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- Prayers of Thanksgiving, Intercession, and Petition
Shared during Sunday Worship on November 26, 2023. Heavenly Father, We thank you that we can abide in Your presence through the communion of the Holy Spirit, and offer You our prayers of supplication and thanksgiving. Help us to be people who pray to You in times of prosperity and in times of distress. Help us to love You, to love Your people, and to serve those in need. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
- The People of Salvation: Samson
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’ Isaiah 6:8 I will tell you from the outset of this sermon there are more questions than answers and, perhaps like me, you will leave baffled by God’s action / inaction in the case of Samson’s story. His whole story runs contrary to our concept of justice, of mercy, of love, of fidelity. I could not find a single clear virtue in the whole of the Samson cycle! To tell you the truth, it was depressing to reread it. I had remembered a noble, courageous man of God with superhuman strength which he used to defeat the enemies of God. I remember as a child being mesmerized by the story of him using the jawbone of an ass to slaughter 1,000 men. Undone by the trickery of a beautiful woman, in one last moment of desperate faith, he gave his life to vanquish the evil philistines! But that’s not the story. He is not a hero, not at all! At least not in the traditional sense. Every act he commits is based on self-aggrandizement, sexual bravado, and petulant revenge. Samson was given an extraordinary gift from God. He was meant to be a hero. He was meant to be the original superhero. The Philistines had been a thorn in the side of Israel for decades, defeating and humiliating them time and again. God gave him this strength to defeat them. He was to keep and protect Israel, but instead he used his gift for his own entertainment and personal revenge. He wreaks such havoc that his own people tie him up and give him over to the enemies! Unlike others we have explored these past weeks – Joseph, Sarah, and Jonah – who are flawed characters with some redeeming qualities, Samson does not demonstrate a single one. Not one redeeming or godly act. Read it for yourself! Even his most famous act of pulling down the temple is simply to get revenge for being blinded by his enemies, but he is perfectly willing to kill 3,000 people-men and women for this purpose! This is what Samson said in Judges 16:28, “Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.” He could have said, “Lord God, grant me strength so I may repent for my acts and defeat your enemies and save the Israelites!” He wasn’t doing it for God, or the Israelites. It was revenge, pure and simple. Samson is a man whose virtues are clouded by his own personal faults and demons. He is like the star athlete that becomes so enamored with his own bravado that his entire life becomes a train wreck. Samson never used any godly virtues such as patience, love, or mercy in his trials. He never sought the wisdom of others who could have helped temper and moderate his raw passions. And yet the Bible tells us he judged Israel for 20 years. He was the leader of the people for that time. It was clear that God had given him this special gift. But God is oddly silent throughout this whole story. We might expect a call story like God’s encounter with Jeremiah as a boy in which God declares, “Samson, I have given you this strength that you might free my people from the Philistines.” Nothing. You might think God might warn him, “Samson, only use this gift in battle. Do not tell the secret of your strength lest you spurn this gift and violate my command and die.” God never speaks. Furthermore, the narrator does not offer any evaluative judgements regarding Samson’s actions for good or ill. We are left on our own to judge Samson the Judge. First in God’s story of salvation, it is ultimately about the purposes of God and not our faith. Samson keeps Israel for 20 years because God wills it and so it will be. God is sovereign over heaven and earth and as such the Lord’s plan cannot be thwarted by humans. Samson is the Lord’s appointed. However, if Samson had been a godly man this story could have been much different. Take the horrific incident regarding Samson’s wife. He asks the people a riddle about a lion that he killed, which was filled with honey. The riddle was impossible to guess. In the end because of his actions 300 foxes die, olive groves, vineyards, and wheat fields are burned, his wife and father-in-law are murdered, and 30 random men are slaughtered. All of it completely unnecessary. All of it due to his low moral character. As you can see, if Samson had simply fought the Lord’s enemies in battle with his God-given strength things would have been very different for everyone. God’s intentions were fulfilled, Israel had defeated the Philistines, but rather than a story of triumph it is a story of tragedy. The key to understanding Samson’s tragedy rests in his hair. That was the source of his power, that special gift from God and he spurned it. Samson was a Nazirite. This was a tradition found in the book of Numbers in which people devoted their lives to God, abstained from wine, cutting one’s hair, or touching a corpse. His strength was literally in his hair but there is another layer of meaning for us all. For each of us our strength is found in those places in our lives we have devoted to God. When we cut them off or treat them cheaply, we lose that strength. Samson abused his great power and others in our time have done so with similarly disastrous results. Take the disgraced Sackler family, private owners of Purdue Pharma. Endowed with entrepreneurial power, they helped manufacture drugs that would bring great relief from physical agony that so many in this world endure. This alone would make them fantastically wealthy. Yet, their greed outstripped their morals, and they wielded their power and influence which spurred the opioid epidemic taking 450,000 lives. “[They] also instructed its pharmaceutical representatives all over the country to tell physicians that oxycontin was not addictive primarily because of its slow-release properties. Purdue told its representatives to tell doctors that only persons with an “addictive personality” became addicts.” Over half of the deaths began with a doctor’s prescription. Along the way they corrupted thousands of doctors and pharmaceutical representatives to be a part of their scheme. Like Samson the collateral damage they caused can scarcely be calculated. And they have ended in disgrace, their names being taken off buildings. When Israel first arrived in the Promised Land Moses reminded the people that God had blessed them “with houses full of good things, which you did not fill, and cisterns hewn out, which you did not hew, and vineyards and olive trees, which you did not plant...take heed lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." All that we have is a blessing and gift from God and God calls us to dedicate it all in Nazirite fashion to the Lord. Consider Jonas Salk in contrast with the Sacklers. He liberated millions from the scourge of Polio. Unlike his contemporaries, he believed that “vaccines composed of ‘killed’ polio virus could safely immunize without risk of infection.” He boldly immunized himself, his wife, and his children demonstrating the courage of his convictions. In the two years before the vaccine was widely available, the average number of polio cases in the U.S. was more than 45,000. By 1962, that number had dropped to 910. Hailed as a miracle worker, (and this is the incredible part that would never happen today) Salk never patented the vaccine or earned any money from his discovery, preferring it be distributed as widely as possible. Like Samson he was given a gift from God. But unlike Samson and the Sacklers he used it not for his own benefit but for others. God gives us the call and the abilities but the shape and character we put on it is our own. Samson had extreme power but made poor choices which ended in his death despite his power. The strength we have is the strength of character we execute each and every day we wake up with every single person we meet. May we use all that we have and all that we are to the glory of God and the benefit of others. Amen.
- Share the Warmth with Our Neighbors!
Check your closets! If you have gently used adult-sized winter coats that you no longer need, the residents of the Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter would greatly appreciate your donation. Please drop them off in the Garden Room on or before December 15th. We are specifically seeking adult sizes, and the larger, the better. Thank you for generously sharing warmth with our neighbors!
- Join the Order of St. Paul!
I do Order of St. Paul because I like having a purpose in the Worship services. It's a way for me to contribute something beautiful, and feel more connected to my church community. - Holly Miller Calling all seventh - twelfth graders! Members of The Order of St. Paul assist in the worship service each Sunday, carrying the cross (we call the crucifer) in the Procession, serving as flag-bearers, and serving as candle attendants, as well as assisting the pastors at special services during Lent. If you are a seventh grader or older and interested in worship leadership, The Order of St. Paul is for you! Community service credit is available at program-year end based on service hours and commitment to the Order.
- Prayers of Thanksgiving, Intercession, and Petition
Shared during Sunday Worship on November 19, 2023. All-wise God, our hearts overflow with gratitude because we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Together, we thank You, God, for being so intentional in forming each of us. Even better, we are grateful that You put us each in community with others – we don’t take for granted the love of family, the joy of friendship, and the company of colleagues and neighbors. Through these lives, we see Your hand move in our lives to the glory of Your name! As if making the world and all that’s in it wasn’t enough, You are doing new things through us today, God. For all our essential workers, we lift up our worship. For all who defy the weather daily to get primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors of the world’s economies running, we are thankful! We also thank You, God, for those who are not able to work or are unemployed. Help their self-worth and meet their every need. And in these turbulent times of wars and disasters, God, we can’t thank You enough for our humanitarian workers and peacemakers. May their lives be preserved in the line of duty and may God’s counsel ring in our governments' ears to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God. Here at Brick, we know we are called to join in God’s work among us and in the world. Reinvigorate our hands and feet, God, with Your divine power so that our energies and resources may not wane. Holy Spirit, open our eyes and ears, so that we may know how to go in our missional activities locally and internationally – let it be only where God needs us. May we be like God’s Son, Jesus, in every way, overflowing with God’s love and compassion for the lost and marginalized. Let these be, God, in the precious name of Jesus we pray. Amen!
- Prayers of Thanksgiving, Intercession, and Petition
Shared during Sunday Worship on November 12, 2023. We thank You, God of Heaven and earth, that You’ve revealed to Your people the mystery of the gospel in holy Scripture: the Lord Jesus Christ. We pray that Your will for the nations will be furthered: that You would reconcile all the church to Yourself through Christ’s death and resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit. We pray that You would forgive us of our sins and deliver us from all evil, that we might worship You with a clear conscience: in spirit and in truth. Compassionate God, infuse us with Christ’s compassion for our ministry in the world, especially among those who don’t know God. Grant us divine patience and grace as we fulfill our respective callings, so that in all things God’s love may be seen and felt by those to whom we’ve been sent. Hear us, God, when we call and guide us both in our journey of faith and our faithful witness in the world. Thank You for Your deep care for souls and for staying true to all Your promises of salvation even today, in Jesus’ name. Amen!
- Be An Angel this Christmas!
Help make Christmas merry & bright for families who could use a little lift this year! Select an angel ornament from the tree, shop from the wish list and tag an unwrapped gift with the ornament. Please return gifts to the Garden Room by December 15th. Alternatively, you can bring a wrapped gift tagged with the angel ornament to Brick Church's Christmas Eve service at 4:00 PM on December 24th. Otherwise, make an online donation via the link here, and we will do the heavy lifting!
- The People of Salvation: Jonah
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’ Isaiah 6:8 When reading scripture, it is all too easy to think that taking it seriously means there is no humor to be found. But what makes Jonah great literature is that it is one of the most intriguing, fun, clever, and curious books. It is filled with absurdity and outlandish situations. Prayers from a fish’s belly, animals wearing sackcloth, people sleeping during raging storms, and Jonah praying for death because he misses the shade of a plant. Furthermore, Jonah’s attitude is comically shallow and there is virtually nothing redeeming about his character, making his cowardly action all the more remarkable that God uses him in the plan of salvation. If God can use Jonah, then God sure can use me and you! However, through its structure and storytelling, it is also one of the most revealing, pointed, and troublesome books as well. There is something very familiar to Jonah’s character that ultimately might hit home to many of us. It begins when God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh and Jonah refuses. For most of us, running from God’s will is an apt metaphor for the subtle ways we avoid being obedient. For Jonah, it was a track meet! Immediately after God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, he packed his bags and went in the exact opposite direction. No subtlety with Jonah! We have all done it at one time or another. Perhaps it was a call to go on a mission trip or serve on the school board. But it might have been something more life changing … when you refused to take a new job or move to a place you knew in your bones God was calling you to go to. You just didn’t want to do it. But we would have to try very hard to be as faithless as Jonah. As he kept running, he found himself on a boat with strangers. God sends a storm. Jonah knows it’s God trying to turn him around, but he says nothing. He continues to endanger these strangers’ lives by keeping to himself. Jonah not only refuses to tell those on the boat it’s his fault, but he also fails in another way. While the others are praying, Jonah refuses even to speak to God. Perhaps he is afraid to pray, for he knows it could mean turning around and heading in God’s direction. Desperate, the sailors cast lots to figure out who is to blame. It falls on Jonah! He finally comes clean. At this point, Jonah actually shows some humanity, as well as another layer of stubborn refusal. We might have thought Jonah would be ready to repent and do God’s will, but no such words pour forth from his lips. Instead, as a way to save the other sailors’ lives, a commendable action, while still not doing the Lord’s will he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you.” Jonah would rather die than go to Nineveh! Like great humor there is something profound underneath it all that exposes his motivations and our own sometimes weak faith. He hates the Ninevites. It is hard to blame Jonah for his hatred. The Assyrians, of which Nineveh was their capital city, were ruthless conquerors, bent on world domination and they had committed endless atrocities in this quest. They destroyed portions of Israel and deported 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel. Listen to this description: A captured city was usually plundered and burnt to the ground, and its site was deliberately denuded by killing its trees. The loyalty of the troops was secured by dividing a large part of the spoils among them...prisoners were dispatched after the battle; they knelt with their backs to their captors, who beat their heads in with clubs, or cut them off with cutlasses. It sounds tragically familiar. Jonah went the exact opposite direction because he wanted the exact opposite of God. He hated them enough to want them all to perish from God’s Old Testament-like wrath! Fire, brimstone, and hellfire destruction is what he wanted for Nineveh. Literally! We see this powerful hatred today. Jewish students’ lives in this country are being threatened. Reuters reported the following antisemitism: In Los Angeles, a man screaming “kill Jews” attempts to break into a family’s home. In London, girls in a playground are told they are “*!$ Jews” and should stay off the slide. In China, posts likening Jews to parasites, vampires or snakes proliferate on social media, attracting thousands of “likes.” And we also see tragic hatred of Muslims. A Muslim mother in Illinois told her neighbor to pray for peace and he proceeded to murder her six-year-old son. In the end, Jonah tells us exactly why he does not want to go: O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live. Jonah knows God. He prays to the Lord. He thanked God for being delivered from the fish with great and lofty words of praise and glory. He offered the sailors an orthodox-creed understanding of faith and professed God as Lord of all things. It is easy to worship and praise God when things are going our way, like when we are being rescued, when God’s will conforms to our own. But the crux of the story takes place precisely because Jonah knew God all too well. He knew God was a God of love and mercy. But Jonah was not ready to see Nineveh forgiven. He was not ready to let go of his hatred. This story ends very much like that of the Prodigal Son, with Jonah playing the role of the elder brother. Jonah, it turns out, is a whining complainer who asks for death four different times in the story! He cannot stand to see mercy for others. And, because he cannot forgive, he ends the story alone, in the blazing sun, angry enough to die from heat prostration! Jonah is the part in each of us who really does not want our enemies to find peace and wholeness. We want them to lose their business, their crops to fail, and their lives to fall apart. That is the anger we see on the streets. That is the anger burning in the hearts of the innocent Israelites and the innocent civilians of Gaza. I do not know the political solution to this situation. But I do know what God calls individuals to do. Nadine Collier showed us the way. In 2015 her mother was one of those murdered in cold blood by Dylan Roof in Charleston, SC at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during a Bible study. She would have understood Jonah’s feelings toward Nineveh and what they had done to the people of Israel. But, unlike Jonah, she did not run away from God’s call. She did not shy away from Jesus’ command to repay evil with good. So, with great courage and commitment she uttered those now famous words to him, “I forgive you.” But, even more, she realized that God is the ultimate source of forgiveness. This is what else she had to say: You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. …You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you. So, Jonah is not a quaint story about a fish and some people. It lies at the very core and heart of scripture – the mercy and forgiveness of God. Eventually, of course, Jonah does preach to the Ninevites. It must have been the most lackluster sermon in the history of sermons! Unimaginative, but short and to the point, “‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’” And they repent! Despite Jonah’s failures, God used Jonah and accomplished His plan – the redemption of Nineveh – over 120,000 people! The good news, the great and glorious news of the Gospel, is that God is always filled with infinitely more mercy than we could ever muster within ourselves. Let each of us be willing to speak the truth to others, accept it about ourselves, and most of all, walk into the stream of divine mercy and love. Amen.
- The People of Salvation: Ruth and Naomi
The Power of Sacrificial Love Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’ Isaiah 6:8 This week we continue our series exploring God’s agents in the plan of salvation. We have learned of Sarah and Abraham, whom God chose to be the progenitors of the people who would become Israel, and to whom a Promised Land was given. Despite their personal faults and failures, God remained steadfast, and the plan progressed. Last week we discovered the plan was threatened. A famine in the land exposed Israel, but Joseph, who endured slavery and prison, rose to a place of prominence in Pharaoh's house, enabling them to obtain the food they needed, and Israel was saved. This week we find ourselves in Moab, a neighboring kingdom to the east of Israel. Three women have become widows. One, Orpah, quickly falls away from the story and it turns out this book of Ruth is actually about two women, Ruth, a Moabite widow and her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, whom she follows to Israel. It is the only book of scripture in which the multiple central characters are women and only one other Biblical book bears a woman’s name, Esther. Phyliss Trible, prominent feminist scholar who has taught at various universities and seminaries around the country including Union in New York, has several key observations: Though the story takes its name from the younger woman, the older is the dominant character. Naomi’s plight shapes the narrative, and her plan brings it to resolution… Scene one (1:1–22) opens with a famine that sends a Judean family across the Jordan to Moab, a foreign land. In introducing the family, the storyteller subordinates Naomi to the man Elimelech. She is “his wife,” and their children are “his sons” (1:1–2) (emphasis added). But his death changes the situation. He becomes “the husband of Naomi,” and she is “left with her two sons” (1:3) (emphasis added). They marry Moabite wives, Orpah and Ruth, but die without progeny. So, Naomi shrinks again. From wife to widow, from mother to no-mother, this woman is stripped of all identity. But though Naomi is stripped of purpose and identity does not mean she will become a passive player in this ancient land of patriarchy, as Trible pointed out, the resolution of the story and the next step in God’s plan of salvation comes because of Naomi’s moxie, which both flouts and conforms to the societal norms of the time. But Naomi will need Ruth; a humble younger woman with a profound sense of devotion to her mother-in-law; she gives up her whole life for her. This story is incredibly tender and one of the most existentially poignant in all scripture. Ruth can sense the utter desolation of Naomidue to her devastating losses of two sons and a husband. In fact, Naomi makes her plight painfully clear. Upon returning to Israel, Naomi’s friends barely recognize her. No, it's not her appearance but her demeanor. “Naomi” means pleasant, but her tragedies have made her name a farce. So, she tells them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, (which means bitter) for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” A few decades ago, another woman not well situated in power or prestige used moxie and fortitude to bring about hope, Erin Brockovich-Ellis. Not without faults like the rest of us and the Biblical heroes, she came to be known around the country after Julia Roberts played her in the Academy Award-winning movie that bore her name. A twice divorced mother of three with no money, no job, not much education as she recalls, “There were many days when I didn’t think I would make it.” But she was not without valuable resources. Her tenacious spirit landed her a job at an attorney’s office whom apparently,she simply badgered into hiring her. Like Naomi, Brockovich both cared less about being acceptable and being liked than the passion of her convictions, for Brokich it meant saving people’s lives and finding justice in the town of Hinkley, CA. Pacific Gas & Electric had used a toxic chemical that eventually seeped into Hinkley’s water supply. “Everywhere I was going in this little community, somebody had asthma, a complaint of a chronic cough, recurring bronchitis, recurring rashes, unusual joint aches, nosebleeds”,Brockovich told “20/20” in an interview. She convinced her boss to allow her to investigate; he finally agreed simply to get some peace and quiet in the office. “It didn't make sense, and so the more I ask questions... the more I started to piece the puzzle together.” In 1996, the case was settled for $333 million -- the largest ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit at the time. When asked in an interview, “How does it feel to be a hero?” She replied, “I would say I have a hard time seeing myself as a hero. I was appalled at what happened to those people and had compassion…” And it was also compassion that led to the reversal of Naomi’s bitterness. Ruth’s compassion to follow her mother-in-law to Israel opened an opportunity for both to find a future. Naomi is a bold courageous woman who will not meekly accept the fate that either the patriarchy or even God will give her; she acts to save herself and Ruth proving the adage, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” In fact, it seems Naomi uses her bitterness; it goads her into bold action to secure progeny for Ruth and by extension herself. Sometimes old age has stripped us of so much that all that is left is moxie and defiance. Listen again to Trible: Not waiting for matters to take their course or for God to intervene, she plans to secure Boaz as husband for Ruth. In seeking security through marriage, her plan fits the strictures of patriarchy, but it departs from them in proposing a dangerous scheme. Naomi tells her “daughter” to dress in fine clothes and visit Boaz in secret at the threshing floor. There she will ask him to make good on his prayer for her blessing (3:3–5). The plan succeeds. While the story is powerful at first glance it is hard to discern why it is a part of our canon. But on this All Saints’ Sunday, in which we give thanks for our ancestors, we discover in the last few verses of this book, almost as a throw away, that these women’s courage and faithfulness leads to the birth of King David, the preeminent king in Israel’s history and the ancestor of our Lord Jesus. God indeed has a plan – the salvation and restoration of the world. And today’s story invites a challenging question for us all – did God intend all along for Ruth, a Moabite woman,to be the ancestor of the key king in Israel’s history? Or did God pivot, seeing the courage and moxie of Naomi and the sacrifice and humility of Ruth to form an alternate path? Perhaps the same way God used Erin Brockovich to bring justice. Like Jacob, who wrestled with God and received a new name, Naomi wrestled with the circumstances handed to her and turned it into something personally healing for herself and her daughter-in-law, and eventually the salvation of the world. When we act in loving, sacrificial ways God can use that in amazing ways to further the plan of salvation. And even so, in the end, the blessings return back to those who gave so much. Listen to the joyous resolution of the story. For Mara, the bitter one, has found wholeness as her friends proclaim, “And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him.” (Ruth 4:15). Amen.
- Woven Together in Love
I am contending for you that your hearts will be wrapped in the comfort of heaven and woven together into love's fabric. This will give you access to all the riches of God as you experience the revelation of God's great mystery—Christ. - Colossians 2:2-3 Woven together in love. God has this incredible way of using people's most severe hardships to transform them into people of incredible faith. And of course, one of the hardest places on this planet to endure is prison. It is because God has made us to be in a loving community. As we discovered last week, it is one of the four pillars of a fulfilling life, that those endless weeks months and years behind bars can take their toll on your soul. And so, you either go mad or you look more deeply to God than you ever have in your life. People like Joseph of the Bible, Francis Makemie, 17th century apostle of American Presbyterianism, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, leading theologian and martyr to the cause of faith, all experienced prison that wove into them a profound thanksgiving for God's love and incredible courage to ensure God's future. You remember Joseph. He was sold into slavery by his brothers for taunting them with his dreams that one day they will all bow down before him while wearing this famous coat of many colors, clearly demonstrating that he was their father’s favored child. Eventually he rises as a prominent servant in a prestigious household. But the boss's wife wants to lay with him and he runs as fast as he can but, feeling slighted, her lies land him in prison. Not knowing the fate that will befall him… …“The celebrated 17th century Apostle (Francis Makemie) was plunk in jail”, the history of Brick church tells us. Apparently, he was licensed to preach in certain colonies but not in New York. He found himself here on the way to Boston and was asked to preach to some locals in our beloved city. Not only did Makemie receive his license from The Church of Scotland but the Presbyterian churches in New York would also have to rely on that country for their charter; it took many years of failed attempts. As Turner's book tells us on May 16, 1724, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland passed an act in favor of a Presbyterian congregation in this city. Makemie’s imprisonment and preaching had planted seeds of Presbyterianism, which directly led to the founding of Brick Church over 250 years ago. We are stewards of that history and our first pastor, John Rogers, who graces our bulletin this morning has Makemie to thank for paving the way… …Dietrich Bonhoeffer returned to New York City in 1939 to avoid the coming war in Germany and to reconnect with friends at the Abyssinian Baptist Church and Union Theological Seminary. But after less than two months he felt compelled to return home to be a force of stalwart faith. After being part of an underground seminary, he eventually became part of an assassination attempt of Hitler which landed him in prison. During his time back In Germany he discovered the theme that ties the threads of these stories together and our life today. The power of Christ to weave us together in love. He wrote, “The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, for eternity.” On this Kirkin’ of the Tartans Sunday, we see beautiful pageantry and, as the pipers the drums and the tartans flowed into the sanctuary, we are reminded of how people flowed into our doors for centuries. Their distinct colors woven together create something unique. And it is the power of God to weave together diverse, broken, and frayed threads that I want to talk about today. Each of us, our unique selves, are woven into this beautiful tapestry of Brick Church; the threads of our lives are imperfect, the wrinkles and the scars – all of it is used to by God so that we will be woven in love, whatever your heritage – Scottish or not. Look at our diverse fabric. We are a community of members across several generations who have called this church home. We are a community of young people who are finding their footing in this grand city of New York and have come to discover a home of love and support, of worship, of hope, and of service. We are a community of young children who discover for the first time in their lives that “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so!” We are a congregation of single adults for whom this place represents their family; represents their place to call home and in which they have found friends to walk through the struggles of life with. We are a congregation of people who were born on different shores – China, Korea, Singapore, Ghana, France, Brazil and more – but all have come with our same deep passion of formal worship, of service for others, and of love for God. While our individual threads are fragile and stretched, woven together we are as strong as our collective love for God. And it is in a community like this that we discover who we are in relation to another. “We can never achieve this ‘wholeness’ simply by ourselves, but only together with others…” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters Papers from Prison And in our life together, as God weaves us in worship and fellowship there is a group of people we must never forget if our communion is to remain authentic. There is another type of confinement besides prison that can severely damage the soul. And in this case, rather than the person finding their internal strength, they need the love of friends. A few weeks ago, the reformed Brick Congregational Care Committee met, and I learned of their incredibly loving invisible witness. For those here in person God grants us with inestimable blessings: glorious music, scores of children, familiar loving faces, the power of prayer, a sense of purpose, the gift of service to others. This is our soul food that gives us strength, and joy each and every week. But there are others, who have been part of our fellowship for years but are trapped in their homes and no longer able to walk in the park, visit friends, travel the world, or come to church. And some on this Congregational Care Committee, on your behalf, have visited people like this week after week, year after year, to let them know they are not alone, that the church has not forgotten them, that they are still key threads woven in our community of holy love in God’s name. And I have heard some of these homebound people speak of such visits as if they are visits from God. For they know they are not forgotten. But perhaps Joseph had this doubt, perhaps God had forgotten him, if God had left him after he wound up in prison, isolated, and afraid. He must have felt as if he were two inches from the pavement after a thirty-thousand-foot free fall. But God sent him a vision and once again he rose to prominence this time in the whole kingdom of Egypt. This dream allowed Pharoah to save food for the coming famine and now Joseph has power. Power to exact revenge on his brothers. But there is still a hole in his heart, an emptiness from his brothers’ betrayal. They come to Egypt not knowing Joseph is alive, not knowing Joseph controls their fate. And finally, the threads of pride have been erased in his heart and all that is left is the yearning to heal the fracture in his family. And in a moment of incredible tenderness, he reveals himself and tells them, “You meant it for evil but the Lord meant it for good.” God has woven this family back together, for Joseph has forgiven them and they weep and embrace. Listen to what Bonhoeffer wrote while awaiting his fate in prison: “In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts…” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison God has wrapped us in amazing love and the fabric of community relies on the grace Christ has given us on the cross and our willingness to share all that we are with one another, while never forgetting those alone at home. Amen.
- Prayers of Thanksgiving, Intercession, and Petition
Shared during Sunday Worship on October 22, 2023. Father in heaven, We thank you for revealing Yourself to us in creation. We thank you for Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who has died and rose again for our salvation. We thank you for Your Holy Spirit, who through Christ has granted us peace with God. Help us to submit to Your will, to confess our sins, and to love one another. Help us to worship You in spirit and in truth. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Call to Offering Let us be faithful stewards of our time, our talents, and our money. so that our treasure is in heaven and our giving pleases God. With gladness, let us present the offerings of our life and labor to the Lord Dedication Christ has redeemed us by his blood. But we do good because Christ by his Spirit is also renewing us to be like himself, so that in all our living we may show that we are thankful to God for all he has done for us, and so that he may be praised through us. And we do good so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ. —Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 86
- The People of Salvation: Sarah and Abraham
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’ Isaiah 6:8 At ten thousand feet the plane hits cruising altitude and the daredevil leans out of the plane. As she prepares to let go, she rehearses in her mind one more time all the safety checks. “Okay I do have a parachute on my back? I can feel it and I saw the instructor pack it then put it on me. Here is the ripcord. I have it in my hand. Check my altimeter and at 6,000 feet pull it. It’s now or never. Yeeeeehaaaaaaa!!!!!” …Free fall at one hundred miles per hour hurdling toward Earth… The wind is deafening ripping by... (Panic!) Desperately want to pull the ripcord… “Too soon, only 8,000 feet… 7,000 feet, closer hold off not yet. O God, please let the parachute open. 6,000 feet! Now!!! I feel something releasing. Isn’t it going to catch?!!? Whewwww. Floating on air. Peace, quiet. It held!!!” That is the leap of faith. It must have felt like that for Sarah and Abraham. They took that leap out of their homes and waited for what must have seemed an interminable time until they felt the watchful caring arms of God hold them up. Until that moment, in between the leap and the parachute deploying, faith is a free fall of trust that God will catch you before you go splat. That time of free fall is when you truly learn what your faith is made of. Faith, contrary to popular opinion, is not the certainty of the sun rising each day. Faith means taking that proverbial leap into the void of the unknown trusting, hoping, praying that the God you think you believe in is the one true God. And because of courageous people of faith like Sarah and Abraham, the story of salvation moves forward. In these next weeks, we will be looking at key players in God’s plan. People filled with faults and fears but also willing to take a risk no matter when in their lives God reaches out. But this call does more than move God’s plan forward and that is why this sermon series is key for each of us. It actually turns out this willingness to listen and to go is the key to a happier, more fulfilling life. It is the story of people like those of Abraham and Sarah that remind us you are never too old to discover a powerful new purpose in life. Today’s world thinks that youth is the answer, younger and shinier, but scripture has a different point of view, Job 12:12 ESV says, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” This quest for youth is at best misguided and at worst destructive. The Fountain of Youth is not a Christian yearning; it is not the source of happiness. It seems we actually get happier as we get older. According to research our 50s are rock bottom and from there we grow happier year by year! My neighbor, Taylor Humphrey, is a professional pollster and has consulted for with several U.S. Presidents and his research concludes there are four things you and I need to be happy as we age. Enough money in the bank – but he said it is not as much as you think. Good health, strong connections with a community of friends and family, and a sense of purpose. Christianity speaks to all of these things but is especially speaks to purpose. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “You are never too old to set a new goal or dream a new dream...” What else besides a driving purpose could have spurred Abraham and Sarah to leap into the void of the unknown by packing up their bags and leaving their home at age 75!! Remember at that time it would have been a trek into the unfamiliar – no McDonald’s on the way. God promised them a gift, a child to be born that would lead to untold number of descendants. Furthermore, their progeny would bless the whole world! And because they leaped, this plan came to pass for them and for us all. Perhaps it was because Sarah and Abraham were not spiritually mature enough for this call in their youth, so God reached out when Abraham was 75 years old. As Proverbs says in 16:31 “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” Because their call would not be easy. From the beginning we see that Sarah was a person of exceptional courage. When Abraham hears God’s call to go from your country and your kindred to the land that I will show you, she goes! She does not insist upon remaining close to her kindred with all the safety and security it brings. When Abraham acts like a spineless jellyfish not once but twice before two foreign kings she does not leave him! Sarah was a person of historic beauty, so much so that Abraham was afraid a king might be willing to kill him in order to take her as a wife. In fact, he encouraged her to play the role of his sister to save his own hide – knowing well that the king would take her for his harem and to his bedchambers. Fortunately, the Lord visits fear and wrath upon these kings so that she is released. Despite serving her up as bait to a king, Sarah continues to stand with Abraham. And yet Sarah also has faults, and not just minor ones. Her trouble begins with a failure to trust. That not-so-heroic part of ourselves is the one that listens to the voice within rather than the voice above. The voice above told her she would bear a son. The voice within told her she was too old. The voice above reassured her and urged patience. The voice within told her that unless she acted it would never come to pass. You remember the story. As a result of her lack of trust and patience she urged Abraham to lay with Hagar. She becomes jealous, probably beats her and then sends her into the wilderness to die. Yes, despite her faults God remains steadfast to Sarah and Abraham. We normally think about our faith in God. But the Bible is really about God’s faith in us and misplaced as it is. God believes in you. In the midst of Sarai’s greatest failure God changed her name. According to some scholars her original name, Sarai, means “strength” or “power”. Her newly given name means “princess”or “royalty.” God was making it unequivocally clear. She would be the mother of kings and nations. Sarah was 90 years old by that time! Purpose brings us happiness because it keeps us close to God; for purpose is simply what God would have us to do. And by remaining close we discover as Paul did in Philippians 1:6, “For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Discovering purpose at whatever stage in life is tremendously rewarding. But you have to be willing to leap. A friend of mine from Spartanburg had experienced a devastating loss of purpose. He was a businessman in his professional life. He never had a sense that his job was any more than putting food on his family’s table, which was fine with him. He had always liked working with his hands and over the years had done various projects around the house. So, when someone invited him to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity he said, “Yes”. And, for the first time in his life, after seventy years, he experienced a sense of Holy Purpose in his actions through his gifts. After a few months’ work, he attended the dedication when the house was given over to the proud new owner, and it profoundly touched him. She introduced her boys and explained how this house would be a safe place to call home. She was the first in her family to own a house, and her tears flowed freely, as she was filled with profound thanksgiving for all those who made it possible. As he listened, he felt touched, not only by having a purpose but by being used as the hands of God to do sacred work in the world. The hands of God! What could be more energizing in all the world! Suddenly, his own tears were flowing as his heart sung praises to God for being used in such an awesome fashion. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age, but they die young.” Take the leap, and let us love all the way to the end. Amen.