19th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 23
Call to Worship (from Psalm 106)
L: Praise God!
P: O give thanks to God, who is SO good; whose steadfast love endures forever.
L: Who can list all the mighty doings of God, or declare enough of praise?
P: Blessed are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times.
L: Save us from ourselves, O God; and gather us from every nation, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory to your name.
P: Blessed be God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. Praise God, and let all the people say, AMEN
Glorious God! You invite us to assemble our spirits together, even while our bodies remain distant from one another. You draw us into spiritual unity, calling us to step away from the idols we have created to take your place. When we are together in spirit, we sense that nothing else in life substitutes for a vital relationship with You. All the mysteries of the universe are in your hands, and yet you have made yourself known among the peoples of this earth. We catch glimpses of your handiwork in Creation and we are awed. Touch us into healing and wholeness. Renew, remake us in the image of Christ, that we might change the world around us. AMEN
Youth Time (me) Nicodemus and his flashlight; need some light to find your way
Call to Confession
God is not fooled by fancy words, elaborate rituals, or towering spires. God sees our fascinations with the golden calves of culture- pastimes and possessions that engulf our attention and resources every day until we are so thoroughly immersed in lusts and greeds and envies that we have lost sight of all that is godly and complete. We bring our petitions to God, seeking after a fresh start.
Prayer of Confession
God of mercy, you have planted within us a desire to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with you. We want to be fair and honorable, delighting in life lived openly and honestly, but we are distracted by the temporary thrills and expediencies. Restore our sight that we might see your path, loving God, and return to follow it. Save us from ourselves.
Assurance of Pardon
God is always near. Our supplications are heard as clearly as our thanksgivings. Know that the peace of God which surpasses all our understandings, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Your desire to do good pleases God. Find joyous focus for life in all that is honorable, just, pure, and excellent. Go in joyous assurance that God’s love for you is unstoppable.
Tomorrow is October 12, a date we remember because in 1492, Christopher Columbus “Discovered” America. Except, discover isn’t exactly the right word, is it? Columbus didn’t know these two continents were here, but they were not undiscovered; there were 50 million people living in North and South America when he sailed up. To say you discovered something that 50 million people are already living in is a bit like saying you just discovered California. Even so, having Europe become aware of the Americas most definitely changed history for these two continents.
Thinking about discovering something that lots of people already know about… today, the day before the day we remember Columbus and his ‘discovery’ is National Coming Out Day. It has been since 1988.
It’s a day for ‘discovering’ or uncovering realities which some people already know about.
Coming Out to your friends and family is like a voyage of discovery in some ways; it is a venture into unsailed waters, you don’t know for sure how things will go, you know that once you go there, some things will never be the same again.
But you also know that where you were is no longer acceptable.
You need friends to be with you when you sail off to discover, or uncover truths about your life. You need a safe harbor, a place you can begin that process where you know you will be protected. Zion United Church of Christ is one safe harbor; one place where we openly announce that you are welcome here; whatever your orientation or expression, you are safe to be who God made you to be. and from here, you can sail into unsailed waters to discover where God might send you.
Today, a day for proclaiming your deepest self; tomorrow, a day for remembering that sometimes discovery means you found out something that millions of people already knew.
God, whose wisdom no one can own,
whose love no one can limit,
gives a blessing
no one can take away.
God of bounding mains and open plains, of galaxies uncountable; open our eyes that we may discover Your presence as near as our own breath. Make us aware that our deepest, darkest secrets are not secret from you; and they do not reduce, in any measure, your love for us. Make us bold to own who we are before you; and know that your love for us is not diminished.
Hear us as we pray for those who live in fear of being found; for those whose stands for righteousness are threatened by terrorists and thugs. Teach us to respect life, and teach us that our rights are always paired with responsibilities toward others. Teach us to redefine what we mean by ‘family’ until we see others as you see them; all of us children of yours.
Hear us as we pray for our friends and loved ones who are grieving—grieving the death of loved ones; grieving the loss of jobs and a sense of security, loss of the joys of mingling and elbow-rubbing. Grant us patience, tender God, that we may ride out this viral storm until it be safe again to hug and be hugged.
Render healing for those we lift before you, healing God. Renew strength, restore hope, return our loved ones to home and hearth and heart and family.
Make us bold to speak of our faith, to show others how we live as followers of Christ, to proclaim and protest and proactively preach from rooftops and street corners, from social media and coffee shops, that You are the God of infinite love, that all Creation are your children, no matter what continent they call home, no matter what color their skin, nor whom they love, nor how they pray—all are children of Yours, and worthy of your love and our care.
Teach us how to live the prayer your Son Jesus taught our lips to pray:
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 debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. AMEN
Scripture: Philippians 4:1-9
1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
“Fill the Tank”
October 11, 2020
Zion UCC, Burlington, IA
- whatever is true,
- whatever is honorable,
- whatever is just,
- whatever is pure,
- whatever is pleasing,
- whatever is commendable,
- if there is any excellence and if there is
- anything worthy of praise,
- think about these things. 9
- Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Lives flooded with negatives; television, social media, drive down the street and see flags of hostility and aggression waving. Armed white supremacist domestic terrorist groups plotting to storm the Michigan Statehouse, taking hostages; a coup of a state, planning to ‘try’ the Governor for treason, to kill people. We are seeing meanness, hostility, racism, insults everywhere. Every time you absorb another one of these points of shame, even when they don’t change your opinion, your own spirit is diminished, made dingier, more negative; made smaller, pushed further from the imitation of Christ. With the barrage of hostility, anger, negativity on every side, it is hard not to focus on those distractions.
And what you focus on, you get more of. Are you aware of this? Whatever you search for, you will get ads for in social media. Try this experiment. Pick some item or idea you have never searched for before. Maybe women’s shoes or camping supplies. Search for that in Google. See how long it takes before your social media feed is flooded with ads for that very product you just searched. That is not a coincidence; you are being targeted by what you are searching for. The same works for your responses. If you click ‘like’ or comment on a white supremacist post, you will suddenly be seeing more just like it. If you react to a social media post about a Catholic shrine, you will see more Facebook posts about that. Whatever you focus on, you will get more of. Not accidental; deliberate. And it drives your confirmation bias to more and more narrow, less and less accurate.
When you are surrounded by the loudest voices insisting that you focus on the negativity, you can miss that which is pure and honorable also in your midst.
So, maybe my first step needs to be selecting what images and words and thoughts I allow in. Making that happen might include turning off the evening news; it might even mean that I stop following a friend or a relative on social media in order to minimize the amount of hatred and negativity I am absorbing. It might mean substituting more time reading the Bible and devotional materials instead of Facebook or twitter or Fox. Deliberately choosing my sources for what words and ideas I load into my psyche.
Where will I be able to see something true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise? Go there; spend more time in those worthy sources.
At the end of Paul’s list of positive things to focus on comes the next step. OK, great, we have been focusing on these things. Now what?
Well, two next steps . One is, now that you have begun to see these positive things around you; think about them.
What would the next steps be to move from the symbolic table of the Lord’s Supper, out into the world to make that feast a reality? If lack of sufficient food, or lack of adequate income for people to pay their rent or utility bills is a symptom of the larger problem, then what would a treatment look like? Something more than a band-aid; but a way that leads out of poverty? Some kind of a bridge into a life that is sustainable? And where could I play a part in that effort?
Last week, CBS interviewed a man in Atlanta who looked around the dilapidated neighborhood where he had grown up. He saw abandoned, falling down houses, empty store-fronts, high rates of crime. He thought about what would be true and honorable and commendable in his neighborhood.
The question of “What SHOULD this neighborhood look like?” was easy—houses should be occupied, clean, well kept; stores should be busy, providing convenient access to shopping for the neighbors and producing a living for the owners.
Thinking about what it should look like though, he realized that was an outcome; the steps toward that hope looked different.
Happy, well-kept homes are often owner-occupied. But banks don’t loan money to buy houses in run-down areas. So, he bought up the abandoned properties, fixed them up, and then sold them, at below-market prices, to families who would live in those homes, strengthen the neighborhood. He is doing the same thing to the retail space, making a way for small family businesses which will sell to the neighborhood.
He realized that thinking about how the neighborhood should look was not enough; he needed to act. One key piece was the lack of financing, and he was able to arrange that. Seeing; thinking about; doing.
Then, keep on doing… seeing is important; focusing shows you more of the world around you; thinking about them moves you along, but then you have to step outside your own mind and do. What brings Paul’s instruction to life is in the doing.
Isn’t it lovely to see and contemplate that which is true and honorable and lovely? But as long as it remains within you, it’s like a secret garden, lovely for you to look at, but no one else can see it. You have seen and contemplated what is commendable and worthy of praise, honorable… now extend that to the world around you. when the sewage flood of negativity comes at you, rather than respond with your own hate-filled flood, do something positive.
Saw on social media last week, someone posted that what this country needs is Jesus. I couldn’t agree more. But that alone, confessing faith in Christ alone while remaining prim and clean in our little pews, is not nearly enough. The country needs Christ; to be sure. The world needs that message from God. But the good thoughts and right attitudes are not enough.
Write; Each of those phrases as a heading; every day write 3 things in each category; ie 3 things that are true; 3 that are honorable; just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent.
If you really want to supercharge that; write a note (yes, a real note, on paper, in an envelope with a stamp), and mail it to the people. “Dear Sir or Madam, on Tuesday, I noticed you doing…… it is rare to find someone actually doing something as commendable as you did. So here I am, commending you. thank you; I hope this encourages you to keep on doing commendable things. I guarantee you, the results will amaze you and quite possibly change your life in ways you cannot imagine.
Then, as your eyes are opened to see these commendable things around you;
You imitate them; you keep on doing true, pure, honorable, commendable things… even if no one else sees you do it.
When you go to the grocery, return that cart someone left out in the parking spot. If you have the courage to eat lunch out, order the water instead of soda; give the table server what you would have spent on the soda in addition to a nice tip. Make their day.
What our neighbors need are hands and feet and hearts and hugs that DO the work of Christ in the world. It is not enough to sit on the couch and say, all God’s children are beloved. Sometimes, you have to put on your shoes and your mask and march to proclaim to the world that Black Lives Matter as much as any others, and demand in the name of God that systemic racism be acknowledged and scrubbed from our culture. Treating some groups in the culture differently than others is not the will of God; and it will not be solved by sitting on your couch.
It is hard to avoid being distracted by all the flood of negativity. So much of it surrounds us, not matter how hard we try, we just can’t filter all of it out. It is important to try; to work at not being distracted from what is important by that which screams it is urgent. Difficult, not impossible.
We continue to focus on that which is true and honorable, just and pure, commendable and excellent; indicators of the presence of God. We tune our ears to hear those elements. We ponder their meaning for our lives, and we ask ourselves what needs to be done to bring those positive elements to the forefront. Then we ask ourselves, what is my part in that? What can I do to advance that kindom of love and compassion? There we find life’s true mission, and God’s great challenge. There we find life—abundant, exciting, fulfilling, and eternal.
Invitation to Offering
Stewardship is more than paying the bills at Church. Stewardship is a Spiritual Discipline, an engagement between you and God, in which you acknowledge God’s presence and importance in your life, and dedicate a proportion of what you have back to God, who is the ultimate source of all we have. We invite you to designate Zion Church as one receiver of your stewardship before God. You may donate to Zion in a few ways. You can mail or drop checks by the Church Office of course, or you can go to the Church website: zionuccburlington.org and look for the “Donate” button, where you will be able to make a secure donation through PayPal. Thank you for your support of Zion Church. Together, we are changing lives.
Prayer of Dedication
May our offerings help prepare many to feast at your table, gracious God. May our generosity reflect the amazing abundance you entrust to our care. As we find joy in giving, may others be inspired to give their best, and may all of us realize your peace dwelling within us as we serve in the name of Christ. AMEN
 Invocation, Call to Confession, Prayer of Confession, Assurance of Pardon, and Prayer of Dedication Broadly adapted from “Taught By Love” by Lavon Bayler, © 1998 by United Church Press.
 Maren Tirabassi, from “Psalm 133 for Coming Out Day”