May 17, 2015 ~ 10:30am
Seventh Sunday of Easter
The People of Peace Church
Betty Greene, Lay Leader
Doug Bowen-Bailey, Guest Preacher
Jim Pospisil, Music Director
Rev. John Pegg
Prelude “All the Things You Are” by Hammerstein & Kern
Rick Dalen, Guitar & Kirby Wood, Trumpet
Greeting One Another
Ringing of the Peace Bells
God is Revealed as We Gather
*Responsive Call to Worship
Jesus prayed for his disciples, giving them into God’s
Jesus prays for us, giving us into God’s care.
Know that you have been blessed with the love of God.
We live in that love and seek to serve God.
Open your hearts and spirits now to hear God’s word.
May our lives be open to God’s Spirit and reflect God’s love.
*Opening Hymn “Guide Me, O My Great Redeemer” (#18)
Unison Prayer of Confession
Forgiving and gracious God, you have called us to be the church, to live out our Resurrection faith. You have asked us to place our trust in you and to bring to all the good news of your saving love. But we have failed to do this. We have given our faith a back seat to the troubles of the world and to the stresses in our own life. We look for the quick and easy answers.
Forgive us for the smallness of our faith. You, who raised Christ from the dead, have promised to raise our spirits and bring us to new life. Help us to be open always to your word and your love. Challenge us to move in directions of peace and hope for all people. These things we pray in the name of our risen Lord. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
God is Revealed in the Word
God’s Word in Acts: Acts 1:15–17 and 21–26
Anthem “Wonderful Peace”
God’s Word in the Gospel: John 17:6–19
Sermon by Doug Bowen-Bailey
“In Remembrance: Building the Beloved Community in a Broken World”
In today’s reading in Acts, Peter is looking for a substitute.
Which on this day, resonates with me. I am, after all, a sub. Pastor Kathy is gone to Maddy’s graduation. So too Jackie and Mark. So, with the bench empty, they went looking for someone to fill the preaching roster. Janell, our office manager, referred to Jim and herself, as the “C” team in being the staff here to coordinate the service. My kids, upon hearing me share that, clarified:
“No Dad – they are the “A” team. It’s you who who’s on the ‘C’ team”
Whatever the letter, I am clearly a sub this morning.
In the text, Peter isn’t looking for a temporary replacement. He is looking for someone to fill in permanently for Judas.
Judas: who cast his lots with the Roman authorities. Who went for the financial, rather than spiritual, reward.
In the text read today, I was struck by how there is a lack of judgment in Peter’s words as told by the writer of Acts. There simply is a need to reach the number 12 again. That number that corresponds with the 12 tribes of Israel. (Be it noted that this number is primarily reached because of the male deficit at the time for being able to notice and count women. Jesus didn’t seem to have that problem.)
There were a couple of verses in Acts that were skipped. (I often wonder about what gets left out of our readings, so I went and filled in the gap.) These verses tell of the tragic end of Judas’ life – which comes with graphic detail. So, there is indeed some judgment in the text… the reading just skips over it.
Despite that, I began my preparation for this sermon thinking about being a substitute. How at times we are called to fill in for others – and that is part of what it means to be in a Christian community.
Then I came to church on May 3 and was taken down a different path.
That Sunday, in the communion liturgy, had this passage:
The ancient Hebrew word remembrance did not mean “think about something from the past.” It meant, “Act in my behalf.”
Remembrance. Remembering. It is not simply about reflecting; it is about doing. But more than that. The word remember literally means to take the “members” of some body and re-connect them. To “put the pieces back together.”
As I was contemplating this after the service, Mike Nugent and I had a conversation. Last May was when my daughter Sylvie was confirmed. And Mike’s son Gregg wasn’t. Gregg’s life was cut short the previous September, an event that was incredibly significant for all of the confirmation class who had grown up with the humor and technical support of Gregg.
That Sunday, Mike shared about how with the coming of spring, he was about to take Gregg’s Firebird out of storage. A car that father and son had been working on restoring. A car that now a father will continue to work on as a labor of love and grief and remembering.
In the wake of a great heartache and tragedy, he was re-membering. Salvaging the pieces and putting them back together.
In that conversation, I realized that this is the story of Easter.
The miracle is that when all hope seemed lost, all plans shattered, Jesus returned. We can have different understandings of how the resurrection took place. But as Christians, I think the core of who we are as a people is knowing that in the wake of the greatest trauma, hope returns.
The story in Acts, where the disciples replace Judas, is an example to us of how to re-build. How to re-member our community.
The gospel text in John goes back to just before Jesus is taken into custody. He prays for his followers, reminding them of the challenges before them.
I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
This phrase reminds me of some words from Bernice Johnson Reagon, founder of the African-American women’s singing group, Sweet Honey in the Rock. When talking about Christianity once, she shared that we are promised “Good News, not Good Times. It’s hard times when you choose to pick up the cross.”
Hard times, yes. But the United Church of Christ also takes its mission from this bit of scripture:
“That they may be one.”
In the midst of a world full of so much brokenness, our calling is to be a united and a uniting presence.
Not an easy path. Or at least not for me.
I currently serve on the Citizen Review Board for the City of Duluth. Our mission is:
“to promote positive relationships, trust, and communication with our community and Police Department.”
As you might have noticed, community-police relations aren’t always harmonious. Our board tries to build bridges between the police department and community – bridges of understanding that can lead to improved relationships as well as improved processes for the department.
But it’s not easy. I have been a part of many hard conversations – and to be honest, am in the midst of some struggles that are not at all resolved. Which is to be expected. But still difficult. In my times of wanting an easier path, I remember that I am rooted in a tradition that calls for us to be united and uniting. And that the place where we need to be the most is the places that are most broken.
Think of the signs of brokenness from just this past month. The tumult in Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death. The devastation in Nepal after the earthquake there. You could say that one was created by humans and the other by nature, but I don’t think that would be quite accurate. Nepal’s loss is only partly natural. The building structures that collapsed so easily are signs of the income inequality that has its roots in our human society. An earthquake of that magnitude would have been significant in California – but it would not have had anywhere near the impact. Nature had a role. But it was magnified by poverty.
So, too in Baltimore. And in New York. And in Ferguson.
As violence erupted after the death of unarmed black men, our nation is only scratch the surface of looking at the consequences of how our society is ordered.
It’s a story of pent up rage. Even in Baltimore, where it is a city led by African-Americans, the story of success is limited and so many are left out. I recently read an article that went even deeper beneath what it means to live in concentrated poverty. Baltimore, it turns out, when Freddie Gray was growing up, had an epidemic of lead paint exposure. So not only is Baltimore dealing with racism and poverty. It’s also dealing with the legacy of environmental hazards – neurotoxins – that affect generations.
So many signs of brokenness. And it is there that an Easter message is needed.
This is not some unvarnished message of optimism. I just heard on the radio of a new series of “Empathy” cards that are coming out as an alternative to the “Sympathy” cards that dominate the market. “Get Well Soon” doesn’t sounds so good to someone with a chronic disease that a person has to manage, not get over. My favorite had the message: “Let me be first in line to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason. I’m sorry you’re going through this.”
Easter isn’t about making sense of the trauma and the tragedy. Some sense may come of it in time, but the Easter message is that God is with us most of all as we are surrounded by the broken pieces of our lives. As Christians, we are called to be there in that brokenness.
Not just providing sympathy, but instead providing presence. Not having answers, but a willingness to listen as people find their own answers.
It is not about coming with judgment, but instead seeking justice. Asking why some of us have so much and some of us have so little. Asking why Earthquakes in Nepal and in Haiti do not have the same impact as in California.
The Easter message finds us in both large and small ways. When Holly and I experienced the challenges of pregnancy losses, we were relatively new to Duluth and without family here. It was the Peace Church family that surrounded us with love and casseroles and supported us in finding a path through the grief.
It led to the planting of the memorial prairie garden. A place of remembrance. Where ashes are spread and lives are knitted back together. Last week, as part of the sermon time with the confirmands, Isaac Wilkowske mentioned the importance of burning the prairie in his own life. How the flames help connect to the memory of his own brother who died in childbirth.
As Mary Martin, a long-time member who recently passed on, said so profoundly as the council considered the idea of the prairie garden, “Loss is such a big part of life.” We all have times when our lives feel like they are broken apart. Easter is about picking up the pieces – and knowing that we don’t do this sacred work alone.
In Baltimore, in Nepal, in the wake of public tragedy and more private abuse, or in a garage putting a Firebird back together piece by piece, the Easter message is carried on. May we be there for each other to listen and spread the word. Jesus has risen – and so, too, can we rise again from the depths.
May God bless us all this week. Amen.
Hymn “Won’t You Let Me Be Your Servant?” (#539)
We Respond to God’s Presence
Sharing Our Prayer Concerns, Silent Prayer, Pastoral Prayer,
the Lord’s Prayer and Choral Amen
Sharing our Offerings
Offertory “O Vos Omnes” by Tomás Luis de Victoria
O all ye that pass by the way, attend and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.
O all ye that pass by the way, attend and see If there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.
Attend, all ye people, and see my sorrow: If there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.
*Song of Thanksgiving
*Unison Prayer of Dedication
Bless these offerings, O God, returned to you.
Multiply and use them to bring the word and
touch of Jesus to this place and throughout
the world. Amen
*Closing Song “Peace I Leave with You, My Friends” (#249)
*Choral Benediction “Lord Bless You and Keep You”
*Postlude “C Jam Blues” by Duke Ellington