Opening Prayer A Prayer for Overcoming Adversity by Girolamo Savonarola
Lord, we pray not for tranquility, nor that our tribulations may cease;
We pray for thy spirit and thy love, that thou grant us strength and grace to overcome adversity; through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Lesson from the Psalms Psalm 8 (NLT)
1 O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
Your glory is higher than the heavens.
2 You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength,
silencing your enemies and all who oppose you.
3 When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers--
the moon and the stars you set in place--
4 what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
5 Yet you made them only a little lower than God
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You gave them charge of everything you made,
putting all things under their authority--
7 the flocks and the herds and all the wild animals,
8 the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
and everything that swims the ocean currents.
9 O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
“How Great Thou Art” performed by Alan Jackson
Gospel Lesson Matthew 28:16-20 (NLT)
16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
This is the Word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
“Open My Eyes, That I May See” sung by the Joslin grove Choral Society
Let’s pray. God of love and mercy, may you bless the reading and hearing of your Word today. May it settle into the depths of our beings, that we may grow in spiritual maturity, and reflect your love and character. Amen.
This week Bishop Park issued a statement and has asked that it be read to all congregations in the Susquehanna Conference.
June 2, 2020
“How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my life from the lions!” (Psalm 35:17)
Dear Beloved Sisters and Brothers of the Susquehanna Conference,
Grace to you in the name of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, Healer of our Brokenness, and Hope of the World!
My heart is breaking as I write this pastoral letter to you. My heart cries with the Psalmist, “How long, O Lord, will you look on?” My soul is restless and disturbed. I keep praying, “Show me the way I should go” (Psalm 143:8), as I pray for people in harm's way while violent clashes continue and escalate. Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy!
It is with deep anguish, sorrow, and then righteous anger that I watched in abject horror, along with millions of people, the slow death of Mr. George Floyd. We all heard him cry out, “I can’t breathe.” We watched in stunned silence as he lay constrained and gasped his last breaths under the choking knee.
Today we are confronted by two killers who steal breath. The corona virus shortens the breath of its victims. Racism chokes the breath, both figuratively and literally, out of its victims and suffocates righteousness from society. Life requires breath. Is breathing not a basic right?
The breath of God, however, fills people with renewed life. We remember that Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). This past Sunday, we read in Acts 2 about the Pentecost experience of those early believers. While they were gathered in a house in Jerusalem, they heard the rush of a mighty wind and flames like tongues of fire rested upon each of them. People who had come to the city from many nations were able to hear, in their own languages, these Spirit-filled believers speak of God’s good news in Jesus Christ.
This breath of God changed the direction of history. It inaugurated the coming of the realm of God, a focal message that Jesus frequently proclaimed. It’s intriguing that the Risen Christ used his forty days between his resurrection and ascension to speak about the realm of God (Acts 1:3). We are reminded that Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The work of building the realm of God continues. Now we must act with courage and conviction as God’s breath of justice and righteousness in our time and place.
The miracle of Pentecost was one of both speaking and hearing. We must claim the miracle of speaking. Those of us who claim Christ’s name cannot stand idly by and allow racism free rein. We must condemn, boldly and loudly, the sin of racism. God’s people are to speak up that racism does not have a place in God’s reign.
We must also claim the miracle of hearing. We must hear the stories and the truths of victims of racism to whom we have turned a deaf ear. We must learn their language of suffering, pain, frustration, anger, hope, and resilience. We must amplify their voices.
I invite you, my sisters and brothers, to a time of prayer for the Pentecost miracle of the tongues and ears, and to repentance. We must fall on our knees and ask God to open our mouths and ears, and ask for God’s forgiveness for our silence when we should have spoken out, and our speaking when we should have been listening.
We in the Susquehanna Conference are called in our vision and mission to embody the beloved community of Christ. Martin Luther King Jr. broadened the term “beloved community” to describe a society in which no one goes hungry or homeless, racism and bigotry would be overcome by an inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood, and love and trust would triumph over fear and hate.
Beloved communities do not allow racism and prejudice to flourish. Beloved communities do not accept discrimination and violence against those who are different because of pigments of skin. Beloved communities do not, through silence, permit institutional racism. Beloved communities do not allow the cries of the oppressed to echo unanswered for generations.
As the believers at Pentecost told of God’s deeds of power, so must we raise our voices to proclaim the good news of God’s justice, righteousness, and promise of reconciliation and new life for those who turn from wicked ways. Let us as individuals and as a conference join together and rededicate ourselves to bringing the beloved community of Christ to fruition so that all may be free from the chains of hate and fear.
We are in the season of Pentecost. It’s about the fresh breath of God that creates the wind that changes the direction of human destiny toward justice, reconciliation, and peace. Let the hallowed wind of the Spirit ignite the holy fire of passion for, and commitment and dedication to, the vision of the Beloved Community of Christ, for such a time as this.
“How long, O Lord, will you look on?” As I utter those words, I must ask myself and each of you, how will we in church hasten the heralding of God’s reign? Indeed, we are in this together
With You in Christ’s Ministry,
“How long, O Lord, will you look on,” David asks in Psalm 35. It is a question maybe many have asked themselves recently. It is also a question we know we won’t know the answer to until God’s appointed time. Christ Himself says that in Matthew 24:36. So, I believe it is good that our Gospel lesson today is Matthew 28:16-20, Jesus’ Great Commission to his disciples, because it reminds us that as we wait, Jesus has given us a job to do.
I want to read the Scripture text again, this time from the Message, because I think Peterson’s choice of words is helpful.
Matthew 28:16-20 (The Message), “Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.
Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”
Jesus was ready to leave this earth and return to the Father. The disciples met him at the appointed place. But some didn’t worship him, some were still unsure. Why? Because worshipping Jesus is a commitment to him as Lord of your life. It is a commitment to live as he taught us and to carry out the holy work he’s given us. For some, that’s too much to risk.
I find it interesting that the uncertainty of a few disciples did not deter Jesus from issuing his charge to all of them. Jesus didn’t take a few minutes and try to change the minds of those who were unsure. He didn’t say, “Come on guys, look at my scars again. Remember when I walked through the unopen door?”
These were men who had witnessed his death AND resurrection. They had spent forty days with him AFTER his resurrection. Their doubt probably was not about Jesus and who he was. Their doubt was about themselves and their willingness to risk everything for his sake.
But on that day, Jesus met them where they were, and in the end, all but John died as martyrs for the Gospel, and John lived out his life in exile because of his faith.
Jesus’ commission to his followers is simple in theory. It is in the living it out that’s hard. Because living it out is risky business. Living out our faith in any real way where we truly are Christ to a broken world is not the easy way of life. It’s tough. It’s sacrificial. And it’s a choice.
With all that’s gone on since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the protests, riots, and violence that has ensued since that time,
my mind has gone back to my time in Pittsburgh.
On my first day of work, Michelle Taylor, a thirty-something African American woman, squared off with me and said this, “I just want you to know right up front that I don’t like white people.”
And by the grace of God, I said, “Okay. But if you ever need my help with anything, I’m available anytime.”
And she restated her dislike and walked away.
Now was that fair? No, it wasn’t. Did she have reason to not like me in particular? No, she didn’t. Had I ever done anything to her? No, I hadn’t.
But you see, the thing I have learned about people through the years is that this kind of anger comes from a deeper issue. Be it jealousy, sadness, neglect, abandonment, or abuse, or even what you were raised to believe or a medical condition, anger is almost always the RESULT of something.
And I am thankful to say that by the time I left the city in 2010, Michelle and I were friends. In fact, she hugged me longer than anyone else on my last day.
I believe it’s because I met her where she was that day. I accepted her and didn’t try to change her mind, and in time, she began to respect and trust me. Through the years, I learned about her upbringing, her fears and her dreams. The fact that she had been dislocated twice from affordable housing and now had to take three buses just to get to work. And yes, by God’s amazing grace, we parted as friends. But in the meantime, I learned who Michelle was and why she was angry.
So, all that being said, let’s bring this back to the Gospel message. Because our relationship with Jesus, and what we believe about his death and resurrection, is truly the key to life. For all of us. It is the key to ANY relationship we will have in this world. Because only in Jesus Christ can we be reconciled back to a right relationship with God. As Chuck Swindoll has said, “The most important thing about you, is what you believe about God.” And I believe that your belief about God will filter in and out of every area of your life, and that includes your relationships with people.
Just like my relationship with Michelle. It would have been easier to explain why she was wrong for disliking me and to explain that not all white folks are racists. It would have been even easier for me to simply walk away and try to avoid her the best I could. But all that would have been meaningless. Because there is nothing transformational about sticking up for yourself when someone else is obviously hurting, nor in walking away.
Jesus met his disciples where they were that day, even when some still doubted, and if we truly want to grow to be more Christlike, then we believe we are called to do the same.
If we are willing to take the risk to both worship Jesus, and accept his Great Commission as our own, then before we ever start even talking about Jesus’ love and forgiveness, before we quoting Bible verses to people, we first have to meet them where they are, get to know them, and hear their story.
The Great Commission is a familiar story to many of us. We get what we’re supposed to do. Perhaps what we need is to be reminded of the heart of Christ’s message. The heart of it that says that when we pray “Thy will be done, Thy Kingdom come” we are praying for God’s reign to come to earth right here and right now, through us. Because while we look forward to heaven, we also remember that one definition of heaven is a place where God’s will is done. And his will can only be done when we are willing to take the risk and face the pain and meet people, who don’t walk, talk, look, and think like us, right where they are.
Richard Rohr has said, “Those whose hearts are open to pain will see Jesus.” As Christians, we are called to open ourselves to the pain of others, and love them, as they are, without condition and judgement, as Jesus would have done.
I’ll wrap this up by joining with Bishop Park, and repeating his words, “I invite you, my sisters and brothers, to a time of prayer for the Pentecost miracle of the tongues and ears, and to repentance. We must fall on our knees and ask God to open our mouths and ears, and ask for God’s forgiveness for our silence when we should have spoken out, and our speaking when we should have been listening.”
Racism has no place in the church, in God’s Beloved Community. The only way to affect change is by listening to our African American brothers and sisters, and speaking out boldly against racism.
Let’s pray silently for a few moments and prepare ourselves to receive his grace through the bread and the cup, remembering that as Christ met the disciples where they were that day, so he meets us in the bread and the cup. Open your heart to receive His grace today.
Communion Scripture Luke 22:14-23 (NLT)
14 When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table. 15 Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. 16 For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”
17 Then he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. Then he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. 18 For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.”
19 He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
20 After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.
21 “But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me. 22 For it has been determined that the Son of Man must die. But what sorrow awaits the one who betrays him.” 23 The disciples began to ask each other which of them would ever do such a thing.
Bread & Justice a reading from the Blue Hymnal 639
O God, just as the disciples heard Christ’s words of promise and began to eat the bread and drink the wine in the suffering of a long remembrance and in the joy of a hope, grant that we may hear your words, spoken in each thing of everyday affairs:
Coffee on our table in the morning;
The simple gesture of opening a door to go out, free;
The shouts of children in the parks;
A familiar song, sung by an unfamiliar face;
A friendly tree that has not yet been cut down.
May simple things speak to us of your mercy, and tell us that life can be good.
And may these sacramental gifts make us remember those who do not receive them:
Who have their lives cut every day, in the bread absent from the table;
In the door of the hospital, the prison, the welfare home that does not open;
In sad children, feet without shoes, eyes without hope;
In war hymns that glorify death;
In deserts where once there was life.
Christ was also sacrificed; and may we learn that we can participate in the saving sacrifice of Christ when we participate in the suffering of his little ones. Amen.
A Blessing Over the Bread & Cup
Loving God, pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,
and on these gifts of bread and wine.
Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,
that we may be for the world the body of Christ,
redeemed by his blood.
By your Spirit make us one with Christ,
one with each other,
and one in ministry to all the world,
until Christ comes in final victory
and we feast at his heavenly banquet.
Through your Son Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church,
all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father,
now and forever. Amen.
Receiving the Bread & Cup
Gracious God, you are holy and righteous. Your majesty can be seen in all of creation; your goodness can be seen in you care of even the smallest sparrow; and your love can be seen most completely in your Son Jesus Christ.
Your love is steadfast, even when we fail you. Today we confess the sins of racism, our apathy, our denial. We confess the sins of silence when we should have spoken out, and our speaking when we should have been listening. Cleanse us of these things and create in us new hearts and minds in which we reflect your love and your peace.
Healing God, we lift up all who have been mentioned by name today. We pray for healing and comfort. We pray that your will be done. In all things.
We praise you God, and give thanks for your continued provision and grace,
For our church we pray for continued sustenance, wisdom, and peace, as we begin to navigate the green phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We pray all this in the name of our Savior Jesus. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
“Here I Am, Lord”
Commission & Benediction (inspired by Gen. 1:26 & 2 Cor. 13:11 & 14)
Dear brothers and sisters, I close our worship this morning with these words from the Apostle Paul: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.
Greet those you meet with God’s love, as human beings made in the image of God. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.