First Presbyterian Church
27 N. Main Street, P.O. Box 568, Honeoye Falls, NY 14472
Order of Divine Worship
Third Sunday after the Epiphany • Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
You are the light of the world. You are the body of Christ.
Greeting: Assisting Elder: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Announcements Assisting Elder:
Preparing for the Word
Musical Call to Worship
Introit “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” Hymnal #12, vs. 1
Call to Worship:
From God comes my salvation.
For God alone my soul waits in silence.
God alone is my rock and my salvation.
God is my fortress; I shall never be shaken.
Time with Children
*Hymn 14 “For the Beauty of the Earth”
Prayers of Confession
The proof of God’s amazing love is this: While we were strangers Christ died for us. Because we have faith in him, we dare to approach God with confidence. In faith and penitence, let us confess our failings before God and one another…
Almighty God: you love us, but we have not loved you; you call, but we have not listened. We walk away from neighbors in need, wrapped up in our own concerns. We have gone along with evil, with prejudice, warfare, and greed. God our Heavenly Parent, help us to face up to ourselves, so that, as you move to us in mercy, we may repent, turn to you, and receive forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Assurance of Grace
“This saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus entered the world to rescue sinners. If anyone is in Christ, that one is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” 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 “Et In Terra Pax” Purifoy
Hebrew Bible Reading: Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2”Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
New Testament Reading: I Corinthians 7:29-31
29I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 3and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
Gospel Reading: Mark 1:14-20
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea— for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Sermon “Go to that Great City” Rev. David Ashby
Jonah has got to be my favorite jerk in the Bible! He is peevish, self-centered, egotistical, non-compliant, prejudiced, and prone to bouts of depression and hostility. Earlier in the book, God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, “that great city,” and warn them that they were sinning, and if they didn’t knock it off and get back on track, in three days, God was going to destroy them. Jonah, being an Israelite, was perfectly ok with God blasting the capital city of Israel’s enemy off the face of the earth. So he decided to head in the opposite direction, hoping the time would run out, and they’d soon be a smoking cinder. Not so easy to run away from God’s command! God stirs up a huge storm, and Jonah’s boat is nearly swamped. The sailors determine Jonah is the one God is mad at, and Jonah offers to jump overboard to save the ship. Interesting: he’d rather drown than warn Nineveh! Not so fast! God sends that legendary fish to swallow Jonah, and much to his chagrin, to deposit Jonah on the beach on the outskirts of Nineveh. So Jonah trudges into the city and in the blandest possible way mumbles, “Repent, or in three days and Nineveh will be overturned.” He then goes out to a hill overlooking the city and waits for the fireworks. To his utter dismay, all the residents of Nineveh hear the prophetic warning and repent, and God lets them live. Absolutely ticks Jonah off! He doesn’t think that Nineveh is worthy of salvation. Yet the story ends with God saying that God will be merciful, even to Nineveh!
Now, you have to realize that the story takes a few liberties with a few facts. First, there is the whole thing about being swallowed by a fish, living inside it, and having it taxi you somewhere. The other “stretching the truth” is the exaggeration of the ancient city. Nineveh at the time Jonah was written was not that big; it had used to be, but it was by then somewhat less important. It was mostly symbolic of being a major “gentile” city generically. The storyteller portrays the fictitious Nineveh as huge, but it wasn’t so big. But what seems important to me for our purposes is that it was big city, which leads me to some thoughts on the role of the Church in the modern city, specifically, us and here, even if we are not exactly the “big city!”
Our last hymn, one of my personal favorites, “Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life,” is one of the great anthems of ministry and mission in the city, that teeming mass of humanity, that teeming mass so in need to God’s grace and hope. The hymn sings a powerful vision of active involvement in the life of the modern city by Christians and their churches, addressing everything from public health and hygiene to working conditions to providing education and running soup kitchens and mounting big public revivals down to offering blankets for the homeless. The crowded, sometimes desperate, vigorous city is every bit as much where Jesus walks as by the sea of Galilee, and we are every bit as called to minister in our city situations as those fishers for people next to the sea of Galilee.
You also have to realize that there was a huge change in the understanding of cities, the mental model of cities, in America through the 19th century. Although there had been cities through the ages, it really wasn’t until the industrial revolution that there was a change in the mindset. Before the 18th century, society was either pretty flat and democratic or very hierarchical and socially stratified, depending on where you lived. In the United States, with its democracy and populism and whole frontier and manifest destiny thing, we had a lot less of the social class thing than in England and Europe with their monarchies and nobility. But the difference in how you lived had to with your class, not the population center in which you lived. Geography was split basically between agricultural and wilderness and built-up areas. A small town, a medium town, a large town, a city, a big city were pretty much the same. You had people living in close proximity. You had well-to-do and poor. You had merchants and artisans and people providing government services, but the general thing is that cities where places where commerce happened, where art and culture centered, where important people congregated, and where government control was exerted. You had churches and cathedrals and religious communities and church officials. You also had a certain number of people who lived and worked in cities in order to make them run, and you had poor folks who gravitated there to eke out a living. But all in all, until the industrial revolution, there was not a huge difference in the structure, purpose or understanding of cities, whether it was a Scottish highland crossroad town or Rome or Nineveh or New York City or Rochester. Cities were the same kind of thing as towns, only bigger and more interesting and fuller. Things started to change with the industrial age, and cities began to be manufacturing centers, too. Not only did cities become denser and denser (also due to building techniques) but instead of serving the surrounding countryside, the surrounding countryside started to serve the city, feeding it and providing cheap workers who moved there. As populations increased, poverty and crime and hardship increased too, and the character of cities changed to become more machine-like. Sadly, this included human relationships becoming more machine-like, too. Because of the concurrent changes in philosophy, the intellectual movements accompanying the industrial age, religion lost its place of primacy, and secularism became a force that competed with the church. Things just haven’t been the same!
Religion didn’t really grasp the fundamental changes in city society for some time. The early 19th century evangelists still kept the agrarian ideal and tried to import it into the cities. Their themes tended to be how to keep the sense of community and pastoral beauty alive in the bleak grey city, to keep a vision of God’s good green earth before the early factory workers. While that helped, it didn’t really lead anyone to address the deep issues of a new sort of poverty, of greater crime, of loneliness, of human disconnection, of injustice, of prejudice, of political and social disenfranchisement, of a generally grimmer way of life. Churches continued to see themselves as islands of the good old days, as havens from the misery.
It took until the mid- to late-19th century for churches really to take the city seriously as being an entirely different entity, a new culture. This was the point when churches started to see themselves as missionary outposts, as rescue stations, as salvation armies, as organizations whose job was to make a difference in their cities and to help individuals and families caught in the urban predicament. This is the era of the great city tent meetings and the Sunday School Movement and lots of those great old gory revival songs like “Rescue the Perishing!” We may make fun of that first generation of social activists, finding some of their words and ways kinda quaint, but they were the pioneers of social ministry and community outreach and active, energetic insertion of the church and the Gospel into the lives of people around them.
One of my go-to illustrations of this is the work of Thomas K. Beecher in Elmira at the Park Congregational Church, about as elegant a proponent of ministry in the modern city as you could hope to find! Working at Lake Street Presbyterian Church down the street for a couple of years, I got familiar with their remarkable history, even beyond their famous congregant, Mark Twain. You look at the programs and missions and ministry and writings of Beecher and Park Church and you will see almost the prototypical city church, the classic lines of justice, political activism, education and culture, individual compassion, and a congregation and minister on the forefront of city life, where crossed the crowded ways of life. It still does. Around here I would highlight the similar combination of social activism and community organization mixed with powerful religious vision that you see with Downtown Presbyterian Church and Third and Fourth and Calvary St. Andrews, partly because Rochester, too, was a hotbed of religious and social fervor in the 19th and 20th centuries. Still is!
In a lot of ways, it was the 20th century liberal Protestants who really took the grime, poverty, and distinct nature of the modern city into account and started to develop not just theology but ways of ministering to the difficult nature of the modern city. And, beyond ministering to the needs of city dwellers, they developed ways of talking about the social contract and the covenant that binds people together. They went beyond the charitable assistance of previous generations— powerful and effective as some of those programs were— to demand that governments take better care of their citizens. They went beyond the pronouncements of the pulpit to encourage members to become involved in city politics and leadership. Much of our sense of moral responsibility and community service comes from those early 20th century writers. Much of that concern for the “downtrodden” that we feel comes from that era, true even when you get out of the cities proper. Mission outreach assistance and food and homeless and mental health services are part of our outreach, too. Love our neighbors. It’s a big calling!
I’ve served town churches like in Watkins Glen and Penn Yan and small city churches like in Elmira and Corning and Ithaca, and crossroads hamlets like Moreland, Otisco, and McLean, so I can shift pretty easily between the mindsets. Frankly, the theological default now is the urban and suburban model; it’s what most seminaries teach and most denominations assume. For a while now, smaller and more rural churches have felt “inadequate” compared to the crowded places of life, and have, at times, forgotten or undervalued some of the characteristics of the Christian church represented by agrarian communities. So I want to remind us that although urbanism has won culturally and ecclesiastically, and without going all romantic nostalgic about it, there are some rural ideals worth maintaining, even if it is a bit counter-cultural now! Particularly in the kind of “both/and” of a small town outside a city, like Honeoye Falls by nature is, I think we will do better if we can work with a blend of the institutional, social commitment to mission and the personal relationships of smaller fellowships.
What issues and needs confront us here and now as a church in Honeoye Falls, New York? Here are just a couple things. Simple survival remains a huge issue for many around us. Simple economic survival as families, particularly for the so-called working poor is a significant struggle. There are probably about two to three thousand people in this county who are barely surviving. There are a couple of hundred individuals who are really desperate, the homeless and so badly impaired they cannot manage, and such, and many, many more who are chronically poor and in need of public assistance, just as true out here as downtown. There is a largely overlooked but growing segment that is desperately trying not to drop into that category, working frantically to hold on to a place to live and a modest job. They are always on the ragged edge and always anxious. But that sense of impending doom is now reaching into families that used to be considered the comfortable middle class. Insurance costs, medical costs, taxes, uncertainty about pensions and retirement, and all those other pressures are threatening families every day. So you end up with lots of people in this area for whom just “holding on” is a struggle. Our calling is to help and to minister to those families in trouble, city and rural and suburban and small town.
The last thing I’ll mention is the decades-long loss of community cohesion. By and large, we’ve let our sense of being connected as neighbors, of community spirit, of watching out for each other, of helping each other out, of being “neighbors” in the sense Mr. Rogers talked about, languish. It’s endemic to the times and culture. The identity of areas being a “neighborhood” or a “community” is declining, and the people in an area are less connected than ever before. The challenge is to improve the sense of cohesion by acting like neighbors, even if other people living on the block don’t quite “get it” at first. And, face it, if our community comes back, our hard-pressed families can start their way back. So we have to keep pushing this community to be the best it can be, economically, politically, and neighborly. It’s a tough set of challenges, but churches have been about that business of making America’s cities and villages and hamlets strong since Frank Mason North penned the words of a church leading, pushing, working, preaching, believing!
Where cross the crowded ways of life…
We hear Thy voice, O Son of Man.
The cup of water given for Thee
Still holds the freshness of Thy grace;
Yet long these multitudes to see
The sweet compassion of Thy face.
It is in the city… in the country… in the small town… in this year… that Jesus ministers— ministers through us. Where cross the crowded ways of life… there sits a white church with white columns next to a village park, a church with a hope-filled heart, soul, mind, voice, and hands: First Presbyterian Church! God calls to us.
*Hymn 720 “Jesus Calls Us”
Responding to the Word
Prayers for Others and for Ourselves
Dear Lord and heavenly parent of us all, we are again today amazed and delighted by your love for us. We are entranced by the splendor of your creation, a bit awed by the force of your wind, chilled by the power of your seasons, blinded by the sun and cheered by the twinkling stars, where all infinity stretches before you. We give you thanks for the life and breath you have given us, the gifts and graces which set each individual apart, the affection and concern which bind each individual into families, communities, friendships, and churches. Above all, we thank you for the incomprehensible gift of your self, your holy presence walking in Galilee and yet moving among us each day. For all these marvels, thank you!
We pray for others. Some we know are having hard times and need our surrounding support and your gentle carrying… Some have tear stains on their faces, some have tears yet welling up in their eyes; comfort them. Some sit alone, cold, fearful, confused, angry, hurtful, or hurt; be with them. Some wander aimlessly, beclouded by troubles, mental impairment, emotional distress, cycles of abuse, poverty, drugs or alcohol, or any of the other demons which populate the modern world; guide them and direct them. Some lash out; still their hearts. Some just act like you are not here at all; reveal yourself to them. Some are caught in places of strife, civil war, religious persecution, tribal hatreds, crime or violence; grant them peace. And for some, we are so bewildered by their predicaments we don’t even know quite how to pray for them; give to them your surprising mercy and grace, however they need it! We pray for . . . . . . . . .
We can be way too much like Jonah, Lord, focussed on people and causes we like, unreceptive to people unlike us, coldhearted about others, all in all, kind of selfish— in a genteel way. We are pretty sure of the merit of our own agendas, too sure they match yours. Help us to see your broader purpose, even when it conflicts with our self-interest. Help us to swallow hard, square our shoulders, and do something we don’t like when its what you want. Save us from Jonah’s narrow view of who is worthy, and even more, save us from his peevish, selfish, sullen attitude. May we find joy in what you find joy in— the rescue of souls from their sin, even if they are not exactly the kind of people we want to associate with; and then teach us to welcome them and to help them associate with your church and thereby with you! And, if we do stalk off in a huff, grant to us, like to Jonah, a second (or more!) chance to get with your program, to feel your compassion, to be braver than we think we can be. Forgive us our worst moments, and make us better disciples, ready to follow Christ wherever he leads us as individuals and as a congregation. Lead our officers, our Search Committee, and lead us as we look ahead to our next year and our annual meeting, next week, blessing all who love and serve this congregation where cross all the ways of life, in Jesus’ name, praying…
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.
Presentation of Our Gifts and Offerings
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
Loving God, through your Son you have called us to repent of our sin, to believe the good news, and to celebrate the coming of your kingdom. Like Christ’s first apostles, may we hear his call to discipleship, and, forsaking old ways, proclaim the gospel of new life to a broken world; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
*Hymn 343 “Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life”
*Charge and Benediction Philippians 4:8-9 (ed.)
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in Christ, do; and the God of peace will be with you.
The grace of our Savior Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
*Choral Response “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” Hymnal #12, vs. 4