Home Worship Service May 17

Focus: “We are all storytellers. We all live in a network of stories. There isn’t a stronger connection between people than storytelling.”
Jimmy Neil Smith, Director of the International Storytelling CenterWelcome:Call to Worship

Leader: We long for community
and the Presence of God.
People: In whom we live and move and have our being.

This day Christ tells us that we will never be alone.
An Advocate will share our journey.
With whom we will live and create community and celebrate being.

May the ever-present love of God be with you.
And may the joy of Christ surround you.

May we know the sacred presence
as we gather in this community of peace,
continuing to live out the message of hope
with deeds of bold mercy and courageous justice.
ALL: As an Easter People, may the life of Jesus live on in us
and through us. Amen.

Opening Prayer

Holy One,
we follow your way for many reasons,
each with our own story.
May these reasons and stories be immersed in your Sacred Story,
finding ourselves caught up in the drama and beauty
of Jesus’ teachings, life, and ministry.
Through your Holy Spirit enable us to move boldly into the future
and to fulfill the hope of love that Jesus taught,
even as we pray the prayer he taught us saying,

The Lord’s Prayer

Scripture: A PRAYER FOR OUR UNCERTAIN TIMES; MARK 4:26-34

Sermon: READING FROM TWO BOOKS

Prayers:   Hush Now in Quiet Peace

Closing Hymn:  Every Time I Feel the Spirit

Benediction:

As we look to the days ahead,
let love be true and freely given.
And may you be encouraged and blessed by the Holy One
whose love warms and surrounds you like the sun,
believing that God is with us always,
as close as our beating hearts. Amen.

Go In Peace:

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Our Readings:

Mark 4:26-34 The Parable of the Growing Seed
26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
The Use of Parables
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

A Prayer for Our Uncertain Times
May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health and making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips remember those who have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country, let us choose love.
And during this time when we may not be able to physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors. Amen.
– Submitted by Fr. Michael Graham, S.J.

Other Readings for This Day: Acts 17:22-28

17:22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.

17:23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.

17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands,

17:25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.

17:26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live,

17:27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him–though indeed he is not far from each one of us.

17:28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’

John 14:15-21
14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

14:17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

14:18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.

14:19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.

14:20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
14:21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

An Examen for Times of Anxiety and Depression
I pause (breathe in and out) and thank you for this day. For the challenges, the emotions, the struggle. For in all this, I grow closer to you.
I pause (breathe in and out) and ask that in the darkness, I see your light and in my fear, I feel your strength.
I pause (breathe in and out) and remember that today, As in days before, I have survived. When I’ve wanted to run, I’ve stayed. When I wanted to hide, I’ve faced the day.
I pause (breathe in and out) and ask for forgiveness for The days I falter and the disease takes over. I ask for compassion and love when I’m unable to give those to myself.
I pause (breathe in and out) and resolve to love myself more tomorrow. And always feel your spirit surround me in safety.
I pause (breathe in and out) and rest.
– By Erin Roush

Music: A beautiful music video to inspire you this day: Look at the World, John Rutter https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUNsj2NSCJ0

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Sermon:

Reading From Two Books

I may have shared the memory of when I was in Nicaragua with a college group many years ago. After we had arrived, settled in and began our first gathering, one of the leaders there lifted a Bible in one hand and then said to us, “This week, we are going to read from two books: the book of our lives and the book of the Bible.” And so, as the week unfolded, we listened to the stories of the people there, of their joys and suffering, their struggles and triumphs and we wove that together with stories from Scripture, stories that Jesus told that offered us some spiritual context for this experience. Stories unfold daily in our lives and as we seek wisdom and insight, we look to Scripture and to other spiritual teachers to held us understand their meaning in our lives, to better understand the greater mosaic of stories now and in history that weave our stories together. We are all part of a larger story of a people of faith, seeking to understand own our times and how God is a part of that larger story. We pray this day for wisdom and inspiration that these words may bring meaning and a deeper connection to the One who continues to walk with us and bless us each day. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

The great storyteller Mark Twain was once asked whom he believed to be the greatest storyteller of all time. And his reply, Jesus. And when asked what he considered to be the greatest story ever told, he answered, The Prodigal Son. Today, we hear a few of the parables Jesus shared with folks who came out to listen to his teachings. He often shared simple stories that would illustrate a larger meaning.

Rev. Rick Warren wrote, “Jesus was the master storyteller. He’d say, “Hey, did you hear the one about…” and then tell a parable to teach a truth.
In fact, the Bible shows that storytelling was Jesus’ favorite technique when speaking to the crowd: “Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable” (Matthew 13:34).

Somehow we forget that the Bible is essentially a book of God-inspired stories! That’s how God has chosen to communicate with people. Jesus also spoke in simple terms that normal people could understand. He didn’t use theological jargon. It’s easy to complicate the Gospel. We need to remember that Jesus did not use the classical Greek language of the scholar. He spoke in Aramaic. He told stories using the street language of that day and talked of birds, flowers, lost coins, and other everyday objects that anyone could relate to.”

Our reading from Mark’s Gospel today includes two parables of Jesus, including the one of the mustard seed. I’m sure you know that a parable is a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. Jesus spoke in parables all the time. He used simple things familiar to many from their work as farmers and laborers to share important teachings with those who came to listen to him. Sometimes those stories led to more questions and challenged the listeners in new ways or helped widen their understanding of life, the world, God. For example, the one today of the mustard seed. If you’ve ever seen a mustard seed, it is tiny and yet, Jesus uses that as a way to explain the Kin’dom of God.

The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed? A seed that grows into a shrub? Sure, it’s a big shrub, fine, but a shrub? Ultimately, he is saying that the Kingdom of God is not what we expect. It is so much bigger than we might imagine.

Like many of you, I have always loved reading and fiction has been my great escape over the years. Even as a child, I would read and read. I had a nice reading chair in my bedroom near the window and reading would be my own quiet retreat from the busyness and the noise of my big family. It always brought me joy and led me on new adventures. In elementary school, I always had a book handy to read once I finished my worksheets. I would fly through them just so I could put my nose right back in the book. One day, my teacher asked me to pass out a Science test. I passed it out to everyone in class, then sat down and started to read again. I thought he was going to tell us when to get started. I was so lost in my book that I read through the entire test! When he said to pass them back in to him, I was horrified. Honestly, I thought that was the end of my all my college dreams…a failing grade! (I was only in 5th grade!) He knew I was reading and didn’t stop me. I guess he was trying to teach me a lesson in that I shouldn’t get so lost in my books that I completely checked out of what was happening around me in school. Perhaps he was trying to teach me to be present?

I know that we are a church with many avid readers. In fact, in recent weeks, the Speaker Series committee has been hard at work imagining and planning for a virtual speaker series that will mark the 19th consecutive year of this annual event. Since my arrival at Union, I have so looked forward to listening to the authors who have shared their stories, both non-fiction and fiction, with all who have gathered over those weeks.

I imagine that many of you have been deeply touched by the stories that we have been hearing in recent months…the stories of people who have lost their lives; the stories of the nurses and doctors…holding the hands of patients at the end of their lives, stories of a new mom with a 2 month old who sadly died from the virus. When doctors and nurses have been asked to share their stories on video, they often most want to share the success stories of their patients, images of when patients are finally released after so many days on the ventilators…finally able to go home. Of course, it makes sense, because too often they have been at the bedsides of patient after patient who doesn’t get better, who never comes off the ventilator, who dies without any family in the room with them at the end. There’s so much tragedy. And behind all of these numbers of infections and illness and death are stories. Stories of lives lived well or cut short too soon and stories of family and friends who will miss this person in their lives. Everyone has a story…

A story is like a coin that we can put in our pocket and take home with us. Stories touch our hearts, they resonate with our own stories; they remind us of past experiences or they elicit deep sympathy for the suffering of another. They also remind us of joyful times; they make us laugh; they inspire us and they offer us consolation or hope. They are also a lens to the transcendent. They can give us a taste of the vision that Jesus shared; we may come to a fuller understanding of selfless love, compassion, connection and faith that we yearn for and that our God desires for us.Richard Rohr, OFM, shared a reflection he titled, You Need a Big Story Line, in which he writes, “In his book, Myths, Gods, Heroes, and Saviors, Leonard Baillas writes, “The supreme achievement of the self is to find an insight that connects together the events, dreams, and relationships that make up our existence.” If there’s no storyline, no integrating images that define who you are or that give your life meaning or direction, you just won’t be happy. It was probably Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell who most developed this idea for our generation of Western rationalists, who had thought that myth meant “not true”—when in fact the older meaning of myth is precisely “always true”!

Jung goes so far as to say that transformation only happens in the presence of story, myth, and image, not mere mental concepts. A great story pulls you inside of a universal story, and it lodges in the unconscious. From that hidden place you are “healed.” For Christians, the map of Jesus’ life is the map of Everyman and Everywoman: divine conception, ordinary life, betrayal, abandonment, rejection, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. In the end, it all comes full circle, and we return where we started, but now transformed. Jung saw this basic pattern repeated in every human life, and he called it the Christ Archetype, “an almost perfect map” of the whole journey of human transformation.“

As I’ve watched some of the stories of people who have died from coronavirus, seeing photos of them with their families or friends, doing what they loved, hearing how their lives made a difference to others, I am reminded of the weeks following 9/11 when we read so many obituaries of those who had died too soon. It’s hard to really take in the immensity of these numbers and that those who have already died in just a matter of weeks far surpass the deaths that day. How can it be?

An important part of the story of this time is how the most vulnerable in our society are faring, those who do not have the privilege to work from home and whose lives are most at risk, including folks with other health conditions, people of color, the elderly, those who are first responders or meat packers, nursing home workers, grocery clerks and delivery folks, those without a home, without health insurance, and those on the margins. It is part of our story; it is a lens through which we must view this time in history. There is far too much suffering and those, the least among us, appear to be suffering the most.

It is hard to really understand important moments until time has passed, until we may look back with an understanding of what we have been through…and yet, the stories are unfolding each day. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed; it is bigger than we can imagine; it is better than we can imagine. The stories of Jesus continue to reverberate through the passage of time and come to us down through history to open us to new ways of thinking. And so, the stories of this day will echo into the future and even now, tell us about ourselves and who we want to be, who we should be as people of God. May we find ways to make the story of this time in the history of our world a time of compassion and gentleness, of healing and hope, a part of the larger vision of a Kin’dom that Jesus shared in his stories of long ago.

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