Virtual Worship for Jan. 17, 2021

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Pastor Karen Crawford

Ashley Bryant, Liturgist

Alice Hoover, Organist

The full virtual service:

Prelude: Light of the Living GodDavid Paxton Alice Hoover, organ

We are in the church season of Epiphany – the season of light. Listen for the light’s “crescendo” in the last segment of this piece – the full light of the living God.

Greeting/Announcements

Opening Sentences: Ashley Bryant

Come and see the grace of God,

Christ our teacher and our friend.

Come and see the son of God,

Christ our healer and salvation.

God is moving in this place.

Come and see! Come and see.

Gathering Prayer

Hymn: Jesus Calls Ustext, Cecil Frances Alexander music, William H. Jude

Jesus calls us: o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea;
day by day his sweet voice soundeth saying, “Christian, follow me.”

Jesus calls us: by thy mercies, Savior, may we hear thy call,
give our hearts to thine obedience, serve and love thee best of all.

Call to Confession

Prayer of Confession

Holy God, you see into each of us and know us fully as creatures in need of your constant care. We confess that we have neither heard your word nor followed your will. We have failed our nation, neighbors, families, friends, and ourselves. Give us ears to hear your wisdom. Lead us to honesty and faith so that we may begin again with renewed strength; in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Time with Children and Youth

Prayer for Illumination

Readings:

I Samuel 3:1-20; John 1:43-51

Holy wisdom, holy word. Thanks be to God!

Message: Here I Am

Hymn: I, the Lord of Sea and Sky… Daniel L. Schutte

I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin my hand will save.
I, who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright. Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send?

Refrain: Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people I my heart.

I, the Lord of snow and rain, I have borne my people’s pain.
I have wept for love of them. They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts for love alone. I will speak my word to them. Whom shall I send?

Refrain

Prayer of Thanksgiving/Lord’s Prayer

We praise and thank you, Lord God, for the majesty of your work, the wisdom of your word, and the generosity of your grace. Let the gifts of our lives bear witness to your goodness and mercy, your faithfulness and justice, and your steadfast love for all. And we continue our prayer as Jesus taught us. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Charge/Benediction

Postlude: Great Day…. African American spiritual… setting, Robert J. Powell

The African American community has blessed America with a wealth of music. Today’s postlude is in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day tomorrow.

Here I am

Meditation on 1 Sam. 3:1-20 & John 1:43-51

Pastor Karen Crawford

Jan. 17, 2021

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Audio of this message:

Here I Am

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

These are just some of the great words spoken by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, whose life and legacy will be remembered tomorrow throughout our nation. The champion of non-violent resistance to fight for racial and economic injustice, peace, and economic equality struggled with his own human frailties; he worried that he wasn’t good enough and never did enough to advance the cause.

He left us powerful words.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude.”

King was not the only one with powerful words in his day. There were others—men and women, such as Prathia Hall Wynn, one of the first women to be ordained in the American Baptist Association. MLK is quoted as saying, “Prathia Hall is one of the platform speakers I would prefer not to follow.”  

Prathia believed that she was brought into this world and given a voice and a keen intellect for a reason – to integrate religion and freedom. She would become well known as a “womanist, theologian, ethicist, and civil rights activist,” credited with inspiring MLK’s 1963 “I Have A Dream Speech.”

Her first experience with racial segregation was when she was 5 years old in 1945 and took a train from her hometown of Philadelphia to Virginia to visit her grandparents. She, her mother, and her sister, Teresa, were forced to be reseated in a segregated car when the train crossed the Mason-Dixon line (the Pennsylvania-Maryland border).

While Prathia was working on her bachelor’s in political science at Temple University, she began participating in the Civil Rights Movement. She was arrested, along with 10 other demonstrators, on Nov. 11, 1961. Her crime? Sitting in a Barnes Drive-In Restaurant in Annapolis, Maryland that excluded Black customers. She was held in jail without bail for two weeks!

Prathia became the first woman field organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Southwest Georgia. White segregationists’ nightriders fired into the house where she was staying on September 6, 1962. She and two other civil rights activists were wounded. Four days later, Prathia led a prayer vigil at the site of Mount Olive Baptist Church the day after the Ku Klux Klan burned it and Mount Mary Baptist Church to the ground. MLK attended that service, hearing Prathia repeat the phrase, “I Have A Dream.” This inspired King to start using it in his speeches and sermons.

Black American civil rights leader Martin Luther King (1929 – 1968) addresses crowds during the March On Washington at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, where he gave his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Prathia would go on to earn a master of divinity, master of theology, and a doctor of philosophy from Princeton Seminary. Then, the Lord used Prathia’s voice, giving her powerful words when she began serving as pastor of Mt. Sharon Baptist Church in Philadelphia in 1978, the church her father founded 40 years earlier.

In 1997, Ebony magazine named her number one on their list of Top 15 Greatest Black Women Preachers. She continued to use her powerful words when she joined the faculty at Boston University School of Theology in 2000, where she held the Martin Luther King Chair in Social Ethics. She served God faithfully until her death from cancer on Aug. 12, 2002, in Boston, MA. She was 62.

Prathia, like King, left us with many inspiring words, such as, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

****

Sometimes, it feels like we are in a time like the one First Samuel describes in chapter 3, when “The word of the Lord was rare in those days,” and “visions were not widespread.” It was a dark time, when God seemed silent and far away. Evil had seeped even into God’s Temple, corrupting its leadership. The priest, Eli, who had grown old and blind, could not or would not control his wicked sons who stole from God and God’s people. They helped themselves to raw meat given for the sacrifice for the sins of the community, before it was offered up on the altar to the Lord.

It was during this dark time when young Samuel first heard the Word of God and did not even know it was God! Samuel was the firstborn son to devout Hannah, born after many years of her not being able to conceive. She and her husband, Elkanah, dedicated Samuel to the Lord and brought him to live in the Temple as soon as the child was weaned. He slept in a room near the ark of God. Hebrews 9:4 tells us that the ark contained “the golden pot that had manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant”—the Ten Commandments.

With the lamp of God burning brightly, Samuel heard a voice calling his name. “Samuel! Samuel!” The boy responded immediately, “Here I am,” running to Eli, who sent him back to bed. When it happens again and a third time, Eli, who has never heard the voice of God, realizes God is speaking to young Samuel. He tells the boy to respond to the voice, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Later, though Samuel is afraid to share God’s word with Eli, for it’s a message of judgment against the house of Eli, the boy, chosen by God, is faithful to his prophetic calling.

    He is obedient, though it means speaking hard truths to power and being the only voice of wisdom in a dark time. I Samuel tells us, “As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.”

***

On this day when we remember and honor the prophets of old and new, through whom God spoke, it is right for us to consider our own faithfulness. Are we listening for the voice of the inescapable God, the one who, in Psalm 139, knows our thoughts and every word we are say before it is on our tongues? Are we living in obedience to the God who knows all the days that were formed for us, when none of them as yet existed? How are we using our voices? Have we grown weary, as Paul warns the Galatians in 6:9, of doing good, giving up before we reap the harvest of faith? Let us join with the psalmist, who prays, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

 In this historic week for our country, the threat of violence hangs heavy over our nation, disturbing our peace. Let us listen attentively for God’s voice. For the Lord is calling to us “over the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea: day by day his sweet voice soundeth saying, ‘Christian, follow me.’”

Let us welcome the Lord’s transforming work in our hearts and lives. God’s not finished with us, yet! The Lord wants to speak through us powerful words. Let us seek Him in the quiet and darkness of night, saying, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And, “Here I am, Lord.”

MLK would have celebrated his 92nd birthday on Jan. 15, if not for his assassination on April 4, 1968, while standing on a motel balcony. As he followed God’s call on his life to the point of giving up his life, he left a legacy of powerful words:

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

“If you can’t fly, then run; if you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for speaking to us through your Word, spoken by the prophets of old and the faithful in more recent times. Thank you for your love for us and trusting us with your Word. Your voice comes to us in the darkness, when we are quiet and still, ready to obey. Give us courage to speak the truth to power and to walk in your loving ways. Lord, we live in a violent world where freedom does not ring out from every mountainside. Not yet. But we believe that with your Son, your words spoken by the prophets will come true— that every valley shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low. The rough places shall be made plain and the crooked places straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. And all flesh shall see it together. This is our faith. This is our hope. Amen.

Virtual Worship for Jan. 10, 2021

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Pastor Karen Crawford

Jim Crawford, Liturgist

Mark Wagner, Organist

The Baptism of the Lord
Virtual Worship with The Presbyterian Church for Jan. 10, 2020

Prelude: Bethlehem… arr. and lyrics, David N. Johnson (Mark Wagner, organ)

Mark Wagner, organ

Greeting/Announcements

Opening Sentences: Jim Crawford

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters; then God said: Let there be light, and God saw that it was good. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was baptized by John. The heavens opened, and the Spirit descended like a dove; then God said: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Gathering Prayer

Hymn: Breathe on Me, Breath of God (1,3) text, Edwin Hatch; music, Robert Jackson

Mark Wagner, organ

Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love,
and do what thou wouldst do.

Breath on me, Breath of God, till I am wholly thine, until this earthly part of me glows with thy fire divine.

Call to Confession/Prayer of Confession/Assurance of Pardon with Pastor Karen

God whose spirit moved over the waters, you have washed us in your mercy, claimed us as your own, bound us in community, and called us to lives of baptismal grace. Forgive us, O God, for we have not lived as if we were your baptized people. We stumble over opportunities for forgiveness. We prioritize our own selfish interests. We are slow to disrupt the status quo, even when it means ignoring our neighbors’ suffering. Forgive us, O God, and by your forgiveness, lead us back to your waters of transformation.  Amen.

Time with Children and Youth: Butterflies and Caterpillars

Pastor Karen reads The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Prayer for Illumination: Jim Crawford

Reading: Genesis 1:1-5

 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!

Reading: Mark 1:4-11 with Pastor Karen

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Holy wisdom, holy word. Thanks be to God!

Message: The Day the Heavens Were Torn Apart

Hymn: Today We All Are Called to Be Disciples ( stanzas 1, 3) ……H. Kenn Carmichael

Mark Wagner, organ

Today we are all called to be
Disciples of the Lord,
To help to set the captives free,
Make plow-share out of sword,
To feed the hungry, quench their thirst,
Make love and peace our fast,
To serve the poor and homeless first,
Our ease and comfort last.

Pray justice may come rolling down
As in a mighty stream,
With righteousness in field and town
To cleanse us and redeem.
For God is longing to restore
An earth where conflicts cease,
A world that was created for
A harmony of peace.

Invitation to the Table (From One Bread, One Body, Hymn 530…John B. Foley)

“One bread, one body, one Lord of all.
One cup of blessing which we bless.
And we, though many, throughout the earth
We are one body in this one Lord.

Gentile or Jew
Servant or free
Woman or man
No more.

One bread, one body, one Lord of all.
One cup of blessing which we bless.
And we, though many, throughout the earth
We are one body in this one Lord…”

Great Thanksgiving

The Lord be with you. And also with you.

Lift up your hearts. 

We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give our thanks and praise...

Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Communion of the People of God

Prayer After Communion

Charge/Benediction

Postlude: Postlude on Madrid….arr. Dennis R. Johnson (Mark Wagner, organ)

Mark Wagner, organ

The Day the Heavens Were Torn Apart

Meditation on Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1: 4-11

Baptism of the Lord

Jan. 10, 2021

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Pastor Karen Crawford

The sun came out yesterday. I was walking to my mailbox to return the Arbor Day questionnaire, excited about the promise of Norway Spruce seedlings and baby Lilacs coming in the spring.

The sun came out yesterday, when I needed to see the light. We hadn’t seen the sun for many days, here in our Ohio winter, but especially this week, when the world has seemed engulfed in grey.

Dark.

The sun came out yesterday, a reminder of the day when the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep. But a wind from God swept over the face of the waters, as if God were “inhaling in preparation to speak,” as one scholar said, poetically. For after the ruach came–the same Spirit that breathed life into the first human being, made from the dust of the earth, in the image of God—the Lord spoke into being all Creation, his voice thundering over the waters.

 “Let there be light,” God said. And there was light.  The light was good. The light brought the dawning of the very first Day, as the Lord called it. Notice God didn’t take away all darkness. No, there is a godly purpose for what the Lord called, “Night.” All human beings need rest. We mortal creatures are not created to be in constant motion, like the Eveready Bunny—still going, 24-hours a day. That’s only for the Lord, an eternal being who never sleeps.

God brought order into chaos when he spoke light into being in the formless void. God had a plan for humankind before the foundation of the world, before God created human beings. With light, day, and night, came the creation of what we call time, observed and recorded by the ancients. Time has ordered our lives. As the writer of Ecclesiastes 3 tells us, “For everything there is a season, a time for every purpose or activity under heaven.” Each day doesn’t belong to us alone. We have known for thousands of years that each day is a gift from God, precious. “So, teach us to count our days,” sings the psalmist in 90:12, “that we may gain a wise heart.”  “This is the day that the Lord has made!” sings the Psalmist in 118:24. “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

   With the revelation of Light in the darkness—and with each day of Creation—God speaks a new reality into being, revealing something of God’s own character and will.

The Lord’s baptism by John in the Jordan is also the dawning of a new day—a new way of living, a new reality come into being. God reveals something of God’s character and will the day his voice again thunders over the water, this time in the presence of people from all over Jerusalem and Judea, come for John’s baptism of repentance.

The new revelation at the Jordan River: God has come to dwell in the realm of human beings—to show his great love and mercy. Just like the first day of Creation—the Spirit broke into the chaos of the world—and I know we like to think of God as this gentle dove fluttering down to rest upon Jesus—but don’t miss what came right before that—when the heavens were torn apart as Jesus came up out of the water. “You are my Son,” the voice from heaven thundered over the water, revealing the glory of God as it does in Psalm 29. The voice of the Lord, as the psalmist sings, is “powerful” and “full of majesty;” it “breaks the cedars of Lebanon,” causes “the oaks to whirl,” and “shakes the wilderness.” The power of God isn’t in the form of a dove; it moves like a dove when it descends on Christ, the Messiah for all people.

All this power and majesty can be summed up in one word. Love. The Love of God came near. It broke into a world that was desperate for it. All of Judea and Jerusalem, the Holy City, was looking for God outside the cult of the temple and its priests. They were going out to the wilderness to find God—and be transformed.

God’s purpose in coming to dwell among us? So that justice would roll down like a mighty stream, order would be brought to chaos, and the peaceable kingdom would break into this world–when the lion would lie down with the lamb. There would be reconciliation between God and human beings and human beings with each other—through the Beloved Son. Christ is our peace, says Ephesians 2:14. “In his flesh he has made both groups (Jew and Gentile) into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”

Jesus wasn’t baptized to be forgiven for His sins, for Christ didn’t sin! He was baptized to show his solidarity with us, that we are one in the Family of God. He was baptized to show his willingness to be obedient to God’s call. Christ’s baptism would mark the beginning of His ministry and would take him on the road to the cross, where he would give himself for our sakes.

“You are my Son; the Beloved,” the voice from heaven speaks, changing the reality forevermore and revealing the divine character and will. “With you,” the voice says, “I am well pleased.”

***

My friends, with today’s readings, we are stirred to recall our own baptisms—and give God thanks. If we were worshiping together in the sanctuary today and didn’t have any restrictions of social distancing, I would be inviting each of you to come to the baptismal font. An elder or deacon would pour water over your hands and invite you to take a clear stone. I would say, “Remember your baptism and be thankful” inviting you to recommit yourselves to Jesus Christ, who has claimed us as his own.

Today is the dawning of new day, with mercies from God that are new every morning. Whether or not the sun will shine, the ETERNAL Light has come.

We are connected with Christ and all His Church—in every place and time, a connection that is strengthened whenever we hear the Word, whenever two or more are gathered in prayer, whenever we celebrate the Sacraments (Baptism and Communion). We are forever yoked by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit come to dwell within us, much like it did on the day the heavens were torn apart, and the Spirit descended like a dove. We are, together, “justified by faith” and have “peace with God in our Lord Jesus Christ,” as Paul says in Romans 5:1-2, “through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.”

Friends, this week was one so marked by chaos and darkness, I don’t know where to begin to speak of the disorder in our country. On Wednesday, on the day when the Church around the world officially begins to celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord and the season of Light coming into the darkness, angry protestors stormed the Capitol by the hundreds. They climbed “the grand marble staircase and breached police gates and smashed windows and shoved police officers and broke through doorways and forced their way in,” says a Washington Post story. “They burst into the offices and chambers of the Capitol, taking over the place as though it were their own, lounging in members’ offices, strolling through the statuaries, halting the constitutional process…”

As I listened and watched the news as this was going on, I had such a heaviness in my heart. I felt like I was in a fog. Was what I was seeing and hearing a bad dream? And then—there was a light in the darkness. Order in our chaos: a reminder that we are never alone in our faith. And we are not merely fragile, human beings; we are the Body of Christ, with the power of God living in us.

I opened an email from the Rev. Matt Skolnik, our general presbyter, inviting church leaders, elders and pastors, and any other church members to join together on Zoom for a prayer vigil at 8 o’clock. He wrote in his invitation to the vigil, “It is my responsibility to remind us that our allegiance ultimately does not belong to governments or political parties–it does not belong to presidents or presidents to come. Instead, as children of the baptismal waters, we belong to God in life, death, and resurrection; in worship, service, and mission.”

Because I didn’t open or forward the email until late in the day, many of my flock did not receive the invitation in time to join us on Zoom. But I want you all to know that church leaders from all over our presbytery came—maybe 45 or more—to share Scripture, hymns, songs, and prayers, as the Spirit led us.

We asked for forgiveness for any part that we have played personally in the angry conflicts and divisions in our world, in our country. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And we praised the Lord who came to dwell with us and was baptized for our sakes—to show us another way. We gathered to pray for ourselves and our nation because, as Matt says, “God reconciles us to one another, and the world around us.” We gathered not as “Democrats, Republicans, or Independents.” We gathered “as those whom Jesus calls by name, and whom Jesus calls to love one another, and all of Creation.” We prayed that we would be faithful, as Paul urges the church broken by conflicts and pride in 2 Cor. 5:20, to be “ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

On Wednesday night, the day that marked the beginning of the Church’s Season of Light, the Revelation of Jesus Christ, we gathered to hear the voice of the God who thundered over the waters to claim the Beloved Son, who came down to us in the name of love, justice, and peace.

The day the heavens were torn apart.

Let us pray.

Holy One, we are tempted to overlook the power of your Spirit in Christ’s baptism; we want to make it small and weak, descending on Jesus like a dove. But you are mighty and majestic, enthroned in the heavens, your Word thundering over the formless void and the darkness covering the face of the deep, “Let there be light.” And there was light. But you are also loving, gracious, kind, and merciful, drawing near to us in human form when we couldn’t draw near to you on our own and couldn’t even recognize our need for you. Thank you for the revelation and example of Your Son’s baptism and the gift of the Spirit that empowers us now to live out the vows spoken out our baptisms. Teach us to love and serve you, to number our days and make them count for your Kingdom. Help us to be your ambassadors, dear Lord. Speak through us to make your appeal to those who don’t know you, who haven’t yet experienced your love and been humbled and transformed by the one True Light, Your Beloved Son. In the name of the Triune God we pray. Amen.

Virtual Worship for Jan. 3, 2021

Epiphany of the Lord

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th Street, Coshocton, OH 43812

Pastor Karen Crawford

Debbie Clark, liturgist

Alice Hoover, organist

Prelude: How Brightly Shines the Morning Star, setting, Johann ChristianHeinrich Rinck (Alice Hoover, organ)

One of the gifts of the wise men was myrrh – a burial spice – foreshadowing Jesus’ death.
In the second part of this piece, about the Christmas star, Rinck has included
a “motif” (distinct pattern of notes) that signifies the cross five times.

Greeting with Pastor Karen

Opening Sentences: Debbie Clark

A star has risen in the east.
Star of wonder, star of night!
A child is born in Bethlehem.
Hark! The herald angels sing!
Let us follow the star to Bethlehem
and bring our gifts to the newborn Christ.

Gathering Prayer: Debbie Clark

Hymn: 143 Angels, from the Realms of Glory… James Montgomery

Angels, from the realms of glory, wing you flight o’er all the earth;
you, who sang creation’s story, now proclaim Messiah’s birth:
come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ, the newborn king!

Sages, leave your contemplations; brighter visions beam afar;
seek the great desire of nations; you have seen his natal star:
come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ, the newborn king!

Call to Confession/Prayer of Confession/Assurance

God of wonder, God of night, you are holy light in dark places; you are holy darkness when all is too bright. Forgive us, O God, when we turn away from your light: when we follow our own ambitions instead of your call, when we respond to your presence with fear rather than joy. Forgive us, O God, when we do not comprehend the depth of your Christmas love, the meaning of your powerful story, or the call you place on each of our lives. Forgive us, O God, and by your forgiveness, empower us to follow the star once more. Amen.

Time with Children and Youth

Prayer for Illumination

Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6 (Debbie Clark)

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!

Anthem: We Three Kings of Orient Are…. arr. Alec WIlder (Tubafours: Ron Geese & Ron Coombs, euphonium; Jim McIntyre & Ron Barkett, tuba)

Reading: Matthew 2:1-12

Holy wisdom, holy word. Thanks be to God!

Message: A Different Way Home…...Pastor Karen

Hymn: 132 Good Christian Friends, Rejoice… arr., John Mason Neale (Alice Hoover, organ)

Good Christian friends, rejoice with heart and soul and voice;
give ye heed to what we say: Jesus Christ is born today;
ox and ass before him bow, and he is in the manger now.
Christ is born today! Christ is born today!

Good Christian friends, rejoice with heart and soul and voice;
now ye hear o endless bliss: Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened heaven’s door, and we are blest forevermore.
Christ was born for this! Christ was born for this!

Invitation to the Offering/Prayer of Thanksgiving/Lord’s Prayer

Loving God, we give you thanks for the light of the world, Jesus Christ, through whom we have become fellow heirs, members of the same body and sharers in your promise. Receive the gifts we offer in union with Jesus our brother, who taught us to pray. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our
debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Offertory: Solo: Shepherds’ Watch…. Michael Card and Scott. Brasher
Debbie Clark, soloist; Alice Hoover, piano

Charge/Benediction

Postlude: The First Noel, The Tubafours… arr., Alec Wilder (The Tubafours)

A Different Way Home

Meditation on Matthew 2:1-12

Jan. 3, 2020

Pastor Karen Crawford

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Audio of Pastor Karen’s message:

A Different Way Home

    On New Year’s Eve, I posted a picture of my two cats on Facebook, and quoted them as saying, “We’re ready for bed, Mommy. Isn’t 2020 over, yet?!!”

That seemed to be the sentiment of many folks on Facebook that night—how glad we are to say goodbye to 2020 and how grateful we are to have made it through such a difficult year.

  But there were many good things that happened this year—undeniable blessings from the Lord. Many of us adopted new pets. Quite a few babies were born to families in our congregation! And, in December, we may have received a celestial message of hope from the Creator of the Universe.

A couple of weeks before Christmas, I got a call from Colin Hayes, a member of our church with a big heart of compassion, who often listens to the news and shares prayer requests for the world’s cares during worship. But this time, he had a joy to share.

Colin heard that we would be able to see the Star of Bethlehem on Dec. 21, the winter solstice. This “star” –nicknamed the Christmas Star by astronomers—is actually a “great conjunction” of two planets, Jupiter and Saturn. They would be at their closest and able to be seen by the world for the first time in 800 years! They would appear as the Star of Bethlehem may have looked to the wise men who followed the star more than 2 centuries ago.

Colin—and some other people of faith—saw this as a sign from the Lord. That no matter how bad it seems here on planet earth, God is still with us. The Messiah has come!! And someday soon, he will COME AGAIN!

While I didn’t actually see the Christmas Star on Dec. 21, astronomers, stargazers and photographers stayed up all night to capture images of this rare and historic sight. My friend, James Neihouse, a professional photographer and cinematographer in Florida, took this photo.

James Neihouse photo, “The Great Conjunction”

If the Lord were speaking to God’s creatures through the night sky this year, it wouldn’t be the first time. We have only to search the Scriptures for evidence of God’s revelations to humanity through God’s creation.

The psalmist says,

“Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens,  the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”  –Psalm 8:1-4

And then there’s Abram, waiting for the promised child to his barren wife, Sarai, so that he would become the father of many nations. He asks God if his heir will be his slave, Eliezer of Damascus:

“But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” — Gen. 15:4-6

We encounter some mysterious star gazers in Matthew’s gospel today. No one’s sure exactly who they are, these wise men from the east or from “the rising of the sun” as the original Greek tells us. We know for sure, though, they aren’t kings and there aren’t necessarily 3 of them, which came from the tradition of the Early and Medieval Church, interpreting the prophecy of Isaiah.

 The magoi were the scientists of the day, Zoroastrian priests, and probably political advisors or officers to the Persian court. Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest religions and was the state religion of the ancient Iranian empires from around 600 BCE to 650 CE.

Some scholars and hymn writers over the centuries have focused on the possible symbolic nature of the gifts–gold, a symbol of royalty; frankincense, an incense, therefore a symbol of deity; and myrrh, an embalming oil, to foreshadow his death on the cross. Theologians and writers today, such as James C. Howell, suggest that these men, who were Gentiles—the first Gentiles to be drawn to worship and offer their treasures to the Savior of the world—  “simply brought what was precious, what they wanted Jesus to have.”

We may miss some important details as we read this familiar and beloved passage because our Nativity scenes have misled us. The wise men didn’t come at the same time as the shepherds. Nor did they immediately follow their visit; as many as two years may have passed. And Jesus wasn’t in a stable for the wise men’s visit. Verse 11 tells us they entered a house.

What is startling, even after reading this scripture many times, is that they didn’t follow the star directly to Bethlehem, at first. They went to King Herod in Jerusalem—asking him, “Where is the child who was born king of the Jews?” It seems to me that they took a wrong turn! The news of the birth of a new king of the Jews brought terror—not just to the despot afraid of losing his power and authority—but to all Jerusalem, who feared Herod would respond to such news with violence. Their fears were well founded. After news of the birth, and not hearing back from the wise men, Herod sent troops to “slaughter the innocents”—all the children aged two and younger.

There’s so much to learn from our Scripture today—to help us in our walk with God and equip us for the Lord’s work. Notice how the Lord grants wisdom to outsiders to the community of faith. They wouldn’t have been welcome in any of the homes of God’s people or offered a meal at their tables. They would have been looked upon with suspicion. We might consider our own attitude to outsiders, people who are different from us. How quick are we to welcome new people into the fold? Do we open our hearts to hear their stories and allow God to speak through them to us?

Something else troubles me: the question of who misses the life-altering news of the birth of Christ—the one with political authority and the educated, religious elite of the day. They knew the Scripture backwards and forwards! They knew the prophecy of Micah 6:2 where the Messiah would be born! And yet not one of them went with the wise men to seek and meet the Messiah. The religious leaders are more concerned about their safety and the king’s approval than following their God, who, as Isaiah says in 43:19, is about to do a new thing. The people of Jerusalem fail to recognize and welcome the Messiah, as well. They respond with fear rather than hope and faith.

Who are the example to us, then?

God calls us to imitate the faith of the wise stargazers; the outsiders are those who receive the blessing of wisdom and obedience when they choose to follow the star, at risk to their very lives. In the presence of Jesus, they are overwhelmed with joy! They have a conversion experience. Their hearts and minds are opened, and they are led by an angel to take a different way home–and change their life! Just think of all the people who will hear their story, see their shining faces, and sense their joy after being in the presence of Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Are you ready to seek a closer relationship with the Lord in this new year? Will you follow, though it may mean a change of routine and heart—exchanging our sadness, frustration, anger or fear for faith, hope, and obedience and the promise of overwhelming joy in Christ’s presence?

Are you ready to take a different way home?

And I close with words from a modern-day sage, my friend, Erma Ahrens, of Renville, Minnesota. She posted this quote on Facebook from an anonymous source on New Year’s Day:

“Sunshine and shadows have mingled in the year that has passed away. Sunshine and shadows will mingle in the year I meet today. But hand in hand with the Master, I fear not what it will bring. God knows, He cares, He loves me, and God is everything.”

Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for the Epiphany of the Lord, the Revelation of the birth of Your Son, the Messiah, God who has come to be one of us and the Savior of the world. Thank you for your love for us that led you to give such a precious gift that promises overwhelming joy to those who seek a close relationship with Your Son. Lord, help us to be courageous and more faithful and hopeful in this new year, no matter what shadows are cast upon us. Let us walk in the light of Christ, willing to risk approval of human beings and our very lives for the sake of growing your Kingdom. By your Spirit, lead us to take a different way home—all the way back to You! In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

Heaven Came to Earth

Meditation on Luke 2:1-20

Pastor Karen Crawford

Christmas Eve 2020

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

  

Christmas Eve Message, Part 1

What does Jesus look like? I am sure I asked that question long ago. The answer came in Vacation Bible School at my Lutheran church in Damascus, Maryland, one summer in the early 1970s.  I made a wooden plaque with a picture of Jesus from a Christmas card–and painted it with shellac. That picture of a handsome Jesus, with wavy, flowing light brown hair and a well-groomed beard—looking like he just sat for a portrait at Olan Mills—smiled at me from my bedroom wall for many years.

Christmas Eve Message Part 2

Later I would notice many other pictures of Jesus, looking different. Somebody finally told me the truth—maybe it was in confirmation class! Nobody knew what Jesus looked like. Nobody was around with a camera and sketchbook and charcoals in Jesus’ time.  

One of my favorite symbols and tradition of Christmas is the Nativity scene or creche, as we called it when I was a child. I used to tell and retell the Christmas story—my own version, anyway—with those painted ceramic figurines. My brother and I used to argue about their correct arrangement on a layer of fluffy cotton on top of a table or the piano. I think the story is that my Mom, when she was a teenager, saved her money and bought the figurines, one by one, at a five and dime store. There were kings and camels, a donkey and horse, sheep and shepherds. There were angels—one that hung from a hole in the roof of the barn and one that stood and looked fully human, except for white robe and wings. And yes, there was Mary in blue, with Joseph, and the baby in a manger. If I had to check the race/ethnicity box on that creche, I would check White or Caucasian, non- Hispanic.

But that never troubled me. Jesus looked like he belonged to my family—and I belonged to his! He looked like me! That brings me to a simple, theological truth. On Christmas, we celebrate and give thanks for the God who loved the world so much that He became one of us—and suffered all the humiliations of humanity and more than we can imagine, for our sakes.

      Heaven came to earth for love, a humble baby in a manger, because there was no room at the inn.

***

    You could say that Jesus arrived at the worst of times for the weary peasants of Judea in the Roman Empire. Or, you could say that he arrived at the best possible time for weary peasants of Judea in the Roman Empire. This was the “first registration” for the Empire, demanding that “all the (Roman) world” be registered for the census, so they could be taxed. This meant that young Mary, in her 9th month of her first pregnancy, had to travel with Joseph, her betrothed, 100 miles over rough, rocky terrain on foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem—to the city of David, not necessarily where he was born but from which his ancestors had come. This would be frightening for poor peasants like Mary and Joseph, as the strong arm of Rome imposed its power and will on those who didn’t have any voice and didn’t otherwise matter to the Empire. Tax collecting had been handled on the local level before that, with Jewish officials employed by the Empire collecting what was “due” and keeping some for themselves as a commission—in effect, getting rich off their less wealthy neighbors.

This first registration was taken, Luke says, while Quirinius was governor of Syria. This is a Byzantine mosaic of Mary and Joseph registering for the census before Governor Quirinius:

Christmas Eve Message Part 3

But the hope of Mary and Joseph is not in Caesar who commanded their trek. Their hope is the same as ours! In the God of Israel, who goes with them and dwells with us, still!

What touches me in this passage that we read every Christmas is the important role of the shepherds in the salvation story. For they are the ones who are off the grid, so to speak, in the “region,” living in the fields. Why aren’t they reporting for the Roman census? They are right in the trenches, working a thankless job necessary for their economy and way of life, if not the people’s very survival. While the rest of the world is sleeping, they are keeping watch over the flocks. These invisible, marginalized, voiceless workers living in the fields—not the rich and powerful ones of the day—are those whom God chooses to send angels to bring the “good news of great joy for all the people good news of great joy for all people” —not just one or two, but a whole multitude of heavenly hosts, praising God singing,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

One of the most surprising things about our Luke reading happens after the angels return to heaven. Like Mary, the shepherds believe without question the message of the angels. They become the bearer of the good news. They go “with haste” to Bethlehem to tell Mary and Joseph what the Lord has made known to them.

And Mary, a poor, voiceless, invisible peasant, who, up to the birth of the Messiah, King of kings, Lord of lords, and Prince of Peace, hasn’t mattered to the Roman Empire one whit except to be counted for tax purposes, listens intently to them. And she treasures all these words spoken by the voiceless, marginalized shepherds living in the fields, watching someone else’s flocks by night. And she ponders them in her heart. 

    The shepherds return to their fields to do their important work of caring for the sheep—but they will never be the same. These first evangelists are “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

    Do you wonder who else they tell?

Final part of Christmas Eve message

  The message hasn’t changed or lost its relevance after thousands of years, and if anything, grows more astounding by the day. My Nativity scenes have become more diverse and inclusive as Jim and I have collected many from different countries and cultures over the years. And we no longer take them all down after Christmas. They remain displayed all the time to help keep the message of Christ’s birth—and the joy that it brings—always in our heart and on our minds.

     I no longer wonder what Jesus looked like. The whole debate is silly. It’s a stereotype to say that Jesus had to look a certain way because, after all, His father was GOD. As Colossians tells us, “the Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”  

   The manger is the beginning of a journey for Christ that will lead all over Roman Judea, to Jerusalem and the cross, and, ultimately, the triumph of the empty tomb—and the promise of resurrection for all who believe in Him.

   So, my friends, as you celebrate Christmas tomorrow in a much simpler, quieter way than you have in the past, remember that the first Christmas was simple and quiet, too—and a lot more stressful! It was the worst of times for God’s people living under the strong arm of the Empire. And it was the best of times for God’s people and everyone. For the message brought by angels and shepherds is GOOD news of GREAT JOY for ALL people.

    Brothers and sisters, go and tell the world!

    Heaven came to earth for love. A humble baby in a manger, because there was no room at the inn.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the miracle of Christ’s birth – in the worst of times—for being willing to descend to earth and become one of us so that we might be saved from our sins and live with you eternally. Thank you for entrusting the message to the invisible, marginalized and voiceless—the shepherds, proving your preference for and concern for the poor and outcast and your love for all people. Who are the shepherds today, Lord, whom we may be overlooking, those who need our help and friendship? Build up our faith in the God of miracles of mercy and reveal to us the needs in our midst and how you want us to meet those needs. Fill us with the loving spirit of Christmas in our hearts all the yearlong, with praise and song on our lips with the multitude of angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” In Christ we pray. Amen.

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