First Presbyterian Church
27 N. Main Street, P.O. Box 568, Honeoye Falls, NY 14472
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany • Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, January 28, 2018 – 10:30 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.
Announcements Assisting Elder:
Preparing for the Word
Musical Call to Worship
As you hear the music and the introit, you may fill out a prayer request card.
Introit “I, the Lord of Sea and Sky” Hymnal 69, Verse 1
Call to Worship:
Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Give thanks to God with your whole heart.
Great are the works of the Lord.
Time with Children
*Hymn 15 “All Creatures of Our God and King”
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 “Cast Thy Burden on the Lord” Harlan
Hebrew Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20
15The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” 17Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. 19Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”
New Testament Reading: 1 Corinthians
1 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3 but anyone who loves God is known by him. 4 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth— as in fact there are many gods and many lords— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. 7 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8“Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
Gospel Reading: Mark 1:21-28
21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching— with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
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 “Speaking for God” Rev. David Ashby
It’s an odd little vignette, something that looks kind of like bit of filler between more familiar stories, that sentence about “and Jesus taught in the synagogue,” and “they were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes,” followed by that weird bit of Jesus rebuking an unclean spirit which confirmed that Jesus teaches with authority, even commanding unclean spirits. But what looks like a transition if not read carefully is actually the crucial set-up for what follows. In an era and system where most of the teaching was done by scribes who referred back to previous rabbinical texts commenting on the scriptures, Jesus really was breaking new ground. Instead of saying, “John Calvin wrote about Jesus rebuking an unclean spirit in Mark 1:21-28, saying such-and-such,” and the Interpreters Bible says such-and-such, and Preaching the New Common Lectionary notes something else, Jesus simply declares a truth, and he declares it with such natural authority that listeners are astonished. In a way, he seems like one of the ancient prophets, simply declaring what God says. But, beyond that prophetic authority to speak for God, Jesus goes on to act for God (or maybe like God) when he casts out the bad spirit from a heckler in the congregation. Not only does Jesus speak for God, he can make it stick!
In a way, folks in mainline churches have often sort of sagged down to referring to what other, greater, thinkers and prophets have to say about God once upon a time rather than the fiery bravery of some previous generations who dared to come right out and speak for God about issues of injustice, peace, righteousness, social concerns, and policy. Where once our Reformed and Presbyterian forebears were brave and loud prophets, we’ve too often settled into reminding people about what those prophets once said.
There has been a flurry of postings on my Facebook and Twitter feeds this past week on prophetic witness, mostly as far as being stifled in the mainlines. So, I’d like to make the case for us getting back up on our collective soapbox and daring to speak for God again!
It wasn’t so long ago that powerful, authoritative, courageous souls stood up in pulpits and thundered God’s word at society. We started with Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, and totally off the wall John Knox. The Congregational stream watered the early nation with the likes of John Cotton, John Witherspoon, and Jonathan Edwards. As I mentioned last week, you had Thomas Beecher at Park Congregational and David Murdock at Lake Street Presbyterian where I was down Church Street, firebrands of full-on abolitionism and a just society in the 1850s and 60s, along with Frederick Douglass in Rochester. You had Harry Emerson Fosdick in New York City who said he preached with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. You had Martin Luther King Jr. You had William Sloan Coffin and Eugene Carson Blake challenging the church about civil rights and ecumenical church unity. Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote the famous “Serenity Prayer” in 1943, was a powerful voice in liberal Protestantism and an Evangelical and Reformed minister. Many elders and ministers of the Presbyterian Church were active and visible in the civil rights and anti-war movements.
Across the denominational spectrum, current Christianity does have some signature voices which seem to carry a lot of authority. Bill Moyers has it, embodying that thoughtful commentary so prized by our tradition. If you had to ask me for this generation’s heir to Martin Luther King Jr. I’d have to pick the Rev. William Barber II, a Disciples of Christ pastor, president of the North Carolina NAACP, professor, an organizer of “Moral Mondays,” something of a go-to person to be interviewed by media, and a very visible presence on social media. At the front of a number of recent marches you will also see Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, the two co-moderators of the PC(U.S.A.), and also Traci Blackmon of the UCC. So there are still lots voices raised with the authority of religious communities (denominations) and trying to speak prophetic, Christ-like words. Currently, that powerful challenge for the powers-that-be we read in the great Biblical prophets continues in the African-American church, but it tends to make most of us not in that tradition decidedly uncomfortable. In an ironic twist, this kind of in-your-face preaching like Barber’s which discomfits us may help us understand how those who first heard Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah felt! We are now in the throes of major prophet-like spasms. Nevertheless, there are people who do have that intangible aura of “authority” which others have had before them, back to Jesus that day in the synagogue.
Right now something is happening sort of backstage in the industry, something most people haven’t heard about unless you follow voices and controversies in theology circles. It is real striving about the nature of authority, as consequential as the Reformation’s recasting of authority from the pope to the Bible in the hands of the laity. That was from institutionally derived authority— interpretation from the top down— to Biblically derived authority. For about 150 years, authority in preaching and interpretation has been derived from being in the institutional church or by being from the right seminary. Who did you study under? Oh, you went to Princeton, so you’re an authority! It’s the same thing as those scribes and pharisees in the Gospel— it’s derived authority, which is why Jesus speaking from the source is so amazing to the crowd. This is very much true as well now in evangelical circles; you have certain institutions— seminaries, certain denominational offices, certain parachurch organizations, certain publishing houses or broadcasters, or the successors of certain famous religious figures, often the children of the founders. But crashing in from unexpected directions are a whole bunch of thinkers and writers whose work is based on new perceptions, well developed and well articulated, presented on their own merits to compete in the marketplace of ideas. These thinkers come from outside “the system,” and the systems don’t know what to do with them; they’re just too “unauthorized,” so they are rejected. Their power is in their ability and how they are perceived as spiritually authoritative. A significant portion of these new voices are women and people of color and from other parts of the world, who bring entirely different experiences of life and of God’s grace. A bunch of them developed followings from writing books that hit the spot or from their online presence, both their social media connections and authorship online and in blogs. People follow them because they ring true, ring true to life. Some of the people I think speak with holy authority are Diana Butler Bass, Carol Howard Merritt, Rob Lee, Paul Rauschenbush, Traci Blackmon, Wil Gafney, Phyllis Tickle, Anne Lamott, and others. They speak with authority, not like seminary professors! Interestingly, they have been dismissed and derided by the establishment.
But there is a collective authority, too, one which congregations, gatherings of congregations, and denominations can demonstrate. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its predecessors have long walked the talk of the moral authority of the faith drawn from the Bible and Jesus’ own authority, reflecting our passion for speaking to society on God’s behalf to make society more inclusive, compassionate, just, safe, and closer to what we read God wants in the Bible.
Still, there is an important— and historical— prophetic role for the church here and now. In a lot of ways, it’s the same as it’s always been (to quote the song). Activism may have been a bit more obvious in the late 1960s and the 1970s when there was much more of a “prophetic” movement, when the church tended to challenge the status quo in economic justice, civil rights and those other big movements washing across the national scene. Of course, this did not always go over so well, but the crucial thing to remember is that both those Presbyterians who were part of the establishment and those who were trying to rock the boat— both believed that it was appropriate— even required— for Christians to be involved in civic life.
So if we admit that we may vary on what we believe God wants to say to the world through us, and that it’s OK, and that I may not exactly phrase things the way you might with your particular political or societal perspective, I think there are some concerns about which we can recover our historical, prophetic voice. In fact, I think vocal and visible community leadership will not just serve the area better, but will keep this church on its roll forward. This prophetic role is important— important for the church and important for Honeoye Falls, Livingston and Monroe Counties, Rochester, New York State. So let me just list a bunch of things I think fit within our Christian responsibility to speak God’s prophetic word. Obviously any church would want to pick just a few items, but I’m just going to throw out a whole bunch of things for your consideration. I mentioned last week economic development, but I think we are called to go beyond just what’s good for the tax base to address some human development. You know, things like improving education, dealing with holes in the safety nets, cultivating cultural and historical aspects of the community, reinvigorating a sense of community pride. I believe we need to ask some serious questions about why the number of people needing help from local food pantries has gone up by 25 or 30% over the past few years. Why are working families having such a hard time making ends meet? You can see in the news that the national immigration situation has local ramifications.
On bigger questions of national concern or international concern (like at Davos!): what might God say about the disparity between the poorest of our citizens and the richest. Look at the disparity between the poorest and the richest in New York State. Let’s not even get started on multimillion bonuses while workers hours are cut. And politics! The Bible spends so much of its time warning about our responsibility for the least of our neighbors; there’s an important prophetic witness we might want to make. The environment and climate change are topics at General Assemblies. Several denominations are speaking out against fracking and divestment. Our witness to justice and civil rights is still a strong one. Churches and church members of all sorts were involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement in many cities, some making the point that Jesus seemed to stand with the 99% instead of the 1%, including the moneychangers in the temple compound. And we still talk about matters of personal morality and behavior and family life and those other subjects more commonly identified as of religious concern. And finally there are two other interesting arenas for the church’s prophetic ministry, the relationship between religion and science (busting wide open in the last decade) and the interaction of Christianity and other world religions, including the role of religion in the post-modern world. If you want to know some of the issues our sisters and brothers are pursuing, go to pcusa.org sometime and follow the links to justice issues. If you are interested in any of these things, get involved, either locally or through the Presbytery, Synod, General Assembly, Greater Rochester Council of Churches, wherever. Find your voice. These are all subjects for us as individual Christians and as congregations to ponder and pray and consider how we might speak God’s words to the world around us. We may find ourselves rebuking the unclean and unkind spirits that oppress our neighbors. And this, in an important way, may be how we begin to find our voice again, speaking like Jesus did: with authority. That’s how we recapture our prophetic role, and, we pray, in a new and different way help those around us understand the amazing grace of Christ Jesus in every part of life. May God put challenging yet loving words in our mouths!
*Hymn 181 “Silence! Frenzied, Unclean Spirit”
Responding to the Word
Prayers for Others and for Ourselves
O amazing God, who finds us when we are lost, yet who prods us forward when we might prefer to stay lost, we come to you in prayer and hope. We ask for your presence with us, not just in this worship hour but throughout the week as we go about our usual business. And we ask for your presence with so many who need your grace and our help.
While we are here in worship, the world intrudes, sort of like that man who intruded in the synagogue where Jesus was that day. Illness and injury, physical and mental and emotional pain darken the lives of quite a few we know. We know some who are troubled by circumstances or economic and financial hardships, loss of job or threatened loss of jobs; we pray for them. We know some who are facing hard choices or big changes in their lives; grant them direction and peace. Some face death or face the death of someone they love or are reassembling their lives after saying good-bye to someone; ease their fears and loss. Some are moving, some have had homes damaged or destroyed, and we pray for them, thinking most of those and those enduring earthquake, flood, fire, mudslide, tornado, blizzard and all those other strange natural catastrophes of the last year. ……………. We pray for our community, schools, healthcare, politicians, civil servants, emergency personnel, and everyone who imagines a better community and is willing to work toward that vision. Bless and multiply every good work undertaken in your name and for your children.
We pray for peace in the world, with prayers for Syria and Turkey and Afghanistan (with the ambulance blast in Kabul), and also for those chronic problems in Africa, in the Palestinian territories, Gaza and the West Bank, and all those other places where human prejudice and intolerance and hatred here and abroad bring turmoil and violence. May justice and cooperation slowly take the place of warfare and terror, until every acre on earth is safe and in peace.
We pray for ourselves as disciples and as a congregation. Whatever gifts we bring that you can see and use, we place before you our selves and our prayers. We also offer this congregation to be your people, your gathered, collective, servant. We pray for a double handful of your presence and grace and power, especially on those we have elected to serve us and lead us. We place our building, our programs, our finances, our leaders, our members, our children, youth, adults, and seasoned souls, our committees, our Session and Deacons and Teams and Pastor Nominating Committee, as we gather for our annual meeting; we place them all before you for your blessing and your use. For all these who serve you, we ask your blessing and support and grace. Help us every day and in every way to become the people and disciples and church which you want us to be. In the meantime, we ask your blessing in the name of him who teaches us to pray…
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, you provide for us most generously. We give you thanks for the many blessings we enjoy. Thank you for our families and community; for the people who enrich our lives and those who challenge us. Above all we thank you for the gift of Jesus Christ and the new life in him. We dedicate these gifts to you that they may be used for your glory. Amen.
*Hymn 65 “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”
*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 “Blest Be the Tie That Binds”