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Right, Wrong, Whatever

Children's sermon
For March 1, 2020:

Dean FeldmeyerRight, Wrong, Whatever
Dean Feldmeyer
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 and Matthew 4:1-11

It has been said that the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath is that a psychopath doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong, whereas a sociopath knows the difference but doesn’t care. That’s an oversimplification, of course.

Most humans start their lives with no inkling about morality. Infants and small children don’t know about such things as right and wrong, good and evil. Basically, all they care about is themselves, how they feel at the moment. They have to be taught to care about others and, thankfully, unlike the psychopath, they are usually teachable.

In the Genesis story, Adam and Eve are, morally speaking, children. Right and wrong, moral and immoral don’t figure into their thinking. In Eden, righteousness is simply obedience, doing what God says. But they are not content to be just obedient. They want to be fully human, that is, they want to know about right and wrong and they want to be responsible for their own moral decisions and behaviors.

Lately, it has become popular, in our culture, to belittle people who are sensitive, empathetic, and caring, to call them “snowflakes.” We are warned that we are “raising our children to be a bunch o’ snowflakes.” Are we? I hope so.

Because what’s the alternative? Bullies, sociopaths, and psychopaths. That’s what.

In The Scriptures
Genesis 2:15-17: 3:1-7
The popular mythology that has grown up around the story of the Garden of Eden tends to obscure the story as it is actually told in scripture. For instance:
  • The fruit which Eve eats and gives to Adam is not an apple. Probably. The fact is, the fruit is not identified in the story and it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it functions as a metaphor, a symbol for something else.
  • Satan does not appear in the story nor is Satan even mentioned. It is the serpent who tempts Eve regarding the tree and the serpent is not described as evil, only “crafty.”

If we look at the story as it is actually told, some interesting items, which are often forgotten or ignored, appear in stark and obvious terms.

In 2:15, we learn that God puts Adam in the Garden of Eden not to enjoy and exploit it but “till and keep” it. Work, contrary to what we so often believe, is not a curse placed upon Adam when he is thrown out of the garden. It is, in fact, his purpose, his reason for being, from the very beginning.

In 2:17, the symbolic nature of the tree at the center of the garden is clearly identified. It is not the tree of obedience but  “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” At this point Adam (and, later, Eve) doesn’t know the difference between good and evil. He is living in a state of ignorant innocence. If he eats from the tree, he will know the difference between good and evil and he will lose his ignorance and the innocence which comes with it.

At this point in the story, these are the things which make Adam different from God: 1.) God is the creator and Adam is the creature, part of God’s creation; 2.) God sets the rules and Adam is expected to obey; 3.) God knows the difference between good and evil and Adam does not. As we shall see, in chapter 3, this third difference is the primary focus of the Eden story.

The lectionary skips eight verses wherein God and Adam bring together all of the animals which God has made and name them all while searching for a suitable partner for Adam. When no partner is found, God decides to make one, so God causes Adam to go to sleep, removes one of his ribs, and creates Woman from the rib.

Chapter 3, verse 1, enter the serpent who is, as we have noted, not necessarily evil, but crafty or clever. He approaches Eve, for reasons that are never elucidated, and asks her if it anything in the Garden has been forbidden by God. She responds that, well, there is this one tree, in the middle of the Garden. If we eat of it, or even touch it, (a slight exaggeration on her part, no doubt added for dramatic effect) we will die.

The serpent dismisses this silly notion of death. “Oh, pish-posh! You won’t die. How silly.” He goes on to explain that the real reason God doesn’t want Adam and Eve to eat of that particular tree is that, if they do, they will know the difference between good and evil and, thus, “you will be like God.”

According to the crafty serpent, God doesn’t want to share the knowledge of good and evil with anyone else because God wants to be the only god in Eden.

But Eve looks at the tree and notes that the fruit is, like all the other fruits of the garden, good for food. She notes that fruit of the tree looked really, really good – juicy and sweet and delicious.  And she notes that besides sugar and juice and pulp, this particular fruit also has, within it, wisdom. (“the tree was to be desired to make one wise” 3:6). So she eats and she gives some to Adam, “who was with her.”

They eat of the forbidden fruit not because they are evil or rebellious or even because they want to be Gods. They eat of the fruit because they want to be fully human. They are not content to live confined by the ignorance and innocence that is symbolized by the garden. They want to be free to make their own moral choices with the full knowledge of the difference between good and evil. And they want to be free to be responsible for the consequences of such choices, the first consequence of which is to be banished from the garden.

No more ignorance, no more innocence for them.

Matthew 4:1-11
About six hundred years after the Genesis Eden story was first set down in writing, the story of Jesus’ temptations is written down by Matthew.

The setting is not the lush, fruitful garden of Eden where ignorance and innocence prevail but the dry and dangerous wilderness where, if one is to survive, one must be alert and aware. Adam and Eve were surrounded by fruitful trees, verdant pastures, and friendly animals. Jesus is surrounded by withered grass, sand, jackals, and scorpions.

In this story the tempter is not the crafty, clever, wily serpent but “the devil” who is described as “the tempter,” which, according to Matthew is the devil’s primary role. Adam and Eve are together; Jesus is alone. Adam and Eve have eaten their fill; Jesus is “famished.”

Adam and Eve are vulnerable to temptation because they want to be authentically human. Jesus is tempted precisely because he is authentically human and that is what makes him vulnerable.

Adam and Eve have only the words of God to support them in the face of temptation, so they fail. Jesus has the Word of God to support him in the face of temptation, and he is successful.

In the News
Keoni Ching from Vancouver, Washington, is an 8-year-old who heard that some of his school classmates were in debt to their school because they couldn’t afford the school lunches. So, he decided to earn the money to pay off their debt. His plan was to make handmade key chains and sell them for $5 each.

He ended up raising a total of $4,015, enough money to erase the lunch debt of students from his school and six others.

It all started because Keoni wanted to do something special for "Kindness Week" at his school, Benjamin Franklin Elementary. With the assistance of his mother, father, and brother, Keoni thought about projects that would truly reflect kindness.

He heard about San Francisco 49ers player Richard Sherman, the cornerback, who donated more than $27,000 to cover students' lunch debts.

Keoni said he decided to make key chains because, "I love key chains. They look good on my backpack." Once word of Keoni's key chains and his heartwarming cause got out, people from all over the country started sending in their requests for one of the custom key chains. Keoni and his family sent keychains to Alaska, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Arizona, and pretty much “all over the country” his mother told CNN. One lady, reportedly, ordered 20 key chains go give away to her friends and several others purchased their key chain for $5 and added a $95 tip to the order.

Keoni enlisted his family, including his grandparents and ended up making and selling sold more than 300 key chains, raising $4,014 which he delivered to the Franklin Elementary school. Of that amount, $1,000 went to the school to pay off the $500 lunch debt and for any future debt incurred. The rest went to six other nearby schools, which will get $500 each to clear their own lunch debts.

"Lunches here are about $2. But if you have two or three kids and for whatever reason, you've missed (paying for) a week of lunches or breakfasts, that adds up pretty quickly," Franklin Elementary's Principal Woody Howard said. "This type of a gift takes a little bit of pressure off of your family."

As part of this story, CNN reports that school lunch debt is an increasing problem in the US. In the 2017-2018 school year, 75% of school districts reporting to the School Nutrition Association had unpaid student meal debt. The median amount of unpaid meal debt per district has risen by 70% since the 2012-2013 school year, according to SNA.
Stories of children being lunch-shamed grabbed the nation's attention last year. A boy from Ohio had his lunch taken away on his birthday because of an unpaid balance. A school in Rhode Island said it would serve only “sun butter” and jelly sandwiches to kids with lunch debt.

The outrage surrounding these stories prompted many states to pass laws that ban the action of denying a hot meal to students with unpaid lunch balances.

Keoni doesn't know much about the politics of America's lunch debt problem, but one thing he knows is this: Helping others is important because "it just makes the world a better place," Keoni said.

In the Sermon
One of the things I enjoy about the Christmas season is receiving those family newsletters that let me catch up on what’s going on in the lives of friends and family members I may not have seen or heard from in the past year. Yeah, yeah, I know that some people hate those letters and, that’s fine. Just throw them away and don’t read them if that makes you happy. Me, I’m happy to read them and hear what’s going on.

Usually, if the people I’m hearing from are retired, like me, I hear about their travels, their physical ailments, and their children and their grandchildren. At least, that’s what people who get my newsletter hear about.

If they are not yet to retirement age, I hear mostly about their kids. Achievements, accomplishments, acknowledgements, and awards fill the page. Sports, drama club, grade point averages, college acceptances, and on and on, the things for which parents are rightfully proud.

And sometimes…sometimes, I hear about the character of those kids. I hear that they are kind and caring, loving and thoughtful – all the things that the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to be. And what a joy it is to hear such a report. More important and thrilling than any athletic achievement or college acceptance is the news that a child is empathetic and kind and concerned with making the world a better place.

How, one may legitimately ask, does a child become such a person, in childhood and, later, as an adult? Well, we may not have all the answers to that question but we do have one: They are taught. They are raised buy the adults in their lives who use both words and example to be Jesus-like.

As Christian adults, we have a moral obligation to raise the next generation of children – in our families, our churches, our communities -- to know the difference between right and wrong. We have the responsibility to bring them up to be caring, empathetic, moral adults. But when the culture around us belittles caring, sensitive people, as snowflakes, that’s task is becoming more and more difficult.

Michele Borba, Ed.D. is an internationally renowned consultant, educational psychologist and recipient of the National Educator Award, who has presented workshops to over a million participants worldwide. She is a recognized expert in parenting, bullying, youth violence, and character development and author of 22 books including UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World, and Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues That Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing.

The following ten parenting strategies for raising children to become adults with strong character are adapted from those two books:

1. Commit to raising a moral child — Research finds that parents who feel strongly about their kids turning out morally usually succeed because they committed themselves to that effort.
2. Be a strong moral example — Parents are their children’s first and most powerful moral teachers, so make sure the moral behaviors your kids are picking up from you are ones that you want them to copy.
3. Know your moral beliefs & share them — Before you can raise a moral child, you must be clearly about what believe in. Take time to think through your values then share them regularly to your child explaining why you feel the way you do.
4. Use teachable moments — The best teaching moments aren’t ones that are planned — they happen unexpectedly. Look for moral issues to talk about as they come up.
5. Use discipline as a moral lesson — Effective discipline should ensure that the child not only recognizes why her behavior was wrong but also knows what to do to make it right next time.
6. Expect socially responsible behavior — Kids who act morally have parents who expect them to do so. It sets a standard for your child’s conduct and also lets her know in no uncertain terms what you value.
7. Reflect on the behavior impact. — Researchers tell us one of the best moral-building practices is to point out the impact of the child’s behavior on the offended: “See, you made her cry.”
8. Reinforce moral behaviors — One of the simplest ways to help kids learn new behaviors is to reinforce them as they happen. So purposely catch your child acting morally and acknowledge her good behavior by describing what she did right and why you appreciate it.
9. Intentionally prioritize “character” daily — Encourage your child to lend a hand to make a difference in his world, and always help him recognize the positive effect the gesture had on the recipient. The real goal is for kids to become less and less dependent on adult guidance by incorporating moral principles into their daily lives and making them their own. That can happen only if parents emphasize the importance of the virtues over and over and their kids repeatedly practice those moral behaviors.
10. Incorporate the golden rule — Teach your child the Golden Rule that has guided many civilizations for centuries: “Treat others as you want to be treated.” It helps him think about his behavior and its consequences on others.

While Dr. Borba created these guidelines for parents, they can be easily adapted for churches, schools, and communities. We are all responsible for the children of the world whether they are related to us by family ties or not. We are all part of that giant village whose responsibility it is to raise moral children.

What Happens in the Silence
by Mary Austin
Matthew 4:1-11

“You are not the boss of me,” I found myself telling my phone the other day, as it called to me to come and play a word game, take a spin thru Poshmark and place a quick online detergent order. It didn’t answer me, and I could imagine it smugly thinking, “Yes, I really am the boss of you.” When my husband and I went out to dinner the other night, we sat next to a family of four – each one on their own separate phone or tablet, with an extra tablet sitting nearby in case of…I don’t know what. A need for actual conversation broke out?

Much has been said in recent years about the “attention economy,” and how our attention is the commodity.  Advertisers and merchants are all competing for our limited attention. Blogger and tech expert Heather West suggests that we have passed that, and are now in the “addiction economy.” She says, “if an app or service can keep your attention, they make more money…developers are increasingly good at getting their users to stay, watch ads, or pay — whether that’s rewarded with a power-up in a game, a surge of dopamine from an achievement, or a deluge of adorable dog content. So what drives us to check our social media feeds addictively, or play a video game for hours, or reload cute animal videos all night? It’s all about the incentives.” She adds, “Sometimes, a silly smartphone game is exactly what I need, after a stressful meeting while I head home on the subway. But when I turn to that same game at home instead of paying attention to friends, my dog, or my chores, I end up shortchanging my “real” life in favor of my phone. And being attached at the hip to your smartphone, for example, has been shown to be incredibly distracting. Having your phone nearby significantly impairs problem solving, whether the phone is on or not.”

We are servants to distraction. A raft of books like Indistractable and Deep Work offer ways to reclaim our focus, and to concentrate when we want to. In Indistractable, author Nir Eyal says that before we can overcome distraction, we need to know what we’re distracting ourselves from. We need to ask ourselves what we’re avoiding. Boredom? Failure? Loneliness? Pain?

All of those things come to Jesus as he waits in the desert for forty days, forming himself for the work ahead of him. In these forty days, Jesus personifies being indistractable. He’s not swayed by food, by safety or by power. Interestingly, each of the temptations points ahead to something that he will achieve later, through the power of God. He will provide bread, not just for himself, but for thousands of other people, ultimately proclaiming himself as the bread of life.  When we have communion at church, or at the bedside of a nursing home, or in the living room of a homebound member, we look people in the eye and announce again that we’re giving them the bread of life. He also finds his way to the temple, and has his own encounters with power there. He ascends a mountain to pray, to be recognized by Moses and Elijah and to hear God’s voice announcing his beloved place as God’s son. Everything the devil offers comes to him eventually.  

In addition to distraction, we are also surrounded by increasing levels of noise. “Scientists have known for decades that noise — even at the seemingly innocuous volume of car traffic — is bad for us…say you’re trying to fall asleep. You may think you’ve tuned out the grumble of trucks downshifting outside, but your body has not: Your adrenal glands are pumping stress hormones, your blood pressure and heart rate are rising, your digestion is slowing down. Your brain continues to process sounds while you snooze, and your blood pressure spikes in response to clatter as low as 33 decibels — slightly louder than a purring cat.” Noise has a cumulative effect on us. “Large-scale studies show that if the din keeps up — over days, months, years — noise exposure increases your risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and heart attacks, as well as strokes, diabetes, dementia, and depression.”

All of that accumulated noise makes one long to sit in the desert with Jesus, savoring the silence.  Jesus uses the stillness of the desert to draw strength for the work ahead. He uses the quiet to move more fully into who he is, letting God’s proclamation at his baptism settle into his spirit and come to life. Jesus is comfortable with stillness in a way that is hard for us, and grows more difficult all the time. Still, Lent calls us back to the quiet. We are to follow Jesus into the work of attending to God, resisting the things that separate us from God, in the pattern of Jesus who resisted the devil’s offerings.

To do that, we also need the deep stillness that Jesus practices. The first temptation we can resist is distraction, so we can sink into the silence, and draw strength there. Lent’s invitation is to love the quiet the way Jesus does, and to meet up with him there.


Ron LoveFrom team member Ron Love:

Psalm 32:1
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Peggy Wallace Kennedy is the daughter of former Alabama Governor George Wallace. Wallace is known for his racist views and his polices that enforced discrimination. Wallace is perhaps best known with these words: “Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever.” In December 2019, Kennedy published a book titled The Broken Road: George Wallace and a Daughter’s Journey to Reconciliation. In the book she discusses her father’s racist views and how it was to grow up in his home. Toward the end of his life, after he was shot and crippled, Wallace did change his views on race. Regarding her father’s racist views, she wrote, “I think he ran on race and segregation for power. He knew that was the one way he could win the governorship, and he would have done anything to win.” The reason Kennedy gave for writing the book is, “You can overcome your past, no matter what that past is. You can find your voice and inspire.”

* * *

Genesis 3:2
The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;
Ebenezer Baptist Church bills itself as “America’s Freedom Church,” a reflection of its lofty stature as the house of worship where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. Over the decades, the 6,000-member congregation just east of downtown Atlanta has become a favored stop for national politicians seeking to make their case to the African-American community and pay homage to the slain civil rights icon. Though the church has been a campaign stop, its clergy, in reflection of the example set by King who declined repeated requests to run for political office, have respected that position and refused political overtures. Now, the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, the current and fifth senior pastor in the church’s 134-year history, has decided in January 2020 to run for the United States Senate. He has been criticized that his campaign is based on the legacy of King, to which Warnock denies. He has also been criticized for using his pulpit as a political podium. Regarding these accusations Warnock said, “Listen, politics is inescapable whether I choose to run or not. We may all choose to live in our faith, but we live under the law.”

* * *

Genesis 3:1
“Did God say…”
In newspapers we read about the news. On television we watch the news. With friends we discuss the news. The word “news” comes from the four corners of the globe: N = North; E= East; W= West; S = South.

* * *

Matthew 4:1
be tempted by the devil
Bret Michaels, who was born in March 1963, is the lead singer for the rock band Poison. When he was 6-years-old and living in Pennsylvania, he was diagnosed with diabetes. This began a life of isolation, as neighboring parents would not let their children play with him thinking the disease was contagious. In 1977 his parents organized the Harrisburg Diabetic Youth Camp, so other diabetic children could associate with one another and learn how to manage their ailment. Of that experience Michaels said, “I had no idea that there were so many people like me.” It is for this reason that the rock star has committed himself to sending other diabetic children to camp.

* * *

Genesis 3:1
“Did God say…”
A week after a January 15, 2013 interview, with his public confession to Oprah Winfrey acknowledging his use of performance enhancing drugs, Lance Armstrong was sued by a group of his autobiographical readers. In particular the suit centers on two books, It’s Not About The Bike and Every Second Counts. The lawsuit contends that his lies and deceptions falsified the triumphs and promises made in the books. The suit contends that his lies were a part of “illegal conduct that spanned years” for economic gain.

* * * * * *

Tom WilladsenFrom team member Tom Willadsen:

Genesis 2:15-17
The Two Adams
“The Adam of Genesis 1 was the idea of man, and hence this ideal man never appeared on earth; it was the Adam of Genesis 2, fashioned out of material dust and immaterial spirit, who was ancestor of the race. Fashioned as he was of antithetical materials, he lived as all men live, under the tension in which the material aspect of him tugged in direction, the immaterial in the opposite.”      

---Philo, cited in The Torah a Modern Commentary, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, New York, 1981, p. 33.

* * *

Genesis 2:15-17
A bit of midrash contends that God found his creation of humanity “very good,” but an opposite, evil impulse was also present. Could an evil impulse ever be considered good? “Yes, for were it not for this impulse no man would build a house, take a wife or beget children.”

* * *

Genesis 2:15-17
A better translation of “you will surely die,” (2:17, NRSV) would be “you will become mortal.” While accurate, the NRSV translation makes it sound like eating the fruit would be like consuming a fast-acting poison, that is not the sense of the Hebrew. Someone reading this text without the nuance may think of it as God’s lying about the consequence of eating the fruit.

* * *

Genesis 2:25
This verse, while not part of today’s lection is an important bridge to what follows. The Hebrew word for naked, ערומם is just one letter different from shrewd.ערום,

* * *

Genesis 3:1-7
Bruce Springsteen sang, “They say Eve tempted Adam with an apple/ But man I ain’t going for that/ I know it was her pink Cadillac.” Well, The Boss gets it wrong on at least two counts. A quick look at my concordance shows that “Cadillac” does not appear in the New Revised Standard Version. Also, the text does not indicate that the fruit was an apple. Through the ages pomegranates, figs, citrons, grapes, even wheat have been believed to be “the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

* * *

Genesis 3:1-7
The serpent is one of only two animals who speak in the Bible. The other is Balaam’s donkey. (Numbers 22:22-35) In that case “the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey.” Presumably the serpent had the gift of speech without the Lord needing to speak through it to Eve.

* * *

Matthew 4:1-11
Even “the devil can cite scripture for his own purpose,” says Antonio in Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice,” (Act 1, Scene 3)

And the devil does precisely that in Matthew 4:6, where he cites Psalm 91:11, 12.

Jesus uses scripture to refute each of the devil’s temptations. To decline turning stones to bread, Jesus uses Deuteronomy 8:3,” that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

To decline jumping from the tower of the Holy City, Jesus cites Deuteronomy 6: 16,  “Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah…”

To decline the devil’s offer of all the kingdoms of the world, Jesus replied with Deuteronomy 6:13, “The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.”

* * *

Romans 5:12-19
Paul is engaging in some extensive midrash as he looks at Genesis 1-3 in his letter to the Romans. It is not explicitly clear that Paul believes that Adam’s sin somehow taints all of humanity. A close reading shows that Adam was the first to sin, but subsequently everyone sinned. We’re all guilty, but this text is not an unambiguous argument for Original Sin.

* * *

Psalm 32
This text lends itself to be read responsively, or as a call to worship. Note that the audience changes at verse 8. Do not skip lightly over vv. 3-4. Remember, it’s Lent now. It's the contrast between living with unconfessed, unacknowledged sin and freely admitting one’s sin leads to relief and a confident faith for the psalmist. It comes at a substantial cost.

* * * * * *

George ReedWORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship:
Leader: Happy are we whose transgression is forgiven.
People: Happy are we to whom God imputes no iniquity.
Leader: God surrounds us with glad cries of deliverance.
People: Steadfast love surrounds those who trust in God.
Leader: Be glad in God and rejoice, O righteous.
People: Shout for joy, all you upright in heart.


Leader: God calls us to hear the words of eternal life.
People: We quiet our hearts so that we may listen.
Leader: God desires to dwell in our hearts and our minds.
People: We open ourselves to our loving God of life.
Leader: God sends the Spirit to empower us for love.
People: May the Spirit strengthen us in God’s love.

Hymns and Songs:
Hope of the World
UMH: 178
H82: 472
PH: 360
NCH: 46
CH: 538
LBW: 493
W&P: 404

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

Now the Silence
UMH: 619
H82: 333
CH: 415
LBW: 205
ELW: 460
W&P: 700
Renew: 221

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
UMH: 626
H82: 324
PH: 5
NCH: 345
CH: 124
LBW: 198
ELW: 490
W&P: 232
Renew: 229

Take Time to Be Holy
UMH: 395
NNBH: 306          
CH: 572
W&P: 483
AMEC: 286 

I Need Thee Every Hour
UMH: 397
AAHH: 451
NNBH: 303
NCH: 517
CH: 578
W&P: 476
AMEC: 327

Take Up Thy Cross
UMH: 415
H82: 675
PH: 393
LBW: 398
ELW: 667
W&P: 351
AMEC: 294

I Am Thine, O Lord
UMH: 419
AAHH: 387
NNBH: 202
NCH: 455
CH: 601
W&P: 408
AMEC: 283 

We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder
UMH: 418
AAHH: 464
NNBH: 217
NCH: 500
AMEC: 363
STLT: 211

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

Eat This Bread
CCB: 48
Renew: 228

Change My Heart, O God
CCB: 56
Renew: 143

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

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who is the fountain of all good:
Grant us the wisdom to seek you and your knowledge
that we may follow your path to life eternal;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.


We praise you, O God, because you are the fountain of all good. You know the path to life and seek to lead us there. Help us to be quiet long enough to listen to you and your wisdom. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our failure to be quiet and listen to God.   

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We are so busy with the ordinary things of this world that we fail to take time to be quiet and listen for what you are telling us through these things. We say we believe you are always with us but we act as if we are alone. Help us to quiet our hearts and minds and listen to you speak the words of life that we may share them with others. Amen. 

Leader: God loves us and seeks our good. God desires to dwell in communion with us and all people. Receive God’s grace and share it with those you meet this week.

Prayers of the People
Praise and glory to you, O God, creator of us all. We rejoice in your presence with us as you lead us into life eternal.

(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 so busy with the ordinary things of this world that we fail to take time to be quiet and listen for what you are telling us through these things. We say we believe you are always with us but we act as if we are alone. Help us to quiet our hearts and minds and listen to you speak the words of life that we may share them with others.

We give you thanks for all the ways in which you speak your words of life to us. We thank you for scripture and the spiritual writings that you children have left for us. We thank you for those who have taught us in word and deed about you and your grace.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another in our need. We pray for those who have been so distracted by the worries of this life that they have not been able to hear your voice in their lives. We pray for those whose lives of hardship, violence and poverty drown out your voice to them. We pray for ourselves that we may hear you more clearly and share you more readily.

(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
Temptations are tempting. We may see a cookie that we know we are not suppose to eat right now and we want it anyway. Some children may be teasing someone and since they are our friends we are tempted to join them in being mean to that person. We may have done something wrong and we want to lie and say we didn’t do it. Temptations come to everyone. Even Jesus. But Jesus was strong and so sure of God’s love for him that he could resist the temptations. When we are tempted to do something wrong we can be like Jesus and remind ourselves of God’s great love for us that helps us do what is right.

What’s Different About Lent?
by Chris Keating
Genesis 2: 15-17, 3:1-7, Matthew 4:1-11

Congregations vary in their approaches to Lent: some use Lenten banners, some make changes to the worship, and some develop specific liturgical elements. If this is true for your congregation, you may wish to consider developing a children’s conversation focused on “what’s different.” Ask the children “What do you see? What do you think this means?” Lent may be harder for children to understand than other seasons like Advent or Christmas. After all, it was just a few weeks ago that we celebrated Jesus’ birth; talking about his death may be a hard concept for children to grasp.

Consider developing a Lenten candle liturgy and invite children to participate. This is a bit like a reversing of the Advent candle liturgies used by many churches. Set up six candles to represent each of the Sundays in Lent (including Palm/Passion Sunday). Light the candles before the service and invite a child to extinguish a candle each week. An older child could lead a short prayer or read a brief scripture passage. In the days leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, the extinguished candle is a reminder of how the darkness around Jesus increased.

Another option would be to talk about the number forty. Hold up a big sign with the number “40” on it. This is an important number in the Bible. The flood God send during the time of Noah was forty days long; people of Israel wandered for forty years; and Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for forty days. Lent’s forty days are a reminder of Jesus’ time of testing and temptation. It is a long time – longer than a month, and for children, Easter may still seem a million days away. But God uses these days for a special reason. (Be prepared: you will have one highly motivated and mathematically astute child who will tell you there are more than forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. The answer, of course, is that we don’t count Sundays! This will be a big delight to those who have given up chocolate for Lent.)

The point is that these days help us get ready for what is coming next. It was not until he fasted for forty days and nights that Jesus was fully ready to do the work God wanted him to do. It would have been tempting to do the things Satan asked. But temptations are sometimes distractions that keep us from doing the things God wants us to do. Likewise, the people of Israel wandered for forty years as they learned how to rely on God. How could we pray that these next forty days would be a time of learning what God wants us to do?

Picking up on the Psalm text, you could create a children’s time focused on forgiveness.  Consider reading a story about forgiveness, or help the children learn what Jesus meant when he asked the disciples to pray that their sins would be forgiven, even as they forgive others. How might they become more forgiving of others? This becomes an important teaching moment for the children in learning more about the meaning of Lent.

Finally, a beautiful option for the first Sunday in Lent is the tradition of burying or hiding “Alleluias” for Lent. Some churches do not include Alleluias in liturgy or song during Lent. By actually “burying” or hiding alleluias, churches can help children understand what it means to wait as God’s love for human beings is fully revealed. Get a big trunk, or treasure chest or even an old suitcase and a big sign that says “Alleluia.” Have the children each write their name on the “Alleluia.”  Invite the children to place the sign inside the chest or box. You might even add some tape to emphasize putting away the “Alleluias.” As you are doing this, have the musician play “Alleluia” (Jerry Sinclair) or “Halle, Halle, Hallelujah!” by Marty Haugen. Let the congregation sing this a couple of times, beginning loud and bright, but gradually get quiet.

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

The Immediate Word, March 1, 2020 issue.

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

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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John Jamison
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. (vv. 1-2)

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For December 5, 2021:
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We knew it all along, but it takes good messengers if we are to hear it again.

Baruch 5:1-9
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Referring to this lesson, the ancient theologian Irenaeus wrote:

... the prophet has pointed out, that as many believers as God has prepared for this purpose, to multiply those left upon earth, should both be under the rule of the saints to minister to this Jerusalem.  (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, p.565)

The text is about the fresh start God affords us in Christ.  The coming son is like a bridge to this new reality.  About Christ’s role in this way, the medieval mystic Catherine of Siena once wrote:


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The Real Messanger
by Frank Ramirez
Malachi 3:1-4

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me…. (Malachi 3:1)

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
Roly lay down with his head on his paws and felt lonely. But he wasn't lonely for long, for lots of people came to the entrance to the maze and petted him and patted him and stroked him and spoke to him. Roly perked up, and wondered for the hundredth time what went on in a maze. Still, the family had told him very firmly to stay at the entrance in case he got lost in the maze, or worse, because he was so small, tripped people up by darting between their legs.


Alex A. Gondola, Jr.
Have you ever noticed that many people seem to feel they either have "too much" Christmas or "not enough" Christmas? Television commentator Andy Rooney is one who thinks he has had "too much" Christmas. Andy Rooney, in fact, has proposed a "Christmas Holidays Limitations Act." These are some of the provisions of that Act:

1. Capital punishment would be mandatory for anyone caught selling Christmas ornaments before Thanksgiving.
Cynthia E. Cowen
Every Sunday, a church broadcasts a one-hour service over the waves of 1450 WMIQ, the local radio station. It begins with this announcement, "From the shores of beautiful Crystal Lake, we bring you Our Saviour's morning service."

One Advent season, the pastor had selected an "in the sandals" sermon series. The first biblical character to be heard from was John the Baptist. As John entered clothed in the prophet's clothing, a reader announced: "Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight" (Luke 3:4b).
J. Will Ormond
The setting and shape of this sermon are obvious. It was preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the founding of that congregation.

The church was officially organized on January 30, 1949. I was the first pastor. I remained pastor until May, 1964.
Robert S. Jarboe
Second Sunday In Advent

For Luke 1:68-79

(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.)
If we keep our minds steadfast and trust in God,
we will be kept in perfect peace.

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