Third Sunday after Epiphany
January 22, 2023
Holy and loving God, thank you for walking with us. Thank you for revealing yourself to us as we walk with you. We pray that you will open our eyes and our ears so we may be mindful of what you are saying to us. Open our hearts to receive your word. May our worship be focused upon you and only you. In the name of your Son Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
PRELUDE “Fantasia on ‘Forest Green’”
CALL TO WORSHIP
The foolish say, “There is no God! We are alone, on our own.”
We gather to declare the glory of God in our lives.
The foolish say, “It is your life; you are accountable to no one.”
We gather, strengthened by the Spirit, trusting that Christ dwells in our hearts.
The foolish say, “Everything I have is mine; I owe nothing to any one.”
We gather to praise the One who calls us to serve others in love.
*HYMN No. 712 “As Those Of Old Their Firstfruits Brought”
1 As those of old their firstfruits brought
of vineyard, flock, and field
to God, the giver of all good,
the source of bounteous yield,
so we today our firstfruits bring,
the wealth of this good land:
of farm and market, shop and home,
of mind and heart and hand.
2 A world in need now summons us
to labor, love, and give,
to make our life an offering
that all may truly live.
The church of Christ is calling us
to make the dream come true:
a world redeemed by Christ-like love,
all life in Christ made new.
3 In gratitude and humble trust
we bring our best today,
to serve your cause and share your love
with all along life’s way.
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.
*CALL TO CONFESSION
Let us pause here to confess the sins that have kept us from recognizing and enjoying God’s presence.
*PRAYER FOR CONFESSION
Gracious God, when despair and suffering overwhelm us, we cry out for you and feel abandoned. We doubt your presence and your promises. We believe you have turned away from us in anger. We ask why you have forsaken us. In these moments, strengthen us in faith and fill our hearts with courage. We believe, God. Help our unbelief. Amen.
Silence is observed
*ASSURANCE OF PARDON
“The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.” Know that you are forgiven and be at peace. Amen.
*RESPONSE No. 581 “Glory Be To The Father”
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen, amen.
*PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
Our peace comes from knowing how much God loves us in Jesus Christ. With God’s help, we try to love and forgive one another as Christ loves and forgives us.
“The peace of Christ be with you,”
“And also with you.”
ANTHEM “Come Peace of God” Susan Callaway
UNISON PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
God of epiphanies, you reveal yourself to us in diverse and numerous ways. Free us the distractions that turn our focus away from you and your Word. Open us to the truth you reveal to us today. Amen.
UNISON SCRIPTURE Psalm 14:1-4
1 Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt; they do abominable deeds;
there is no one who does good.
2 The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.
3 They have all gone astray; they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good,
no, not one.
4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread
and do not call upon the Lord?
SERMON “STUDY: LISTEN & PAY ATTENTION”
Growing up I had my fair-share of frustrated teachers. Not any teacher who was frustrated me, mind you, but teachers who were frustrated with us students. They didn’t hide their frustrations well. They let us know what pains in the neck we were being.
In seventh grade I had a German teacher who tried to make learning the language as fun as possible. She talked in different voices, making a silly joke now and then. She tried to get us in a happy mood. But when she was frustrated, she stopped being funny. She spoke through clenched teeth, and her eyes burned holes through us. Nobody was having fun. I had a math teacher in high school who would slouch his shoulders and lower his head and complain loudly about why we couldn’t behave. I had an English teacher who would simply stop talking, stare at the student for what seemed like five years, and then say, “I will see you after school” (which meant after school detention). I thankfully, never saw her after school, but several friends did have that experience.
A teacher stands up from behind her desk and she peers at her class. The kids are fidgeting, giggling, drawing on pieces of paper, not looking the teacher in the eye. Doesn’t anybody understand the lessons? Can’t anybody be serious for a moment and pay closer attention to what is being taught?
In Psalm 14, God looks down from heaven and sees the entire earth. People like unruly kids are fidgeting, giggling, not looking God in the eye. God wonders if anybody understands anything. Several translations of this psalm say “Children of humankind,” that is what the inhabitants of earth are called in verse 2. Not “the children of God” who seek after the things of God. No, children of humanity who act like aimless children, who worry about “security, pleasure, and power. The endless struggle for enough money, good feelings, and prestige yields a rich harvest of worry, frustration, suspicion, anger, jealousy, anxiety, fear, and resentment.” God looks down like a teacher overlooking her class, and God wonders who the A-students could be. Do they even exist? Everyone seems to be failing.
The lessons have nothing to do with applying mathematics properly or grasping historical fact accurately. They have nothing to do with language or art. The lessons have to do with life itself.
How do we treat our neighbors?
How do we treat ourselves?
Do we thank God for anything, not just when things go our way?
Do people always pursue security, pleasure, and power, or could human beings seek ye first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness?
“They have all turned aside,” the Psalm tells us, which is a thoroughly depressing thought. “They have all turned aside.” All they do is giggle and fidget and not look God in the eyes, not turn an ear to what God may be saying. “They have together become corrupt. There is none who does good, no, not a one.”
In his letter to the Romans, Paul talks about human sinfulness just as Psalm 14 does, but he goes into more detail. “They have together become unprofitable… their throats are an open tomb with tongues of deceit.” Paul mentions the poison of serpents and the shedding of blood, destruction and misery, and whole bunch of nastiness. A person might feel as though he has been beaten over the head after reading it. All of this nastiness wears a person down. All this nastiness occurs because of sin. The law of God holds people accountable for their sin, so that no flesh could ever possibly be justified – corrected, made blameless, and made right. The law condemns us – it does not heal. The law puts a bold light on our sin – it doesn’t bring us to the Light of God.
And yet Christ does. Christ is our Light, and the Light of the world shines upon us. Christ mends and restores. Christ makes things right by his sacrifice on the cross. Christ grants us his righteousness through his resurrection from the tomb. It is Christ who turns us from children of humanity to children of God.
If we don’t understand, we may come to Christ for clearer understanding. If we find ourselves covered with corruption, we may go to Christ to have it removed. The unprofitable becomes profitable. Words of poison give way to words of God that act as antidotes against poison. We are not made good – we are made pure and whole through Christ. Security is found in our God. Our pleasure is reflecting the life of Christ in helping others. Power comes from the Holy Spirit to give us the energy and courage to face life’s storms and sail through them to calmer weather. We the students may learn from the Teacher once more. We may pay close attention to the lessons. We may live fuller lives for God and God’s kingdom.
Part of the problem with people not understanding God comes from too much foolishness. Being a fool in Psalm 14 has nothing to do with acting like a clown or telling goofy jokes. The word fool has all to do with moral and spiritual insensitivity.
The fool says, “There is no God.” Some people actually believe that there is no God. They might not be atheists who push their atheistic ideas; they may be just ordinary people who don’t go to church and see no reason to go.
N. T. Wright is a former Bishop of Durham, England, and he is surprised by how many people, even Christians, believe that there may be a God, but God doesn’t get involved with them often. There is a belief about God that is still going strong today, and it is called Deism. Deism basically states that God created the world a long time ago and has set it off to do its own thing. It is like the clockmaker building a clock and winding it up, and allowing it to tick and tock without interference. The clockmaker goes off and does his thing, just as God has gone off to do his thing, while we do our thing. So, the belief is that God and we are a long distance away from each other. God enjoys himself up in heaven and we enjoy ourselves down here on earth.
This might sound odd to us, but when Bishop Wright speaks with people about themselves and God, he is surprised to find how they mention little about how God is influencing their lives. When “many people say they believe in God,” Wright says, “they will often add in the same breath that they don’t go to church, they don’t pray, and in fact they don’t think much about God from one year’s end to the next.” Wright says that he doesn’t blame these people. “If I believed in a distant, remote God like that, I wouldn’t get out of bed on a Sunday morning either.”
But it isn’t that God is actually distant and remote. People think this. People act as though God is somewhere, out there. Far from us, high above in heaven, unreachable. People, even Christians, may believe that God is fine for when they are in church, but otherwise God somehow doesn’t exist in the normal world. God has no bearing on our lives for six days out of the week. This is called foolishness.
And then disaster strikes. Bad news comes through Facebook or an email. People thought they were living good enough lives without going to church or praying or even thinking about God. They didn’t care about God being around, but now they pray desperately for God to remove their burdens. They are so sorry, so penitent, so desperate, when they want something from God. Why would a distant, remote God care? If God is in his heaven doing his own thing, why would God interrupt his schedule to help us at all? When the answers don’t come quickly, people conclude that God doesn’t care or that there is no God.
It is interesting, though, that Psalm 14 mentions God looking down from heaven, as though he is a Deist god, a god removed from us. God is up there, and we are down here. Admittedly, God does seem distant when we are suffering. God seems to be comfortable somewhere else, while we struggle through situations that zap our energy and make us miserable.
Yet, God is not always seen as up there. If we have studied the Bible, we find stories in which God is very close to us. God speaks and directs. God touches and comforts. God blesses and strengthens. God is not just up there but is also down here. God started the clock of time a long time ago, and God is constantly tweaking that clock, remaining intimately involved with our time and our space. God is tirelessly working through all creation to clean it up and to perfect it. God is tirelessly working through us to clean us up and to perfect us.
In Psalm 14, God is deeply concerned with how the world is running. He hates to see how the poor are treated and how the rich prosper. “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call on the Lord?” People living on power and prestige as their only food: this is not how God created them to be. Taking advantage of others, using people to climb to the next level of success, abusing people’s emotions and feelings: this is all motivated by foolishness, thinking God is somewhere else, while thinking we can do whatever we want.
We are not to eat up people like they are our only source of nourishment. Jesus once said to Satan, of all individuals, that people do not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. For that matter, none of us lives on the food of security, pleasure, and power, exploiting people to get our way. God is our food. God is our nourishment. God gives us the energy to keep moving forward.
The fool says in his or her heart that there is no nourishment, if they say there is no God. The fool forgets that God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, intimately lived with us, and passionately died for us, and triumphantly rose for us. Does a distant and remote God do this? How can God not exist, when we have Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior?
Christ mends and restores life. Christ makes things right by his sacrifice on the cross. Christ grants us his righteousness through his resurrection from the tomb. It is Christ who turns us from children of human beings to children of God.
We are children of an intimately involved and ever-present God, and we have much to learn. We are not being made good – we are being made pure and whole through Christ. Security is found in our God. Our pleasure is reflecting the life of Christ in helping others. Power comes from the Holy Spirit to give us the energy and courage to face life’s storms and sail through them to calmer weather.
We are young students as God’s children, who learn from the Teacher time and time again. God our teacher never stops teaching. There is so much more to learn. There is so much more growth to be gained. We the students may learn from the Teacher once more. We may pay close attention to the lessons offered to us each day.
After worship and prayer, if we would walk with God and become the people God wants us to be, we have to learn to pay attention and to listen – spend time in God’s Word. With constant noise of life bombarding us, we often find it hard to hear the voice of God. The simplest way to hear God in our daily life is to read/listen to Scripture. I began on January First of listening to scripture on a podcast – so each morning I hear an Old Testament passage, a Psalm, and a portion of the New Testament. It has been a joyful way to stay connected to God. I would invite you to read the Bible, join our Sunday School class or a Small Group Study. This will allow for a closer walk with God, and understand that God is not far away, but always beside us on our daily journey!
Liturgy and Commentaries provided by NT Wright, Teri McDowell Ott, Stephine Sorge, Adam Hamilton, PCUSA Book of Order and PCUSA Book of Confession
*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH The Apostles’ Creed
I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
*HYMN No. 182 “I Heard The Voice of Jesus Say”
1 I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto me and rest;
lay down, O weary one, lay down
your head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
so weary, worn, and sad;
I found him in a resting place,
and he has made me glad.
2 I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
the living water, thirsty one;
stoop down and drink and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.
3 I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s light;
look unto me, your morn shall rise,
and all your day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found
in him my star, my sun;
and in that light of life I’ll walk
till traveling days are done.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER & THE LORD’S PRAYER
Eternal God, in this season of Epiphany, this season of Divine “show-ing” we recall the wonder of Christmas and the birth of Emmanuel with joy and gratitude. Still, our problems, our brokenness and our suffering remain. Our hearts cry for you as we seek to know you face to face, as intimate as creature and creator can get. So often we can’t find you and feel forsaken in the midst of our despair. Show us how wrong we are, Holy God. Restore our confidence in your presence.
We pause here to focus our minds and hearts on you, God, in this prayer. The psalmists, ages ago, lifted their prayers to you in faithful confidence that you would hear and receive their petitions. Following their lead, we lift our petitions for the world, our communities, and our loved ones. In your mercy, O God, hear our prayers.
We pray for our world full of violence, political tension, and suffering. We pray for the Ukrainians who remind us of democracy’s fragility and inspire us to cherish our right to self-determination. Protect those who hold to good and resist evil. Soften the tyrants who fail to see the global consequences of greedy pursuits. Lift the lowly in need of grace. Set the oppressed free. In your mercy, O God, hear our prayers.
We pray for our communities, for the people searching for companionship and communion, for the ill and their caregivers, for the laborers who ensure our needs are met. God, help us see you at work among us, in the bonds we form serving together, in kindness shown and care received, in the ways we grow in understanding and empathy for those whose lives are different. We praise you, God, for the many ways you show up. We praise you for becoming God-with-us in Jesus Christ. Dispel our doubts and fears so we can embrace your presence in the flesh. In your mercy, O God, hear our prayers.
We pray for our loved ones, those whom we hold closest to heart and mind. Comfort those who grieve. Encourage those who are ill. Embrace those who have received bad news. Make space for those who struggle to belong. Generous God, filter our despair through your good news of great joy, so we might see and know and share your abundant hope and irresistible grace.
In your mercy, O God, hear the prayers of your people. Help us to live as epiphanies of your work and your presence, showing your love to all the world. Now, hear us as we pray the prayer Christ taught us, saying, “Our Father…”.
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, for ever. Amen.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
Let us return a portion of the gifts we have been given to Christ’s ministry and those most in need.
*RESPONSE N0. 609 “Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow”
Praise God, from whom all blessing flow, Praise God, all creatures here below. Alleluia, Alleluia Praise God in Jesus fully known; Creator, Word, and Spirit one. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
* PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Holy God, we present these offerings to you in faith. We trust that you will bless and use them to further Christ’s ministry and serve those in need. May these gifts bless those we know who are suffering and those known only to you. Amen.
*HYMN No. 170 “You Walk Along Our Shoreline”
1 You walk along our shoreline
where land meets unknown sea.
We hear your voice of power,
“Now come and follow me.
And if you still will follow
through storm and wave and shoal,
then I will make you fishers
but of the human soul.”
2 You call us, Christ, to gather
the people of the earth.
We cannot fish for only
those lives we think have worth.
We spread your net of gospel
across the water’s face,
our boat a common shelter
for all found by your grace.
3 We cast our net, O Jesus;
we cry the kingdom’s name;
we work for love and justice;
we learn to hope through pain.
You call us, Lord, to gather
God’s daughters and God’s sons,
to let your judgment heal us
so that all may be one.
Lord, teach us to listen. Help us to pay attention to the ways you are revealed in the world around us – in everyday life. Help us to read and study the Scripture, finding in them the words of life. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.