The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury

October 24, 2021
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
9:30 am



Dear God, silence all voices within our minds but your own. Help us to seek and be able to follow your will. May our prayers be joined with those of our sisters and brothers in the faith, that together we may glorify your name and enjoy your fellowship forever. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

PRELUDE                   “The God of Abraham Praise”                     Harold Ritz


Through Moses, God said,
“Let my people go.”
In scripture, the law declares:
“In the seventh year, you must cancel all debts.”
With grace, Jesus said:
“Give one coat away.”
With honesty, Jesus taught:
 “Sell what you have, give that money to the poor.”
Faith has always involved letting go, releasing, setting free, dropping our nets, giving to others, and following.
So, in this hour of worship, may we release that which binds us.  May we worship with open, untamed, and porous hearts, so that we can walk freely with God.
Let it be so.

HYMN No. 679                     “Let the Whole Creation Cry”

1 Let the whole creation cry,
“Glory to the Lord on high.”
Heaven and earth, awake and sing,
“Praise to our almighty King.”
Praise God, angel hosts above,
ever bright and fair in love;
sun and moon, uplift your voice;
night and stars, in God rejoice!

2 Men and women, young and old,
raise the anthem loud and bold;
join with children’s songs of praise;
worship God through length of days.
From the north to southern pole
let the mighty chorus roll:
“Holy, holy, holy One,
glory be to God alone!”


Let us willingly embrace that which we believe is true – we can come to the seat of grace, bringing our prayers of confession to the One who is filled to overflowing with mercy and hope. Join me as we pray together,


Gracious God, We admit to holding tight to that which we know and understand.  We put you in a box to avoid the shades of gray that come with faith.   We put worship in a box to avoid the discomfort of change.   We put ourselves in boxes labeled with gender expectations and societal norms.   We put others in boxes labeled “worthy” and “unworthy.”   We put all that we have in a box and pray we won’t run out.   So in this moment, we confess to holding tight to fear, greed, and worldly structures. Forgive us for missing the point.  Open our eyes to a new way— to a holiness found in open boxes, unclenched fists, shades of gray, and holy release. Gratefully we pray, Amen.   

Silence is observed


Hear the good news! Because God loves us, we lack for nothing; because God forgives us, we have everything we need; because God surrounds us with sisters and brothers, we do not journey alone.
Committing everything to God, trusting in the One who redeems us, we decide to live as God’s faithful and forgiven people. 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.


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 Walls of Zion”              Anna Page


(all children will remain in the sanctuary)


Gracious God, We release our hearts to you.  First, we remove the pressure, For release requires the freedom to be moved. Then we allow our hearts to return to their original resting position— In sync with you, with the rhythm of summer cicadas, and this whole wild creation.  Then, we pray that you will find our hearts available— Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually.  So like the mockingbird releases her song,  We release our hearts to you.  Move in them.  Stir us awake.  Speak to us now.  We are waiting.  Amen.


Deut. 15:1-11 (The year of canceled debts)

15 Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts. 2And this is the manner of the remission: every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor, not exacting it of a neighbor who is a member of the community, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed. 3Of a foreigner you may exact it, but you must remit your claim on whatever any member of your community owes you. There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, 5if only you will obey the Lord your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today. When the Lord your God has blessed you, as he promised you, you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you.

7If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. 8You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. 10Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”

Matthew 19:16-22 (A wealthy man seeks eternal life)

16Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20The young man said to him, “I have kept all these;[a] what do I still lack?” 21Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money[b] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.


SERMON                   “RELEASE”

Like all money stories, my own was rooted in something much deeper than money.  I believe my roots about resources come from my grandmothers, who lived through the depression.   Nell and Lucille made it their life’s goal to insulate themselves and their children from it, by insisting that their families valued and pursued formal education, and by saving everything.  I mean everything – from reusing plastic bags to saving twist ties from bread bags to washing aluminum foil and reusing it.   I was raised in a family where you eat everything on your plate, you learn to be happy with what you have, –along with shunning fashion, and excess of every kind.

For me, these personal ways of living were explicitly connected to the teachings of our faith and the impact my living would have on the rest of the world.  When I showed too much greed, my parents would patiently remind me that I was better off than most of the children of the world.  When I complained about lacking the status symbols of my suburban childhood – being forced to wear Saddlebred shirts instead of Polos, carry a no name 3 ring binder instead of a Trapper Keeper, wearing a jacket from JC Penny instead of a Member’s Only, my parents would scoff at my status-oriented focus.

Reading the money stories from the Bible today, I hear my childhood reinforced.  God says, I care about the poor of the world and for that reason you will open your hand, willingly. – RELEASE.  You will open your hand generously. – RELEASE.  You will think about others before you think of yourself. – RELEASE.  You will put only on your plate what you will finish, you will shun excess of every kind, you will not take more from the earth or from the marketplace than what you need to live. – RELEASE

From talking with others who have enough money to put food on the table, to keep a roof over their heads – which is most of us gathered today – I’ve learned that many of us hear these texts in similar ways.  Generosity is a command.   And simple living is a kind of doleful duty as is giving to the church.

The rich man views Jesus’ command to sell and give as I always have – the doleful duty.  Too difficult for most, undertaken only by those who are able to suppress their desires which are in opposition to God’s will for their lives.  The text is clear – radical generosity is not optional in either Deuteronomy or Matthew – it is command.  And from these commands grow our most progressive public policies that measure the wellbeing of a community, of a nation by how well the poor among us fare.  It is that strident call for justice that  we have supported many times and will continue to support – in our personal and public lives.  A nation cannot long stand that leaves such a stark contrast between those at the top who own so much while the vast majority own so very little.  This is the prophetic call to stand with the poor, and on the side of justice.  That call grows from these unambiguous texts.

And yet sometimes I wonder if this kind of prophetic call for justice has become shrill and easily dismissed because we’ve missed the essential good news that undergirds it.

We are now in a period where historians are actively working to correct versions of history of the past that neglected to acknowledge much less contend with the colonialism afoot on our shores before and during its founding, the genocide of native peoples, and the hypocrisy of white, landowning men who enslaved human beings while declaring that all men are created equal.  It’s important that we tell that whole history.  I’m glad for the corrections.

At the same time, historian Marylynn Robinson pointed out, the idea at the root of the founding of our nation is still worthy of our attention.  The idea that “human beings are sacred, therefore equal. We are,” she writes, “asked to see one another in the light of a singular inalienable worth that would make a family of us if we let it.. . The ethic in these words should be the standard by which we judge ourselves, our social arrangements, our dealings with the vast family of humankind. It will always find us wanting. The idea,” she writes, “is a progressive force, constantly and necessarily exposing our failures and showing us new paths forward.”[1]

That idea is not a doleful duty.  It is a liberating word – that you and I are sacred as is every human being.  That we are all more than the worst of what we have done in the words of Bryan Stevenson.  And when we know that gospel truth, then we become much more generous, not just with our money but with our whole selves.  God’s commandments become the blueprints for our living instead of the switches for our spankings; the light that illumines our paths instead of the forensics for our failures.

Which is the essential message that I mis-understood in my childhood.  You see, I learned in my money story not only that what I desired was in opposition to God’s way, but that for most of us, desire itself is in opposition to God’s way.  That Christian faith is opposed to those desires – the Polo shirt, the Trapper Keeper, the Members Only Jacket.  And I can see now that this basic belief informed all kinds of life choices – including to become a pastor in the church – driven by a desire to do what is right, what God commands.

But real generosity, the kind that springs from the heart, cannot grow from that barren soil.  This is where Jesus leads, if we let him.  When I finally followed him down into the depth of my own heart I discovered that underneath those consumerist desires of my youth for shirts and things, those vocational desires to give and serve, those prophetic desires to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, was a desire to be valued, recognized, known and loved myself.  There is nothing wrong or disordered about that desire.  It is the most holy thing we could ever pursue.  It’s just that a shirt, or any other thing cannot fulfill it.  It can only be fulfilled when we truly value each other including ourselves, as the sacred human beings that we are, the root theology that would liberate our hearts and our society if we had the courage to let it.

It was hard to release that old story, because so much of my life and faith was constructed on its scaffolding.  Though I have preached a gospel of grace I can see now that I have acted more like a person trying to demonstrate his worth.  But my worth, like yours, has never been in question.  What is up for grabs is the depth to which we can accept that sacred worth – of ourselves and others – including the worst of our enemies – and then live accordingly, forgiving debts, spiritual and material, to get us closer toward the human family that is already fact whether we acknowledge it or not.

You see, what the rich man missed in this text is how much freedom is on the other side of being liberated from your stuff.  It is not just what it would do for the poor, though that would be a miracle in and of itself.  It is what it would do for all of us if we truly put our value in loving God and others as much as God loves us.  It’s what it would do for our church.  It’s what it would do for our city.  It’s what it would do for our nation and our world.   A whole new economy based on our true worth.

God doesn’t wait around for the rich to discover the root of true generosity in order to deliver justice for the poor.  This is clear from God’s story.  The rich man goes away sad.  Jesus continues on his way, proclaiming the kingdom.  The prophetic call to reorder our systems, to acknowledge the scars of white supremacy that made our country the way that it is – those must continue whether or not hearts are transformed and lives are changed.  Even so, I hope you do discover your place in God’s unfolding story.  I hope you get beyond the doleful duty to do what is required with your life, to experience for yourself the liberating love of God at the root of life itself, and release that which holds up your relationship with Jesus Christ!

Commentary and liturgy provided by Andrew Connors, Marilyn Robinson, Bill Bouknight, Mark Hoffman, David Lose, Sarah Are, Mieke Vandersalls, and Luke Timothy Johnson.


We believe that on the first day, God released love and creativity over a void; and that void became mountains and rivers, sunsets and starry nights.  We believe God released God’s people from the grips of slavery, liberating us day in and day out.  We believe God laid down with death and was released from its grip, knowing suffering and freeing us from this fragile life.  And we believe God invites us— day in and day out— to release our fears, let go of assumptions, tear down walls, throw open the doors, and walk closer to love. May it be so.  Amen.  


*HYMN No. 697                    “Take My Life”                      300th Anniversary Hymn

Take my life and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee;
take my moments and my days;
let them flow in ceaseless praise;
let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands and let them move
at the impulse of thy love;
take my feet and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee,
swift and beautiful for thee.

Take my voice and let me sing
always, only, for my King;
take my lips and let them be
filled with messages from thee,
filled with messages from thee.

Take my sliver and my gold;
not a mite would I withhold;
take my intellect and use
every power as thou shalt choose,
every power as thou shalt choose.

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,
it shall be thy royal throne.

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
at thy feet its treasure store;
take myself and I will be
ever, only, all for thee,
ever, only, all for thee. 


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.



God is always with us, not just when everything seems clear and times are good, but also

when we struggle with questions and doubt. When we cry out to God, our prayers are heard. When the world cries out to God, we are part of God’s answer, offering water in the desert, offering nourishment to a world that is spiritually hungry. Our gifts this morning are our answer to God’s own goodness. Let us gather our gifts together and offer them to God in gratitude and praise.



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.


Holy God, it is not always easy to give what we have.  We count pennies.  We weigh the pros and cons.  We calculate what we have given before, and we remind ourselves what we are giving to now.  We all have our money stories.  And yet, even though it can take work for us to practice release, we trust that you can take these gifts— However freely or reluctantly given— And use them to build a more beautiful world.  For that is who you are.  You are forever building castles out of sand, Disciples out of people, and new life out of cautious gifts. We believe; help our unbelief.  In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

*HYMN No. 712                     “As Those of Old Their Firstfruits Brought”

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.