El Shaddai, God Almighty, we remember Your promises of old through the covenants with our ancestors. We have a new covenant written on our hearts, a covenant through Your Son, Jesus the Christ. We are given the promise of new life, and the hope of resurrection. We thank You and praise You for the blessings of being in covenant with You. May we remember our baptism, the renunciation of sin, the commitment to You, and the acceptance of Your transformative love in our lives. In the name of Christ. Amen.
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Holy God, Word made flesh, let us come to this word open to being surprised. Silence our agendas; banish our assumptions; cast out our casual detachment. Confound our expectations; clear the cobwebs from our ears; penetrate the corners of our hearts with this word. We know that you can, we pray that you will, and we wait with great anticipation. Amen.
13Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.
14For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
As a kid, one of my favorite cartoons included the catch phrase, “Yabba Dabba Doo!!” If you know that phrase you are familiar with Fred, Wilma, Barney, Betty, Pebbles, BamBam and Dino –The Flintstones. Those stone age neighbors living in Bedrock. One particular reoccurring theme in this “Honey Mooners-esque” cartoon was Fred having an internal discussion with an angel Fred on one shoulder and a devil Fred on the other shoulder. Each making their case to Fred, the accident-prone bronto-crane operator at the Slate Rock and Gravel Company listening to his conscience and the devil about a decision in his life either at the bowling alley or with the Royal Order of Water Buffalos. This inner dialogue reminds me of the Apostle Paul and his letter to the Romans.
I have always loved this passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans. I find it to be such a true and accurate description of what it’s like to live life as a follower of God in the way of Christ. We’ve all been there. We’ve all experienced this kind of inner turmoil Paul describes: Knowing what is right but doing the exact opposite. Knowing in your heart and mind what God wants you to do but being swayed by your own desires to do what you want to do.
Yet as much as I like this passage and appreciate the reality it describes, there is a danger here, a danger that is present in other parts of the New Testament, as well. If there is one consistent and pervasive mistake that the church has made in its 2,000-year history, it is that it has elevated the individual over and above the community.
It is easy to read this passage and think that sin is only about us as individuals, that sin is a personal struggle between good and evil. It is easy to read this passage and think that salvation is a personal thing, that salvation is only about me and my relationship to God. But this is not true. Sin and salvation, indeed our entire spiritual and religious lives, are deeply rooted in community.
In ancient Israel, in the centuries before Jesus was born, it was the community—not the individual—that was the center of religious and social life. I don’t necessarily want to suggest that people were not allowed individuality or personal distinction, but being a part of the community was much more important than being an autonomous individual. The laws of Israel and the cultural norms that stood behind them supported family and community, protecting individuals against isolation or abandonment.
In this environment, the fate of each Israelite was tied up with the fate of the entire nation. Salvation was not about what happens to individuals after they die. Salvation was about saving the community from the brink of destruction. It was an act of grace and mercy from God, bestowed upon Israel as a whole. To be sure, there was a sense of individual relationship to the God of Israel, but this was never given priority over the concerns of the community.
At some point, most likely during the Babylonian exile, the Jewish people began to think about things in a different way. It was no longer universally held that collective blessing and punishment was the way of God. Prophets began to consider that perhaps individuals are held accountable for their own actions. This thinking developed in the years between the exile and the time of Jesus. Jesus, I believe, maintained a primarily communal perspective. But in his followers, the individualistic impulse took its course. One might argue that seventeen centuries later, this emphasis on the individual reached its zenith in the founding principles of the United States of America.
For this reason, for what President Herbert Hoover and others have called the “rugged individualism” of the American people, it is appropriate on this Independence Day weekend to reflect on this tension between the community and the individual. I believe that we are a nation of individuals standing at a crossroads: will we continue to function as a collection of individuals primarily concerned with our own individual welfare, or will we rediscover what it means to truly be a community?
Community seems to be a lost idea in 2020, but it wasn’t so long ago in our national history that the priority was the community, specifically during WWII. I’ve been listening to lots of different channels on Spotify and have gotten hooked with 1940s swing, music of the greatest generation. Plenty of songs about military service, pining for a loved-one sent to war or Peggy the Pinup girl. Many of these classic songs remind the listener of the importance of community and what is best for the country. One of favorites from 1943 is entitled: “The Ration Blues” – by Louis Jordan that speaks of the call to ration supplies for the war effort and missing meat, sweets and gasoline:
Baby baby baby, what’s wrong with Uncle Sam?
He’s cut down on my sugar, now he’s messin‘ with my ham
I got the ration blues, blue as I can be
Oh me, I’ve got those ration blues
I got to live on forty ounces, of any kind of meat
Those forty little ounces gotta last me all the week
I got to cut down on my jelly
It takes sugar to make it sweet
I’m gonna steal all your jelly baby
And rob you of your meat
I got the ration blues, blue as I can be
Oh me, I’ve got those ration blues
I like to wake up in the morning with my jelly by my side
Since rationing started baby, you just take your stuff and hide
They reduced my meat and sugar
And rubber’s disappearing fast
You can’t ride no more with poppa
‘Cause Uncle Sam wants my gas
I got the ration blues, blue as I can be
Oh me, I’ve got those ration blues
Yes, we are complaining about missing basic supplies, but we understand that this sacrifice helps the country – helps the community. I’ll admit that I have a hard time preaching around the Fourth of July. I’m not the kind of preacher to deliver a rousing patriotic sermon. But on this Independence Day weekend, I submit to you that we would do well as a nation – as a society – to put aside our idolatrous focus on the individual and return to a biblical notion of community.
Jesus didn’t write a self-help book or give us seven easy steps to becoming a better you. Jesus created a community. He showed that community what it means to love each other as much as they loved themselves. He showed that community what it means be a servant to others. He showed that community that the salvation of all depends on the welfare of the least among them. He showed that community the power of selflessness and sacrifice.
Before he was killed, Jesus gathered that community around a table and shared a meal with them. He showed them through the table and the bread and the cup that they were bound together through a special bond forged in love and service.
Friends, we are heirs of that community, and we are called to that same table. Soon we will gather together and proclaim through breaking the bread and sharing the cup that we too are one, that we too are bound together through love and service.
Think back to Paul’s description of our inner conflict between good and evil, our inner conflict between the law of God and our own desires. Or think about that angel and that demon, sitting on your shoulders and whispering in your ears.
In one ear you hear this: “Hey, you’ve got to look out for number one. You really ought to do what feels good. Your personal comfort and happiness are the most important things. You deserve it.”
In the other ear you hear this: “If you want to save your life, you must lose it. The last will be first and the first will be last. Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Commentary provided by Mindi Welton-Mitchell, Walter F. Taylor, Jr., David Lose, Marion L. Soards, Scott Hoezee, John W. Vest, and Peter G. James,
THE SACRAMENT OF COMMUNION
A Communion Liturgy for the Global Pandemic
By Rev. Lane Cotton Winn and Rev. Juan Huertas
Introductory Words from Pastor
We are experiencing Holy Communion in a new way today.
Though physically separated from one another, we are still bound together as family through our baptism.
As members of the household of God we now join together virtually, yet still present to one another as we gather from across the miles.
This presence is marked by our shared praises and prayers, our shared hearing and affirming of God’s word, and now our shared eating.
And now, as we share in the Great Thanksgiving, each time I say, “The family responds,” you will repeat back the response I have given to you.
The Great Thanksgiving
The peace and presence of the Lord be with us.
So we lift up our hearts.
And the family says, “We lift them up to God.”
People: “We lift them up to God!”
Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God, because it is the right thing to do, not only now, but always – day after day after day.
And the family says, “Day after day after day.”
People: “Day after day after day.”
We thank you, creator God, that you made us in your image, and breathed into us the breath of life. When we turned away, our love failing, and our bodies diseased, you reached out to us again and again, providing healing, wholeness, and new life.
When the flood came, You provided an ark.
When the plagues came You provided safety.
When evening came,
You provided a pillar of fire.
When exile came,
You provided a new song.
Day after day after day,
Your love remained steadfast.
And the family says: Day after day after day.
People: Day after day after day.
And so with your people on earth, and all the company of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn.
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord! God of power and might!
The family says: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord! God of power and might!
People: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord! God of power and might!
Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.
The family says: Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.
People: Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the Highest!
The family says: Hosanna in the Highest!
People: Hosanna in the Highest!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God.
Blessed is your Son who came to preach the good news to the poor, release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
Freed the oppressed,
and announced that the time had come
when you would save your people.
He healed the sick.
And the family says, “He healed the sick.
People: “He healed the sick.
He is healing the sick now.
And the family says, “He is healing the sick now.”
People: “He is healing the sick now.
He will heal the sick, day after day after day.
“And the family says, “day after day after day.”
People: “day after day after day.”
On the night in which he gave himself up for us, he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
When the supper was over, he took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said: “Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Let us be a community of healer and hope givers, as together we proclaim the mystery of faith:
“The family says: Christ has died.”
People: Christ has died.
“The family says: Christ is risen.”
People: Christ is risen.
“The family says: Christ will come again.”
People: Christ will come again.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Let them be for us the body and blood of Christ,
so that we may be for the world the body of Christ,
made whole by his witness, passion and life. In this season of social distancing,
may you remind us that we are never spiritually distant from You.
We belong to your body.
“The family says: We belong to your body.”
People: We belong to your body.
May the Spirit use us to heal and reconcile in Jesus name,
“The family says: We will heal and reconcile in Jesus name.”
People: We will heal and reconcile in Jesus name.
And now Holy Spirit make us one in Christ, one with each other,
and one in ministry to all the world.
The Lord’s Prayer
We pray all this in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit —who taught us 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.
The Breaking of the Bread
This bread reminds us that any life, no matter how broken, or sick, or distorted it may become, can be made whole again.
The Pouring of the Cup
The cup reminds us that any life, no matter how empty, or lonely, or isolated it may become, can be filled again.
These are the gifts of God, for the family of God.”
And the family says, “Thanks be to God.”
People: Thanks be to God.
I invite you to prayerfully partake in Holy Communion by whatever means you have.
Christ’s Body Broken For You…
Christ’s Blood Shed For You…
Prayer After Receiving
Day after day after day you give yourself to us: in two or three gathered in your name,
in connection across the miles,
and in bread and wine.
As we go from this gathering around your table, may we feel restored to your body, companioned by your people, and sustained by the power of your Spirit
as we witness to your healing and reconciling work.
Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Any remaining Communion elements can be consumed or returned to the earth.
SENDING WORDS Romans 16:25-27
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.