October 22, 2023
· Please join us in Calvin Hall following worship today for a time of fellowship.
· Beginning in October: A Butterfly ministry in our basement! You are invited to come help paint butterflies of grace to remind our hurting neighbors of God’s care and of our prayers. Call Shirley Darsidan at 563-613-2850 for more information.
· This month we receive the Peacemaking offering. 25% of this money remains with us to be used by our “Gathering Place.” The remainder is used at multiple levels of our denomination to fund programs that promote peace and well-being around our world.
· JoAnn Grimm who struggles with health problems.
· Joan Pinkston, on hospice.
· Keith and Ellen Miller who are struggling with health issues.
· For our Nominating Committee who are working to fill 2 elder positions, as well as Clerk of Session.
CALL TO WORSHIP Psalm 96:1-4, CEB
Leader: Sing to the Lord a new song!
Sing to the Lord, all the earth!
People: Sing to the Lord! Bless his name!
Share the news of his saving work every single day!
Leader: Declare God’s glory among the nations;
declare his wondrous works among all people
People: because the Lord is great and so worthy of praise.
He is awesome beyond all other gods
God of all nations, we come to worship you. We sing your songs of praise. We glorify your name. We remember your saving mercy. We declare your goodness.
Receive our worship and go with us into our daily lives that we might continue to honor and follow you every day. Amen.
*HYMN Sing Praise to God #483
(You may be seated.)
CALL TO CONFESSION Deuteronomy 13:4
“It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.”
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of mercy and grace, forgive us the times we fail to follow where you would lead us, when we fail to hold you in reverence, to keep your commandments, or to serve you with heart, soul, and strength. God, when we stray from your path to follow the ways of the world or the things that tempt us or simply distract us, we ask you to guide us back to your way, not only for ourselves, but also that we might be the best examples of what it means to truly follow Jesus Christ. Amen.
WORDS OF ASSURANCE Luke 4:18-19, GW
Leader: This is how Jesus understood his mission in the Word from Isaiah’s scroll as he read it in the synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is with me. He has anointed me
to tell the Good News to the poor. He has sent me to announce forgiveness to the prisoners of sin and the restoring of sight to the blind, to forgive those who have been shattered by sin, to announce the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Through Christ we are forgiven. People: Thanks be to God!
SONG OF PRAISE Gloria Patri #579
PASSING THE PEACE
Leader: May the peace of Christ be with you. People: And also with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
OLD TESTAMENT LESSON Exodus 33:12-23, NLT
12 One day Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Take these people up to the Promised Land.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. You have told me, ‘I know you by name, and I look favorably on you.’ 13 If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.”
14 The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest--
everything will be fine for you.”15 Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. 16 How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”17 The Lord replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.”18 Moses responded, “Then show me your glorious presence.”
19 The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. 20 But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21 The Lord continued, “Look, stand near me on this rock. 22 As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”
GOSPEL LESSON Matthew 22:15-22, NCV
15 The Pharisees got together and planned how they could trick Jesus into saying something wrong. 16 They sent some of their followers and some of Herod's followers to say to him, “Teacher, we know that you are honest. You teach the truth about what God wants people to do. And you treat everyone with the same respect, no matter who they are. 17 Tell us what you think! Should we pay taxes to the Emperor or not?”
18 Jesus knew their evil thoughts and said, “Why are you trying to test me? You show-offs! 19 Let me see one of the coins used for paying taxes.” They brought him a silver coin, 20 and he asked, “Whose picture and name are on it?” 21 “The Emperor's,” they answered. Then Jesus told them, “Give the Emperor what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God.” 22 His answer surprised them so much that they walked away.
NEW TESTAMENT LESSON 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, NCV
From Paul, Silas, and Timothy.
To the church in Thessalonica, the people of God the Father and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that God will be kind to you and will bless you with peace! 2 We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray, 3 we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 My dear friends, God loves you, and we know he has chosen you to be his people. 5 When we told you the good news, it was with the power and assurance that come from the Holy Spirit, and not simply with words. You knew what kind of people we were and how we helped you. 6 So, when you accepted the message, you followed our example and the example of the Lord. You suffered, but the Holy Spirit made you glad.
7 You became an example for all the Lord's followers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 And because of you, the Lord's message has spread everywhere in those regions. Now the news of your faith in God is known all over the world, and we don't have to say a thing about it. 9 Everyone is talking about how you welcomed us and how you turned away from idols to serve the true and living God. 10 They also tell how you are waiting for his Son Jesus to come from heaven. God raised him from death, and on the day of judgment Jesus will save us from God's anger.
SERMON Follow the Leader
Have you played the game Follow the Leader? I remember following other students around the classroom or playground. Not only did we go wherever the leader went, we also did whatever the leader did along the way. There are circle versions of following someone’s actions as well. These seemed easier to me than something like Simon Says or Red Light, Green Light especially a recent version in which players had to strike a particular pose at “Red Light!” It’s harder for me when there are only words rather than an example.
What kind of leader do you want to follow? I thought of a couple of my grandmother’s standard sayings representing two kinds of leaders.
“Do as I say and not as I do.” This leader may talk a lot and have good things to say, but it’s like a boss who sends down orders from the head office or a commander who barks orders from behind the lines.
The second saying was this, “Pretty is as pretty does.” Just as with the games, I prefer a leader who shows me how it’s done. It’s the manager or supervisor who comes alongside an employee and solves the problem or teaches them an easier way to do the job. It’s the officer at the front of the lines leading the charge, someone in the thick of it with the rest.
I want a leader who is well informed, trustworthy, and has the greater good in mind, not just his or her own personal agenda. But good leaders are often hard to find, and I need to remind myself they are just human after all. This is why ultimately, I want a leader who is a follower, a follower of God in whatever way that leader understands our Creator.
One such leader is Moses. Bob and I began studying Moses a couple weeks ago in our Wednesday morning Bible Study. We’ll pick that up again this Wednesday, and anyone is welcome to join us. Our lesson began with God’s people being called out of Egypt, the place they had known all their lives, to go into the desert. (Ray Vanderlaan, “Fire on the Mountain”) On the one hand Egypt was a place of slavery for them. Their life was hard. But on the other hand, the desert represented chaos and the unknown. That wasn’t easy either.
Why did God lead them there and by the longer route? Moses gives us the answer in his farewell speech before the new generation entered the promised land. It’s recorded in Deuteronomy Chapter 8, “Remember the long road on which the Lord your God led you during these forty years in the desert so he could humble you, testing you to find out what was in your heart: whether you would keep his commandments or not.” (v.2)
Notice two things. First, Moses is clear that God was the one leading. Second, note that the people were being tested. We tend to think of tests as a pass/fail crisis whether in school or even the doctor’s office, and especially when they are referred to as temptations in scripture. But I suspect the teachers in our congregation know a different purpose. Exams are meant to teach.
Exams tell you how much you have absorbed the necessary material so far, and what parts of the lessons still need more work from you. You learn where you went wrong when you review the correct answer. You see where you need to ask for more help. Medical tests help figure out what is causing a physical problem, and those answers point doctors toward possible corrections. This is what God was doing with those Hebrews in the wilderness, testing them to help them learn a better way.
God used tests to teach them not to rely on their own lacking wisdom or past experiences, not to complain, and not to take even the basics for granted. God wanted them to learn to trust God completely and to obey God’s Word, to follow faithfully wherever God led them. God gave them three such tests even before they reached Mount Sinai where they would worship God and receive God’s commandments. The first test comes early in the story at Exodus 15 right after celebrating in song the crossing of the Red Sea.
A couple days into the desert, the Hebrews started to get thirsty. When they found one well, they expected everyone would get to drink fresh water, but the well was Marah which means bitter. They couldn’t drink it. Marah has a deeper meaning than even that well; it can mean deliberately disobedient. Trying to quench the thirst of a nation at one well, the people weren’t listening to God’s leading but their own solution to the problem. God taught them and Moses a lesson by telling Moses to throw in a nearby stick, not the staff that Moses lifted when God parted the sea, but a different piece of wood. This time Moses did as God said, and the water drawn next was good.
But God would have to repeat some version of this lesson many times over the next 40 years before the next generation could enter the promised land, and to be honest many more times with the generations that followed even up to today. Perhaps in your own life, when you are honest with yourself, perhaps you will recognize times God has tried to teach you to listen, trust, and follow directions obediently rather than go your own way trying to solve everything by yourself. I know it’s true for me!
Just as it is difficult to find a good leader, it isn’t easy being a leader either. I’ve had lots of experience to back up that statement. It can be physically or mentally exhausting. It can be emotionally and spiritually draining. Some days you feel like you are really getting somewhere, and other days nothing is going as intended. The people around you may disagree with you or with each other, and even machinery and weather are uncooperative. Some days everyone has questions, and you don’t have enough answers. There may be disruptions and distractions, and you feel like you are pushing a heavy boulder up a steep hill. Moses experienced all of that and more.
We come to today’s reading after many years in the desert. Moses threw his hands in the air and boldly made this frustrated but honest declaration to God.
“You have been telling me, ‘Take these people up to the Promised Land.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. You have told me, ‘I know you by name, and I look favorably on you.’ If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.” Ex. 33:12-13
To which God replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.” Ibid 14.
There was a bit more to the discussion before this marvelous scene of God allowing His Glory to pass by Moses for a moment of reassurance. I get how precious that moment must have been, how it nourished Moses with confidence and strength to go on leading God’s people.
I get it because during a time of struggle recently, God granted me a moment of visualizing life’s troubles pushed out of the way while I beheld a bright white light that filled the room, pulsating with life, and resonating with a spark of light within me. It was the Christ Light, and my own soul responded to God’s Glory. That gave me the peace and trust to keep going.
Moses came back down the mountain ready to lead God’s people once more, because Moses had been reminded of the majestic glory and trustworthy presence of the One whom he followed, God. In my meditation, so had I.
The stories of the Old Testament are filled with ordinary people, many of whom became leaders of one kind or another. Some were good leaders like Joseph or Deborah, Samuel or David, Elijah and Elisha, Josiah and Hezekiah. Some chose not to follow God and there were consequences for Jonah or Lot’s wife, for Ahab and Jezebel, for King David when he sinned, for King Saul when he did things his own way, for the kings who led God’s people away from God.
After other long periods of testing, God came to earth to reclaim God’s people. God came as Jesus.
Today’s gospel lesson mentions other human leaders. There were leaders among the Pharisees, but they only led one of various groups within Judaism. King Herod was technically a leader of the Jews but was to some extent a puppet of the occupying Romans. The Emperor was their leader. Jesus was a very different kind of leader from all of these. Jesus led by teaching and example. Take today’s lesson as one example. He answered the Pharisee’s question to pay the taxes with the Emperor’s coin. On another occasion when it came time to pay those taxes, Jesus told Peter where to find a proper coin to pay them.
Jesus’ followers on earth back then were a ragtag bunch, but he taught them how to be a community that is not only faith filled but faithful as well. This is the same lesson God wanted to teach the Hebrews in the desert. Some of Jesus’ students became leaders themselves to carry on that mission, just as Joshua (Jesus’ namesake) carried on leading God’s people after Moses.
Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica gives us another example of how this learning to live and to lead continues. Paul once thought he was following God’s plan by arresting those who chose to follow Jesus. But God changed Paul’s mind on the Damascus Road and trained Paul to be a powerful leader for Jesus’ Way instead. As Paul wrote to one of the churches he had taught, he reminded them of the example he set for them to follow.
”… when you accepted the message, you followed our example and the example of the Lord. You suffered, but the Holy Spirit made you glad. You became an example for all the Lord's followers in Macedonia and Achaia.” (1 Thess. 1:6-7)
Like the Hebrews of the Exodus, new Christ-following churches also suffered. But if they persevered, the Holy Spirit comforted them, encouraged them, and gave them strength to become leaders by example themselves.
The question I really want to ask you today is not which human leaders you will choose to follow though I have given some criteria to consider. My real question is what kind of leader will you be? For everyone one of us is a potential leader/teacher for someone else. Will you lead by example? Will you demonstrate in your life what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus?
Those outside the church often see us as hypocrites, and too often that’s a fair assessment. Too often Christians are guilty of do as I say, not as I do. But pretty is as pretty does! Rather than claiming to be a Christian in name only, be a true follower of Jesus who learns from God’s lessons for God’s people in the Old Testament. One who learns from the teachings and example of Jesus or Paul or other faithful followers in the New Testament like Lydia or Dorcas or Mary or Peter or Andrew or John. Be a follower who does your very best to trust and obey, so that when another follows your example, God will be proud of you both.
*HYMN The Summons #2130, Sing the Faith
(You may be seated.)
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 Brief Statement of Faith Section 1, back of hymnal
*HYMN I Have Decided #2129, Sing the Faith
*CHARGE & BLESSING
* Sections of the service preceded with * are times to stand if you are able to do so.
Bold text is to be read together aloud as a congregation.