The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
November 14, 2021
25th Sunday after Pentecost
PRAYER OF PREPARATION
God of all glory, on this first day you began creation, bringing light out of darkness. On this first day you began your new creation, raising Jesus Christ from the darkness of death. On this Lord’s Day grant that we, the people you create by water and the Spirit, may be joined with all your works in praising you for your great glory. Through Jesus Christ, in union with the Holy Spirit, we praise you now and forever. Amen.
CALL TO WORSHIP
Come, let us give thanks to God!
We gather together to praise the One who strengthens the weak,
and hears the prayers of the forgotten.
Come, let us give thanks to Christ!
We gather together to sing of the One who calls us to serve those
who are hungry and alone at this time of year.
Come, let us give thanks to the Spirit!
HYMN No. 1
1 Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
2 Holy, holy, holy! all the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
who wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.
3 Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinfulness thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in power, in love and purity.
4 Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
Longing for the touch of God, we cry out; humbled by the awareness of our human nature and brokenness, we bring our prayers of confession to God, praying together,
PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
We have to admit, Holy Listener, that we are more likely to be irritated by the lives of others, rather than being provoked to love them. When we are called to encourage those around us, too often our actions and words discourage them. Offered lives of peace and hope, we wander around filled with anxiety and despair. Forgive us, Rock of Redemption. Cleanse our hearts, so we might be more loving; keep us on the path of faithfulness, so we might find those whom we are called to serve; give us your words, so we might confess your hope offered to all who are broken, who are lost, who cry out to you. This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Silence is observed
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
This is the good news: God gives us hope, God gives us peace, God gives us joy so we may share these gifts with everyone we meet.
Thanks be to God, who has forgiven us and provoked us to love others and to serve all who are around us. 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 “The Lord God Made Them All” Patti Drennan
(all children will remain in the sanctuary)
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.
SCRIPTURE Mark 13:1-8
13As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” 3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.
SERMON “The Birthing Process”
Quite a passage! A scary text about wars, rumors of wars and the end of something. Jesus is not just teaching people about love and forgiveness here. He is lifting the veil between heaven and earth and talking about God’s ultimate intentions and the end of the world. That is why this passage is called the “little apocalypse.” Jesus is not just telling stories and saying, “let the children come to me.” He is speaking about the things that really haunt human life – wars and violence, natural disasters and famines – and how God will triumph finally over those worst things. “This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.”
“Birthpangs” mean something is being brought to birth. And it hurts. “This is but the beginning of the Birthpangs,” which means that in the eternal fruitfulness of God’s plans, the bad stuff – wars and rumors of wars, violence and hatred, earthquakes and other natural disasters – are giving way to the goodness of God. This is part of the gospel – the good promises, and good news of God.
I want to say three (3) things about apocalyptic literature – and this passage – and BIRTHPANGS, with the hope of helping all of us with our Christian faith, and our life as God’s people.
First, these words of Jesus about BIRTHPANGS want to remind us that bad things are part of life. The setting of this passage is very commonplace: the disciples are walking casually out of the massive, magnificent temple in Jerusalem. They gaze at the beauty and magnitude of the place: “what large stones and what large buildings.” And Jesus burst their grandiose ideas – “not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
That temple, out of which Jesus and his disciples would have been walking, was called the Second Temple. This Temple was the largest of all the temples ever built on that spot, bigger and more elaborate than the one built by Solomon, which was destroyed by the Babylonians five hundred years before Jesus’ time. The second temple was built, after the return from exile. And then that temple was greatly enhanced by King Herod in the decades just before Jesus’ ministry. So it was very magnificent.
But, in the years after Jesus’ life and ministry, in 70 AD, that second, massive, and beautiful temple was destroyed by the Romans – who conquered and assumed power in the entire region of the Mediterranean. So when Mark was writing his gospel, and depicting Jesus walking out of the temple with his disciples, that extravagant Temple had already been destroyed.
So this text wants very much to remind us that bad things are very much a part of life. If the beautiful temple of God can be destroyed, can we keep worshipping and serving God? If the violence keeps happening, if wars keep raging, if famines continue, can we trust God?
We know all too well about these questions. And Jesus helps us with apocalyptic images.
Jesus says indeed bad things will come. And don’t we know it?! Leaders will try to lead you astray. . . . Violence will be part of life – even mass shootings. . . . Fires will rage and people will die. It is scary. It is heart-breaking. Yet Jesus says, “this is but the beginnings of the BIRTHPANGS.” Something is being brought to birth. And it hurts.
As long as there is life, there is heartache. As long as there is the world, there are earthquakes and fires. As long as there are people, and power structures, there will be bad leaders. As long as there are boundaries and borders, there will be wars and famines. As long as we dwell in these bodies, there will be cancer and other problems that threaten us. This is all part of the wonderful, mysterious, magnificent, complicated world that we live in. Bad things are part of life. Be patient, Jesus says. Be aware. Be awake.
Second, this kind of apocalyptic literature about the end of the world, and raising the veil between heaven and earth, and the warnings about the end times, want to confirm for us that God is still in charge.
With so many dying in the fires this week, with so many mass shootings in so many days, with so much fear and heartache among so many people seeking asylum, and so much growing animosity all around, it can feel hopeless. Disillusionment can be overwhelming.
When Mark wrote his gospel, the people knew that the Temple had been crushed by the Romans. As we hear these words, we know all too well about the difficulties that we face in our own lives – illness gaining on us, . . . . anxiety haunting us, . . . failures and regrets that we cannot get away from, . . . and depression and more always lurking. As we hear these words, we can recall the Twin Towers toppling on 9/11 in NYC. We can easily sense the fears about gun violence in our society. We can name injustices in our city, inequities in our schools, racial problems that perplex us. Could God really still be in charge?
Jesus says, “this is but the beginnings of the BIRTHPANGS.”
Here is another way to think about it: Jesus appears on the scene and announces that the reign of God has come. The reign of God comes in his person, his message, his presence – he is God in the flesh in our midst. The reign of God has arrived – he will teach and preach and embody the fullness of God – love, kindness, forgiveness, peace, patience, light, joy, justice, hope.
But there is both an ALREADY and a NOT YET about this reign of God. It is ALREADY present in him – in what Jesus says and does, in love prevailing over hate, service over selfishness, generosity over greed, life over death – all the things of the Kingdom of God – ALREADY present, ALREADY visible, ALREADY distinctive, ALREADY wonderful in him. We see it. We glimpse it for our lives. We taste and know it is good, and what God promises for all.
But there is also a NOT YET – this kingdom, this reign of God is NOT YET fully arrived. There are wars and rumors of wars. There are earthquakes and fires. There are troubles in our hearts, cancers in our bodies, crises in our communities, disappointments about so many things. This reign of God is NOT YET fully arrived. Jesus says, “this is but the beginnings of the BIRTHPANGS.” Salvation is a process. We are getting there by God’s grace, but we are not there yet. The Kingdom of God has come, but it has NOT YET fully come to fruition.
So we do not lose heart. We do not lose focus. We do not give in. We keep looking to God. God will have the last word. God will COMPLETE all things just as God created all things. As the psalmist says, “the earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it; the world, and those who live in it. . . . Lift up your heads, and be lifted up!”
Third, this apocalyptic piece, these words of Jesus want to motivate us – we have work to do to promote the full reign of God, the full coming of heaven on earth.
As I alluded, one of the real dangers of apocalyptic literature is how easily we get distracted. We get so busy discerning the times, we get so confident about the signs and what they mean, that we fall away from the mission that is ours – to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with our God. We get so focused on the apocalypse that we fall away from discipleship. Jesus says, “follow me.” Jesus says, “beware,” but mostly love God and love neighbor. Jesus exhorts us to keep going – to trust God and to serve God.
In Anne Lamott’s book, entitled, Almost Everything – notes on hope. Here is what she says:
“Of course, we are reduced at times, late at night, no matter how deep our faith in God, or Goodness, or one another, to quivering aspic. No matter how beautiful our views are of trees and birds and children, there are such scary pronouncements from Washington, or our doctors, that we can’t help bearing the descending tones, of age, global warming, the ticking of the nuclear clock, the heartbeats of 7.6 billion other people around us. This stuff is scary and it’s very real. Yet hope is real, too.” . . . and this is also true . . . .Life is way wilder than I am comfortable with, way further out, as we used to say, more magnificent, more deserving of awe, and I would add, more benevolent – well-meaning, kindly. Waves and particles, redwoods, poetry, this world of wonders and suffering, great crowds of helpers and humanitarians, here we are alive right now, together. I worry myself sick about the melting ice caps, the escalating arms race, and the polluted air as I look forward with hope to the cleansing rains, the coming spring, the warmth of summer, the student marches. John Lennon said, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end,” . . . (John Lennon was a better theologian than he even knew!) . . .We have all we need to come through. Against all odds, no matter what we have lost, no matter what messes we’ve made over time, no matter how dark the night, we offer and are offered kindness, soul, light, and food, which create breath and spaciousness, which create hope, sufficient for the day.” (p182-189)
May we keep offering kindness, soul, light – may we walk with God and seek to serve God, trusting in God’s coming reign. May we keep moving with HOPE toward the new BIRTH that God promises for us, for the world for all people everywhere.
We have so much work to do, with God, for God, for God’s promised reign. May we not ever be distracted, but seek always to be faithful – in loving, in serving, in spreading light and life, following Jesus. AMEN
Commentary and liturgy provided by Karoline Lewis, David Lose, Alyce McKenzie, Alex Evans and Richard Einerson
*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH from A Brief Statement of Faith (PCUSA)
In life and in death we belong to God. Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship and serve. We trust in Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God. Jesus proclaimed the reign of God: preaching good news to the poor and release to the captives, teaching by word and deed and blessing the children, healing the sick and binding up the brokenhearted, eating with outcasts, forgiving sinners, and calling all to repent and believe the gospel. Unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition, Jesus was crucified, suffering the depths of human pain and giving his life for the sins of the world. God raised this Jesus from the dead, vindicating his sinless life, breaking the power of sin and evil, delivering us from death to life eternal. With believers in every time and place, we rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
*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.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER & THE LORD’S PRAYER
Eternal God, we know that as we bow and pray there are some days when our faces are filled with worry. Sometimes our lives are full of stress and trouble. And always they are filled with wondering what tomorrow might bring. We thank you that we are in the good company of the disciples who were also filled with concerns and wondered about tomorrow. They wished for signs that tomorrow would be alright. They wanted to know what would happen and when. We have not outgrown that need. Tomorrow brings anxiety for all of us.
We ask in times when we are fearful that you would help us to be more trusting.
We ask in times of crisis that you would help us to be courageous and resilient and know that you will see us through.
We ask in times of setbacks that you would give us a renewed vision of what is possible if we put our creativity to full use.
We ask in times of discouragement or depression that you will give us the hope necessary to go forward.
We ask in times of inner disequilibrium that you will give us enough power to be victorious over any uncertainty or inner quivering.
O God, in whose time are all times and all endings, be our assurance and bring us your peace.
In the bleakness known to every generation may we be undaunted in expressing the power and hope of the gospel for our time.
In the bleakness known to every generation may we not long for signs and a certainty which will always elude us. In the bleakness known to every generation may we not expend our energy in anxiousness.
Give to us the ability to trust you into the ages of all ages…
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.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
Freely you have received, freely give. Let us return to God the offerings of our life and the gifts of the earth.
Praise God, from whom all blessing flow, Praise God, all creatures here below. Alleluia, Alleluia Praise God in Jesus fully know; Creator, Word and Spirit one. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
* PRAYER OF DEDICATION
We who are full can now give bread to others. We who are well-off can reach out to raise up the poor. We who have everything can offer a seat of honor to those who have nothing. We who are blessed by you, Exalted God, can be blessings to others. And so we pray that the gifts we have may give hope to the despairing, give strength to the weak, and justice to the oppressed. Amen.
*HYMN No. 808 “When Memory Fades”
1 When memory fades and recognition falters,
when eyes we love grow dim, and minds, confused,
speak to our souls of love that never alters;
speak to our hearts by pain and fear abused.
O God of life and healing peace, empower us
with patient courage, by your grace infused.
2 As frailness grows and youthful strengths diminish
in weary arms that worked their earnest fill,
your aging servants labor now to finish
their earthly tasks, as fits your mystery’s will.
We grieve their waning, yet rejoice, believing
your arms, unwearied, shall uphold us still.
3 Within your Spirit, goodness lives unfading.
The past and future mingle into one.
All joys remain, unshadowed light pervading.
No valued deed will ever be undone.
Your mind enfolds all finite acts and offerings.
Held in your heart, our deathless life is won!
Go forth now as God’s people.
We will go to offer joy to those in misery,
to remember all who have been forgotten.
Go forth now as sisters and brothers of Jesus.
We will go to offer the best rooms of our hearts to the lonely,
to pick up all those we have knocked down.
Go forth now as hearts of the Spirit.
We will go to share a double portion of grace with the empty,
to invite others to walk the paths of faith with us.