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Into the Wilderness

Children's sermon
As this week’s lectionary gospel text begins, we are told that John the Baptist “appeared in the wilderness” and that “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him.” In this installment of The Immediate Word, team member Dean Feldmeyer points out that many of us in North America have an image of the wilderness rooted more in Ansel Adams photographs of lush forestland than in the reality of the Middle Eastern desert. The wilderness is anything but an attractive place -- it’s a climate that seems specifically constructed to extinguish life rather than sustain it. Yet as Dean notes, in the Bible the wilderness is typically a location that serves as a precursor for a salvation event. It’s a place of desolation and danger where, paradoxically, one can find God. Moreover, Dean suggests, the wilderness isn’t merely a physical location -- it’s also an apt metaphor for places and times of desolation in our lives. And likewise, he intimates, if we are willing to understand the wildernesses of our lives as opportunities for God to enter into our lives, then we may be surprised to discover them as settings where we can hear God’s voice speaking to us.

Team member Chris Keating shares some additional thoughts on the healing power of sacred touch -- embodied by Paul laying his hands on the disciples in Ephesus as a conduit for the Holy Spirit. But as recent news stories about inappropriate sexual behavior have demonstrated, touch can have a very different effect when it violates accepted social boundaries. As Chris notes, we need to take extreme care that our touch brings not pain but the Spirit-inspired power of God’s love.


Into the Wilderness
by Dean Feldmeyer
Mark 1:4-11

In Stephen Schwartz’s brilliant musical Children of Eden, he describes the biblical wilderness in a chorus number called “The Wasteland”:

Red rock and outcrop stone
And the sun glares off a bleaching bone
There’s no comfort or softness here
There’s only the wasteland.
The land of the hunter, the stalker, and the skinner
Where you’re either the diner or the dinner
And the line between man and beast keeps getting thinner
In the wasteland.

This is not the image that comes to many of our minds when we think of a wilderness. Our imagined wildernesses often have more to do with snow-capped, pine-forested mountains; crystal-clear, azure-blue lakes; cute, Disneyesque bear cubs frolicking in clover; and those gorgeous black and white photographs by Ansel Adams.

The wilderness of the Bible is always an ugly, formidable, inhospitable, dangerous place that shows no mercy to those who venture into it.

Yet the biblical witness is that time spent in that wilderness nearly always precedes a salvation event. It was true for Moses before the Exodus and for the Children of Israel during the Exodus. It was true for David and Elijah and a host of other biblical personalities.

And if we can understand wilderness not just as a literal reality but as an existential, metaphorical one as well, we may find ourselves in the midst of a salvation event.

In the Culture
In surveys it’s usually phrased like this: “Our country is going in the right direction. Do you (a) strongly agree, (b) agree, (c) neither agree nor disagree, (d) disagree, or (e) strongly disagree?”

If you chose (a) or (b), then you agreed with about 40 percent of your friends and colleagues.

Another 55 percent are living in their own personal, metaphorical wilderness.

Likewise, if you are the president and only 35 percent of those who were polled gave you a passing grade and only 26 percent approved of the way you use your Twitter account (as is the case with President Trump), you might feel as though you were schlepping through the wilderness all alone.

On the other hand, if you are one of the 65 percent who don’t approve of the way the president is handling his responsibilities, the wilderness experience may best describe what you are going through. And if you are one of the 65,844,610 who voted for Hillary Clinton compared to Donald Trump’s 62,979,636, you must feel as though this past year has been (and the next three years are going to find us in) a particularly bleak political wilderness.

At a more mundane level, it seems like the weather shifted just about the time the Christmas season wound down, so now not only have the bright, colorful lights been turned off and the crowds at the shopping centers dissipated and no one is playing cheerful Christmas music, BUT it’s cold and dark and miserable outside, AND the ads on television and in magazines all seem to be there to remind me that I’m overweight and out of shape and really need to join a spa or something. Winter may seem like a difficult time of year for many of us, but for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, winter can be a rough and miserable wilderness that challenges their every step.

Last year the Cleveland Browns professional football team went 1-15... that is, they won only one game and lost 15. This year they went winless for the entire season. That means their two-year record was 1-31... one win in 32 games. By losing their final game this past weekend they tied the Detroit Lions for losses in a single season.  (The Lions went 0-16 in 2008.) The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hold the record for the longest losing streak, with 26 losses in a row over two seasons. Had the Browns not beaten San Diego on Christmas Eve last year, they would now have the longest streak. The Cleveland Browns, their coaches, and their fans understand what it is like to spend time wandering in the wilderness.

As the allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior by bosses and coworkers continue to unfold, one cannot help but wonder how many women suffered abuse from these men but felt like they couldn’t say anything for fear of losing their job. Instead, they trekked through the wilderness of silence: hating their work, hating those who worked with them, and sometimes hating themselves for not finding a way to make it stop. Sure, the “Me Too” movement has helped -- but for whom? There are no doubt many women with little or no education and no exceptional skills, doing menial, low-pay labor, who are lost in the wilderness of being daily tormented by their bosses and male coworkers. 

In the Scriptures
As is often the case, today’s lesson begins in and emerges from the wilderness: “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness.” 

The reader, or those hearing it read, perk up immediately. The wilderness? Did he say the wilderness? Important things, amazing things happen in the wilderness -- so when it comes up in the preaching of Jesus we might want to take an extra hard and long look at whatever it is that he is saying.

What do we know about the wilderness? It’s inhospitable. It is brutal and uncaring. It is hot and dry. AND it is one of YHWH’s favorite places. It’s where God does some of God’s best work.

John, we are told, is preaching a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” And he must be doing it right, because people from “the whole countryside” and people from town were all coming in to hear him and be baptized as a demonstration of their repentance. 

Mark then gives us a description of John -- clothed in camel’s hair with a leather belt. We are also told that he eats locust and wild honey -- which seals John’s bona fides. This description of John is very nearly an exact description of Elijah. The point is not that John was a reincarnated Elijah, but that he was of that same school of genuine prophets of God. What came out of John’s mouth was what God would have him say. He was, in other words, the real deal.

Then we hear John saying that he is, in fact, not the real deal. He is a precursor to the real deal. John is baptizing with water, but another is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Repentance is the first step on the road to salvation. It does not cause salvation to happen, but it does prepare the host. As a farmer tills the ground in preparation for the seed, so John tills the human heart in preparation for the salvation which God will bring in Jesus Christ.

And speaking of Jesus, here he comes now. He is coming to be baptized by John.

But wait -- let’s stop and rewind for a moment here.

John is preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We get that, right?

So what is Jesus doing here? He’s the messiah. He has no need to repent or apologize for anything. Why has he come to be baptized by John? Luke and Matthew make a big deal about explaining this. Mark does not. As far as he is concerned, it is what it is. You figure it out.

Some have argued that Mark’s is a low Christology. Remember, Mark’s gospel has no birth narrative. This moment, at his baptism, is for Mark when Jesus becomes the messiah. He becomes the Savior when God adopts him moments after he emerges from the water. 

In other gospels, God’s voice is heard by all who are around the scene -- but in Mark’s, God speaks to Jesus alone: “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Is it possible that this is the first attempt by a gospel writer to describe the relationship between God and Jesus? And does our understanding of that relationship change and evolve through the synoptics all the way to the gospel of John?

In Mark, the first gospel ever written, published in about 75 CE, Jesus is adopted by God at the time of his baptism and becomes the messiah then and there.

In Matthew and Luke, both written about 15-20 years after Mark, Jesus becomes the messiah at conception.

And in John, written between 100 and 110 CE, Jesus is the eternal Word of God, present at the time of creation.

Be that as it may, the baptizer emerges from the wilderness to pronounce a word of salvation to those who come to hear him and be baptized -- and Jesus will now, after his baptism, flee into the wilderness... and after 40 days emerge to begin his ministry to both the Jews and the Gentiles.

In this he has continued a long tradition of the historic people of God.

Two thousand years earlier the seeds of what would become the nation of Israel were planted in a “wandering Aramean” (Deuteronomy 26:5) named Abraham, who traveled through one wilderness after another on his way to the promised land and the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people.

Joseph wandered in a wilderness of betrayal and abuse until he was so well-trusted that he could finally bring his family to cross the wilderness into Egypt to live with him.

Moses escaped from Egypt after killing a man and traveled through the wilderness until he was rescued and met his wife. Then he returned to Egypt and led his people out of there, and eventually, after much more wilderness wandering, into the land of milk and honey.

David fled to the wilderness to avoid Saul’s wrath and returned to become king.

Elijah fled to the wilderness to avoid those who were hostile to his message and emerged to speak the word of the Lord to Israel. 

The biblical record is clear. The wilderness, be it a real one filled with dangers and troubles or a metaphorical one, readies the soil of our souls for planting the seeds of wisdom and faith. God does the planting. It is for us to do the watering and the cultivating. 
In the Sermon
Several preachable points come to mind:

1) John the Baptist preceded Jesus with a message of repentance, so the people would be ready to receive the grace which Jesus would pour over them. Repentance precedes grace not to earn grace, but so we can be more receptive, more open to grace whenever it is pronounced upon our lives.

2) The wilderness is not just an existential reality, it also serves as an important metaphor. Wherever we find ourselves in a situation that is strange and seemingly dangerous and threatening to us, that may be our wilderness, the event in our life that is preparing us to receive grace. We might easily share stories of how we, personally, survived or overcame our own private wilderness to grow and to flourish. There are all kinds of wildernesses, and most of them don’t even require you to leave the house to explore them -- there is the wilderness of loneliness, the wilderness of unquenchable pain, the wilderness of abuse, the wilderness of alcoholism or addiction. And some of us who have been through these wildernesses before can mentor and teach those who are going through them for the first time.

3) For Mark, Jesus discovers his personal identity and his calling as a result of baptism. Is it possible that we might do the same? It is at that time, when we come up out of the water, that we are most vulnerable and best-suited to hear God’s voice speaking to us. Even if we have already been baptized, we would do well to spend some time together studying that ancient rite and all that baptism means. When we come out of the wilderness, there is the church ready to greet us and give us comfort and food. It is in this moment that grace often strikes, when salvation is at hand.

Belden C. Lane, professor of theological studies and American studies at St. Louis University, has written a compelling book about desert and mountain imagery in the Christian apophatic tradition. In The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, the author, a Presbyterian minister, juxtaposes his own desert experiences at various monasteries with the dying of his mother from cancer and Alzheimer’s. Using a rich repertoire of quotations from the Buddhists of Tibet, the desert fathers of early Christianity, the Native Americans of the Southwest, and a wonderful cross-cut of writers and naturalists, Lane depicts the danger and the desolation of the desert as a boon to the soul with “its unmitigated honesty, its dreadful capacity to strip bare, its long compelling silence.”

Danger and desolation can be a boon to the soul.

One might wonder if this was not the exact thing that Jesus was looking for when after his baptism “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness where he was, for 40 days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him” (Mark 1:12-13).

For in Mark’s gospel, it was immediately after that wilderness time that Jesus emerged with both his mind and his mission fully reconciled -- ready to make his dash to the cross and beyond.


Sacred Touch
by Chris Keating
Acts 19:1-7

Paul’s encounter with the Ephesian disciples highlights the poignancy of sacred touch. The Ephesians had been brought to faith, yet lacked any evidence of Holy Spirit’s presence. It’s not their fault, they tell Paul, “we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

The apostle moves quickly. Instead of enrolling the Ephesians in a nine-week course on church membership, he instructs them about the difference between the baptism offered by John and baptism in Christ, preceding immediately to baptize the believers again. Luke notes that as soon as Paul laid his hands on the believers, the Holy Spirit came upon them.

Eventually the church incorporated laying on of hands as part of baptism and other acts of ministry. Sacred touch became an expression of the Holy Spirit’s presence with the church and individual believers. In baptism, confirmation, or ordination to the ministry, laying on of hands conveyed the church’s continuity with the ministry of the apostles while imparting the Spirit’s sustaining presence.

Some years ago, during an otherwise ordinary service of installation and ordination of church officers, a young man came forward to be installed as a ruling elder. As the service proceeded to the laying on of hands, his grandfather -- a second-generation Presbyterian minister -- came forward, placing his hands on the boy’s shoulder. It was a powerful expression of the sacred nature of touch.

Touch, offered respectfully and appropriately, can be a symbol of God’s incarnate love, and a tangible expression of the Spirit’s movement in the life of a believer.

Pastors are often privileged to share in such tender and intimate acts: joining the hands of newlyweds, praying with grieving spouses, anointing the elderly, offering ashes on the foreheads of the penitent. Handshakes are exchanged as signs of friendship, and hugs offered as support. Touch is a blessing, an empowering to new life and commissioning to ministry.

And, sometimes, a betrayal of boundaries.

As has been evident throughout the recent deluge of sexual misconduct stories, touch is not always healing, nor is it always welcomed. For Ruth Everhart, whose experience of abuse while serving as an associate pastor was recently featured on the cover of The Christian Century, the experience of abuse by an older colleague rendered her helpless and traumatized. She recounts how the memories of her abuser’s participation in her own ordination remain painful.

Touch offered inappropriately is not healing or faithful. It is manipulative and abusive, emanating not from God but from the abuser’s desire for power and control. Instead of conveying the power of the Holy Spirit, abusive touch rips apart sacred connections.

Consider the story of Thomas Blanchette, an adult survivor of sexual abuse by a priest. In 1989, Blanchette attended the funeral of his abuser, the Rev. Joseph Birmingham. Afterwards, Blanchette approached the officiant, Cardinal Bernard Law, who died recently. Blanchette told the cardinal that Birmingham had molested him. In response, Law laid his hands on Blanchette for several minutes.

According to Blanchette, Law then said: “I bind you under the power of the confessional never to speak a word of this to another.’ ” More than 40 more victims would later come forward accusing Birmingham of abuse, and Law would be forced to resign as Archbishop of Boston. Law’s twisting of the sacrament of penitence only added to the abuse Blanchette experienced.

James Carroll remarks that Law’s action typified the sacrilege of the “entire saga of Catholic sex abuse -- thousands of priests harming tens of thousands of young people.” He continues: “And, no, it has not yet been finished with. Law’s death is a reminder not only of the hierarchy’s grievous failure during the sex-abuse crisis but of the way in which the Church has yet to reckon with what the crisis laid bare.” After Law resigned from Boston, Pope John Paul II appointed him to a prominent post in Rome.

Having protected abusers, Law was himself protected. Yet those whose lives should have been protected were often ignored. In many ways, those abused by the church were victims of a deficient and flawed theology much like the believers in Ephesus. Few, however, have experienced an offer of love and healing.

Victims of abuse understand the pain touch brings to life, while the Ephesians were witnesses to its healing power. Researchers exploring that power have discovered the importance of touch in promoting immunity against disease, alleviating stress, and improving cognitive ability.

In contrast, the lives of children raised in the notoriously understaffed orphanages and institutions of Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania until the 1990s were often shown to suffer severe consequences because of tactile deprivation. The devastating impacts of Ceausescu’s brutal social experiment are reminders of the significance of touch, and a call to consider how the church might model the blessings associated with sacred, Spirit-giving touch.

It is easy to understand, as one school board has warned, that “there is no safe touch when you work with children.” The haunting #MeToo stories must be heard, and corrective actions taken. Perhaps this might lead to a new appreciation of how healing touch, as modeled by Paul, can become a witness to the healing, Spirit-empowering reach of Jesus Christ. It worked for the Ephesians, and perhaps their story can help us understand and appreciate the beauty and sublime power of sacred touch for ministry and witness. 



From team member Mary Austin:

Mark 1:4-11
Picnic in the Desert
John the Baptist lives on an uncommon diet of locusts and wild honey out there in the desert. If we aspire to a diet as unusual as his, there are all kinds of foods to try in 2018. Grocery chain Whole Foods suggests mushroom-infused coffee, and says “2018 will be the year you stop throwing out your carrot stems or other bits and pieces from vegetables formerly thought to be garbage. Instead, you can turn them into treats like pickled watermelon rind, broccoli stem slaw, or beet green pesto.” Floral flavors will also be big, they predict. A food blogger says that we should watch for colored toast. Low-carb and gluten-free eating trends have caused a drop in bread sales, and marketers want to make bread appealing again. Floral flavors and mushroom coffee also made her list along some trends we can get behind, like wine pouches for one and four meals per day as people work longer days. 

The Yogurt Lab predicts that more people will be eating algae and vegan protein, and drinking mocktails instead of cocktails. Also, watch for the rise of “swavory”: “The flavor of umami was yesterday, now comes swavory! Behind this new taste, which in the USA is just causing a sensation, hides the mixture of sweet (sweet) and savory (savory).” Or we can just skip right to the locusts and wild honey -- that trend can’t be far away, can it? 


Mark 1:4-11
First Day on the Job
With his baptism, Jesus is stepping into his public ministry. In essence, he’s beginning a new job. At a new job, experts advise that the “work day begins when you leave your house. You never know who you’ll meet along the way. You may run into your boss or a co-worker. A friend of mine was driving to work one day when a car swung around her and the driver made a hand gesture (you know the one) at my friend. He didn’t see my friend’s face, but she saw his. It looked familiar and then my friend remembered why. He was her most recent hire, starting work that very day. She attributed his action to nerves, and hasn’t said a word to him. Yet.”

Jesus understands this, but the rest of us can learn from this savvy piece of advice. “Figure out who has the authority to give you work to do and who is just trying to have you do their work. I worked with a woman who would try to push off her work on any unsuspecting person. It took a while to realize that she didn’t have the authority to hand out assignments.” And, finally, this is much more true for Jesus’ new job than for any of us, but know that “your life has changed and it will take getting used to.” 


Mark 1:4-11
This Is My Beloved Child
After Jesus is baptized, Mark’s gospel tells us that “he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” A voice from heaven pronounces him God’s son, and says “with you I am well pleased.” In Mark’s recounting, we can’t tell if anyone else hears the message or if it’s meant for Jesus alone. God is pleased even before Jesus does anything -- pleased with his very being, and with the ministry he’s beginning.

As parents, we would do well to follow God’s example when we praise our kids. Psychologist Jim Taylor says: “Particularly with young children, you don’t need to praise them at all. The best thing you can do is simply highlight what they did. For example, if your toddler just climbed a playground ladder for the first time, just say, ‘You climbed that ladder by yourself.’ Their smile of pride will tell you that they got the message you wanted them to get, namely, ‘I did it!’ Nothing more needs to be said.” 

Praise should be directed at the things a child can control, he says. When we praise something like intelligence or a winning game, children become fearful that those things will wear off. Specific praise should look at “effort, attitude, responsibility, commitment, discipline, focus, decision making, compassion, generosity, respect, love, the list goes on. You should look at why exactly your children did something well and specifically praise those areas.” Or be like God, and just delight in the child’s very being. 


Mark 1:4-11; Psalm 29
Hearing Voices
After his baptism, Jesus -- or maybe Jesus and the people around him -- hears God’s voice. The psalmist finds power in the divine voice, proclaiming “The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.” We all need to hear a powerful voice, or a comforting voice, or a neighborly voice at times. David Levins wanted to bring those voices to people who needed to hear them, and so “he initiated A Kind Voice, a nationwide, volunteer-run phone line where people call in anytime for one-on-one conversation. Simply for the sake of sharing and being kind to one another.” 

Levins says his organization recruits people to answer the phone by asking what they like to talk about. What are they passionate conversing about? “So we have topics on books, movies, sports, music, travel, big ideas, and philosophy. And we get volunteers who are interested in talking about them. And these people send in the most beautiful applications you can imagine! They’re just very beautiful people who want to share this kindness.... Then when a caller calls the line, the first question they get is ‘Are you experiencing a crisis?’ If they are, the call gets mapped to the suicide or abuse hotline. About half our calls are from people experiencing a crisis, but for whatever reason, they don’t want to call a crisis hotline. They didn’t know the number. But they select the crisis option, which is great, because we’re getting those people where they need to be.” 

Levins says, “I can be a kind voice to you and you can be a kind voice to me. It may not solve all the problems in the world, but it just gives us a positive way to respond to these things.” In all of those voices is the echo of God’s voice, and in all of those connections a spark of God’s power and grace. 


New Year
Giving Away $52 a Week
As the new year begins and we ponder how to organize our time, stuff, eating, and finances this year, one couple -- who call themselves “Giver Girl” and “Giver Boy” -- offer an interesting example. They decided to give away $52 each week for a year, which sounds like a lot more than the total cost -- $2,704.

The giving started when a mailing arrived the December before the new year began. “The Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission in Philadelphia was asking donors to consider providing 26 meals by giving... $52.52. Giver Girl was more than happy to write a check as ‘a warm-up gift,’ especially because her own father has long struggled with mental illness and homelessness.” Writing about the couple, a friend says: “And yet, so much of giving, I think, has to do with clear discernment and calling. One should look within and find to what they are called and by what they are moved. I think this is what Giver Girl and Giver Boy have done. They could have chosen just one organization -- perhaps that first homeless shelter that they gave to. I’m sure that place would appreciate a $200 a month pledge. But these two givers listened -- and felt moved to go on this journey and share their love with what will ultimately be 52 different groups. And it is not only financial gifts that they are giving. I and many others have received a gift far more valuable.” 

As we organize our lives this New Year, this is one example of an interesting way to be alert to need in the world, and to share in the places that touch our hearts.


From team member Ron Love:
(These illustrations are based on major themes in this week’s lectionary readings.)

There has been a major change in the $275 billion apparel industry since online retailer Amazon entered the market. Prior to Amazon, established brands had taken the bulk of the profits from the industry. But with Amazon, the private label has become the new sensation. And with the success of Amazon, Walmart, Target, and even the Kroger supermarket chain began promoting their privately owned labels. It began when representatives from Amazon sat down with designer Jackie Wilson. Amazon wanted her to make a knit top for women where the fabric felt heavy and high-quality -- a sweater that could be associated with name-brand attire. Wilson said Amazon was not concerned about the cost or units sold, as Amazon (in her words) was only “concerned about customer satisfaction. They wanted five-star reviews.” The reason for Amazon’s success, according to Wilson, is that “millennials don’t care as much about logos.”

Application: Our reading discusses God making something that was good and beneficial. Let us hope all of our new creations are good and beneficial.


In the Close to Home newspaper comic, the characters are mostly left unnamed and the reader is never introduced to their backgrounds. But the characters reappear on a regular basis, so one can follow their lives. In one comic, we are exposed to a statement regarding honesty and truthfulness. A husband is reading a Christmas card letter to his wife. As he stands with the card in his hand, she is sitting in her easy chair, newspaper in hand. But as he continues to read, she puts her paper down in dismay. He reads the family letter that was just received in the mail: “It’s from the Snagels. Tina set a customer’s hair in fire at the salon... Ricky violated his parole again... Stu has an infection in his armpit...” At the bottom of the frame are these words: “The Snagels and their friends agreed to send reality-based Christmas letters.”

Application: If we are truthful and face reality, all of our lives are in need of redemption.


Twitter has released its top ten trending people and topics for the year 2017. It would not be hard to guess that the “Twitterer-in-Chief,” President Donald Trump, topped the list. But what many may find surprising is that former president Barack Obama, with 1.7 million retweets in August, placed second on the list. Obama posted a quote taken from former South African president and civil rights activist Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion...” The rest of the quote, which was not a part of Obama’s tweet, reads: “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” The quote came from Mandela’s 1994 autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. Obama was inspired to make this tweet on August 13 in response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in three people being killed and 35 more injured in a day of violence in the usually quiet college town.

Application: Let’s be sure our tweets, and our words, always bring forth the light of a new creation.


Democrat John Conyers -- the longest serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives -- recently resigned from the House amidst numerous allegations of sexual abuse of staff members. In addition to this, Conyers used public money to settle sexual harassment lawsuits. Conyers even used government airplanes to bring the women whom he had control over or who were his current mistresses to his Capitol office. Conyers, who was serving in his 27th term representing a district in Detroit, was the chair of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Ethics Committee. In his resignation speech, he asked the public not to judge him on these allegations, which he claimed were false, but on the “larger perspective” of his 50 years as a lawmaker. But Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader of the House, best articulated the situation when she said: “Congressman Conyers has served in Congress for more than five decades, and shaped some of the most consequential legislation of the last half century. But no matter how great the legacy, it is no license to harass or discriminate.”

Application: None of us can live on our legacies, as we all need to repent of our sins. John’s call “proclaiming a baptism of repentance” to the people of Jerusalem is a call extended to each and every one of us as well.


Two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning had been benched. His New York Giants team had not been performing well, and Manning was viewed by Giants head coach Ben McAdoo as a microcosm of the problem. Manning, 36, had started 210 consecutive regular-season games as the team’s quarterback. Now, Manning would no longer be on the field leading the Giants when they confronted the Oakland Raiders on December 3. The Giants lost that game 24-17. The following day, McAdoo was fired with the Giants’ record at 2-10. He was replaced by interim coach Steve Spagnuolo. Spagnuolo immediately took Manning off the bench and reinstalled him as the team’s starting quarterback. Regarding his return, Manning said: “It’s important to play, that’s what I love to do. I love to play quarterback and I love to play quarterback for the New York Giants.”

Application: The psalmist extols the strength and power of God and how they affect creation in such a meaningful way. We certainly do not possess the power of God, but we can use the strength we have to positively impact the lives of others. We are to get up, get off the bench, and get back onto the playing field.


Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2017 was really a group of women. They were called the “Silence Breakers,” as these women came forward and shared their stories of being sexually abused. Most of the men who abused them were rich and famous, and because of their positions of authority could abuse these women without fear of retaliation. The cover of the magazine pictured some of those women who came forward, including Ashley Judd, Taylor Swift, and Susan Fowler among others. Time magazine praised those who have given “voice to open secrets, for moving whisper networks onto social networks, for pushing us all to stop accepting the unacceptable.”

Application: As God’s light brought forth a new creation out of a void of nothingness, we can be the light of a new creation. Our light is to be that of silence breakers as we illuminate the dark crevasses of injustice and oppression.


Jack Morris was recently voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. It took extra innings for this star pitcher, who played with the Detroit Tigers for most of his career. Morris was repeatedly passed over by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA). It was only when the Modern Era committee had the opportunity to vote that he was selected. The 62-year-old Morris shared his feelings on being selected with these words: “The time I spent wondering if this day would ever come seems to be vanished and erased right now because it did come, and it’s amazing.” Morris’ defining moment came with his 10-inning shutout in a 1-0 win for Minnesota over Atlanta in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Morris, who had 254 regular season wins, also pitched for Detroit in the team’s victorious 1984 World Series. Despite these impressive credentials, in Morris’ opinion what had kept him from being selected by the BBWAA were his overall statistics. Particularly, Morris concluded, it was his earned run average (ERA) which was not impressive. Morris said he should not be compared to the elite pitchers of today. This, Morris concluded, is because today’s pitchers don’t pitch the same as he did. Morris said: “I always thought about completing games, starting games, eating up innings, and trying to win games more importantly than anything else.” If statistics were important, Morris said, he would not have gone deeper into games, he would not have pitched through pain, and he would not have told his manager “ ‘I’m fine’ when I wasn’t.” It was with this attitude that Morris had a 20-game winning season in 1983.

Application: Morris is proud and satisfied with his baseball career, but his humility has shown through when he realized his election into Cooperstown had not vanished. We can be proud of what we do, but we still must always approach it with a sense of humility. Many people came out to greet John, but John did not point to himself. John only pointed to the coming of Jesus.


Alan Trammell was recently voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Trammell was an accomplished shortstop who spent his entire 20-year career playing for the Detroit Tigers. Trammell was repeatedly passed over for election to the hall by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. On the previous 15 years of voting, Trammell was not selected. It was only when the Modern Era committee had the opportunity to vote that he was selected. Trammell felt overwhelmed by his selection. He expressed his feelings with these words: “I came to realization that it might not happen, and I was OK with that. I really was. If people thought it was a tad short, I could live with that.” Trammell, 50, was the 1984 World Series MVP, hitting .450 in that series, as the Tigers defeated San Diego in five games. Trammell was a six-time All-Star and a four-time Gold Glover. Trammell’s first visit to Cooperstown was a short one. In 1995 the Tigers were playing the Chicago Cubs in the Hall of Fame exhibition game. Still wearing his jersey while the teams were limbering up at Doubleday Field, Trammell jogged the couple of blocks to the Hall. In a short 30 minutes he hurried through the Hall, seeing what exhibits he could. That afternoon he said: “I definitely want to come back some day, but I probably wouldn’t go through it in my uniform.”

Application: Humility is knowing we have done a good job, but accepting that we may be a tad short.


In a Born Loser comic, Brutus Thornapple (known as the born loser because in his innocence he remains unappreciated) is sitting at his desk as his boss, Rancid Veeblefester, comes and stands before him. Veeblefester has his hands folded behind his back and has a proud and boisterous look on his face. Veeblefester, known to be a disagreeable and uncomplimentary individual, touts: “My philosophy is: The Buck Stops Here!” Thornapple, with a discouraged and dejected look he often seems to have, thinks to himself after his boss leaves: “That would be my philosophy too... (sigh)... except the buck never gets to me!”

Application: Our lives may seem unimportant, as the buck, the final decision, never reaches our desk. But in humble service to our Lord we continue to influence others and society as best we can. It did not seem to bother John that the buck did not stop with him and that the final decisions rested with his cousin Jesus.


Kathleen Parker is a regular columnist for the Washington Post who many believe leans conservative in her views. Parker recently wrote a column in which she made the case that Senator Al Franken should not have been forced to resign his Senate seat over allegations of sexual misconduct. Parker wrote that Franken’s actions “were certainly objectionable. But they were nowhere near as repugnant as the charges leveled at [Alabama Senate candidate Roy] Moore and other men of provenience. These include Donald Trump. Who, as Franken noted with irony, had bragged on a recording about his having forcibly kissed and grabbed women.” Parker maintained that Franken was forced out of the Senate by his Democratic colleagues so that Democrats could seize the moral high-ground. Yet Parker did concede that the former Saturday Night Live star who was known for his occasionally raunchy humor still has an unfavorable reputation. Parker wrote “that Franken’s silly prankster days aren’t far in his past. One can be a senator or a clown, but you can’t be both -- for long.”

Application: You may agree or disagree with Parker’s assessment of why Franken was forced to resign from the U.S. Senate; but her words that one can be a senator or a clown, but can’t be both, must be taken seriously. We often hear about John’s strange dress and eating habits, but does that make him a clown? John’s reputation was based on the seriousness with which he went about calling people to repentance and baptism. We too must make sure that the seriousness with which we take our calling to serve Jesus supersedes any clownish criticisms that others might bestow upon us.


This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Speaking for the organization at the award’s ceremony was Setsuko Thurlow. Thurlow was 13 years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on her home city of Hiroshima. The blast left her buried under rubble. But she was able to see light, and she could hear a man who kept yelling “Don’t give up. Keep pushing. See the light? Crawl toward it.” Those words encouraging her to keep crawling toward the light have guided her on her mission to abolish nuclear weapons. She said in her speech: “Our light now is the ban treaty.” Her desire is an international treaty that would ban all nuclear weapons.

Application: We must allow the light of a new creation to guide us all in making this a better world for all people.


This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). The goal of the organization is to have an international treaty that would ban all countries from possessing nuclear weapons. The treaty has been signed by 56 countries, but none of these countries are a nuclear power. And of these countries, only three have ratified the treaty. In order for the treaty to become binding, it must be ratified by 50 countries. ICAN executive director Beatrice Fihn accepted the award. Fihn was realistic when she acknowledged that the treaty was far from being ratified. But upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize she was more optimistic that with the award, in her words, “now at long last, we have an unequivocal norm against nuclear weapons. This is the way forward. There is only one way to prevent the use of nuclear weapons -- prohibit and eliminate them.”

Application: The psalmist is very clear that our biblical message is one of peace when he writes “May the Lord bless his people with peace!”


We have read over the years in the Peanuts comics about how Charlie Brown dreams of asking an unnamed little red-haired girl out for a date. But being shy and suffering from low self-esteem, Charlie never seems to be able to pop the question. In one strip Charlie is sitting at his desk, composing a love letter to the friend he has so often sought after. He begins his letter, “Dear Little Red-Haired Girl.” He then continues with this opening line: “Do you remember me?” He then goes on to share how they went to the same school, explaining how she might know him with these words: “I sat across the room from you. I was the plain ordinary-looking boy in the fourth seat.” Charlie picks his paper up, looks with great intensity at what he has written, and then begins to write once again, questioning: “You don’t remember me, do you?”

Application: Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic, has always maintained that Charlie Brown is a caricature of his own childhood -- saying that his childhood experiences are often reflected in the experiences of Charlie Brown. And perhaps this is why Charles Schulz, despite his fame as a cartoonist, was always admired for his humility. Humility is knowing that the little red-haired girl will never remember us. Humility is knowing that the important people in the classroom will probably never notice us. After the baptism of Jesus, John disappears from the gospel story except for one more appearance. This is when John was executed by Herod Antipas. Yet John remains a vivid and important character in our understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Yes, the little red-haired girl may never know who we are; but that does not mean we still don’t have an impact on the lives of others. Just think how the story of Charlie Brown continues to inspire us, even if the plain ordinary-looking boy in the fourth desk remains unrecognized.


Florence, South Carolina has just instituted a remarkable program of love and concern for others called “No One Unsheltered.” The program is designed so that every homeless person in the city has a bed for the night. This is to ensure that no homeless individual is forced to sleep on the street. Florence has 450 to 500 homeless individuals, and nine homeless shelters participating in the program. When one shelter reaches capacity, a search begins to place the homeless individual into another shelter. The city pays the taxi fare for transportation between shelters. The idea behind the No One Unsheltered project is to ensure that the city’s homeless and vulnerable citizens aren’t being turned away with no place to go. The program was instituted by the Mayor’s Coalition, a cooperative effort between city-run agencies and local nonprofit organizations focused on improving the quality of life in the city. Mayor Stephen Wukela said this of the program: “We’re very proud of the coalition after the city council challenged them to create a unified effort aimed at the homeless. They very much stepped up to the plate and have gone beyond that.”

Application: In the creation story that is recorded in Genesis, and in the psalmist’s description of God’s care over creation, we have the message that we too are to be caretakers of God’s divine creation. That care requires us to institute programs such as No One Unsheltered to be sure that every person knows that “the voice of the Lord is over the waters.”


The YouVersion Bible App has recently released its 2017 Year in Review report, discussing Bible trends during the past year as recorded by their Bible App. This past year 222 million Bible verses were shared. The Bible verse that was most often bookmarked, highlighted, and shared around the world was Joshua 1:9. This verse reads: “This is my command -- be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Application: Our reading from Psalm 29 makes some very strong comments on the protection of God over his creation. This confession of faith should give us all a strong sense of reassurance of God’s protection over us.


At a meeting of Baptist leaders in the late 1700s, a newly ordained minister named William Carey stood to argue for the value of overseas missions. He was abruptly interrupted by an older minister who said: “Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he'll do it without consulting you or me.” Yet Carey persisted in his conviction on the importance of overseas missionary work. And Carey deplored how those of the Baptist and Anglican faith in his home country of England were consistently discounting it. Carey argued that Jesus’ great commission called us to go to all the people throughout the world. Carey wrote: “Multitudes sit at ease and give themselves no concern about the far greater part of their fellow sinners, who to this day, are lost in ignorance and idolatry.” In 1792 he organized a missionary society, and at its inaugural meeting preached a sermon with the call “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God!” Carey went on to become a missionary to India, where he spent 41 years without a furlough. The importance in which he took his work is demonstrated in the changes he tried to bring to the culture. He campaigned against Sati, the Hindu practice where a widow is burned alive on her deceased husband’s funeral pyre. When Carey learned that the practice was outlawed, although it was Sunday morning, he decided that it was more important to translate the ruling into Bengali than to preach his prepared sermon. Carey, fearing more lives would be lost, raced to prepare the translation before nightfall.

Application: We are called to bring the new light of creation into the world we inhabit this day. We cannot sit at ease when we know that others are being oppressed and that injustices flourish. We go forth as we “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God!”


Christopher Wren was an English astronomer, mathematician, and highly acclaimed architect. He was given the responsibility of rebuilding 52 churches in London after the Great Fire in 1666. The most famous church that Wren reconstructed was Saint Paul’s Cathedral on Ludgate Hill. The Great Fire stated in a bakery shop and quickly spread through the city. Along with Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the fire consumed 87 other parish churches and 13,200 homes. The Bishop of London at the time of the Great Fire was Henry Campton. Prior to this Campton was entrusted with the education of two princesses, Mary and Anne. Both Mary and Anne later became queens of England. At the dedication ceremony for Saint Paul’s Cathedral on December 2, 1697, Bishop Campton quoted from Psalm 122: “I was glad when they said unto me: Let us go into the house of the Lord.”  

Application: A recurring theme throughout our lectionary readings is the summons to worship our Lord and to recognize his majesty. Whether one is a bishop or a great architect or a commoner, we are to sing praises to our Creator. As the psalmist wrote: “Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.”


The wise old preacher hobbled up to the pulpit and made an announcement to the congregation. “I have some good news and I have some bad news,” the preacher said. “Our fund-raising efforts have been successful. The capital campaign will more than pay off the educational wing. We’ll even have enough money for all new toys for the nursery. The good news is that right here in this sanctuary, we have more than enough money!” Thrilled, the congregation grinned, excited that all the necessary money had been acquired. But then the congregation grew worried. What was the bad news, they wondered? The preacher continued: “The bad news is that the money is still in your pockets.”

Application: If we repent and are baptized, then our lives should demonstrate a new generosity.


On January 9, 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy gave his farewell speech to the Massachusetts legislature before departing to Washington, DC to prepare for his presidency. Kennedy compared his coming presidency to the Puritans coming to the New World from England and landing on Plymouth Rock, in what is now Massachusetts. Kennedy quoted a speech that the leader of the Puritans, John Winthrop, gave abroad the ship Arbella in 1630. At the time the Arbella was just offshore and the Puritans were preparing themselves to depart for their new land of opportunity. Kennedy highlighted Winthrop’s understanding of what it means for a government to be like a lighted city upon a hill. Kennedy said: “But I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella 331 years ago, as they too faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier. We must always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill -- the eyes of all people are upon us. Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us -- and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state, and local, must be as a city upon a hill -- constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities. For we are setting out upon a voyage in 1961 no less hazardous than that undertaken by the Arbella in 1630. We are committing ourselves to tasks of statecraft no less awesome than that of governing the Massachusetts Bay Colony, beset as it was then by terror without and disorder within.” Like the Puritans preparing to land in the New World, Kennedy was implying that the eyes of the world would be upon his new administration. Because of this scrutiny, his presidency must be like a city upon a hill. The Kennedy administration would be a light upon the world.

Application: Like the light that brought forth a new creation, we are to light the paths of others with compassion and righteousness.


Pope Francis was selected as Time magazine’s 2013 “Person of the Year.” The magazine referred to Francis as the “People’s Pope.” Regarding his selection, Nancy Gibbs, the magazine’s managing editor, said: “He really stood out to us as someone who has changed the tone and the perception and the focus of one the world’s largest institutions in an extraordinary way.” Pope Francis certainly disrupted the established hierarchy and bureaucracy of the Roman Catholic Church. Francis removed the fleet of Vatican luxury cars, exchanging them for affordable midsize models. He has removed the title of monsignor from the hierarchy of the priesthood. He has selected cardinals that have come from predominantly developing countries. His vestments, though white, are plain and simple. The tailor-made red leather loafers accentuating the status of the pope are attire of the past; simple black loafers will suffice. Then of course, he no longer resides in the Vatican palace, but in the nearby guest hotel.

Application: What riches are we willing to surrender to emulate the simple obedience of John the Baptist?


by George Reed

Call to Worship
Leader: Ascribe to God glory and strength.
People: Worship God in holy splendor.
Leader: The voice of God is over the waters.
People: The voice of God is powerful and full of majesty.
Leader: May God give strength to the people!
People: May God bless the people with peace!


Leader: Come and worship the God who gives us life!
People: We come seeking life in our God.  
Leader: In baptism we are claimed anew by God.
People: We rejoice to be God’s children and God’s people.
Leader: The wilderness before is can be God’s womb.
People: We will trust in God’s creating power to work in us.

Hymns and Sacred Songs
“Great Is Thy Faithfulness”
found in:
UMH: 140
AAHH: 158
NNBH: 45
NCH: 423
CH: 86
ELA: 733
W&P: 72
AMEC: 84
Renew: 249

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

“He Leadeth Me, O Blessed Thought”
found in:
UMH: 128
AAHH: 142
NNBH: 235
CH: 545
LBW: 501
W&P: 499
AMEC: 395

“Trust and Obey”
found in:
UMH: 67
AAHH: 380
NNBH: 322
CH: 566
W&P: 443
AMEC: 377

“Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone”
found in:
UMH: 424
AAHH: 554
NNBH: 221
AMEC: 155

“This Is the Spirit’s Entry Now”
found in:
UMH: 608
LBW: 195
ELA: 448

“Lift High the Cross” (especially verse 2)
found in:
UMH: 159
H82: 473
PH: 371
AAHH: 242
NCH: 198
CH: 108
LBW: 377
ELA: 660
W&P: 287
Renew: 297

“Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life”
found in:
UMH: 164
H82: 487
NCH: 331
LBW: 513
ELA: 816
W&P: 402
STLT: 89

“From the Rising of the Sun”
found in:
CCB: 4

“Holy Ground”
found in:
CCB: 5

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

Prayer for the Day / Collect
O God who holds chaos at bay to bring about creation: Grant us the faith to face the chaos of the wilderness around us so that we may be re-created in your image; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.


We praise you, O God, for constraining chaos and bringing forth creation. Help us to trust in you so that we may find ourselves re-created as we face the chaos of the wilderness in our lives. Amen. 

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins, and especially our avoidance of the wilderness experience.

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. When we are faced with the rough wilderness around us, we seek to flee it. We look for comfort and the easy way. We do not want to face the chaos around us or within us. We forget that out of the wilderness experience you have done marvelous things with your people. Call us once more out into the wilderness so that we can truly grow into your image and become true disciples of Jesus
. Amen.

Leader: God is always waiting for us in the wilderness and chaos of our lives. Go and meet with the divine and find your own holiness.

Prayers of the People (and the Lord’s Prayer)
All praise and glory are yours, O God, for you have subdued chaos. Out of the midst of the waters of chaos you brought forth creation.
(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. When we are faced with the rough wilderness around us, we seek to flee it. We look for comfort and the easy way. We do not want to face the chaos around us or within us. We forget that out of the wilderness experience you have done marvelous things with your people. Call us once more out into the wilderness so that we can truly grow into your image and become true disciples of Jesus.

We give you thanks for all the ways you seek to bring life and joy to us and to all your children. We thank you for the nurture of the faith community which helps us to live out our baptism blessing and calling. We thank you for the wilderness which cleanses and redirects us. 

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for those in need. We pray for those who are unable to face their wilderness and so are stuck in their lives. We pray for those who have entered their wilderness and have lost their way. We pray for those who have been cast into the wilderness by people and forces over which they have no control.

(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 Lord’s Prayer 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
Talk to the children about Jesus’ baptism and how he heard God call him the beloved. We are also God’s daughters and sons, and he calls us the beloved. We are very dear to God. God loves us and calls us by our names.



The Jesus Baptism
Acts 19:1-7

Objects: two similar-looking pens or markers; one with ink and one that is dry

I have some very exciting news for you. Did you know that the Holy Spirit lives within you? (let the children answer) Can you feel the Holy Spirit? (let them answer) Can you smell the Holy Spirit or hear the Holy Spirit inside of you? (let them answer) If you could turn your eyes outside in, do you think you could see the Holy Spirit? (let them answer) Then how do I know that the Holy Spirit is in you? You can’t smell, see, feel, or hear the Holy Spirit, but I know the Holy Spirit is within you.

The reason I know that is because the Bible tells me so. I want to tell you how the Holy Spirit got inside of you.

There is a story in the Bible about Paul and some disciples that he met in a town called Ephesus. Paul asked the disciples if they had or knew the Holy Spirit. The disciples said, “No, we have never heard of the Holy Spirit.” Paul asked them who baptized them. They told him that John had baptized them. Paul told them that this was only a partial baptism. It showed God they were sorry for being sinners. But Paul said when they were baptized in the name of Jesus, not only were they telling God they were sorry for their sins, but also God was then forgiving them and sharing the Holy Spirit with them. That is much more than John’s baptism. This new baptism also promised them life with Jesus after they died.

Let me show you what I mean. I brought with me a couple of magic markers. They look alike. They each have a cap, they each have a writing or coloring piece, and they both have a barrel. But watch this. (take the ink marker and draw a circle; take the dry marker and make the same circle) Is there a difference? (let them answer) Very good! They look the same, but one works and the other doesn’t.

The same thing is true about the two baptisms. Both of them use water and both of them tell God how sorry you are for your sins. But the one that is done in the name of Jesus really works because it gives you forgiveness and the Holy Spirit, which means you have eternal life. That is the Jesus baptism.

That’s how I know you have the Holy Spirit in you. If you were baptized in the name of Jesus, you also have the Spirit. So from now on, you should know that not only do you live but also the Spirit of God lives within you. What do you think of that? Everyone baptized in the name of Jesus has the Spirit of God within him or her.

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

The Immediate Word, January 7, 2018, issue.

Copyright 2018 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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Call to Worship:
After he had been deep in prayer, Jesus was able to walk on the sea. In our worship today, let explore the relationship between prayer and God's response to us.

Invitation to Confession:
Jesus, sometimes I dismiss prayer as not working, yet I know I've never really prayed as you prayed.
Lord, have mercy.
Jesus, sometimes I can't believe in miracles, yet I know I've never really prayed as you prayed.
Christ, have mercy.


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The call came on a Sunday after church just as we were sitting down to lunch. "Eric's vital signs are dropping. We think this may be it. You'd better come." It was the Palliative Care Nurse, one of the dozens of hospital and hospice staff people who supported Eric and his family over the five years he lived with bone cancer. She met me as I came in the door of the hospice where Eric had lived for five months -- a much longer stay than most of their patients who usually died within weeks.


Good morning, boys and girls. Do you know what a hard-boiled egg is? (Let them answer.) I brought two eggs with me this morning. One is hard-boiled. When I crack its shell I can eat it. The other is not hard-boiled. It's like Humpty-Dumpty. When I crack it, it will break. Sometimes your parents may give you a hard-boiled egg for lunch. When they do, you trust them that it is really hard-boiled. Your parents wouldn't give you an egg like Humpty-Dumpty, would they?

It is very important that you can trust your parents. When you

Special Occasion