The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
October 4, 2020
World Communion Sunday
PRAYER OF PREPARATION
We worship you, O God, as the one in whom we have placed our hope. We share the desire of your people of old to tell of the blessings you have effected in our lives. When we think about the greatest blessing of all—the gift of yourself in human flesh—Jesus Christ—we joyfully acknowledge that our hope in you is not misplaced. We choose to serve you because you chose to touch our lives so graciously in Christ. May our faithful witness and the service of our lives reveal the depth of our love and gratitude as we worship you, O God, and as we praise and adore you in Jesus’ name and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
CALL TO WORSHIP
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple;
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they then gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
The Lord’s law is indeed perfect, God’s decrees sure and precepts right. Yet, in our sin and finitude we fall short and fail to follow God’s commandments. Nonetheless, the Lord is gracious, merciful and abounding in steadfast love. Confident that God’s promises are sure, God’s character unchanging, we dare to confess our sin in order that we might be forgiven from the past we cannot change and freed for God’s good future. Let us pray.
PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
Lord, as we prepare to break the bread and drink from the cup, we cannot help but hesitate to partake of your body and blood. We remember your admonishment to go and be reconciled to our siblings before coming to your table. We recognize how we have fanned the flames of division rather than repaired the breach between us. We know we do not make evident our unity in you, our oneness made possible through your sacrifice. Too many of your children do not have a place at the table, do not have enough to eat, are relegated to beg for crumbs when you command us to offer radical and abundant hospitality. In your relentless mercy, forgive us, free us from fear and make us conduits for your reconciling love. Amen.
Silence is observed
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God refuses to give up on us. God restores us. God sent the only Son to save us.
There is nothing that can separate us
from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Friends, believe the good news, through Jesus Christ we are forgiven!
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 “Reflections of Peace” Joseph Martin
(all children will remain in the sanctuary)
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Your law, O Lord, is perfect. Your commandments clear, your decrees sure. You do not leave us in the dark to guess your will, but instead send the light no darkness can overcome to reveal your way and illumine our understanding. Send your Spirit so that we will have the ears to hear what you are saying to your church. Amen.
SCRIPTURE Matthew 21:33-46
33“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” 42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
SERMON “Kingdom of Heaven Church”
“We have a disease that could end what most of us cherish, our very existence as a democratic republic and it is not a flu virus. It is the disease of lack of civility.
Never before in the short history of our nation has there been exhibited such unrestrained, expressed hatred between those who disagree with each other, especially in terms of items political. It has crippled our elected leaders and, to an extent, the electorate to the point that they no longer concentrate on the task of governing. Compromise seems to be a lost concept. I am actually appalled, even frightened by the response of individual citizens to such events as the announcement of Mr. Limbaugh’s stage four cancer. What kind of people have we evolved into where we wish those we may strongly disagree with suffer “highly painful” death and we celebrate that announcement.
It is a constitutional right to disagree with another’s point of view, absolutely, but it is barbaric to wish pain and suffering on anyone no matter what their persuasion. Have we lost our ability to disagree with, yet respect another? If our disagreement is to the level of a passion, then the civil thing to do is work through our established constitutional channels to fight the opposing view, not become less than human in the process.”
This was a letter sent to a newspaper in Maine about the lack of civility in our politics, and the immediate move to violence towards those who disagree with us. This editorial pushed me to think about this week’s Gospel reading a little differently. It, too, is violent – there is clearly a lack of civility. The violence of the tenants, the assumed and anticipated violence of the landlord. The past several months, seeing protests that ended in violence, pushed me to focus on the answer to Jesus’ question at the end: “Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” As he is referring to the tenants who beat, stoned, or killed two sets of servants who came to collect the vineyard owner’s due and then murdered outright the owner’s son and heir, the Pharisees have no difficulty in answering: “He will put those wretches to a miserable death.”
Jesus’ next words, as recorded by Matthew, seem at first glance to confirm this instinct to respond to violence with yet more violence, as he references the Psalms (118:22) to explain how those who oppose and reject him are missing God’s plan for salvation and therefore will lose the kingdom. That shouldn’t be terribly surprising, as even a quick read of Matthew reveals a consistently harsher attitude toward Jewish religious authorities than you find in Luke or Mark. Historians have suggested that members of Matthew’s largely Jewish community, perhaps worn down by distress and danger in the wake of the destruction of the Temple, were contemplating returning to the faith of their youth and that Matthew consequently saw the Pharisees as competitors for their loyalty.
When I keep in mind that Matthew’s community was a vulnerable religious minority of the day, I can sympathize with his plight and response. But I still regret it, because when Christianity went from minority to majority religion of the Roman Empire and grew into the most powerful political and cultural force in Europe, these same verses and others like them helped to justify centuries of mistreatment of Jews by Christians. Violence yet again.
Images of the violence between BLMs and Boogaloo Boys and references to it in the parable made me, at first, despair of whether there is any alternative. And then I looked beyond the passage and thought about where Matthew’s narrative is taking us. And it, also, leads to an act of violence: Crucifixion. Of the innocent Son and heir. Just like in the parable. But then all of a sudden, it’s not the same. Because rather than return violence for violence, in the cross of Jesus God absorbs our violence and responds with life, with resurrection, with Jesus triumphant over death and offering, not retribution, but peace.
Whatever we may make of the words Matthew records Jesus offering, that is, Jesus’ actual deeds are quite different. He does not shrink from the sacrifice on the cross, he does not return with vengeance, he does not kick anyone out of the kingdom of heaven. Instead, the resurrected Jesus, having taken on the worst that our violence can inflict, comes back and instructs his disciples to take the good news of the Gospel to the very ends of the earth, promising to be with them always.
And for me, this week, that good news means in part that violence does not and will not have the last word. That the only response to violence is not more violence. That tragedy and death and loss and hatred are, in the end, no match for love and life and forgiveness and peace.
We have the promise that even when it looks like violence is the only outcome and response possible – “He will put those wretches to a miserable death.” – it’s not. Perhaps that’s all the religious authorities in the story could imagine, or maybe it was all Matthew the Evangelist could imagine. Maybe at times it’s all our leaders can imagine, and perhaps all we can imagine, too. But there is another way forward. For while Jesus’ words, Matthew’s words, and our words all matter, Jesus’ deeds matter even more, as Jesus’ death and resurrection creates more possibilities than those we can see, including the possibility of peace:
- Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid (John 14:27).
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Mt. 5:9).
- Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Rom. 12:15-18).
- And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Mt. 28:20).
This does not erase our grief or lessen our call to act to make such atrocities less likely. But it does, in the meantime, offer us hope, and hope is the birthplace of faithful action, compassion, and resolve.
So, how are we doing –taking care of that vineyard these days? Before we start casting shame and blame on the easy targets in this story and on those around us in our lives, we should take a long hard look at ourselves. Just how are we doing in our tending of the Kingdom of Heaven?
As disciples of Jesus Christ, this is our charge — to care for God’s vineyard, to care for God’s people- all of them. We are leasing the land. I wonder how often we forget whose care we are representing and administering. We are on lease from God to care for God’s people, to care for God’s creation, to care for the Kingdom of Heaven with the Beatitudes as our gardening tools.
In June of 1996, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally at the city hall building in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The town came out in large numbers to protest the presence of the notoriously racist group. According to reports 300 anti-clan protestors showed up, while just 17 Klansmen were present.
Keshia Thomas, an 18-year-old at the time, was in the crowd of anti-clan protesters, when someone spotted a man in the crowd amongst them with an SS tattoo and a confederate flag shirt. The group, including Thomas, immediately chased the man. But, in a flash, the crowd went from controlled protestors to an angry mob, hitting the man with sticks and kicking him as he lay on the ground. In that moment, Thomas separated herself from the mob and threw herself on the man to protect him.
“When they dropped him to the ground, it felt like two angels had lifted my body up and laid me down,” Thomas said.
The act of true self-sacrifice was captured by photographer Mark Brunner in a series of photos, and it still inspires people to this day. “She put herself at physical risk to protect someone who, in my opinion, would not have done the same for her,” the photographer said. “Who does that in this world?”
We know who does that! Those who are called to care for the Kingdom of Heaven with the Beatitudes as our gardening tools. Those who are called to be the Kingdom of Heaven church.
Commentary provided by Rhonesha Byng, Philip W. McLarty, Jill Duffield, David Lose, Stanley Saunders, Karoline Lewis, Emerson Powery, Ira Brent Driggers, Louise Westfall, Sharon H. Ringle, & Marci Glass.
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 SACRAMENT OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
Friends, this is the joyful feast of unity.
Christ has gathered his people around the earth
to commune at this table.
Across political lines and economic lines,
in places of powerfully protected affluence,
and among the poorest of the poor,
we share a meal,
remembering and celebrating the One who proved shalom possible.
And so, come:
you from the East and you from the West,
from the North and from the South.
Come with your doubts,
come with your hopes,
come with your inadequacies
and with your strengths.
for this is a table where all are invited
and all are welcome.
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Lord as we gather around this wonderful meal
everywhere and in every place;
bless us all your children.
As we eat this bread and drink this cup
linking arms around the world,
pour your grace into us all.
Grace us with your presence
as we quietly and loudly pray to you.
May we see in each other
your light, your love and you.
May it not matter our differences,
our names, our languages,
our looks, and our way of doing things.
May what matter today and everyday be that we are one in you.
And as we pray many we call to mind our brothers and sisters
who are unable to be with us today whether in body or spirit.
May you bring comfort to those who are grieving, lonely,
heartbroken, ill or broken of spirit.
May you strengthen those whose lives feel shattered,
don’t make sense, in crisis, and experiencing loss.
May you say the healing word to those who need it.
May you bring the human touch of love
to those who have not been touched.
May you love the unloved through us.
May you shine your light
into those whose world is covered in darkness.
May you use us to feed the hungry,
clothe the ones who need clothes,
give a cup of water to those who are thirsty,
shelter the homeless, visit the sick and those in prison.
May lives be awakened to you, Lord,
to your love and to your kingdom
whose door is always open to all.
In the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who taught us to pray saying…
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.
Anthem “And Still the Bread is Broken” David White
Breaking of the Bread & Pouring of the Cup
We give thanks for this bread,
fruit of the earth and hard work,
a gift of the grace of God.
We break it and share it, remembering the words and actions, gestures and glances,
silences and self-offered life
of the teacher from Nazareth.
And we give thanks for the fruit of the vine, for the joy of communion,
for alliances that endure
in the search for justice and wholeness.
We take the cup,
knowing we are part of a community-people renewing its covenant with life.
Gracious God, we offer our thanks, for the whole communion of saint’s witness to this feast, and for the ministry of churches around the world who gather with us today. By this broken bread may we each be restored for the work yet to come. By this shared cup may we each be claimed for the proclamation of your Kingdom. At this shared table may we be united as children of your promise, children of your word, dying and made new again, sent boldly together into the world as servants of your peace. Amen.
Sanctuary flowers are given in the glory and honor of God by Kristen Connell-Franchetti and Family in loving memory of Bruce Connell and by Beth Kaighn, Happy Birthday Mary Bunker and Wendy Kunz.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
Knowing Jesus Christ surpasses all else. Knowing and being known by Jesus Christ reorders our priorities and shapes all our actions. Recognizing this truth, we give our morning’s offering with joy and in thanksgiving for God’s outpouring of goodness and mercy to us.
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 God, you create and call us, feed and sustain us, forgive and redeem us. We can never return to you that which you deserve. We pray to honor and glorify you with these gifts and with our entire lives. We present this offering as a tangible way of showing our
love for and loyalty to you. As tenants in your vineyard we rejoice in being called to work with you in sharing your abundant harvest with the entire world you so love. Amen.
Go forth into the world in peace.
Be of good courage.
Hold fast that which is good.
Render to no one evil for evil.
Strengthen the fainthearted.
Support the weak.
Help the afflicted.
Show love to everyone.
Love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit;
and the blessing of almighty God,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always. Amen.