Joy in the Morning

Meditation on Mark 1:29-39

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

Pastor Karen Crawford

Feb. 7, 2021

A stained glass window in The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH.

    Someone at our Zoom presbytery meeting yesterday commented on the beauty of the stained-glass windows in my virtual backgrounds. We mourned what may be a vanishing art form.

    That may be one of the first things visitors notice when they come to the sanctuary of The Presbyterian Church in Coshocton. The many art windows help us picture scenes from the Bible, especially from the life of Christ. They help us to know God more.

    Most of the windows date back to the beginning of the 20th century. The stone worship home was built in 1905. The exception is one art window that dates back to the former brick church of 1868. This window illustrates the Mary and Martha story in Luke—the day Jesus comes to dinner, and Martha is more than a little overwhelmed and distracted. What’s unusual about this window is the addition of the dog to the story, sleeping at Christ’s feet.

    One of my favorite art windows in our sanctuary is the dome ceiling. The story goes that contributions from members of the church choir in 1905 paid for the window that portrays angelic forms, cobalt blue irises, and the musical instruments named in Psalm 150:

“Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
 Praise him with clanging cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!”

Another art window that has brought me peace, especially during the pandemic, is a rare depiction of the Risen Christ with Thomas in the gospel of John. You know, the one who doubted when the other disciples said they saw Jesus raised from the dead. “Except I shall see on his hands the print of the nails,” Thomas says, “and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Jesus appears to him later and invites him to touch his scars in his hands and side. Thomas responds, “My Lord and my God!” In the window, he is humbly kneeling, with his hands clasped; you can imagine him declaring his belief.

Have you ever wondered why the Risen Christ had scars in his glorified body? More and more, I am beginning to realize that beauty and bodily perfection in human understanding is not anything like the way God sees and knows beauty in us.

The Lord uses the marks of our suffering, wounds and scars, seen and unseen, emotional and physical, to reveal his glory and power through us.

Yes, we are the clay and the Lord is our Potter, as Isaiah 64 tells us. We are God’s “handiwork,” says Ephesians, “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

God continually shapes and molds our hearts and minds until our faith and life of loving service is a work of art, exquisite in the Master’s hands.

***

Everything moves so fast in Mark’s gospel! He uses the Greek word translated “immediately” (euthys) 8 times in this chapter alone and twice in today’s passage. Jesus’ fame is spreading quickly throughout the surrounding region of Galilee after he casts out an unclean spirit during his first sermon in the synagogue at Capernaum. Everyone is talking about him. News is traveling quickly, and it’s ALL word of mouth. No cell phones, Facebook or CNN.

Next thing we know, Jesus is going to the house of Simon and Andrew. And immediately they tell him about Simon (Peter’s) mother-in-law. They have seen Jesus demonstrate his power over a man possessed by demons. Can Jesus also make a sick woman well?

That she is in bed with a fever speaks of the seriousness of the situation. Before antibiotics and other effective treatments of modern medicine, many people died of what are now curable illnesses and disease. How long had she been ill and bedridden? How helpless and hopeless was she feeling, not being able to serve and care for her family and do all the things she is used to doing? Was she lying there thinking about what wasn’t getting done and worrying that she was becoming a burden to others? And how much longer did she have to live if Jesus had not intervened?

In our germ-conscious, mask-wearing, hand-sanitizing, social-distancing world, we can barely imagine that Jesus approaches the sick woman, without hesitation. He takes her by the hand!!! And without a word, he simply lifts her up!!!  Her fever is gone! This Greek word translated “lifted up” foreshadows what is to come. For it is the same word used to describe Christ’s resurrection—when he is lifted up from the grave.  

Why did he do this for this older woman, perhaps a widow, since a husband is not mentioned? Even Mark doesn’t think she’s significant; he tells her entire story in 2 verses—and never says her name. All that matters, it seems, is her relationship to the apostle. She may have been in her 60s or older because Peter is thought to have been the oldest disciple—perhaps in his 40s–when he first answers the call to follow Jesus. At an age when the average life expectancy was 35 or 40 years, why did Jesus think her life was so valuable that she needed immediate and complete healing?

The answer to all these questions is, “because our compassionate, gracious, loving and merciful God had a plan.” God wants to use her for His glory! The one who had been suffering is now healed and made whole. She responds by serving them—and the Greek word for serve—diekonei—is the origin of our word “deacon.”

This first healing in Andrew and Simon’s house stirs the entire city to gather around their door. And Jesus cures “many” people and casts out “many” demons, not permitting them to speak, because they knew him. It wasn’t time for everyone to know what the voice from heaven declared as he came up from the waters of baptism, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Who knows how late Jesus and his disciples stayed up that night after the city came to the door, seeking healing and release from unclean spirits? The disciples and Peter’s mother-in-law must have still been sleeping when Jesus got up while it was “still very dark” and went to a “deserted place to pray.”

This is another of my favorite scenes portrayed in stained glass at our church, a reproduction of Hunt’s famous painting, “Jesus on the Mountain in Prayer.”

I have often wondered what Jesus and God the Father talked about that morning—the morning after he preached his first sermon, healed many people, and cast out many demons. I used to think he was probably worn out from all that happened and he just needed His Heavenly Father to renew His strength and power. And I still think that he was seeking God’s will for His ministry, because he will tell his annoyed disciples who complain, “Everyone is searching for you”:

“Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 

But now I think, after witnessing all those deeds of healing power that God has worked through him, Jesus has gone to offer the Heavenly Father his thanks and praise for the wondrous things God has done!

For there is joy in the morning!

***

Friends, we are still journeying through the wilderness. We are walking through darkness, still feeling vulnerable. Wondering, what will happen next? Is the worst of the pandemic over? How long till we can return to what used to be? We are wondering if the world will be different now—and in what ways WE have changed.

We ALL have scars—emotional and spiritual wounds that only God can heal.

Someday, we will look back, remembering how hard it was. How we longed for our routines, what was familiar and comfortable. How we missed our loved ones. How we missed our church. How we missed seeing smiles and being able to eat together, laugh, talk, and weep together. How we missed giving and receiving hugs.

We will remember those who struggled with illness—friends and family, strangers and neighbors. We will swap stories.

But we will also remember how God has always been there for us and always been present with us. Patiently waiting and desiring us to speak with Him!

I invite you now to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. To rise in the morning, while it is still dark, and go to a deserted place. Make a holy space. You don’t have to leave your home! Seek the One who wants to whisper to His beloved child—you!  And give you His peace.

Draw near to the One who has a plan for your ministry, just like he did for Peter’s mother-in-law. He wants to lift you up so you will take the world by your hand and serve others in His name. He wants you to allow His glory to shine through your scars, so that others will say, “My Lord and my God. I believe.”

He wants to pour out His love on this hurting world—through your deeds of compassion and words of encouragement.

Come now to the One who will comfort and heal, restore and redeem, strengthen, shape, and mold.

You will find JOY in the morning.

Let us pray.

Holy One, we give you all glory and honor and thanks and praise! You call us, “Beloved.” You take us by the hand, just as Jesus did for Peter’s mother-in-law, lift us up, and cleanse us from our sins. You have made us whole and offer us your peace, if only we would receive it. You call us now to use your power to help and heal the world, proclaiming the good news of your kingdom through deeds of compassion and words of encouragement. Be with those who are sick and those who care for the sick. Grant them comfort and restore them to health—body, mind, and soul. Stir us to make a holy space to be with you and to rise early, before the busyness of the day distracts us. Help us to stay focused on your will, listening for your voice as we minister in your name. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Jan. 31, 2021 Worship

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

Pastor Karen Crawford

Mark Wagner, Organist

Bob and Marialice Mauch, Liturgists

Debbie Clark, Soloist

Jesus Heals
Worship for Jan. 21, 2021 with The Presbyterian Church

Prelude: Dir, dir Jehova will ich singen August Reinhard (1831-1912) Mark Wagner, organ

Jehova, let me now adore Thee
When thus my heart in prayer ascendeth, through Thine own Holy Spirit, unto Thee,
Thy heart, O Father, kindly bendeth its fervent love and favor unto me,
Rejoicing my petition to fulfill which I have made according to Thy will.

Mark Wagner, organ

Greeting/Announcements

Opening Sentences: Bob Mauch

Give thanks to the Lord with your whole heart

in the company of the congregation.

The Lord is gracious and merciful,

ever mindful of the covenant.

The works of God’s hands are faithful and just,

established forever and ever.

Holy and awesome is God’s name.

God’s praise endures forever!

Gathering Prayer

Hymn # 626 As the Deer (2x): To download the hymnal pages, click below:

Mark Wagner, organ

Call to Confession/Prayer of Confession/Assurance of Pardon

Holy and all-powerful God, who commands all spirits, comforts those in distress, and casts out destructive forces, we confess that we are unable to do your will. We protect what is familiar and reject what is unknown. We admire those with courage but excuse ourselves when we falter from the truth. We forget that you are always with us, and that with you all things are possible. Forgive us, lead us, make us new. Remove our desire to heed false prophets and show us your way; in Christ we pray. Amen.

Time with Children

Prayer for Illumination

Reading: 1 Cor. 8:1-13

8 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

Holy wisdom, holy word. Thanks be to God!

Reading: Mark 1:21-28

21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

This is the gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ!

Message: A new teaching—with authority!

Hymn # 772 Live into Hope (stanzas 1 and 2) To download the hymnal pages, click below:

Live into Hope; Mark Wagner, organ

Invitation to the Offering

Offertory: Though I May Speak (The Gift of Love)          Debbie Clark and Mark Wagner

Prayer of Thanksgiving/Lord’s Prayer

For Earth, which you have molded, for creatures and animals, plants, water, air, and fire, for Jesus who died and rose again, for the breath of life, we give you thanks, O God. Let these gifts be used for good wherever there is need, in the name of the One 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.

Charge/Benediction

Postlude: Brethren, We Have Met to Worshiparranged, Sam Batt Owens

Mark Wagner, organ

A New Teaching—with Authority!

Meditation on Mark 1:21-28

Pastor Karen Crawford

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

Jan. 31, 2021

A New Teaching–with Authority! (audio only)
Jesus Heals

An important holiday is coming up this week! No, I’m not talking about the Super Bowl! Groundhog Day is Feb. 2!

Do you have any special plans? Me, neither! But I may watch that wonderful 1993 movie of the same name starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.

In April last year, during what would turn out to be the early days of the pandemic, Megan Garber of The Atlantic magazine wrote a story titled, “Groundhog Day Was a Horror Movie All Along.” The “existential comedy Groundhog Day”(had) become a meme and metaphor for this moment,” she said. In February 2020, Jeep ran an ad during the Super Bowl, “with the film’s most memorable song, Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe as the soundtrack.” The ad “featured Bill Murray reprising the role of Phil Connors, the misanthropic weatherman who relives the same day (and relives it, and relives it, and relives it).” Unlike the movie, the “commercial Murray delighted in the repetition. Because this time around, he faced his monotonous eternity as the owner of a Jeep.” A month later, Jeep would revise its ad with a more somber opening text, “We understand that every day is starting to seem the same.” Then it flashes briefly to Murray waking—again—at 6 a.m. I Got You Babe. “Stay home. Stay healthy,” is the concluding message. “When this is all over, the trails will be waiting. Jeep: #StayOffTheRoad.”

    Groundhog Day is one my favorite movies of the 1990s—and I am hoping that it may become a meme and metaphor for this moment for a different reason than the monotony of reliving the same day in our isolation during the pandemic. The true message of Groundhog Day is about having a change of heart. We watch Phil Connor’s transformation as he relives, relives, and relives Groundhog Day in the small, Western Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney. This is the fourth year in a row for weatherman Phil Connor’s reporting on the festivities surrounding Phil the groundhog at Gobbler’s Knob, waiting to see if he sees his shadow—and how many more weeks of winter that will mean.

    Phil, from the big city of Pittsburgh, is an ambitious man who thinks only of his own desires, status and happiness. He orders around his cameraman, Larry, and producer, Rita, played by Andie MacDowell, referring to himself as “the talent.” But after a snowstorm delays their departure, and the days begin to repeat themselves, he will become someone who begins to notice, value and care for the people of the small town. Faced with the rare gift of knowing what’s going to happen each day, he gradually begins to respond to the situation differently. Rather than using the knowledge of what is going to happen for his own personal gain, which he does at first, he uses the knowledge to help others, anticipating their needs and being there, at that moment, to meet them. The man who formerly mocked, belittled, and abused people begins to form authentic relationships. He nurtures his own creativity, taking piano lessons and learning to make ice sculptures with a chain saw.

    The movie ends when Phil is a kinder, gentler, more patient, more human, human being. A new day dawns. No more I Got You Babe!

***

Our gospel reading in Mark offers a view of a day in the life of Jesus and his newly called disciples—ex-fishermen who dropped their nets to follow him. The first place they go is to a synagogue in the fishing village of Capernaum or “village of comfort” in Hebrew.  The hometown for about 1,500 residents, including Levi the tax collector, is on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. The gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum. Simon (Peter) and Andrew also lived in Capernaum; Jesus will visit their home following the sermon in the synagogue, when Jesus reveals his exousia, Greek for authority or power. Signs and wonders will continue at Simon Peter’s home where Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, who is in bed with a fever. With no worry of contagion, Jesus takes the sick woman by the hand, lifts her up, and the fever leaves her. She begins to serve them. I can imagine her preparing a meal.

     That evening, at sunset, the whole city gathers around their front door, bringing those who are sick with various diseases or possessed by demons. Jesus cures many of them, but does not permit the demons to speak and share his identity.

    This is different than what happens at the synagogue earlier that day, when a man with an unclean spirit interrupts his preaching and teaching by shouting at him, revealing that the demons know who Jesus is—and they know his authority or exousia over them. This brings to mind Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s powerful prayer, “Goodness is stronger than evil; Love is stronger than hate; Light is stronger than darkness; Life is stronger than death; Victory is ours through Him who loves us.”

    “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” the unclean spirit cries out. “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

     Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit, telling it to be quiet and come out of the man and it does—crying out with a loud voice. While we have no idea what Jesus said that day in his first sermon in the Capernaum synagogue, we know the congregation saw his exousia—his power and authority, unlike the scribes.

    This same exousia will stir the scribes who come down from Jerusalem in Mark 3 to say, “He has a Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” Jesus confronts them, speaking in parables, but still the scribes do not understand, nor do the people. His family hears of how he has been using his exousia to heal and cast out demons, and they come to “restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’”

     But on this day in the synagogue in Capernaum, the people are amazed that he “commands the unclean spirits and they obey him.” His fame begins to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. Something is different about Jesus of Nazareth.

    The people keep asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with exousia!”

***

This power that Christ has received from God is offered to all who love and serve him. This power brings insight and understanding, humbling us as we see ourselves as we really are and who Christ our Savior is for us. We can trust in the one who has the power—the exousia—to make us more like Him, filling us with Himself.

      Ephesians 1:18-23 says, “… with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his exousia (power) for us who believe, according to the working of his great exousia. God  put this exousia to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and exousia and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

     I invite us now to consider the state of our hearts. Do you find yourself expressing anger and frustration more frequently than before the pandemic? What impurities have we allowed to come and possess us—impurities that bring us down, discourage us, keep us anxious and afraid, and hurt our witness for the Lord? Can people tell that we are grateful for all God has done for us—or have we lost our attitude of gratitude?

     We live in a fallen world, dear friends, where there is a spiritual battle going on. We can’t fight this battle for our hearts and minds alone. We need the Lord.  Ephesians 6:11-12 tells us, Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

    You who feel as if you are living in a perpetual Groundhog Day, miserable and powerless to change your life, the problem isn’t what’s going on around us. The problem, as it was for Phil the weatherman, is with our hearts.

     I believe that the Lord allows us to go through the same struggles and temptations until we finally learn the lesson God desires to teach us. Friends, God is with us in our trials, and we have the power to respond as Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, would do.

     Let us turn to the One whose power and authority, whose exousia, is unlike any ancient or modern-day scribes. The demons know that the Holy One of God is the only one who can destroy the cosmic powers of this present darkness. Why are we holding back when we can begin the dawn of a new day, the first day of our new lives?

     No more I Got You Babe.

    Christ is calling us now. Will you follow him? We will all be kinder, gentler, more patient, more human, human beings, with Christ’s help. With a word, the Lord who loves us eternally and unconditionally will cleanse us and set us free from all iniquity.

     I leave you with the words of Archbishop Tutu:

    “Goodness is stronger than evil; Love is stronger than hate; Light is stronger than darkness; Life is stronger than death; Victory is ours through Him who loves us.”

Let us pray.

Holy One of God, thank you for your goodness, love, light and our new life that begins here, in this world, from the moment we first believe. Thank you for the promise of our victory over sin and death through Your Son. Lord, forgive us for allowing impurities to come into our hearts and possess and oppress us. Cleanse us from all iniquity. Remove any wicked way within us, as the psalmist prays, and lead us in the way of everlasting. Help us to be your grateful children, witnessing to our faith through our love and service. Make us kinder, gentler, more patient, more human, human beings, in the image of Your Son, our Savior, Redeemer, and Lord. In His name we pray. Amen.  

How to Fish for People

Meditation on Mark 1:14-20

Jan. 24, 2021

Pastor Karen Crawford

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

Audio of the message:

How to Fish for People

Do we have any folks who enjoy fishing, here? I know a few people in our congregation who would rather fish than do many other things.

That’s true for the Swigert family. I saw photos of them fishing last summer and I could tell they are PASSIONATE about fishing! Because I am not someone who fishes, I asked Sarah Swigert how her family does it. What equipment and bait do they use? Where do they go? What do they catch? What do they do with the fish they catch?

 “This is one of our boys’ favorite things to do!” she says. Their neighbor has a farm pond for quick fishing, but they also like to go to Salt Fork. They had a pontoon boat for 3 summers, but with the addition of the dog, they outgrew it!  So, for now it’s “bank fishing.” They use lures, spinner bait, worms, minnows or chicken liver. They catch blue gill, crappie, bass & catfish.  They would love to catch a walleye or muskie, but none yet!

Ethan Swigert

They tie their own lures, bait the hooks, and release the fish. A couple times, they have fished for dinner, but typically it’s catch and release. They “surf fish” on vacation at the beach. Last summer, they had a chance to go deep sea fishing.  Evan caught a Bonita, and Andrew caught a King Mackerel, which they ate.

Evan Swigert
Andrew Swigert

But isn’t there always a big fish that gets away? That’s one of the frustrating things about fishing. You can put a lot of effort and time into it—and still go home without any fish.

Ethan caught a King Mackerel like Evan on their deep-sea fishing trip, Sarah says. “He fought it all the way to the boat, but just before he hauled it in, it got off the line!”

I wondered how the three boys learned to fish and developed a love for fishing.  “Matt is a phenomenal and patient teacher,” Sarah says of her husband. “He has instilled a love of nature and sense of responsibility as outdoorsmen.”

Matt and Evan Swigert

Sarah, too, plays a role in her children developing fisher skills. “I love to watch them,” she says, “and I’m always glad to go along. I’m usually a spectator, but sometimes I catch a fish!”

Like me, she doesn’t like to touch the bait—or the fish. But it’s no problem when you are fishing alongside those who are deeply passionate about it.

“The boys always bait my hook,” she says, “and if I’m lucky enough to catch something, they take it off the line!”

***

Today’s reading in the gospel of Mark teaches us about fishing in the days of Jesus Christ, how he chooses fishers as his first disciples, and that it is Christ’s desire for all his followers to learn to “fish for people.” Jesus looks to professional fishers, employed in the commercial fishing industry to teach us how to be faithful disciples today.

 Jesus, in calling his disciples, is building a team. Any of you served as a volunteer or professional coach? How important is it to build a team and not just have a few excellent players? Very important, right? He is intentionally choosing those with certain practical skills, experience and temperaments—those whom he knew he could shape and mold for the work he would prepare them to do. They would need to be a hardy bunch, strong enough to be outside for much of the time, traveling by foot or boat from place to place, even climbing mountains on which their master would preach, teach and pray.

In both call stories in today’s passage, the men are working in family-owned and operated businesses, which was common in Jesus’ day. He first encounters Simon (Peter) and his brother, Andrew, then the sons of Zebedee, working in a larger, more prosperous business, as Zebedee has his own boat AND hired men. Notice how Jesus doesn’t call Zebedee to be one of his first followers. For to be able to fish for people requires the willingness to immediately let go of every worldly attachment—hometown and kin, identity and occupation.  

Wow. Let me say that again.

To be able to fish for people requires the willingness to immediately let go of every worldly attachment—hometown and kin, identity and occupation.  

Christ doesn’t choose the brilliant or highly educated for his original 12. He doesn’t choose the wealthy or those in the ruling classes, though the message of the gospel is for all people. He doesn’t choose anybody who is already somebody important in their society. He chooses from the margins, the lowly, the outcast. He sees potential in a despised tax collector in Matthew and Luke!

Here’s something to encourage us all. He doesn’t choose anyone who is PERFECT! Isn’t that great news?? The ones whom Christ chooses struggle with what the Lord requires of them. For example, Jonah goes in the opposite way of Ninevah when God calls him to go and preach to them, warn them of the coming judgment because of their evil ways. The Ninevites are enemies of God and God’s people. Ninevah is an Assyrian city, the capital and largest city in the Neo-Assyrian Empire. In fact, Ninevah, for about 50 years—before it is sacked by the Babylonians and other former subject peoples in 612 B.C.E.—is the largest city in the world.

The Lord is patient with Jonah and never gives up on him—or on Ninevah. When Jonah would rather drown in the sea than go there, God sends a great fish to rescue him and stir him to repent and turn back to God. After 3 days of doing nothing but praying, Jonah is finally ready to change the focus of his life—and obey the Lord. He goes and preaches the sermon of his life! And the king and the people of Ninevah repent, humble themselves before the God of Israel, and change their ways.

Simon Peter is a great example of one who struggles and makes plenty of mistakes, yet our gracious God is always ready to forgive him and use him, anyway.

Jesus first encounters Simon (Peter) and his brother, Andrew, in Mark casting a net into the sea. No fishing poles or bait are used in ancient commercial fishing, but there’s plenty of grueling, physical labor. Cast the net. Haul it back in. Empty it out. Cast the net. Haul it back in. Mend the broken nets. Fishers could work all night and be completely exhausted—and have nothing but a few stories of the fish that got away.

In Simon Peter’s call in Luke, Jesus shouts from the shoreline, suggesting that Peter and the other fishers go back out into the deep water and fish some more. Simon (Peter) objects, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

Friends, each of Christ’s original 12 disciples receive and respond to his personal invitation. I am here to tell you that the Lord works that same way today. Christ is the one who does the choosing, though we may hear the invitation through the voice of a human being.

 God still chooses ordinary, imperfect people, people who struggle working out what hearing the call of Jesus means for our lives today. Are you struggling? That doesn’t mean that God isn’t calling you.

First, we must believe in the good news and that we are chosen and empowered to serve. And that now is the time to respond to the call. What’s in the way of you responding, with all your heart, soul, mind and might?

Drop your nets. Leave the old life behind. This moment is what counts.

We are forgiven for all our sins, in Jesus Christ! We have a great teacher. The one who calls us to follow is with us, guiding our footsteps, showing us the way. Don’t lie awake at night, worrying about the things of this world. Trust. Obey.

We serve the God of second chances, who never gave up on Jonah. He never gave up on Peter! God will never give up on you. Or me! We don’t always get it right the first time, do we? Sometimes we give in to fear or excuses. God knows that about us. God loves us anyway!

So, drop your nets!

This Word of God is FOR YOU. Listen!

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit…” John 15:16

 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for choosing us, allowing us to hear your voice, beckoning us to follow. Help us, Lord, to believe the good news and repent, turn from the old, foolish, self-centered, unfruitful ways of thinking and living–and simply obey. Sometimes we are like Jonah and Peter and struggle with the call. “It’s too hard. We’re afraid.” But you love us, anyway, and gave up your Son to bring us back into right relationship with you. Thank you for your Spirit that is with us every moment, guiding and strengthening us as we seek you faithfully each day. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.  

Worship for Jan. 24, 2021

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

Third Sunday After the Epiphany

Pastor Karen Crawford

Alice Hoover, organist

Jim and Pam Arganbright, liturgists

Prelude: Immortal, Invisible, setting, Gerald Peterson….Alice Hoover, organ

Greeting/Announcements

Opening Sentences

We gather around the words of Christ:

“Come, and follow me.”

We gather around the voice of the Spirit:

“Come, and follow me.”

Let us worship God together

and follow Christ into the world.

Gathering Prayer

Hymn: # 761          Called as Partners in Christ’s Service

Called as partners in Christ’s service, called to ministries of grace,
we respond with deep commitment fresh new lines of faith to trace.
May we learn the art of sharing, side by side and friend with friend,
equal partners in our caring to fulfill God’s chosen end.

Christ’s example, Christ’s inspiring, Christ’s clear call to work and worth,
let us follow, never faltering, reconciling folk on earth.
Men and women, richer, poorer, all God’s people, young and old,
blending human skills together gracious gifts from God unfold.

Call to Confession

Prayer of Confession

O Holy God, you called the disciples to drop their nets and follow you, yet we are hesitant to drop the tools and comforts of our lives. We distract ourselves from your call with busyness, stress, and worry. We tangle ourselves in webs of racism, sexism, and hatred that disguises itself as fear. Forgive us, O Lord, and by your forgiveness, open our ears to hear your voice saying to us, “Follow me.” In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Time with Children and Youth

Prayer for Illumination: Liturgist

First Reading: Jonah 3: 1-5 and 10.

Holy wisdom, holy word. Thanks be to God!

Second Reading: Mark 1: 14-20

This is the gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ!

Message: How to Fish for People

Hymn # 721 Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore

Lord, you have come to the lakeshore
looking neither for wealthy nor wise ones;
you only asked me to follow humbly.

Refrain: O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me,
and while smiling have spoken my name;
now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me.
by your side I will seek other seas.

You need my hands, full of caring,
through my labors to give others rest
and constant love that keeps on loving.

Refrain: O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me,
and while smiling have spoken my name;
now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me.
by your side I will seek other seas.

Invitation to Offering

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…

Charge and Benediction

Postlude: Voluntary in a minor… Maurice Greene (1695-1755)…Alice Hoover, organ

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.

F.O.R. Jesus

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