First Presbyterian Church
Third Sunday after Pentecost • Music Appreciation Sunday
Sunday, June 25, 2017 – 10:30 a.m.
You are the light of the world. You are the body of Christ.
Gathering Music – Bell Choir “Praise for the Morning” Michael E. Akers
Greeting: Assisting Elder: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Preparing for the Word
Musical Call to Worship – Bell Choir “Sweet Hour of Prayer” arr. Sandra Eithun
Introit “Fairest Lord Jesus” Hymnal 630, Verse 1
Call to Worship:
Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good.
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Through our baptism, we are dead to sin.
Now we are alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Time with Children
*Hymn 641 “When in Our Music God Is Glorified”
Prayers of Confession
If we claim that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor…
God of mercy: you sent Jesus to seek and save the lost. We confess that we have lost track of your truth, and have wandered from your holy will. We have made our own way in the world. We have failed in love, forgotten to be just, and have turned away from your wisdom. Find us, God, forgive our sin, and bring us back to you, for the sake of your Son, our only Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.
Assurance of Grace
For God so loved the world that God gave the only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. People of God, hear the good news:
In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Thanks be to God.
*Response of Praise, No. 581
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, World without end, Amen, Amen!
Hearing the Word
Anthem “I Believe” Miller
Old Testament Readings: Genesis 21:8-21
8The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. 10So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” 11The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. 12But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. 13As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.”
14So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. 15When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.
17And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” 19Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. 20God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. 21He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
Epistle Reading: Romans 6:1-11
1What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 10:24-39
24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
32“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Sermon “Bad News about the Good News!” Rev. David Ashby
There are some passages of scripture that are just no fun to read!
Today we bump into one in the Old Testament, the distasteful story of Sarah, after the birth of her natural son Isaac, sending Hagar and her son Ishmael out into the wilderness to die. Also today we are bumped into by a series of Jesus more dismaying statements about believers not getting along with even their families because of following Jesus.
The relationship between Sarah and Hagar was a rocky one anyhow. Abraham and Sarah could not have children, despite Yahweh’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father of a nation as numerous as stars in the sky or grains of sand. In accordance with the ancient patriarchal rules, Sarah selected her servant, an Egyptian named Hagar, to be what we would call a surrogate mother. This gave them an heir, just like the promise. Then you remember the story of the visitors to their tent near the oaks of Mamre, when one told Abraham that he at a hundred and Sarah in her nineties would have a child of their own. Sarah laughs behind the tent flap, which gives their son his name, Isaac, from the same Hebrew root word as laughter. Not surprisingly, the originally amicable arrangement between Sarah and Hagar deteriorates, and Sarah becomes jealous of the “half-son.” Now that they have a natural, fully legitimate heir, the son of the surrogate becomes a threat to the promise of descendants they had previously thought he had fulfilled! Finally Sarah has Abraham put the boy and his mother out of the camp. Their provisions don’t last long, and finally the distraught mother leaves the child so she won’t have to witness his slow death. God intervenes, provides water, and confirms that the promise of descendants to Abraham through Ishmael has not been nullified. They move on, Ishmael grows up, marries an Egyptian, and settles in Paran.
Now, here is where stuff gets complicated. The descendants of Ishmael stay in the land of Canaan. The descendants of Isaac go to Egypt during that great famine which brought the youngest son, Joseph, to “amazing technicolor dreamcoat” prominence. Ishmael’s children remained in Canaan. Along with some other ethnic and tribal clans, they are the local, indigenous populations who are later overrun by Israel after the Exodus under Moses during the “conquest” of the land under Joshua. Despite the stories of total annihilation during the conquest, the Canaanites remained mixed in, as numerous complaints in the prophets and history books attest. Centuries later, 597 BCE, when Israel and Judea are conquered, and the best and the brightest taken off in exile, a large portion of the Canaanites remained, along with the poorest sectors of Israel. Ishmael’s descendents were still there when the Jews were repatriated back to Palestine in 538 BCE. They were still there when the Romans and the Greeks took over Palestine. Maybe you see where this is going?!
After the final destruction of Israel under the Romans in 70 C.E. (remember Masada?), Jews were dispersed all over the known world in what is known as the Diaspora. But a large portion of those left in Palestine were descendants of Ishmael. They remained poor subsistence farmers and traders and such, barely eking out a living for centuries. After World War II, the Zionist movement to have a homeland for Jews so the anti-semitic movements in Europe which culminated in the Nazi Holocaust could never again threaten Jews intensified. In 1948 the modern nation-state of Israel was established with the cooperation or collusion of Britain and the United States. The Jews who moved back from (mostly) Europe were well-educated, politically savvy, economically well-off, highly motivated, very intense, and well-armed. They clashed with the descendants of Ishmael, the Palestinians, who had also developed post-war a well-armed nationalist movement. So, in short, the conflict we have been witnessing in the Holy Land goes back to this tale of Israel’s mother evicting Ishmael’s mother. The conflict is that intractable!
Islam includes the Hebrew scriptures as part of theirs, too, and can make a strong case that the Palestinians are, in fact, every bit, if not more, the legitimate heirs of the land and the promise of descendants to Abraham. Ironically, as we’ve seen, Israel has known all along that it has to explain that Israel is the second child of Abraham. So you have Ishmael and Ishmael’s descendants each claiming first-born status— correctly, given patriarchal marriage rules. Israel has to counteract second-born status by appealing to the fact that Israel was born to Abraham’s first wife, albeit second. So, in a sense, both the Israelis and the Palestinians can say, “we were here first.” And, since those who founded modern Israel were the intellectual Europeans with strong ties to the U.S., and adept at U.S. politics and garnering conservative evangelical U.S. Christian support, and not poor, disorganized people of color who lived in Palestine far away, U.S. foreign policy favored the Zionists and supported the 1948 state of Israel— in retrospect, far too uncritically. Since then we have been entangled in a huge political and social mess because we didn’t recognize the intense religious underpinnings of the conflict. And so Israel and Ishmael continue their deadly sibling rivalry, as this story of Sarah sending Hagar out tells a bad-news tale.
Jesus’ words to the disciples in Matthew 10 are the bad news we can often overlook in our faith. Few of us have been caught in the kind of strife caused by proclaiming the good news of the gospel which Jesus is predicting here. We have, by and large, been sheltered from the contention and persecution foretold here and experienced by the early church. If you look at all of what is going on in Matthew 10, you will see this is part of Jesus’ commissioning the twelve to go out and tell everyone that the realm of God is at hand. But the content of the warnings concerns things which pertain to the first generations of the church, the church to which Matthew was writing a generation or two after Jesus’ ascension. While the chapter purports to be to the twelve and begins with Jesus telling them to stick to the house of Israel, the predictions include councils and governors, plural, only fits after the church went international. In short, Matthew has Jesus “speaking over the heads,” as it were, of the disciples to the early missionary church. And, although the circumstances were not true for the twelve, for Matthew’s church, they most definitely were! If you crossed the wrong people, the Gospel was bad news… very bad news.
And even today— although not so life-threatening— the Good News can bring bad news. Not so much with Presbyterians, but we all know intense, zealous, perhaps a bit over-the-top, often evangelical or conservative Christians who have major fallings out with their families over differences of faith. Friction with in-laws is still too common when a Roman Catholic marries a Protestant, often leading to estrangement, sometimes for years, and too often to some real bitterness. There can be bad news associated with the Good News.
But that’s not the worst news about this passage, that you can get in trouble for being a believer. The really bad news, the really, really, really bad news is that, in some ways, we should get into trouble for believing the Good News! Even… or maybe especially(!)… nice, genteel, middle-of-the-road mainline protestant Christians! The bad news about the Good News is that it should get us in trouble! The gospel of Jesus Christ is so radical, so transforming, so challenging, so perspective-altering, so priority-inverting, so revolutionary, that it will, if we are true to it, put us into conflict with something or someone sooner or later… often with something or someone we consider precious. That is what I think is so powerful about Matthew’s warnings. If you truly center your life and being around Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and commit yourself to acting in ways appropriate to his gospel, you will find yourself having to make choices and developing attitudes which must, inevitably drop family and friends and possessions and personal goals and self-interest and all the rest into second or lower place. You just cannot balance those against God. You just have to let go completely of family, self, job, money, power, education, possessions¬— and all else deemed important in our society— and pass them over in favor of God. Period. All else must fall by the wayside. You just cannot hedge your bet. If you flinch, if you cross your fingers behind your back, if you hope you can keep just a little in reserve, you lose. You have to give yourself totally over to God in Jesus Christ as your only focus, your only hope. If you want to find your life in anything short of God, you lose. Only if you center yourself on God alone will you find meaning and purpose and focus. The bad news about the Good News is that is an all or nothing deal.
The better, the cautiously optimistic, news after that is that, in general, and according to scriptures over and over again, committing yourself totally and radically to God rarely entails the complete and utter loss of all those other things. But you have to let them all go as if you will lose them for the sake of the gospel. No, most of us won’t lose all else. Yet even so, having been demoted in your conversion, all you held dear is relativized, placed in a larger perspective, and reaches a subsidiary importance of “nice to have” but not defining who you are. You are a child of God, a disciple of Jesus Christ. First. Foremost. Above all. Oh, and by the way, also (but only “also”) a father, a son, a husband, Presbyterian minister with a D.Min., drive a Subaru and live in a house in Dundee, use a Mac laptop, photographer, graphic designer, whatever. Those things— and things in general— no longer define you. And if you can’t shrug and let all that go, then you haven’t really accepted Christ all the way all the way down to your soul. If you can’t do that, then all these verses are bad news. Very bad news. Yet if you can set your focus and priorities solely on God as revealed in Jesus Christ and active in you through the Holy Spirit, if you stay right with God in everything, even if it puts you in difficulty with other things, then it is all very, very, very Good News indeed.
This is hard stuff. These are often included in the “hard sayings of Jesus.” And they really are. They challenge us. They dismay us. They force us to look honestly at ourselves and our priorities, force us to look at our behavior and attitudes and loyalties. They challenge us to drop those things which are primary in our society to secondary place… or beyond. They force us to take even the things which sustain us and which we value— like family— and put faith in God ahead of them. This is hard stuff. It takes a lifetime to do. This is hard stuff, but it is the only stuff that can give you true life, true grace, true love, true hope. And that’s the Good News about hard news.
*Hymn 821 “My Life Flows On (How Can I keep from Singing?)”
Responding to the Word
Prayers for Others and for Ourselves
O God of your people, faithful servants of all ages and situations, followers of your calling: Praise be to you, Creator God, you spoke and behold the cosmos came into being. You spoke and star and planets spun in their courses. You spoke and our world was made. You heaped up the mountains and traced the rivers, furrowing them with your finger. You spoke and the earth teemed with life. You spoke and humanity sprung up. You spoke and told us what to do… and even when we did otherwise, you spoke to us calling us back. You spoke through Jesus of Nazareth, our Christ, our Messiah, who told us the good news of your everlasting, forgiving love, who invited us to believe, who spoke to us of redemption and reconciliation. You spoke in the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, and you speak to us still. We thank you for the words of scripture ringing in our ears, for the still, small voice nudging our hearts. We thank you, too, for the warmth of human affection, for families, friends, communities, churches. For all the blessings we enjoy, and for those we don’t even recognize, we thank you!
We thank you for letting us speak, for being able to lift our voices in prayer, praise, song, joy, pain, hope, faith. We thank you for the good news of the gospel, even when it seems hard or harsh, for it is always the word of life.
We raise our prayers for the world, for those whose voices are stifled by fear, fear of terror, fear of violence, fear of governments, fear of retaliation, fear of responsibility. We pray for those trapped in the ancient conflict in Israel, Palestine. May good, wise, and brave souls rise up to speak a word of hope, peace, and good sense to stop the violence and recrimination, to offer solutions which diminish Ishmael’s agony and rage and perceived powerlessness which breeds fratricidal attacks, to offer wisdom to diminish the arrogance and fear and greed which fuel Isaac’s repression by settler and army. End, O Lord of past and future, the fratricidal death-spiral we witness yet feel so unable to stop. Be present, too, O dove of peace, in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, the Koreas, …………. and everywhere else where violence harms your children.
We pray to for the ill and injured, the recuperating and the never to recover, the dying and those who keep vigil, for doctors, nurses, and medical personnel who minister to them. We pray for the impoverished, the downtrodden, the victims of injustice. We pray for families under stress, and not just because of religious differences, but all kinds of stresses. We think of places near and far rebuilding from storm damage recent and a while ago. …………………… …………………… We pray for all persecuted for their faith, for those who speak the good news from the housetops and are oppressed for their belief. We pray also for those of us who, although not oppressed, feel that our faith raises eyebrows of our neighbors. We pray for the church not just here but all over. Bless us in this congregation, our leaders, Session, committee members, musicians, and helpers. Be with our Pastor Nominating Committee, and grant that the path our congregation is on will soon intersect with one of your servants. Be with us individually and as families, in all the ways we need your presence and direction, and even in ways we don’t anticipate or expect. We pray all these things, and much more in our innermost being, in the name and for the sake of Christ Jesus, saying…
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. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever. Amen.
Recognition of our Music Ministry Karen Schiedel
Presentation of Our Gifts and Offerings
Offertory “In Thee Is Gladness” arr. Buckwalter
“Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” arr. Thompson
*Doxology (If you are able, please stand.)
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
*Prayer of Dedication
Holy and gracious God, your steadfast love abides with your people in every age. You teach us to trust in you and call us to live in peace with one another. Show us the way to live grateful lives, without fear, knowing the true worth of your creation, including ourselves; in Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
*Hymn 611 “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”
*Charge and Benediction
*Choral Response “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds”
*Postlude- Bell Choir “Bell Chime” Tucker