The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
September 12, 2021
RALLY DAY
9:30 am

PRAYER OF PREPARATION

Gracious and Holy God, we find ourselves in the middle of chaos. We are overwhelmed by what has happened in recent days. Some of us have even begun to doubt your existence. We question why you would allow this to happen. But we know that you are our God and have been present to us in times past. For that we are deeply grateful. Bless us in this hour of worship that we might deepen our faith in you.

PRELUDE                   “To Greet the Morning”                   David Paxten

CALL TO WORSHIP

We come together to read the old stories.
We are looking for God’s word to all people, long ago and today.
Some of the stories we remember from Sunday School.
The Lord said to Noah, There’s gonna be a floody floody!
Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God.
And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth.
Get those children out of the muddy muddy!
Children of the Lord, let us worship God together.

Click for: HYMN No. 1, vs. 1-3 “Holy Holy, Holy”

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!

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.

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.

CALL TO RECONCILIATION

The proof of God’s amazing love is this: While we were sinners Christ died for us. Because we have faith in him, we dare to approach God with confidence.  In faith and penitence, let us confess our sin before God and one another.

PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS

Holy One, you made the Earth and all that is in it. We give thanks for the sky and the seas, the mountains and the valleys, the trees and the flowers, the birds that fly and the fish that swim and all the animals that walk or crawl or creep on the land. You called on human beings to care for Creation, to serve you and praise you by loving all you have made. We don’t always do it well. We remember the story of Noah, and a time when people forgot to take care of the Earth and each other. We ask forgiveness for the ways we fail to love your world with our whole hearts. Help us to do better, one step at a time, just the way Noah built the ark one cubit at a time. 

Silence is observed

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

The Lord said to Noah, “But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” God made a covenant with Noah, and God keeps a covenant with us. No one will ever be left behind again. Come into the ark of forgiveness, beloved Children of God! 

Click for: RESPONSE  “Holy Holy Holy”  v. 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!

PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST

In the Ark of this church, we are one family of faith. Sometimes it feels like close quarters! That’s all the more reason to greet one other with a sign of God’s peace. The peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you!

ANTHEM                   “Song, O Heavens”               Joseph Martin

CHILDREN’S MESSAGE                              Marylynn Diehlman

(all children will remain in the sanctuary)

PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION

God of mercy, you promised never to break your covenant with us. Amid all the changing words of our generation, speak your eternal Word that does not change. Then may we respond to your gracious promises with faithful and obedient lives;
through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
 

SCRIPTURE               Genesis 7:1-8:1

Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation. 2Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate; 3and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth. 4For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.”

5And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him. 6Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came on the earth. 7And Noah with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. 8Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, 9two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. 10And after seven days the waters of the flood came on the earth.

11In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. 12The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

13On the very same day Noah with his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons entered the ark, 14they and every wild animal of every kind, and all domestic animals of every kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every bird of every kind—every bird, every winged creature. 15They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life.16And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in.

17The flood continued forty days on the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. 18The waters swelled and increased greatly on the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters. 19The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; 20the waters swelled above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.

21And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; 22everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. 23He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark. 24And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days.

8But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided;

SERMON

It is a basic question: Is there something trustworthy? Is there something, or someone, we can trust absolutely, who, when we jump, will not pull his arms back?

It is a question asked and addressed early in the Bible, immediately after the creation narrative. The story of Noah and the ark is one of the most familiar and least understood in the Bible, says Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann. Everybody focuses on the most interesting part of the story—the ark and all those animals, two by two—but that, Brueggemann says, is not the most important part, nor is Noah the main character. God is, and the point is not life inside the ark for forty days but something important and new and stunning going on in the heart of God.

Meanwhile, we can’t take our eyes off the ark. Someone is always discovering pieces of it on Mount Ararat in Turkey. Comedians use it for material. Bill Cosby did a hilarious routine of the initial conversation between God and Noah in which God is prescribing, in terms of cubits, the dimension of the vessel Noah is supposed to build, and Noah asks, “What’s a cubit?” Someone said the church is like the ark: it’s crowded and indescribably messy inside and you might think of leaving if it weren’t for the storm outside. A child in another congregation, once asked if there were mosquitoes in the ark A Sunday school teacher told me about a little girl studying in science class the reproductive capacity of fruit flies, and she calculated the millions of fruit flies that the original two could produce in forty days. And even John Calvin, ever fastidious, speculated that the stench inside must have been pretty impressive.

The story, Brueggemann says, is a conventional, typical divine judgment story. God is unhappy with creation. Things have not turned out the way God intended. Human beings have broken all the rules and, instead of living in peace with one another and the creation, have turned out to be nasty, selfish, disobedient, violent, and destructive. It begins almost immediately, with Adam and Eve’s disobedience, Cain’s murder of his brother, Abel, and by the time we get to Noah, God has had it. God decided to do what Near Eastern deities do: smash everything to bits—in this case, flood the whole project. Divine justice demands punishment. God is angry. It is, by the way, the oldest idea people had of God: an angry judge, punishing recalcitrant and disobedient people, a dangerous God who has to be placated, which is what religion is for.

But then the most amazing thing happens. God has a change of heart. God notices Noah and Noah’s family and starts to worry a little bit, care a little bit. God’s heart is warmed. And suddenly, in the midst of this somewhat bizarre story, we have a radical new idea emerging: God is not an angry tyrant but a concerned parent. God is not an angry judge but father/mother, grieving for a lost child.

The story continues. Noah is now provided a way to survive and, for this new God-concept to proceed, an ark. God, did you notice, shuts Noah in, literally tucks them all in the ark. The floods come. After forty days the rain stops. The floods start to recede. A dove Noah has dispatched returns with an olive leaf—another metaphor with biblical roots, signifying the renewal of life and peace on earth again. And then this remarkable promise: “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature . . . for all generations. . . . I have set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

The rainbow, an inverted weapon of war, is now a sign of God’s promise to love and care for the earth, God’s promise to love and care for every living creature, for all generations. That’s a very inclusive promise, by the way. Before the Bible describes the Abrahamic covenant, the choosing of a people and a nation, Israel, to be a light to the world, the Bible is clear that God’s parental and loving care is for the whole creation and for all people. In this first covenant, all are part of God’s chosen. It so frequently comes out the other way: religion used as a way to build walls and barriers between people. But here, at the very beginning, is the proclamation and promise that God cares for and loves all people, that all are as precious to God as a beloved child is to a mother or a father.

Here, at the beginning, an invitation to put your basic trust in God.

At the time this story was first told, God’s people were in a situation of tremendous loss, stress, and helplessness. The Babylonians had defeated their army, leveled Jerusalem, and carried them off into captivity, into exile, a time when everything that was known, stable, and reliable vanished overnight. The people felt abandoned, alone, without hope. It felt like a kind of chaos, like the primal chaos before God brought order in the creation, the chaos of a mighty flood sweeping away everything that was purposeful and beautiful and precious.

I am here, God says, in this ancient story. No matter what is happening all around, no matter what is changing, count on me, remember the promise. I will help you through. And that, I would suggest, is a relevant word, across the many centuries, to you and me in the Year of our Lord 2021.

It is almost a cliché now to say that we live in the midst of radical and profound change, but we do. One of the most fascinating books I’ve read is Thomas Friedman’s 2005 book on globalization, The World Is Flat. Friedman will take your breath away with his examples of a brand-new world that has already happened and the enormous changes ahead of us in the way business is done: 245,000 highly educated Indians answering American telephone calls, taking orders, selling furniture, making airline reservations.

My favorite so far is an enterprising McDonald’s franchise owner in Missouri who has figured out how to provide faster and cheaper service by using a call service in Colorado Springs. “When you pull up to the drive-through kiosk, the order taker is 900 miles away connected to the customer and food preparers by high-speed data lines. . . . People picking up their burgers never know that their order has traveled two states and bounced back before they even started to drive to the pickup window” (pp. 40–41).

It is also a now well-known cliché to say that the world changed on September 11, 2001 and that we are now living in a new and dangerous world, full of threats we never imagined before, but it is true. And the challenge, the demand on business and industry, education, politics and religion, is to open our eyes to the new world in which we find ourselves and to think and act in new ways.

In the meantime, there is always the threat: the threat of danger and chaos, the threat of the flood, the threat of terrorism, the threat of virus. The threat of chaos comes in many forms: any time we step outside our comfort zone—a new job, going to college, any new venture—and, of course, the threat of death, the death of dear ones, friends, the threat of our own death.

The story of Noah and the ark and the rainbow is an invitation to trust God absolutely and utterly. We Christians believe that the promise of the covenant was made and fulfilled again, centuries later, when one we know as God’s Son lived among us and faced his own mortality, died our death, and then, on the third day, rose again—a sign, like a lovely rainbow, of God’s victory over death, God’s everlasting love, God’s promise.

Walter Bouman was professor emeritus  of theology at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, and during his final year, he battled cancer. Professor Bouman is a big man with a great unkempt beard, a wonderful sense of humor, a brilliant intellect, and was one of the best teachers in theology.

He was invited to preach at an Episcopal seminary prior to his death. In that sermon,  Walter described how his oncologist told him he had six to nine months. With his characteristic irreverent humor, he remembered Woody Allen on the subject: “It is impossible to experience your own death and still carry a tune.” And “Some things are worse than death. Have you ever spent two hours with an insurance salesman?”

This professor spent his last month’s listening to music, J. S. Bach mostly, visiting with friends, reading the newspaper, counting days, and remembering the promise. He told those who visited him that, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ frees us. We are free to do more with our lives than protect them. We are free to offer them.”

And then Walter Bouman said, “We are called to love the world, to want clean air and water for everyone, to give ourselves to the service of peace instead of blindly following our leaders in senseless wars, to commit to the cause of justice, especially when our institutions and our country are guilty of injustice. That is a big order. But you are set free to pursue it by the resurrection of Christ, who has put an end to the dominion of death. We are free for the battle because the victory is already won.”

He also told family that he had been praying a little prayer he first prayed in German as a child:

Lord Jesus, who does love me,
Oh, spread thy wings above,
And shield me from alarm.
Though evil would assail me
Thy mercy will not fail me.
I rest in thy protecting arms.

The promise of Noah.

God will never abandon creation.

God will never abandon you.

God may be trusted absolutely.

Lie back, daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. . . .
. . . remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you;
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Commentary provided by Cassie Waits, Harrold E. Kidd, John Buchanan, and Tim Keller,

*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.

*HYMN No. 170  “You Walk Along Our Shoreline”

You walk along our shoreline
where land meets unknown sea.
We hear your voice of power,
“Now come and follow me.
And if you still will follow
through storm and wave and shoal,
then I will make you fishers
but of the human soul.”

You call us, Christ, to gather
the people of the earth.
We cannot fish for only
those lives we think have worth.
We spread your net of gospel
across the water’s face,
our boat a common shelter
for all found by your grace.

We cast our net, O Jesus;
we cry the kingdom’s name;
we work for love and justice;
we learn to hope through pain.
You call us, Lord, to gather
God’s daughters and God’s sons,
to let your judgment heal us
so that all may be one.

THE PASTORAL PRAYER & THE LORD’S PRAYER

God of grace and God of glory, on this anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, grant us the wisdom to remember the lessons from that tragic day that make us more Christ-like. Drive away from us any vengeful urges, any hate-filled sentiment, any whisper from within or without that goads us to return evil for evil.

As we look back and recall where we were, who was with us and how we felt that fateful day, may those vivid memories compel us to acts of kindness, words of love and demonstrations of community. May the myriad of images of helpers – firefighters, police officers, pastors, office workers, ordinary citizens – be the icons that inspire us to be helpers, too. May texts and voicemails of “I love you” and “You are everything to me” assure us that love always has the last word, but that we should never wait to say it.

As the world still heaves with violence and war seems to never end, assure us, Prince of Peace, that ultimately crying and mourning will be no more. In the midst of suffering, our own and that of the world, speak again, Creator God, your performative Word of life and its goodness.

We pray for those whose lives were forever changed on September 11, 2001. Grant comfort to those who grieve. Strengthen those who struggle with questions that remain unanswered. Assure those who worry that they should have said or done something differently that you gather up all the fragments of our lives, bless and use them in ways that nourish.

We thank you, Lord of all, for the people who every day put their lives in danger in order to protect and serve others. We pray for all first responders, for medical personnel, police officers, firefighters and others who never know what a shift at work will bring on any given day. Grant them wisdom, courage and rest.

As we consider that fall day years ago, grant us the ability to cling to the examples of goodness that emerged out of the horror: strangers banding together to thwart more carnage, people lining up to donate blood, congregations opening their doors to offer respite for anyone and everyone, people offering comfort and care to those they knew and those they’d never met. May these acts of mercy emulated in our lives be the ripple that reverberates through history, revealing your sure power to bring redemption, reconciliation and resurrection out of the depths of death and despair.

We are grateful for the new life born since the attacks  – for those beloved children who don’t remember that day. We give thanks for the saints who were with us then, but have since gone on to eternal life.

When we mark anniversaries of sorrow, corporately or alone, may they be occasions to discern what truly matters, let go of what really doesn’t and recognize your grace, Almighty God, that pervades it all.

In the name of Jesus, the light of the world, the Prince of Peace, the Good Shepherd, our friend and our helper, we pray. Amen.

We ask all this through your Son, Jesus Christ, 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.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

MINUTE FOR MISSION                  Christian Education

OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS

Isaiah, speaking for God, reminds us: “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” In times of trauma, disaster, disruption in our world, you become the presence and compassion of God. Your prayers, your words, your actions and your gifts make it possible for people to find a steady place to stand until the quaking calms. Our offering today will be used minister to our community and care for those in need, especially those struggling during this time of disaster. For the work of God at home and around the world our offering will be received by placing them in the offering plates in the rear of the sanctuary, sending your gift to the church office or going online via the Presbyterian Foundation.

*OFFERTORY

*RESPONSE

* PRAYER OF DEDICATION

God of moving mountains, God of steadfast love, God of blowing wind, God of peace, we bring our gifts, our prayers our whole selves to you. Receive our gifts from hopeful, trusting and grateful souls. Use these gifts to bring your calming compassion to our world.  Amen.

*HYMN No. 613                     “O Lord, Our God”

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.
O Lord, we praise your name.
O Lord, we magnify your name:
Prince of Peace, mighty God;
O Lord God Almighty.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.
O Lord, we praise your name.
O Lord, we magnify your name:
Prince of Peace, mighty God;
O Lord God Almighty.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.
O Lord, we praise your name.
O Lord, we magnify your name:
Prince of Peace, mighty God;
O Lord God Almighty.

*BENEDICTION

People of God, go forth encouraged by God’s steadfast presence in your lives.
Go forth bolstered by the knowledge that your preparation and God’s provision help mitigate the effects of changed circumstances.
Go forth assured of God’s promises to tenderly care for you, wherever you may go and whatever lies ahead.
Go in peace.