The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
August 29, 2021
PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Everlasting God, in whom we live and move and have our being. You have made us for yourself, so that our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Give us purity of heart and strength of purpose, that no selfish passion may hinder us from knowing your will, no weakness keep us from doing it; that in your light we may see light clearly, and in your service find perfect freedom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
PRELUDE: Prelude in G minor – Paul Taylor
CALL TO WORSHIP
Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee
Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise Take my will and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne. Come, let us worship the Lord!
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. In humility and faith let us confess our sin to God.
CONFESSION OF SIN
Merciful God, in your gracious presence we confess our sin and the sin of this world. Although Christ is among us as our peace, we are a people divided against ourselves as we cling to the values of a broken world. The profit and pleasures we pursue lay waste the land and pollute the seas. The fears and jealousies that we harbor set neighbor against neighbor and nation against nation. We abuse your good gifts of imagination and freedom, of intellect and reason, and have turned them into bonds of oppression. Lord have mercy upon us; heal and forgive us. Set us free to serve you in the world as agents of your reconciling love in Jesus Christ.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Hear the teachings of Christ, a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you. Know you are forgiven and be at peace.
PEACE OF CHRIST
As God has forgiven us, let us forgive one another May the peace of Christ be with you all,
And also with you.
ANTHEM: Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross – Vicki Courtney
CHILDREN’S MESSAGE MaryLynne Diehlman
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
O God, by your spirit, tell us what we need to hear; and show us what we ought to do, to obey Jesus Christ our savior. Amen.
SCRIPTURE READING James 1:17-27
SERMON A Change Gonna Come
Today’s scripture indeed comes from the letter of James, a brother of Jesus and a leader in the Jerusalem church, who would later be martyred. Various sources place the date of its writing around 49 AD, or common era. The condensed statement of purpose for its writing was to expose hypocritical practices and to teach right Christian behavior.
In doing background research on this letter; suffice it to say, there is so much more written about its intent, its author, and its value than one might suppose. We do know that it was one of the letters not originally intended to be included in the Bible. Indeed it is one of the books which had a very hard fight to get into the New Testament. It was spoken of with a certain reserve and suspicion, and even as late as the sixteenth century, Luther would have gladly banished it from the New Testament altogether. Now to the average Christian reading of this; yet being told that the author was the brother of Jesus, and wrote this years before the letters of Paul – you could easily have questions yourself. Tough crowd, those folks who decided what stays and what goes in the makeup and composition of the Bible.
And this is only the beginning of some the analyzation of James’ letter – one might say over analyzation, or as it is referenced in today’s vernacular “paralysis by analysis”. In response to this situation, one theologian actually stated that instead of using James as a reference verse by verse to build a sermon; one might be better served simply reading the entire letter by itself as the sermon and let it stand on its own, for in its apparent simplicity is a clear-cut message to the Christians and Jews of that time, and to us as well. And the letter starts so well, as James introduces himself as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, there was my chance, just read the entire letter, say amen and on to the Affirmation of Faith. I decided to take a different, albeit more traditional route.
All this month our lessons have been basically centered upon how to better live a Christian life. We have followed these instructions and guidance through the book of Ephesians; and that continues now in the letter of James. Where we are reminded that every good and perfect gift is from above, from God who chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all He created.
The analysis of this tells us that first century Christians were the first generation to believe in Jesus Christ as Messiah. James called them a kind of first fruits of all he created. The Jewish leaders would be well aware of the practice of offering the first crops to ripen just prior to harvest as an act of worship, and also as a blessing on the rest of the harvest. Paul refers to Christ as the first fruits of those who have died; and in our stewardship and giving we speak of the first fruits of our treasures being tithed to God in our offerings and pledges.
James then goes on to advise us – everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for our anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires. In other words, when we talk too much and listen too little, we communicate to others that we think that our ideas are much more important than theirs. In some churches this would be the perfect place for – “can I get an amen?”
James tells us it is time to reverse this. A change needs to come, or you will be able to count your friends on one hand if you’re lucky.
He goes on to elaborate about listening. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the person who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – will be blessed in what they do.
In other words, do we put into action, what we have heard, or do we come to church, hear scriptures, recite confessions and affirmations, sing hymns of commitment and praise, and feel that this alone makes us a Christian?
Nothing worth changing will ever change, unless thoughts and words are put into actions. Words can inspire us to be true to the laws which have been our foundation, but we should not be afraid to follow new laws, and directions – the commandments given to us by Jesus Christ – to love God with all our heart and soul and mind, and to love thy neighbor as thyself.
We started this month referencing John the Baptist, a prophet who preached for all to listen what was about to come into play, and what major change would be coming, when he spoke to the Pharisees and Sadducees, saying “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” He could have added, my friends a change is gonna come.
The scripture closes with another admonishment and warning. Listen now, from the message by Eugene Peterson.
But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God – the free life! Even out of the corner of their eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain, but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.
Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this; reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight and guard against corruption from the Godless world.
We’ve got some work to do, some changes have to be made, in our lives, our relationships, our worship, our nation, and our world. But throughout our history, there have been voices, coming from all kinds of places reminding us what we need to do; and while not always responding in the most diligent way possible, we have made some progress. So often the words, the voices are in songs, and just like the psalms of old they touch us, inspire us, make us uncomfortable, sometimes comfort us to
keep moving on to follow the life and the teachings of Jesus Christ, to care for our brothers and sisters and to expand his church in word and in deed.
Then I go to my brother and I say, brother help me please
But he winds up knocking me back down on my knees
Oh, there been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
Lyrics from A Change Gonna Come, by Sam Cook in 1965. Inspired by he and friends being physically removed from a lunch counter in North Carolina.
Then 5 years later:
Come gather round people wherever you roam; and admit that the waters around you have grown and accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone. And if your breath to you is worth savin’, then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone. For the times they are a changing.
Bob Dylan – Vietnam Era.
These were just two of the voices of a difficult time not that long ago, calling for action, listening, and doing. But still the need is there. We have heard also the voices calling us to listen and to do when it comes to our environment and our future not just as a nation but as a global community. And we have heard the voices calling us to listen. Listen to each other, calling us to see Christ in all, calling us to do, calling us to truly love our neighbors as ourselves. So that change can truly come.
Connecting, listening, caring, and loving provide hope and that hope does so often come in music, be it psalms, or Bob Dylan, or the music we sing today.
For the wonder of each hour of the day and of the night, hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light.
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest; sun moon and stars in their courses above. Join with all nature in manifold witness, to thy great faithfulness mercy and love.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean, and sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine. But other lands have sunlight too and clover, and skies are everywhere as blue as mine. So hear my song o God of all the nations, a song of peace for their land and for mine.
We have listened. We have heard. Now we must do; as we give thanks with a grateful heart. Amen
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
This is the good news which we have received, in which we stand, and by which we are saved, if we hold it fast; that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, and that he appeared first to the women, then to Peter, and to the twelve, and then to many witnesses. We believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. Jesus Christ is the first and the last, the beginning and the end; he is our Lord and our God. Amen.
PASTORAL PRAYER AND THE LORD’S PRAYER
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.
PRESENTATION OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS
RESPONSE No. 609 Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
CHARGE AND BENEDICTION