August 16, 2020
WELCOME AND ANNOUNCEMENTS
Let me remind you quickly of our protocols for everyone’s safety.
· Attendance was taken by ushers as you entered
· Offerings may be placed in the plate by the doors.
· The bulletins were placed specifically for social distancing, one household per pew. Please sit exactly where you found your bulletin.
· Please keep your masks on and remain seated through the whole service.
· There will be no singing, and no physical contact.
· You may read along silently, but today there will be two questions at the end to which I will direct a short out loud response
· The office and the rest of the building remain closed, but you can contact Karla during her office hours.
· There will be an informational meeting on August,23, 2020 before church.
WORDS OF WORSHIP
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it!
You are the power behind all things:
Behind the energy of the storm,
Behind the heat of a million suns.
You are the power behind all minds:
Behind the ability to think and reason,
Behind all understanding of the truth.
You are power behind the cross of Christ:
Behind the weakness, the torture and the death,
Behind unconquerable love.
We worship and adore you. Amen.
CONFESSION AND PARDON
O God, we confess to our brokenness, to the ways we wound our lives, the lives of others and the life of the world. May God forgive us, Christ redeem us, and the Spirit empower us to live in love.
In the name of Jesus we are forgiven. Thanks be to God!
May the peace of Christ be with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
Oh Lord, your Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. Open our hearts to receive it, that we might know your more completely and serve you more faithfully. In Christ we pray, Amen.
Psalm 33: 12-22
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose his inheritance. 13 From heaven the Lord down and sees all mankind; 14 from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth--15 he who forms hearts of all,considers everything they do. 16 No king is saved by the size of his army;warrior escapes by his great strength. 17 A horse a vain hope for deliverance;all its great strength it cannot save.18 But the eyes the Lord on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, 19 to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. 20 We wait hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. 21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. 22 May your unfailing love be with us,Lord, even as we put our hope in you.
Hebrews 11: 1-3
1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for assurance about what we do not see .2 This is what the ancients were commended for. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command,that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
8 faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance,and went,though he did not know where he was going.9 By faith he made his home in the promised land a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents,did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city foundations,architect and builder is God 11 by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age,enabled to bear children she considered him faithful who had made the promise .12 so from this one man, and he as good as dead,descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. 13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised;only saw them and welcomed them from a distance,that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.16, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.God is not ashamed be called their God,he has prepared a city for them.
SERMON “Staying the Course”
Well this would normally be the time of year when all types of athletic events would have taken place
Summer in Iowa usually means the John Deere Classic and the Bix Marathon in the Quad Cities, and the Ragbrai across Iowa. It’s normally the time of year where athletes leave their homes and families and venture out to endure heat, and storms, and hardships of all manner all of them determined to stay the course, to finish the races for which they’ve been trained athletic competitions have been going on for centuries contests in running, walking, jumping and throwing are among the oldest they were depicted in the ancient Egyptian tombs as early as 2250 BC the first Olympics was in 776 BC, and was a stadium length running event it seems to be in our human wiring to want to race, and compete, and push ourselves to our physical limits
Of course, none of that happened this year because of the pandemic
it’s been necessary to cancel sporting events to keep people safe from the virus we’re all running in a different kind of marathon
and it’s an event that is pushing some people to the very limits of their abilities we know our healthcare workers and other essential workers have endured and continue to endure extreme hardship in caring for others and in seeking solutions they continue to show up, to work long hours, to stay the course
Staying the course
that’s what this passage from Hebrews is about
and it’s about a lot more than just a bike ride or a game of golf
the book of Hebrews is a letter written to Christians who were feeling the
temptation to give up on the faith these were Christians who were living in those years after the first apostles they were Christians who had suffered persecution and insults
they had stood by their friends as they suffered the same thing they had watched each other be imprisoned and they’d had their property taken away from them
in the early days of their faith when they had first “received the light” of salvation, they had accepted and endured all of this gladly and even with joy for the sake of their faith but the first glow of faith had worn off and they were beginning to get a little worn down from everything it seemed that they were ready to abandon their faith in Christ and go back to their former practices these, we know, included the adherence to the law and Jewish ritual practices like the sacrifice of animals they’d begun to believe that faith in Christ alone wasn’t good enough they’d begun to remember the former things of Israel’s faith - angels, and prophets and priests and as it often happens when things are tough, they’d begun to idealize the past they wanted to devise their own brand of religion that would suit them better, they thought
And so the writer of Hebrews reminded them that “Faith is the assurance or things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
It was this act of faith, this trust in God’s promise that helped the great mothers and fathers of the faith stay the course
It wasn’t their own abilities, their successes, their stuff, their rituals that kept them going
It was their handle on what they couldn’t see
It was their faith that set them above the rest of the crowd.
“By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home,” the writer says.
“when he left, he had no idea where he was going.
By an act of faith, he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents.”
God’s call to Abraham came like a bolt out of the blue
Abraham didn’t do anything that we know of to warrant the blessing.
He lived a simple life in the fertile crescent in the middle of a commercial trade route.
He could have been a caravan merchant, but the Bible presents him mostly as a farmer.
His call came during a rather turbulent time in history.
The story of God’s people up to this point had been a “soap opera.”
Adam and Eve had been discovered in the garden naked, having eaten from the forbidden tree.
One of their sons had murdered the other one.
The whole universe had become so corrupt that God had to whisk it away in a flood and start over.
Even with a second chance, his creatures proved thick-headed and built a tower into the heavens to bring themselves fame and glory.
They were so full of themselves and their seeming importance that God had to confuse their languages and send them on their separate ways.
Maybe Abram’s family was one of those families that was sent away from the Tower of Babel.
We’re told that Abram’s father Terah had started moving toward Canaan.
Terah’s personal life hadn’t been a bed of roses lately either.
He had lost one of his sons, and so he had custody of his grandson, Lot.
His daughter-in-law, Sarai, was experiencing infertility problems.
Maybe the journey became too much for him – he was 205 years old, after all.
At any rate, when they came to Haran, they settled there, and Terah died, never completing his journey to Canaan.
Then in the midst of all this communal and personal sin, struggle and tragedy, God, who had sent the flood and crumbled the tower was moved to compassion for his children.
He decided to bless them.
And he chose to do it through Abraham.
God spoke to Abraham, and said, “Leave your home and go to a new land that I will show you.
I will bless you and make your name great, and you will be a blessing…in you, all of the families of the earth will be blessed.”
And so Abraham went – just like that – no arguing with God or pleading inadequacy as we would see Moses do later.
He just went, we’re told – packed up his belongings and took his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot and started moving toward Canaan.
Now there are some things about God’s choice of Abraham that frankly, don’t make sense.
For one thing, Abraham and Sarah were old.
Another obstacle was Sarah’s apparent barrenness.
Abraham and Sarah had never been able to have children.
How would it be, then with their age and infertility that God would bless them with a great nation and offspring as numerous as the stars?
Still, in light of all this, God gave Abraham the blessing, and Abraham never questioned it.
He just moved toward Canaan like God told him to.
If we read the rest of Genesis, we know that Abraham’s family didn’t suddenly become perfect after God blessed him.
After God blessed them, Abraham and Sarah didn’t suddenly march into Canaan, take over the place, have a family full of children, and live happily ever after.
For one thing, Canaan was occupied with all sorts of hostile people.
For another thing, blessed or not, people are people– the soap opera continued with lies, deception, surrogate motherhood, jealousy and sibling rivalry.
It would be years before the “great nation” and the “numerous offspring” would come to be.
The blessing would have to work itself out amidst the slow, imperfect pace of the lives of ordinary human beings.
But none of it stopped God from continuing to bless Abraham as he had promised,
and none of it kept Abraham from moving forward toward Canaan.
Maybe it’s because the fulfillment of the blessing didn’t depend on Abraham’s age or his status, or the perfection of his family, or anything he could be or do.
It depended on two things - God’s grace and Abraham’s faith.
It wasn’t anything Abraham did that helped him to stay the course,
that empowered him to be a blessing to all nations of the world.
It was his extraordinary faith in what God could do.
Author, Frederick Buechner says of Abraham:
“In spite of everything, he never stopped having faith that God was going to keep his promise about making him the father of a great nation.
Night after night, it was the dream he rode to sleep on – the glittering cities, the up-to-date armies, the curly-bearded kings.
There was a group photograph taken of him not long before he died.
It was a bar mitzvah, and they were all there down to the last poor relation.
They weren’t a great nation yet by a long shot, but you’d never know by the way Abraham sits enthroned there in his velvet yarmulke with several great-grandchildren on his lap and soup on his tie.
Even through his thick lenses, you can read the look of faith in his eyes…
it was that look God loved him for and had chosen him for in the first place.
“They will all be winners, God willing.
Even the losers will be winners.
They’ll all get their names up in lights,” say his eyes.
“Someday - who knows when? I’ll be talking about my son – the Light of the World.”
Well, as we know, Abraham’s son, the Light of the World has arrived and has sealed God’s promise through our salvation.
As believers in Christ, we are heirs of Abraham and Sarah’s blessing,
We are called by God to stay the course, to finish the race set before us
To never give up, even though it looks like things are going nowhere
So what course are you trying to stay on today?
What race are you in the midst of?
We’re all trying to make it through this pandemic that seems to have no end in sight
There are the continuing challenges of racism and division in our country and world
And what seems to be an increasing intolerance for one another, and a lack of courtesy and human decency
And then why not throw a massive storm into the mix?
Loss of property and crops and food and life
And our usual personal struggles haven’t gone away -
Serious things like loss and grief so overwhelming we feel we’ll never make it through Like threatening health conditions in ourselves and in those we love We have challenging relationships – brokenness within our families We are worried about our children, our grandchildren, our parents, spouses, friends
And amidst all of this, the relevance of the Church is called into question
No one can deny the declining numbers everything we believe seems to be up for grabs sometimes And we, like those early Christians are tempted sometimes to just give it all up
And so the writer of Hebrews is here to remind us of what we believe today
To remind us that Jesus is the Son of God,
Jesus is the one who, because we were flesh and blood, took on flesh and blood himself to rescue us
Who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus is the one who has secured for us the promise of a better life, a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more suffering, no more tears, no more pain, no more death
This is what our faith teaches us and it’s the hope to which we cling
It’s the faith that was lived out by Abraham and Sarah and it’s the faith of Christ himself
it’s the faith we’re called to
I like Eugene Petersen’s rendering of the 12th chapter of Hebrews. He says:
“Do you see what this means – all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on?
It means we’d better get on with it
Strip down, start running – and never quit!
No spiritual fat, no parasitic sins
Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in
Study how he did it
Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God
He could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever
And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.
When you find yourself flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through
That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
The Russian author Alexander Solzenhitzen tells of a moment when he was on the verge of giving up all hope.
when he was a political prisoner in the Soviet Union, he was forced to work 12 hours a day on a starvation diet and he became gravely ill the doctors, in fact, predicted his death one afternoon, shoveling sand under a blazing sun, he simply stopped working even though he knew the guards would beat him severely, even to death; but he just felt he couldn’t go on then he saw another prisoner, a fellow Christian, moving toward him cautiously. with his cane that man quickly drew a cross in the sand and then erased it in that brief moment, Solzhenitsyn felt all of the hope of the gospel flood through his soul it was a renewal of Christian hope, even though the situation hadn’t changed it gave him courage to endure that difficult day and the months of imprisonment that followed.
This is the difference between Christian hope and mere optimism or wishful thinking
wishful thinking is just that – wishing things were different optimism is born of the human spirit it sees the situation clearly and yet clings to the notion that good will triumph somehow hope goes further; hope knows and understands what that good is – how that triumph will finally occur the Christian hope is the hope of heaven
the Christian hope is the hope of a kingdom with no more suffering, no more pain, no more tears, no more death that’s what we’re certain of it’s not dependent on the strength of our own spirit it’s what functions even when our spiritual strength leaves us broken and vulnerable, with nothing left of ourselves that’s what Solzenhitzen discovered when he had nothing left of himself, the building block of faith was still there
and that faith awakened in him the gift of hope
Abraham and Sarah were commended for their faith
not their knowledge
not their goodness
not their money
not their success
not their popularity
not their performance
What course are you on today?
Maybe your life feels like a soap opera like those early mothers and fathers of the faith were living For ourselves, for our families, for our church, for our nation, for our world, we are called to faith.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
We are called to stay the course, to finish the race
Not through our knowledge, or our goodness
Not through our money, or success, or popularity,
Not through anything we can do ourselves
We are called to stay the course through our faith in Christ
The one who has already won the race for us
Who waits for us at the finish line ready to embrace us
To draw us into the fullness of his love.
Prayers of the People and The Lord’s Prayer
O Lord, you are the God of Abraham and Sarah of Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel. You are the God of our mothers and fathers, and you are our God. You care for us deeply and completely, and so we bring our prayers to you in faith, trusting you to intervene in our lives.
We pray for your comfort and peace in the midst of our grief. To be human and to love is to experience loss, and we have lost much – people we love, former ways of life. Especially, we lift up to you all who are struggling to recover from the storm. Help us to work together to offer support and resources to one another. Walk with us in our hour of darkness.
We ask for your healing touch in every way that we suffer. Lay hands on us in the midst of disease and illness, pain and weakness of every kind. Give us ease of movement, sight, hearing, speech and breath. We lift up to you all who are suffering from the virus and pray for recovery. We pray for a vaccine and for those who are working to develop one. We pray for strength and perseverance for health care and other essential workers. You too Lord suffered much. Help us to know that we’re never alone.
We lift up our families to you and ask for you to bring blessing to our homes and relationships. Heal our broken places and help us to understand and honor one another. Keep us safe and help us to walk in love. Especially we pray for teachers and children who are going back to school, that you would place your protection around them.
We pray for your mighty power to uplift our churches. We are the body of your precious son on this earth. We pray that all who enter here would see his face, that we would see the face of Christ in them. Help us to persevere, to be the Church even when it’s hard, even when it’s not popular. Help us to never give up in sharing the message of your acceptance and love.
O God, our country is in need of your guidance. Help our leaders to humble themselves under your mighty hand, to look out for the good of all people. Heal our racial strife and economic disparity. Help us to make a better world here on earth while we wait expectantly for your heavenly one.
And Lord, we place this hurting world into your hands, for we know its sorrows are much too much for us to handle alone. Still, make us instruments of your peace, providers for the hungry, a welcome place for your homeless and alone.
Just as you led your children of Israel through the wilderness, we know that you lead us too, for you’ve promised never to leave us or forsake us. You guide us with your unfailing light and provide food enough for today. You send friends to travel this journey of life with us, the sun in the morning and the moon and stars by night. And in the midst of our imperfect lives, you send your perfect Son, to love us and redeem us, our Savior, Christ, who taught us to pray,
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.
AFFIRMATION Apostle’s Creed, Ecumenical Version
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION AND THANKSGIVING
THE LORD’S PRAYER
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.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
CHARGE & BLESSING