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Waiting on the Lord

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For February 7, 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.


Dean FeldmeyerWaiting on the Lord
by Dean Feldmeyer
Isaiah 40:21-31

For seven decades, the children of Israel have lived in exile in Babylon. And for at least a couple of those decades they have listened to Second Isaiah preach to them that, eventually, God is going to free them to return to their ancestral land. But not yet.

And now, they just don’t have the strength of mind or body to wait any longer. They’ve given up. 

Let’s be realistic, they say. God has forgotten us, abandoned us, left us to the whims and will of the Chaldeans and its up to us to make the best of it.

But Isaiah has an answer to their fatalistic perspective, their feelings of abandonment, their hopelessness and their despair. And to ours, as well.

In the News
Patience is a rare and thin commodity in the United States, these days. We are all tired of waiting.

It’s been a year since the coronavirus first appeared and about 11 months since the shut downs began. And we’re sick of it. The virus. The promises and prevarications. The masks, the hand washing, the social distancing. The shutdowns. The death tolls every night on the news.

We want to take off the face coverings and breath without having our glasses fog up. We want the skin on our hands to get back to something like normal after being ravaged by incessant washing. We want to go the movies, the bowling alley, the gym, the pub, church. And we want to hug each other, again.

We know that the K-12, 13-year public education model is based on an arbitrary number and that taking 13½ years to accomplish the same academic goals is not going to set our children adrift without a future and doomed to years of social blindness and intellectual ignorance.

But we want them back in school. They’re driving us crazy and we need to go to work.

And we want a vaccine. Now. Not some mamby-pamby, 70% effective, wimpy vaccine, either. We want a robust, muscular vaccine with super powers that will make us virus bulletproof. And we want it the way it was promised: Right now! Except for those of us who don’t, who are afraid of vaccines, who don’t trust science or medicine or doctors until their appendix bursts and they don’t have a choice.

And we are all sick and tired of racial injustice. We want that fixed, too. Yeah, yeah, we know that President Biden has just signed an executive order that was somewhere in the middle of that huge stack of orders that he signed. We know that order would, supposedly, move us further toward fair housing that makes equal housing available to anyone who can pay and sanction those who withhold housing for illegal reasons.

But we’ve seen orders like this one get signed in the past, only to be dropped in a drawer somewhere and forgotten while poor people and people of color continue to live in the dirtiest, foulest, most polluted and toxic areas of the country. 

And we’re tired of people making excuses and defending insurrectionists and rioters who stormed our capitol building, threatened our elected leaders, and caused the deaths of five people. We’re tired of people telling us we have to understand the hurt feelings of those who planted pipe bombs in the nation’s capital, who beat police officers mercilessly with hockey sticks, flag poles, iron pipes, and their own weapons. We want those people and those who incited and encouraged them held accountable for the hurt and damage they’ve caused.

And we want it all… Right. Now. 

We know how those ancient Israelites who were held hostage in Babylon were feeling. We’re tired of waiting.

In the Bible
In 589 BCE the Babylonian army, under King Nebuchadnezzar, laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. The siege lasted about 3 years but the city finally fell sometime in about 586 BCE. King Zedekiah was captured trying to escape with his family and was forced to watch as his children were beheaded, after which he was blinded and taken to Babylon in chains, never to be seen again.

About 15,000-18,000 Israelites, the educated class, military and political leaders, religious leaders, merchants, and wealthy land owners, were force-marched to Babylon where they joined a smaller group of their countrymen who had been brought there about a decade earlier. There, they were required to abide in exile. They were allowed to live, pretty much as they chose, but they weren’t allowed to leave.

The prophet Jeremiah had warned them that the exile would not be brief so they should make the best of it:

Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare…For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. (Jeremiah 29:6-7,10)

Now, however, those 70 years have come and gone and they’re still living in exile. Some have made good for themselves entering into the Chaldean economy and working hard to build lives for their families while maintaining their Jewish faith and identity. Others have abandoned their Jewishness and gone native, adopting Chaldean names and practices, even their religion. Still others have ossified, doing nothing, filled with grief, bitterness, and resentment and waiting for God to deliver them. (Cf. Psalm 137)

Many have given up hope of ever returning to their homeland. God, they believe, has abandoned them. God doesn’t care about them anymore. They had a good thing, once, but they blew it. God is gone. Or, worse, God is impotent and powerless in the face of the might and power of Babylon. Maybe it’s not that God won’t do anything but that God can’t do anything to free them.

Isaiah, however, is having none of that pessimistic, fatalistic outlook.

In Isaiah 40:21-31, Second Isaiah (aka Isaiah of Babylon, aka Isaiah of the Exile) preaches an eloquent and powerful retort to the self-defeating fatalism he is hearing from his fellow exiles. He reminds them of the things they have learned about YHWH, starting with the simple little lessons they were taught in Sunday school about how God created all that is and rescued their ancestors from the Egyptians. And then the prophet takes them through their own experience, how they, themselves, have seen and felt the goodness and the power of the Lord of Hosts.

Finally, he concludes with those beautiful words that lend themselves so marvelously to song:

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

In the Sermon
We don’t have to watch the news for very long before we see it. People are giving up, throwing in the towel.

They’ve lost their faith, their sense of trust in America, in science, in our elected leaders, our government, in democracy itself. They don’t trust the country, the church, science, medicine, or each other. And they don’t trust God.

How else can we explain an effort by thousands of Americans to storm the capitol and overthrow their elected government? Hopelessness and despair are the only things that come to mind. Nevermind that such desolation and despondency are irrational and often based in fantasy and lies — it is real for those who are infected.

What do they trust? To what do they turn? Their guns, their close friends, people who think and talk exactly the same way they do. Anti-vaxxers talk to and exchange false data with other anti-vaxxers. Q-anon believers rally with other Q-anon believers and are encouraged and exploited by cynical politicians who don’t believe but don’t mind using those who do. People who believe that the election was stolen listen to blogs by people who share their prejudices. White supremicists who see themselves as victims whose rights are being threatened, rally with other white supremicists. Gun enthusiasts go to gun shows where they can gather with other gun enthusiasts.

They have all lost faith. They no longer trust anyone but people exactly like themselves. They’ve given up. They’ve thrown in the towel. God is no longer capable of righting wrongs so they’ll have to do it themselves, by violent means, if necessary.

No one was ever patient because someone told them they should be.

They are patient because they have learned, most likely by experience, that patience pays off. This is a lesson that, for most of us, began in childhood. The tooth that fell out making it impossible to eat corn on the cob this summer, is replaced by a bigger, better tooth and we resume our corn munching the following year.

Four years pass and we can work to have that politician who has been vexing us so, tossed out of office and replaced by someone with better character and more skills in the art of leadership.

Our sixteenth birthday that we were sure would change our lives for the eternal better, finally arrives and we can start driving and practicing all of the freedom and responsibility that come with that privilege.

We eventually get taller and our bodies become the adult versions of themselves. Our kids get smarter, more mature, and more responsible and morph into our friends. Finally, with practice, we are able to shoot a round of golf that we don’t have to be embarrassed about or play a folk song on the guitar. A trophy buck finally wanders into view of our deer stand, the lunker bass finally takes the bait, the light changes and the traffic finally starts moving.

We become patient because life teaches us to. There are rewards to be had by being patient.

Isaiah reminds us that God is worth waiting for. Have you not seen? Have you not heard?

How was the Grand Canyon created? An inch at a time. 

Amen.


Tom WilladsenSECOND THOUGHTS
Building Relationships
by Tom Willadsen
Mark 1:29-39, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

In the Scriptures
We don’t know a thing about Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. We do not know her name; we only know that she is lying down, ill when Jesus arrived at Simon and Andrew’s house. Does she live with them? Is it her house and Simon and Andrew live with her? She did not ask to be healed. Was she too weak to speak? They told Jesus about her “immediately” when he entered the house. Immediately is Mark’s favorite word. It gives the sense that the first thing Jesus did on entering the house was to go to her and take her hand and bring her back to life. Really. That verb which the NRSV renders as “lifted up” is also used raise the dead. Perhaps she was very, very sick.

The Greek term which is “began to serve” in the NRSV is διηκόνει, the root word for deacon. While it is accurate to think of deacons as servers, a more precise rendering would be waiters in restaurants. A crass, superficial interpretation of this healing is that Jesus and his posse were hungry, so He restored her health to fill His own, and their, bellies. Please. Surely the guy who can whip up a banquet for 5,000 men (and uncounted women and children) from two fish and five loaves, could have catered this gathering.  Something more subtle and more profound is going on, I contend. By healing the mother-in-law Jesus was able to return to her the rightful place of hostess for company. She was able to provide the expected hospitality. Jesus had a fairly lofty understanding of the role of servant, perhaps we should too.

Paul is in full “humble-brag” mode in today’s reading. Today we get part of a longer tirade that stretches from chapter 8 to the very beginning of chapter 11, where Paul reaches his culmination: Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. The verses for today begin with Paul reminding the Corinthians that as their teacher he is entitled to being paid; payment is his right. But immediately before today’s reading he says, nobly, that he has not claimed this right and “would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast.” (NIV)

The rest of the reading is Paul explaining the lengths he’s gone to to pass on the Good News of Jesus Christ. He has made himself a slave to the task of preaching the gospel. He presents himself as something of a chameleon, becoming “as” a Jew, one under the law and one outside the law. Interesting, he was already a Jew and self-identified so in other portions of his writing. The most interesting of these equivalencies is the last one; Paul became weak, not “as” weak. Paul took on all these identities, which he was free to do, because he had chosen to make himself a slave to preaching the gospel. Is it slavery if one chooses it? Can slaves choose to follow Christ and thus make themselves free? Is freedom just another word for nothing left to lose?

The most remembered, and challenging part of this reading is Paul’s boast “I have become all things to all people.” How do we understand that phrase today? How does your church understand it? Is it seen as a positive, as Paul imagines it? As for me and my congregation, “all things to all people,” is precisely what we cannot be, it would spread us too thin, gotta focus our message!

In the News
There has been a lot of heated opinion expressed about freedom since the pandemic began last March. Does a store have the right to require its customers to wear masks? Is not wearing a mask protected speech as defined by the First Amendment to the Constitution? It seems ironic to me that something that physically impedes speech is regarded by some as expression of free speech. In all honesty, I cannot fathom exactly which of my rights is taken from me by a mask mandate. I’m guessing it’s speech, but we hardly spent any time on Constitutional Law back in seminary. In one of President Biden’s first executive orders, he placed a mask mandate on all federal property as well as on planes, buses and trains. This order will likely be challenged in court.

Another recent controversy regarding free speech is Twitter and Facebook’s recent expulsion of former President Trump and others from their platforms.

Twitter contends that freedom of speech does not stretch to include incitement of violence against the government of the United States. Twitter took this step four days after the former President’s speech during which he told those gathered to Georgia “fight like hell” to keep the White House. The former President made similar remarks the day that a mob stormed the Capitol and disrupted the count of electoral votes.

The term “cancel culture” was invoked but the former president’s minions as proof that the left-wing media is depriving those who disagree with them of free speech.

Before I explain why no one’s free speech rights can be denied by a private company — no, actually, there it is. Free speech cannot be denied by anyone other than the government. Let’s move on…keep your eye on the term “cancel culture.” It is now being used in precisely the same way as “politically correct” has been used for decades to shut down discussion and dismiss honest differences of opinion.

Both “politically correct” and “cancel culture” derail conversations. I have yet to hear of anything being called politically correct that has not been something as simple as being informed, “That term is offensive, here’s a better word to use.”

It’s not about thought control, but thoughtfulness. Cancel culture may be even more dangerous, it points to the belief that one is being expelled from society because one holds unpopular or not liberal-enough opinions.

While there are calls for unity from the new President, they come at a time when the House of Representatives may face its largest partisan divide in history. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called for more security in the House because of “the enemy within.” Pelosi claims 'the enemy is within the House of Representatives' (msn.com) Pelosi adds "We have members of Congress who want to bring guns on the floor and have threatened violence on other members of Congress."

The Republican Party faces a dilemma: do they distance themselves from the former President, whose approval ratings are at the lowest since before he was elected, but who commands loyalty from about 40% of their membership, or do they distance themselves from the one never accepted the results of an election which was judged by the Department of Homeland Security as the most secure in American history and incited violence and sedition.

Most Republican senators are on record contending that it is unconstitutional to impeachpresidents after they office, while Democrats respond that amounts to giving any president a “get out of jail free card” in the last days of their term. Is going forward with the impeachment at the expense of holding the former President accountable for his advocacy of overthrowing the election a threat to unity? What is a deeply divided legislature of a deeply divided nation to do?

In the Sermon
I’m going to assume you’re preaching to a purple congregation on Super Bowl Sunday, not because it’s Advent or Lent, but because you have strong segments of red and blue Americans. Politically we are evenly divided, and the depth of our divisions is extreme. Calls for unity are falling on deaf ears. Both sides are ready for unity, as long as the other side stops being to obdurate. (I looked that up; think of it as “stubborn on steroids.”) Both sides appeal to the Constitution and see the other as a profound, existential threat to them and their vision of our nation. Is there a way forward for our legislators? Is there a way for our congregations to abide together in peace? Scripture gives us some guidance, though do not imagine for an instant that it will be easy because it is simple.

First, like Jesus and Simon’s mother-in-law, we need to reclaim the nobility, the virtue, of servanthood. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. Our elected officials need to reclaim an identity of public servants. President Biden has promised to be President for all Americans, even those who did not vote for him.

Second, while one could argue that Paul’s ability to assume other identities for the sake of sharing the gospel may point to a fundamental lack of integrity, it could also be seen as an ability to empathize profoundly with other people. Anyone who’s had a conversation with an anti-vaxer or a Qanon adherent knows that facts have no impact on getting people to change their minds. The only hope one has to get someone who believes conspiracy theories [This just in — the zaniest, to date, conspiracy theory spouted by The Honorable Marjorie Taylor Green, a newly-elected member of the House of Representatives from the State of Georgia, is that the recent wildfires in California were started by a secret, Jewish space laser] is to build relationships with them. Love them, build trust with them. They may come to believe what is commonly accepted as the truth, if you have built a foundation of accepting them. Paul’s approach of “becoming as…” is another way of saying build relationships. And these relationships must be built of a foundation of mutual respect and trust. Most of us want to scream the truth into the narrow minds of these people, but we need to start by caring for, not pitying, them. Paul’s approach to evangelism is one that starts with profound caring. Paul does not throw the gospel at people as though it is a stone — he is kinder, more respectful and more patient.

The best contemporary advice I got about engaging people who disagree is “listen to understand, not to win.” It reminds me of a wonderful line in the Broadway play, The Rainmaker: “You’re so concerned with what’s right, you don’t see what’s good!” If we can listen for what’s good, we may find ourselves about to testify to what’s right. Be patient.



ILLUSTRATIONS

Mary AustinFrom team member Mary Austin:

Isaiah 40:21-31
Renewed Strength
The prophet Isaiah promises that the people will renew their strength, by God’s powerful care for them. The experience of being weak makes us even stronger afterward, if we remember to use the gifts of not being strong. Jacques Verduin discovered this when he started to teach his first workshop at San Quentin prison. “Before it even started, one of the prisoners was already testing him. "So what drugs have you done?" When Jacques admitted to having had relatively limited experience, the man balked. "What are you going to teach us about recovering from addiction, when you haven't been where we've been?"

Jacques' tentative response only destabilized his position further, and they sensed his weakness. "It looks like you are nervous," another prisoner remarked. They were calling him out, and in that moment he decided that instead of trying to sweep his vulnerability under the rug, he was going to wholly embrace his reality in all its fragility. Jacques admitted to them that it was true: He was nervous, this was his first workshop and he really wanted to have it be helpful to them. Not only did his frank admission dissolve his own tension, it also silently gave permission for others to enter the same space. It fundamentally shifted the workshop, according to Jacques.

So the relationship between strength and vulnerability is counter-intuitive: His efficacy and strength as a facilitator relied fundamentally on how authentic he was, including with his own shortcomings, doubts, challenges and fears. On the flip side, strength without such vulnerability actually prevents deep learning.” It’s not just the strength we need; it’s also the weakness.

* * *

Isaiah 40:21-31
Renewing Our Inner Strength
Amy Edelstein works to help teenagers renew their own strengths, so they can use their resources to thrive in challenging circumstances. She says, “In 2014, I moved to Philadelphia, the poorest of America’s ten largest cities. I brought with me 35 years of in-depth contemplative practice. I wanted to see if there was a way to share the fruits of what I’d experienced more broadly and have a positive impact on the culture around me. The opportunity to work with teens came about somewhat serendipitously, and I found that it was perfect for a number of reasons. Teens are at that age where they are contemplating the purpose of their lives, what they want to do, what makes the world work. They are looking for answers. And they want to find those answers out on their own.”

Her team at The Inner Strength Foundation’s teen program uses mindful awareness tools, and “Students learn how to see the world in a developmental perspective: They learn what 300 million years of evolutionary neuroscience means about their experience now. They learn how culture has changed over the last 600-800 years, moving into the period we call post-modernity, where we have greater individual choice, freedoms, and expressions but far less social support. This phenomenon impacts our experience in positive and negative ways. Understanding how the period of adolescent brain growth makes teens more moody or more inclined to take risks…helps teens depersonalize their experience. They see a reason for why they feel what they feel. That understanding is fascinating to them, turning feelings of being overwhelmed into an attitude of curiosity.”

The teenagers are also building strengths to systemic cycles. “Neighborhoods of poverty are harsh places to grow up, even if a child’s family is warm and loving. Neighborhoods of poverty are places where there’s a much higher incidence of gun violence; drug and alcohol addiction; homelessness; resource scarcity; and a basic lack of child-friendly, safe places for kids to play, green parks to enjoy nature, and wholesome food. Counteracting the effect of systemic, intergenerational poverty is a huge task. The mindful awareness, gratitude building, and love and kindness exercises we do as an integral part of the Inner Strength program bring love into these children’s days. Their faces change. They calm down. They allow themselves to experience a little innocence again.”

Meditation may sound like a wifty, insubstantial tool for such big challenges, and yet the training is intensely practical. “One of the meditations that the students learn in the Inner Strength program is a Love and Kindness practice. They send good wishes to themselves and to others. They like leading this exercise the most, and they come up with the most beautiful wishes: “May you be confident.” “May you be safe.” “May you ace your exam.” As mentioned before, we cultivate an awareness of kindness — the small things that people do for us each day — and we actually assign “homework” where students make a list of small ways they can be kind to others, and they practice them each week. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that can change a student’s experience from feeling sad and lonely to feeling appreciative and connected.” In such ways, the students learn to renew their own strengths.

* * *

Isaiah 40:21-31
Practicing to Renew Our Strength
Best selling author Debbie Macomber believes in giving God something to work with, so God can renew her strength. She has a dedicated spiritual routine, which she believes makes it easier for God to reach her — and for her to reach out to God. Her routine starts with mornings dedicated “to spiritual growth, especially prayer journaling.” During Covid, she admits to “waking up a little later than she used to. Six o’clock,” she said.

“Before she sits down to the computer to write, she has her dedicated prayer time. “My kids all knew it when they were growing up,” she said. They’d call out to her before heading off to school. She remembers her son Dale saying, “Mom, I’ve got a big test today.” He knew she’d be praying for him. She still prays for her kids and grandkids, but she accompanies the prayers with lots of inspirational help. She reads the Bible, of course, and is currently doing a Bible study by Anne Graham Lotz, where each day she writes out five verses from Ephesians.” She says, “I usually remove the adjectives, just so it doesn’t take up so much space on the page.”

She has three journals. “One is for her prayers. Written out long hand, not typed. One is her gratitude journal, five things every day for which to thank God. The last is her personal journal. Every year Debbie picks a word for the year, something to focus on. “This year,” she says, “there have actually been two words.” The first was “Magnify.” The second: “Vision.”  When she says The Lord’s Prayer, as she does every day, the two words come into play. “By getting into the Word,” she says, “I look to magnify the Lord.” But then there is also “Vision,” seeing how the Lord is showing himself. “When I pray, ‘Deliver us from evil,’ I think of the virus and what it’s doing to people,” she says, “But then the prayer ends with ‘For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.’ What a reminder of God’s power!” She also reminded me of something very practical. “If I get an email from someone or a text asking for prayer, I do it right away. I don’t want to forget.” No need to wait.”

With that array of spiritual practices, it’s easier for God to speak to her, and to renew her strength.

* * *

Mark 1:29-39
Healing
When Jesus heals people, a convergence of mental, spiritual and physical healing comes together for people in a way that’s hard for us to imagine, attuned as we are to our experience of doctors and medicine as vehicles for healing. Dr. Steven Weiss has learned about healing from other cultures, which come closer to the way that Jesus healed people.

Dr. Weiss “was a builder before he became a board-certified doctor in neuromusculoskeletal osteopathic manipulative medicine…“Focusing on how people bear weight and their relationship with gravity is a major aspect of my practice,” he says. “If we humans are spiritual beings inhabiting a physical body, then the physical laws of the container exert a tremendous influence upon Spirit’s ability to manifest in the body. Conventional medicine essentially ignores the structural integrity that affects a person’s capacity to self-heal and self-regulate. On the other hand, the healing community, which attends to Spirit, is often poorly trained in matters of the physical body.”

During his first year at osteopathic school, Weiss spent a summer at the Zuni Indian reservation in New Mexico, where he was adopted into the Zuni Bear Clan, and where he learned from a healer named Jimmy. “A boy had been hit in the head with a baseball and was unconscious, convulsing lightly, with a lurid egg on his forehead. Jimmy sat down behind him, closed his eyes, and started chanting. After a while, I became aware of a change, not in Jimmy’s body, but in the air around it. As Jimmy kept rocking back and forth and chanting, I watched this glistening, gold cloud emerge out of the ground and wrap around his legs and then up his body. When the cloud had filled the space around him it arced over and around the boy’s body like an imperfect shroud — full of holes and tears. Jimmy worked on those holes and tears with his hands until the cloud grew smooth. When everything was smooth and the cloud was circulating evenly, Jimmy stood up, spit in his hand, pulled an arrowhead out of his pocket and put it on the boy’s forehead. There was a remote sort of sizzling sound and the boy opened his eyes. The color had come back to his face and he looked around alertly. Jimmy said, ‘You can go.’ When everyone else had left the room, he turned toward me and said, ‘I understand you’re in some kind of medical school where they teach doctors to heal. They thought you might have something you wanted to ask me.’ So I blurted out, ‘How do you protect yourself?’ Jimmy jumped out of his chair, got real close to my face, and yelled at the top of his lungs: ‘Who do you think you are? Do you think you can heal? Do you think that any person can heal? What more is a human being than just a bag of mud brought to this space by Great Creator…?”

At the Indian Health Service, “the hospital director told him they had a file in the basement with x-rays of cases in which Jimmy had done inexplicable things, such as re-crystallizing bone fractures overnight.” Jimmy’s explanation for the healing was always the same: “I get out of the way. Creator comes through me.” Jesus uses the same divine power for his healing work, drawing on his deep connection with God.

* * *

1 Corinthians 9:16-23
All Things to All People
In her new memoir, Nadia Owusu writes about being all things to the people who see her. Depending on the location, she is either a native or a foreigner. Her father was born and raised in Ghana, and always told her when they visited, “This is your home, too.” And yet, with an Armenian-American mother, she stands out in Ghana.

“Despite the home leave trips to Ghana, I hesitate to fully claim the country or the Asante region as my home, particularly when in the company of other Ghanaians. I am worried they will test me and I will fail. This has happened before. It happens almost every time I am interviewed by a Ghanaian customs official when traveling there as an adult. I hand over my American passport. The official opens it to the identification page, sees my name, looks up at me, nose wrinkled.

“Owusu?” “Yes.”

“And your middle name is Adjoa?” (Adjoa is the Asante name given to female children born on Monday. The day of the week on which a person is born is believed to affect their soul and character).

“Yes.” “So, you’re a Ghanaian?” “Yes.”

“Do you speak any Ghanaian language?” “No, unfortunately.”

I feel even less secure in calling myself Armenian because, until I was in my late twenties, I spent very little time with my mother’s family. My mother is a US citizen, so I became American at birth, but I did not live here until I was eighteen and moved to New York for college.”

Owusu can travel between countries with confidence, appearing American or Ghanaian or something else, depending on where she is. And yet, she feels a deep loneliness that no place is actually home. Her personal history embodies all things, and yet sometimes she feels like she is also nothing in particular. We can only wonder if the nomadic Paul ever felt the same way.

* * * * * *

Chris KeatingFrom team member Chris Keating:

Isaiah 40:21-31
Not giving up
“Life is a gift,” tweeted singing icon Tony Bennett on Monday, “even with Alzheimer’s.” The 94-year-old singer, whose career has spanned more than 75 years, was diagnosed with the disease in 2016. According to an article in AARP magazine, Bennett continues rehearsing and exercising, though the pandemic has restricted some of his activities. According to Bennett’s doctor, he continues to thrive and is “doing so many things, at 94, that many people without dementia cannot do. He really is a symbol of hope for someone with a cognitive disorder.”

Bennett benefits from excellent medical care, family support, and regular exercise — but also the sort of spirit of hope described in Isaiah 40. Though God’s promise of restoration is no panacea from earthly mortality, it is an offer of renewal and hope that bring reassurance. It’s that sort of hope that keeps Bennett singing. During an impromptu concert for a reporter, his musical director reminded Bennett that he had once said it didn’t matter how many people are in an audience. If there’s only one in the audience, said Bennett, “Then you really give it to him. It’s really intimate that way.” As Lady Gaga says, Bennett’s announcement of his dementia diagnosis is just another gift he has to give to the world.

* * *

Isaiah 40:21-31
Struggling youth  
Even youths will faint and grow weary, Isaiah reminds us. And that has been particularly true during the pandemic. Even though children are unlikely to become seriously ill from Covid-19, the disease poses a threat to them in other ways. BBC health reporter Nick Triggle notes that “the pandemic is threatening to have a devastating legacy” on young people. “When we close schools we close lives,” said Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Pediatrics.

Stanford University pediatricians note that the pandemic has increased the already surging rates of adolescent anxiety and depression. Covid-19 has increased the stress many teenagers were already experiencing, and social isolation and hours spent online can trigger depressive episodes. Doctors urge parents and guardians to be proactive in seeking treatment for their teenagers if they notice worrisome signs.

* * *

Mark 1:29-39
Exhausted healers
Word of Jesus’ ability to heal spreads after the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law. Not long after healing her, she gets up and serves Jesus and the disciples. Meanwhile, as the sun is setting, Mark tells us that “all who were sick of possessed with demons” were brought to Jesus. After an exhausting day, Jesus retreats to a deserted place early the next morning for rest and prayer.

Healing is exhausting work — as doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who have been treating the more than 26 million American’s who have had Covid-19 will attest. Yahoo News reported that the workers are now beginning to speak out about the fatigue, lack of supplies, and other struggles faced by these front-line workers.


* * * * * *

George ReedWORSHIP
by George Reed


Call to Worship:
One: Praise God! How good it is to sing praises to our God.
All: Our God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
One: God heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.
All: God’s understanding is beyond measure.
One: Let us sing to God with thanksgiving.
All: We will make melody to our God.

OR   

One: Come all who are weary and heavy laden.      
All: We come in our weariness and our need.   
One: Our God draws near to us to strengthen us.
All: We rejoice that God is with us to help us.   
One: God wants to help us and through us to help others.
All: In God’s strength we will reach out to others in need.

Hymns and Songs:
How Great Thou Art
UMH: 77
PH: 467
AAHH: 148
NNBH: 43
NCH: 35
CH: 33
LBW: 532
ELW: 856
W&P: 51
AMEC: 68    

Holy God, We Praise Thy Name
UMH: 79
H82: 366
PH: 460
NNBH: 13
NCH: 276
LBW: 535
ELW: 414
W&P: 138

To God Be the Glory
UMH: 98
PH: 485
AAHH: 157
NNBH: 17
CH: 39
W&P: 66
AMEC: 21    
Renew: 258

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

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   

All My Hope Is Firmly Grounded
UMH: 132
H82: 665
NCH: 408
CH: 88
ELW: 757  

Leaning On the Everlasting Arms
UMH: 133
AAHH: 371
NNBH: 262
NCH: 471
CH: 560
ELW: 774
W&P: 496
AMEC: 525  

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

Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee
UMH: 175
H82: 642
PH: 310
NCH: 507
CH: 102
LBW: 316
ELW: 754
W&P: 420
AMEC: 464  

Where He Leads Me
UMH: 338
AAHH: 550
NNBH: 229
CH: 346
AMEC: 235  

Standing on the Promises
UMH: 374
AAHH: 373
NNBH: 257
CH: 552
AMEC: 424

My Faith Looks Up to Thee
UMH: 452
H82: 691
PH: 383
AAHH: 456
NNBH: 273           
CH: 576
LBW: 479
ELW: 759
W&P: 419
AMEC: 415  

You Satisfy the Hungry Heart
UMH: 629           
PH: 521
CH: 429           
ELW: 484
W&P: 705

I Come with Joy
UMH: 617
H82: 304
PH: 507
NCH: 349
CH: 420
ELW: 482
W&P: 706
Renew: 130

Saranam, Saranam
CCB: 73    

I Call You Faithful
CCB: 70    

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 our strength and safety:
Grant us the wisdom to turn to you always
so that we may safely travel the path of life;
through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen.

OR

We worship you, O God, because you are our strength and our safety. You are the one who supplies all our needs. Help us to be wise enough to turn to you and find the strength we need for each day. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
One: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our reliance on our own strength and wisdom.   

All:   We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. You are the source of our lives and of all good. You are the strength that binds together all creation. Yet we often fail to turn to you and seek your strength and wisdom. We rely on ourselves and the things we have made. We rely on our own understanding even when it so often fails us. Forgive us and call us back once more to yourself, our strength and our wisdom.  Amen.  


One: God is our strength and that strength is love. In love God responds to our needs and helps us. Receive God’s grace and share it with others this week.

Prayers of the People
We worship and praise your name, O God, because you are strength and you are wisdom. You hold all creation in your hand. 

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

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. You are the source of our lives and of all good. You are the strength that binds together all creation. Yet we often fail to turn to you and seek your strength and wisdom. We rely on ourselves and the things we have made. We rely on our own understanding even when it so often fails us. Forgive us and call us back once more to yourself, our strength and our wisdom.

We give you thanks for all the blessings you have bestowed upon us. We thank you for creation and the beauty of our world. We thank you for the bounty that the earth produces. We are grateful for those who have taught us about you and the way of life. We are grateful for Jesus and the clear path he has shown us so that we may find you and life eternal. 

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another. We pray for those who find themselves without the strength to carry on in their lives. We pray for those who are used by others. We pray for the sick and the dying and those who grieve. We pray that we may all find our strength and wisdom in you.  

(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

Did you ever try to pick something up or move something and it was just too heavy for you? But if someone else helps then you are able to do it. There are all kinds of things that we can’t do very well if we try to do it on our own. It is difficult sometimes to be nice to people who aren’t nice to us. But God is always ready to lend a hand and help us do what is right.

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


The Immediate Word, February 7, 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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