The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
October 25, 2020
21st Sunday after Pentecost
PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Lord, give us the eyes of Jesus to see our neighbors and the strangers we meet. Teach us what it means to love the stranger as we love ourselves. Forgive us for our selfishness, for our silence, for not caring enough for the strangers who come to our communities. Teach us to love and care for the stranger the way you do. Amen
PRELUDE Verset on “Aurelia” Randolph Currie
CALL TO WORSHIP
We hear the voice of God calling,
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
We feel the Spirit moving among us,
moving us to acts of compassion and justice.
We know the love of Jesus.
We love because Christ first loved us.
Come, worship God together.
Come, let us serve our God, who calls us by name.
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
We have been entrusted with the message of the gospel, but all too often act as if the memos from sin and death have more influence in our lives. Let us confess our sins, so we might know God’s great love for us.
PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
As you know, God our healer, we stand on the edge of your promises and hopes, yet cannot seem to let ourselves cross over into the life you intend for us. We seek praise from our families, yet are unable to tell them how much we love them; we care more about our needs and desires, than for the struggles of our neighbors; we think more about the trash we read and see than focusing on the Spirit of wisdom. Forgive us, Everlasting God. Renew our lives with your grace; restore our hopes with your vision of tomorrow; refresh our spirits with your joy which comes to us new in each moment in the gift of your Child, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Silence is observed
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
This moment, this morning, this day, and in all the days to come, God’s compassion and hope fill our lives. What joyous good news!
Our hope is not in vain. God forgives our sins, and is the dwelling place for all people. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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
The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also with you.
ANTHEM “The Call” Kevin Riehle
(all children will remain in the sanctuary)
Almighty God, your word is a treasure of wisdom and knowledge. Help us to hear the word, keep the word, and teach the word. Let it be as clear to us as if we are wearing it on our hands, writing it on our foreheads, and displaying it on our doorposts. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
SCRIPTURE Matthew 22:34-46
34When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”37He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
41Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42“What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? 45If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
SERMON “Rooted and reoriented in God’s love”
The local religious leaders of the day, whom Matthew identifies as Pharisees, have approached Jesus, and they want to know which commandment is the greatest. “Of all the commandments that God has given us, which one, Jesus, matters the most for how we ought to live?”
And the Pharisees think they have him cornered. There are so many of God’s good commandments from which to choose—613 to be exact—and each one of them of equal importance for helping to live a life of faith. To lift one commandment over another would mean to deny the divine authority from which it comes. In other words, the Pharisees already know all the commandments are good, because they all come from God.
This is exactly why they ask. Surely Jesus, who claims to be sent from God, cannot single out or deny any one of the 613 commandments. But if Jesus gives this answer, as the Pharisees think he must, then the follow-up question is an easy one: “If every commandment in the law is great, because every commandment in the law is from God, then, how come, Jesus, you have been breaking so many of these important commandments?”
And Jesus says this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
At this point I imagine that there is an awkward silence; the Pharisees are confused by this. Here they were all set to stump the teacher, and Jesus doesn’t give the customary answer. (I can see them all standing in a circle poised and ready to congratulate one another on fooling this one who thinks he knows God’s way . . .)
Jesus doesn’t say that all the commandments are great. But he also doesn’t say, “Here’s one and the rest don’t matter.” (“Just don’t covet your neighbor’s ox, people, and it will all work out.”) Instead Jesus says something completely different. Stepping over and beyond human expectation, he reframes and reprioritizes the way we think about our lives.
Jesus wants them to see that indeed they are right about one thing: that following God encompasses all that we do, that matching our lives and our faith is a matter to be taken seriously. But he also wants them to see that in the midst of everything that life demands, finding the way isn’t about easy answers, one-way commandments, a line in a book, or even really something else for us to add to our to-do list. Rather, it is an invitation into a different way of living and being in the world, an invitation to be guided by a discerning ethic of love.
Rooted and reoriented in God’s love, we are given the chance to discern the whole of our lives differently, such that loving God and loving neighbor becomes the true measure for everything else that we do. Loving God and loving neighbor is the outer frame, the hinge on which everything else that we do hangs.
But before Jesus lets the Pharisees completely off the hook, before he lets them think that loving God and loving neighbor is a relatively unspecified overall ideal that might have something to do with Hallmark cards or a cute meme, Jesus says something else: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
Once again, the Pharisees know the answer to this one. That’s easy: the Messiah is the son of King David.
The Pharisees know this answer because scripture had foretold that would be so. The Messiah who was to come, who would usher in the kingdom of heaven, would be descended from David’s line. As such it was expected that the Messiah would be a conquering hero much like David himself. The Messiah would be crowned king, destroying enemies, and with God’s help would be the once-and-for-all hero of God’s people.
Standing in front of them, Jesus wants them to see that indeed the Messiah will be descended from David’s line but that the Messiah will be a much different kind of king—the kind of king whose reign will include suffering, rejection, and death; whose disciples are called to take up the cross and to follow him; and whose ethic for living and being in the world is much different than they expected.
He wants them to see that loving God and loving neighbor is about the kind of life embodied in him; that when we are tempted to love those that are just like us, Jesus says, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44); when we are tempted to return violence with violence. Jesus says, “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44); when we think that the message of the gospel is for some and not for others, Jesus says to the tax collector, “Come and follow me” (Matthew 9:9).
For decades now the conflict in the Middle East has made headlines on both the national and world scene. It is a conflict of deep wounds and longstanding ideologies in which people on both sides have experienced hurt and injustice. People in the same families have not spoken to each other for years because of divisive feuds. There are Arabs and Israelis, Christians and Muslims, Orthodox and Melkites who hate each other. People with different political ideas are bitterly fighting.
One person whose story I have found to be illuminating in the midst of all this is that of a man named Elias Chacour. Chacour is a priest in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. He is also a Palestinian Arab Christian who is a citizen of the state of Israel. As a Palestinian priest in the Holy Land, his personal identity is full of contradictions.
As a child, Chacour watched helplessly as his family, along with all those in his village, was removed from their land by Israeli authorities, making them refugees and outcasts in their own home. Chacour lived the shame of seeing all that his father worked for disappear in an instant and experienced the pain of being called a trespasser in the land of his ancestors. And yet despite his personal history and thus ties to the cause of the Palestinian people, Chacour’s vision is for something larger. From the moment he became a priest in the village of Ibillin in Galilee in 1965, Chacour has worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation among all people of the region.
In his book We Belong to the Land, Chacour recounts a visit with a large Jewish congregation in Atlanta, Georgia. Speaking to a crowd of about 800 Jewish people, Chacour said, “In the eyes of Palestinians in the refugee camps and the villages of the Occupied Territories, Jews are not decent, civilized, or educated people. They are soldiers or occupiers or terrorists. That is the image our children have of you. Our task is to rehumanize ourselves in each other’s eyes.”
He went on to say, “I do not have a ‘nice dream’ to solve all this. Rather, we people from Galilee have visions, and we believe our visions become a reality. I have a vision of two children, a Jew and a Palestinian, who are friends. One day these children celebrate their friendship. The Palestinian child brings an Israeli flag for his brother, and the Jewish child brings his Palestinian brother a handmade Palestinian flag. They hug each other and say, ‘We were so ignorant, so blind, to believe that those who gave us money and weapons could show us the way” (We Belong to the Land, pp. 187–188).
When Chacour had finished his speech, the rabbi of the congregation came forward with tears in his eyes and asked Chacour to give him a blessing in front of his community. Chacour placed his hand on the rabbi’s head and gave him a blessing in Hebrew. The Rabbi turned to him and said, “I will not become your brother. I have discovered that I was already your brother, and we did not know each other.”
It is true: the heart of a life of faith is love—love of God and love of neighbor. To be a Christian is to be called to that life of love, allowing that life to guide our actions and our way of living and being in the world. But that calling is also a lifelong task that requires our willingness to be surprised by what that love turns out to be (Stanley Hauerwas).
And the really good news is this: Invited into this different and difficult way of life ordered around love of God and love of neighbor, we will discover a way of life more abundant in substance and more boundless in effect than we could have possibly imagined.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.”
All thanks be to God. Amen.
Commentary provided by Erik J. Thompson, Eric Shafer, Shannon J. Kershner, Scott Hoezee, Karoline Lewis, Lance Pape, Jill Duffield, Sarah A. Johnson, David Lose, Clayton Schmidt & Jeannine K. Brown
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.
THE PRAYER’S OF THE PEOPLE
Almighty God, as the days shorten and the leaves fall from the trees, we turn to you, our unfailing source of light and life. While we wonder what tomorrow will bring, we are certain of your love for us no matter what challenges we face. We trust your promise to never abandon us and your power to uphold us all our days. We marvel that you choose to be in relationship with us, forgiving us repeatedly and surrounding us with grace daily. Confident in your never-changing character of mercy and kindness, we turn to you know in prayer, laying bare our hopes, our fears and the longings of our hearts.
Alpha and Omega, there is no corner of creation that does not belong to you, that is not beloved by you. We neglect our neighbors and ignore our siblings who cry out for help, but like a nursing mother, you cannot forget your children. Bring to our minds those for whom you would have us pray (silent prayer). As we remember the hurting and vulnerable you hold especially close, give us the courage to tend to them in ways that reflect your compassion and justice. Remind us yet again that when one part of the body hurts, we all suffer until that time we all rejoice together.
God of all that is seen and unseen, you give us your commandments that we might live in ways that reflect your will and make abundant life for everyone. All of the law and the prophets is summed up in loving you with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbors as ourselves. We ask, therefore, that our love of you and one another be tangible and transformative. Send your Spirit to enable us to practice mutual forgiveness, radical hospitality, generous mercy and relentless kindness. Help us to be gentle with one another, with the earth, with those desperate for relief and compassion.
Loving Lord, we pause to rest in your presence. Knowing that we are approved by you to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, we ask to be bold in our witness and humble in our service for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray, 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, forever. Amen.
MINUTE FOR STEWARDSHIP
“PROMISE” Phil Oehler
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
God calls us to love with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our offerings are a symbol of that commitment and one of our contributions to our congregation’s witness in our neighborhood, in our region, and in our world. You are invited to give generously.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Praise God, all creatures high and low. Alleluia, alleluia! Praise God, in Jesus fully known: Creator, Word, and Spirit one. Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Gracious and loving God, as a community of faith we share these gifts. We pray that you will bless them, and bless us, as we are the hands of Christ that build your kingdom. We pray that they will bring honor and glory to you as we work together in love. We pray that they will bring comfort and blessing to the needy and oppressed. And we pray that they will be a light to guide all to a closer relationship with you. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
And now go forth, to love God with all your heart, your mind, your soul:
with passion, with prayer, with intelligence;
to love your neighbor:
with forgiveness, with service, with love;
and to love yourself:
with hope, with joy, with peace.