Despite Rain & Risk

Faithful, Mordecai reveals his trust in God.
Rain continues falling,
thunder threatens.

Falling into despair he dons the sackcloth of grief.
Thunderous evil persists,
death will surely follow.

Esther’s life at risk, she chooses the most loving action in “just such a time as this.”
She chooses love and justice and hope.

Let us pray,
Mystical one, touch our hearts as you did with Mordecai and Esther. Bolster our resolve and point the way. Perhaps, we too have come to this crossroad, for “just such a time as this.” Amen.

Let us worship the One who loves
in times like then and times like now.

Tasting grief, tasting joy, with hesitancy and resolve we are here to worship God.

Posted in Call to Worship, Esther, Esther 4, Esther 4:1-17, Esther 4:14, Invocation, Lent, Lent 3, Uncategorized

Come & Worship in Just Such a Time as This

Come and worship!
How can we worship in “such a time as this”? 

Yes, the world feels hopeless but come and worship!
Why worship in “such a time as this”?

Yes, human kindred don’t listen to one another. Friends worry about winning at the expense of joy, but come and worship!
Who is there to worship in “such a time as this”?

Do not let the world steal your joy! Turn to the divine embedded in creation and creator especially now.
Where is the joy in “such a time as this”?

Look around you. God has not left you. God is present in the struggle and in the heartache. God is present in neighbor, enemy, and family. God calls most emphatically in “just such a time as this!”
But it’s hard to perceive!

Come and worship anyway!
We are here. We have come to worship in “just such a time as this!”

Posted in Call to Worship, Esther, Esther 2, Esther 2:5, Esther 2:5, 7-10, 16-17, 20-23, Esther 3, Esther 3:1-6, Lent, Lent 2, Seasons of the Church

Faith in “Just Such a Time As This”

We were tough on media consumption 

Never thought about keeping from Bible

***

After deposing Vashti, Ahasuerus gets lonely.

  • contestants go thru a demeaning pageant—even by ancient standards
  • Mordecai
    • cousin who raised Esther
    • works in palace
    • sees that Esther she gets into contest
  • The Bachelor: Persia,
    • rated M for mature audiences
    • maybe X
  • This would not be media consumption I’d allow my grandkids

***

Throughout the process, Esther keeps faith & ethnicity from others

  • Mordecai told her not to tell
  • Probably for her safety
  • Likely for her overall well being
  • It enabled her to become queen

***

Next…

Mordecai discovers a plot against king

  • he encourages Esther to tell the king
  • she does so in his name

Guess what happens?

The plotters are brutally killed

  • more media I wouldn’t allow my kids

Mordecai gets

  • no promotion
  • no recognition

And Haman enters the story.

Haman is promoted

  • bad guy
  • during current day Purim services, traditional to make noise when name mentioned

Tradition says this is done so that his evil name is never heard again and because it is the Jews’ responsibility to “make noise,” to speak up when they see evil. (JPS Dictionary of Jewish Words, ¶ 438)

King ordered all to bow down to Haman

  • Everyone but Mordecai obeyed
  • other servants pestered him
    • “because I’m a Jew”
    • Can bow only for God

Haman was ticked

  • So annoyed that punishing Mordecai was not enough
    • Haman plots to have the king order all Jews killed
  • like Vashti’s punishment not enough to punish her
    • all women ordered to obey
  • like blaming all Muslims for terrorism

[pause]

To summarize, Mordecai insists Esther not reveal her faith.

  • Mordecai reveals his faith
  • leads to death sentence for all Jews in empire
    • “Do as I say, not as I do!”

Mordecai didn’t know all Jews would be punished 

  • Still, risky to tell or he wouldn’t have stopped Esther

[pause]

Feels like in middle

  • just about right
  • Esther is a novella

If missed last week,

  • missed first couple episodes of 6
  • Just starting to get good
  • Not sure where it’s headed

***

But this is scripture.

  • novella is morality tale
  • sometimes facts stretched to make a point in literature
  • Bible no different

Berlin and Brettler suggest that “It stretches credibility to imagine that Esther could keep her ethnic identity a secret, but it is vital to the plot.”

***

So, what is the moral of this episode in our novella?

  • compare Mordecai & Esther with secrets
  • we can blend in with culture if we keep our faith secret
  • comes a point when we have to decide
  • Foreshadows

The time has not come for Esther to decide.

Mordecai had to decide in this chapter of our novella

  • forced by “just such a time as this” to claim his faith
    • or deny it
  • claim God
    • or deny God

Will it matter when the time comes for Esther?

  • don’t know
  • middle of story

***

What does this episode/chapter mean for us?

If we are faithful, we can’t hide it, not really

  • because markers of faith
    • not bowing for instance
    • or preventing a murder
    • the way we treat others
  • Too many practices of faith that differ from culture

We have markers to our faith, too

What are our markers?

  • As Christians?
  • As FCC Christians?

ELICIT RESPONSES

There are times when it’s appropriate to be silent.

  • personal safety
  • safety of others
  • when others are telling us their spiritual journeys
  • when our story would come off as judgmental
  • when it’s braggadocios

But like present day Jews, there comes a time to 

  • “make noise,” to speak up when they see evil. (JPS Dictionary of Jewish Words, ¶ 438)

It can be hard to know when to speak out and when it’s not

  • (Mordecai today’s episode)
  • Pray
    • listen to the Holy Spirit
  • Read Bible
    • listen to the Holy Spirit
  • test with our kindred Christians
    • our own emotions can get us into trouble

Just as the time will come for Esther in our novella, it will comes for us

  • Just as it has in past
  • faithfulness ALWAYS takes risk

During Lenten season, listen.

What are we called to do in “just such a time as this”? Amen.

__

I delivered this sermon on March 12, 2017 at the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Albany, Oregon.

 

Posted in Esther, Esther 2, Esther 2:5, Esther 2:5, 7-10, 16-17, 20-23, Esther 3, Esther 3:1-6, Lent 2, Old Testament, Seasons of the Church, Sermon

An Ash Wednesday Liturgy

Prelude 

*Call to Worship                                                                              

For just such a time as this,
we were made.

In the image of God,
loving, grace-giving, and wise,
we are created to be the hands,
hearts, and feet of divinity.

We gather on this Ash Wednesday,
   not because we must,
      not to puff ourselves up,
   but to start out on the trail
      leading to the resurrection. 

We commit to learning
   to live faithfully,
      embracing the royal divinity
           within each of us.

Song Break Our Hearts Again (Paul Demer)

Sacred Words Esther 1:10-12

Words of Humble Confession Please pray together.

We confess to you, O God, that we
   too often claim to see the special
      in others only to use them for
          our own purposes. 

We have used others for our own
   glory and at their expense. 

 Forgive us for the ways we
   dehumanize friends, strangers,
       and whole groups of people. 

Remind us that black lives matter
    as much as our own. Move us to
      affirm those who love in ways
          different than us. 

Open our hearts to the immigrant,
     helping us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Release us from the bondage of
   possessions while teaching us to
      share your abundance with all. 

In the name of Queen Vashti who
   refused to participate in systems
       of oppression. Amen.

Words of Hope & Assurance

God has a dream for humanity, a dream for each of us. The One who remains with us even when we fail to perceive that presence, loves and lures us toward being the people we were created to become. For the sake of Vashti and for the sake of you and I, God does not give up.

Response: Jesus, Remember Me

 

Sacred Words Luke 18:15-17

Words of Humble Confession Please pray together.

We confess we have propped
   ourselves up,
       letting pride claim special
           status for ourselves at the
               expense of  our neighbors. 

You’ve told us that the vulnerable,
   those as powerless as children,
      are the greatest in your
         unfolding realm, in heaven. 

Still we justify the sins
    of our culture
   as somehow Christian. 

Release us from our prideful
   pursuit of the standards
        of this world. 

Open our hearts and eyes
   that we can see you in the
         weak and powerless. 

In the name of the little child on Jesus’ lap we pray. Amen. 

Words of Hope & Assurance                                      

The divine who resides in each of us and each one of our neighbors, loves you and knows you. God forgives us for our pridefulness that separates us from one another. Just as that love will refuse death on the cross as the final answer, that love oozes into the spaces between us moving us to become the people God dreams we can be.

Response: Jesus, Remember Me

Sacred Words Matthew 18:6-9

Words of Humble Confession Please pray together.

We confess we sin
   individually against others,
      we confess we repeat our
         mistakes,
    even though we know better. 

We allow our actions to make it
     harder for others to reach you. 

Release us from our flawed ideas
   and the desires that trip us up
       causing our fall into sin. 

Move us closer to you and
   away from that which tempts us. 

We confess we are also a part
    of the world’s systems of sin. 

We are all twisted up in that
    which we barely understand. 

We claim our success is of our own
  doing and anyone can do as we,
      even as our kindred struggle in
          poverty or other injustices
              that we never face. 

Release us from our ignorance and
    arrogance so that we can live in
         your beloved community. 

In the name of those with whom we
    are connected yet do not know. Amen.        

Words of Hope & Assurance                                      

Though you and I are imperfect, we are loved. Though we hurt one another, you and I are embraced. In our human frailties, we are God’s object of extravagant love. Be assured that despite what we can change and what we see no way to change, God never forgets us, ever beckoning us toward hope and the beloved community.

Response: Jesus, Remember Me

Time of Silent Confession

Words of Hope & Assurance                                                         

We begin our annual pilgrimage to Easter this evening. Mindful that events in our lives and around us and beyond us may be oppressive, even though we may feel hopeless, the divine One never forgets us. The expansive love of the creating One will refuse death on the cross at Easter. Likewise God refuses the way things are as the way they must be. Confessing our sins, open your heart to the unfolding realm of God that began two millennia ago when the women found an empty tomb.

Imposition of Ashes 

Created from dust, we are held together by extravagant love. Turn away from sin, live faithfully, embracing the royal divinity within yourself and others.

After receiving ashes, if you desire to receive reiki please move to one of the stations at the edges of the sanctuary. After reiki, please return to your seat.

Prayer                                                                           

Move within us, sacred One,
heal our sinfulness,
reveal through our actions
your salvific powers.
We yearn for your
    creating &  healing. 

Remind us during this season of Lent
that you do not give up on us.
Use us in your unfolding creation.

We crave hope in our hopelessness!
We crave your palpable presence!

 Just as your endless love and justice
overcomes death on the cross,
we know you journey with us in just such a time as this.
Amen.

Assurance of Pardon (from UCC Book of Worship)

Almighty God does not desire the
death of sinners,
but rather that they may turn from
their wickedness and live.

Therefore we implore God to grant us
true repentance and the Holy Spirit
that those things which we do
this day may be pleasing to God,
that the rest of our lives may be
lived faithfully,
and that at the last we may come to

God’s eternal joy;
through Jesus the Christ.
Thanks be to God!

*Closing Hymn Ours the Journey #458

*Benediction Please pray together.

Created from dust,
  held together by God’s
       extravagant love,
          we turn away from sin,
    and leave today
         embracing God’s love.

Postlude

Posted in Ash Wednesday, Lent, Liturgy, Seasons of the Church, Uncategorized

Embracing the Divine Within

*Call to Worship  & Invocation                                                      

Her place was tenuous. She lacked power.
Or, so, it seemed.

She was an object. A trophy to  be displayed to his friends.
Or, so, it seemed.

She’d be smart to just do as he said. It’d be wise to come when called.
Or, so, it seemed.

But how it seemed is not who God created her to be and become.
And, so, she listened to the Spirit who reminded her whose she was.

She embraced God’s image within, she acted as the woman she was.
So, Queen Vashti refused the powerful king. 

Listen for the still speaking voice of God who calls us anew in “just such a time as this.” Let us pray,

God of Boundless Love,
Lure us during this hour to perceive your presence. Touch us as we discern your will for our lives as your people in this time and this place. Move us to respond to your call and claim on our lives in “just such a time as this.” Amen.

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Posted in Call to Worship, Esther, Esther 1, Esther 1:10-22, Invocation, Uncategorized

Nope. Not Steak.

Mitchell Point 

  • Windy
  • Cold
  • Snow, sleet

Crawled

  • Later could handle

Risk.

  • This what passes for risk in my life
  • It’s nothing compared to Queen Vashti’s risks

***

Queen Vashti

  • married to King Ahasuerus
    • not a good guy
    • some evidence their marriage arranged by powerful men
  • 450 or so years before Jesus
  • this episode serves to set up the story of Esther

Vashti’s status quo

  • pseudo power
    • hosting women’s parties
  • manipulated
  • beholden to Ahasuerus
  • gets to be a Barbie doll

So what’s going on here?

  • Vashti has responded to Ahasuerus with yes in the past
  • This time she says “no”
  • Why is unclear

She says no to:

  • being leered at by hundreds of drunken construction workers
    • Hebrew: banquet = “to drink” (NIB One-Volume, TD)
    • 180 day Persian festival of debauchery
    • culminated in 7 days of drinking
  • ogling — some scholars think naked

She says no to 

  • the image of herself as one to be possessed and controlled

Alice Walker…

Alice Walker poem, La Vaca (cow)

Look
into
her eyes
and know:
She does not think
of
herself
as
steak.

Queen Vashti says yes to

  • God’s image of her
    • created in God’s image

Like all humans

  • created from metaphorical dust
  • comes to life when God’s breath becomes her breath
    • within her is God’s very breath

[PAUSE]

***

After Vashti says “no”

  • Ahasuerus convenes his cabinet
  • legal scholars
  • what to do? what to do?

The solution is to tighten control of women

  • new law
  • restrictive law for whole Persian empire

[sigh]

Of course, new law is not enough

  • Vashti must be punished as an example
    • ambiguous what happened
    • some say just loss of wealth & power
      • (as much as a woman could have)
  • many think she lost her life

[PAUSE]

***

In our storyline

  • Vashti sets us up for Esther
  • Vashti’s courage and risk taking foreshadow Esther’s risks

When she chooses God’s dream for her, Vashti takes great risk.

  • she risks and loses
    • modicum of power
    • status
    • probably her life
  • maybe she tried small steps
    • crawling like I did on Mitchell Point?

As a middle class white guy

  • it takes heights to risk life & limb
  • for Vashti it took seeing herself as God’s own

To be sure, many others have risked like Vashti risks

  • people of color
  • women
  • those sexually abused
  • those imprisoned
  • LGBTQAI

[PAUSE]

Jesus was asked, what is the greatest commandment?

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 

The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” —Mark 12:30-31

To love our neighbor is a risky endeavor

  • like Queen Vashti
    • starts with seeing/accepting image of God within ourselves
  • when we love ourselves, we can love our neighbors
  • we can see the divine image within our neighbors only when we love ourselves

We are called to love our neighbors AS ourselves.

Vashti’s embracing the royal divinity within

  • will lead to Esther to be in a position to save her people

***

This church has a history of taking risks to love neighbor

  • you strive to be inclusive as Jesus taught
  • you strive to love your neighbor like the Good Samaritan who crossed cultural boundaries to do so

In so doing, you’ve undoubtedly earned the disdain of some other Christians. 

  • Where I came from I was told I wasn’t Christian because my church strived to love as God loves.

Saying yes to God’s expansive love is never easy. 

  • It is risky.
  • Just ask Queen Vashti.

Loving like Jesus requires letting go of what the culture teaches about who deserves and who is worthy of love and respect.

Vashti and Esther lived in “just such a time as this”

  • a time when the powerful pushed others down to maintain power
  • it’s probably always been like this

But Jesus teaches another way, a way in which we love ourselves and we love our neighbors. Amen.

__

This was my first sermon preached (on March 5, 2017) as the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Albany, Oregon.

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Posted in Esther, Esther 1, Esther 1:10-22, Lent, Mark, Mark 12, Mark 12:30-31, Sermon

Nevertheless, She Persisted

Text Mark 6:31-34 & Mark 7:24-30

  • I love my dog.
    • under covers
    • kiss his head
  • Dogs were not pets
    • “Dogs, a highly insulting name, dogs were regarded as shameless and unclean” (Jewish Annotated NT)
    • rats?
  • Region of Tyre
    • Gentile area bordering Judea
    • “potentially hostile”

Nevertheless, he persisted.

  • Meets Syrophoenician woman
    • Gentile?
    • approaching a man?
    • her daughter is sick

Nevertheless, she persisted.

The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter.  27  

He responded, 

“The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Mark 7:26-27 CEB

  • Jesus says heal the Jews.
    • says in derogatory way
  • Possible interpretations of Jesus’ actions
    • ignore context and think of our own pets
    • misogynist
    • xenophobe “Make Judea Great Again”
    • testing her
      • hostile?
      • worthy?
  • seizing a teachable moment
    • use of “dogs” plays into Jews’ biases
    • good news is for all

He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Mark 7:27 CEB

We need to take care of Americans first. It isn’t right to take the bread and toss it to the refugees and immigrants.

  • Jesus has laid his trap.
    • On to him,
      • Nevertheless, she persisted.

“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Mark 7:28 CEB

  • Story has turned
  • Jesus reveals his point
    • Jesus heals her daughter
      • when she persists
      • tho she’s not Jewish
      • tho she’s a she
    • The kingdom of God is for everyone

and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. 31  

The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 CEB

***

  • Condon UCC criticized
    • too inclusive
      • LGBT
      • women
      • black lives
      • immigrants
    • too loving
    • not Christian

Nevertheless, you persisted.

  • Your faith is palpable
    • resist an inward focus
      • But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness… Matthew 6:33 NRSV
    • be active in your faith
      • My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? 
      • Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? James 2:14 CEB
  • You have big decisions & challenges
    • Nevertheless, you will persist.

I leave you with the words of the apostle Paul writing to the Philippian church,

I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. 

I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now.  

I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:3-6 CEB

Amen.

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Posted in Departure of a Pastor, Mark, Mark 6, Mark 6:31-34, Mark 7, Mark 7:24-30, New Testament, Philippians, Philippians 1, Philippians 1:3-6, Sermon, Special Times
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All materials by Tim Graves unless otherwise noted. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

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