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Caught Off-Guard

Children's sermon
This week’s lectionary gospel text features the parable of the bridesmaids -- a story Jesus tells to expressly emphasize the need to be prepared at all times, because we never know when events will occur... specifically, the coming of God’s kingdom. We may think we are ready -- but as team member Dean Feldmeyer points out in this installment of The Immediate Word, we are never completely prepared to deal with historic incidents, let alone the unexpected striking of agents of terror (such as occurred last week in New York City). The attack that killed eight people left the city shaken -- yet authorities and the population at large felt protected enough that days later more than 50,000 runners and an estimated 2 million spectators participated in this past weekend’s marathon . But as Dean reminds us, we can never be truly prepared for the unexpected -- a fact brutally brought home on Sunday by a deadly attack in a Texas church . But what we can be prepared for, as this week’s scripture demonstrates, is the kingdom of God -- and that should be our aim, especially because we can’t completely insulate ourselves from the tragedies of life. As Dean notes, instead of futilely chasing a sense of security that is fleeting, we prepare for God’s kingdom by shining the light of his lamps in the world.

Team member Mary Austin shares some additional thoughts on the Amos text and his vision of justice and righteousness -- and she imagines how the prophet might weigh in on the pending tax reform legislation. Mary suggests that the proposal reveals much about our national priorities -- and given how hard many analyses indicate the changes will hit low-income people, she wonders if our hearts are in the right place. Her conclusion: if we do not have our priorities in the proper order, than Amos (like with the Israelites) will find us wanting as well.


Caught Off-Guard
by Dean Feldmeyer
Matthew 25:1-13

On January 25, 1978, the temperature in Columbus, Ohio, was in the 40s and it was sprinkling rain. The possibility of snow the next day was mentioned on the late news, but not with any real concern.

Not until about 4 a.m. on the 26th did the barometric pressure drop to below 29 inches and the National Weather Service realize that something big and bad was about to happen. The air pressure drops that low only for hurricanes, and there was no time to warn anyone. We were all caught off-guard.

The ensuing storm would be called by some the “White Hurricane” -- but its official name became the “Great Blizzard of 1978,” the worst in the history of the state of Ohio. Fifty-one people died in Ohio alone, thousands were without power, and the entire state became frozen in place for more than three days.

With a “severe blizzard,” winds climb to 45 miles per hour, snowfall is heavy and blows to create whiteout conditions, and temperatures drop below 10 degrees. In this case, winds gusted to more than 100 miles per hour with sustained winds at nearly 60 mph. Wind-chill factors reached 60 below zero. The snow reached depths of 3 feet with drifts as high as 25 feet. 

The following week everyone wanted to know why we weren’t given more advance notice so we could have been better prepared -- and in response we heard phrases like “hundred-year storm.” Besides, someone pointed out, with a storm like this you can prepare all you want and you’ll never be ready.

This week, Jesus points out that the Kingdom of God always comes to us as a surprise. The parable of the bridesmaids suggests that we should endeavor to be prepared.

But can we ever really be ready?

In the News
Ever since living through the Blizzard of 1978, I have always carried a “blizzard box” in my car. It contains road flares, candles, matches, red emergency flags, beef jerky, and a can to melt snow in for water. There are gloves, a wool cap, insulated socks, a flashlight (and batteries), jumper cables, and some basic hand tools and a spool of duct tape.

I have a “blizzard box” for home too. Many of the same things are in it: candles, matches, batteries, some canned foods, a camping stove... those kinds of things.

And I’ve never had to use them. It will have been 40 years this January, and there hasn’t been anything even remotely like the Great Blizzard.

Which is fortunate, because no matter how well prepared I am, I realize that I will never be ready for another event like that -- and even trying to prepare begins, after a while, to feel kind of foolish.

How, after all, do you prepare, I mean really prepare, for the huge things that break into our lives and change them forever?

This year was the 30th anniversary of Argentinian Ariel Erlij’s high school graduation, so he thought it would be fun to get his seven best high school buddies together and visit the United States for a week of brotherly fun. In fact, he liked the idea so much that he organized the trip and offered to pay for any of the group who couldn’t afford to go.

Now, if you’re going to have fun in the U.S., where better than the Big Apple, right? So that’s where they went. They arrived sometime on Saturday and no one knows a quite what they did until Tuesday, when they decided to take advantage of the crisp, autumn day and take a bicycle ride on the path that runs between the Hudson River and the West Side Highway, about ten blocks from the 9/11 memorial.

It was there that a man driving a rented pickup truck and bent on mayhem plowed into the group, killing five of them and seriously injuring another. In addition to Erlij, the Argentinian tourists killed were Hernán Diego Mendoza, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damián Pagnucco, and Hernán Ferruchi. The injured member of their group is Martin Ludovico Marro.

The others killed in the attack were American and Belgian, said police, who identified those victims as Darren Drake, 32, of New Milford, New Jersey; Nicholas Cleves, 23, of New York; and Anne Laure Decadt, 31, of Belgium.

The perpetrator, the driver of the truck, was a 29-year-old husband and father of three who, by all accounts, came to the U.S. six years ago to become successful and provide a comfortable life for his family. But faced with failure upon failure and the inability to find a job in any of the places he explored and lived in the U.S., he became depressed and started looking for something or someone else to blame for his lack of success.

ISIS provided him with his persecutors and gave him a purpose that his life lacked -- and he became their disciple. He planned, rehearsed, and wrote several notes taking responsibility for his actions and praising ISIS -- then set out to kill as many people as he could without regard to their nationality, religion, politics, or ethnicity.
By the evening news on Halloween night, the big question was “How can this kind of thing happen?” Why didn’t we know? Why weren’t we prepared? Why wasn’t there something in place to foresee this horrible tragedy and warn us?

Just a little less than 24 hours after the attack in New York City, Scott Ostrem walked off his suburban Denver job as a metal fabricator, and a few hours later walked into a nearby Walmart and opened fire on people in the store, killing two men and a woman, all of whom were Hispanic.

Though his neighbors described him as a curmudgeonly, short-tempered man who often shouted at and threatened his neighbors with a shotgun, his employer described him as a quite but effective and conscientious employee. Why he chose to do what he did is unknown. He left no note and he is not talking.

The families and friends of the victims, Pamela Marques, 52; Carlos Moreno, 66; and Victor Vasquez, 26; are in shock and everyone is wondering how we can be prepared for such a thing as this, how we can be ready and equipped to handle random, lethal violence when it almost inevitably occurs.

Last Sunday -- less than a week after the bike path attack -- more than 50,000 runners and an estimated 2 million spectators gathered in Manhattan to participate in the New York City Marathon. As one of the city’s major annual events, authorities were anxious to reassure the public that the marathon would continue as scheduled and that the police had ample security measures in place to keep everyone safe. But what kind of plan can take care of two million people for an entire day? Since there were no apparent safety issues during the marathon, the NYPD was clearly as prepared as they could be -- but anyone who has ever contemplated joining that throng could not help but wonder if they would be ready.
And then, just as we were all about to take a deep, cleansing breath, relieved that the race in New York had come off without violence and that maybe the police had taken enough of the appropriate precautions, we heard gunshots ringing from another part of the country.

A man walked into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, during the worship service and opened fire on the entire congregation -- killing 26 and wounding 20 others. And all we can think or say is “Really? In church? Are we not safe even there?”

I grew up hearing the church called “God’s house” or “the house of the Lord.” Cannot even God prevent such a horror as this? Is even God unprepared?

A meme that is traveling through the social media asks how effective it is to “send our thoughts and prayers” to and for people who were in the act of praying when they were murdered. Were their prayers not enough? How prepared were they, I wonder?

And if such a horror descended upon me, how prepared would I be?
In the Scriptures
In this week’s gospel pericope, Jesus brings the symbol of light into his discussion of the kingdom of heaven.

We don’t know what darkness, real darkness, is like. If we want to be somewhere where it is dark enough to actually see something significant in the night sky, most of us have to drive somewhere into darkness. Street lights, safety lights, security lights, and the lights from traffic and homes make darkness a rare thing for most of us.

The first weekend of November we were presented with a “Beaver Moon,” a super moon that is closer to the earth than at any other time. But most of us couldn’t appreciate the details that such an event makes visible on the surface of the moon, because there is too much light in our environment.

Not so in the first century.

Back then, dark was dark. Really dark. Scary dark so black and so thick it could almost be touched.

So it was important that if you were going to be out in such darkness, you took with you a trustworthy lamp and enough oil to keep it burning. Not to do so would be very foolish indeed. Lamp oil was not just figuratively but literally liquid light.

The parable Jesus tells is allegorical in nature. The light of the lamps represents the light of the gospel which we, the faithful, bring to a dark and troubled world. The oil is the “faithful, active, obedient discipleship” that provides the light (The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, p. 1792). Discipleship cannot be borrowed from another. It is our own.

The Kingdom to come is represented, as is often the case, as a wedding feast. Weddings were multiple-day affairs in first-century Judaism, but when the sun went down the gates/doors were closed to keep out unwanted guests and evildoers, and they would not be reopened until the dawn. If you were late you had to either go home through the darkness or huddle at the gate, listening to the party within and waiting for the sun to rise.

Clearly the coming of the messiah (bridegroom) is a time of great celebration, of dancing and singing and feasting. But there is judgment attached to that event as well.

We must be prepared if we want to do the hokey-pokey with the rest of the wedding guests. We must invest ourselves in radical discipleship so that our light is bright and our presence at the banquet is a foregone conclusion.

In the Sermon
How do we prepare for a terrorist attack? How do we make ourselves ready for an active shooter event in the church, the school, the store?

Some would tell us that the only thing that can stop a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun, so the way to be safe is to make sure that every person in our country who is of legal age is “packing heat.” They would turn this country we love into an armed camp. They would put armed marshals in our schools, our department stores, our workplaces, and even our churches. They would figure out a way to justify having guns in a place where the One we worship and upon whose life we claim to base our own instructs us to love and pray for even our worst enemy.

And this, they insist, would give us peace of mind. We could feel safe and rest easy on the knowledge that we are ready and able to give as good as we get when it comes to human carnage.

This text, however, reminds us that safety and peace of mind is not our goal. Our goal is the Kingdom of God. 

The indicative of this sermon is a familiar one. Jesus is coming again to establish his kingdom of love and light, which is open to all who wish to enter and party with him.

There’s only one little tiny hitch in this promise. No one knows when it’s going to happen, or how it’s going to happen for that matter. It could be a minute from now. Or it could be an hour from now, or a day, or a week, or a month, or a year, or several years. It could be any of these... or all of these.

Maybe the Kingdom is a future and present reality, a spiritual reality to which we get glimpses and admission from time to time and to which we will get glimpses and admission in the future -- if we are awake and aware at the time of its coming. It could happen at church, or at the mall, or in the classroom, or in the office. It could happen in the mission field in far Siam or on the corner down the block, or on the front stoop at midday.

(Here, lest our parishioners come to believe that the kingdom is something that we experience only after we’ve died, the preacher may wish to share a personal story of a time when he/she has experienced a glimpse of or even full, if brief, admission to the kingdom.)

That’s the indicative.

The imperative is simply this: Be prepared and be ready.

And how do we prepare? The parable begins to tell us when it speaks of the lamp oil. If the lamp provides light, it is the oil that nourishes and sustains the light. And the light is the light of our discipleship.

We prepare for the coming kingdom by spreading the light of the gospel, by doing the business of discipleship. And what business is that? We need simply look to the gospels to find it.

Look to Luke 3:11 -- “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Look to Matthew 25, as Jesus calls his disciples to feed the hungry, slake the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those who are imprisoned. 

Look to Mark 10:21 -- “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

How do we prepare for the breaking forth of God’s kingdom? 

Why, by being disciples of Jesus Christ and by following his instructions and his example. That’s how.

That is how we prepare. That is how we become ready.

That is how we walk, no, dance into the Kingdom of God.


by Mary Austin
Amos 5:18-24

Tax reform analysis brought to you by Fox News, the New York Times, CNN, the Wall Street Journal... and the prophet Amos? The usual news outlets have been reading and parsing the Republican tax reform proposal since it came out, weighing the impact on various groups of taxpayers. They have their graphs and charts and experts, but Amos has a word about it too. 

Amos speaks to the Northern Kingdom of Israel in a time of great prosperity for the North and of economic deprivation for the Southern Kingdom. From the South he speaks to the North, bearing a message from God. For the people preparing for a huge public festival of worship, God has news -- God isn’t interested.

Festivals of public worship had been a part of Israel’s identity since they left slavery, journeyed with God through the wilderness, and crossed into the promised land (Exodus 23:14-17; Leviticus 23; Deuteronomy 16). The rituals were supposed to remind the people that they were once enslaved, and that only God’s intervention has made them who they are. They were once hungry and thirsty, lost in the desert, completely dependent on God. But now, God says, speaking through Amos, their worship has become an empty exercise. These powerful experiences of worship make the past present again, so people can approach God in the right spirit. But the people of God have forgotten who they were, and who God is.   

Ironically, the people long for God’s coming, for the Day of the Lord -- but on that day God’s justice will turn on them. Like the surprise of a bear or a snake, God’s justice will come as a surprise to people who think they’re doing everything God requires. Their true priorities have been revealed to God, and God is not pleased. 

In a similar way, the conversation in Congress about the budget and tax cuts reveals our national priorities. Republicans have announced plans for a tax overhaul, and the White House explains that “the current tax code is a burden on American taxpayers and harmful to American job-creators. It has grown out of control in length and complexity so that many Americans must rely on professional help to file even the simplest return. Our outdated tax code also makes our businesses uncompetitive as other nations provide lower tax rates, and incentivizes American businesses to move their headquarters or offshore jobs. President Donald J. Trump is working to reform our tax system so that Americans are treated fairly, can keep more of their hard-earned money, and companies can bring jobs back to the United States.” The stated goals are fairness, simplicity, and job creation. 

The winners under the current proposal, according to Fox News, are “corporations, heirs to large estates, high-income households, and low-income households” who benefit from a doubling of the standard deduction. Fox identifies the losers under the plan as accountants (since it will be so simple that people can do their own taxes), the national debt, and social programs. The Atlantic’s analysis sees complications ahead, noting that “anybody who heard House Speaker Paul Ryan’s repeated promises to cut taxes and simplify the tax code might be surprised that, for millions of people making less than $100,000, taxes would go up, and for many small businesses, filing would be more complicated. Perhaps most importantly, the plan adds trillions in debt over 20 years, making it nearly useless as a blueprint for the Senate. That’s because the Senate will likely try to pass the bill under a procedure known as reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority of votes but prohibits any law from adding at all to deficits after 10 years.”    

Bloomberg News calls the proposal “one part reform and two parts tax cut.” The plan’s details, Bloomberg notes, don’t match Republican rhetoric about a balanced budget and deficit-cutting. “There is no way to avoid stating the obvious: This bill is ‘unfunded.’ After eight years of being scolded about deficits and the imminent debt crisis, the Republican tax plan contains $1.5 trillion in unfunded liabilities. We know defense spending will not be cut; entitlements are a very tough political fight to meaningfully slash, especially since on the campaign trail then-candidate Donald Trump promised not to cut Medicare or Social Security.” Further, investment in the country’s future health is missing in this particular bill. “Despite promises made on the campaign trail, infrastructure is nowhere to be found in the tax bill.” 

The impact on wealthy people, corporations, small businesses, and the mortgage interest deduction have been well analyzed. Most of us can tell how we personally might make out. If not, the Washington Post has an interactive feature where you can add your income and see the results for your own taxes. 

But what if we see the proposal through Amos’ eyes? 

There’s very little said about the people whom the prophet Amos calls us to remember. If God is interested in the poor, the downtrodden, the widow and the orphan, and the “resident alien,” as the Hebrew scriptures term it, what is the impact of this tax bill on them? More importantly, is there an investment in education, child care, and adoption? Will the government have money left for building roads, maintaining parks, or job training? 

If we see the proposal through Amos’ eyes, it reveals that we are just as shallow as his audience. We worry about ourselves, and not about the people God worries about. We go through the rituals of talking about the poor and the middle class, about simplicity and fairness -- yet our actions reveal our inattention to God’s vision of justice and righteousness. When justice rolls down, we too will be swept away if we don’t have our hearts in the right place. Our righteousness is put to the test by this tax plan -- and like the people of Israel, we are likely to fail. 



From team member Chris Keating:

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Inclining Our Hearts
Joshua’s comments are blunt and to the point. If Israel isn’t going to serve Yahweh, fine -- just make a choice. He seems to understand that Israel isn’t very good about keeping their promises, yet the people tell him this time will be different. “We will serve the Lord.”

If that is true, Joshua tells them, incline your heart toward God. Keep your promises. Live into the covenant you have made. One way of illustrating how this same premise is at work in our lives is to point to the trope so commonly offered following acts of violence. “Thoughts and prayers” are offered each time disaster strikes. In the wake of the shooting Sunday in Sutherland Springs, Texas, politicians, leaders, and others began the familiar litany, calling on all to pray for the families and victims involved. Of course, Joshua might say, prayer is fine -- but how will people of faith keep that promise, and how will that translate into action?

For some, prayer disconnected from action seems to be code for doing nothing. A helpful piece on Vox explored various understandings of the ways faith leaders see prayer as a response to tragedy. Pastor Jim Kast-Keat of New York’s Riverside Church argues that such sentiments are useless unless the church also steps up to the plate to advocate for change. “Thoughts and prayers won't change the gun control laws in this country,” he writes. “Only actions and votes will. Besides, I tend to prefer prayers like Rabbi Heschel embodied when he said, ‘I prayed with my feet.’ ”

Others, such as Rabbi Jill Jacobs of New York, suggest that prayer “breaks down the protective barrier of my heart,” helping us to make sense of tragedy while ultimately leading believers toward concrete acts for change. In considering our commitment to God, Joshua asks us to reflect on whether or not our commitment will lead us to a change of heart.


Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Promises, Promises
God’s promises to Israel -- affirmed throughout the Hebrew Bible -- form a critical aspect of Israel’s identity. The covenant affirmed in Joshua 24 is more than Joshua’s farewell. It recounts God’s acts of salvation and calls upon Israel to choose once more to dedicate themselves to serving God. The reality is, of course, that promises are pretty hard to keep. 

Politicians probably top the list of promise-breakers, as outlined in an Atlantic piece last year. But they’re hardly the only covenant-breakers among us.

For example, Avis Rental Car has promised for decades that they will “try harder,” though surveys from J.D. Power Associates consistently place them lower than their competitors in terms of customer satisfaction. Other notable brands whose taglines may not live up to their promises include AIG (“the strength to be there,” which was discontinued after the company’s financial meltdown in 2008) and Allstate (“you’re in good hands,” which also reports low customer satisfaction ratings).

Promises made and forgotten also become issues for married couples. That became clear in the case of Anthony Weiner, the former politician and convicted sex offender who reported to prison this week. As one marriage counselor has written: “Even loving partners who repeatedly break promises can no longer continue to excuse those actions that once may have been easier to bear. The good will the couple once counted upon begins to diminish, and the excuses for broken promises simply are no longer believable.”


Matthew 25:1-13
Foolish Mistakes
Excitement got the best of some of those waiting for the bridegroom, leaving them in the dark when the party was getting started. The others had made their plans, yet those who had not faithfully prepared missed the shindig altogether, just because they made a foolish mistake.

Mistakes have consequences. Devin Patrick Kelley, the gunman who shot more than two dozen churchgoers in Sunday’s massacre in Texas, may have been cleared to purchase weapons because the Air Force had not disclosed that a court-martial had found him guilty of domestic assault. Despite having served prison time, Kelley was able to clear background checks and purchase a weapon.

His ongoing domestic issues may have also contributed to his rampage, along with the ease of purchasing weapons and misdirected anger. There’s no doubt that many mistakes led to the painful violence we have once more unfortunately witnessed.


From team member Ron Love:

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
After Christianity was established as the official religion of Rome in the fourth century, soldiers chose, and in some cases were mandated, to be baptized. During the baptismal ceremony a number of soldiers continued to demonstrate their allegiance to Rome. They did this by, as they were being immersed in the baptismal water, holding their right hand up and out of the water, keeping it dry. The right hand was the hand that held their sword, and that hand still belonged to Caesar.

Application: When we choose to give up false gods, we must completely and totally surrender ourselves to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Letters written by Harper Lee, the author of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, recently sold at auction for $12,500. The 38 letters were written between December 2005 and May 2010 to her friend Felice Itzkoff, whom she often referred to as “Clipper.” This was short for “Yankee Clipper,” as Itzkoff was a resident of New York and Lee lived in Alabama. In a Christmas card from 2009, Lee wrote: “Most-loved Clipper: Don’t know if you will celebrate Christmas, but it makes not a jot of difference to me. I am at heart a heathen.”

Application: Joshua desires us all to become believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Actress Rose McGowan is one of the many women who have been sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. She said she has been “silenced for 20 years,” but now will not remain quiet about sexual harassment and sexual assault. McGowan recently said that Weinstein’s exposure has motivated her to become public regarding her ordeal. In her speech to a women’s convention in Detroit, McGowan said: “The triggering has been insane -- the monster’s face everywhere, my nightmare.” She went on to say: “What happened to me behind the scenes happens to all of us in society. It cannot stand and it will not stand.”

Application: Joshua tells us that monsters and false gods can no longer stand before us.


Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Rev. John Hipp is the current district superintendent for United Methodist churches in South Carolina’s Pee Dee region. Whenever he visits a congregation, he greets them with these words: “Good morning, saints; good morning, sinners.” This is because Hipp considers everyone in the congregation to be saints, valuable individuals with good qualities to share with the church. He also realizes that everyone in the congregation is also a sinner -- individuals with faults and shortcomings that are in need of forgiveness and redemption.

Application: Joshua realizes that the individuals he is working with are both saints and sinners, which makes it difficult for them to choose whom they will serve.


Wisdom 6:12-16
The United States Constitution is not a religious document, but a political treatise assuring that the people will be justly governed and their human rights protected. In the sweltering summer of 1787 in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, 55 delegates convened for the Constitutional Convention. Among them, the Bible was seldom sought. What was prominent in composing the Constitution were the Articles of Confederation, to protect us from a weak central government; all state constitutions, allowing the best sections of each to be incorporated; the writings of French philosophers, noted for extolling human rights; all British law, preventing any possible instillation of a monarchy; and British Common Law, which protected individual freedoms. Yet God was very much present among the proceedings. Constitutional historian Catherine Bowen wrote that religion was not discussed, but “there sat no delegate whose ideas of government or political philosophy were not profoundly influenced by his religious beliefs and training.”

Application: We are to desire wisdom, and the Bible can guide us.


1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
J. Philip Wogaman, a professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC from 1966 to 1992, began the first day of each class with this question: “What is the central theme of the Bible?” He heard from the students the expected responses of love, forgiveness, and salvation. I am sure you could name a continuing list of other replies. The one answer he usually did not receive was the word “hope.” The professor then lectured that hope is the central message of the scriptures. Hope is the message of the resurrection. Hope is also the message of the exodus. It is the message that there is always a new day in the morning. It is the message that no matter how tragic life may be, there is the possibility for a new beginning. This does not lessen the sorrow or suffering of those who have endured a tragedy. It does not discount the severity of personal agony. What it does mean that in the midst of these horrible circumstances, there is the possibility for a new beginning.
Application: Paul instructs us to offer other individuals hope.


1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
It was a dreary November day when I made my pilgrimage to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC. They say you can never approach the monument without seeing someone standing before the Wall in tears. It was true this day. I witnessed a middle-aged woman who stood weeping. I suspect years earlier she had buried her son, but now, seeing his name engraved on the black granite, it was the same as burying him a second time. A man with a ladder stood silently by the Wall, willing to climb to its height to etch the name of a special someone. I asked the gentleman for a sheet of paper and randomly selected a name from the 58,022. The man’s name was Edgar Davidson Berner. I went to the register book to read about this man who surrendered his life for our country. He was born on April 20, 1940, in Marshall, Illinois -- a community I had never heard of, but certainly one like most in America. He was a chief warrant officer, probably a helicopter pilot, who died on April 29, 1970, at the age of 30.

Application: Paul discusses that though we grieve when someone dies, we who live in Christ and are to have no fear of death.


1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Rev. Michael Arant, of Pisgah United Methodist Church in Florence, South Carolina, shared this illustration in his sermon for All Saints Sunday. Unable to sleep one night, Arant was scanning Facebook and came across an interesting picture accompanied by this story. There was a young boy who lived his entire life confined to a wheelchair. Though we respect and accept individuals with a disability, we also must recognize the limitations imposed by being confined to a wheelchair. When the boy died in his later years, his father had a special tombstone carved. The tombstone was in the shape of a wheelchair, and the boy was standing on its seat with his arms raised high in celebration. Arant went on to discuss how death will bring us a new beginning as we are in our heavenly home.

Application: Paul discusses the celebration of death.


1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Rev. Michael Arant, of Pisgah United Methodist Church in Florence, South Carolina, shared this illustration in his sermon for All Saints Sunday. He told of being in a hospital that he had visited often but that now was undergoing a major renovation project. He knew where the room he wanted to visit was, but he could not get to it. Every time he tried, he encountered a hallway that was blocked off or some other obstacle. He then came to a stairwell that gave him these instructions: In order to go up to the next floor you first must go down the flight of stairs and follow the instructions posted. He then went on to discuss that in order to exalted, to move up, we first must be humbled, to move down. In death, before we can move up to the tranquility of heaven, we must often endure the sufferings of life in this earthly world.

Application: Paul discusses the celebration of death.


Matthew 25:1-13
In a Born Loser comic, Brutus Thronapple is sleeping on his living room couch. His shoes are off and his arms are tucked under his head, resting on a pillow. His wife Gladys walks up to the couch and speaks to him rather disapprovingly. Their marriage is one where criticism is the preferred communication style -- underlined by Brutus often being called “Thorny” while Gladys is often referred to as “Hornet.” Gladys says to her husband: “You’ve been sleeping on the couch all day.” Then she goes on to say, “Doing absolutely nothing!” Brutus opens his eyes, but without lifting his head replies: “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

Application: There is a time to rest and relax, but this is never at the expense of being prepared to serve our Lord.


by George Reed

Call to Worship
Leader: Give ear, O my people, to the teaching.
People: Incline your ears to the things that we have heard and known.
Leader: God established a decree in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel.
People: These God commanded our ancestors to teach to their children;
Leader: So that they should set their hope in God.
People: May we not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.


Leader: God is coming among us today and always.
People: We want to be ready to meet our God.
Leader: God has given us Jesus to prepare us.
People: We will follow Jesus and prepare for God’s reign.
Leader: God wants all creation to be prepared.
People: We will share God’s grace and bounty with all.                                      

Hymns and Sacred Songs
“From All That Dwell Below the Skies”
found in:
UMH: 101
H82: 380
PH: 229
NCH: 27
CH: 49
LBW: 550
AMEC: 69
STLT: 381

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

“Jesus Shall Reign”
found in:
UMH: 157
H82: 544
PH: 423
NNBH: 10
NCH: 300
CH: 95
LBW: 530
ELA: 434
W&P: 341
AMEC: 96
Renew: 296

“Lord, I Want to Be a Christian”
found in:
UMH: 402
PH: 372
AAHH: 463
NNBH: 156
NCH: 454
CH: 589
W&P: 457
AMEC: 282
Renew: 145

“Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life”
found in:
UMH: 427
H82: 609
PH: 408
NCH: 543
CH: 665
LBW: 429
ELA: 719
W&P: 591
AMEC: 561

“O God of Every Nation”
found in:
UMH: 435
H82: 607
PH: 289
CH: 680
LBW: 416
ELA: 713
W&P: 626

“Let There Be Light”
found in:
UMH: 440
NNBH: 450
NCH: 589
STLT: 142

“Be Thou My Vision”
found in:
UMH: 451
H82: 488
PH: 339
NCH: 451
CH: 595
ELA: 793
W&P: 502
AMEC: 281
STLT: 20
Renew: 151

“God, You Are My God”
found in:
CCB: 60

“Lord, Be Glorified”
found in:
CCB: 62
Renew: 172

Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982 (The Episcopal Church)
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
ELA: 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 creating our world anew through us: Grant us the wisdom to see your day coming
and to prepare by doing your work; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.


We worship you, O God, for you are creating our world through us. You are calling us to prepare for you by doing your work of justice and mercy. Help us to see where your work needs to be done and then to join you in doing it. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins, and especially our failure to prepare for God’s coming reign.

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We make all kinds of preparations for all kinds of events. Already the stores are calling us to prepare for spending lots of money for Christmas presents and decorations. We are urged to prepare for school, to prepare for work, to prepare for retirement. We try to heed all of these calls, but we fail to hear you calling us to prepare for the reign you are bringing to our world. We prepare for the things that are passing away and fail to prepare for that which is eternal. Forgive us, and open our ears and hearts that we might hear and heed your call to prepare for you. Amen.

Leader: God is working and preparing the world for God’s reign. God welcomes us as we return from our folly and prepare by being the children of God, the disciples of Jesus.

Prayers of the People (and the Lord’s Prayer)
We praise you, O God, and worship your holy name. We celebrate your never-ending creation. 

(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 make all kinds of preparations for all kinds of events. Already the stores are calling us to prepare for spending lots of money for Christmas presents and decorations. We are urged to prepare for school, to prepare for work, to prepare for retirement. We try to heed all of these calls, but we fail to hear you calling us to prepare for the reign you are bringing to our world. We prepare for the things that are passing away and fail to prepare for that which is eternal. Forgive us, and open our ears and hearts that we might hear and heed your call to prepare for you.

We give you thanks for all the ways in which you help us prepare for your coming reign. We thank you for those who have shared your love and good news with us. 

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for those who are in need. Many find themselves unprepared for the things that life has brought them. Many are unprepared to meet you. Help us to reach out and share the good news of Jesus so that we all might be prepared. 

(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 Lord’s Prayer 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
Talk to the children about being prepared. We prepare to go to school by making sure we have our supplies. We prepare for Thanksgiving by buying groceries. Maybe we prepare for getting out of the house in a fire. Discuss whatever preparations make sense to you to talk about with the children. Then talk about getting ready for God -- not just Christmas preparation, but getting ready for God to live among us. We do that by following Jesus and learning about God from him. 


Choosing Isn’t Easy!
By Chris Keating
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

Gather ahead of time: Find pictures of pairs of objects that may be “the same, but different.” For example, find pictures of different kinds of candy, donuts, cakes, ice cream, pizza, and so forth. You don’t have to be limited to food -- some kids may already have preferences about music or celebrities, sports, and classes.


As the children gather, greet them and tell them that today we’ll be thinking about the way people make choices. For example, if you they could choose any donut (or other favorite treat) in the world, which would they choose? One with sprinkles, or jelly-filled? One with icing, or glazed? Or one with everything? Or maybe one of every kind? Choosing is so hard!

Show them the pictures. Which ones would they choose? How many pepperoni eaters do we have? How many are cheesers? If you had to choose math class or a field trip, which would you choose? Now, what if I told you the field trip was to the dump... would you still choose the field trip? There are lots of choices that we have to make every day. Some choices are easy (like wearing a seatbelt or riding in a car seat) because they are the wisest and safest choices. But sometimes choices are hard -- like when you go to your favorite restaurant to eat and you can’t decide what to order.

In the scripture today, Joshua reminds the people of Israel that they will soon need to make a choice about which God they will serve. (This may be hard for the children to understand.) Some of the other “gods” wouldn’t take care of them. The people remembered that a long time ago God had chosen them. This made it easy for them to say they would choose God over the other choices.

None of the other gods would love them as God had. None of the other gods would care for them. None of the other gods had chosen them. But God had always done these things.

It sounds easy, right? But sometimes making a choice is hard. Sometimes the other choices look good, and maybe even better. Joshua tells the people his choice is to serve God, which means he will do the things God wants us to do (loving our neighbors, caring for each other, worshiping God alone).

What is hard is that sometimes we’ll forget to do these things. Sometimes it will be hard to choose God. But the good news is that because God has chosen us, we never have to worry or be afraid. If we make a bad choice, we know that God will always want to help us.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for choosing us. Help us to serve you every day by loving each other and caring for your world. Amen.


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

The Immediate Word, November 12, 2017, issue.

Copyright 2017 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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(Distribute this sheet to the readers.)

Reader A:
Reader B:

(As the introit is being sung, Readers A and B come forward and stand by the Advent wreath until the music is finished.)

Reader A:
Please turn to the Advent litany in your bulletins.
(Pause as they do so.)
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