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Beyond the Rule

Children's sermon
For January 29, 2023:

Dean FeldmeyerBeyond The Rule
by Dean Feldmeyer
Micah 6:1-8

What does God require of us?

A tithe to the church? A sacrificial gift to charity? Ten minutes of praise music at the beginning of the worship service? Fifteen? Twenty? Does it please God when we raise our hands in praise and prayer? When we speak in tongues? When we ordain women? When we don’t? When we exclude LGBTQ people from our leadership? When we refuse to ordain them? When we do ordain them?

What does God want, anyway? Sometimes it seems as though there’s just no pleasing the Lord.

The prophet, Micah, thinks otherwise, however.

In the News
In business, it’s known as “working to the rule.” As an employee, you figure out what the contract or the company’s rules require of you and you do exactly that and no more. Around the turn of the 20th century in the early days of the modern American labor movement, it was called an Italian strike or Sciopero Bianco. Lately, it has become known as “quiet quitting.”

When one individual begins working to the rule, doing only the bare minimum of what is required, refusing to come in early or stay late, repeatedly rejecting offers of overtime, not showing up at non-mandatory meetings and spurning invitations to work parties or get-togethers, it’s usually due to either burnout or disillusionment with the job, the boss, or one’s colleagues.

When a large group of employees start working to the rule, it’s a slow-down, a labor action, not quite a strike but maybe a precursor of one.

There’s nothing new about this phenomenon. As pointed out, the “Italian Strike” has been around since the turn of the 20th century. What we are currently experiencing is what happens when a new generation of workers discovers their own disillusionment, fatigue, and boredom and seeks, through social media, to give it a new name, one more expressive of their feelings.

How widespread is quiet quitting? According to investopedia.com, a Gallup survey of workers age 18 and older taken in June 2022, showed that quiet quitters “make up at least 50% of the US workforce — probably more.” The percentage is particularly high among workers under age 35.

The reaction of managers to the phenomenon has been mixed. Some have been tolerant, in part because the tight labor market of recent years makes replacing quiet quitters difficult, at least for the time being. Others have responded to quiet quitting by quietly, or loudly, firing employees whom they see as slacking off. In fact, “quiet firing” has become a buzz phrase in its own right, generally defined as making a job so unrewarding that the employee will feel compelled to resign.

Former president Donald Trump has begun to experience the quiet quitting phenomenon among evangelical Christians for not supporting his 2024 presidential bid as enthusiastically as they did his previous runs. In a disjointed interview on the right-wing fringe network Real America's Voice, Trump was asked about the lack of endorsements from evangelical leaders for his 2024 presidential campaign. At first he said he didn’t care about it, and then he quickly added that it was a sign of disloyalty, pointing out that he had loaded the Supreme Court with anti-abortion judges.

Televangelist Robert Jeffress endorsed Trump in 2016 and appeared at rallies for him but he has told Newsweek that he won't endorse the former president “until it becomes clear who the Republican nominee is in 2024.”

It is possible that evangelical Christians, having gotten from Trump what they wanted, have become tired of his misogynistic behavior, his casual attitude toward the truth, and his admiration of atheistic despots in North Korea and Russia and are quietly walking away from their erstwhile leader in favor of one with at least the appearance of personal integrity. They claim that they still support so-called conservative values and the Republican party but they are quietly quitting, tiptoeing away from Trumpism.

In the Scripture
In about 722 BCE, the cruel and violent Assyrian empire launched simultaneous attacks upon the nations of Syria and Israel. Syria was conquered quickly and Israel was defeated when the capital city of Samaria was captured and destroyed.

Judah, under King Ahaz, had allied itself with Assyria and, thus, became a vassal state of the Assyrian Empire, allowed to run its internal affairs as it chose as long as it paid a hefty tax to the Assyrians every year. Ahaz wasted no time in proving his loyalty to the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser. He traveled to Damascus to worship the Assyrian gods in the Assyrian temple, there, and he liked the place so much that he ordered changes made to the Jerusalem temple so it looked more like the Assyrian one. He even offered to sacrifice his son, Hezekiah, by fire to the Assyrian god but, according to tradition, his wife used a ruse to thwart his plan.

These changes and his sycophantic loyalty to Assyria, made him, perhaps, the least popular king in the history of Judah and Israel. When he died from disease at the age of 36 his body was buried in an unmarked grave away from the bodies of the other former kings.

Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah, became king of Judah in 715 BCE. Just seven years after the fall of Samaria, he spent the first ten years of his reign undoing the damage his father had done in Judah, cleansing and restoring the temple, freeing political prisoners who had offended his father, and listening to the advice of the prophets — chiefly, Isaiah and Micah.

Judah became prosperous and powerful under Hezekiah and, as is often the case, with prosperity came corruption. Judah became an aristocracy, a country virtually run by the rich and powerful who ran roughshod over the poor and the disadvantaged, often exploiting them, and stealing from them to enrich themselves.

Hezekiah was only partially successful in curbing these excesses. After only 14 years as king, he became ill and never fully recovered. Though he lived another 19 years, his effectiveness was limited by his poor health. When he died in 687 at the age of 59, he was succeeded by his son, Manasseh, who reigned for 45 years and was as evil and corrupt as his grandfather, Ahaz — perhaps more so. While Judah continued to grow, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.

Though no exact dates have been given, it is believed that the prophet Micah’s prophetic ministry took place during the end of Hezekiah’s reign and the beginning of Manasseh’s. He came from the small village of Moresheth-Gath, just 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem. Jewish lore holds that this was a most dangerous time for prophets who criticized the king. Though there is no proof, legend has it that it was Manasseh who ordered the assassination of the prophet Isaiah.

Unfazed by the death of his colleague in ministry, however, Micah lowered both barrels of his preaching at the cruelties and excesses of the aristocracy and the politicians, including the king, whom they controlled with their money.
The Cross Examination
In the early chapters of the book, Micah describes God’s anger at unfaithful Judah who tolerates those who worship false gods and grind the face of the poor and exploit widows and orphans.

So angry is the Holy One of Israel that YHWH threatens to utterly destroy the entire country, especially concentrating on those things that provide evidence of Judah’s unfaithfulness under King Manasseh; idols and false god’s, prayer poles to the Assyrian gods in front of their houses, re-naming their towns and cities with Assyrian names.

For this, God is going to destroy every town and city that has been thus renamed and, presumably, all who live in it.

Then, in chapter 6, Micah, referring to Judah as one symbolic individual, invites the country to come forward and defend himself, plead his cases before God, if he has a case to plead, that is. The natural world will serve as the jury. “Rise,” he says. “Plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice.” Then God, now speaking as the prosecutor and the judge, says to the jury, “Hear, you mountains, and you enduring foundations of the earth, the controversy the Lord has with his people and how he will contend (argue) with his people.”

Now, God launches into his cross examination of Judah, sometimes referred to as Israel.

“How have I wronged you? How have I worn you out? Answer me! How are my laws and statutes too heavy for you to bear? Explain it to me. I deserve an answer. I’m the one who brought you up out of Egypt, who redeemed you from the house of slavery. I was the one who gave you Moses and Aaron and Miriam as leaders and role models to lead you faithfully to this place. I cleared a path before you so you could cross the Jordan River into this promised land. I established the Passover celebration so you would always remember who it was who set you free.”

So, what do you have to say for yourselves? Come on, speak up! I deserve an explanation.

Judah/Israel Responds
The Israelites are unrepentant. They respond by whining and complaining. They roll their eyes. God wants too much, they say. God’s demands are too heavy, too burdensome. We give a lot to God, they complain. God needs to learn to be satisfied; we do more than any of those pagan people. YHWH is lucky to have us.

Ashur, the Assyrian god, is a god of war. He lets us get rich without requiring charity. The Assyrians understand the ugly realities of commerce. They don’t make us support the poor and the lazy like YHWH does. We throw a little gold at them and their priests, we finance their war machine and they leave us alone.

But YHWH, our God, is a loud and demanding God who contends with the people. YHWH, when we don’t give to the poor, punishes us for being rich, and puts constraints on how we are supposed to make our money, laws about what’s fair and unfair. Don’t charge interest to widows. Don’t make orphans into indentured servants. Observe the jubilee when all debts are forgiven every seventh year.

And we do all that and more but there’s always something we haven’t done, something we should be doing or not doing.

What, they demand of Micah, does your God want? How much is enough?

We go to church every Sunday, we sit patiently through the sermon even when it’s boring, we send our kids to Sunday school, and youth fellowship, we give ten percent of our income. But it’s never enough. You’re never satisfied. There’s no pleasing you.

What’s it gonna take? Come on, be honest. What do you want from us?

Burnt offerings? Is that what you want? Do you want me to take year old calves, the best my heard has to offer, and burn them on an altar to you? Will that make you happy? Would that be enough?

How about a thousand rams? Would that please you? Or maybe precious oil? Yeah, how about a river, no, ten thousand rivers of precious oil? Would that be enough to make you happy?

What’s it gonna take?

Do you want us to go back to the old ways, to child sacrifice? Is that what you want? Shall I sacrifice my firstborn child on an altar of fire? Would that make you happy? What do you want from us? Just tell us and we’ll do it!

Micah Responds
Micah sits through the tirade then answers quietly.

Are you done? Are you finished with your outrageous hyperbole and your counterfeit indignation? Because you already know what God requires of you.

You want an easy answer. You want to know the least you can do and still curry God’s favor. You want a simple ritual and rule that you can follow so God will give you what you want, but God isn’t interested in occasional rituals and desultory good deeds. A coin here, a crumb there, here a gesture, there a word. Your sporadic religiosity and periodical piety does not impress the Holy One of Israel.

God isn’t interested in pieces and dribbles. God is more interested in the way you live your everyday lives than in your religious practices. Has not Amos said that God hates such superficial efforts of piety if they are not accompanied by lives dedicated to justice and righteousness?

In particular, God wants justice. Not just a wish for justice or a lament that it is hard to get but a dedication to fairness and equality for all, particularly the weak and the powerless who are exploited by those with power. God wants kindness, that is, love, loyalty, and faithfulness. God doesn’t want faithfulness because you’re afraid of the consequences if you aren’t faithful. God wants you to love the Lord even as the Lord has loved you.

It’s about lifestyle. It’s about your total outlook on life. It’s about your ethical values. God wants us to live our lives ethically and lovingly all the time, everywhere.

In the Sermon
In the investopedia.com article cited above, the authors, in their conclusion, offer one little, throwaway line that carries with it big implications for the people of God and God’s church: Beyond the workplace, the term “quiet quitting” is now being applied to non-work aspects of people’s lives, such as marriages and relationships.

Pastors could easily add “churches” to the list of places where quiet quitting is being experienced, where people have decided not just to work but to live only to the rule. It’s as though they ask: “What’s the minimum I have to do to enter God’s Kingdom?” And then they set out to do just that and no more. They don’t storm out or leave in a huff of indignation or anger. They don’t stop coming to worship altogether. They simply back slowly and quietly away from the center of activity.

They do the minimum required to be counted not so much as the people of God as God’s people. And that’s all. Once capable and enthusiastic members of the church, they now show up at worship occasionally, drop a check in the offering plate when they attend, say hello and shake hands, and then they go to lunch only to return a week or two or even a month later, involved but not engaged, present but not really active.

And that’s the problem. Oh, God still loves those people who prefer to live to the rule, because the rule is tough and demanding. It’s not just about being. It’s about doing. Jesus doesn’t say, simply, take up your cross. He says, take up your cross and FOLLOW ME…

John the Baptizer tells those who come to him to give from their excess — if you have two coats, give one of them to your neighbor who has none. Jesus, on the other hand, says, “Sell all that you have and come, follow me.”

There are aspects of life where we can get along fine by simply working and living to the rule and God will still love us. Authentic life, however, life lived fully in the kingdom of God, requires more. God requires that for that kind of life. We have to work and live not just to, but beyond, the rule.

Because living beyond the rule is what life in the Kingdom is all about.

In Praise of The Ordinary
by Chris Keating
1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12

The other day a mother from one of St. Louis’s nicer suburbs posed an earnest, if anxious, question on a local Facebook page. “We are getting ready to sign my son up for the exciting world of kindergarten,” she wrote. “And I am torn. We are struggling to decide if we should enroll him in our home district public school or go private.” She reflected genuine angst. All parents want the best for their children, and those choices seem especially hard for families with little experience with school systems.

No matter how genuine her concern, she missed the irony that the district she named is among the top-five districts in the state and is ranked among the best in the nation. U.S. News and World Report recently rated its four high schools as being in the top five percent of the country. You would be hard-pressed to find better equipped teachers or better funded schools.

Social media, of course, jumped on her posting like sharks circling prey. While some praised the district, a number of persons rebuked her for even considering public education in the first place. “In these days,” one wrote, “there’s only one real choice: home school or private school.” Why would you consider something as ordinary as a public school system — even if it was one of the best in the state?

In the minds of many, ordinary is not enough. Yet when it comes to education, the truth is, not only is ordinary just fine, in some cases it could be even better.

We’re socialized into believing ordinary is subpar. Our culture is drenched in the notion that average is insufficient. These particularly cringe-worthy words of motivational coach Anthony Moore speak to the battle to overcome mediocrity. “Most people do not make world class choices,” Moore advises. “As a result, their lifestyle is not world class. They’re overweight, unhappy, and stuck. They’re broke, dating people they don’t really like, stuck at jobs they don’t like.”

Moore may consider that motivating, but it certainly sounds like shaming.

Yet his ideas persist. There’s a reason why you won’t find many “Proud Parent of An Average Student” bumper stickers in the high school parking lot. (Hint: it’s the same reason why pastors do not display “Proud Pastor of an Average Church” stickers on their cars.) There’s also a reason why we remember names of high-achieving Olympians, Oscar-winning actors, and prominent (even infamous) politicians and not their lessor known counterparts.

For example, most people who follow the news will know the names of at least five members of the recently seated 118th Congress. We can rattle off the names of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Matt Gaetz. What’s harder to do is to come up with the name of the 25-year old freshman congressman from Florida, whose bad credit inhibited him from renting an apartment in Washington, DC (Maxwell Frost), or the former mayor of a large city and educator from California who also took office in January (Robert Garcia).

They’re still relatively unknown. We can name Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, but may have never heard of Eddy Alvarez, an infielder for the Milwaukee Brewers who was only the third American to ever medal in both the summer and winter Olympics. Alvarez is far from ordinary, but as far as the public is concerned, he’s nowhere near Phelps’ stature.

We are heavily invested in the cult of nobility and status — so much so that Paul’s words on this Fourth Sunday after Epiphany may sound quaint. But smack dab in the center of Ordinary Time, Paul calls us to reconsider worldly standards of wisdom. His argument reevaluates, as Richard Hays observes, our fundamental understanding of wisdom, power, and wealth. “For anyone who grasps the paradoxical logic of this text,” writes Hays, “the world can never look the same again.” (Hays, First Corinthians, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997).

Paul attacks the prevailing mythology of his age, or any age for that matter. Charles L. Campbell cites Paul’s use of “ironic literalism” (Campbell, 1 Corinthians, Westminster/John Knox Press, 2018) as successfully debunking notions that human hierarchies have greater importance to the wisdom of God.

Proclaiming the centrality of Jesus’ crucifixion as “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” is not a slur against Judaism or an attack on Greek philosophy. Rather, it is the reminder that God has disrupted this age. Campbell calls it an “apocalyptic interruption.” We might say that by the light of the cross, prevailing standards of success, wisdom, or status no longer make sense.

Paul continues, reminding the Corinthians that “not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” Where is the wise? Where is the one who aced AP physics, or earned an A+ in organic chemistry?

It’s not that education does not matter, of course. Nor is it the case that we need to make sure everyone gets participation trophies. But when standards become so high that only the famous (or infamous) matter, we have supplanted Jesus’ words “Blessed are the meek” with “Blessed are the one-percenters, the preppies, the privileged.”

Paul understood that it was only the weakness of the cross — a symbol not only despised but mocked as utterly worthless — that revealed the power of God. Success, when it happens, can be gratifying and humbling. But much of our lives, and much of the work of God’s people, is mundane and ordinary. Jesus’ crucifixion emphasizes a wisdom that transcends all human understanding and reminds us that ordinary acts of loving service are remarkable.

We praise the successes of mega church leaders with their blown-dry hair and stunning multi-media empires. Less remembered is the witness provided by the hospice chaplain, or unnamed volunteers pouring broth into bowls at soup kitchens.

Suddenly the ordinary does not appear to be too shabby. What’s more, as Paul reminds the Corinthians, not many of them were honor students or Phi Beta Kappas, either. Nor did they have instant access to the halls of power. Instead, like Representative Frost, they scrambled to find a place to land. When Frost was denied a lease in December, he was forced to keep looking for a place to live where he could walk to work or continue couch surfing until something works out. “Rent problems are not just mine,” he said. “There are millions of Americans that have these same problems.”
Indeed, says Paul. What’s more, adds Jesus, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…those who mourn…the meek, the pure in heart…those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Gospel wisdom reframes understandings of power. Jesus might have also said, “Blessed are the ordinary, the kids who sweated out a ‘C’ in algebra, the parents who worked hard so their child could attend a state university.”


Mary AustinFrom team member Mary Austin:

Micah 6:1-8
Ancient Words, Current Truth

“Love kindness,” Micah tells God’s people, and his words are as true now as when he spoke them. Being kind is a key part of our happiness, research shows. The book The Kindness Cure suggests that “we need to cultivate kindness more than ever — not only for the sake of our society, but for our own well-being…we are wired for kindness — that it’s part of our biological heritage, designed to help us foster relationships, work together, and survive in groups. When we are kind to others, it releases neurochemicals in our bodies that increase trust and give us a warm feeling. Research suggests that being kind toward others is associated with better and stronger mental and physical health, relationships, life satisfaction, communities, and even economies.”

Scientists confirm what Micah already knew. “We can also do favors for others, starting small and working our way up. Helping out a stranger may seem too difficult, especially if you tend toward introversion. But once you’ve mastered kindness toward those close to you, try practicing kindness with someone a little further outside your comfort zone. Maybe you can smile and say hello to your local coffee shop barista, or wave through the bike rider who gets to the intersection after you, or offer up your seat on the bus, or respond kindly to an online political rant…they lead to kind responses and feelings of well-being. In fact, it can be addictive — the more you do, the more you want to do.”

Love kindness — maybe it’s not so hard.

* * *

Micah 6:1-8
Giving or Receiving?

When we extend kindness to someone, it’s not always clear whether we are the giver of the receiver of the gift. Nipun Mehta, founder of Service Space, tells a story about kindness contagion. At a lunch meeting, a philanthropist told him that he was good at giving, and bad at receiving. At the end of the meal, it was time to pay the bill, and they started arguing about who got to treat the other to lunch.

Mehta recalls, “So what we decided to do was I said, “I’ll pay for this table, but you pay for a random table.” And so he calls the waitress over and he starts to have a conversation. And he says, “You know, I’d like to pay for another table.” And the first thing is the waitress looks at us like, “Why? You know, what’s going on here? And then he says, look, I just wanna make somebody’s day. And so this woman then says, “OK, fine, I get this. OK? Who?” So somehow he picked a table and this woman now has to go in. And, you know, our waitress, her name was Mandy, goes to the table. And Mandy comes back with this incredible joy. We’re like, “What happened? How was it?” And she’s like, “Oh, it was. It was amazing. They looked at me and they’re like, “Wow, do you guys do this here all the time as we’re not from here.” And she was no longer just our waitress. She was our compatriot in goodness, you know. And at the end of that incredible interaction, I looked at my friend and I said, “You know, were you giving?” Because he did give right, he provided financial capital. Or were you receiving? And it was so clear with a beaming smile on his face that he was receiving.”

Kindness is contagious, as Micah knew.

* * *

Micah 6:1-8
Walk Humbly

“Walk humbly with God,” Micah reminds the people, and it follows that walking humbly with God will also translate into humility with each other. In a culture where lying gets you far (all the way to Congress) and we love the splashy (Real Housewives, the Chrisleys) some humility would be a welcome treat.

Why is it so hard to be humble, wonders Vicki Zakrzewski of the Greater Good Science Center, when all spiritual traditions value it? Is it because it looks like weakness? She reflects, “When I meet someone who radiates humility, my shoulders relax, my heart beats a little more quietly, and something inside me lets go…Truly humble people are able to offer this kind of gift to us because they see and accept their own strengths and limitations without defensiveness or judgment — a core dimension, according to researchers, of humility, and one that cultivates a powerful compassion for humanity.”

Humility is powerful in leaders, and good for the rest of us, as “research suggests that this lovely quality is good for us individually and for our relationships. For example, humble people handle stress more effectively and report higher levels of physical and mental well-being. They also show greater generosity, helpfulness, and gratitude — all things that can only serve to draw us closer to others.”

As Nelson Mandela, a humble leader, said, “the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself…Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, and humility.”

* * *

1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Consider Your Call

“Not many of you were all that great,” Paul reminds the believers in Corinth, and still God chose Jesus, and then chose you. God chose Jesus to confound the world, and we are still stumped by God’s love for us, through Jesus.

Anne Lamott tells about a friend whose grandfather was a pastor. As a young child, someone asked her what he did. The answer: "Every Sunday he stands in front of everyone and tells them that they are beautiful, and God loves them exactly the way they are, and they really don’t have to worry, because they all have each other. But then by Tuesday they forget this, so on Sunday he goes back to their church and tells them that they are beautiful, and God loves them just the way they are, and they don’t have to worry because they all have each other.” (from "Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage")

* * * * * *

Tom WilladsenFrom team member Tom Willadsen:

Psalm 15
A didactic psalm, with an interesting idiom
Psalm 15 is a good match with Micah 6:1-8, both are didactic in nature; they give guidance for how to live (dwell) in God’s presence. The sojourner mentioned in v. 1 is essentially a foreigner who by their behavior is worthy and accepted as a resident, perhaps the modern equivalent of an American Green Card.

In v. 2 the Hebrew verb rendered as “slander” רגל does not have a legal connotation, more of a moral one. It is closer to “gossip” than the legal term slander. Literally, the metaphor is something like “does not go footing about with the tongue.” Wouldn’t that make a fun caricature?

* * *

Micah 6:1-8
Micah’s greatest hit
Micah is considered a minor prophet, his book is only seven chapters. Only three readings from Micah appear in the Revised Common Lectionary. Aside from 6:8, the only words of Micah that might be familiar to our congregations are from the reading that is quoted in Matthew 2, regarding where the Messiah was to be born,

but you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.

Micah 6:8 is one of the most recognized passages from the Hebrew prophets; it’s pithy and memorable, bumper sticker-ready. While these familiar words are always appropriate, you may want to give some attention to their original context and intended audience. The command to love kindness is not something one can purchase with a generous contribution to the building fund, or “tens of thousands of rivers of oil,” though that image invites comment on our addiction to carbon-based energy.

* * *

Matthew 5:1-12
The start of the Sermon on the Mount
Today’s gospel reading and those of the next two weeks are from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, another very familiar text. A colleague once told me sometime he’d like to simply deliver the Sermon on the Mount in its entirety on a Sunday morning, perhaps after he’d had a busy week. He wondered how it would be received by the congregation. We know it as a sermon, but is it really a sermon? If, as my preaching professor drilled into his class, a sermon should be about one thing, the Sermon on the Mount breaks that rule. It hops from topic to topic, theme to theme. Focus, Jesus, please.

Still, as a preacher, Jesus is wise to begin with the blessings. Get to the woes later, or better yet, leave those for Luke! By beginning with blessings, Jesus echoes the start of the Ten Commandments. As I count them the first Commandment is not a command, but the reminder of a relationship, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt….”

Remember how rotten slavery was? Good, now as the one who liberated you, I want you to listen up. All the commands, rules, regulations, orders come in the context of having been set free, a blessing. So all your obedience comes as a response to that blessing. Maybe Jesus’ preaching professor was better than mine.

* * * * * *

George ReedWORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship
One: O God, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?
All: Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right.
One: Those who speak the truth from their heart.
All: Those who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil.
One: Those who stand by their oath even to their own hurt;
All: Those who do these things shall never be moved.


One: The God of all eternity calls us to come together. 
All: We have come to meet with God and with one another. 
One: God brings us instructions for eternal life. 
All: We want to know how to enter into heaven’s gates. 
One: Eternal life is more than heaven. It is living with God now. 
All: We want to live with God now and for evermore. 

Hymns and Songs
There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy 
UMH: 121
H82: 469/470
PH: 298
GTG: 435 
NCH: 23
CH: 73
LBW: 290
ELW: 587/588
W&P: 61
AMEC: 78
STLT: 213

Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah 
UMH: 127
H82: 690
PH: 281
GTG: 65
AAHH: 138/139/140
NNBH: 232
NCH: 18/19
CH: 622
LBW: 343
ELW: 618
W&P: 501
AMEC: 52/53/65 

He Leadeth Me 
UMH: 128
AAHH: 142
NNBH: 235 
CH: 545
LBW: 501 
W&P: 499
AMEC: 395 

Great Is Thy Faithfulness 
UMH: 140
GTG: 39
AAHH: 158
NNBH: 45
NCH: 423
CH: 86 
ELW: 733
W&P: 72
AMEC: 84 
Renew: 249

Tú Has Venido a la Orilla (Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore)
UMH: 344 
PH: 377
GTG: 721
CH: 342
W&P: 347

Spirit Song 
UMH: 347 
AAHH: 321
CH: 352
W&P: 352
CCB: 51
Renew: 248

Cuando El Pobre (When the Poor Ones)
UMH: 434 
PH: 407
GTG: 762
CH: 662 
ELW: 725
W&P: 624

O Young and Fearless Prophet 
UMH: 444
CH: 669
STLT: 276

Let There Be Light 
UMH: 440
NNBH: 450
NCH: 589
STLT: 142

We Utter Our Cry 
UMH: 439
STLT: 137

Seek Ye First 
UMH: 405
H82: 711
PH: 333
GTG: 175
CH: 354
W&P: 349
CCB: 76

We Are His Hands 
CCB: 85

I Will Call Upon the Lord 
CCB: 9
Renew: 15

Music Resources Key
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal 
GTG: Glory to God, The 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 fully engaged in all that you do and say:
Grant us the grace to seek to be fully your people
so that our hearts, thoughts, and deeds may be one; 
through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen. 


We praise you, O God, because you are One. There is no wavering between your thoughts and your deeds. Help us to realize that as your children we are called to reflect that unity in our hearts, thoughts, and deeds. Amen. 

Prayer of Confession
One: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our fickleness and changeable hearts.    

All: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We have been a faithless people who seek only our own happiness instead of what is right and good. We look at the short term and try to work around what we have been called to do and to become. We act like your commandments, O God, are nothing more than entry requirements for heaven instead of the guidance you have given us to live with you and ourselves. We look to you as the admissions officer instead of as a loving parent sharing the truth about life. Forgive our foolishness and our stubbornness. Renew your Spirit within us that we may gladly respond to your loving call.  Amen.   

One: God is our loving parent who desires us to live fully in the divine presence in peace and joy. Receive God’s loving grace and share the joy of God’s presence with others. 

Prayers of the People
Praise and glory to you, O God of unity. In all your aspects you are our God who is one even as you are three.  

(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. We have been a faithless people who seek only our own happiness instead of what is right and good. We look at the short term and try to work around what we have been called to do and to become. We act like your commandments, O God, are nothing more than entry requirements for heaven instead of the guidance you have given us to live with you and ourselves. We look to you as the admissions officer instead of as a loving parent sharing the truth about life. Forgive our foolishness and our stubbornness. Renew your Spirit within us that we may gladly respond to your loving call. 

We give you thanks for all the blessings you have placed in our lives. We thank you for family and friends and our place in your Church. We thank you for those who have shared your love with us and, especially, for Jesus who taught us and continues to teach us about you and how we can live in harmony with you.  

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another in our need. We pray for those who struggle to find the resources they need for a decent life. We pray for those who are caught up in the struggle to gain more and more each day. We pray for those who are sick, those who are dying, and those who are grieving. We pray for your guidance for all of us to find wholeness so that our lives reflect your life that dwells within us.  

(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.

* * * * * *

What Does God Want?
by Katy Stenta
Micah 6:1-8

It’s a big question to ask what God wants of us. A lot of people think hard about what it is God wants from us. Does God want big sacrifices? What are God’s requirements? Is there a big checklist for church?

Let me tell you a secret, there is actually no checklist for how church works. God does not say we need pews or hymns or even prayers to be said a certain way.

A lot of what we do here are traditions that we love. Traditions are great, but we do them because we know them, not because God requires them. God does not even require sacrifices.

So what is it God wants of us?

Here is the list, and it’s a hard list to do, but God wants us to try to do it, and just do our best with it:

God wants to walk humbly with God. I think that means to know that God is God, and to try to listen to God, and to not take things too seriously, and to listen for what God wants over what we want.

God wants loving kindness. That’s a special kindness that you do from the depths of your heart.

Justice. That’s where you treat every single person like a beloved human being who is made in the image of God. That is really, really hard work because we irritate each other, and want to one up each other or be better than one another, but justice means that we are all important in God’s eyes and should treat each other that way.

Let’s Pray: (Repeat after Me)
Dear God
Help us
To do loving kindness
Do justice
And walk humbly
With you
We pray

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

The Immediate Word, January 29, 2023 issue.

Copyright 2023 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 E. Sumwalt
When God began to create the heavens and the earth, earth was complete chaos, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1)

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens. (Psalm 8:1)

The Immediate Word

Thomas Willadsen
Dean Feldmeyer
Mary Austin
Christopher Keating
Katy Stenta
Elena Delhagen
For June 4, 2023:
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  • Second Thoughts: Blessed Are the Semicolons by Chris Keating. Matthew reminds us that there are no last words from Jesus, but only the insistence that as the disciples go into the world to baptize and teach, he will be with them forever.

Emphasis Preaching Journal

Bonnie Bates
Frank Ramirez
Bill Thomas
Mark Ellingsen
Genesis 1:1--2:4
Richard Rogers, in 1965, wrote the lyrics to the song “Something Good” for the musical The Sound of Music. The lyrics include the lines, “Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could.”  In the context of the song, it refers to doing something good in childhood that will bear fruit later. However, I thought of those lines again reading this familiar story.
David Kalas
For so many Christians, including likely most of the people in our pews this Sunday, there are a handful of doctrines which they’d rather not have to think much about. The doctrine of the Trinity, the idea of the eternality of God, and the affirmation that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine are all so conceptually difficult that, even if folks say they believe them, they couldn’t begin to explain them. And so, you and I are tasked this week with the assignment to preach about something that is confusing — perhaps even off-putting — to our people.


John Jamison
Object: We want something to represent a club to give to each child. I roll up and tape pieces of paper into tubes and have them in a pile on the floor as we begin.

* * *

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
Call to Worship:
On his last appearance on this earth, Jesus reassured his disciples that he would always be with them, until the end of the age. The age has not yet ended, therefore as his disciples, we too receive his promise, "I am with you always."

Invitation to Confession:
Jesus, sometimes I behave as though you are not with me.
Lord, have mercy.
Jesus, sometimes I prefer to forget that you are with me.
Christ, have mercy.
Jesus, sometimes I yearn for you, but do not feel you with me.


David E. Leininger
Some things are difficult to talk about. Love, for example. If someone asked you to define love and explain why you love someone, how would you go about it? What if I had to explain my love for my wife? The American Heritage Dictionary defines love as "A deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness." I could not have put it better myself ... or worse, for that matter.
Mark Ellingsen
I find it interesting that today as we commemorate the Trinity doctrine, the church assigns the Bible reading that includes Jesus' Great Commission -- Jesus' mandate to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). You can't do evangelism without believing in the Trinity, proclaiming the Triune God in whose name we baptize. And to believe in the Trinity, it seems, is to be an evangelist. That's the way it's supposed to work, but it does not feel that simple when you hear these words as calling you to be an evangelist.
Kristin Borsgard Wee
There is an old rabbinic legend about Lillith, the first wife of Adam. According to the story, she refused to be obedient to Adam and insisted on being an equal. When Adam refused, Lillith stormed out of the garden. God tried to persuade her to return, but she wouldn't come back. Several months went by and the rumors started. People said that Lillith had become a kind of monster and a sexual temptress, preying on babies and unsuspecting men. She roamed the forbidden but fascinating territory outside the garden, looking for innocent victims.
Gary L. Carver
My good friend, Tommy Garrison, tells the story of a minister who boarded an airplane. He was seated beside a young lady who evidently was very troubled. As the flight progressed, it became even more noticeable that she was upset. In fact, she started crying. The minister said, "I'm sorry. I do not wish to intrude, but can I help you? It seems that you are disturbed." She said, "To be honest with you, I am. I'm flying to California to attend the funeral of my father." The minister said, "Well, from the degree to which you are upset it seems that you were very close." She said, "No.

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