September 10, 2023
15th Sunday after Pentecost
· Please join us in Calvin Hall following worship today for a time of fellowship.
· We continue to receive your donations to assist the people of Lahaina, Maui, following the devastating fire. Donations will go to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Thank you for your generosity.
· Ladies Lunch Bunch to gather at Yen Ching Restaurant at 11:30 AM on Sept. 13. Please add our name to sign-up sheet.
· Session to meet following worship and fellowship time today.
· Seeking 7 to 8 people who can each donate up to 3 ½ hours per month to host the Gathering Place. Other hostesses from other congregations will also be present. No need to know the games. Your presence for set up, greeting, and fellowship are what is needed. (If this project is to go, we need your help!) Please speak to Pastor Joyce.
· Please save the date for Oct. 1—World Communion Sunday, Fellowship lunch and activity following worship, Passing out the pledge envelopes.
JoAnn Grimm who struggles with health problems.
Joan Pinkston, on hospice.
*CALL TO WORSHIP (Adapted from Psalm 149: 1-4)
Praise the Lord!
Let us sing to the Lord a new song.
For we are glad in our Maker. We rejoice in our King.
Let us praise God’s name with dance, making melody to our Lord with tambourine and lyre.
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people.
The Almighty adorns the humble with victory.
So we come this day singing glory to our God. Alleluia! Amen!
O Lamb of God, As the blood of the lamb became salvation for those slaves who waited in Egypt, we come, recognizing that your precious blood was spilled to save us! In awestruck wonder we come before you this day to offer our lives to you. Sit with us and assure us again that you hold our todays and our tomorrows. We need you, Lord. Amen.
*HYMN Love Divine, All Loves Excelling #376
(You may be seated.)
CALL TO CONFESSION
Oh, how we need the grace and goodness of our God. Again and again we blow it, but Christ is our path to restoration and new hope. Let us come now and lay our broken selves before our Savior. Please pray with me.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Lord God. We live in a world of “Me.” So many voices nudge us to grow and succeed and accomplish as individuals. Forgive us for taking that to heart and in the process discounting others whom we meet along the way. Forgive us for not understanding that we have a responsibility to consider their needs as we work together and worship you. Give us the courage to speak to that brother or sister who has hurt us. Help us to speak gently and to listen well so that our relationships might be healed and restored within your love. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
“Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” This is the promise of our Christ. He went to a cross for us that our sins might be forgiven. Let us rejoice in his presence this day and claim the new life that floods out from the empty tomb. Amen.
SONG OF PRAISE Gloria Patri #579
PASSING THE PEACE
May the peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
Lord God, as your word is spoken, may it seep into our hearts and minds. May we be enabled to put on your armor of light that casts aside the works of darkness. Fill us with your love and enable us to shine your healing and hope to our world that needs it so desperately. Amen.
Romans 13: 8-14
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. 11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
Matthew 18: 15-20
15 “If your brother or sister sins go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
SERMON Donning the Armor of Light
“Love one another. Love your neighbor as yourself.” With that as the imperative for our Christian faith, one might assume that Church is a place where harmony, cooperation, peace and connection reigns. After all if everyone lives Jesus commandment, what could go wrong? It’s important. It’s what we all strive for. It’s the way we publicize ourselves to the outside world, right? But, sometimes things can get a little out of whack. Enter Linda, a lovely person, a Christian lady who was a worker in First Presbyterian Church of Everytown, USA. But here’s the thing. Linda tends to get really stressed and frustrated when thing feel out of control.
So when the ladies of the church were behind schedule in setting up for a major dinner they were hosting, and Paula, a new member dropped a couple plates, scattering shards across the kitchen floor, Linda reacted with some sharp words, “Great. Just Great. Now we have to clean up that mess!” She wasn’t even speaking to Paula, but it was clear that she wasn’t happy. Debbie piped in, “Cool it, Linda.” And that was the end of it. At least Linda and Debbie thought so. Debbie was Linda’s best friend. Everyone in the kitchen recognized this fact and that Linda sometimes blew off steam in these ways. But Paula was new to the team. In fact, Paula was new to the faith, and she was mortified with Linda’s words, AND in Debbie’s response. Was that the way Christians acted? Did she really want to be a part of that? Weren’t they suppose to care for one another? It bothered her enough that she considered leaving the church entirely. I wonder what Jesus would have said to these three women? Would Linda and Debbie have been scolded? Sure, they reacted in ways that were less than sweet and kind, but they reacted in the moment and THEY understood one another. What would Jesus say to Paula? Was she somewhat naïve to think that sharp words and irritations with one another didn’t happen in a church? Both of our scriptures for today deal with the way we treat one another. Paul’s words are for the way we deal with others, no matter where we find them. Jesus seems to be speaking to people within our faith, with our brothers and sisters in the church family. Both of these have the same general message. “Take care of one another.” Paul reminds us that to love our neighbor is the essence of living in accord with God’s law. If we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we are going to take care not to steal or lie or abuse or cheat them. We are going to respect and assist these others because that’s the way we hope to be treated. We’re going to take care with alcohol and other things that get in the way of our behavior. Paul calls it putting on the armor of light.
I like that image. It feels like a protective force field that works both ways. It protects us AND it helps us to be protective of others, to care for others. Paul says it allows us to live honorably, and that’s what we all want. Now both Linda and Debbie would argue that in their exchange that day, they WERE living honorably. It’s just who they are, they would say. There’s no animosity. Linda reacted to the stress of the situation, and Debbie responded to remind her friend to settle down and take care with her words. OK, she did it rather forcefully, but she knew Linda would understand her intent. But Paula didn’t. She didn’t know these two. She was new to this type of thing. Perhaps she’d had some past experiences with verbal abuse and was really sensitive to the tone and words that were used. What should Paula do? Jesus offers an answer. I think Jesus understood that things happen. Feelings get hurt. People can be misunderstood. We are going to step on one another’s toes at times, maybe not even being aware of it. In other words, life happens—even in church—maybe especially in church since our expectations are higher in our faith community. Jesus suggests that Paul should go and talk to Linda. Just the two of them. That way Linda is not put on the spot and embarrassed in front of others. Paula needs to take care with her words. Two wrongs don’t make a right, after all. She needs to use “I” language. “I felt really embarrassed with your words.” “I felt like I was being attacked.” “I was hurt by what happened.” To own up to what we are feeling without attacking the other person is the goal.
Then it would be Linda’s turn to apologize and perhaps share that she struggles with anxiety and was feeling really stressed. She will want to own up to her mistake, to take responsibility for it, while at the same time helping Paula to understand that she didn’t mean it as a personal attack. Linda might explain that Debbie was her best friend and was working to help her recognize the impact of her words in such times. Hopefully hugs and new connections can come out of such a conversation. That’s the way it should work. But Jesus recognized that sometimes things don’t always go that smoothly. What then? Then he says that Paula should take someone with her to talk to Linda. In that case, she would select people of good faith who are well respected and who can manage their own emotions and words. These people have a job to do. It’s to listen and make sure that both sides of the dispute are being fair. They also make sure that both are hearing one another. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own perceptions that we can’t really hear the other. And it that doesn’t work, if there continues to be an unresolved issue that is festering and a behavior continues to cause upset and division, then it needs to be addressed by the leadership of the church. This is pretty rare because usually the first two things can work. Perhaps the two are not best buddies, but at least they can have a basic understanding and be able to cooperate and be together. Remember when Jesus says we are to love one another, he’s not talking about liking one another! Loving our brother or sister means we seek their well-being.
We wish good things for them and are willing to put ourselves forward to make those good things happen. The types of things that might rise to the level of going before the leadership of the church are things like someone who is stealing money from the Sunday School offerings, or speaking to others being purposefully disrespectful. Perhaps making inappropriate suggestions or bullying another. These things don’t happen often, but when they do, it’s important for the well-being of the body of Christ that it be addressed, and if there is still no resolution after such a conversation with the leadership, that person might need to be disinvited to be a part of the church.
That’s hard to think about. No one wants to be involved in such a conflict, but think about the damage if we don’t have some standards and expectations for how we treat one another.
I think one of the things these verses remind us about is that conflict CAN happen, even in our faith community. What makes us different than other organizations is the way we are to work through those matters. The other thing that we might want to keep in mind is that Jesus told the disciples that if that worst case scenario does happen, they are to treat this other as a tax collector or a Gentile. At first glance that means to turn our back on them. But we want to remember that Jesus never turned his back on tax collectors OR Gentiles. How many times in our Gospels does Jesus engage with both—always inviting them into the kingdom of God. Therefore, our care remains with others. We are still called to love them—to seek their well-being. That’s hard. That’s making ourselves vulnerable. Finally, we see Jesus extending to the church the power formerly given to Peter, to bind or to loose the sins of another. I think it’s important that we recognize that it is not given to us as individuals. I don’t have that right. You don’t have that right. It’s given to us corporately, recognizing that we are all sinners and in our dealings with others we need to be much more on the side of grace and forgiveness. That’s where God is, and that’s where we are called to be, as well. So here’s the bottom line. We are all going to blow it at times. We are going to hurt another and we are going to be hurt by others. We have a responsibility to seek resolution. That might mean we pull together our courage to go and gently, humbly tell another that we are hurting by something they said or did. Then we need to accept their apology instead of carrying a grudge. It might mean that we need to set aside our ego to hear that we have hurt someone else. Then we need to apologize and seek to make amends, hoping that they will offer to us grace and forgiveness. It’s the way we build up the body of Christ. It’s the way we can model healthy relationships for the rest of the world to observe. When two or three are gathering in Christ’s name—even in the midst of conflict and hurt, Jesus is there, as well. And that gives us hope, doesn’t it. God’s grace IS that armor of light that surrounds us and lifts us. So let’s love our neighbor. Let’s recognize our own capacity to hurt, even when that’s not what we meant. Let’s watch our words when we get stressed. Let’s offer our prayers and our thanksgiving to God. Let’s put on the armor of light.
Praise be to God. Amen.
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 GIFTS TO GOD
*DOXOLOGY Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow #592
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
*HYMN I Come with Joy #507
(you may be seated.)
INVITATION TO THE LORD’S TABLE
THE GREAT THANKSGIVING
Lord of Life, Author of new possibilities, Giver of all good gifts. We gather this morning at your table seeking to feel your touch and to breathe in your spirit of life.
Be in our midst Holy God.
Be in our midst, O Lord, and remind us that it is only by your grace and goodness that we are here to be fed this day.
It is the power of your grace that enabled men and women through the ages to take up the tasks to which you called them. These were people with real human sin and failings, people considered unworthy of your blessings.
Moses was guilty of murder, yet you called him to lead your people out of bondage. Ruth was considered a foreigner, unsuited for the people of God, yet this woman became one of Jesus’ ancestors. Saul persecuted you and arrested your servants, yet you gave to him the task of spreading the news of Jesus.
Thank you Lord that you can use people who are flawed and broken—even us!
At this table we are united to receive your gift of life.
So as we take of this bread, your body broken, as we drink of the cup which offers forgiveness of sins, let us open wide our circle and invite our brothers and sisters to join us in this gift of new life. We praise you, O Lord. Amen.
RECEIVING THE BREAD AND THE CUP
*HYMN Blest Be the Tie that Binds #438
(You may be seated.)
*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.