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Stale Bread and Sour Wine

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In this week’s lectionary gospel text, Jesus tells the disciples that “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” At first, of course, that aphorism strikes us as counterintuitive -- but as team member Dean Feldmeyer points out in this installment of The Immediate Word, it really is just common sense. Like household staples such as bread and wine, Jesus is telling us that life cannot be hoarded -- it has a limited “shelf life,” and as such needs to be used, needs to be broken, poured out, and shared with others. To do otherwise is to condemn our lives to withering away and dying without achieving their ultimate purpose. Dean lifts up contemporary examples of people who saved their lives (and those of others) by “losing their own” through sacrificial giving. We don’t necessarily have to literally give up our lives (though we may be called to) in order to “deny ourselves and take up our cross.” Instead, Dean suggests that we can live out the way Jesus has called us to in all manner of small ways. Yet the examples he cites demonstrate the common thread of living in service to others -- even if the cost to ourselves is great in the eyes of the world.

Team member Beth Herrinton-Hodge shares some additional thoughts on the Romans text and the outline Paul offers for Christian living. The apostle obviously is addressing aspects of interpersonal behavior -- but as Beth notes, these are important guidelines for international relations as well. Some might disagree, feeling that this is naive in a world full of dangerous characters. But Paul implicitly answers this objection when he writes: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never, avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God.” There may be times when we cannot live peaceably -- but even if we are aggrieved, our leaders ought not to seek justice in the form of vengeance. Using the example of President Trump’s speech last week on U.S. Afghanistan policy going forward, Beth explores the possible implications of Paul’s precepts for our involvement throughout the world.

 

Stale Bread and Sour Wine
by Dean Feldmeyer
Matthew 16:21-28

Here’s a truism to ponder: If you try to save bread, you will lose it. It will grow stale, get moldy, and be gone.

Here’s another: If you try to save wine, you will lose it. It will go sour, evaporate, and be gone.

And another: If you try to save up your life, you will lose it. You will grow lonely and old and die, and it will be gone.

One cannot help but wonder if that is why, on the night that he was betrayed, Jesus used bread and wine as symbols for his life and ours. Bread, wine, and life are plentiful but perishable. They last but a short while, and the only way they have any value at all is not when we try to save them up but when we allow them to be broken and poured out and shared with our brothers and sisters.

This week we will look at four people who allowed their lives, their careers, their memories to be broken and poured out for others -- and in doing so found their lives, just as Jesus promised that they would.

In the News
Our culture tends to revere people who allow their lives to be broken and poured out for others. Often we build statues to honor them... but sometimes not.

With all the recent controversy surrounding the subject of statues of Confederate generals, you’d think we would have come across one of General William Mahone. But most of us have never heard of him, much less seen a statue in his honor. That’s because he has only one statue, and that is at the site of the Battle of the Crater where he distinguished himself as a leader and strategist. So competent was he that Robert E. Lee picked Mahone as his successor should he fall in battle. But it’s Mahone’s post-war career that keeps his statues noticeably absent from parks and lawns in the South.

Mahone was one of the founding members of the Readjuster Party, an independent coalition of black and white Republicans and white Democrats that governed the state of Virginia from 1879 to 1883: “A black-majority party, the Readjusters legitimated and promoted African-American citizenship and political power by supporting black suffrage, office-holding, and jury service. To a degree previously unseen in Virginia, and unmatched anywhere else in the 19th-century South, the Readjusters became an institutional force for the protection and advancement of black rights and interests.”

That was before Jim Crow and Confederate revisionism became part of America’s consciousness. It was before the “Cult of the Lost Cause” tried, by erecting statues, to erase from our collective memories things like segregation, disenfranchisement, lynching, peonage, and second-class citizenship across the board.

The monuments were not merely commemorative, says University of Chicago historian Jane Dailey: “They were designed to conceal a past that their designers wanted to suppress. That past was the period after Reconstruction and before Jim Crow, years in which African-Americans in the former Confederacy exercised political power, ran for public office, published newspapers, marched as militias, ran businesses, organized voluntary associations, built schools and churches: a time, in other words, when they participated as full members of society.”

So William Mahone, who is considered in many parts of the South to be a traitor, sacrificed his exalted position in the confederate pantheon in the pursuit of justice.

Comedian Jerry Lewis died last week at the age of 91. I remember in my childhood demanding that my parents take us to see every Jerry Lewis movie as soon as it came to our local drive-in theater. And I remember our car being filled with laughter and popcorn. Even my dad, who rarely laughed out loud at anything, laughed at Jerry Lewis movies.

Whether or not he was a comic genius, he was certainly an innovator. He wrote, produced, directed, and starred in The Bellboy but gave himself no spoken lines. He invented the always hilarious comedy shtick of directing an invisible orchestra. He is also credited with introducing to filmmaking the industry-standard Kudelski Nagra sound recorder and the “video assist,” which allows directors to see scenes immediately instead of waiting 24 hours for the film to be developed. (Turner Classic Movies will celebrate Lewis’s film legacy on Labor Day [Sept. 4] this year with a “marathon” showing of five of his movies.)

Lewis could easily have taken all that to the bank, purchased a South Seas island with the money it made for him, and forgotten about the rest of the world.

But as you know, he did not. Instead he took on a cause, the cause of finding a cure for muscular dystrophy.  And while some chose to criticize him for the way he raised the money, there is no denying the good that came from the $2.6 billion he raised over the 48 years that he organized and hosted his annual Labor Day telethon. His agent of 30 years, Jeff Witjas, says that even though Lewis was always busy entertaining with films or appearances, he was also working all year on the telethon, and for no other reason than it was the only way he knew how to help those who suffered from the debilitating disease.

Dick Gregory died last week as well. He was 84. Baby boomers will remember him as a comedian who made us laugh at our own silly prejudices and stereotypes. He was the first black comedian to make it big on the nightclub circuit and on late-night television talk shows, paving the way for the mainstream success of comics like Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, and Redd Foxx. 

His slow, cool delivery came across as non-threatening and non-confrontational, allowing him to joke openly and frankly about race in ways that people could laugh at and take seriously at the same time. For example, there’s his classic response to a waitress in a southern diner who tells him “I’m sorry, we don’t serve colored people here.” Gregory’s riposte: “That’s okay -- I don’t eat colored people. I’ll have a whole fried chicken.”

Certainly Gregory could have ridden his gift for comedy to fame and fortune, but he put it all on the line after
he received an invitation from civil rights leader Medgar Evers to speak at voter registration rallies in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. That, he said, launched him into what he called “the civil rights fight.”

“This isn’t a revolution of black against white; this is a revolution of right against wrong,” he told one audience. “And right has never lost.” Later he demonstrated against the Vietnam war and became a force for better nutrition in black schools and neighborhoods.

His Los Angeles Times obituary notes that “his activism took a huge financial toll on Gregory in lost bookings and the cost of travel and other expenses. But as he put it: ‘I found somethin’ that made me feel better inside than comedy.’ ”

As Gregory told Ebony magazine a few years ago: “I am still more inclined to go and march for a young man wrongfully killed in Harlem than do a gig at a university. Once the movement is in you, it’s there. It never leaves.”

And finally let us remember Tony de Brum, who died last week at the age of 72.

Tony was a politician. The former foreign minister of the Marshall Islands spent his entire adult life working to save those islands so his grandchildren would not have to move from them. They are currently in danger of being swallowed by the ocean, as global climate change is raising the sea level.

It was to that end that he worked diligently at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit for an agreement to limit carbon emissions. Before that, however, he was active in the movement to stop nuclear proliferation. As a child, he saw atomic bombs being tested in the Marshall Islands, his home, and was aware firsthand of the devastation they could wreak not just on the population but on the infrastructure and ecology of a place as well.

An activist to the end, he was still working at his two favorite causes when he died last week.

In the Scriptures
In the Matthew text for this week (16:21-28), Jesus begins to level with his disciples about the path he has decided to take, the one that leads to his suffering and death in Jerusalem.

Shocked and dismayed by this news, Peter takes him aside for a gentle rebuke. “God forbid it, Lord. This must never happen to you.” Apparently Peter and the rest have big plans for Jesus, and they don’t include him being killed. And never mind this nonsense about being raised from the dead on the third day. That’s not how a successful coup d’état works.

But Jesus is having none of their wrongheaded schemes and plans. In fact, he sees their ideas as a stumbling block, an obstacle that he must overcome if he is to be obedient to his calling. So forcefully does he believe this that the strongest rebuke spoken by Jesus in the scriptures is this one that he speaks to Peter and the disciples (who are stand-ins for the church): “Get behind me, Satan!”

He follows this scathing command with a warning that those who truly want to follow him must “take up their cross,” a phrase that would have been all but meaningless before Good Friday. This is why many biblical scholars believe that this story is as much Matthew speaking to the church as Jesus speaking to the disciples. The early church knows precisely what it means to “take up your cross.” They know that the way of Jesus is the way of the cross, the way that leads to Calvary. But they also know that ultimately it leads to Easter as well.

In the following paragraph, Jesus softens his tone but not his message. The message is a paradox that is hard to understand, and when understood hard to swallow.

“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

In the musical Hello, Dolly, Dolly Levi paraphrases Sir Francis Bacon when she says that “Money is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.” (Bacon ended the axiom after the word “around.”) 

But as it turns out, money is not the only thing that is like that. Matthew’s gospel account says nearly the same thing about life in general. It’s wasted if you hoard it. The only way it does any good is when you break it up, pour it out, and spread it around.

In the Pulpit
If your church celebrates communion on the first Sunday of the month, the themes of brokenness and poured out-ness are rich metaphors that need not end with the sermon. They can be explored in words from the pulpit and then acted out in the pouring out of the wine and the breaking of the bread as well.

The metaphor of the cross is no less rich than the wine and bread. The four examples from the news show us people who took up their particular crosses and bore them on behalf of those who were powerless or sick or oppressed or in danger.

Examples from your own experience or that of the community may be added to or substituted for those offered here, with the conclusion that Jesus is calling us to take up our own cross. He doesn’t say that we must take up his cross but that we must take up our own, and when we find and take up that cross we will have found out what it means to live the purposeful, abundant, eternal, and authentic life.

Finally, the themes of brokenness and poured out-ness, of taking up our cross to follow Jesus, can be explored beyond their implications for individual Christians. They can be applied to the church as well.

In April of this year, Ed Stetzer, holder of the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair at Wheaton College and the executive director of the Billy Graham Center there, wrote an essay for the Washington Post titled “If it doesn’t stem its decline, mainline Protestantism has just 23 Easters left.”

The piece speaks of several studies and surveys that show a steady decline in membership and attendance in mainline Protestant churches. In the body of the essay he softens the tone that is set in the title, but he does warn that unless the mainline churches return to a more conservative theology they are doomed to oblivion.

This piece has already raised more than a few enthusiastic conversations on several topics, not the least of which concerns our calling as and what it means to be the church. It is well argued that if our only purpose and goal is to save our churches, then it will be stale bread and sour wine we are serving at communion and we shall surely die, even as Jesus predicts in today’s gospel reading. 

Rather, it is in discovering our cross, picking it up, and marching with Jesus to Calvary that we will, in the end, find an authenticity and purpose that will give strength to the church and prepare it for its ministry to God’s people now in the 21st century.

 

SECOND THOUGHTS
Interpersonal Behaviors or International Policy?
by Beth Herrinton-Hodge
Romans 12:9-21

My grandmother had a stitching sampler of the Lord’s Prayer hanging over the breakfast table in her kitchen. We weren’t a family that regularly prayed before our meals, but that sampler was a continual reminder of the Lord’s presence. I wonder what effect it might have if each of us made a stitching sampler using the text from Romans 12:16-21 (NRSV):

Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

How might our daily lives be different if we had a constant reminder of these directives from scripture? How might our communities, our nation, our world be different?

I think Paul would be pleased with a stitching sampler like this displayed in a Christian home. In his letter to the Romans, Paul’s pivot in chapter 12 focuses on admonitions for ethical, grace-filled living among those who follow Christ. To keep Paul’s words ever before us reminds us of our ongoing call to personal transformation and spiritual worship.

In his Interpretation commentary onRomans, Paul Achtemeier notes that in chapter 12 Paul illuminates the effects of grace and grace-filled living within a variety of circles of human society (p. 194). “Living under the Lordship of God means a life under the structuring power of grace. That power transforms not only individuals, but the individuals’ relationship to the community around them” (p. 195). God’s grace affects the whole of human life. Life in God’s grace involves shaping our lives to the structure of grace rather than to the structures of the world. Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2 lay out the Christian’s call to personal transformation by and toward the will of God.

Verses 9-12 outline personal postures and behavior which display grace-filled living. “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good” (v. 9). “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering” (v. 12). These detail qualities that exhibit personal transformation.

Paul is concerned with more than personal transformation, even as this is a central mark of one’s allegiance to God and Christ. Paul writes to individuals in communities -- Christian communities -- who have been adopted into God’s family by the power of the Spirit. The grace with which Christians live their lives is embodied in the ways people live and love and treat one another in Christian community. The verses in the stitching sampler carry clear implications for interpersonal behavior among Christians. Beyond their faith community, Christians display the gifts of God’s grace in relationship with other Christians and in relationships within the larger society.

Verses 13-15 address actions with and toward other people. “Bless those who persecute you” (v. 14). “Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep” (v. 15). “Contribute to the needs of the saints [of others]” (v. 13). These actions are appropriate behaviors to show toward fellow Christians as well as individuals in society at large.

Paul’s readers, in ancient Rome as well as in this century, live in widely differing societies. Instead of being called away from, or conforming to, the secular societies in which we are immersed, we continue to live where we are but with a different set of values and with differing allegiances. We live in the world, but not of the world. We are not dependent of the powers and principalities of the world to make peace. We trust in God’s overarching bend toward peace and justice.

While verses 13-21 can be lived out as interpersonal behaviors between individuals within society, could they also be applied to relationships between communities, between various societal groups, and between nations? Paul suggests that even if we are aggrieved, our leaders ought not to seek justice in the form of vengeance. Yes, we need a strong military -- but Paul’s paradigm intimates that we will have far more influence over our enemies in the long run through humanitarian endeavors. Transformational, grace-filled living would focus on feeding the hungry -- even if they are our enemies -- for this is the most effective form of vengeance (“by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads”).

Last week, President Trump gave a speech outlining his approach to the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Trump said that “a successful military effort was a necessary precondition to political reconciliation.” In the words of the New York Times editorial board, the president indicated that what we are left with in our entanglement with Afghanistan is “a set of intentions, which are what? Nothing less than ‘victory,’ he said, because ‘in the end, we will win.’ But what constitutes victory, and will Americans fight on foreign soil until every terrorist is dead? ‘Attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge,’ he proclaimed, which seemed a million miles away from his earlier doubts about foreign entanglements.” Does our nation seek to overcome evil for evil, or absent a “victory” after 19 years of fighting, is there a way to confront evil with good?

Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, offered such a consideration in a New York Times op-ed piece: “The only conceivable path to success lies in fostering stable and effective institutions of government that can police their own territory with diminishing amounts of outside assistance. In other words, nation-building. And that is what United States forces are trying to do in Afghanistan, albeit with insufficient resources and support from Washington, where successive presidents have insisted on defining the mission in narrowly counterterrorist terms. The easiest -- though far from easy -- nation-building efforts are focused on building up the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.”

Is there a way to involve other nations in the quest for peace in the region? Indian journalist Barkha Dutt noted in the Washington Post that “when Trump declared that ‘another critical part of the South Asia strategy for America is to further develop its strategic partnership with India, the world’s largest democracy and a key security and economic partner of the United States,’ it was certainly an official acknowledgment of India as the dominant -- and responsible -- power in the region. The appeal from POTUS [president of the United States] in this regard will further strengthen USA-India-Afghanistan collaboration.”

Dutt continued: “India is Afghanistan’s largest regional donor -- just last year, it pledged $1 billion in aid to Kabul. It has built more than 2,500 miles of road in Afghanistan, power projects, and even the country’s new parliament building. No government in Delhi will take orders from Washington on its Afghanistan policy. However, Trump’s address underscores the legitimacy of India’s strategic involvement in Afghanistan and presents an opportunity for even more direct engagement.”

Is it possible to make these stitching sampler verses of Paul’s the basis for foreign relations? Or does Paul only speak about individual application of these pronouncements? To be sure, the United States in not an expressly Christian nation. Undoubtedly, you and I as Christians are admonished to live in harmony with one another, to seek to overcome evil for good. Can we also seek to not avenge ourselves, as individuals and as a nation, instead leaving room for the work of God? For the greater good? More importantly, how might we faithfully embody overcoming evil with good? “If [our] enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink” (v. 20). What does this look like in a national or international arena?

 

ILLUSTRATIONS

From team member Mary Austin:

Exodus 3:1-15
Surprise Appearance
God’s manifestation in the burning bush surprises Moses -- who doesn’t expect to encounter God at all that day, and certainly not in a bush. The divine is often revealed in surprising ways. In several big cities, the “Mass mob” movement gets big crowds of people into aging urban parishes. Flash mob-style, people choose a parish and send out word on social media. On Sunday morning, hundreds of people show up for Mass.   

In Detroit, “St. Florian Church in Hamtramck is an eight-story, red-brick church built in 1908 by the Polish families who flocked here to work for Dodge, Ford, and Packard. It seats 1,500 people, but normally only about 200 people attend noon Mass. On a recent Sunday, Thom Mann, an organizer with Detroit Mass Mob who’s not a regular at St. Florian, had to get here early because, he says, ‘there’ll be standing room only.’ ‘People are upset that the churches are closing, but the simple reason is, people don’t go,’ Mann says.” 

At a Mass mob event at St. Florian parish, 2,000 people showed up. Mass mob participant Thom Kinney says “there’s something special about coming to Mass with so many other people. ‘To be in attendance when it’s full, as opposed to just the sparse. There’s an electricity that’s amazing,’ he says.” The priest, Rev. Mirek Frankowski, says that the large crowd almost made him cry. 

In the surprise of a large crowd, people experience God in a different way than on an ordinary Sunday. 

***** 

Exodus 3:1-15
Surprise -- It’s Good for Us!
Most surprises in our lives are not as dramatic as Moses encountering God at the burning bush, but researchers now say that some form of surprise in our lives is good for us. A 2015 book says that we have four responses to surprise. In Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected, Tania Luna and Leeann Renninger say that our responses to surprise are:
* Freeze -- when we are stopped in our tracks because of the unexpected
* Find -- when we get hooked into trying to understand what’s going on/how this happened
* Shift -- when we begin to shift our perspectives, based on conflicting findings
* Share -- when we feel the pull to share our surprises with others

Further, “Each stage can be manipulated or ‘hacked’ to encourage more surprise in our lives. For example, when we are in the ‘find’ phase of surprise, it can help us to adopt a stance of curiosity, asking questions rather than looking for answers right away, which can lead to worldview shifts. So, let’s say you are a Democrat and feel that all Republicans are ‘crazy’ -- then you meet a Republican and fall into a very sane, thoughtful conversation. This experience may make you stop and, if you are willing, get curious. It might even make you think about political disagreements in new ways.” 

The surprise of God’s presence catapults Moses into a dramatically different life. The same may happen for us when we cultivate surprise in our lives. 

***** 

Romans 12:9-21
Overcoming Evil with Good
Paul writes to the churches in Rome to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa has spent his life working to overcome the evil of apartheid with reconciliation. In addition to his church work, he chaired the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which met formally from 1995 to 1998.

Archbishop Tutu was 63 years old when he was able to vote for the first time. Describing that moment when good overcame evil, he says, “How do you describe falling in love? I mean, people asked then when we voted for the first time. It was an incredible experience. For you, going to the poll box is really a political act. For us, it was a religious act. It was a spiritual experience because, you know, you walked into the polling booth one person with all of the history of oppression and injustice and all the baggage that we were carrying and you walk and you make your mark and you put the ballot into the box and you emerge on the other side. And you are a different person. You are transfigured. Now you actually count in your own country. You -- hey, I mean, it really was a cloud nine experience. We were transformed from ciphers into persons.” 

***** 

Matthew 16:21-28
Saving and Losing
Jesus reminds the disciples that if we try to hold onto our lives, we end up losing them.  Paradoxically, the things we grasp tightly slip away from us, and the things we’re willing to lose remain and grow stronger. Jane Hwangbo, a former a portfolio manager for hedge funds, writes that as a child of Asian immigrants, “my sister and I were taught the importance of creating a life to make and have money with relentless rigor, to establish a traditionally reputable career. Our parents wanted us to have everything they thought they could never have: financial stability and social acceptance. We lived like hostages to money and everything they believed it could buy.”  

Her parents bought houses, fixed them up, and sold them for a profit. “Because we didn’t have enough money to rent and live somewhere else during construction,” Hwangbo remembers, “my sister and I learned to live half indoors, half outdoors until we left for college. After a night of cold rain, I would peel the soaked sheets off my body and wade to the breakfast table past wood splinters and debris floating around my ankles. I had to remember to leave my large maroon backpack on the chair the evening before to avoid my books getting soaked from the setting water on the floor. A recession was a welcome relief. A halt in the economy meant that we would have difficulty selling the home, and my sister and I could live in a completed house for just a little while longer.” 

Her parents believed they were saving their lives, and were really losing them to the endless grind of this kind of life. “My mother and father thought they could never stop. Each house became progressively bigger, the neighborhoods more exclusive, our cars more European. All the while, my sister and I suffered quietly with the ironies of our daily life. There was no money for vacations, pets, or charity. My parents kept running as though we were one dollar away from being left behind forever.”
 
Thinking of Ernest Hemingway saying that “the world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places,” she says: “I had completely lost myself after 42 years of buying into the American consumerist tradition. I felt that no one could hear me. When I finally sold my piles of unneeded things, including my big white house on a hill, to pursue my own dreams I saw that there may be great hope for us all after the breaking.” If we are willing to lose our life, we will also gain it back. 

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

From team member Ron Love:

Exodus 3:1-15
I went to fill out a form the other day, and printed on it were the usual marital status questions. They began with married or single. I was surprised that what followed were the new categories of living with a same-sex or opposite-sex partner. But what really surprised me was in place of asking if I was divorced (which I am), the question was if I was “unmarried.” I had a female theological professor some 40 years of age -- who was an expert in the theology of Karl Barth -- who gave a lecture on how long one has to be divorced before you are considered single again. I have for years wanted to respond as “single,” but the legalistic side of me would not allow it. I am pleased to have the new freedom to check the box “unmarried” instead of “divorced.”

Application: Exodus teaches us the importance of the identity that comes with a name.

***** 

Jeremiah 15:15-21
The remarks that President Trump made regarding the violence in Charlottesville have caused many business leaders to disassociate themselves from him, as well as some Republican politicians to withdraw their support of the president. Trump’s bombastic words in support of white supremacists may have spoken to his base, but for the rational constituency of this country his words represented a man who is a segregationist, though he claims to love everyone. Regarding the vulgarity of Trump, the news media most often quoted Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, who said the president “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs.” 

Application: Jeremiah understood who he was to associate with, and they were no merrymakers.

***** 

Jeremiah 15:15-21
Unfortunately, our president is unable to distinguish between “fake news” and authentic news. President Trump is addicted to cable talk shows, and reportedly compulsively watches them all day. It is reported that many politicians try to get on a cable talk show so they can have an audience with the president. Whenever a critical remark is made of his presidency on a cable talk show, Trump responds with an equally offensive and aggressive tweet. Trump then declares the cable show as presenting fake news, which it is because it is a talk show. Cable talk shows are a form of reality TV. Cable talk shows express opinions that are not accountable to be factual. And to improve ratings, the more fake news they can have the president tweet on, the better their ratings. Why the president concerns himself with talk TV is a mystery to every sane person. Real news is reported by NBC, CBS, and ABC. Real news is reported by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times. These institutions could not maintain their global standing if the news they reported was not accurate. The president is justified in calling cable talk shows fake news, but he is very misguided when he confuses cable talk shows as being real and authentic news.

Application: Jeremiah knew the difference between fake news and real news.

***** 

Romans 12:9-21
As I am severely afflicted with Asperger’s syndrome, I find my friendship in the four four-footed companions who reside with me, as two-footed companions seem to be very scarce in my life. When I come home, whether I’ve been gone for five minutes or five hours, my dog greets me as if I was just rescued from being marooned on a desert island. Shadow leaps, and kisses, and dances circles. According to my veterinarian, I must give Shadow at least 15 minutes to rejoice at the homecoming. On the other hand, my three cats have little interest in homecomings. If I should see one of my cats as I walk through the door, I will be lucky to have a raised head of acknowledgment before the plump of fur once again naps. The only time I am assured of a homecoming is when they hear the sound of their dinner bowls being filled.

Application: What does this have to do with our reading from Romans? It means we are to have a sense of equality where everyone is greeted with the dance of a homecoming.

***** 

Matthew 16:21-28
I got my dog, a mixed-breed that is predominantly lab, from an animal shelter in Sumter, which is about a 45-minute drive from where I live in Florence, South Carolina. She was in a cage -- and that is the best way to describe it -- with a dozen other dogs. But somehow this black dog with a white chest and a little pink spot on her lower lip connected with me. I could just hear her saying “take me home.” She was a terribly abused dog. My veterinarian showed me where wire had been wrapped around the dog and pulled so hard as to remove the hair, including the follicles below the skin. This has left her with some permanent stripes of bare skin. As with all new pets, there comes the naming process. There is a series of trial and error until the name that just seems most appropriate pops out of nowhere. I have been living in my home for 11 years, so I am able to navigate it without turning on any lights. I can even refill a cup of coffee in the dark. One dark evening I was in the kitchen getting coffee and I turned around -- and in the shadow of the room my new black furry friend stood behind me. And that became her name – Shadow, because she followed me around the house like a shadow. It was, for me, and I think for her, the perfect name.

Application: As followers of Jesus we are to be his shadows.

***** 

Matthew 16:21-28
I enjoy my hour-long afternoon walks, and of course Shadow, my new four-legged friend, went with me the first day she was home. The walk went well for about a half-hour, when suddenly Shadow laid down on the street and would not get up. When I looked at her, all four feet were bleeding. Spending months in a cage with a cement floor caused Shadow to lose her padding, so the cement road lacerated her feet. I carried her home, and then went to see my veterinarian. In order for Shadow to heal, she could not go on any walks with me for six weeks. You can imagine how awful I felt when I first saw her feet along the side of the road. But then, how could I know the walk would hurt her feet in such a manner? The thought never even occurred to me. But after the six weeks of convalescence, we have been walking the streets for years now.

Application: We need to be followers of Jesus, but in doing so we must be aware of our limits.

***** 

Matthew 16:21-28
As I walk my dog Shadow each afternoon in the South Carolina heat, I am surprised by the same thing. When the wind is to my back, I never notice that it is pushing me along. But once I turn and face the wind head-on, I am suddenly surprised at the strength of its resistance. It baffles me why one goes unnoticed and the other is more than apparent.

Application: Being a follower of Jesus will have pleasant times and times of resistance.

***** 

Matthew 16:21-28
Every afternoon my dog Shadow and I walk for an hour in the South Carolina heat. At the end of the hour I collapse on my front porch, and Shadow has that look that says she is just getting started. I wonder why is it that she has so much more energy. In dog years, she is about the same age as me. Is it her pointed nose that cuts the wind, as opposed to my belly that creates resistance? Is it her four feet instead of my two that propel us along? Is it that she is low to the ground, while I stand almost six feet above it? It cannot be her fur coat, since I wear a sweatshirt and sweatpants. Or, for those who believe in evolution like me, it is how God made us -- each body, hers and mind, serving a divergent and special function.

Application: As we are called to be followers of Jesus, we need to understand the function we will play in that calling, in that role.

***** 

Labor Day
We do not debate the religious birthright of our nation, for that discussion was concluded long ago during a period of national crisis and despair. The religious sentiment aroused by the War Between the States resulted in this instruction, penned in a letter dated November 20, 1861, from Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase to James Pollock, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia, to prepare a God-fearing motto: “No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in his defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins. You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.” The words “In God We Trust” were thus inscribed on our currency.

Application: On Labor Day we recognize everyone who has sacrificed to make our nation strong and productive.

***** 

Labor Day
Is it so wrong to be the Charlie Browns of the community? In a Peanuts cartoon Linus and Charlie are standing behind the thinking wall, Charlie with a profound look of despair upon his face -- causing Linus to ask: “You seem bothered by something, Charlie Brown...” To which he receives this oration: “I keep having this daydream, I see myself years from now at a huge banquet.... The master of ceremonies is introducing the head table, and when he gets to me, I am introduced as a ‘former great.’ ” To which Linus inquisitively replies, “Before you can be a ‘former great,’ Charlie Brown, you have to be a ‘great.’ ” Perplexed, Charlie answers: “That’s what bothers me!” So what is great?

Application: Great are the people who have labored to make our country one the greatest in the annals of history.

 

WORSHIP RESOURCES
by George Reed

Call to Worship
Leader: O give thanks to God; call on God’s name.
People: Make known God’s deeds among the peoples.
Leader: Sing to God, sing praises.
People: Tell of all God’s wonderful works.
Leader: Glory in the holy name of our God.
People: Let the hearts of those who seek God rejoice.

OR

Leader: God calls us to life and to death. 
People: We rejoice in life, but we fear death.
Leader: Our life is found only in our death. 
People: How can we find life in death?
Leader: Jesus showed us that God’s life is greater than death.
People: We will follow Jesus and give our lives to find them.

Hymns and Sacred Songs
“Take My Life, and Let It Be”
found in:
UMH: 399
H82: 707
PH: 391
NNBH: 213
NCH: 448
CH: 609
LBW: 406
ELA: 583, 585
W&P: 466
AMEC: 292
Renew: 150

“Alleluia, Alleluia”
found in:
UMH: 162
H82: 178
PH: 106
CH: 40
W&P: 291
Renew: 271

“All My Hope Is Firmly Grounded”
found in:
UMH: 132
H82: 665
NCH: 408
CH: 88
ELA: 757

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

“Take Up Thy Cross”
found in:
UMH: 415
H82: 675
PH: 393
LBW: 398
ELA: 667
W&P: 351
AMEC: 294

“For the Bread Which You Have Broken”
found in:
UMH: 614, 615
H82: 340, 341
PH: 508, 509
CH: 411
LBW: 200
ELA: 494

“Bread of the World”
found in:
UMH: 624
H82: 301
PH: 502
NCH: 346
CH: 387
W&P: 693

“Hymn of Promise”
found in:
UMH: 707
NCH: 433
CH: 638
W&P: 515

“God, You Are My God”
found in:
CCB: 60

“Take Our Bread”
found in:
CCB: 50

Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982 (The Episcopal Church)
PH: Presbyterian 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
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day / Collect
O God who created us as human beings by placing your own Spirit within us: Grant us the wisdom to realize that life is more than a breathing body. Help us to understand that our life is your life, and that it is eternal. Give us the courage to give our lives away so that we may find them anew; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

OR

We praise you, O God, for you breathed into us your own Spirit and made us human. Give us wisdom to understand that it is not the air in our lungs that makes us alive but your Spirit in our very being. Give us courage to give away our lives so that we may find them renewed in you. Amen.  

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins, and especially our failure to understand that life is in the Spirit and not just the body.

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We are so concerned about our physical lives. We worry about our looks, our weight, and our general health. We don’t like to talk about death, and especially not our own. We act like our physical breath is the most important thing in the whole universe. Yet our spiritual life is almost never on our minds. The most important part of our being we disregard. Forgive us, and renew us in your Spirit that we may find our life in you. Amen.

Leader: God desires that we have abundant life that is based on the eternal. Receive God’s love and the renewing of God’s Spirit within you, so that you may freely give your life away as you find it again.

Prayers of the People (and the Lord’s Prayer)
We praise you, O God, for the wonder of our lives. We are in awe of the wonder of our physical bodies, and they pale before the reality of our spiritual self. 

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

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We are so concerned about our physical lives. We worry about our looks, our weight, and our general health. We don’t like to talk about death, and especially not our own. We act like our physical breath is the most important thing in the whole universe. Yet our spiritual life is almost never on our minds. The most important part of our being we disregard. Forgive us, and renew us in your Spirit that we may find our life in you.

We thank you for all the blessings of this life, and especially for your Spirit that makes us who we are. We thank you for those who have taught us the importance of caring for our spirit so that we may live in your Spirit. 

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another in our need and for those anywhere who seek to find life in you. We pray for the blessings of your Spirit to be poured out on our world that needs you so much.

(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
Leave a piece of bread out for the week until it is really stale and (if you are lucky) moldy. Tell the children about this wonderful bread you found that is really good, and that you saved some for them. Then pull out the yucky bread. Talk about how it was good, but trying to save it didn’t work. We are like that. We can’t save our love -- it just evaporates. We have to give it away, and then we find it is new all over again. (Talking about love instead of life might be easier for the children... or not.)

 

CHILDREN’S SERMON
What’s in a Name?
by Chris Keating
Exodus 3:1-15

Ahead of time:
* Read Exodus 3:1-15.
* View the “burning bush” scene from Prince of Egypt (click here to see on Youtube).
* Research the meaning of your first name and of the names of some other adults who are likely to be present on Sunday. (For example: “Chris” is short for “Christopher,” which in Greek means “Christ bearer” or “one who carries Christ.” Fact: St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers.) You might also include names of the children who will likely be present. If time is short, you may want to only include names of adults so that children don’t feel picked on or left out. Include a short, interesting fact about the name. (Ideas: include Sunday school teachers, youth advisors, musicians, or church staff who will be present. A baby name book or an internet site can be useful. Be sure to include some little fact about the name aside from its root meaning.)

Moses’ encounter with the burning bush offers an important learning opportunity for children in worship. Depending on time and the availability of technology, you may choose to introduce the story by using the clip from Prince of Egypt. (Be sure to check your congregation’s copyright licensing for videos, however.) The scene in Prince of Egypt is a nice contrast to the rather antiquated view of God calling Moses as portrayed by Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments. The DreamWorks version of Moses’ story captures the holiness of the moment, rendering Moses vulnerable to God’s transcendent nature without feelings of slapstick comedy or bad special effects.

Become familiar with the story so that you can tell it easily and comfortably. As the children gather, tell them that you’ve found out something very interesting today. You’ve found out the meaning of some of their names, or the names of the people who are involved at church. Have one of the adults on your “name list” stand. (Be sure to arrange this in advance!) Ask the children: “Who is this? It’s Mr./Ms. Garcia! Do you know Mr. or Mrs. Garcia’s first name?” Then share with them the meaning of the person’s name. (If the meaning of the person’s name resembles some aspect of their personality, this could become fun). 

Help the children know that names are very important. We do not make fun of people because of their name, even if it is unfamiliar or hard to say. Our names remind us of our parent’s love and that we are unique. If you have had time to look up the meaning of their names, or if you have a baby name book handy, you can share with them what you have discovered.

In the story of Moses and the burning bush, names are very important. First, God calls Moses by name -- sort of like a teacher calling a student or a friend trying to catch your attention. God is trying to get Moses’ attention. Then God draws Moses into a time of worship, reminding him that he needs to take off his shoes because he is standing on holy ground. (Moses probably is glad he washed between his toes!) Finally God gets Moses’ attention, and tells Moses that he is needed for an important job. God knows that the people of Israel are hurting, and so God wants them to be free. God wants Moses to be a leader. But Moses has a question. It’s a big question!

“Whom shall I tell them has sent me? Tell me your name, God!”

This job is going to be way more complicated than taking out the trash or making sure our homework is finished. God wants Moses to bring the people of Israel into freedom. That could be scary! Moses knows that Pharaoh is a powerful ruler, and very mean. If Moses is going to get Pharaoh’s attention, then he better know the name of the person who is sending him.

Have you ever wondered what God’s first name might be? That’s sort of what Moses is asking. It’s very interesting to know that our names have meanings, and also to learn why our parents named us the way they did. Names are very important because they convey our identity. As soon as you say a person’s name, you get a mental picture of who you are talking about.

God says to Moses that “I am” is sending you. Depending on the ages of the children in your church, the meaning of Yahweh may be more complicated to explain than you have time for. But we can say that because the Hebrew people loved God so much, they knew that saying God’s name was special. Because God’s name was so important, they often said “My Lord” or “Lord.” The vowels of YHWH in Hebrew spell Adonai, which is how YHWH became translated “Lord.”

The word “Yahweh” could have many meanings, including “the one who causes” or “will cause to be.” That helps us to understand the promise God makes to Moses. God has heard the cries of the people of Israel, and God will cause them to become free. God’s name tells us a bit of how God will act. In this very special moment, Moses knows that without a doubt he can tell the people of Israel God has heard their sad cries. This promise is a reminder of the presence of YHWH -- whether or not we see God in a burning bush, or feel God’s love at church, or know God’s comfort, we can know that “I am” will always be with us.

It’s a name worth knowing!

 

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


The Immediate Word, September 3, 2017, issue.

Copyright 2017 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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