Winding up the Year, 2014: The Good, the Bad, and the Hopeful

There is a sign given every day that God is not yet finished with humankind – it is in the promise of each child born.  A popular song beats out . . .
            “Each child that’s born, a morning star rises and says to the Universe, who I am”

Each newborn cry to the world lets us know that life is an amazing gift.  And it is right to give thanks for our gifts.  So in the Gospel of Luke, Mary and Joseph take Jesus to be presented in the Temple; a bit like our practice of baptism or christening.  It’s a formal recognition, even a covenant that this child is not just ours - but comes from God and is ours by gift - put into our keeping.  This child will have their own dreams; we can guide them, but not control them.  The story of the baby Jesus in Luke is a beautiful story - the one we retell each year on Christmas Eve with the cute stable, adoring shepherds and multiple angels.

But there’s more to the story.  The nativity in the Gospel of Matthew points out a darker side, just as life does. While there is still the Promise of Tomorrow, it comes in the midst of a terrible massacre as King Herod searches to destroy Jesus.  Life is made up of a vivid mixture of good and light, but also the dark and the ugly.  Yet we seem to insist that God always bless us with what is good?  We get angry with God when life doesn’t go the way we want it to.  In the last rendition of the Hobbit, at one point when the village has been destroyed by Smog the dragon, devastation is everywhere.  Among the wounded and dying one person is rolling around at the water’s edge crying out, “Why me?  Why me?”  As if no one else had suffered.  
We all come to life with a certain perspective we have developed.  We can get stuck in that perspective that keeps us from seeing life in a deeper, more meaningful way.  Listen to the words of Dewitt Jones, a renowned photographer for National Geographic in Everyday Creativity (4:20 - 5:37)

“I remember a photograph I took of Yosemite Falls . . . not a bad
 photograph. I had already gotten rid of a lot of things that might distract you from
viewing the falls, like the parking lot I’m standing in and the visitors’ center. But a lot of
            people would have said, “That’s a great photograph, Dewitt!”
But as I looked through the lens, I thought, “Is this really the essence of Yosemite Falls?  Is
this what got me so excited that I ran all the way across and meadow and set up my cameras?”
I realized it wasn’t.   What had drawn my eye up there in the first place was just that area way
down at the bottom. Just that tree and the falls behind it.
I had the wrong lens, the wrong perspective. The wrong angle of view. And when I changed 
my perspective, then I found a real photograph!
The lens we chose when we view a problem is critical. Our perspective is what holds the key
to weather the solution is ordinary or extraordinary.

So first we have to find the right perspective. If we can’t learn to change lenses, we’re
trapped. But I’ve learned there’s always another perspective. And when we believe that,
it can transform the whole way we look at life.”

It is in our humanness that we can ask God to take our discomfort, our tears, our restlessness, our fears and foolishness and let us use our humanness to heal ourselves and the world. What might change if we become part of the healing?
Listen to a new perspective on your troubles that you want to get away from so quickly:  (Thanks to Bob and Chris Atherton for bringing this to my attention.)

“May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships - so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people - so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish - so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform that pain to joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world -so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.” 
At the end of the Year: we have the requisite final week of commentaries and news shows that parade the year in review.  We have a human need to look back and remember and it is amazing as we watch those shows and find ourselves nodding and thinking - oh I had forgotten that happened. Was that this year?  Remembering is a spiritual practice that comes to us as a need to reflect on our life. (When we take communion, we remember who Jesus is for us.)  For every time there is a season, and looking back is the action of an intelligent person.  Reflecting on what is past is the action of a wise individual.  An unreflected life is not worth living.   

Mark Nepo, philosopher-poet and cancer survivor, in The Book of Awakening writes an amazing daily devotional book.  I used his entry for October 17 as the meditation for this service and it states “I did not survive to be untouched.”  And he goes on to explain. . .
“The emotional patterns of our lives are very strong.  They often come into being because we’ve needed them to survive.  But sooner or later, we all arrive at moments where the very thing that has saved us is killing us, keeping us from truly living.  Being invisible once kept us from being hurt, but now we are vanishing.  Or listening once kept us in relation, but now we are drowning in our unheard cries.  Or avoiding conflict once kept us out of the line of fire, but now we are thirsting for contact that is real.

Early in my life, I learned to protect myself, and this meant that I became very good at catching things.  In fact, I never went anywhere without my catcher’s mitt.  No matter what came at me, nothing could surprise me.  And while this saved me from the unpredictable assaults of my family, and even helped me in my odyssey through cancer, it eventually had a life of its own.  Everything—birds, women, friends, and truth—was intercepted by the quick reflex of my mitt.  Eventually, nothing got through, and the very thing that helped me survive was now keeping me from being touched.  The softness and wonder of the world was vanishing from my life. 
But I did not survive to live at a distance from things, and so I began the long and painful process of putting my mitt down, of regaining choice about when and how to protect myself.  I began to realize that letting life in was a deeper way to survive.” 

The Teacher of Ecclesiastes wrote a beautiful poem  that has been put to many songs.  It is of encouragement that there is a season for all, a time for everything under heaven.
1.      Comforting idea that there is a season – which means there is movement. There is a bleak midwinter - but we know that spring will come.  Sometimes it may come more slowly than others, but the trees will bud and the flowers will blossom.  In the desert, don’t we rejoice in September, knowing that the heat of summer is finally almost at an end.  The most energetic days:  are the 1st day of school  . . . . .  and the last day of school.  There is movement - it won’t remain the same. 

a.       Part of the equation is that you can’t count on good times all the time.  We have fun, we enjoy life, we laugh - but not always. A serious moment in the TV show of MASH that was about army doctors on the front line of the Korean conflict in the 1950‘s.  It was a show that mixed humor with seriousness in a masterful way.  One time Colonel Blake gives some hard advice that Hawkeye didn’t want to hear. He said, “In command school they told me two truths about war:  #1 is that Young men will die and truth #2 Doctors can’t change truth #1.  
b.      Another part of life is not to forget that bad times do eventually end.  Kate Spencer author of the 12 Lessons writes, “As you write the last chapter of 2014, give thanks for the lows and the heights.  It is through our lessons that we learn, grow and become who we are.”  And history proves that we have far too many people who refuse to learn from the past and are inevitably doomed to repeat the horrors of yesterday.  When life is hard, we need to learn from it.  We need to be able to go farther and see more.  Isn’t the definition of insanity - keeping on with the same thing and expecting a different result.  Listen again to the photographer Dewitt Jones and how perseverance can make a difference.
Everyday Creativity (7:08-8:27)”I remember another forest I was in one time. The Geographic sent me up to the Red Woods. Beautiful place, but one that had been shot a million times. I was going to have to come up with another perspective. And I was out there in the morning and it was gorgeous, but I was shooting post cards. Nothing new, nothing different. I could go down to the visitors’ center and buy something like this, it was not going to shake them up at the Geographic. I had to find the next right answer. But I know it’s there, so I just kept going, you know. And eventually I’m down on that path, in the mud, looking up through some rhododendron and I saw this photograph, and I’ve sold this photograph more than any picture I’ve ever taken in my life.
 When we work from that perspective, then as we press out looking for the next right answer, we do so not in terror, but comfortably, knowing that it’s going to be there for you. And you begin to embrace change, rather than fear it. We begin to hit the world with a sense of abundance, rather than scarcity. And you just get more and more comfortable with reframing a problem into an opportunity.
Problem . . . opportunity.  Problem . . . opportunity.” 
Remember, the picture comes out of being in the mud and looking up.  You can change – God is all about the ability to change.  (The word repent comes from a military term that means to turn an about face – go in the opposite direction.)
2.      The Teacher of Ecclesiastes is about balance. The world moves on – let us live into it and move forward.  That is why the next generation will do things we have never even imagined.  
So we come to the End of another year –
Reflection of choices made and dreams to come.

Learning Forgiveness/acceptance for what is behind.  How do we come to terms with the past so that we can move forward. We have to work at it, be willing to change our perspective, to go the second mile in searching for another right answer.  
Grace and wisdom for what is ahead – each day that you wake and give breath to your life – you have a choice . . . .

After  40 years, the people of Israel were finally at the edge of the wilderness, they were ready to enter the Promised Land.  Moses and Jacob gather them together to remind the people of where they have been and where they are going.  Moses gives them a choice: 
Duet. 30:19 – “I set before you today life and death, blessing and curse; therefore, choose life, that you and your children may live.”  The choice is in choosing how you will live.  There will be hard times, there will be wonderfully bright times – how will you live in deprivation and in abundance. 

You get the good, you get the bad – and you can live in hope.  It is all in the way you live – in the choices you make: 
·        To preserve and nurture, to build up and secure new ways to love, to create compassion
·        To feed the hungry in body and soul. 

 Everyday Creativity (18:39 - 19:40) “There’s a line from the Bible that says, “The banquet is laid though nobody comes.” And when I’m being creative, I see that life really is that banquet, all around me, all the time, presenting me with endless possibilities. Showing me a world full of light and beauty.

And I know if we let that beauty fill us up, that it will come out in a thousand ways. In
the quality of the way we conduct ourselves, in the caliber of the products we produce, in
the depth of service we give to our clients and our customers
In the way we treat our families, in the service we give in our communities, in the stories
we tell to our children at bedtime.

That perspective, that window, is always there if we’re open enough to see it. And when
we see it, the world truly is extraordinary.”

Choose life – that you and your children may live.  Hope is what anchors the soul.

So I offer this prayer as an ending to this sermon:
·        Into God’s Hands - may you place your worries, cares and troubles.
·        Trusting in God’s Wisdom - may you walk your path, following your direction and your goals
·        and Believing in God’s love - may you place your life in God’s keeping.   Amen.

 Thanks to Dewitt Jones, Everyday Creativity from which I took three segments and to Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening. 
Worship for Dec 28, 2014 at Paradise Valley UMC, Paradise Valley AZ
Rev. Andrea Andress

Nine Visitors to the Manger

Instructions: This meditation is meant to be read aloud to a group, but can simply be read by individuals.  Don’t rush through it.  Give space and pause between the visitors to reflect and let your feelings seep into your soul.

Every year millions visit the manger of Bethlehem, some wanting to give something; others hoping to take something special away from the experience.  Close your eyes.  Imagine a quiet night, starlight beginning to dot a dark countryside.  Breathe in the crisp air of the cool night and let the breath fill and renew you.  A group of visitors approach the hillside cave that serves as a stable.

Hear the clip, clip of determined footsteps as Anger, the first to enter the cave, strives so hard to do things right, to fix all the carelessness others have created.  Deep in his heart anger simmers at the injustice and absurdity of God’s son being born under these conditions.  As he looks at the babe, he senses an invitation to let go.  The babe seems to say, “I care.  Trust me.  Let go of your need to fix my world.  I am come in the fullness of time.” (Pause)
The next visitor steps forward in Pride, striving to see how she can contribute, what she can add to make this scene complete.  The glance of the baby stills her mind.  “There is nothing to give, nothing to do,” the eyes of the baby say.  “Everything we need is already here.  Enjoy this moment with me.”  (Pause)

The third guest, Deceit, comes forward with pity in her eyes.  Can anything good come out of such bleak, humble beginnings?  It will take a miracle and lots of hard to work to make something out of this.  The baby’s eyes stop her in her tracks.  “Relax,” the babe seems to say, “This enterprise is bigger than you think.  What God has promised, it will come to pass.” (Pause)

Envy, the fourth visitor, rushed forward to see the babe and was disappointed to find no glowing aura, just a baby wrapped in common cloths, lying in a filthy manger, cooing.  Reluctantly she looked at the mother gazing on her child.  Love flowed between mother and child pulsing with a life force that gathered Envy in, connecting her to the babe and encircling her in the warmth of their presence. (Pause)

The fifth guest hugged the far stable wall hiding, concerned that someone might expect something from him like a gift, and he knew he had nothing to spare.  The gaze of the child beckoned Greed to edge closer and let go of fear, realizing the baby has all he needs.  The child’s eyes say, “I invite you to share freely what I have without reserve.” (Pause)

Fearful approaches the manger scanning all around, seeing all that’s lacking, afraid of what the future will be for this child.  But the baby cooed, fearless in spite of the setting and Fearful recalled to mind the words of the angels, “Do not be afraid, for this is good news of great joy for all people. Today is born a Savior.” (Pause)

Then Extravagance rushed in, not wanting to be late, caught up in the excitement of a new baby.  “We can’t have God in this smelly stable, I’m sure there’s something else that can be arranged, let me work on it.”  The baby takes this moment to burp, then smile at our seventh visitor causing him to pause.  The smile seems to say, “I like it here, why don’t you stay with me awhile, much will be happening, tears of pain and tears of joy, but it will all be good.” (Pause)

The eighth visitor, Violence, looks down at the baby and the innocence of the newborn fills his heart with trepidation.   “What is God thinking!” he booms in a voice that startles everyone.  The baby cries at the sound, breaking the mood, demanding that he be attended to now.  The truth shines bright and noisily, that God is not helpless and will not be ignored. (Pause)

Self-forgetting, the ninth and final caller feels like a guest, overwhelmed with the sense that everyone else deserves to be there.  She slips into the background.  Slowly she lifts her eyes to see the baby choosing to fix a gaze on her, full of compassion and love.  It is as if only the two of them are in the room and she realizes she belongs there.  (Pause)   

So the last visitor dares to take another’s hand and as if on cue, one by one, they all join hands and move out into the night.  They are now bound to one another through an experience and wonder of a child; redeemed with a glance from God made flesh and come to live among us.  Redeemed by following a way that leads to faith, hope and love. 

Rev. Andrea Andress
Paradise Valley United Methodist Church
4455 E. Lincoln Drive
Paradise Valley, AZ  85253
602-840-3860 ext 142
I am indebted to Dietrich Koller and his “An Enneagram Sermon on Christmas” which appears in the book The Enneagram, a Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr with Andreas Ebert. (2002)


The Bible: Stories to Live By

“The Bible was not given for our information, but for our transformation.” 
Dwight L. Moody

 We are called to live with God in our time, our century and that requires that we have a living relationship with God - not based on just a historical book, but with a book that speaks to the essential qualities of the human spirit and can go beyond tomorrow.   Andrea Andress

Sermon:  The Bible: Stories to Live

By Rev. Andrea Andress
Paradise Valley United Methodist Church
4455 E. Lincoln Drive
Paradise Valley, AZ  85253

The Bible: Stories to live by

“Our Help is From the Lord” declares the Psalmist in poetic form - but what kind of help?  How do you interpret God’s involvement in your life?  We tell our children that God talks to us through prayer and our inner voice, through other people - in sermons, and through the Bible. Today we will focus on the Bible.

How do you connect with the Bible?  How do you hear God in the Bible? A friend once sheepishly confessed to me – I can’t read the Bible, it seems so outdated and doesn’t relate to me!  When I hear sermons I can understand that. But I can’t understand the Bible by myself.  
I find that disturbing, but not unusual. First I’d say - what translation are you using? The general populace has been reading the Bible for only about 500 years. Before the printing press it had to be painstakingly copied by hand and it’s a big book. Few people could read. The general population saw it through preaching, the images of icons, stained glass windows and painted murals. Those were teaching tools. Today we are blessed to be able to read it ourselves. But we still need a guide. 
What do you think of the Bible? Do you consider it a powerful book of inspiration?        Is it divinely inspired? If so, does that mean for you it is literal in every way – or do you believe the words were influenced by the culture around it and it helps for us to understand that.  
The Bible was written in a culture – in a specific time – that time happens to span hundreds of years, because it is actually a collection of 66 individual books by many different authors in different countries, in different languages and cultures.
We know languages change over time. You can’t pick up Chaucer in it’s original English and understand it. The King James Bible less than 100 years ago was considered a good translation to read for its day - but not any more. It was written at the time of Shakespeare. Most of us need a “Shakespeare for Dummies” book to read beside the original if we read it in the original.  
So yes, the language of the Bible (which is at least 1600 years older than Shakespeare) can be challenging. Which is why we have so many translations.
The content of the Bible holds timeless truths that still speak to us today.  
Cultures and languages change over time. But the essential nature of people, the desires and needs for connection, for love, for safety and security for the ability to speak your truth, these are essential elements that stay true over the generations. They will be expressed differently, but the essential quality remains--that’s where translations comes in.
The stories of the Bible are some of the oldest in history. You will find plays, books, movies and TV using those stories as background. The jealousies, betrayal in families are not just in today’s soap operas - they come straight out of the bible with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Bible stories were chosen because of the elemental needs they expressed.
Take the Creation story: Why am I here on this earth? Where do I come from?  One of the goals of the organization known as the Wycliff Bible translators is that every people on earth should be able to read scripture in their own language. They train translators to live in a culture, at times creating the first written language for them and then translating the Bible into their spoken language. They work first with Genesis and then a Gospel. Why do they start with Genesis - which means the beginning?  Because every people has a history/myth or where they came from. And the Bible does too. It tells how from the very start we are connected with God. We, like the Bible, are God breathed.  
As Christians we draw our information of God in large part from the Bible. The United Methodists say we learn by the quadrilateral - meaning there are four things that form our faith - it comes from Scripture, reason, experience and tradition. When we get those four imbalanced, we tilt toward heresy or ridiculousness. Scripture has always been seen as the heavy of the four - but reason, experience and tradition also count.
If the Bible is the story of God’s people, what is the Bible not that people have tried to make it?
The Bible is not:
  • A marriage manual: People who talk about having a Biblical marriage, don’t really know the Bible. Polygamy was quite the norm early on in the Old Testament. Adultery – some of our greatest Biblical heroes had this fault – King David. The wisest man was King Solomon who had 700 wives and 300 concubines - wise? There was family incest; Abraham - selling his wife into prostitution. Our biblical heroes had feet of clay, just like we do.
The Bible is not: 
  • A history book -- We are called to live with God in our time, our century and that requires that we have a living relationship with God - not based on just a historical book, but with a book that speaks to the essential qualities of the human spirit and can go beyond tomorrow.
  • The Bible is not: 
  • An instruction manuel on how to run a government. If you take your stand from the book of Nehemiah and Ezra which told the story of when the Israelites returned from exile - how they built a new government - one part of it was an edict to create racial purity by denouncing the children and spouses not of Israel’s pure blood. (We believe that the story of Ruth, comes out of a wisdom that shows King David was descended from Ruth - a Moabite and not racially pure.) Both of these stories are “in the Bible”.  But you are called to interpret them in the grace of God’s spirit and the understanding of culture and time. 
  • The Bible is not: 
  • A science book: It describes stories in what is called, “mythical language” - that does not mean the story is not true. It does mean it may not be literal. I remember the child who went home and when asked what he learned in Sunday School that day explained that Moses had a speed boat to get across the water and he called in the heavy bombers to blast a canal through the water so people could walk across on dry land. The parents looked at him skeptically and said, “Is that really what the teacher said?”  “No,” he replied, “but you wouldn’t believe what the teacher told me.” 
  • The Bible is not: 
  • A how-to book to meet every situation - not possible, they didn’t have computers, or the internet and they hadn’t seen someone walk on the moon. The world mindset was different.  
So what IS the Bible?  
The Bible is a book meant for transformation. Over centuries, it tells stories of how God and people interact and sometimes it’s not pretty.  
The people of faith claim the entire Bible as their story. The Bible stories are our family stories just as much as the stories you tell of your parents, or grandparents when you gather for family events at holidays or weddings or funerals.    
Why do I suffer? - the book of Job doesn’t truly answer that question. It causes us to search further.
Families – how do they work?  Jealousy – the first soap opera came from the family history of the Patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 
II Tim 3:15-17 says, “There’s nothing like the word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another--showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.” (The Message) This is uniquely shown through the parables.  
Jesus spoke in parables - saying that people can’t hear except in parables.  
Parables are genius because they make us participate in the story.  Parables subvert our unconscious worldview, exposing its illusions to us.  Parables makes us a bit uncomfortable or we are not really hearing them.  Richard Rohr in The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, warns us that a parable is supposed to change our worldview and unlock it from the inside so that we can see and hear reality correctly.  Context allows us to read text truthfully.  Our whole universe has to be rearranged truthfully before individual teachings can be heard correctly.  What we have done for centuries in the West is give people new moral and doctrinal teaching without rearranging their mythic worldview.  It does not work.  
A parable calls for conversion. Richard Rohr states, “It is the things that you cannot do anything about and the things that you cannot do anything with that do something with you.  We realize we cannot transform ourselves, but need interior suffering and desperate prayer to change.... There are two kinds of religion - one that says God will love you if you change and one that says God loves you so you can change.”
In the 1960s and 1970’s I remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan being rewritten to bring it up to date. The question is, “Who is the good person?  The answer - is it the Lawyer, the Priest - no! It is the despised outcast foreigner who shows love and concern and acts upon it.  
It was rewritten in the middle of the Cold War so that the Good Samaritan was a Russian.  Today, it needs to be rewritten again.  It will always need to be rewritten because it is timeless in it’s message and cultures change.  
So how would we rewrite it today in 2014?  Who would the Good Samaritan be?  
In Arizona - put the illegal immigrant as the Good Samaritan.
In Ferguson, MI - the Good Samaritan might just be a big, burly, black teen.
This week when you go home, read the Good Samaritan with a modern day Good Samaritan of your choice - the person you would not want to trust - then wrestle over what God would call you to do and be in response to that.
There are a multitude of ways we look at and study scripture allowing it to affect and change us:
We sing it.  If you look in our hymnals you will find numerous songs whose words largely come from the Bible. Music reaches our souls. Amazing Grace reaches millions each year, not just the religious.
We read it for understanding - the advent of the Protestant revolution came about with the demand for the common people to read the Bible - not just the religious orders. Up until that time, the religious orders had taken the roll of study and theological reflection. After Martin Luther, study of God’s word exploded. (So too did the number of Christian groups claiming they understood the scripture). That comes along with all of us reading the Bible. Some people try reading it through in a year -
We read it for comfort - People have often sought out particular scriptures to lift them in times of stress and distress. It’s really easy to look for these with the aid of today’s computers.  The 23 Psalm has been a mainstay for centuries.   
We memorize it so that it comes to us easily when we need it. 
We read it to soak it into our being:  Lectio Divina are the latin words for “Praying the Scripture” - and has existed since 600 AD when St. Benedict introduced it to those of his monastery. He didn’t want to just read the scriptures, he wanted people to breathe it in and out of their body with each breath. Here is how praying the scripture goes:  
You read a scripture twice - let it soak in and let a word or phrase jump out at you in about 2 minutes of silence, as you think on it.
Read the scripture again - consider in a silence of 3-5 minutes of how this scripture feels to you and the emotions it evokes.
Then read the scripture again - and in the silence of 3-5 minutes you consider what is this scripture calling you to do today or tomorrow? How will you answer what God is asking of you right now.  
One last time read the scripture - and if you are with a small group you pray for each other that you might be able to respond to your calling.
What will you do with your Bible?  Will you read it?  Will you study it?  Will you pray it?
We have small groups that study the Bible, adult classes offered, maybe you could help form one to meet your needs.  
Today - right now the 3rd Graders and their parents are in Fellowship Center participating in what we call the Bible Blast. They are becoming acquainted with the Bible that the church will give to the children at the 11:15 service. It’s one of the best things we do - to introduce our children to the Bible. I want us to look at our commitment to study and immerse ourselves in the word of God as a way to hear God’s voice in our life.   
Bible Blessing:  I ask you to hold, touch your Bible, whether it is a special one you brought, or one in the pew or on your phone.  Hold it as I speak this blessing for you and the scriptures you hold.  
May God plant in you a deep desire to search, to read, to understand and to live the love of God in the world. Let the Word of God be like food and water to you. Let the words of God soak into your being like the long awaited gentle rain soaks into dry ground, feeding the earth from within. Amen
Benediction and Challenge: Take a story from the Bible - one of your own or the Good Samaritan and let it speak to you in today’s language. Wrestle with it and decide what God is asking of you. And may God connect you to God’s Word, so that the thoughts you contemplate, the words you speak and the actions you perform clearly spread your love and grace to the world. 

The following was used before the sermon in the service:
Call to Worship
Leader:  The Word of God is alive and active;
People:  It is sharper than any double-edged sword.
Leader:  The Word of God divides the soul and spirit;
People:  It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Leader:  The Word of God does not return empty-handed;
People:  It accomplishes God’s will in the world. 
All:  The Word of God is alive. 

Opening Prayer:
Almighty God, whose word is authority and power and whose way is love, grant to us today clear minds, understanding hearts and willing spirits so that we may wisely appropriate your word of truth.  In the name of Christ we pray.  Amen

Prayer of Confession:
God you have given me all I need:  breath to live, a mind to search, a heart to feel.   Forgive me when I don’t take time to read your words of wisdom and to let them sink into my heart and mind.  Help me draw encouragement from the stories of my ancestors of faith.  Connect me to your Word, so that the thoughts I contemplate, the words I speak and the actions I perform clearly spread your love and grace to the world.