ZION UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
22 Gettysburg Street Box 538
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 16, 2020
Before you begin to follow this service and before you view/read the sermon, please get a piece of bread and keep it close by.
Please also read the Scripture lessons for the morning.
Welcome to Zion and a special welcome to our visitors. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic we are unable to gather as a community of faith in the sanctuary, so if you have chosen to view the YouTube worship opportunity, we invite you to use this revised bulletin to pause for reflection and as an expression of your abiding faith that our God is merciful and present with us in these difficult days. It is most likely the same sermon that we will share at the outdoor worship at 9:00 am. We hope you are keeping safe and maintaining social distance in order to slow down the spread of the virus and protect yourself. But please continue to check on your friends and neighbors via social media or the telephone. We may learn a new meaning of community and caring by the time that things return to a more regular routine. God bless!!
Light a candle before beginning your personal worship, signifying the presence of God in this time.
CALL TO WORSHIP
Jesus called the crowd to gather around,
and said to them, “Listen and understand.”
We have heard your call, O Savior, and we are here.
Jesus said, “Listen and understand.”
Open our ears, our minds, and our hearts,
and send us your Holy Spirit to give us understanding.
PRAYER OF INVOCATION
Speak to us, O God.
Speak to us through the Scriptures.
Speak to us through music.
Speak to us through prayer.
Speak to us through the words of fellow believers.
Speak to us through the inward presence of the Holy Spirit.
Yes, speak to us, O Holy God.
TIME OF CONFESSION
God is on our side, yet how easily we move away from God’s side.
God is eager to walk with us through the turmoil and troubles of life,
yet we hide from God and flee from the only relationship that can fulfill us.
God offers us rest and renewal, but we often refuse to turn away
from our busy schedules to receive God’s gift.
Who will rescue us from our foolish ways?
Some of us are smiling on the outside but hurting on the inside.
Some of us speak religious words, but our thoughts are less than exemplary.
Some of us make an impression with externals, but we are ashamed of what’s inside.
We know that before you all pretense is stripped away
and that we must rely on your grace alone,
which we now embrace with humility and gratitude.
Now let us silently reflect on the personal sins and fears that
keep us from being fully free.
ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS
Our righteousness is not our own,
earned by obedience to the law,
but one that comes through faith in Christ.
Thanks be to God for this magnificent gift of love.
THE GIVING OF OURSELVES AND OUR OFFERINGS
“[God] reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18)
Let us give generously so this ministry of reconciliation can continue.
(Your ongoing support is appreciated and can be mailed to Zion United Church of Christ, PO Box 538, Arendtsville, Pennsylvania 17303. The work and witness of Zion continues in new ways as we adjust to this new normal.)
*PRAYER OF DEDICATION
It is our desire, both through what we do and what we say, that the ministry
of reconciliation may continue and expand here and around the world.
Romans 11: 1-2a, 29-32, p. 150 (NT)
11:1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.
11:2a God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.
11:29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
11:30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience,
11:31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.
11:32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
St. Matthew 15: 10-28, p. 16 (NT)
15:10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand:
15:11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”
15:12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?”
15:13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.
15:14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.”
15:15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.”
15:16 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding?
15:17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?
15:18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.
15:19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.
15:20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
15:21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.
15:22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”
15:23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”
15:24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
15:25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
15:26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
15:27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
15:28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
THE MESSAGE FOR THE MORNING – you may also watch and listen to the sermon at https://youtu.be/z4kkAbaxzCw
August 16, 2020
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
Romans 11: 1-2, 29-32
St. Matthew 15: 10-28
“What did I do to deserve this?” Have you ever said that to yourself? Does it seem to you that life is unfair? Have you ever felt that you weren’t getting what you deserved out of life? I suspect that all of us, probably on more than one occasion in the midst of turmoil, pain or setback, have raised up our heads, and addressing God, simply asked, “Why me?” People wonder what they have done so terrible as to displease God. In the times of our despair, in the moments of our anguish, we feel like the anger of God has been turned against us.
And yet, perhaps a more appropriate question, seldom asked in the moments of our anguish might be, “Why not me?” What have I done so special, what makes me so wonderful a person that I should be spared the realities of the world? Even our Savior Jesus Christ was not spared humiliation, abuse, persecution, even death. Yet from the cross, his final words were not, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” but rather, “Father, into your hands I give my spirit.”
The concept that there is a reward for faithfulness, namely freedom from the painful realities of this world, has somehow become ingrained in our minds. Maybe it’s because as children we were rewarded by our parents for good behavior, a form of bribery. “If you are a good boy when we go shopping, we’ll stop for ice cream on the way home.” “Santa Claus brings presents to good little boys and girls.” “If you don’t fight with your sister today, you’ll get that toy you wanted at the store last week.” We’ve learned that being good brings a reward and we have come to expect that. Because we have been ‘good’ Christians, we often think that we deserve a break from God. We have a tendency to use our good behavior as a weapon in order to manipulate God for our own purposes, thinking that God owes us. For some, faith is like an insurance policy. If we pay our premium by doing and being good, it will somehow protect us from the devastation of disaster and tragedy. Like the insurance policy obligation to respond to our needs, we expect that God is somehow obligated to us. God’s love and mercy, then, is not so much a gift to us as it is a right, a reward for obedience. It is as if God needs us, and if God does not protect us from the realities of this world, then we threaten to turn our backs, to walk away, to refuse to acknowledge God. We will probably never know how many people have rejected God because they thought they deserved better than they got, and blamed God for it.
God is God. God will remain God no matter whether we believe or don’t believe, whether we worship or refuse to worship. To approach God with the attitude that the Creator of the universe, the Redeemer of all humanity, and the source of all life, is somehow obligated to respond to my desires is doomed to end in frustration and hopelessness. I believe that one of the first steps to building a secure and solid faith is the recognition that we neither earn nor deserve the mercy of God. God is not a vending machine where we deposit our good behavior and get a ‘goodie’ in return. God is under no obligation to us. The approach of the Canaanite woman reflects one who has come to acknowledge that God has no obligation to us. She came to Jesus on that day we read about in this morning’s Gospel. She cries out, in her despair, “Son of David. Have mercy on me. My daughter has a demon and is in a terrible condition.” Persistently, she cries out for help, even when the disciples encourage Jesus to send her away. Even when Jesus denies her request by telling her his mission is solely to the people of Israel, she does not protest. She makes no claim that she is deserving of mercy or compassion. She never once makes a claim to goodness. She recognizes her lack of deserving, yet she still will not be dissuaded from her appeal for help.
It is precisely because she makes no claim to Jesus’ mercy that moves Jesus to call this Canaanite woman of great faith. Jesus can act for her because she willingly admits that he is under no obligation to act. The Canaanite woman’s faith is not based on God’s obligation to her. Rather it is a faith that trusts the truth of Jesus’ words. Jesus cannot ignore her or send her away for she has put her entire trust in him. He must act on her behalf because she has taken literally all the promises that Jesus has made to those who follow him. She came to him and asked him to respond. She did not point to her own worth, but rather claimed his action because she trusted him.
Stop for a moment and think. What have you really ever done that would be worthy of God’s sheltering you from the realities of this world? If God did not spare his own son from the reality of humiliation and shame and death, is there anything that we have done that could somehow make us greater than Jesus? Dare any of us stand before God and claim that we deserve to be immune? Can we honestly proclaim our goodness and our innocence before the Almighty? Can we, with boldness, come to God and say that we are more deserving and more worthy than some other person?
What we received from God is really more than we deserve. Yes, we may have to deal with some painful realities in this world and, yes, the struggles may be overwhelming. Yet God’s promise to us is not that we will be sheltered and protected – reality strikes both the faithful and the unfaithful the same. What we receive, and what God promises, is gentle, loving patience. God gives us what we truly do not deserve – presence when we are open to receiving the Spirit, courage when we are afraid, strength in the midst of our weakness, hope in the bleakness of our despair, healing when our lives are broken, forgiveness when we are sincerely sorry. A loving, caring, merciful God who gives us not what we deserve, but what we can never earn – a peace and a oneness with God that surrounds us and leads us to the eternal realm. In the midst of the turmoil around us, by our trust in God, we find peace – a peace the world can never give.
Without that attitude we can get into deep trouble. If we believe that as Christians we have a right to God’s special favor, then our faith becomes, not trust in God, but dependent on life going well for us. We want to get our way. We can so easily place demands on God, try to bargain with God, think of God as the great dispenser of favors to those who are faithful enough or good enough. The plea of the Canaanite woman who recognized her unworthiness, and the response of Jesus to her persistent pleading, point to a proper beginning to sincere faith.
We pray then, not for God to give us what we deserve, but that we might be able to put our trust in the one who is merciful. We pray then, not for God to give us what we deserve, but that our unworthiness might be overcome by God’s great love. Even when everything around us seems to deny it, we will not give up on the faithfulness of God. In this we place our hope, our trust, and, yes, our very lives.
SERVICE OF THE BREAD OF LIFE
(please take the bread into your hands)
Holy God, we your people remain scattered this morning;
But we trust that you are near to each of us in this day and in all days.
You have promised that nothing can ever separate us from your love,
And that as we are open to your Spirit, you will make yourself known to us
wherever we might find ourselves.
We recognize that, in the midst of what seem like endless days,
we need your encouragement and the endurance you can give us
to deal with the ongoing need for social distancing and a cautious approach to life.
We get tired of wearing masks every time we go out
as if we were hiding from each other.
Grant us the hope that we will be enabled to continue as long as is necessary
To prevent the spread of this disease within our community.
We know that we need to be nourished by you, so we ask for you to make your presence known in this bread which we bring to you this morning.
Bless it and fill it with your Spirit that we may know that we abide in your love.
Send your Holy Spirit and its mighty power to be with us,
that in you we might have strength and patience in these times.
We pray for all who are working to try to help us maintain as normal a life as possible; medical personnel, grocery store workers, first responders, trash collectors, sales clerks, truck drivers, and the many others who provide essential work at some risk to themselves. We lift up to you particularly the school system
as they try to grapple with educating our children.
Even though we cannot be together as one, we remain together in your spirit
and we share in the breaking of the bread.
May this bread empower us to be your people wherever we might find ourselves.
May it remove all fear and all doubt, so that we might be nourished and strengthened for the days ahead, knowing that you walk with us in our journey of this life.
And being fed, may we continue with a new and profound hope,
always witnessing to your love by sharing that love and care and concern with others.
Bless this bread and us, that we may be your people at work in the world.
(you may now eat the bread)
Let us pray.
We give you thanks, O merciful God, for this bread
through which we receive the presence of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
May it strengthen us always to be your willing and obedient servants
until that time when life’s journey ends
and we share in the eternal feast of your heavenly realm. Amen.
During this virus crisis, the Office Manager will often be working from home. Please call the office before stopping by.
Cancellation of Worship: If outdoor worship is cancelled due to inclement weather, an email blast will be sent and a message placed on the church answering machine by 7:30 a.m. The email will have an invitation to Zoom worship at 9:00 a.m.
Coming Up Next Week:
August 16 Outdoor Worship Zion House 9:00 a.m.
August 17 Men’s Breakfast Apple Bin 8:00 a.m.
Consistory Mtg Fellowship Hall 7:00 p.m.
August 18 UACT Youth Cmte Zion House lawn 6:00 p.m.
Mission Cmte Mtg Virtual 7:00 p.m.
August 23 Outdoor Worship Zion House 9:00 a.m.
August 29 PCC Annual Mtg Virtual
Pastoral Care: If you would like a visit from George, please contact him and let him know a convenient time.
Thank you: McDannell’s Fruit Farm would like to thank everyone who came out to the Peach Sundae Benefit for the Biesecker family. It was a great success.
Hoffman Home School Supplies: A message from Jo M.: Thank You! Thank You! I am amazed at the support from the congregation! I collected $1,075 and was able to purchase everything on Hoffman’s school supply list plus some additional quantities of their most requested items! The people of Zion really outdid themselves! My thanks and gratitude to all who supported this mission project.
Search Committee: Today’s the last day to participate in this part of the Pastoral Transition Process! Please turn in your slips with names of people whose opinions you trust and respect – there is an envelope for them on the table by the Offering Basket. The Consistory thanks you for your participation.