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Bending Toward Justice

Children's sermon
For August 9, 2020:
  • Bending Toward Justice by Dean Feldmeyer — The story of Joseph illustrates that while God does not always act in bold and dramatic ways, and the arc of the moral universe may be long, it nevertheless bends toward justice. A pertinent message for us, today.
  • Second Thoughts: A Gifted Messenger by Mary Austin — How do we pass on the core truths of our Christian faith, even as the ways we communicate the truth change? Paul is an extraordinarily gifted messenger, and we have recently said farewell to another gifted messenger, as we mourn the death of US Representative John Lewis.
  • Sermon illustrations by Tom Willadsen, Ron Love, and Chris Keating.
  • Worship resources by George Reed that focus on when God doesn’t appear to be present; honoring the innovators without getting stuck when they were/are.
  • Children’s sermon by Bethany Peerbolte.

Dean FeldmeyerBending Toward Justice
by Dean Feldmeyer
Genesis 37:1-4,12-28

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says of the Joseph narrative, that it “belongs to a generation of believers in a cultural climate where old modes of faith were embarrassing,” and “the old idiom of faith had become unconvincing.” So, the author composed an historical narrative to illustrate that even through the most trying vicissitudes of history, “the purposes of God are at work in hidden and unnoticed ways,” and those ways are “nonetheless reliable and will come to fruition.” (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching -- Genesis by Walter Brueggemann. John Knox Press, 1982.)

Rev. Theodore Parker first said, in a sermon published in 1853, that “the moral arch of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” That claim was affirmed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1958, and has been quoted and repeated by speakers and preachers countless times since then.

But do we really believe it? How can we? “I do believe,” said the man. “Help my unbelief.”

Toward that end, the author of the story of Joseph first put the axiom into narrative form as it appears in the concluding chapters of the book of Genesis — a form that speaks to us in the 21st century as profoundly as it did to those who first read it a thousand years before the Common Era.

In the Scripture
The story of Joseph is an epic one that spans ten of the final 13 chapters of the book of Genesis, about 20 percent of the entire book. Yet, the lectionary allows for only two selections from that story in this cycle.

Today’s selection makes up the introduction for the longer, complete story, the falling out of Joseph with his brothers and their decision beat him and leave him for dead, then change their minds and sell him into slavery, instead. Next week’s selection concludes our consideration of the story with the telling of the reconciliation, decades later, between Joseph and his brothers. It is left for the preacher to fill in the middle layers of the sandwich, the meat, if you will.

But before we get to that filling, let us consider from whence it came.

Scholars rarely achieve anything like consensus on such things but it can be safely said that many, if not most, believe that the Joseph narrative dates to the time of Solomon (circa 1000 BCE) but was put down in the form we now have it sometime during the Babylonian captivity (circa 550 BCE). So, the preacher can consider two contexts when developing the sermon based on these texts.
  1. On the one hand, the story addresses a time when Israel was at its strongest, a time when the monarchy was sound, the military was well muscled, and the economy was at its peak. The standard of living was high, people were, by and large, well pleased with their lives and YHWH was not on most people’s minds.

    The prevailing attitude may well have been a humanistic one wherein God is seen to have set things in motion then backed away and left humans to keep up the momentum, a task of which they seemed to be fully capable. God was not so much rejected as deemed irrelevant.

    Thus, we hear little of God or God’s activity in the story. Joseph has gone through many ups and downs, gains and losses, but, in the end, everything has turned out for the good. Only in retrospect does providence enter the narrative (45:4-8 and 50:19-20), and then as a behind-the-scenes director or prompter, having only gently guided the activity on stage.

  2. On the other hand, the story also addresses a time of great tribulation and distress when God seems to have abandoned God’s people, leaving them in exile and in the hands of those who belittle their traditions and scoff at their beliefs. If God is, in this time, irrelevant, it is so by God’s own doing. Only because YHWH has failed to act on their behalf might the Israelites come to think of God as either not present or present but inactive.
To these poor wretches, the story is one of gentle encouragement, reminding them that just because God is not visible in large, dramatic acts, doesn’t mean that God isn’t at work on their behalf, often in subtle and invisible ways.

Joseph has been beaten, thrown into a cistern, sold into slavery, falsely accused, imprisoned, and, only after all that, do things turn out well for him. The children of Israel, in exile, can expect no less, the story seems to promise, as God is at work on their behalf, in subtle and quiet ways that will, inevitably, lead them to victory and freedom.

And there is the filling in the sandwich that the lectionary has given us for this week and next. No matter how good or how bad things may seem, God is at work, sometimes visibly, sometimes invisibly, but always at work on our behalf.

In the News
A year ago, who would have thought it possible? Everything was going so well in 2019. At least, that’s the way we remember it.

A record number of women had just been elected to congress. There were 27 percent fewer cancer deaths. The crime rate was going down. There was that picture from a Pittsburgh hospital where they dressed all the newborns like Mr. Rogers on National Kindness day. That Star Wars theme park opened in Disney World. “2019 OK,” which was a giant asteroid, missed the earth by 45,000 miles which is just a hair, astronomically speaking, but, hey, it was still a miss. Sesame Street turned 50 and is still going strong. Global terrorist attacks declined. And, Greta Thunberg.

And then it all seemed to fall apart. Eight months later and here we are.

At this writing, more than 1,000 Americans a day are dying from Covid-19. The death toll will likely reach 160,000 by the time you take the pulpit for this sermon.

The economy is in greater danger than we have seen since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Millions are unemployed, lines for food relief stretch for blocks. Protections from evictions have disappeared and unemployment benefits are in danger of being cut. Russia, China, and Iran are poised to interfere with our elections, one of the most sacred rites we Americans hold. Fires are out of control in California, hurricane Isaias is about to make its way up the east coast with devastating winds and crushing storm surges. Demonstrations continue in our cities as people of color plead for and demand justice and an end to systemic racism.

And our response to these things, as a nation, seems to be, largely inappropriate and dysfunctional:

One, we deny that there is a problem and refuse to wear masks or observe social distancing and start fist fights with people who ask or insist that we do, even as the infection and death rates climb. We insist that children return to schools, arguing that they will all observe all of the health protocols even as adults regularly ignore those same protocols in bars, clubs, at parties and at concerts all over the country. Our leaders argue that the problem is not that we are offering too little help to our brothers and sisters but too much. American workers, they say, are a lazy bunch and giving them unemployment benefits will make them languid and indolent, preferring to sit at home and collect six hundred dollars for doing nothing rather than a thousand for working. Never does it occur to them to ask why $800 a week in unemployment benefits is more than they can make working full time.

Our elected leaders do nothing to protect people from eviction from their homes who have lost their income through no fault of their own. They insist that the real villain in all of this is an internet social network called TikTok.

This pandemic seems to have silenced everything that is beautiful and good and gentle and kind and uplifting and given a huge megaphone to everything that is angry and demeaning and ugly and argumentative and, well, just nuts.

The world seems to be in a tailspin nosediving toward Crazytown.

We might be excused if, exhausted and worried and edging toward panic we cry out — My God! My God, why have you forsaken us?

It is at a time exactly such as this that the story of Joseph speaks to us in new and profound ways. It is in the midst of these kinds of crises that we would be well reminded that God only rarely comes riding, mounted on a white stallion, to rescue us from our distresses. More likely, God is working, quietly and cautiously, through good times and bad, for our benefit.

In the Sermon
We began our considerations, here, with a quote from Rev. Theodore Parker, who said, in a sermon published in 1853, that “the moral arch of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And we noted that that claim was affirmed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1958, and has been quoted and repeated by speakers and preachers countless times since then.

Now let us affirm it once again by paraphrasing it to reflect the lesson from this morning’s text. It is a paraphrase which I believe does not do violence to the intent of the original but, rather, focuses it in the theological. To that end I would say that the arch of God’s providence is long but inevitably bends toward justice.

God’s will cannot be thwarted. It will win out, if not tomorrow, eventually. And God’s will is that people are fed.

Look back to the story of Joseph and see if that is not the case. In the end, those who are hungry are fed with grain. Those who hunger after family connections are fed with reconciliation. Those who hunger for forgiveness are fed with grace.

In the movie, “The Old Guard,” we are introduced to a quartet of seemingly immortal mercenary soldiers who fight in the cause of justice and good. Based on a contemporary comic book series, these four have, at the opening of the film, become tired and cynical after centuries of fighting and seeing no discernable improvement in the state of humankind. People are just as awful, one character says, as they ever were — maybe worse.

Another character, a scientist, has, unbeknownst to them, discovered their identities and their gifts and begun tracing their involvement in world affairs for the past 150 years. He points out that, while they don’t see the immediate effect of their actions, history shows a different story. You saved this boy, he says, pointing to a newspaper clipping. And two generations later, his grandson developed a cure for two kinds of cancer. You saved this family and they became the ancestors of three relief workers who saved thousands from the effects of a tsunami. On and on he goes showing examples of their impact on the world. “And this is only the last 150 years,” he concludes.

The phrase “Butterfly Effect” is never used in the film but the implication is clear. The things we do have impacts which we sometimes never see but are real, nevertheless. And so it is with God.

We don’t always see the activities of God working alone or through human agents in clear and definitive ways, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Who knows what great things will come to pass because we were forced to deal with this disease at this time and place? Who knows what child, left to read a book or watch a documentary or simply chat with his or her parents or grandparents, will be later inspired to take up some great cause that will help thousands of people who never heard the name of their benefactor.

Again, I conclude with a paraphrase of Walter Brueggemann:

The ways of our God are inscrutable. But they are nonetheless sure and reliable. This is something Joseph and his brothers learn only late in the story. But it is foundational for faith and this affirmation of transcendent, concrete purpose is one that can be embraced even by the wise and the strong of the earth.

And even by me. And even by you.


A Gifted Messenger
by Mary Austin
Romans 10:5-15

“While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me,” wrote the late Rep. John Lewis in a final op-ed piece. Lewis wrote the piece as he was dying of pancreatic cancer, and asked that it be published on the day of his funeral. Lewis, who himself inspired so many people as a civil rights pioneer and then as a Congressperson, found inspiration in the protests that have happened all over the country since the death of George Floyd. “You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.” Movingly, Lewis asked to visit the new Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, DC the day before he went into the hospital for the last time. He also gave instructions for his funeral procession to travel through the plaza on his way to lie in state in the Capitol.

Lewis, an innovator in the civil rights arena, understood that progress never stands still. The gains of the civil rights era had to be followed by laws that added to the equality of Black Americans, and other long neglected people. He ends his op-ed with a challenge to further action.  

In his letter to the churches in Rome, Paul, too, is struggling with this question of progress. Even in his particular mission to Gentiles, he builds on his heritage as a Jew, starting with that foundation to explain the core message of faith to the Gentiles. Here he quotes from Moses, and then promptly adapts the message for his new audience.

Paul embodies innovation. He can’t help himself. His whole ministry is the business of tweaking, always adapting the gospel to a new setting and new people, and then doing it again down the road. In a peculiar irony, we Christians freeze his updates, and then we proclaim them as rules for all times and places.

If Paul was still among us, he wouldn’t be sitting still. He would be traveling about, nudging a church to get online here, or texting another church to remind them to pay attention to the neighborhood. He would be on Instagram for the followers there, and Twitter for the crowd there. Paul would keep adapting the way he communicates the gospel to get his core message across. He is all about creative communication, as he ponders, “‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?” (v.13-15)

The vehicle for the proclamation is always changing. Paul reminds the churches that “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek,” and he could well add that there is no distinction between in-person worship and online church, no difference between sitting in the pews and watching Facebook Live, as long as we hear the message. The core message is always the same. The way we say it keeps re-creating itself to meet the audience.

Paul notes the importance of the messenger in passing on important truths. In his last essay, John Lewis recalls the power of hearing such a messenger when he was confronting the dangerous world of racism as a young man. “Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice.” In turn, Lewis also became a messenger for the same message of non-violence until there is meaningful change. Echoing Paul’s certainty about the core truths, Lewis writes, “The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time.”

John Lewis’ life ended with many of the same challenges he faced decades ago. Voter suppression. The need for Congress to pass a Voting Rights Act. Violence against Black men and women. Our age cries out for more innovation in the ways we treat each other, and Lewis took up his pen one last time to be a messenger for that cause. You can hear his voice, speaking to us as we read his words. “Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”

The best way to honor the change agent is to keep changing. The best way to celebrate the messenger is to fully live the message. As Lewis writes to us, “When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”

As Paul writes to the people in Rome, “As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” For the messenger and the message, thanks be to God.


Tom WilladsenFrom team member Tom Willadsen:

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Coat of Many Colors
Dolly Parton wrote her hit “Coat of Many Colors” on a dry cleaning receipt while on Porter Wagoner’s tour bus. The song reached #4 on the US Country chart in 1971. The song tells Dolly’s story of growing up poor, but loved. You can read the lyrics here.

* * *

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
He’s the baby…
I was attending a Sabbath service at Congregation Rodfie Zedek in the Hyde Park neighborhood on Chicago’s southside. The rabbi was telling the story of Joseph with great sympathy. He was the baby of the family, the youngest boy of the favorite wife. His brothers were substantially older, you’d think, maybe, they’d let the old man dote on the child of his old age.

I turned to the worshiper on my right and said, “He’s the baby; send him to college,” as the rabbi said exactly the same thing!

* * *

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
The World Turned Upside Down
The older brothers sell the dreamer to get rid of him; his dreams come true.
The slave becomes their master.
The brothers’ hatred and envy are dissolved by Joseph’s love for them.
The rejected little brother saves his big brothers’ (and father’s) lives.

* * *

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
For Good
At the end of the Book of Genesis after Joseph has been reunited with his bothers and the family has survived the famine, the brothers made up a story that Jacob wanted Joseph to forgive his brothers. It was his dying wish. Joseph replied, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve numerous people….” (Genesis 50:20, NRSV)

This theme is echoed in the show stopping song from “Wicked,” “For Good.”

* * *

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Coat of many colors or embroidered tunic?
The phrase כתנת פטים appears only twice in the Bible. It’s the special garment that Jacob gives to Joseph and it’s an article of clothing worn by Tamar, David’s daughter, mentioned in 2 Samuel 13:18-19. The NRSV renders this term “long robe with sleeves,” in 2 Samuel, the text explains it’s what virgin daughters of the king wore. Tamar tore her robe and put ashes on her head after Amnon, her half-brother, raped her.

It cannot be argued that Joseph’s garment denoted royalty, for the royalty did not exist in Genesis. Clearly, there was a status conveyed by this garment.  

כתנת means “long garment”

פטים can mean “colorful,” “embroidered,” striped,” or “having pictures.”

So perhaps Tim Rice’s calling it a “technicolor dream coat” is not that far off.

* * *

Matthew 14:22-33
Walking on the Water
A Lutheran church was thrown into confusion when their first female pastor arrived one July.  The Men’s Club had a tradition of taking the new pastor fishing, but they had never had a female pastor before. They held a special meeting and after heated discussion and long stretches of moody, Scandinavian silence, they decided to take the new pastor fishing the next Saturday.

At 7 a.m. the pastor is in the boat on the lake with Vern and Karl when she looks down and says, “Silly me, I left my tackle box on the dock.”  She gets out of the boat and walks back to retrieve her equipment.

Vern turns to Karl and says, “Isn’t that just like a woman to forget her gear?”

(“OMG! LOL!: Faith and Laughter,” Thomas C. Willadsen, Boston: Gemma Open Door, 2012, p. 76)

* * * * * *

Ron LoveFrom team member Ron Love:

Genesis 37:19
Here comes the dreamer
On July 16, 1945, 75 years ago, we tested the first atomic bomb. The explosion was executed at 5:29 am, local time. The test took place at Jornada del Muerto — Dead Man’s Journey — a remote desert in New Mexico. We know it today as the Trinity test site. The bomb contained an equivalent of 21,000 tons of TNT.

The bomb was lifted to the top of a 100-foot tower. Some scientists at Trinity thought the bomb would be a complete dud. Others feared it would set the world on fire. In fact, no one knew what to expect.

When the bomb, loaded with plutonium, exploded, it gave off a flash of light that was visible from the planet Mars. The bomb produced more light and heat than the sun.

After viewing the explosion, Robert Oppenheimer, who oversaw the project, recalled  a Hindu scripture that ran through his mind at the sight of the explosion: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Two bombs, with the required approval of President Harry Truman, were dropped on Japan. The atomic bomb named Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima. Three days later, a second atomic bomb, named Fat Man, was dropped on Nagasaki. It was the expectation that the two bombs would cause Japan to surrender, which the country did, ending World War II.

* * *

1 Kings 19:18
…all the knees that have not bowed to Ball…
Elliot Ackerman is the author of Places and Names: On War, Revolution, and Returning. He wrote an article for The New York Times titled, “The Confederate Monuments We Shouldn’t Tear Down.” Ackerman did not dispute the removal of statues and monuments to the leaders of the Confederacy, but cemeteries and battlefields should not be touched. This is because “blood consecrates a battlefield and it is never the blood of only one side.” He quoted Abraham Lincoln who dedicated the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, when the sixteenth president said, “But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” Ackerman concluded by writing, “cemeteries, battlefields belong to the dead.”

* * *

Genesis 37:27
let us sell him to the Ishmaelites
In the 1950s the polio epidemic was the Covid-19 of their generation. It was basically a child’s disease, with children between the ages of 5 and 9 most vulnerable. There was no vaccine for polio, so doctors were forced to treat the symptoms. The children who became the sickest had to stay in an iron lung so they could breath. Though few children had to actually live in an iron lung, just the thought of an iron lung caused hysteria among children. The virus spread by direct contact with an infected person, or through contaminated food or water. In the 50s sanitation was not a primary concern of communities, which only heightened the risk. 

Dr. Jonas Salk was a professor and virologist at the University of Pittsburgh. Salk assembled a group of scientists to assist in his research to find a vaccine.

A major and very public controversy arose between Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. Salk wanted to use the safer “killed” virus. Sabin wanted to use a weakened form of the strain of the polio virus. This combative approach to the discovery of a vaccine caused confusion among the public and heightened fears. Especially concerned were parents, who thought they may have to choose between the two for their children. As testing continued, the Salk vaccine proved to be safer and more effective.

Jonas Salk did not patent his vaccine, receiving no income from his discovery. He did this so the vaccine would be affordable to all countries across the globe. When asked in a television interview why he never owned a patent for the vaccine, Salk responded, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

* * *
Romans 10:11
No one who believes in him will be put to shame.
The newspaper comic strip Ziggy is written by Tom Wilson. We must admire how insightful Wilson is regarding daily living. Ziggy is a nondescript character, and as such he represents everyone. He has a big nose, a puffy face, and clothes that resemble a smock. Ziggy is a very nice individual who relates to the everyday person and the everyday struggles of life. Ziggy is not an activist; he is just someone who lives in reality of day-to-day living.

Tom Wilson is very good in relating Ziggy’s life to current events. In this July 2020 posting, when statues are being randomly pulled down, Wilson addressed the issue through Ziggy. It is obvious that Wilson’s feeling on this matter is that protesters are using a very low standard of the meaning of integrity to pull down a statue.

We see Ziggy standing in a public park. The large base of the statue can be seen, but only the feet of the man who it is honoring. On the base of the statue we read, “Never did anything in his life to offend anyone, ever!” As we are able to see all the toppled statues in the park, Ziggy says, “Funny…This is the only one standing.”

* * *

Matthew 14:31
You of little faith, why did you doubt

Tyler Perry wrote an excellent article for the June 29, 2020 issue of People magazine. In the article he discusses his feelings and reactions after the death of George Floyd. After the death of George Floyd, on Memorial Day, May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, as a police officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes, causing him to suffocate, there was outrage across the nation. The incident caused society to examine and admit to the systematic racism that has prevailed in our country for centuries. There was a new awakening. Tyler Perry is a member of that new awakening.

In his essay there are two repetitive themes — exhaustion and daybreak. He begins by discussing “exhaustion.” He was reluctant to write the essay at first since he has been fighting for racial justice for years, and has seen little progress. This enduring contest has left him exhausted. Tyler wrote, “it was simply because I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted from the hate and the division, the vitriol that I see online from one to another. I’m exhausted from seeing these kinds of senseless murders play out over and over again with nothing changing in our society.”

Several paragraphs later Tyler wrote, “It is exhausting! So much so that the writer in me had no words until I remembered my mother’s voice saying to me, ‘Baby, weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.’” With that inspiration, Tyler continued to write his essay. This time he used the theme “daybreak.” He wrote, “progress is made in small steps, and even if you get exhausted to fight on, because there are always signs of daybreak before the morning comes.” He went on to write, offering this example, “Just as some slaves saw their children freed, that was a sign of daybreak.” Tyler wrote of the social upheaval that came with the death of George Floyd, “that was a sign of daybreak and this is when I knew morning was coming.”

NOTE: The original essay printed in People magazine is not available online. If you search the internet you will find many parts of the essay reproduced.

* * * * * *

Chris KeatingFrom team member Chris Keating:

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Gone with the kin
It should come as no surprise that Jacob’s offspring inherited his tendency to alienate family members. Joseph, long estranged from his own brother, could not have been shocked by the rivalries among his sons. Joseph’s brothers see him as the favorite son, setting the scene for one of the more infamous cases of sibling rivalry in scripture.

His brothers push him into a pit — much the way famed actress Olivia de Havilland, who died July 26 at age 104, once broke her sister Joan Fontaine’s collar bone by pushing her into a swimming pool when they were teenagers. Both sisters were Hollywood celebrities in their own right, but had a fractious relationship throughout life. Fontaine once said that “I remember not one act of kindness from Olivia all through my childhood. She so hated the idea of having a sibling she wouldn’t go near my crib.” For example, when de Havilland was nine year’s old, she received a school assignment to write a make-believe last will and testament. The future actress wrote, “I bequeath all my beauty to my younger sister, Joan, since she has none.” Later, when Fontaine turned down the roll of Melanie in Gone with the Wind, she suggested that the directors approach her sister. Though it became de Havilland’s most famous character, she never thanked her sister. Things only got worse as they aged — when Fontaine learned that she and her sister were both staying in adjacent rooms in the same hotel in 1989, she checked out immediately.

* * *

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Always mocked
Psychologist and presidential niece Mary Trump’s recent book Too Much and Never Enough details decades of internal Trump family fighting, including her accounts of abuse by her grandfather, the late Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father. The book is the first time a Trump family member has spoken about the way the elder Trump manipulated his children. In her book, Mary Trump describes how Fred Trump, Sr. would routinely mock her father, Freddy, often ridiculing his decision to become a TWA pilot instead of going into the family real estate business. The senior Trump did not approve of his namesake’s wife. Following the death of Fred, Jr. from alcoholism, Fred, Sr., disinherited his daughter in law and her two children.

* * *

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Say that again
It’s clear that all of Joseph’s brothers were conspiring against him (37:18), his eldest brother Reuben seems to have second thoughts. Of all of the brothers, Reuben alone acts to save his brother from murder. Sometimes, it just takes one person to make a difference, notes Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his customary thoughtful exegesis of this passage.

Consider the actions of waitress Gennica Cochran, who recently interrupted a man’s racist screed toward an Asian family in a California restaurant. Cochran is a server at a Carmel Valley, California, restaurant, and spoke out when a customer began making racist comments toward a family at another table. She saw Michael Lofthouse, a CEO of a San Francisco technology company, harass and taunt the Chan family before loudly telling Lofthouse to leave the restaurant. The Chans were celebrating a family birthday as Lofthouse continued to make offensive remarks about Asians in an exchange that was recorded. Cochran interrupted his screed, telling Lofthouse “You need to leave right now, get out, you are not allowed here, get out now, you do not talk to our guests like that, they are valued guests, you are not allowed here ever again!"

Lofthouse later issued a written apology to the Chan family. For her part, Cochran isn’t buying the apology, and has a simple message for the Chans: “I love you. I've got your back always. I will always speak up for you and please come back to Bernardus, I'd love to buy you a drink. And please just know that those words are not the values of the people that live here on the Monterey Peninsula."

* * *

Romans 10:5-15
How beautiful are the feet of those who bear good news
Paul’s affirmations in Romans are especially healing as the coronavirus scourge continues to pummel the United States. Proclaiming the good news becomes a reminder of God’s abiding assurance. Peter Marty suggests that one who illustrates this sort of commitment to hope was Martin Rinkart, a musician and pastor in Germany during the Thirty Years War.

Rinkart was a pastor for more than 30 years in the walled city of Eilenburg. The city’s walls were a prototype of social distancing and offered refuge to thousands fleeing invading troops. But the walls could not contain the plague, which soon took the lives of 8,000 people, including most of the town’s clergy. Rinkart was called upon to minister to the entire city, sometimes preaching as many as 200 funerals in a single week.

His message of good news and hope continues to sing into our hearts today: “Now thank we all our God/with heart and hands and voices,/who wondrous things has done,/in whom his world rejoices;/who from our mothers' arms/has blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love,/and still is ours today.

* * *

Matthew 14:22-33
Do not be afraid
Beaten down by the high winds of political rhetoric and the storms unleashed by Covid-19, members of our churches are afraid. One church member shared with me her fear of going to the doctor for important medical tests. It’s been well documented that some people are forgoing trips to the emergency room, even in the face of serious symptoms.

Like the disciples, we need to find the resources to face these mounting anxieties. One researcher suggests that becoming “medically literate” may be a way toward reducing fear. Michael Wolf, director of the Center for Applied Health Research on Aging and the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, notes that one in five people struggle with health information. It is a problem that has contributed to higher Covid-19 deaths, since many persons who do not understand words like “comorbidity” of “immunocompromised” miss cautionary information which could be life-saving.

Wolf notes that poor health literacy needs to be addressed in conversations between patients and healthcare providers, advocating that doctors ask patients, “Do you understand?”

* * * * * *

George ReedWORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship
Leader: O give thanks to God, call on God’s name.
People: Make known God’s deeds among the peoples.
Leader: Sing praises to God and tell of all God’s wonderful works.
People: Let the hearts of those who seek God rejoice.
Leader: Seek God’s strength and presence continually.
People: Remember the wonderful works God has done.


Leader: Let us hear God speak peace to the people.
People: Surely God’s salvation is at hand.
Leader: Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet.
People: Righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Leader: Faithfulness will spring up from the ground.
People: Righteousness will look down from the sky.


Leader: The great I Am is the always present One.
People: We rejoice in knowing God is always with us.  
Leader: Hidden or seen God is a part of our lives.
People: Thanks be to our always faithful God.  
Leader: Sometimes God is present to us through others.
People: We will try to make God present through our lives, as well.

Hymns and Songs
God of the Sparrow God of the Whale
UMH: 122
PH: 272
NCH: 32
CH: 70
ELW: 740
W&P: 29

Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above
UMH: 126
H82: 408
PH: 483
NCH: 6
CH: 6
W&P: 56
Renew: 52

The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want
UMH: 136
NNBH: 237/241
CH: 78
LBW: 451
ELW: 778
W&P: 86
AMEC: 208  

Great Is Thy Faithfulness
UMH: 140
AAHH: 158
NNBH: 45
NCH: 423
CH: 86
ELW: 733
W&P: 72
AMEC: 84
Renew: 249

God Who Stretched the Spangled Heavens
UMH: 150
H82: 580
PH: 268
NCH: 556
CH: 651
LBW: 463
ELW: 771
W&P: 644

Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart
UMH: 160/161
H82: 556/557
PH: 145/146
AAHH: 537
NCH: 55/71
CH: 15
LBW: 553
ELW: 873/874
W&P: 113
AMEC: 8      

Hope of the World
UMH: 178
H82: 472
PH: 360
NCH: 46
CH: 538
W&P: 404

Spirit of the Living God
UMH: 393
PH: 322
AAHH: 320
NNBH: 133
NCH: 283
CH: 259
W&P: 492
Renw: 90

Breathe on Me, Breath of God
UMH: 420
H82: 508
PH: 316
AAHH: 317
NNBH: 126
NCH: 292
CH: 254
LBW: 488
W&P: 461
AMEC: 192

All Who Love and Serve Your City
UMH: 433
H82: 570/571
PH: 413
CH: 670
LBW: 436
ELW: 724
W&P: 625

You Are
CCB: 23

The Steadfast Love of the Lord
CCB: 28
Renew: 23

Music Resources Key
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELW: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who is present in all creation:
Grant us the faith to trust you are always with us
even when we find it hard to see you;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.


We praise you, O God, because you are with all of your creation. In love you created and in love you dwell among us. Help us to know your presence even when we fail to see you with us. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our lack of faith in God’s constant love and presence.

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. You have created us out of love and filled us with your own sweet Spirit and yet we doubt your presence in the midst of our lives. Because we are too distracted and busy to notice you, we think you are absent from us. When we do notice you we try to make that time the benchmark ‘holy time’. We fixate on it and try to recreate it rather than allowing you to be present in each and every moment of our lives. Forgive us and renew us as your Spirit opens us to your graceful presence.  Amen.

Leader: God is with us and within us. Receive the good news of God’s loving presence and share that presence with others.

Prayers of the People
We offer to you our praise and adoration, O God, because you are the one who is always with us. You never leave us or forsake us but work with us in all of our lives.

(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. You have created us out of love and filled us with your own sweet Spirit and yet we doubt your presence in the midst of our lives. Because we are too distracted and busy to notice you, we think you are absent from us. When we do notice you we try to make that time the benchmark ‘holy time’. We fixate on it and try to recreate it rather than allowing you to be present in each and every moment of our lives. Forgive us and renew us as your Spirit opens us to your graceful presence.

We thank you for the many blessings of this life. We thank you for the bounty and beauty of creation. We thank you for family and friends and for our place in your church. We thank you for those who have helped us along our journey of faith and life. 

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another in our need. We pray for those who have never felt your presence because of the hurts the world has heaped upon them. We pray for all your children who work to make you known to others. We pray for ourselves that we might be faithful in sharing your love.

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

All these things we ask in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together saying:

Our Father....Amen.

(Or if the Our Father is not used at this point in the service.)

All this we ask in the name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. Amen.

Children’s Sermon Starter
Sometimes it is nice to be alone and just think or read or play a game by ourselves. Other times we want to be with other people. We want to talk or play together. Sometimes it is nice to just have someone around even though we aren’t talking or doing anything together. It is nice to just know they are there. God is always with us and we can always talk with God but we can also just enjoy knowing that God is with us even if we don’t have anything to say.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Immediate Word, August 9, 2020 issue.

Copyright 2020 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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New & Featured This Week


John Jamison
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (vv. 25-28)

* * *
John Jamison
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (vv. 31-33)

Hello, everyone! (Let them respond.) Are you ready for today’s story? (Let them respond.) Great!

[If you are using the monitor or cuff.]

The Immediate Word

Katy Stenta
Mary Austin
Dean Feldmeyer
Quantisha Mason-Doll
Christopher Keating
George Reed
Thomas Willadsen
For November 28, 2021:

Emphasis Preaching Journal

Frank Ramirez
Of course, we never quite return to the way things were -- because we have been changed by good fortune or bad. As we make sense of a world that has known the 2020 pandemic there are several things that can’t be undone, regardless of medical advances and a return to whatever we choose to call normalcy. First, not all of us made it through. Some of those who survived are not returned to full health. More important, the damage done by uncivil discourse, the sharp exchanges by those holding radically different views cannot be easily undone.
Bonnie Bates
Mark Ellingsen
Bill Thomas
Frank Ramirez
Jeremiah 33:14-16
The English poet Alexander Pope wrote, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast. Man never is, but always to be blest.” But where does man turn when hope dries up?”
Frank Ramirez
Of course, we never quite return to the way things were -- because we have been changed by good fortune or bad. As we make sense of a world that has known the 2020 pandemic there are several things that can’t be undone, regardless of medical advances and a return to whatever we choose to call normalcy. First, not all of us made it through. Some of those who survived are not returned to full health. More important, the damage done by uncivil discourse, the sharp exchanges by those holding radically different views cannot be easily undone.
Bill Thomas
Bonnie Bates
Mark Ellingsen
Frank Ramirez
Joel 2:21-27

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Roly lay on the stone floor with his head on his paws. He wondered how much longer it was until it was time for food. Feeding time was the best time in the whole day, because then the humans came and rubbed his head and spoke to him and made a fuss of him.


Terry Cain
David O. Bales
Note: This was originally published in 2006.

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A Story to Live By: "Signs" by David O. Bales
Sermon Starters: "Would We Recognize Him?" by Terry Cain
"Where Is The Church?" by Terry Cain

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Peter Andrew Smith
David O. Bales
“The Feast Awaits” by Peter Andrew Smith
“Yes, Jesus Loves Me” by David O. Bales
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by Peter Andrew Smith
Joel 2:21-27

Margie sat on the edge of her bed. She hated this place and wished she was still in her own home. She should have fought the boys harder when they insisted she come here. She tried to hold the tears back, but they began to roll down her cheeks.


Cynthia E. Cowen
Today we enter the season of Advent. The countdown has begun as we once more anticipate the celebration of the birth of Christ. Advent is a time to prepare, not just our homes but our hearts. What joy floods our hearts as we sing "Joy to the world, the Lord has come!" The Son of God entered our world so quietly -- no one, except those searching the heavens, saw the star that announced his birth. However, today's gospel tells us that when Christ comes again, it will be a like a hurricane or a tornado. The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shine. Stars will fall from the sky.
Robert S. Crilley
Some of you may be excited to learn that this morning's scripture lesson contains a benediction. "Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with his saints" (vv. 11-13). That is a benediction.
Frank Ramirez
First Lesson: Jeremiah 33:14-16

Theme: Empires Come And Go -- God Lasts

Call To Worship (Psalm 25:14)
The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them.


Special Occasion