First Presbyterian Church
27 N. Main Street, P.O. Box 568, Honeoye Falls, NY 14472
Order of Divine Worship
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost • Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, July 9, 2017 – 9:30 a.m.
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.
Preparing for the Word
Musical Call to Worship
Call to Worship:
Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good.
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Who will save us from the ways of death?
Jesus Christ our Lord; thanks be to God!
Time with Children
*Hymn 307 “God of Grace and God of Glory”
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
Old Testament Readings: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
34So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. 36And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. 37My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; 38but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’
42“I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! 43I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” 44and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also”—let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master’s son.’ 45“Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. 47Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. 48Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. 49Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.”
58And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” 59So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. 60And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” 61Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. 62Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. 63Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. 64And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, 65and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. 66And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
Epistle Reading: Romans 7:15-25
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
16“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Sermon “Grace, When Things are a Mess” Rev. David Ashby
Bill Ogelsby was professor of Pastoral Counselling at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Virginia for years. This passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans was one of his favorites. Each year in his intro course he would start to talk about, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate,” and pull out an AA poker chip given to him years before. He often would quote this paragraph from memory with counseling clients, and one recovering alcoholic declared that Bill must have been an alcoholic himself, despite not being a drinker, because that whole “I do the very thing I don’t want to do and don’t do the very thing I want to do,” described this man’s life perfectly. And he gave Bill one of his chips, bestowing upon him the status of “honorary alcoholic.” Bill would peer over his glasses at us wryly, saying his client should probably have given it to the Apostle Paul, but he still took it as an honor. And not just for alcoholics, Paul’s passage about the internal conflict between his spiritual desires and his bodily impulses has described their daily struggle.
It is one of Christianity’s ugly little deceptions that so many parts of it presume or teach that once you accept Christ as your God and savior, things automatically get better and troubles evaporate and the difficulties of life become easy to navigate. The so-called prosperity Gospel so very, very popular now may be the most obvious, but there have always been variations on that theme that everything becomes easy once you become Christian. One option going back to the early years of Christianity was withdrawal from mainstream society into mystic or monastic communities where everything was structured to make an ordered, holy life possible. That withdraw from the snares of society approach is part of the Anabaptist “third branch of the Reformation” which our Mennonite and Amish neighbors maintain. It is also part of the Pentecostal Holiness tradition of the 1908 and other Holiness churches which believe that you can, in fact, with a lot of work, live a holy and sinless life. They, of course fully take Paul’s words about the opposing impulses of body and spirit to heart and seek diligently to live not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Likewise there are lots of sects which arose along the “Burned Over District” of New York along the Erie Canal during the 19th century which believed that with God’s help they could live as Paul wished he could, subjecting his body to the good of the Spirit.
But there is a significant part of the contemporary Christian landscape that kinda skips over this part of Romans (and far too much of Jesus’ harder sayings) about how hard it is to walk the spiritual path and focuses on a simpler, singular half of the equation. While the current iteration is called (mostly by detractors) the “Prosperity Gospel,” its themes appeared well over a century ago. The short version: God wants people to be happy and is prepared to shower blessings upon believers. Believe and be blessed. The undertone was “believe according to this doctrine and leader” and be blessed. One of the strong proponents of this was Bishop Robert Fulton Sheen and his “Power of Positive Thinking” movement. It, of course, resonated with the upwardly striving middle class in the positive 1950s and 1960s, but it kind of glossed over the difficulties many people experienced in life, including the downside to Paul’s equation. If things were going badly for you, it’s because you don’t believe hard enough, not that circumstances might be bad. The Crystal Cathedral and Robert Schuller was a big, visible bright light of the prosperity gospel, until, in a reversal of nearly Old Testament proportions, it fell apart precisely with the internal dissension of the good that would do was hard to do and the bad it would avoid was close at hand, which, if they had paid more attention to Romans, they could have seen coming! A weird feature of much of the prosperity gospel was a transactional sense of “blessing,” meaning you will be spiritually blessed if you financially bless the ministry. Sheen and Schuller kinda pioneered that, developing the practical need to pay the bills (not coincidentally the costs of broadcasting their sermons) into a folk theology of bless us so God might bless you and then into God will bless you if you bless us. In its most brutal form, it is God will bless you with money if you bless us with money. You might want to read Acts of the Apostles and most of Jesus’ words in the gospels to see how that plays out. Most of you here probably remember heyday of this theory in the televangelists like Schuller, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Bakker and the Seven Hundred Club. Currently, the shining examples are Ken Copeland, Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer and Paula White.
But I have a point beyond the predictable critique of those ministries by a Presbyterian preacher from the Reformed Protestant theological tradition and our typical distaste for the excessive trappings and weak interpersonal relationships experienced by devotees of prosperity evangelists. It’s not the money, it’s the theology.
What is so often missing is the recognition that grace is not only possible, but abounds, in the messy parts of human existence. And that includes the internal back-and-forth between what you know you should be doing but can’t follow through on and the stuff you do even though you know you shouldn’t.
One of the distinctive theological points of the Protestant Reformation form which Presbyterians are descended was it deep, deep, unshakable faith in grace. We have a deep, deep, unshakable faith that God’s grace will overcome or transform or, a minimum, forgive sin and failure. It was a reaction to the Roman Catholic approach of following prescribed rituals to work through or work out or cover for errors and sins and missteps. Our credo of “by grace alone” means that God is in charge of making things right, not the humans who get stuff wrong. Frankly, we would say, God is so much better at doing that than we can ever be, so let God be in charge of forgiveness. A corollary to that is that the Reformed tradition is actually somewhat less stressed out by human failure, mistakes, missed directions than other theologies. In fact, we are a lot calmer about things getting messed up, knowing that it is not up to us to either be perfect or able to fix things. We are more comfortable with the gray zones in life, the not-quite right, the not-fully faithful. Since it doesn’t depend entirely on us, if we make the small first step of asking for God’s help— asking for God’s grace— God will meet us the rest of the way. Sure, life can be messy. Even life for a devoted Christian can be messy. But we don’t have to clean up our messes all by ourselves. That’s where God’s grace comes in. God is not afraid or annoyed to help us clean up life’s messes. Paul actually gives us a useful framework to consider those “aaahh moments” as potentially transforming instead of as failures.
Reinhold Neibuhr (of the Serenity Prayer fame) brought Paul’s theology into the twentieth century in his writings. In particular he grappled with the chaos and messiness of modern life and the difficulties of Christian moral action in immoral society (or perhaps it would be better to say non-moral society). In this he was part of the tradition we call now, “Reformed” which goes through the Reformation in Geneva, back sort of through St. Augustine whom Calvin and Zwingli recovered and slightly rewrote, and thence back to Paul, upon whom St. Augustine based much of his writings. Yeah, Augustine was captive to a sort of unhelpful dualism in Greek and Roman philosophy that made too much distinction between the flesh and the spirit, leaning toward spirit good and body bad, which we still suffer from. But, Paul uses words that kinda go in that direction, although he would have had a more Hebrew philosophical take on the relationship between body and mind. But the twist that the Reformed Protestants put on today’s subject was that we function in both the good and the bad, not just in our own impulses and desires but also in society. Just as we individually function with mixed results and ambivalence, so also our communities are mixed, good behavior mixed with bad behavior. Niehbuhr believed (based on Paul) that our good impulses, guided and tutored by the Spirit, will transform the not-so-good features of society, so it is worth remaining engaged in society. In fact, it is worth trying real hard to transform society into something resembling God’s Biblical realm of hope and peace. Nevertheless, he realized that taming the ugly impulses, the inequities of society¬— economic woes, class distinctions, racism, anti-Semitism in his day, crime, warfare¬— was going to be very hard work, but one he thought Gospel believers could help and approximate a temporal sort of Shalom. So he taught that Christians should, in fact, be engaged in politics and in doing community good, in works of compassion, in curing the ills of society. The world was Christ’s arena while he walked the earth, therefore the world is our business too. That is why his Serenity Prayer doesn’t withdraw from the world but seeks to change the things he could.
But we can’t forget that Paul was starting all this off with the very human observation that he could mess up. A lot! He couldn’t help himself not do the wrong stuff or to do the right things except by the grace of God. That figurative whacking himself on the forehead is pretty much us, too, for we stumble pretty much the same way. We mess up. We understand Paul, and Paul understands us. But the difference is that Paul, both here and elsewhere in Romans knows that the answer to our “Doh!” moments is the grace of God in Jesus Christ. When we mess up, grace abounds. It is there for us to turn sheepishly to God and say, “whoops, I messed up again, will you forgive me?” (the answer to that is “Yes, of course!”), and “will you help me get it right?” (the answer to that is “Yes, of course, and here’s a book to help you with that!). It’s really not that we are in total trouble just because we mess up, which some schools of thought worry about. We know we will mess up often enough, but God has that covered. God’s grace is sure. If we get morose or despair because bad health, financial hassles, less-than-picture-perfect family dynamics, (heck, even really bad family dynamics!), depression, anxiety, indecisiveness, selfishness, addictions, whatever we don’t do that we should or do that we shouldn’t, God’s grace is sure. Turn back; God in Jesus Christ is waiting. That’s what Jesus is reminding the crowd with his words in Matthew: his yoke is light, and he can help you carry your burdens. That’s another good working definition of Jesus’ grace: he helps us with our heavy loads. Despite the ways some churches make it sound, life is really, really messy, and it’s good to know that grace has that covered, too!
So if Paul, the archetypical apostle, can be tough on himself about not getting everything right, bemoaning that he does what he knows he shouldn’t and can’t keep it together to do what he knows he should… and even more, he actually does mess up and do wrong and not do right(!), what about us? Well, I’d have to say that is really pretty reassuring for us regular Christians! If Paul, the great theologian of the church, has to rely on God’s grace, that’s really, really good news for us! No matter what we think we have done or not done, Jesus reaches to us with love and forgiveness. Hey, maybe we could consider grace as getting a free forgiveness chip from Jesus?! And with Christ, there is always more help than even the messiest of lives! So here’s to Bill Oglesby’s poker chip. Here’s to grace!
*Hymn 440 “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”
Responding to the Word
Prayers for Others and for Ourselves
O God of all the worlds that are, creator of all that is, we thank you for this good and broad land, this continent of unimaginable beauty, from glistening beaches to craggy coastlines, from painted deserts to lush fields, sparkling lakes and verdant fields, teeming cities and crossroads villages, soaring mountain ranges to winding rivers. We thank you for the people who inhabit this land, from all corners of the globe, of many languages and backgrounds, of manifold gifts and graces. We thank you for setting us within this blessed landscape, and we thank you for the gifts and graces you have given us, each one. And we thank you for family, neighborhood, community, church.
O God of every heart, companion to every soul, we thank you for dwelling in our spirits in your Holy Spirit. Fill us again, as you have replenished us in the past with grace and hope and a lively sense of your presence, in our hearts, in this congregation, in every part of this congregation, Session, Deacons, Committees, workers, members, Pastor Search committee, and worshippers. We plead for your grace, all-sufficient, all-encompassing, all-caring, all-loving, all-surrounding to flow through our lives, our spirits, our souls our bodies, our very beings. As we trudge through our sometimes tedious days, our sometimes messy days, grant us hope and help and a faithful serenity, and remind us that we always can ask that prayer, even when we worry a bit that we don’t exactly deserve it; remind us that it is exactly when we worry about that that is exactly then that you bless us with your fullest grace! Remind us as well how you offer to lift our burdens and ease our yoke, just the same as you offered to your earliest followers. Listen as we lift before you the particular things, people, worries, questions, decisions, needs which occupy our thoughts, _______________, knowing that in all things, you alone are God, for we pray in good hope and good cheer, praying in the name of him whom we depend upon, Christ Jesus our Savior, 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.
*Hymn 39 “Great is Thy Faithfulness”
*Charge and Benediction The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr, 1932
God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can; and Wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardship As the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right If I surrender to His will.
That I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy With Him forever in the next. Amen.
The grace of our Savior Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.