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Memory and Wisdom

Children's sermon
For September 23, 2018:
  • Memory and Wisdom by Dean Feldmeyer -- What’s the difference in being wise and being experienced? Or is there one?
  • Second Thoughts: Competing to Serve Others by Bethany Peerbolte -- The advice Jesus gives is to always compete to be last, to be the one serving others. That competition will never bring shame or disappoint when facing the next generation.
  • Sermon illustrations by Mary Austin and Tom Willadsen.
  • Worship resources by George Reed that focus on remembering as a form of wisdom; being first and last.
  • Are You the Best? Children’s sermon by Chris Keating -- “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

Memory and Wisdom
by Dean Feldmeyer
James 13:13-4:3, 7-8a

Every year, Beloit College prepares the faculty and staff for the incoming class of freshmen by reminding them of just what these kids have and have not lived through. Here are a few things that are shaping the class of 2022’s common memory:
  • They have never licked a postage stamp.
  • They have never seen an Amoco gas station.
  • Color photos have always adorned the front page of The New York Times.
  • The airport in Washington, D.C., has always been Reagan National Airport.
  • Hybrid automobiles have always been mass produced.
  • Google has always been there.
  • The Lion King has always been on Broadway.
  • We have always been at war in Afghanistan.
  • The only memory they have of 9/11 is from pictures and what others have told them.
A big part of what we call wisdom is actually memory and our ability to learn from the past and, if we cannot remember the past ourselves, our ability to learn from the experiences and memories of other people.

In this week’s epistle lesson, James asks us to consider the nature of wisdom and how a special kind of Christian wisdom is reflected in the way we live.

In the Scripture
There are, according to James, two kinds of wisdom.

One kind of wisdom is what he calls “earthly, unspiritual, and devilish.” This earthly wisdom produces bitter envy and selfish ambition. It makes us boastful and unacquainted with the truth. It results in selfish ambition, disorder, and various kinds of wickedness, not to mention conflicts and disputes within the community.

This earthly kind of wisdom is, in fact, not wisdom at all. It is false wisdom. It is the wisdom we receive from our culture that tells us it’s okay to be selfish, ambitious, unspiritual, and mean spirited. For that is, we are told, the only way to get ahead in this world.

There is another kind of wisdom, however.

This is the wisdom that “comes from above,” from God. It is heavenly wisdom, spiritual wisdom, godly, Christian wisdom.

Christian wisdom produces gentleness.

It is “pure… peaceable, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.”

Because we make peace, the peace we sow yields a bounteous harvest of peace and righteousness. That is to say, this Christian wisdom brings us closer to God and each other.

How, you ask, do we go about getting this special, Christian kind of wisdom?

James tells us the answer, if not the execution is simple: Ask for it.

Ask God for God’s wisdom. Do not ask for God’s wisdom because we want a personal advantage of some kind. Do not ask for it so we can be smarter or stronger or richer than our fellows. Ask, instead, because we want to grow closer to God. If we draw near to God, James promises, God will draw near to us and God’s wisdom and the fruits that go with it, will be ours as well.

In the News
On September 20, 2017, Maria, a category 4 hurricane, slammed into Puerto Rico, the most powerful storm to strike the island in over 100 years, killing 2,975 Americans (1000 more than were killed by Katrina) and obliterating the island’s infrastructure. It ravaged the island for 12 hours, destroying the electric power grid as well as thousands of homes, businesses and government buildings. Puerto Ricans were also left with no power and water, no cell phone service, and a sense that the U.S. government had been ill-prepared for the disaster -- which the Federal Emergency Management Agency later conceded was true.

The federal government says it has already spent more than $3 billion for recovery efforts. The government of Puerto Rico says the total cost of recovery over the next decade will be more than $100 billion, and it says it will need help from Congress to foot that bill.1

What, one might reasonably ask, have we learned from that horrendous experience?

About a year ago, the House Government Reform Committee, in an effort to answer that question, called for hearings into the flawed federal response to Maria.

It took nearly a year for congress to respond, scheduling a hearing on the 2017 storms for this Thursday, September 13, just in time for Hurricane Florence to hit the Carolina coast.

FEMA administrator Brock Long, quite reasonably, canceled his appearance to deal with more pressing business. The hearing was called off. It was a bit late, after all, to learn from 2017’s mistakes when 2018’s storms are already making landfall.

Asked if there were any lessons to be learned from Maria that might be applicable to Florence, President Trump’s response has been to congratulate himself for his amazingly fantastic Puerto Rican relief efforts.

The Huntington, West Virginia, Herald Dispatch, however, points out that congress “has assisted Trump’s fiction by suppressing an investigation.”

The editorial concludes: “If it is true that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, we are up a creek in a flash flood.”2

In the Sermon
There are, according to scientists, two kinds of intelligence.3

Fluid intelligence is the ability to process and learn from recently acquired information.

Crystallized intelligence refers to the ability to process and learn from experience and accumulated knowledge.

Both types of intelligence exist in most people but often in different degrees or amounts. Younger people tend to have more fluid intelligence and older people tend to have more of the crystalized type which we often refer to as wisdom.

Wisdom, as crystalized intelligence, comes, to a large degree, from remembering.

Wisdom has to do with what we have experienced and what we remember about what we have experienced. And it has to do with how we apply those memories in solving our current problems and overcoming our current struggles.

Because we are humans we do not have to rely solely upon our own memories and experiences. We can also learn, via language, from the memories and experiences of others -- our parents, our grandparents, our neighbors, friends, ancestors, and predecessors.

But for James it’s not just about solving today’s problems and overcoming today’s struggles. It’s about solving and overcoming in an appropriate way -- in a Christian way.

We can refuse to learn from the past -- our past or the past of others -- by simply ignoring it.

Or we can use our memories and the memories of others for our own selfish ends. We can use them to fatten our bank accounts, pad our lives, ease our own burdens, and give us advantages over others.

Or, as James points out, we can ask God to help us use those memories and experiences to bring us closer to our neighbors, closer to God, and closer to God’s kingdom.

If we use the wisdom of memory for our own, personal advantage, we may gain some brief, short term advantage but, ultimately, we will reap only conflicts, disputes, disorder, and all kinds of unspecified wickedness.

If, on the other hand, we use those memories and experiences to bring ourselves closer to God, we will reap for ourselves and our community, peace and justice and righteousness. In other words, we’ll be blessed with the kind of relationship with God that makes for a full and authentic life.

It is possible that the simple lesson offered by this text might tempt the preacher into delivering a lecture on the nature of wisdom which, if modest and brief, might be helpful as long as it is accompanied by ample and interesting contemporary illustrations of James’ two types of wisdom -- earthly and Godly.

One might naturally begin with some harmless examples of when we gained a real, if earthly advantage by considering memories of a previous, similar experience -- e.g. an athletic competition wherein we have gained an advantage over an opponent because we have played them before.

I remember taking two classes from a college professor who, I quickly learned, tended to teach and test exactly the same way in all his classes, allowing me to take a couple more of his classes and, thanks to my accumulated wisdom of him and his singular pedagogical technique, learn virtually nothing.

Or we might illustrate how, for most parents, the skills of parenting seem to come easier and quicker when we’re talking about the second or third child and not the first, and how all concerned learn and benefit from the application of that wisdom.

Or I might share about my grandmother’s method of frying chicken and how it was never written down but could be learned only by standing at her side and watching her do it and explain what she did and why. But this wisdom that I gained at her side was not to be kept to myself for frying only my own chicken. It was given to be shared. So, using her method, I perfected my own, fried multiple chickens over the years and shared them with my family and, eventually taught my son and daughter grandma’s method.

That, you see, is how Christian wisdom works.

You receive it, you share it, you draw closer to each other and to God in the sharing, and everyone benefits.

1 https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/puerto-rico-hurricane-maria-57826562

2 http://www.herald-dispatch.com/opinion/trump-congress-too-late-to-learn-hurricane-lessons/article_eba19c88-ce6c-545a-823a-f8610aeddd9b.html

3 https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2432221/Wisdom-really-does-come-age-Older-peoples-knowledge-experience-means-make-better-decisions.html

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Competing to Serve Others
by Bethany Peerbolte
Mark 9:30-37

Jesus teaches while walking, standing, lounging, but when he sits we need to listen carefully. When Jesus sits down you know things are about to get serious. The disciples have been competing for first among themselves. In fact, they argued the whole way to Capernaum. Their competition blinding them to the beauty of creation as they walk the road. They pass by people in need only caring about their competition for first and greatest. Jesus knows the disciples are arguing about who is the greatest among them. He sees how the competition to be the best has taken over their better nature. Jesus is disappointed and sits the disciples down to give them a nugget of knowledge. If you want to be the greatest you have to be the least and server of all.

There is no better place than first in line. Ask any elementary student, line leader is the king of the class. I once tried to use Mark 9:35 to convince a first grader that last in line was really the best place to be…he didn’t buy it. I can’t say I disagree with him either. This past weekend I spent two hours in line for a new roller coaster. It was hot, the sun was beating down on me, the people behind me were annoying, but I wanted that two-and-a-half-minute thrill. The rush I got when I was finally first in line was only matched by the feeling after the ride was done. If a child had tried to cut in front of me I would have not welcomed them in Jesus’ name. This was a position I didn’t even work to earn. All I did was stand between two metal railings and moved a foot when there was space ahead of me. If I would have blown up over someone taking my first-place position in this situation, I can only imagine how I would feel if I had spent my life training and working for that place.

I imagine my reaction would be something like the one Serena Williams had at the U.S. Open. In recent weeks we have seen dimly into what Serena Williams has had to go through to get to the top. She is drug tested more often than other athletes. She handles assertively and respectfully. Saying on Twitter and in press conferences that she is happy to help keep the sport clean. Additionally, Serena spent the last year away from tennis because of complications after giving birth. A fully body suit was created to help keep the life-threatening blood clots from forming in her body. This allowed her to return to tennis, but then that suit was banned from the French Open.   Again, Serena handled the ban with respect and a sense of humor.

Subsequently came the final match of the U.S. Open. The three violations Williams received have been plastered all over the news.  “Rarely, if ever, have we seen Serena Williams, reduced to tears during a match. We've seen her fiery. We've seen her enraged. But eyes filled with tears, voice cracking, as she defiantly defends her position and demands the respect she has more than earned? This was new.” Serena reached her breaking point. To train fervently from the age of four, work her way to the top of the sport, struggle to get back after a difficult pregnancy, only to be drug tested disproportionately, forbad use of equipment designed for her safety, and then compete not only with her opponent but with a biased referee. It is a wonder she kept her cool so long.

The resounding theme of Serena’s response to the U.S. Open loss is that it was a point of principle to stand up for herself in this moment. She understands the need for drug testing, she is happy to follow dress codes, but when accused of something she is not guilty of she will defend herself. People can disagree with the way she expressed her dissent, but what Serena wants people to see is that there is a problem. Hopefully her reaction will force officials to address the issue so that no other player will have to suffer what she has been through.

The magnitude of people’s reactions to this story expresses the importance society puts on competition. If you are not the best at something, you are worthless. If you do not currently hold the title you are not worth listening to. Being able to compete is a survival technique, yet humanity had blown it way out of proportion. While we use to compete for food or mates, we now compete for education, looks, and who can best call their husband in for dinner. At least when the disciples got called out for their inappropriate competition the position they wanted to hold was within the realm of reason.

The true sign that the competition was inappropriate is their shameful silence when Jesus asks about the argument. The disciples are immediately aware they have not shown their best on the streets of Capernaum.  Jesus then places a child in their midst and essentially asks how does your competition benefit this child? In the presence of a child, is the argument still worth having? Children still have a way to make us sit up straighter and behave better. I have said a few colorful words only to turn around and find out a child was listening. There is no shame like the shame you feel when a child is disappointed in you. Those little innocent ears and eyes are the ears and eyes of Jesus and of God. If we are not able to justify the competition we are fighting for while a child is present, then the competition has gone too far.

The advice Jesus gives is to always compete to be last, to be the one serving others. That competition will never bring shame or disappoint when facing the next generation. When we put our goals of power and success aside and serve others we find a rush worth working for. Serena Williams knows she is in a spotlight. She also is aware she is blazing a trail for the next generation of tennis players. She knows the struggle she has had to face and wants the journey to be easier for others. Unbalanced drug testing, she will comment but not refuse. Banning an outfit because it doesn’t have a skirt, she will reference the issue but wear the tutu. However, when she feels targeted in a match for being a woman or black that is an argument worth having. Even with children watching, it is worth the raised voice. The hope being that the moment on anger will make the world a more welcoming place for our children.

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From team member Mary Austin:

Mark 9:30-37
Getting Away from First and Last
Jesus, with his paradoxical wisdom, tells us that the first must be last, setting up an endless race to be successful in being last. Author and education expert Alfie Kohn thinks we should get away from the whole question of who’s first and last, taking us closer to Jesus’ vision of shared service to one another. Kohn believes we have reached a toxic level of competition in our society, and he defines competition as anything where one person can only succeed when another fails. “He insists that competition is not human nature; it’s something we learn. ‘The message that competition is appropriate, desirable, required, and even unavoidable is drummed into us from nursery school to graduate school; it is the subtext of every lesson,’ he writes. And according to Kohn, competition undermines self-esteem, destroys relationships, thwarts productivity, and discourages excellence.”

To wean ourselves from the adrenaline of competition, and concentrate on serving one another instead, Kohn recommends that parents:

“Ditch organized sports: Instead of signing your kids up for soccer or tennis lessons, encourage activities that don’t create winners and losers. Swimming, walking, running, and playing outside can all be healthy non-competitive activities.” http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=shareable08-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0865715874Also, “Replace competitive board games: Kohn says it’s no surprise that kids cheat and fight when they’re going head to head at Checkers or Chutes and Ladders. He recommends that parents purchase board games from Family Pastimes, a Canadian Company started by Jim Deacove. According to their website, “Players help each other climb a mountain, make a community, bring in the harvest, complete a space exploration... They are never against each other.”

As we speak to our kids, he says to “Pay attention to praise: Most of us, especially those of us ‘marinated in the myths’ of competition, tend to respond more enthusiastically when our kids win something than when they do their best or just have fun. But Kohn is insistent that a parent’s love and acceptance must never be conditional on success or anything else.” Parents with more than one kid can “Encourage sibling cooperation: Kohn points out that often parents use innocuous-seeming contests to cajole their kids into action, like, “The last one to the car is a rotten egg.” or “The first one in his pajamas gets a treat.” Instead of setting up siblings to compete against each other, Kohn advises that parents encourage cooperation: “Let’s see how fast we can clean up together.”

Maybe first and last aren’t the only categories we have.

* * *

Proverbs 31:10-31
Learning Wisdom
In his article, Dean Feldmeyer writes about acquiring wisdom as we travel through life. In a commencement address, author George Saunders begins by noting the traditional form of the commencement address. “Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you).” He tells the graduates, “Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time “dances,” so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?” And they’ll tell you. Sometimes, as you know, they’ll tell you even if you haven’t asked. Sometimes, even when you’ve specifically requested they not tell you, they’ll tell you.” Looking back on his own life, and the wisdom he’s acquired, he says, “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly. Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet. It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.”

That’s the wisdom of a lifetime, summed up for the graduates.

* * *

Proverbs 31:10-31
Wisdom From Outside the Mainstream
The woman of valor in Proverbs 31 is acting in atypical ways for her time and place, engaging in commerce and public life, along with her traditional responsibilities. Entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte says that mainstream culture often benefits from the wisdom of people outside the center. He remembers the wisdom of his own mother, who “was a huge force in my life. She was for all intents and purposes, a single parent. My father had abandoned us. He was an alcoholic and a physical abuser. My mother lived through that tyranny and made her living as a domestic worker. She was uneducated but she brought high principles and decent values into our existence, and she set lofty goals for herself and for her children. We were forever inspired by her strength and by her resistance to racism and to fascism. She was very vocal on the issues of the 1930s, in particular on Hitler and those in America who embraced Hitler’s philosophy. He adds, “We were instructed to never capitulate, to never yield, to always resist oppression. That always stayed with me, so much so that during World War II, I volunteered and served in the United States Navy. The Navy came as a place of relief for me. It gave me the chance to learn to read and write and to get off the streets of Harlem and the kind of degradation that surrounded me as I grew up. But I was also driven by the belief that Hitler had to be defeated. Although we had a lot of villainy here at home, he was certainly the most visible illustration of what would happen if fascism went unchallenged. I became an anti-fascist, and the more I saw what was happening to the peoples of Europe, the Jews, the more I saw the deep cruelty and inhumanity of that system and its philosophy of White supremacy.”

Looking back on his own experiences, he says, “It is extremely critical that oppression be met full head-on and that it be resisted with every fiber in our being. Absolutely no compromise can be made with it. As a matter of fact, compromise is what oppression feeds on. Without compromise it would be defeated. Just as some cancers feed on hormones, compromise becomes the hormone of oppression.” But, in the end, his wisdom is that “the human spirit is resilient and that truth -- no matter how long you abuse it and how long you try to crush it -- will, as Dr. King would say, rise up again, and in the final analysis will prevail. From the point of view of the poor, the hungry, the disenfranchised, the wretched of the Earth … there will never be peace until their condition has been alleviated and until their humanity is in full bloom.” This is the wisdom of a lifetime spent outside the mainstream of America.

* * * * * * * * *

From team member Tom Willadsen:

Proverbs 31:10-31
Application: The sequence of books in what Christians call the Old Testament is different from that of the modern Jewish Bible. Christians put the Book of Ruth immediately after Judges, because Ruth begins, “In the days when the Judges ruled…”
(Lyle Lovett named an album “Joshua Judges Ruth” which is a complete sentence, and marvelous digression.) In the Jewish scriptures Ruth follows Proverbs.

In a way the character Ruth is an embodiment of “the capable wife” about whom this ode is penned. When I speak to women’s groups I try to work in Proverbs 31:10-31. It is surprising how many women are unfamiliar with it. I ask them to memorize it, if possible, and share it with the men in their lives.

Proverbs 31:25 “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” In this case, her laughter indicates that she is not threatened by the future, she can laugh it off because she’s prepared for anything. In the Bible, by far the most common occasion for laughter is to laugh at something.

* * *

Psalm 1
Application: Consider this psalm’s first word, the NRSV renders it “happy.” Other versions have “blessed,” or even “fortunate.” Why would one be happy, blessed, or fortunate because of meditating on God’s law? The strongest reason in the text is the analogy that the happy are like trees planted by streams of water. They are connected to what gives them life. God’s law is life-giving. How different that joy of seeing God’s will expressed in the Law, from those who see evil and over-reach in regulations designed for consumer protection and safety.

* * *

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a  
Application: This passage ties in very nicely with the gospel text. True faith is doing the right thing, the righteous thing, without thought to honor or attention. It’s tempting to make humility into a kind of contest; imagine a Noble Prize for humility. There’s an old Eastern saying that goes, “True greatness lies in doing the ordinary things in life without any fuss,” which indicates that true greatness does not exactly catch one’s eye. It certainly doesn’t call attention to itself.

The story is told of a rabbi, who while walking through the sanctuary one morning was overcome with a sense of futility. He fell to his knees and sobbed, “I’m nothing, I’m nothing.” The custodian found him, and knelt at his side saying, “I’m nothing, I’m nothing.” After several minutes, the cantor found them and figured they had started a movement and joined them, kneeling, saying, “I’m nothing, I’m nothing.” At this the rabbi turns to the custodian and says, “Now look who’s nothing.”

There’s something elusive about humility. If it’s conspicuous it becomes something else.

It may be helpful to think about some words that are closely related to humility. Humiliate is to bring someone down, to put them on the ground. Humus, another word for soil. Humble, the positive spin on being down to earth. Humble people (perhaps modest is a good synonym) do not always self-deprecate. They have a healthy sense of self, an appropriate self-image.

* * *

Mark 9:30-32
Application: Once again, the disciples don’t get it. The first half of this reading is their second chance to hear that Jesus is headed to Jerusalem, “but they did not understand what he was saying and they were afraid to ask.”

What would it have been like if they had asked? What were they afraid of?

I had a soccer coach years ago who said, “The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.” It did not make me any more willing to ask questions. Soccer wasn’t popular in the late 1970s, most of the players on my teams were as new to the sport as was I. I really thought it was against the rules to kick the ball with one’s toe. I’d been watching “soccer-style” kickers in the NFL who kicked the ball with the inside of their foot. Officially, I found out later, that kicking a soccer ball soccer-style gave the kicker more control over where the ball went. It wasn’t against the rules to use one’s toe, it was just unwise. What would have happened if I’d asked my coach? Maybe others on my team had the same question. Maybe I’d have forgotten about this incident after nearly four decades.

* * *

Mark 9:30-32
Application: Where was Thomas?

In John’s gospel, Thomas plays an important role, but in Mark’s Thomas is just one of “the other disciples,” not part of the inner circle of Peter, James and John, the ones who went up the mountain and saw Jesus turned into a dazzling thing, accompanied by Moses and Elijah. Thomas stayed at the base of the mountain.

Thomas, though, in John’s gospel is the student who insists on understanding, of seeing for himself -- Lord, we don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way? Thomas wasn’t afraid to ask; he wanted to really understand.

And because Thomas asked, we have this clear memorable response from Jesus, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

It was Thomas who had to see with his own eyes Christ’s wounds, before he believed that Christ was risen. When he saw the wounds in the flesh, he believed, “My Lord and my God!”

And because Thomas insisted on seeing for himself, every Christian since has these words to shape and guide us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” That would be all of us. Ask the question! Insist on understanding on your own terms. Make the faith your faith.

* * *

Jeremiah 11:18-20
Application: Jeremiah suffered for speaking God’s word. More than any other person in the Hebrew scriptures, Jeremiah was honest about the pain and suffering he endured at being the Lord’s prophet. Jeremiah is also honest about what he’d like to see the Lord do to his antagonists. Jeremiah claims in this brief bit of poetry that he did not know the schemes of his enemies; he was blind-sided. Still, as honest as he was about the suffering he endured, suffering he blamed God for completely, he remained faithful and continued to speak God’s word.

Faith doesn’t inoculate one from difficulty. Faithful people of all kinds still suffer, but faith puts that suffering into a different context, one with room for grace and mercy as well as suffering and despair.

* * *

Psalm 54
Application: This psalm could have been written by Jeremiah. It echoes the themes of suffering for obedience and righteousness and the desire for God to punish one’s enemies. There it almost feels like a happy dance in the end zone as the psalmist imagines his enemies getting what’s coming to them. Not exactly humanity at our noble best, but certainly profoundly human.

by George Reed

Call to Worship:
Leader: Happy are we when we do not follow the advice of the wicked.
People: Happy are we when we do not take the path that sinners tread.
Leader: We are happy when we delight in the law of God.
People: We are happy when we meditate on it day and night.
Leader: Then we are like trees planted by streams of water.
People: God watches over the way of the righteous.


Leader: Come and let us share our sacred stories.
People: We come to hear the ancient stories of scripture.
Leader: Our stories are sacred stories, as well.
People: We will share with one another our stories of faith.
Leader: The world needs God’s story and wisdom.
People: We will share God’s story and our stories with others.

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

I Sing the Almighty Power of God
UMH: 152
H82: 398
PH: 288
NCH: 12
W&P: 31
Renew: 54

O Word of God Incarnate
UMH: 598
PH: 327 
NNBH: 296
NCH: 315
CH: 322
LBW: 231
ELA: 514
W&P: 670
Renew: 97

Thy Word Is a Lamp
UMH: 601
CH: 326
W&P: 664

Holy Spirit, Truth Divine
UMH: 465
PH: 321
NCH: 63
CH: 241
LBW: 257
ELA: 398

Forward Through the Ages
UMH: 555
NCH: 377
STLT: 114

The Church of Christ in Every Age
UMH: 589
NCH: 306
CH: 475
LBW: 433
ELA: 729
W&P: 623

Rejoice, the Lord Is King
UMH: 715/716
H82: 481
PH: 155 
NCH: 303
CH: 699
LBW: 171
ELA: 430
W&P: 342
AMEC: 88/89

Humble Yourself in the Sight of the Lord
CCB: 72
Renew: 188

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
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 knows all of our histories:
Grant us the wisdom to recall your actions from the past
so that we may be aware of what you are doing now;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.


We praise you, O God, because you know us better than we know ourselves. You have given us the gift of memory which helps us to grow in wisdom when we use it. Help us to use that gift to discern our movements and intentions so that we may make wiser choices in life. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our failure to remember and grow wise.

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We are obsessed with placement. If it is not our jobs or wealth it is the position of a sports team that we support. We speak of mistakes as learning tools but too often we forget our mistakes only to make them again. We know that to forget history is to be doomed to repeat it and yet we continue to repeat the worst parts of our history personally, congregationally, and nationally. Tune our hearts to the words of the Spirit that we may seek what is good and grow in wisdom. Amen.

Leader: God created us with memory to help us grow wise and with the ability to change. Receive these gifts in the power of the Spirit to change and grow in godliness.

Prayers of the People
Praise and glory are yours, O God, because you are wisdom. You have knowledge and understanding.

(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 are obsessed with placement. If it is not our jobs or wealth it is the position of a sports team that we support. We speak of mistakes as learning tools but too often we forget our mistakes only to make them again. We know that to forget history is to be doomed to repeat it and yet we continue to repeat the worst parts of our history personally, congregationally, and nationally. Tune our hearts to the words of the Spirit that we may seek what is good and grow in wisdom.

We give you thanks for the gifts of memory and wisdom. We thank you for those who have shared their wisdom with us so that we may grow more quickly to be wise persons.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another in our need. We pray for wisdom to grow in us, our congregation, our communities, our nations, and our world.

(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
Have an iron but don’t plug it in. Talk to the children about how hot an iron can get. This one is cool now but if we plugged it in and turned it on it could get hot enough to burn us. If we don’t know that about an iron, we might touch it and get burned. If that happens we would probably remember and never touch it again. That is because God created us with the ability to remember. If we didn’t have that gift, we could never learn about anything. God gave us memory to help make us wise so that we will remember things and learn.

(Back to top of page)

Are You the Best?
by Chris Keating
Mark 9:30-37

Focus: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

Gather ahead of time:  Photos from the Internet of the people, businesses, or products named in the children’s sermon. These can include: Taco Bell, Babe Ruth, Michael Jackson, mint chocolate chip ice cream, and Tom Brady, and a picture of your church’s pastor. (According to an unofficial Google search, these persons/products are ranked “Number one” in their category.)

As the children gather, ask them if they have ever heard fans of a team yell, “We’re number one! We’re number one!” It’s a cheer we may say when a team wins, or even when we are part of a winning team. It feels good to make the “number one” sign with our fingers and cheer!

No matter the category, it takes a lot of effort to become the best.

Some say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill -- but other people have said that it takes even more than that! Whatever it takes, it is never easy to become the best. Ask the children to name a few of the things that they can do well.

You might be surprised to find out that Taco Bell was just named the “best Mexican restaurant in America.” (Hold up a picture of Taco Bell). But is that true? Not everyone thinks that Taco Bell is a great place to eat, but a lot of people enjoy eating there.

How about this -- do you know is the best baseball player of all time? Some say it was Babe Ruth (hold up Babe Ruth photo); but St. Louis Cardinal’s fans would probably say it was a player named Stan Musial! (Add your hometown hero). Now what about music? Does anyone know who this is? (Hold up Michael Jackson photo). Michael Jackson is said to have written the best song of all time, “Thriller.” Now, I didn’t make up this list! What about ice cream? What flavor of ice cream do you think number one? It may surprise you…it’s mint chocolate chip! Now, do you know who is the best quarterback in the NFL? (Hold up Tom Brady photo). Finally, who do you think was ranked as the best minister in the United States? (Hold up your pastor’s photo!)

Sometimes, we may even get into debates or friendly arguments with people about who is the best baseball player, or actor, or flavor of ice cream. This is the situation that seems to be occurring in our Bible story this morning. The disciples seem to be having an argument about which of them was the greatest. This is more than a friendly debate; Matthew tells us that the disciples were arguing with one another. They’re like a group of brothers and sisters!

Jesus, however, is not concerned about who is greatest. He is not giving out an award for “Outstanding Disciple.” There are no prizes for being “The Best Presbyterian” or “Methodist of the Month.” No, instead of naming the best disciple, Jesus tells us that those who are greatest will be the ones who are the servants. Explain that the word for servant meant a slave, or a servant who had no power at all. They were not celebrities; they were not wealthy or famous. Instead, the ones Jesus calls the greatest are the people who had the worst jobs. Jesus shows them what he means by holding a little child in his arms and tells the disciples that anyone who welcomes even the smallest child welcomes him.

It turns out that there is nothing we can do to be number one. Instead, if we want to be great, we need to be different. Being great means being Christlike -- welcoming, loving, and serving.

Close with a prayer asking God to help each of us become servants to one another.

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

The Immediate Word, September 23, 2018, issue.

Copyright 2018 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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