Holy God, we come together to worship,
a people who would like to think that we love you
with all our hearts and souls,
with all our might,
but there are so many other things in our lives
that clamor for our attention
that we often relegate you to Sundays
and times when we want you to rescue us.
Most of us really do want you to be the one
in whom we live and move and have our being.
We really do want to hear your voice
above all of the other voices in our lives.
But we get bogged down in the daily routine.
We forget who we are.
We forget who you are.
We forget what the church is supposed to be.
So here we are, standing before you today,
with our human foibles
and our short attention spans,
asking that you would make yourself known to us,
that you would help us to recognize
the presence of the Holy,
that you would continue to challenge us,
and make us into the people you want us to be.
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
God of all time and space,
you initiated the relationship of love and generosity with creation
at a time before and beyond all knowing.
Through the Word and the Spirit,
you continue in eternal love for all beings.
Fill us with a deep and abiding awareness of your presence,
your call, and your grace in our lives and in our world.
Shape us to into the people you have made us to be –
poured out in creative mercy
for the sake of Jesus Christ in all creation. Amen.
SCRIPTURE John 14:15-21
15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.
Barbara Brown Taylor tells the story of how she is the eldest of three daughters and was the designated baby sitter in her family. From the time she was 12, she was the one her parents left in charge when they went out at night. In her words….
First my father would sit me down and remind me how much he and my mother trusted me—not only because I was the oldest but also because I was the most responsible. This always made me dizzy, but I agreed with him. I would not let the house burn down, I would not open the door to strangers. I would not let my little sister fall down the basement steps.
Then my mother would show me where she had left the telephone number, remind me when they would be home, and all together we would walk to the front door where everyone kissed everyone good-bye. Then the lock clicked into place, and a new era began. I was in charge. Turning around to face my new responsibilities, what I saw were my sisters’ faces, looking at me with something between hope and fear. They knew I was no substitute for what they had just lost, but since I was all they had they were willing to try.
And so was I. I played games with them, I read them books, I made the pimento cheese sandwiches on white bread with the crusts cut off. But as the night wore on they got crankier and crankier. Where are mommy and daddy? Where did they go? When will they be back? I told them over and over again. I made up elaborate stories about what we would all do together in the morning. I promised them that if they would go to sleep I would make sure mommy and daddy kissed them good night when they came in. I tried to make everything sound normal, but how did I know? Our parents might have had a terrible accident. They might never come home again and the three of us would be split apart, each of us sent to a different foster home so that we never saw each other again.
It was hard, being the babysitter, because I was a potential orphan to. I had as much to lose as my sisters, and as much to fear, but I could not give in to it because I was the one in charge. I was supposed to know better. I was supposed to exude confidence and create the same thing in them. I was supposed to know all the answers.
Many of us know what Barbara means, not only because we were babysitters too but because we are Christians. We are all of us Christ’s elder children in the world, the ones he has left in charge. We are the responsible ones, the ones he has trusted to carry on in his name, and everywhere we go we see the faces of those whom he has given into our care.
Some of them are still hungry to see him and some of them are not. Some of them are still open to his return and some of them have closed their hearts. Some of them are still waiting and some of them have clearly given up. At first, they jumped out of bed whenever they thought they heard footsteps on the stairs, but now they know better. Morning may come and it may not. They may wait to find out and they may not, slipping off into the night to look for some other, more reliable light.
Where is Christ? Where did Christ go? And when will Christ be back? It is hard, being the ones in charge, because we are potential orphans too, only Christ said we would not be. He said he was going away, but he also said he was coming back again, and not only at the end of time.
Barbara Brown Taylor always brings a text like this one, no matter how difficult, right back to the heart of the message. She always drives home the central point, that God will not leave us alone and live with us. Jesus will Not visit. Christ will Not pass through from time to time. The Savior will Not send a postcard. ‘We will come to them and make our home with them.
John only uses the word ‘home’ twice in his gospel, both times around the supper table.” Is it any wonder that our church home has a table at its center, not just architecturally but at the heart of our sacramental life together? This “home,” Taylor writes, is not “a temporary place but a permanent one, an abode large enough to accommodate the love that binds him to God on one hand and binds him to us on the other, a giant heart of a place with room enough for everyone whom love unites. It is John’s idea of heaven to move in with the God who has moved in with us.” That is the Good News for those of us who are Christ’s siblings – God is with us and invites us into relationship. The Good News also invites us to invite others into relationship with Christ -because there are no orphans in the kingdom of God.
Michael Lindvall, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor catches the spirit of that in a chapter in a delightful little book, Good News from North Haven. It’s actually about his experience in a small church in rural northern Minnesota. In a chapter about baptism he tells about the time he found one of his members sitting alone, weeping, in the sanctuary after a baptism, which in this little church traditionally involved the grandparents and aunts and uncles all standing as the newest member of their family was held by the minister for the sacrament.
Her name was Mildred Cory and through her tears she told Michael that she had a new grandson and that she was thinking about his baptism. Michael told her to have Tina and her husband give him a call to make arrangements.
“Tina’s got no husband,” Mildred said. She’s eighteen, was confirmed in this church just four years ago . . .she started to see this older boy.” She hesitated and then the rest of the story came tumbling out. She got pregnant and Jimmy joined the Air Force and she decided to keep the baby and she wants to have him baptized here, in her church, but she’s nervous to come talk to you.
At that time and place, Tina’s situation raised eyebrows and was controversial enough that the Session had a discussion about the appropriateness of the whole matter before approving, which it did. The real problem, everybody knew, was when the minister got to the part when the whole family stands up and there wasn’t going to be any, and her situation would be there for everyone to see.
So, the day arrived, the last Sunday in Advent and the church was full. An elder announced “Tina Corey presents her son for baptism” . . . “Down the aisle she came, nervously, shaking slightly with month old Jimmy in her arms, a blue pacifier stuck in his mouth. The scene hurt all right, every bit as much as we knew it would.”
‘Who stands with this child?’ Michael asked and Mildred, Tina’s mother, stood up all by herself. Michael writes “I was just about to ask Tina the parents question when I became aware of movement in the pews. Angus McDowell had stood up in his blue sharkskin suit, Minnie beside him. Then a couple other elders stood up, then the sixth grade Sunday School teacher stood up, then a new young couple in the church, and soon, before my incredulous eyes, the whole church was standing up with little Jimmy.” (p. 168-175)
I will not leave you orphaned, Jesus promised, I am coming to you…
Commentary provided by Karoline Lewis, David Lose, Craig R. Koester, Jamie Clark-Soles, John. Buchanan, Barbara Brown Taylor and Michael Lindvall.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE & THE LORD’S PRAYER
Center us now, O God,
on your presence in this place among your people,
as we lift up our hearts desires,
our soul’s deep needs,
our hungers, fears and failures.
As we have often failed to be obedient to your will in our lives
as individual disciples and as church,
we pray that you will forgive us and enliven us
to be and to do the gospel of Christ.
Open us to your Spirit’s urgings,
and awaken us to live faithfully as your people
in a changing, often hurting world.
We pray for those around us who need your care,
and ask that you would make of us your instruments
of healing, peace and redemption.
We pray especially for those we have named to you this day,
and others we lift to you in the silence of our hearts.
Reveal your presence with them and with us, God of life,
that as people of renewed faith and vitality,
we may be empowered to serve your world,
and so give glory to you;
for we offer our prayers and our lives
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and forever. Amen.
As we offer these prayers, we do so in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray saying…
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 Spirit of God inspires…listen!
The Spirit of God transforms…grow!
The Spirit of God empowers…go…and be…and do!
And may you…
those you encounter…
and those who are touched beyond that encounter…
discover and know the grace, love, and peace of God each and every day.