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4-26-20 Online Service

Service for the Lord’s Day
Sunday, April 26, 2020

GATHERING

CHIMES

WELCOME

PRELUDE — Hail, Jesus Christ, Our Redeemer! — Hugh Livingston

OPENING SENTENCES

GATHERING PRAYER

HYMN — Thine is the Glory (vs. 1,2 and refrain) — Judas Maccabeus

Thine is the glory, risen, conquering Son. Endless is the victory Thou o’er death hast won.
Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away, kept the folded grave clothes where the body lay.

Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb. Lovingly He greets us, scatters fear and gloom.
Let the church with gladness hymns of triumph sing, for the Lord now liveth. Death hath lost its sting.

Thine is the glory, risen, conquering Son. Endless is the victory Thou o’er death hast won.

CONFESSION AND PARDON

RESPONSE — Grace Greater Than Our Sin — Johnston and Towner

Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within.
Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin.

WORD

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION

SCRIPTURE
Luke 24:13-35

SERMON — DEEP LONGINGS AND HOLY HUNGER

HYMN — Be Known to Us in Breaking Bread — St. Flavian

Be known to us in breaking bread, but do not then depart.
Savior, abide with us and spread Thy table in our heart.

There sup with us in love divine. Thy body and Thy blood ,
That living bread, that heavenly wine, be our immortal food.

OFFERING

OFFERTORY — My Faith Looks Up to Thee — arr. Thurston Unger

RESPONSE — With Gratitude and Humble Trust — Forest Green

With gratitude and humble trust, we bring our best to You,
Not just to serve Your cause but share Your love with neighbors too.
O God who gave Yourself to us in Jesus Christ your Son,
Help us to give ourselves each day until life’s work is done.

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

LORD’S PRAYER

SENDING

HYMN — The Strife is O’er (vs. 1 and 4) — Victory

The strife is o’er, the battle done, the victory of life is won.
The song of triumph has begun. Alleluia!

Lord, by Your wounds on Calvary from death’s dread sting your servants free,
That we may live eternally. Alleluia!

BLESSING AND CHARGE

POSTLUDE — Fanfare — Jacques Lemmens

Next week’s sermon is “Witnesses to These Things.” The scripture text is Luke 24:36b-48

 

Deep Longings & Holy Hunger

There are some things you can prove empirically.  On February 2 the Kansas City Chiefs proved that they were the best team in football. All season long pundits speculated about which team had the most talent, the best coach, the most challenging schedule.  But over three weekends in January, 12 teams had a chance to prove they were number one, and the team that remained undefeated was crowned the Super Bowl champion.  If only believing in Jesus was so clear.

Every so often someone will come to my study and ask me, “How can I believe?”  They’ve heard the stories of Jesus, perhaps they’ve grown up in the church; they come to worship from time to time, and they want to be enveloped with a warm assurance of faith.  But something is missing.  “How can I believe?” they want to know.

How can you believe?  What makes one person take a leap of faith and another hold back?  There’s more to it than being convinced of an argument, more than understanding the doctrines of the Christian faith.  Understanding is something we do with our minds, but believing is something we do with our hearts.

Believing that Jesus is your Lord and Savior is more than agreeing with a statement of fact.  Believing in Jesus means you give him your life.  It means you trust where you can’t understand and you follow where you can’t see. It means your life is no longer your own.  Your money, your job, your family, your time – it’s all his, and you know that in giving it all to him you receive meaning, purpose and eternal life.

Believing in Jesus means trusting him for everything.  And God doesn’t give us that gift of faith until we’re ready.  Notice in the story we read this morning, Jesus was with two of his followers, two people who had seen him, heard him teach, and supported his work.  He was standing right there with them, but “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”  They weren’t yet ready to believe.

If you look at the stories of Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection, you’ll notice he appeared selectively to those who were ready to give their lives to him.  He didn’t appear to crowds in the streets or the synagogues; he didn’t cower people into accepting the fact that he had risen from the grave.[1]  He didn’t show himself to Pontius Pilate or to the high priests or the others who crucified him to prove to them that they were wrong.  He showed himself to Mary Magdalene in the garden.  He showed himself to Thomas who wanted to believe but whose doubts kept getting in the way.

Jesus reveals himself as Lord to those who are ready to see him.  Otherwise, people may believe, but they would believe in the wrong thing.  They might understand him for much less than he really is.

The two who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus were looking for less than Jesus had to offer.  They thought he was an uninformed stranger.  They lamented to him “we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.”  They were looking for someone to free Israel from the yoke of Roman oppression, but that was too small a thing.  Jesus came to do something far greater than that.  He came to free humanity from the yoke of death and sin.  Jesus had told them about the kingdom of heaven and the power of God’s forgiving grace.  But, like all of us do so much of the time, they heard what they wanted to hear.

Edgardo Antonio Colon-Emeric tells about a friend of his whose congregation was baptizing a family in a river that ran near the Hispanic church where he was the pastor.  “As the newly baptized members came out of the water he handed them their baptismal certificates.  Afterwards… they celebrated a fiesta.  Since the whole event occurred outdoors, the ritual and celebration were open for all to see – including a couple of men recently arrived from Mexico.  The next day these men showed up at [the] friend’s church asking if this was the church where they ‘fixed papers.’  These men naively mistook the baptismal certificates for official government papers that would legalize their status in this country.  In short, they thought that the people getting baptized were receiving green cards.”[2]  They were receiving new life in Christ, but the onlookers thought they were receiving work papers!

If we’re not ready, we believe what we want to believe.  We believe in something less than who Jesus really is – the risen Lord who gives eternal life.  But God helps us.  God gives us gifts to prepare us so that when the time is right we can see Jesus for who he really is.

One gift God gives us is the scriptures.  While Jesus was walking along the road with those two people, he interpreted for them how everything about himself was right there in the Bible.  Jesus isn’t a new invention, a substitute for the God who gave Moses the Ten Commandments.  The prophets pointed to Jesus when they warned Israel about its obligations to the poor and the widows.  So many people try to make Jesus into their own image.  You see that in our culture wars.  The right sees him as the upholder of traditional family values, as they define those values.  The left tries to claim him as the patron of social justice, as they define it.  Everyone wants Jesus on his or her side, but Jesus does not have a side.  He is free and autonomous.  It is only through the scriptures that we can understand who he is.  And not a selective reading of scripture, focusing on the parts that support our assumptions, but a serious, prayerful reading that challenges us and changes us.  Jesus interprets scripture to his followers on the road to Emmaus so they’ll see him for who he is, not who they want him to be.

Jesus gives us the scriptures to prepare us to accept him, but he doesn’t leave us on our own to understand them.  He gives us the fellowship of believers to guide us.       There is a place for individual Bible study.  We need to spend time every day studying the scriptures.  But that is no substitute for studying the Bible with others, drawing on the collective wisdom and revelation of the Spirit that guides and corrects our individual interpretations. Churches that are growing are those that have spiritual vitality, and one of the ways a congregation is spiritually vital is when its members are engaged in studying the scriptures. Eastminster’s adult Bible study class is continuing to meet online Sunday mornings at 9:00, and they welcome anyone who wants to join. Once we come back together, it will be more important than ever to reengage in circles and Sunday school classes to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the Bible.

Worship is a place where we come to have our eyes opened.  Anthropologists call worship a “thin place” where the gulf that separates the human from the divine is narrow.  In worship we cultivate an atmosphere of awe and mystery.  It’s one time in the week where God is at the center of everything we say and do.  Our hymns, our prayers, the central place of the Bible, all those things make it easier for us to experience God in worship.  We’re forced to worship in new ways during this pandemic, but as you listen to this service from your home, that same Spirit that we feel on Sundays in the sanctuary draws us together even when we are in different places and lifting our praise at different times.

The story of the walk to Emmaus shows us another gift Jesus gives us to prepare us to receive him into our lives.  He gives us the gift of broken bread.  Their eyes were opened and they recognized him when he took bread, blessed it and broke it.  It’s in the breaking of the bread that we see most clearly who Jesus is.  When we celebrate the sacrament, we join with believers across time and space to receive the gifts of life that Jesus gives us, inviting us to share his brokennness and suffering, to see his strength in his weakness. We hope to be able to have on-line communion in a few weeks when our video streaming equipment arrives, but even apart from the gathered church, the reservoir of our memories that we have from all those times we’ve broken bread together sustains our faith and our hope.

Fifteen years ago, as Pope John Paul II’s health deteriorated, he considered stepping down from the papacy in favor of a younger, more vigorous man.  Sometimes it was painful to watch him in public – his body so weak he often could not raise his arms in blessing, his hands trembling from Parkinson’s disease, his head bowed and his features drooping.  He did not step down because he saw his suffering and infirmity as a reflection of the power of Jesus.  Jesus’ glory was not in calling down armies of angels to vanquish his foes.  Jesus was glorified on the cross.  He set aside his own strength so God’s power could triumph through him.  Only when we follow the way of the cross and put aside our own strength and wisdom is there room in our lives for God.  When the disciples saw the one who suffered and died on the cross, they believed.

“How can I believe?”  Just asking the question and wanting to know means God is probably stirring up something inside of you.  God gives us gifts to prepare us – the Bible, the fellowship of believers, worship and the sacraments.  God offers us those gifts to prepare us for Jesus.  But in the end it’s not about you and me, not about what we do or accomplish.  Faith is a gift that Jesus gives us, a gift that is free and gracious.  Are you ready to receive it?

[1] Fred B. Craddock, Luke (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), p. 285.

[2] Edgardo Antonio Colon-Emeric, “Consorting with Aliens,” The Christian Century, April 5, 2005, p. 18.

4-19-20 Online Service

 

Service for the Lord’s Day

Sunday, April 19, 2020

 

Gathering

Chimes

 

Welcome

 

Prelude                                                       Sunshine in My Soul                                       arr. Mark Hayes

 

Opening Sentences

 

Gathering Prayer

 

Hymn                                     Alleluia! Sing to Jesus (vs. 1 and 4)                       Hyfrydol, arr. Bill Carter

 

Alleluia! Sing to Jesus! His the scepter, His the throne!

Alleluia! His the triumph, His the victory alone.

Hark! The songs of peaceful Zion thunder like a mighty flood.

Jesus out of every nation hath redeemed us by His blood.

 

Alleluia! King eternal, Thee the Lord of lords we own.

Alleluia! Born of Mary, earth Thy footstool, heaven Thy throne.

Thou within the veil hast entered, robed in flesh, our great High Priest.

Thou on earth both priest and victim in the Eucharistic feast.

 

 

Confession and Pardon

 

 

 Response                                     Amazing Grace                                 Columbian Harmony, 1829

 

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.

 

“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears believed.

How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.                                                         

 

 

Word

 

Prayer for Illumination

 

Scripture

Acts 5:12-16

John 20: 19-31

                                                                                                                                                           

Sermon     “Easter Rock’n’roll”

 

Hymn                                                 We Walk By Faith and Not By Sight                            Dunlap’s Creek

 

We walk by faith and not by sight.  No gracious words we hear from Christ

who spoke as none e’er spoke, but we believe Him near.

 

We may not touch His hands and side, nor follow where He trod,

but in His promise we rejoice, and cry “My Lord, My God!”

 

Help then, O Lord, our unbelief, and may our faith abound

to call on You when You are near and seek where You are found.

 

That, when our life of faith is done, in realms of clearer light,

we may behold You as You are with full and endless sight.

 

 

 

Offering

 

Offertory                              There Is a Balm in Gilead                                                          Spiritual

Marilyn Jennerjohn, solo

 

 

Response                    Behold What Manner of Love                                               Patricia Van Stine

 

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us,

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us.

That we should be called the children of God.

That we should be called the children of God.

 

 

Prayers of Intercession

 

     Lord’s Prayer

 

Sending

 

Hymn                                         What a Friend We Have in Jesus                             Converse, Bill Carter

 

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.

What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.

O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

 

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?

Precious Savior, still our refuge – take it to the Lord in prayer.

Do Thy friends despise, forsake thee?  Take it to the Lord in prayer.

In His arms He’ll take and shield thee, Thou wilt find a solace there.

 

 

Blessing and Charge

 

Postlude                                                  Jesus Loves Me                                 arr. Darryl B. Moreticome

 

 

Next week’s sermon is “Deep Yearnings and Holy Hunger.”

The scripture text is Luke 24: 13-35.

 

Easter Rock ‘N’ Roll

N.T. Wright tells of the time that he was in a cab stuck in a London traffic jam. The cabbie, seeing by his clothes that he was a bishop, commented on what a difficult time the Anglicans were having over the issue of women bishops. The communion was threatening to fracture over the place of women in its leadership. But then the taxi driver turned to face Wright and said, “What I always say is this: if God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, everything else is basically rock’n’roll, i’n’it?”[1]

The cabbie didn’t give Wright the answer to the controversy, but he put it in its place. The problems that faced us two weeks ago haven’t gone away. We’re still separated, the church building is still closed, we still have to worship from our computers. The death toll from Covid-19 is still tragically high. The economy is in the tank, and the suffering from loss of jobs continues to grow, while many of those who do have jobs are stretched to the limit because of new demands. But because of Easter everything else is, well maybe not rock’n’roll, but a whole lot different. Death and fear don’t have the upper hand. We know what the risen Christ has in store.

That is what empowered the apostles in Jerusalem. Jesus’ resurrection transformed their fear and hopelessness so they could boldly do the work of that new creation. Now, that work set them up for a backlash. It’s clear how much of a threat that new creation was to the prevailing power. When you read on in Acts, you see that the apostles were arrested and thrown in jail. Their irrepressible witness led to persecution that drove them out of the city. But they knew they weren’t bound to the old way. They belonged to the New Creation. So they were not afraid of the lingering powers of death because God had raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Everything else was rock’n’roll.

It’s easy for us in 21st century America to get tripped up by the signs that pointed to that New Creation in those days after Easter. Really, now – healed by Peter’s passing shadow? Casting out unclean spirits? Those were signs that broke into an ancient worldview, signs that showed the people of that time that something more powerful was at work than the forces they were resigned to. The powers that be in ancient Jerusalem were threatened because people crowded into the city bringing the sick to be cured. Free, unrestricted health care for anyone who shows up? That’s aiming right for the heart of the powers of death and sickness. Sharing all things in common so there is no gap between the rich and the poor? That’s blasphemy against the empire of oppression that tries to keep the “in their place.” The high priest and the Saducees had given their lives to the powers that be. Those signs of Easter power threatened them because they belonged to the old creation, where death had the last word.

Those powers of death that belong to the old creation have plenty of ways to resist the New Creation. They even have a way of taking gifts God has given us and twisting them so they nudge us away from God. Reason is one of those God-given gifts that the old order of death uses to resist the new creation of life. People often think reason is in conflict with faith. Like Doubting Thomas, we believe only what we can take in with our senses, and we dismiss what we can’t touch and see and prove. That’s one of the biggest obstacles to believing in the resurrection of Jesus. But science itself keeps reminding us how limited our senses are and how narrow our reason can be. A recent example is the discovery of gravitational waves. For most of human history we have observed the universe using light that is visible to the naked eye, which the earliest stargazers saw beaming from the stars as they sat in pastures watching their sheep.  Then we invented devices that let us measure radio waves picked up from observatories perched on remote mountain peaks, or from ultraviolet and infrared light observed by the Hubble telescope. 100 years ago Albert Einstein predicted that there is another kind of wave that is not visible to the eye or the instruments that detect light. He said that there are gravitational waves, unlike any other force we’ve ever detected, coursing through the universe bending space and time. In 2015 scientists, using sophisticated instruments, detected those waves. The ones they recorded are from the collision of two black holes one billion years ago. Those waves have been coursing through us and around us all along, but only now do we know for sure that they exist.

Science and reason help us understand the world around us. Physics has shown us that a solar eclipse isn’t due to the gods upsetting the course of night and day to foretell some cataclysmic event. Geology has figured out that a volcanic eruption isn’t a sign that the spirits inside the earth are displeased. Biology shows us that the coronavirus is a microbe that has migrated from animals to humans, not a divine punishment for whatever human behavior someone thinks happens to displease God . Science and reason let us explain and to some extent control the world around us. But there is another level of what is going on, another dimension that is beyond our five senses. No matter who much we know about astronomy, the movement of the moon and the stars make us stand in awe of the one who created them, and that their creator cares for you and me. Immunologists discover medicines that cure disease, but when a loved one is restored to health, we see an example of divine grace that works against death. There is more going on than the eye can see or the mind comprehend. Christ’s resurrection takes us beyond the obvious.

Fear is another weapon that the old creation uses to fight back against Easter. On one level, fear is a good thing. The most loving thing we can do for each other right now is be wary of infections and practice social distancing. We know that some people are to be feared. When churches and schools are hiring people to work with children, they run background checks because there are bad characters out there. Acknowledging that bad things happen and taking care is a good thing. But fear can paralyze us and keep us from claiming God’s gift of life so that we settle for small things that give us false security and do not last. For example, Christ’s resurrection broke down the dividing wall of hostility so we can rejoice in the rich variety of humanity that God created, but fear causes us to look for those who are somehow different from us to blame when things go wrong. I was talking with an Asian American Presbyterian minister who described how she’s recently been the object of racial slurs from people who blame the pandemic on China and fear anyone whom they think is Chinese, even though her heritage is Korean. Easter is the triumph of that perfect love that casts out fear. Because of Easter, we have received the power of the Holy Spirit whose fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Easter lets us face what threatens us with courage and hope.

It’s that courage and hope of Easter that has drawn us together as Christ’s church. Like those first Christians we read about in Acts, Christ works through us to let the world know his healing and hope that takes away our fear and changes the way we see things. A while ago I was talking to a student at Lancaster Seminary who was preparing to become a hospice chaplain. She told me how she feels called to minister in a place where death is a constant presence. In the weakness she encounters every day, she sees signs of God’s strength. Amid what looks like hopelessness to some, she can find signs of life. It’s there, among those who live at the margins of our community, that she knows the presence of Christ who gives eternal life.

When we have a hard time seeing that Easter power, when the powers of death look to have the upper hand, it helps to look more broadly at what God is doing in other places. A friend of ours who is a pastor in Ghana paid us a visit. He was spending a semester in the United States as a visiting professor at a nearby seminary. He told us how tired he has become of hearing us Americans bemoan the state of the church in our country. We fret as if the gospel of Jesus Christ is in jeopardy, as if he had lost control and were no longer Lord. Churches in America may be struggling, but that’s not the whole story of the Christ’s Church. The Presbyterian congregation where our friend is pastor in Africa is thriving, filled with activity throughout the week, and spinning off congregations to accommodate the response of his community to the good news of the gospel. We think that if everything isn’t going great for us, then God has left the building. When I visited South Sudan a number of years ago, I met a pastor who had baptized 3000 people during the past year. When I asked him what he attributed that to, he responded “You in the West are shielded from the power of the gospel by your cell phones and your TVs. Here in South Sudan, we have nothing to keep us from the power of the Spirit. We confront death every day, and God is all we have to rely on.”

Craig Barnes, writing in  The Christian Century maagazine, reminds us just what it is that happens in our baptism where Christ puts his claim on us. Baptismal services of the early church were in essence funerals. Those who were about to join the church would take off their old clothes and walk into the water of baptism. The priest would immerse them in the water with the words, “Buried with him in baptism.” Then rising out of the water, the priest would say, “Risen to new life in Christ.” Then the new Christian would put on new clothes as a symbol of putting on Christ. The liturgy showed how in baptism those who joined the church confronted death and got it over with. Once they were no longer anxious about the worst that Caesar could do to them, once they had already died with Christ, they were free to boldly proclaim the gospel. Barnes observed, “You can’t scare dead people.”[2]

“If God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, everything else is basically rock’n’roll, i’n’it?” Death is over and done with. Fear has lost control. Nothing can stop us now. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

[1] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture (New York: Harper Collins, 2014), p. 207.

[2] M. Craig Barnes, “The post-anxiety church,” The Christian Century, February 3, 2016, p. 33.

Easter Sunday Online Service

 

Service for the Lord’s Day

Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020

 

Gathering

 

 

Welcome

 

Prelude                                                   Thine is the Glory                                       arr. Ryan Thomas     

 

Opening Sentences

 

Gathering Prayer

 

Hymn                                              Jesus Christ is Risen Today (vs. 1 and 4)                   Easter Hymn

 

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!  Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!

Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!  Suffer to redeem our loss, Alleluia!

 

Sing we to our God above, Alleluia!  Praise eternal as God’s love, Alleluia!

Praise our God, ye heavenly host, Alleluia!  Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Alleluia!

 

Confession and Pardon

 

Response                                    Christ is Risen, Shout Hosanna                            Hymn to Joy

 

Christ is risen!  Shout Hosanna!  Celebrate this days of days.

Christ is risen!  Hush in wonder.  All creation is amazed.

In the desert all surrounding, see, a spreading tree has grown.

Healing leaves of grace abounding bring a taste of love unknown.

 

Word

 

Prayer for Illumination

 

Scripture

Old Testament Lesson – Isaiah 25:6-9

New Testament Lesson – John 20:1-18

                                                                                                                                                           

Sermon     “Called by Name”

 

Hymn                                              The Day of Resurrection (vs. 1 and 3)                            Lancashire

 

The day of resurrection!  Earth, tell it out abroad.

The Passover of gladness, the Passover of God.

From death to life eternal, from this world to the sky,

Our Christ hath brought us over with hymns of victory.

 

Now let the heavens be joyful, let earth the song begin.

Let the round world keep triumph and all that is therin.

Let all things seen and unseen their notes of gladness blend.

For Christ the Lord is risen, our joy that hath no end.

 

Offering

 

Offertory                                           Alleluia, Christ is Risen!                                arr. James Kirby

Sarah Foess – solo

 

 

Response                                   Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow                      Doxology

 

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  Praise Him all creatures here below.  Praise Him above, ye heavenly host.  Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

 

Prayers of Intercession

 

     Lord’s Prayer

 

Sending

 

Hymn                                                        Lift High the Cross (vs. 1 and 4)                                Crucifer

 

REFRAIN – Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim

till all the world adore His sacred name.

 

Come, Christians, follow where our Savior trod.

The Lamb victorious, Christ the Son of God. (repeat refrain)

 

So shall our song of triumph ever be.

Praise to the Crucified for victory. (repeat refrain)

 

 

Blessing and Charge

 

 

Postlude                                                       Prelude in C Major                                            J.S. Bach

 

Next Sunday, April 19, Dr. Lytch’s sermon is “Easter Rock n’ Roll.”  The scripture text is Acts 5: 12-16.

Called By Name

That first Easter morning, in the twilight of dawn, Mary Magdalene stood before a tomb where she had come to mourn.  Like so many who have been numbed by the death of one they love, she sought comfort in performing the rituals her society prescribed for those who have buried their dead.  The other gospels tell us she had come to anoint Jesus’ body that had been laid to rest in haste before the Sabbath began on Friday evening.  Nowadays we call it settling the estate or cleaning out the closets, but every age has found ways for those who are left behind to do something to deal with their grief, tasks that help ease the pain and begin to adjust to life without the one who gave purpose and meaning.

What a picture of how overwhelming grief is.  When Mary looked into the tomb, she saw two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had lain.  “Woman,” they asked her, “why are you weeping?”  But those messengers from heaven did nothing for her.  “Woman,” they called her.  She didn’t need an impersonal revelation, even from angels.  She needed the one who knew her, the one who understood her better than she understood herself, the one to whom she was not just “woman” but Mary, Mary of Magdala, Mary whose heart and soul longed for Jesus.

Then she saw the man standing there.  He was not dressed in white like an angel from heaven.  There was nothing celestial about his appearance.  She thought he was the gardener, come early on the first day of the week to tend to his springtime chores.  And then he said her name – “Mary.”  That’s when she recognized him.  The Lord said her name, and she believed.

What is it about a name?  A name is the first gift we give a child.  It’s the first thing we share about ourselves when we meet someone new.  Our names carry with them our identity, our history, our heritage.

Things aren’t complete until they have a name.  The first task God gave Adam was naming the animals.  Giving names was part of the work of creation.  When God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, God revealed the divine name.  Before that the Hebrews knew God only as an impersonal force shrouded in mystery.  But when God led God’s people out of slavery, God established an intimate relationship with them, and you can’t have a relationship unless you know someone’s name.  God spoke the name – YHWH, which means, “I am who I am.”

Names have power.  Just think of the power your name carries for you.  When I was in the tenth grade, I tried out for the high school basketball team. I worked all summer and into the fall running, jumping rope, lifting weights, trying to master free throws and the lay ups.  When it came time for tryouts, I made the first two cuts.  Finally the day came when the coach posted the list of those who made the team.  After school I crowded around the bulletin board in the locker room with the other boys, anxiously scanning the list for my name.  I didn’t see it.  I studied it a second time, and a third.  I was devastated.  My name wasn’t there.

Not many of us have heard Jesus call our names the way he called Mary that morning in the garden.  But many of us have heard him calling to us in the depths of our hearts, calling us to a different way of life, calling us from the things that limit us and hold us back from the life he sets before us.  With all the other things calling to us, with all our other commitments and temptations, sometimes it’s hard to recognize the voice of Jesus calling our name above all the other noise that clamors for our attention.

Sometimes it’s in our very longing that he is calling us.  Sometimes Jesus calls to us by stirring up in us dissatisfaction with things the way they are.  He draws us to him by making us long for something we’re not sure how to name.

A few years ago The Wall Street Journal did a profile of Marykay Powell.  She stopped going to church when she left home.  She got a job in the movie industry, and faith and matters of the spirit didn’t seem relevant.  She made it to the top in Hollywood.  She produced movies like Barbarians at the Gate and Harriet the Spy, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  On weekends she would be in a private jet headed for resorts in Mexico or Arizona.  But along the way, unease set in, something she couldn’t put her finger on.  Then it hit her.  “I’m separated from God,” she realized.  It was like a faint call.  She tried a number of different paths to fill her emptiness.  She went to New Age lectures.  She studied the Dalai Lama.  She took courses in Buddhism at UCLA.  Then a religion professor convinced her to join a Bible study he was teaching at a local church.  That was the beginning of her return to Christ.  She didn’t hear Jesus speak her name like he spoke the name of Mary on Easter.  But she felt he knew her, and it was like being recognized by an old friend.  “I’m going to sound nuts,” she said, but it wasn’t until she asked God to forgive her for being away that she was comfortable going back to church again.  “I had to say, ‘Please take me back.  Please help me.’”[1]

Some people think that Jesus would never call their name.  They don’t fit the mold of what they think people Jesus calls are supposed to be like.  Some think that because they haven’t called on the name of Jesus in years he has forgotten their name.  Some think that because they don’t have all the answers to their questions about God or because they don’t know the Bible very well or because they have questions about faith, then Jesus wouldn’t call their name.  Some haven’t lived the kind of life they’re proud for Jesus to see, and they think Jesus would never call the name of someone who has done some of the things they have done.

A few years ago I attended the Midwinter Lectures at Austin Theological Seminary in Texas. I had the privilege of meeting Hans-Richard Nevermann.  He was at the seminary to be honored at the 50th reunion his graduating class.  We spent several hours together over the course of three days, mostly at meal times.  We talked about our churches – mine in the United States and his in Germany.  We discussed world affairs.  We told about our families and even discovered we had a mutual friend.  He was missing one arm, but I never asked him how he lost it.  I had to leave Austin before the closing banquet, so I didn’t know why he was being honored. A couple of months after I returned home I learned.  I received the Austin Seminary quarterly magazine, and it told his story.

As a teenager Nevermann was a member of the Hitler Youth.  In 1942 he joined the German army and was sent to the Russian front.  “Traveling on the troop train from Berlin to Russia across the Polish frontier, he saw from the window a scene of human carnage; some alive but dying, reaching out their hands for aid.  He was told by a sergeant that they were unimportant because they were Poles, probably Jews, and not to take notice.”  In Russia he was injured.  For two weeks he wandered in the barren Russian landscape with only snow to eat.  Desperate and close to death, he was taken in by a peasant couple who tended his wounds and prayed for him.  The experience of that grace, of hearing his name lifted to God in prayer, led to a profound change in his life.  His arm was amputated, and after the war he spent time in a Russian prisoner of war camp.  While he was in the camp, he became a Christian, and in 1950 he entered seminary in West Berlin.  “A year later, as he was looking up at his reflection in the ceiling light fixture, he lifted up his arm and a repressed memory from the troop train assailed him.  He remembered looking out the train window and seeing the wounded and dying with their arms outstretched for help.  He turned to a seminary professor for counsel and received his life’s commission: ‘What you did not do at that time, do now.’”

At Austin Nevermann was being honored for his lifetime of ministry dedicated to reconciliation in countries hurt by that terrible war.  One of his first projects was constructing a center for adults and children with disabilities.  He organized the Action Reconciliation-Service for Peace with projects in thirteen countries, rebuilding what had been destroyed.  One project of special importance to Nevermann was an international youth center in Auschwitz.  In 2003 he and his wife Karin participated in the ceremony for the signing of the first ever accord between the government and the German Jewish community.[2]

The name Jesus means “he saves.”  That’s how we know him, through his name that saves us.  When he rose from the grave on Easter morning, he overcame every power that can defile our names.  When we call in faith on the name of the risen Lord, he gives us all the power he brought to humankind on Easter day.  He gives us the power of that name that is above all names, the name of the one who spoke and the world was formed.  In Jesus Christ our name isn’t a passing breath that is spoken for a brief time and then disappears like the morning mist.  Our name is recorded in eternity with him.

Whatever your name is, listen. Listen for Jesus calling your name.  You don’t always hear it with your ears.  More often, you hear it in your heart, a sense of being recognized for who you are, of being loved and accepted and forgiven, of gladness that you are in the presence of someone who knows your name, knows you.

Hearing our name we turn to him, like Mary Magdalene.  We call on his name, and that name lifts all our sorrows.  It fills us with joy.  In that name we have victory over death, over sin and suffering and everything that can harm us.  God has raised him from the grave and he calls us to himself. Listen.  He is calling, calling your name.

[1] Lisa Miller, “Can You Go Back?” The Wall Street Journal, April 10, 1998, p. W1.

[2] “Former Nazi soldier, Hispanic leader honored with 2006 ASA Award,” Windows (Austin, Texas: Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Spring 2006), p. 24.

Good Friday Online Service

 

WELCOME

 

PRELUDE                        O Sacred Head Now Wounded                                 arr. J.G. Walther

 

PRAYER

 

HYMN NO. 80                Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley                            Lonesome Valley

 

Jesus walked this lonesome valley.  He had to walk it by Himself.

O, nobody else could walk it for Him.  He had to walk it by Himself.

 

We must walk this lonesome valley.  We have to walk it by ourselves.

O, nobody else can walk it for us.  We have to walk it by ourselves.

 

You must go and stand your trial.  You have to stand it by yourself.

O, nobody else can stand it for you.  You have to stand it by yourself.

 

 

THE PASSION OF OUR LORD

 

HYMN NO. 97                Go to Dark Gethsemane (vs. 1 and 2)                            Redhead

 

Go to dark Gethsemane, all who feel the tempter’s power.

Your Redeemer’s conflict see.  Watch with Him one bitter hour.

Turn not from His griefs away.  Learn from Jesus Christ to pray.

 

Follow to the judgement hall.  View the Lord of life arraigned.

O the wormwood and the gall!  O the pangs His soul sustained.

Shun not suffering, shame or loss.  Learn from Christ to bear the cross.

 

 

            HYMN NO. 93           Ah, Holy Jesus (vs. 1 and 3)                                  Herzliebster Jesu

 

Ah, holy Jesus, how have you offended, that mortal judgement on You descended?

By foes derided, by Your own rejected, O most afflicted!

 

For me, dear Jesus, was Your incarnation, Your mortal sorrow, and Your life’s oblation,

Your death of anguish and Your bitter passion, for my salvation.

 

 

            SOLO                                Were You There?                                                          Spiritual

Tim Ruth – cello

 

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

            The Lord’s Prayer

 

HYMN NO. 85                           What Wondrous Love Is This?                             Wondrous Love

 

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?  What wondrous love is this, O my soul?

What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the heavy cross for my soul,

for my soul, to bear the heavy cross for my soul?

 

To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing.  To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.

To God and to the Lamb who is the great I Am, while millions join the theme I will sing,

I will sing, while millions join the theme, I will sing!

 

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on.  And when from death I’m free,

I’ll sing on.  And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be.  And through eternity,

I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on.  And through eternity, I’ll sing on!

4-5-20 — Palm Sunday Online Service

Service for the Lord’s Day
April 5, 2020

GATHERING

WELCOME

PRELUDE All Glory, Laud and Honor arr. Robert Hughes

OPENING SENTENCES

GATHERING PRAYER

HYMN Ride On! Ride On in Majesty! (vs. 1 and 4) St. Drostane

Ride on! Ride on in majesty! Hark, all the tribes hosanna cry.
Thy humble beast pursues its road with palms and scattered garments strowed

Ride on! Ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die.
Bow thy meek head to mortal pain, then take, O God, thy power, and reign

CONFESSION AND PARDON

RESPONSE Behold What Manner of Love Patricia Van Stine

Behold, what manner of love the Father has given unto us.
Behold, what manner of love the Father has given unto us.
That we should be called the children of God.
That we should be called the children of God.

WORD

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION

SCRIPTURE
Mark 11: 1-11

SERMON “TEMPLES OLD AND NEW”

HYMN Hosanna, Loud Hosanna (vs. 1 and 3) Ellacombe

Hosanna, loud hosanna, the little children sang.
Through pillared court and temple the joyful anthem rang.
To Jesus who had blessed them, close folded to his breast,
The children sang their praises, the simplest and the best.

“Hosanna in the highest!”, that ancient song we sing,
For Christ is our Redeemer, the Lord of Heaven, our King.
O may we ever praise him with heart and life and voice,
And in his blissful presence eternally rejoice.

OFFERING

OFFERTORY Let All Things Now Living arr. Ophelia Payne

RESPONSE We Are an Offering Liles

We lift our voices. We lift our hands. We lift our lives up to you. We are an offering.
Lord, use our voices. Lord, use our hands. Lord, use our lives, they are yours.
We are an offering. We are an offering.

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

LORD’S PRAYER

SENDING

HYMN We Are One in the Spirit Peter Scholtes

We are one in the Spirit. We are one in the Lord.
We are one in the Spirit. We are one in the Lord.
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.

REFRAIN: And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

All praise to the Father, from whom all things come,
And all praise to Christ Jesus, God’s only Son,
And all praise to the Spirit, who makes us one. (repeat refrain)

BLESSING AND CHARGE

POSTLUDE Ride On, King Jesus arr. Larry Shackley

 

Temples Old and New

Mark 11:1-11

            A number of years ago I had the privilege of representing the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at a meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Sudan. The meeting took place in a remote village that consisted of grass huts and had no electricity. We met under the shade of a huge spreading mango tree. The closing banquet was delayed because the bull that was to provide the main course had wandered off into the bush.

Toward the end of the five day long meeting, it dawned on me that we had not celebrated the Lord’s Supper. In the United States, it is customary for our General Assemblies to begin with communion, and I asked one of the church leaders if we were going to celebrate the sacrament before we left. “No,” he replied. “We do not have any communion cups. We tried to fashion them out of clay, but they disintegrated when we filled them with juice.”

What he was referring to were the small individual cups like we use when we celebrate communion at the 11:00 service – the ones that fit into those holes in the racks on the pews. Protestants started using them back in the 19th century when we became aware that illnesses are spread by germs. That was about the same time that our Presbyterian missionaries were establishing the church in Sudan. Those noble missionaries had shared the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the gift of his sacrament, but those who received it connected communion with the little cups in which it was served. And I have to admit, the first time I was ever asked to take communion by intinction, or dipping a piece of bread into a common cup, I came up with lots of reasons why, well, it just wasn’t right.

Since the earliest days of Christianity, we have wrestled with the question of how to distinguish the gifts God gives us from the ways in which they’re given. We’ve been having that conversation a lot in the last few weeks as the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to worship and be the church in new ways. We’re learning how to worship online, and we’re even having to do some radical rethinking about the way we celebrate the Lord’s Supper during these days of social distancing. We’re not ready to do it today, the first Sunday of the month when we would ordinarily celebrate communion, but we plan to be ready for online communion the first Sunday in May.

But it’s not just worship practices that we have to rethink from time to time. We’re constantly learning new things about how the world around us works. How do we hold fast to the truth we know through Christ without that new knowledge undermining our faith? The story of Palm Sunday can help us with that.

As soon as Jesus entered Jerusalem on that momentous day, he went to the temple. The temple was where God’s people Israel went to meet God. They knew that God wasn’t confined there, but it was the place where God’s presence was centered. Many of our most beloved psalms exalt the temple. Psalm 122 begins, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” Psalm 84 says, “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.” Shortly after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph took him to the temple to present him to the Lord and sacrificed two doves on his behalf. The temple was at the heart of Israel’s relationship with God.

Mark tells us that when Jesus entered the temple on Palm Sunday, “he looked around at everything.” He was like a property owner who had been away and had come back to take stock of what was his. The next day he returned to the temple and drove out the moneychangers and those who were selling doves for sacrifice. He acted as if it were his place to say who belonged there and who didn’t. Then over the next few days he taught in the temple, and the crowds were spellbound. He taught as if the temple were his classroom. One day later that week Jesus and his disciples were sitting on the Mount of Olives overlooking the temple, and Jesus told them that the time was coming when the temple would be destroyed. He went on to say that not only the temple, but all things in heaven and on earth that we rely on for security will be overturned. Then, he said, the Son of Man will return in power and glory. That return would make Sunday’s parade look like a picnic. Then he would not only reclaim the temple. He would gather all his people to himself. By Thursday of that week the temple leaders had enough. They arrested him and handed him over to Pilate so the Roman governor could put him to death. One of the accusations against Jesus was that he had said, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.”

And it was true. No longer would God’s people come to the temple to encounter God. The time was soon coming when people would meet God in the risen Christ. He is the new temple, not confined to a mount in Jerusalem but present everywhere the Holy Spirit moves.

You can understand what a threat that was to those who had dedicated their lives to the temple. What they heard Jesus saying was that the scriptures were not true. But Jesus was clear that he was not contradicting anything that the scriptures taught about God. Everything he claimed was firmly grounded in the scriptures. The Palm Sunday story that we read is full of allusions and quotations from the Old Testament. God was not changing. What was changing was our understanding of how we meet God – no longer in a temple made of stone, but in the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

That living Word remains the same no matter how things change around us and no matter how our perception of that Word changes. We see that throughout our lives. God does things we could never imagine. Both my wife and I knew when we entered seminary that God was calling us to a vocation of ministry. We each felt called to serve as pastors in a local church. But then we met in the seminary dining hall, fell in love, and heard God calling us to the covenant of marriage. In the late 1970s ministry and marriage seemed like conflicting calls. We had no idea how we could be faithful to both of them. But we trusted that God would not call us to conflicting covenants, so through prayer, faithful counsel from mentors, and being very intentional not to assume that we knew our future better than God knew it, we’re still growing in both of those covenants of ministry and marriage. When we decided on a beach in Clearwater, Florida, to get married we had no idea that 40 years later she would be a seminary president and I would be doing interim ministry, but we did know that God would be faithful through all life’s changes.

That confidence keeps those of us who trust in Christ from being disheartened as our knowledge of the world around us changes. When the Bible was written, before there were telescopes and our understanding of the universe was based solely on what the naked eye could see, we thought that the sun and the planets and the stars revolved around the earth. All the Bible’s descriptions of God’s handiwork in nature are based on that premise, that the earth is at the center of the universe. Over the centuries, using the intellect God gave us, we discovered that our understanding of how the universe is ordered had been wrong. The earth is not at the center. It took longer than seven days to create. But the Bible is not a science textbook. It’s about God who created everything in love. In fact, the more we learn about the expansiveness of the universe, the mysteries of the galaxies and the creation of life, the more we understand how majestic is God’s name in all the earth, how much more complex are God’s ways than our human minds can comprehend.

The same can be said for many of the laws that ordered how God’s people were to relate to one another. God gave those laws to protect the weak and oppressed. For instance, there are numerous places in the Bible that forbid lending to at interest. Those laws were given because of the damage that loans can do to a relationship, how lending money puts the lender in a position of power over the debtor. Any loans were to be an act of charity, not made for the benefit of the lender. As capitalism developed, people discovered how charging interest could be an incentive to loosen up large sums of money that could be used to advance progress. Although we’re still aware that debt is something that has to be handled carefully, we have set aside that prohibition against charging interest on a loan in light of a deeper understanding of economics.

Some laws that were presumed to be part of the natural order of things we’ve reconsidered as we’ve learned more about how God created us. There are places in the New Testament where it says that women should not be leaders in the church. But as society’s restrictions on women were loosened and women had the chance to exercise gifts of leadership, we began to reconsider those restrictions in light of the context in which they were given,  and now we welcome women into leadership roles in the church because, as it says in Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Now, changes like that can be hard, and often they take generations to come about. And in one sense that is a good thing, because we are prone to twist our interpretations of God’s word to our advantage. Paul’s letters to Corinth were written in large part because the Corinthians had pushed things too far. They took liberties with the gospel that caused offense. They used their freedom in Christ to justify false beliefs, licentious behavior, and the segregation of the rich from the poor. 2 Timothy 4:3 warns against “itching ears” that will cause people to “turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”

But Jesus challenges many of the things we’re certain about. The morning after Palm Sunday he was walking back to Jerusalem with his disciples. He was hungry and saw a fig tree. It had no figs because it was not the season for the tree to bear fruit. But Jesus cursed it, and the next day as they were walking past it, they saw that the tree had withered to its roots. Peter was shocked. And we should be too. How could the tree be expected to bear fruit when it was not the right season? But Jesus explained that even the most deeply engrained laws of nature are subject to his command. Through him, with faith in God, even a mountain could be taken up and thrown into the sea.

The most deeply engrained law in nature is the law of death. There is nothing more certain in the universe. Every living thing, including you and me, will die. Yet a week after reclaiming the temple Jesus showed that he has command even over death. He submitted to death on the cross, dying as each of us will, and three days later God raised him from the tomb, so all who die in him share his victory. All who put their faith, not in the way things are, but in him, are not subject to the law of death. We belong to the Lord of life. And if Jesus has overcome death, we can trust him with everything in life. No illness, no disappointment, no setback, no betrayal is greater than the love we know in Jesus. He is the living temple where we meet the holy God. The earth under our feet may change, but he is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!