing as a peaceful reassurance of God’s thorough care of us. It is something about which we should be glad. The psalmist delights in the relationship God has with us that leads to us being so well known by our creator.

Being known in this way has not played out well for those who participated in the riot at the Capitol building last Wednesday. The face recognition website Clearview has seen a huge spike in use this week. With a 26 percent increase in use, the FBI is hoping it will turn up some names to photos taken on January 6. The site is normally used by police forces to match photos from crimes to posts from social media or other online photo archives. The FBI put images up of key agitators asking police departments to check against their records as well. The combined effort has turned up many matches and charges are beginning to roll out

General internet users were able to identify one man who showed up in many prominent pictures. In the images he wore a name badge from his place of work. That meant thousands of people knew who to contact to ask for his removal from his job. They were successful in this campaign and he has lost his job for his participation at the riots. With the internet so able to identify our faces it draws out the question: Do we know enough about these people to make such a request? It is not a knowing like God has for sure. All we know is that person was in that place at that particular time. We can draw tons of assumptions, many of which are probably true, yet do we know him? What does knowing mean in an age where anyone can claim to know us with a simple image search.

* * * * * *

George ReedWORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship:
One: O God, you have searched us and known us.
All:   You are acquainted with all our ways.
One: We praise you, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
All:   Wonderful are your works; that we know very well.
One: How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
All:   How vast is the sum of them!


One: God comes to us in the good times and the bad.
All: We rejoice in a God who is always with us.
One: God is always calling us into the divine presence.
All: We want to hear God’s gracious voice.       
One: We often hear God best when we share God’s invitation.
All: We will share with others that God is always with us.

Hymns and Songs:
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
UMH: 127
H82: 690
PH: 281
AAHH: 138/139/140
NNBH: 232
NCH: 18/19
CH: 622
LBW: 343
ELW: 618
W&P: 501
AMEC: 52/53/65

If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee
UMH: 142
H82: 635
PH: 282
NCH: 410
LBW: 453
ELW: 769
W&P: 429

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

Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
UMH: 358
H82: 652/653
PH: 345
NCH: 502
CH: 594
LBW: 506
W&P: 470
AMEC: 344  

Jesus Calls Us
UMH: 398
H82: 549/550
NNBH: 183
NCH: 171/172
CH: 337
LBW: 494
ELW: 696
W&P: 345
AMEC: 238  

Let There Be Light
UMH: 440
NNBH: 450
NCH: 589
STLT: 142

Be Thou My Vision
UMH: 451
H82: 488
PH: 339
NCH: 451
CH: 595
ELW: 793
W&P: 502
AMEC: 281
STLT: 20
Renew: 151

Open My Eyes That I May See
UMH: 454
PH: 324  
NNBH: 218
CH: 586
W&P: 480
AMEC: 285  

Holy Spirit, Truth Divine
UMH: 465
PH: 321
NCH: 63
CH: 241
LBW: 257
ELW: 393

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

Open Our Eyes, Lord
CCB: 77
Renew: 91

Sing Unto the Lord a New Song
CCB: 16
Renew: 99

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 truth:
Grant us the grace to face the truth openly
looking for your redeeming grace in all;
through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen.


We praise you, O God, because you are truth. In you there is no deceit or falsehood. Help us to accept the truth that comes to us so that we may find your redeeming grace in all situations. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
One: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our failure to find the good news in all that comes to us.
All: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We say we trust in you in all things but when bad things come along we feel that you have deserted us. We think that it is only in good times that you are present with us. Help us to remember that you never leave us or forsake us. Ground us in the true faith that looks for your presence even in the midst of bad news. Amen.

One: God is with us always. Trust in God who seeks to bring wholeness out of brokenness.

Prayers of the People:
We praise you, O God, as you are present in all the situations of our lives. You are closer to us than our own breath as you seek our good. 

(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 say we trust in you in all things but when bad things come along we feel that you have deserted us. We think that it is only in good times that you are present with us. Help us to remember that you never leave us or forsake us. Ground us in the true faith that looks for your presence even in the midst of bad news.

We give you thanks for your constant presence and care. We thank you for those you send to us to care for us and to guide us. You have given us your own Spirit to dwell within us as our Comforter and Guide.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another in our need. We pray for those who find the bad news of their lives so overwhelming that they feel they are all alone. We pray for those who are suffering in body, mind, or spirit. We pray for those who are struggling with relationships or with addictions.

(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
In the story today, God calls for Samuel even though Samuel is just a young boy. God wants to always be with us. God does not wait for us to grow up to love us. God wants us to know we are loved always.

* * * * * *

Can I Have Your Attention, Please?
by Chris Keating
1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
(Incorporating Martin Luther King Jr. Day.)

In advance of Sunday, reach out to a few church members or friends who are elementary teachers and ask them to share their favorite tips for getting children to pay attention. Some of these may be call and response (“One, two…eyes on you!”), handclaps or attention signals (Teacher says, “3-2-1,” students respond: “Talking’s done!”) Here’s a link to a blog post that talks about attention signals and how to use them.

Ask the children about different ways a teacher or minister might use to get the attention of a class or congregation. (“The Lord be with,” “And also with you” is an old favorite at church meetings.) Take a moment and brainstorm about the different ways of getting people’s attention.
  • We might say, “Good morning,” or even “Could I have your attention, please?”
  • Parents might wake up children with “Hey, buddy, it’s time to get up!”
  • In an emergency, we call out loudly, but calmly, “There is a fire! We need to leave the room!”
  • If someone was sick, we might say, “Call 9-1-1 right now!”
  • A friend might wave at us on the playground.
  • On Christmas morning, kids might say to their parents: “GET OUT OF BED! SANTA’S BEEN HERE!”
In the scripture today, Samuel is a young boy whose mother has sent him to help Eli, one of God’s ministers, with his duties around the temple. Eli is an older man whose eyesight was not very good. As Samuel helped Eli with various chores, he was also learning about God. Eli taught Samuel about God because Eli’s mother had dedicated his son to serving God.

Tell the story of Samuel hearing God call him. Add a bit of interest by acting out the characters, exaggerating their responses. Samuel was sure that it was Eli who was calling him; after all, they were all alone. Who else could it be? He hears the voice three times and is getting tired of jumping up and running to Eli’s room. All of a sudden, Eli understands that it is God who is trying to get Eli’s attention.

There are many ways of understanding what it means to be “called” by God. But this may be hard for children to understand. God uses many ways to get our attention: a feeling inside of us, a chance to use our special gifts in a way that helps God and God’s people, or even suggestions from people who know us well. Children will understand what it means when someone is trying to get our attention, which is what God was trying to do with Samuel.

As Eli helped Samuel pay attention to God, Samuel learned what God wanted him to do. It was an important mission, but also a difficult one. He needs to tell Eli that his children have sinned, and that God was about to bring many changes.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we honor the birthday of a great man who also listened to what God was telling him. Dr. King paid attention to the problems he saw around him. Black people were being mistreated and hurt. They could not attend the same schools as white children, nor could they get many of the jobs white people had. Dr. King knew that God did not like this, and so he paid attention to all that God was telling him. It was an important mission, but also a difficult one because many people did not want to hear what God was saying.

God speaks to us in many ways. When Martin Luther King Jr. was young, he thought about the many things he could do with his life. He finally decided God wanted him to be a minister, even though his “calling” was not very spectacular. Here’s a great story he told about being called:

My call to the ministry was neither dramatic nor spectacular. It came neither by some miraculous vision nor by some blinding light experience on the road of life. Moreover, it did not come as a sudden realization. Rather, it was a response to an inner urge that gradually came upon me. This urge expressed itself in a desire to serve God and humanity, and the feeling that my talent and my commitment could best be expressed through the ministry. At first I planned to be a physician; then I turned my attention in the direction of law. But as I passed through the preparation stages of these two professions, I still felt within that undying urge to serve God and humanity through the ministry. During my senior year in college, I finally decided to accept the challenge to enter the ministry. I came to see that God had placed a responsibility upon my shoulders and the more I tried to escape it the more frustrated I would become. A few months after preaching my first sermon I entered theological seminary. This, in brief, is an account of my call and pilgrimage to the ministry.
(Source: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute).

Close with a prayer, perhaps using the words of Samuel: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

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

The Immediate Word, January 17, 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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John Jamison
They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. (vv. 16-18)
John Jamison
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.  Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. (vv. 50-53)

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Mark Ellingsen
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Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
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The resurrection of Jesus takes center stage, rightfully so, in the church calendar. By contrast, Ascension Day often falls by the wayside, unless it happens to fall on a Sunday. It’s something Jesus did, but it’s not necessarily a significant event in the lives of many churches. These three texts, however, illustrate the central importance of this event, which is the capstone of the ministry of Jesus.
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There is still a lot to be in despair about in America. Racism is not gone, as the families who lost loved ones to wanton police shootings continue to mourn. Those who lost jobs, incomes, and businesses in the pandemic continue to suffer and remain in despair. It is all so tragic, as the German-born philosopher Theodor Adono once wrote: “But he who dies in despair has lived his life in vain.” Martin Luther saw this text and its account of the ascension as a time to preach on faith and the comfort from despair that that Word brings:

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
Many years ago I met a churchwarden who had grown up within a Jewish background but who had converted to Christianity quite late in life. She had had an amazing conversion experience which had affected her deeply and as a result had become an ardent Christian. She was particularly zealous about Christian mission to the Jews, wanting to convert all Jews to Christianity. When I asked whether she thought Jesus was the only way to God, she looked astonished and said yes, of course!


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Clothes, towels, and sheets were scattered all over the living room. A glass of orange juice was empty, the contents still dribbling down the side of the coffee table. A towel landed at his feet. His one-year-old looked up at him and giggled, making Brian even more angry.
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How many of you know what BASE jumping is? BASE jumping is the very scary sport of jumping off Buildings, Antennae, Spans, and Earth objects. If you want to do it more than once, you jump with a parachute or perhaps a hang glider. Some of you may have seen examples of this daring sport on television.

An example:
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Ascension Day is a good time for the Christian community to assess where it has been and where it is going. We need to ask ourselves why we are here and exactly what is it we are supposed to be doing. Our lesson for this day provides us with much needed information on what we should be doing and what our final destination as we travel this road in ministry with Jesus is.
Erskine White
When people are confused or afraid, when they feel that things are out of control, or when they feel helpless to overcome the problems which confront them, they often resort to "pie in the sky" religion. They look for Jesus to come and fix what they can't fix for themselves. They figure that one day, as if by magic, Jesus will make everything right for them in the "sweet bye and bye."


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