The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
October 31, 2021
23rd Sunday after Pentecost
PRAYER OF PREPARATION
O God, you broke down the barriers when you crept in beside us. In Jesus, your hands touched all, and touched us. You opened our eyes to see how the hands of the rich were empty, and the hearts of the poor were full. You took the widow’s mite and the child’s loaves and used them to show us the Kingdom. Here in the company of the neighbor whom we know and the stranger in our midst, and the self from whom we turn, we ask to love as Jesus loved. Make this the place and time, good Lord, when heaven and earth become one, and we in word and flesh know ourselves beloved. Amen.
PRELUDE “Toccata in D minor” J.S. Bach
CALL TO WORSHIP
Can you imagine unfettered love? Free and bold, wild and true, the kind of love that changes you? Can you imagine a home—safe and bright, With impromptu dancing, meals around table, and laughter late into the night? Can you imagine faith like a compass That guides the way you shop and vote, the way you love and hope; That asks questions and yet still believes, even despite uncertainty? Can you imagine a world where trees, bees, and all living things grow wild and free? Where peace is the narrative and hope the currency? A world where news stories are testimonies and funerals are far between? Can you imagine?
Yes, we can imagine.
Today in worship, dare to dream. Dare to imagine what could be. And pay attention, for God is here, in wandering thoughts, hopes, and prayers.
Let us worship holy God, that great unfettered love.
HYMN No. 693 “Though I May Speak”
1 Though I may speak with bravest fire,
and have the gift to all inspire,
and have not love, my words are vain,
as sounding brass, and hopeless gain.
2 Though I may give all I possess,
and striving so my love profess,
but not be given by love within,
the profit soon turns strangely thin.
3 Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control;
our spirits long to be made whole.
Let inward love guide every deed;
by this we worship, and are freed.
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
We always seem to notice the rich, the powerful, thinking those are the people we should emulate. But we find you in those who are broken, we find you in those who sacrifice, we find you in those who care deeply for others. Hear us, as we confess how we have noticed the wrong people, and longed after the wrong values. Join me, as we pray responsively:
PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
God of Grace, You invite us to dream of a better world,
But instead we bury our heads in the sand. We are afraid to recognize how much must change. We are afraid, because if we know the truth, then don’t we have a job to do?
So instead, more often than not, we maintain the status quo.
We passively allow things to stay the same.
We don’t speak out; we don’t imagine a new day.
We don’t dream of a world without racism, sexism, bigotry, or shame.
Instead we allow ourselves to believe that some things will never change.
Forgive us. Show us the way. Teach us to dream.
Teach us to imagine again.
Humbly we pray. Amen.
Silence is observed
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Despite our foolishness and poor choices, our God remains faithful in this and every moment. The One who created everything, continues to renew us, to restore us, and to forgive us with love.
Thanks be to God. God’s hope never fails us, God’s grace continues to fill our emptiness, and God’s mercy continues to make us new. We are forgiven. 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 “Holy, Holy, Holy, We Worship You” Benjamin Harlan
(all children will remain in the sanctuary)
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Holy God, we want to see what you see. We want to see what you see, But we stumble through roadblocks of bias and narrow perspective, Fear and limited information. We are too small to imagine the type of love and beauty you can sow. So, in this moment, we ask that you would clear the roadblocks that keep us from you. Blow the dust out of our ears. Thaw out the frozen parts of our hearts. Tell the logical arguments we form about what will and will not work to take a backseat. And as you do, breathe fresh air into our lungs and fill our minds with endless possibilities. We want to see what you see. We want to reimagine this life we’re living. Clear away the roadblocks. Amen.
Leviticus 19:9-10; 25:8-12 (The Year of Jubilee)
9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.
8 You shall count off seven weeks[a] of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. 10 And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. 11 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. 12 For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.
Mark 12:38-44 (The widow’s mite)
38As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” 41He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
The widow gives away everything she has – the model for pure generosity. Jesus lifts her up as the example to follow. That’s the way most of us have heard this text. But while Jesus might be impressed by her faithfulness, he’s not celebrating this moment. He’s pointing out how corrupt the whole temple system has become. Almsgiving was required of the rich to make provision for the poor. It was intended as the latest restatement of what is an old, old concern in the Old Testament – how to prevent the most vulnerable from being hurt even more than they already are. That concern grows right out of Israel’s own experience in slavery. A view from the underside of Pharaoh’s successful machine.
Israel’s experience shaped the Old Testament’s conclusion that all economic systems, when left unchecked, move toward success for some at the expense of others. So, all economic systems must be interrupted to protect against going back to Egypt in our practices and our policies. Harvesters are commanded to leave some of their crops in the field for the hungry to gather. And Israel is commanded to observe the sabbath so that everyone can remember each week that working all that time brings death to land and people. And every 49 years (7 X 7 for those who have forgotten their multiplication tables), the economic system has to equalize some of the inequalities that are sure to come to avoid, again, a return to Egypt. It’s the big reset button that Israel builds into its system from its own experience of oppression.
This is Israel’s money story. A story embedded so deep, that no one is above critique. So, it’s not surprising that when Jesus, formed and shaped by Israel’s money story, looks on this widow’s extraordinary gift, what Jesus sees is a vulnerable person getting fleeced by the very system that is supposed to be protecting her. He sees her getting hurt by the very system that was created to protect her. If you’re thinking, “wait, isn’t this the widow’s mite story that every preacher has used to squeeze a little more pledge out of pockets?” I thought Jesus was commending her gift? For so long, the church has reinforced this widow’s giving as an act to be emulated, that it’s hard for us to see that the text is saying much more. Jesus is not simply commending the widow for giving everything she has – although he’s certainly not condemning her for her generosity – he’s pointing out that the whole structure that was setup to protect her has failed to do its job. The temple is not protecting the poor and its leaders need to be held to account. This interpretation makes total sense in the context that we just read it. Jesus has just condemned the scribes for “devouring widows houses.” Instead of protecting those who are vulnerable, the leadership is taking advantage of them.
There are any number of directions where this text could lead us so let me just propose a few. The first is that the church has to always be on the lookout to get our own house in order. To make sure that our own practices are consistent with the ethics here. It’s a constant struggle particularly in a system where the cheaper route isn’t always the more just one. This is part of getting our house in order. A more difficult part is digging deeper into our own story and considering how we use our resources – what is really a priority.
COVID-19 has taught us all that if you didn’t know it already. We can go for decades being told there’s not enough resources to address poverty, to narrow educational inequities, to rebuild neighborhoods, to root out corruption from the police department. I’ve been lectured – sometimes by politicians, other times by business leaders – with the same old “not enough” arguments. Not enough to do this. Not enough to do that. Yet both during the housing crisis and then more recently with COVID 19, the powers that be find trillions of dollars overnight to address what they believe are our highest priorities.
Getting the church’s house in order means getting our priorities clear. The best way to do that is by starting with your own life. We do stewardship season every year. And, chances are, many of us think about that as “the church’s fundraising drive.” And that is definitely part of it. But the invitation is way deeper than that. It’s an invitation to press the reset button on your own priorities, your own practices, your own way of living. It’s an invitation to look at what you care about most deeply, what breaks your heart and what then you will do with your one and precious life. For some of us that means painful choices on a path to change. For others it means recommitting to the path we are on. For others, it’s somewhere in between. For all of us it is the invitation to reimagine the people, the church, the city, the nation we long to become.
That’s a process, not a point in time. A process that invites us to look at the church’s history as it relates to our own living – not as individuals, but in relationship to each other – where we live, how our schools got to be the way they are, and how our social relationships are so fraught and frayed. You see, individualism isn’t going to lead us to the promised land. We can’t right the wrong of our history on our own. I think that’s where some more liberal-minded interpreters of this text miss the mark. They interpret Jesus as anti-institutional. As someone who wants to tear down the temple. He’s actually someone living in a time when the temple will be torn down, trying to give the community the vision to see that they have more options than they think. Options for reimagining how to organize themselves as the community of love and grace and justice they were called to be. Community that is necessary to change the world, redeem creation.
I had lunch with a young friend not too long ago, fresh out of college, looking for work. We talked about her priorities, her values, her dreams for how she wanted to use her life. I suggested that she look into a particular organization, she said, “They’re not progressive enough on this.” I suggested a different organization, she said, “I don’t like their positions on this.” We went through half a dozen organizations all of which weren’t perfectly aligned with her values and I thought to myself, this is why it is so difficult for people who care about widows and orphans to do anything together beyond marching in the streets.
Jesus isn’t tearing down institutions. He’s calling us to reimagine them. And to reimagine our lives within them. And to reimagine the social arrangements that the church is called to shape with that old, old money story that makes the wellbeing of orphans and widows – any marginalized group – our chief economic indicator.
There’s an old conviction taught in community organizing that you cannot build what you cannot imagine. I can’t speak for you, but I need the church to help me reimagine my life. And I believe to my core that this community needs the church to do the same. The nation needs help learning how to build community, reweave the frayed fabrics of our time. To help us struggle against the tides that pull us to our corners by design.
That is the community that Jesus calls us to reimagine together. The community where we give and receive direction. It is a joyful, painful path! The path that leads to life –life eternal!
Commentary and liturgy provided by Amanda Kerr, Lydia Hernandez-Marcial, Sarah Are, Mieke Vandersalls, and Luke Timothy Johnson.
*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
We believe in God the Creator, who, like a painter with a canvas, imagined creation and breathed it into being. We believe in Jesus, who many years later, walked this hurting world and showed us a new way to love. We believe in the Holy Spirit, who prods us and pulls us, leads us and guides us, carries us and loves us into new life, day after day. And we believe in the power of imagination, a gift from God that allows us to dream dreams, create a new, start over, try again, and live lives of hope. So, in response, together, as God’s church, We dare to dream. We strive to love. We try to imagine a new day. And we walk together, All with God’s help. 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.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE & THE LORD’S PRAYER
In peace, let us offer our prayers to God. In response to my words, “Lord, hear us,” please respond “Lord, graciously hear us”.
In every age you have raised up holy men and women to reflect the light of Christ and to teach us the way of holiness. We thank you for those who have been teachers in the school of Christ: give understanding to those who study the faith that the Church has handed on, and clarity to those who communicate the gospel in a changing world … Lord, hear us. All: Lord, graciously hear us.
We thank you for those who have been shepherds of your people: give a pastoral heart to deacons, priests and bishops, and the needful gifts to all your people in their ministry …Lord, hear us. R
We thank you for those who have been Christian rulers in the world, and for those who carried the good news to lands where it had not been before: give wisdom to all who have power and influence among the nations, and establish God’s sovereignty among people of every race …Lord, hear us. R
We thank you for those whom you have called to live in community: establish mutual love among those drawn into fellowship in your service, and bless with Christ’s presence all the communities to which we relate …Lord, hear us. R
We thank you for those who have lived out their vocation in family life: give your grace to all who nurture children and all who care for the aged, and enfold in your love all your sons and daughters …Lord, hear us. R
We thank you for those who have brought wholeness through the medicine of the gospel: give skill to all who minister healing and reconciliation in your name, and comfort all who cry out to you from any sort of distress …Lord, hear us. R
We thank you for the noble army of martyrs by the shedding of whose blood the Church has been enriched: keep under your protection those who are persecuted for the cause of Christ, and acknowledge, we pray, and all those who have passed through death trusting your promises …Lord, hear us. R
Hasten, Lord, the day when people will come from east and west, from north and south, and sit at table in your kingdom, and we shall see your Son in his glory. And now we offer prayer for those needs which lie closest to our hearts in silence.
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.
The flowers this morning are given in the glory and honor of God by Thomas Moore in loving memory of his wife Arlene Moore.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
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.
* PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Jesus of Nazareth, in scripture we hear of a woman who gave her last coin away. You pointed her out, but you did not say, “Go and do likewise.” So, we cannot help but wonder—did you point her out to ask, “Why does this one have so little when others have so much?” Did you point her out to help us see the injustice that led to her suffering? Maybe. So today, for her, and for you, and for every person who cannot afford to give to God And put food on the table, we offer our gifts. We pray that you would use them for your good. Right what is wrong. Balance the systems of injustice. Use these gifts to build the world that we can only imagine but you can bring forth. In hope we pray, Amen.
*HYMN No. 694 “Great God of Every Blessing”
1 Great God of every blessing,
of faithful, loving care,
you are the fount of goodness,
the daily bread we share.
How can we hope to thank you?
Our praise is but a start:
sincerely and completely
I offer you my heart.
2 Your Word is our salvation,
the source of endless grace,
in death and life extending
your covenant embrace.
In Christ we are one body;
each member has a part:
sincerely and completely
I offer you my heart.
3 Your Spirit is our teacher,
the light that guides our search,
transforming broken people
into the holy church.
For feeding us with mercy,
for wisdom you impart:
sincerely and completely
I offer you my heart.
‘Go now,’ God says to us in this moment.
And so, we will go to share from our abundance with all who live in scarcity’s shadows.
‘Go now to serve,’ Jesus challenges us in this moment.
And so, we will join in building neighborhoods of justice, in keeping faith with all who have been forgotten.
‘Go now to understand,’ the Spirit urges us in this moment.
And so, we will go to watch (and learn from) those who welcome outsiders into their lives.