North Congregational UCC New Harford CT
WORSHIP: THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
April 18, 2021
(The cover banner is from Rouville Uniting by Margaret Birrell)
FOR YOUR MEDITATION:
“How can we think that if we plant hate and cruelty, we will receive kindness and generosity? Planted seeds cannot change their purpose. Maya Angelou
INVITATION TO WORSHIP:
When fear and doubts stroll enter the portal of our lives, God enters with words of hope and peace. When we toss and turn late at night and sleep escapes us, God soothes us with whispers of calmness and assurance of God’s presence. When we stumble and fall away from our best selves, God reaches out to us to support us with abundant grace and love. As we greet the morning and gather in worship we again sing God’s praises and shout alleluia Christ is with us indeed. Amen.
HYMN OF GATHERING
O Christ, your friends were gathered together in a room.
They’d heard the women’s stories about your empty tomb.
Some talked about Emmaus-they’d seen you breaking bread.
Some claimed that you were risen; some thought you still were dead.
You met your friends and showed them your wounded hands and side,
For you were Jesus risen and crucified.
You showed them God had triumphed and God had suffered pain.
And in that intersection, you made tem whole again.
You meet us in the places where all seems doomed and lost-
Where people face oppression, where children pay the cost,
Where poor ones cry in hunger, where illness takes its toll:
You meet us, suffering Savior, and make the wounded whole.
O Christ, your resurrection gives hope and life anew.
And yet your wounds and anguish give peace and promise, too.
For you’ve been there before us! Now send us out to be
A Church that bears your suffering and claims your victory.
God of Easter surprises, touch us with your grace. Show us your hands, so we may reach out to mend the broken; show us your feet, so we may walk with those the world passes by; show us your face, so we may know who are our brothers and sisters throughout the world. Risen Christ, touch us with your compassion. Open our eyes so we may see god’s love and open our lips so we may be God’s witnesses. Spirit of hope, touch us with your peace. Amen.
See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. Everyone who commits a sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you something to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you-that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
May God bless this reading and add to our understanding what God is asking of us this day.
HYMN OF PREPARATION
In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed an apple tree;
In cocoons a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
In our end is our beginning; in our time infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection; at the last a victory.
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
Living as a Child of God
The Rev. Art Yost
We used to love to play games in my family. I liked them a little more than my sister. By games, I don’t mean psychological games. I certainly don’t mean video games. We’d pull out the card table and four folding chairs and sit down to play board games. The games we liked back then were Parcheesi, Monopoly, Eddie Cantor Game “Tell It To The Judge”, Star Reporter, Scrabble, and of course 500 rummy. But the most interesting game was one called The Five Senses. In researching this sermon, I found out there is a Danish TV show by that name which MGM recently purchased the rights to in order to put a similar show on T.V. in England and The United States.
The idea of the game was to use each of the five senses- sight, sound, smell, taste and touch to identify something chosen by the other team. Of course you would be blindfolded for all the senses. Sight was handled by verbal descriptions and this was differentiated from the sound sense because the sound came from whatever you had as an object. Dad and I versus Mom and Sis was the usual teams we set up. A perfect team score would be 10 points (5×2). Many objects were pleasant for the senses-some not so much. The bad ones were, for example, sound of chalk on chalkboard, smell of hot mustard, taste of vinegar, and touch of wet noodles.
In the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel, he writes about numerous accounts of how the disciples experienced the reality of the resurrection. As the women journeyed to the tomb of Jesus, they carried with them the spices they were going to use to prepare the body. I’m sure the sweet smell of the spices filled their nostrils. What they saw they found hard to believe. The massive stone covering the opening had been rolled away. They continued into the tomb and were met by two men in clothes so dazzling they couldn’t even keep their eyes up. The men spoke to the women but they did not fully understand and left to return to the disciples. When they saw the frightened women, the unused spices, and heard their strange story, they believed none of it and Peter took off racing to the tomb and returned home amazed at what he found. The next scene switches to two disciples, unnamed walking away from Jerusalem. Jesus approaches them but even though their eyes are not blindfolded, they do not recognize Jesus. They engage in conversation about the events of the last three days but the disciples do not recognize the voice of Jesus. Jesus recites to them the promise of the Judaic scriptures but they still don’t recognize this stranger. Not until they invite him to stay with them. Whether it was a flashback to the upper room where they had been together for the Passover, or perhaps the smell of the bread freshly broken, they recognized him. Jesus suddenly is gone from their sight and the disciples rush back to tell the others that they had experienced Jesus with them-the risen Lord. Then Jesus reappears and offers them this greeting, “peace be with you.” Their response-they thought they were seeing a ghost. Jesus begins his “show and tell” inviting them to see his hands and feet-the sense of touch. Knowing they still think he’s an apparition, he asks for something to eat, to prove that he is really there. Luke doesn’t relate whether they could smell the fish, or maybe a burp after Jesus eats. Again he explains scripture to them. Most importantly he says to them, “you are my witnesses.” He promises his Father (God) will send them power from on high.
Very fortunately, despite many of their senses failing them, they did become what he asked of them-powerful witnesses. Witnesses to an event are extremely important. Right now in a trial concerning the death of George Floyd, numerous witnesses have been called to give testimony. More than one has been called hoping to convince a jury of the truth of what happened to George Floyd. The Gospels, the epistles (letters), the physical community of believers all continue to give testimony of what happened that first Sabbath after Passover. And like the witnesses for the prosecutor in the trial, the witnesses were not dispassionate. They were involved-they cried. Around the country and even around the world, giving testimony to what they witnessed started a movement- Black Lives Matter. Of course all lives matter. Witnessing to the risen Christ is to live as if all lives matter and all life is precious and all need to be loved and prayed for- yes even enemies- for on this crazy dizzying, spinning planet we call earth, we are all God’s children. Jesus’ message to us is to alleviate human suffering wherever we find it. Life requires something of us. As resurrection people, we cannot be content to be bystanders.
In the epistle reading, the writer calls us all children of God. Verses two and three are part of the liturgy in the United Methodist Service of Death and Resurrection. “We are God’s children and what we will be has not been revealed to us. When Christ is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” So, as we continue, let’s be children. Jesus had a special place in his heart for children-let’s explore why.
If you can remember your childhood (my wife Ann says I’ve never left mine), when we play as children we often use our imagination. Children believe they are more than they appear to be. My sister wasn’t pushing a doll in a carriage, she was a mother caring for her baby. When we bought our goddaughter’s 4 year old a cash register, she became a storeowner selling food and making change for customers, quite a change from the princess she was a couple of months ago. When I was lying on a couch with a big blanket piled up around me, I was a soldier on a battle field. My rifle was two drumsticks lashed together with string, one slightly in front of the other to simulate a bayonet. For many reasons, too numerous to recount here, I was often alone with my play. If you remember-one of my board games mentioned earlier was Parcheesi. How do you play that by yourself? I divided the four colors into two teams, and lined them up on a start in front of a home base. They were no longer pieces on a board. They were two teams ready to take off on a jam in a sport called roller derby. There was no resemblance to the rules associated with Parcheesi. When a little boy or girl grabs a towel and places it around their shoulders tied by the neck, they become Superman or Wonderwoman, off to save the world. We need that kind of imagination when we put on the mantle “child of God-made in God’s image. One of my favorite TV shows was a show called Mr. I Magination. The host was Paul Tripp who came out in a trainman’s outfit. After introducing the theme for the show we would hop into a train and go through a tunnel and wind up in Imagination land where the theme was played out before heading back through the tunnel and back to reality. We need to tap into our imaginative selves. When we say we are followers of Christ, we need to put on the mantle of Christ- yes we need to, in our imagination, be Christ. Albert Einstein who certainly pursued knowledge in his life wrote “Imagination is more important than knowledge… for knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world. Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions”. When Jesus is revealed, we will be like him. Now we are never going to be without sin. Earlier in John’s letter he wrote (I John 1:8) “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sin. Yet we need to aim high. It may have been understandable for me to hope and pray I can get a grade C in my math class in college because I had to pass the required course for my diploma and I was terrible in advanced math. However, in our spiritual journey, to be a community of faith that has accepted, with all our senses, the reality of living into the resurrection we need to keep before us Matthew 5:48 which simply states “be ye perfect as your Father/mother in heaven.”
The world faces many difficulties. This church has some difficult choices to make-as do many churches. Maybe we don’t have the knowledge to solve everything. So tap into your imagination. Become a child-a child of God. When I was still a child, age 12 I joined my church in the Bronx and my sister and I joined, not the junior choir, but the senior choir. I remember singing a song, that technically was not an anthem- but it had a great message. It was a song that was commissioned to be written for the musical variety show hosted by Jane Froman that ran from 1952-1955. Four writers put the song together. The country (and world) was still trying to recover from WWII. And we were in the midst of yet another war-the Korean. The song was immensely popular in England (18 weeks top of chart) and here in the States 3 weeks as number two. The song “I Believe” I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows. I believe that somewhere in the darkest night, a candle glows. I believe for everyone that goes astray, someone will come to show the way. I believe, I believe. I believe above the storm the smallest prayer will still be heard. I believe that someone in the great somewhere, hears every word. Every time I hear a newborn baby cry, or touch a leaf, or see the sky, then I know why I believe. I did-and that is why I am with you today. Amen.
PASTORAL PRAYER AND LORD’S PRAYER
We are gathered together separately during this time of worship. As the disciples were not all together at one time when Jesus, the living Savior made many appearances to proclaim life over death, light over darkness, wholeness not brokenness, so we are not physically all together at one place or even at one time as we join in worship connected with the community of faith called North Church, New Hartford. We do remember that we each gain strength from each other as we witness to the victory that awaits us all in that realm we cannot yet see but know exists. The suffering and pain that the world produces cannot compare to what awaits us. Yet we know that our lives, all lives matter –right now, right here. While we are on a spiritual journey, we also have a physical reality that needs to be cared for in ways that bring release to captives, food and water for physical bodies, the touch of others, verbally and physically, to assure us that we have a purpose- all of us in living now in the present. While we enjoy things in our lives, nothing is more important than caring for each person whose lives we touch. In Jesus, you have set not only a high standard of how we are to live, you promise that you will be with us every step of the way. The needs of many crowd in upon us. We feel over whelmed by the news of 1000’s of death each day in a world-wide pandemic, the loss of homes and livelihood and freedom because of natural disasters, human greed for power, and wealth and dominance of one group over another. Be with those we know in our congregation who have life threatening illness, financial difficulties, pain, and home and job insecurity. For those blessed with resources to help, gift them with a generous spirit. Give wisdom and strength to those who have positions in our community, nation and world to recognize the need to work for peace and justice for all. In the process of welcoming and caring for others, we welcome you into our lives.
We now join in the prayer our Savior taught us to pray- Our Father who art in heaven….
HYMN OF JOURNEYING
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.
Creation reminds us, O God, of your love.
By grace we are learning, as year leads to year,
We’re called to be stewards, your caretakers here.
Your rainforests nurture the world that we share.
Your wetlands give animals shelter and care.
Your coral reefs cradle the life of the sea.
You’ve shown us, in love, what your good world can be.
Too often, O God, we abuse your good earth.
We fail to remember its beauty and orth.
We take from creation much more than we need.
We threaten your world through indifference and greed.
Let us go forth rich in spirit, knowing that God has a plan for our lives. Let us go forth as witnesses to God’s hope of justice, peace, grace and love, believing fully that Christ is among all humanity, now and always. Amen