January 29, 2023
ANNOUNCEMENTS --- Nominating Committee will meet after worship and fellowship time today.
Ladies Lunch Bunch will meet on February 8 at 11:30 AM at Applebees in Clinton. We are inviting the ladies from First Congregational Church to join us. Ladies, please join us. Sign for reservations on the door beside Admin Office.
Fellowship Time! Mark your calendars. Pastor Joyce will share a few photos and experiences from her trip to Iceland on Sunday, February 26, following worship. A fellowship lunch will also be provided. Invite a friend, and put in your RSVP on the sheet beside the Administrative Office.
Funeral Lunches. Please add your name to the list of people who can help serve, assuming you are available, for funeral lunches as the need arises in the future.
PRAYER REQUESTS Please hold the following in your prayers.
· The family of Marilyn Neymeyer as they grieve the loss of their mother and grandmother.
· Arlene Pawlik who is recovering from a broken leg.
· Those who are on hospice: Joan Pinkston, Maxine Wagner.
· For the Nominating Committee as they seek members for the Pastor Nominating Committee—that group who will seek our next pastor.
CALL TO WORSHIP Adapted from Micah 6: 6-8
L: With what shall we come before our Lord?
P: Shall we come with offerings to earn God’s grace?
L: God has told us what is good and desired--
P: to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.
L: Let us come before the Lord to offer our praise and thanksgiving.
P: Let us come to equip ourselves for living God’s justice, kindness, and humility.
Gracious God. We come this morning seeking answers to our lingering questions. We seek your truth that offers new blessings of life and hope. Help us, this day, to let go of the wisdom of our world and to grasp hold of your blessings that some might call foolishness, but which we know is salvation for all who believe. Amen.
HYMN O Come and Sing Unto the Lord #214
CALL TO CONFESSION
Jesus taught the crowds who gathered with him on the mountain. He invited them to see the world through the eyes of God’s love. Let us open ourselves to this love by confessing our guilt, that which holds us away from God’s grace. Please join with me that together we might confess our brokenness.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Gracious Lord. Too often we think of a blessing in terms of financial windfalls or a gift that is poured into our lives. But you ask us to see blessing as our everyday connection with you. You ask us to live your agenda and to know the satisfaction of working to pour your healing into our world. Forgive us for our self-centered desires for wealth and comfort, for power and success, for leisure and prestige. Forgive us for treating others as the means by which we might accomplish these most hollow of goals. Amen.
WORDS OF ASSURANCE
In God’s great love, Jesus came to offer us life and blessings. One of those blessings is the awareness that God forgives. We are washed clean in the blood of our Savior and allowed to fully claim God’s hope for our world. Believe the good news: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven.
SONG OF PRAISE Gloria Patri #579
PASSING THE PEACE
(Please greet those around you with these words. But let’s refrain from touch.)
May the peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
Sit beside us, Loving Savior, and open our ears that we might hear what it really means to be “blessed.” Allow that your Spirit might direct us more surely to you and into your amazing grace. Amen.
SCRIPTURE LESSONS: Micah: 6: 1-8
6 Listen to what the Lord says: “Stand up, plead my case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say. 2 “Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel. 3 “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. 4 I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. 5 My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.” 6 With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Matthew 5: 1-12
5 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
SERMON Whose Plan? Whose Agenda?
n January 14 of this year—just a couple weeks ago we learned that the Mega Millions Jack Pot was won by a person who bought their ticket in Maine. They won 1.35 Billion dollars! I don’t even know how many zeros that requires to write it in numeric form! Have you spent any time imagining how you would spend such a sum? So what do you think that person in Maine is doing right now? Are they pricing new homes—a mega mansion? Are they shopping for toys—a new yacht, or maybe 2 just in case the first one breaks down, how about a jet or helicopter, a vacation home in the south of France? Maybe they’re planning a trip around the world with their yacht, helicopter and vacation villa? Obviously with a full staff to meet their every need and desire!
Is that a blessing? To win such an amount of cash allows for luxury and comfort, security and power. Is that what blessing means? Today we are exploring what God means when he speaks of us being blessed. It’s a word we throw around a lot. “Have a blessed day.” “What a blessing that was!” “You are a blessing to me.” We use that word around to refer to health, a good job or success in our careers, a comfortable home, security in the form of a bank account or 401K. Maybe we are thinking of our relationships to family and friends. We probably have a sense of what the word means to us, but what does it mean to God?
The passage we have before us today is called “The Beatittudes.” We might think of it as we are to “Be these attitudes.” That would be God’s agenda—God’s desire for his people. It’s God’s way of saying these are the things that matter. These are the things that create happiness and life, not only for you but for the entire community. But they can also seem confusing to us, a little beyond our grasp, maybe even unattainable. They obviously require a bit of study before the meaning comes home to us.
So, let’s spend a little time with each one of these 8 blessings. Let’s ask the question of how this blessing works in our own lives and in our own corner of the world.
We begin with “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” At first reading it feels like Jesus is saying, Blessed are those who don’t have much spirit. They have a poverty of spirit. We assume that Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit-- that part of God that gives us what we need to follow the path that God has set before us. How can one who lacks the Holy Spirit hope to acquire the kingdom of heaven?
It’s a puzzle, right? But a better way to translate this is “Blessed are they who have a spirit like the poor,” or “blessed are they who are like the poor in spirit.”
Does it surprise you that people who lack resources or power or opportunities have an advantage with the Spirit? They do. People who are poor can’t wave a checkbook at a problem to make it go away. They can’t rely on insurance or powerful friends to get them out of a jam. They can’t bully or intimidate their way through an issue. Instead they call upon God. They have to rely on God because they don’t have other options. In that way they build Spiritual muscles. They learn to trust and obey God’s design for them, and maybe in the process they learn a different kind of happiness and contentment.
Here’s the good news. Matthew tells us we don’t need to BE poor. Rather we need to learn how to develop our spiritual muscles in the same way that the poor do. We need to learn how to rely upon God and to obey his call, which of course might mean that we give away some or much of our excess.
Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Jesus isn’t talking about when we’ve lost a beloved family member or friend. He is, of course, there to comfort us then, too, but this one is really aimed at those who mourn and grieve because they are denied equal access to the gifts of our society—good jobs, education, respect, equal justice under the law, the opportunities that others enjoy. Those who mourn because of these injustices will be comforted—by God and by God’s plan for our world.
Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth. In Greek the word that is here translated “meek” is often a synonym for “the poor.” These are people who don’t have power. They are NOT the people pounding their fists on the table at the board meeting or shouting down their peers or using other forms of power to impose their will upon others. Maybe they are the ones who will inherit the earth because the others will be so busy fighting and arguing that they won’t really know the joys that God has poured into our physical world.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled. We can substitute the word “justice” here for righteousness. God’s definition of justice is that all people have what is needed for life and wholeness. It is God’s agenda, always. People who hunger and thirst for this justice can’t help but become workers for that justice in big and small ways, and God’s Holy Spirit comes along side us to help make a difference in our world. The Holy Spirit helps to bring our work to fruition in ways that we can’t imagine, and that might not even be apparent to us.
Blessed are the Merciful for they shall receive mercy. Here’s the thing about mercy or the ability to forgive. It’s often all around us, but too often we can’t or won’t accept this mercy because it would mean we have to admit to ourselves and others that we have blown it and need such a gift. How much easier and more comfortable to just bluster our way through or try to justify our actions. Those who are good at offering mercy to others are more likely to allow themselves to receive it, acknowledging that, yes, we did make an error. Maybe this one goes back to the ones who are meek—those who have come to terms with their own humanity and humility?
Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God. This was a hard one for me. Who can claim to be pure of heart. Don’t we all sin and fall short of the glory of God? But maybe a way to think of this is not in totality, those who are totally pure in heart. Maybe it’s WHEN we behave in ways that are single-minded for God and God’s agenda, that’s when we can be called pure in heart and that’s when we catch glimpses of our Lord in all his glory. And, of course, the more we glimpse God’s glory, the more we want it. It means laying aside our own self-interest to be diligent and loving towards others in the name of Christ.
Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God. Making peace is hard and often selfless work. It takes a strong person to avoid being pulled into the struggle and to deal with hostility without becoming hostile ourselves. Those who practice that art develop a calm reliance on God. It’s just like a son or daughter who relies upon a wise and loving parent to teach them the ways of a particular skill. We come to think of ourselves as children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of God. and then the next one further explains it.--Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
This is perhaps the crux of this scripture. To live the other blessings means we are living God’s agenda, not ours, not the agenda of the world. We are listening and obeying our Lord, and that might well mean shaking up our societal norms. That’s not going to be that popular with some. That will likely open us to struggles and maybe even persecution, but it’s for righteousness, justice, God’s desire for our world. There are many blessings that come to us, not the least of which is a strong sense of God being in our corner, carrying us forward and loving us.
These are the things that Micah was talking about. God isn’t going down his check list to ask about our attendance in worship, our ability to say the perfect prayer, our religious rituals. What God is asking of us is to live our lives in such a way that justice, kindness and humility can be observed by all. That’s what it’s about for us as individuals. That’s what it’s about for us as a church community. That’s what brings us closer to our Lord and our Savior.
Winning the mega million jackpot isn’t a blessing. In fact, it might be just the opposite of a blessing when one begins to deal with all the people who stream to us with their hands out. What is a blessing is knowing the joy and the satisfaction of walking with God to make our world a place where everyone knows the goodness of life as God desires.
So instead of buying a lottery ticket, how about doing something that will make a difference right here in Clinton, Iowa. It’s a tiny step, but definitely in the right direction.
Thanks be to God who blesses us all. Amen.
HYMN Open My Eyes That I May See #324
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.
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, now and forever. Amen.
OFFERING OUR LIVES
DOXOLOGY Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow #592
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH --Apostle’s Creed
HYMN Just as I Am, Without One Plea #370
CHARGE & BLESSING
We will remain seated throughout the service.
Bold text is to be read together aloud as a congregation.