ZION UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
22 Gettysburg Street Box 538
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 30, 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
We lift our eyes to the hills.
From whence does our help come?
Our help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
* PRAYER OF INVOCATION
We pause to consider your greatness, O God.
Out of the thick clouds that limit our vision, we hear you whisper our names and call us into community.
The mountains and the seas obey you; all living things announce your presence.
You claim us as your own and equip us to be a holy people who live differently from the ways of the world.
Help us to accept that role without misusing it, that your Name may be honored in all we do, and your way be lifted up among all people.
TIME OF CONFESSION
The confession of our sin before God and one another reminds us
that as individual believers and as a community of faith,
we sometimes stray or turn from the ways of love and justice.
We believe that if we confess, we shall be forgiven
and freed from the burden of guilt
and empowered to carry on the ministry of Christ.
Therefore, with confidence in the mercy of God, let us pray together.
We do not come to claim that we are better than others
or that we have attained a moral high ground.
Rather, we are here because we confess that we have fallen short
and that we need a Savior.
Forgive us for any spiritual pride that remains in us,
as we pledge to increasingly put our faith and trust in you.
Now let us silently reflect on the personal sins and fears that
keep us from being fully free.
ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS
May God’s grace enfold you,
may God’s grace uphold you,
and give you peace.
Thanks be to God for this magnificent gift of love.
THE GIVING OF OURSELVES AND OUR OFFERINGS
“Whenever you give alms,” said Jesus, “do not sound a trumpet before you . . . God who sees in secret will reward you.”
(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
We present these tithes and offerings,
not as a public display to attract the admiration of others,
but as a quiet and private affirmation of our faith.
Romans 12: 9-21, p. 151 (NT)
12:9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
12:10 Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
12:11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
12:13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
12:16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.
12:17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
12:18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
12:20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”
12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
St. Matthew 16: 21-28, p. 17 (NT)
16:21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
16:22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”
16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
16:25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
16:26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
16:27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.
16:28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
THE MESSAGE FOR THE MORNING – you can watch the recorded sermon at this link: https://youtu.be/HKeRxOKLOC8
August 30, 2020
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 12: 9-21
St. Matthew 16: 21-28
With the severe drought and hot temperatures this summer, I have been having a major issue at my house. I have a maple tree in the front yard, about 14 inches in diameter, so it is a fairly large tree. About the third week in July I noticed that the leaves were all starting to curl and drop off, and after about a week the maple tree lost about 95% of its leaves. The oak tree about 30 feet away has remained green, but the huge oak tree on my neighbor’s property has no sign of life and all its leaves have turned brown. All due to the lack of water and the severe heat that has caused extreme stress on those trees. The tree expert told me if I want to keep the tree alive I need to provide 120 gallons of water a week, slowly watering it and if I want to make the tree really happy, I need to do it twice a week. So now I am watering a maple tree in the hope that it will survive. Perhaps the funniest part of this is that I spent one late afternoon and evening at the end of July raking leaves!! Not a chore I had anticipated this time of year.
In all of nature, there is probably nothing more beautiful than a tree. Perhaps we don’t appreciate the lush beauty of trees because we are surrounded by them and we often don’t really observe and look closely at trees when we are walking or driving. A tree has a magnificence and a wonder all its own if you just take the time to look. Just think about that for a moment. Sprouting out of a tiny acorn, probably planted in the ground by some squirrel in the fall as it stored winter food, the oak tree begins to grow because that same squirrel either had enough to eat without that nut or, more likely, forgot where it had put it under the ground. The hard exterior of the acorn deteriorates and the life within begins to push upward toward the sky. Slowly the small stem breaks through the ground, a leaf pokes its way out of that branch and the process begins. It takes years, but the oak is on its way to becoming a stately and strong tree, providing food and shelter for the many families of the forest. Each year it continues to grow and becomes more sturdy and fulfils its purpose in God’s plan for creation. The oak tree lives through the many seasons of its life, providing for itself as well as for the world around it.
If we are fortunate, we have the opportunity to watch the tree grow, and over the years we can see it become a rather stately thing; we watch its shape and we begin to appreciate how wonderful the work of nature really is. If you have lived in your home for a number of years, you probably planted young trees; now they are maturing and you are appreciating the shade and the beauty they add to your surroundings.
But there is one thing about a tree that we oftentimes forget. Underneath what we see of a tree, hidden under the ground is a root system that is just as large as the tree itself. That root system is truly the heart and soul of the tree. Without that hidden part of the tree, there really would be no tree at all. The roots are vital for the survival of the oak. Not only do the roots provide minerals and water that are key to its health, but the root system also serves as an anchor so that the oak can withstand the forces of nature that would cause the tree to fall over in a hurricane or thunderstorm. Without a root system equivalent in size to its trunk and branches, the tree would be weak and easily destroyed, no matter how strong and sturdy and magnificent it might appear above ground to the observer. Weakness may not be seen, but without a strong root system the tree is frail.
A tree can be an image of our lives as well. A lot of people are very concerned about what their lives look like. They are spending a great deal of their energy on what other people see. So, we devote a good amount of time to our labor and the things that our labor can buy. We want a nice home, not merely for the comfort it provides us, but for what other people will think and say about us. The kind of home we live in and the way in which our lawn is manicured and trimmed presents the type of image we want to portray to others. What will people say if the lawn is not mowed on a regular basis or if the paint is peeling from the window sashes or if there are weeds in the flower beds? We are very concerned about appearances.
And that is true not only of our homes, but of our families as well. Many of you are grandparents and even great-grandparents, and you know that you want the very best for those of the younger generation of your family. If they are in school, you are very concerned that they will be accepted by classmates. That translates into having the right kind of clothes, the necessary accessories. It also means that you will do whatever is necessary to help your grandchild succeed in life. When their parents are too busy, you will provide the taxi service to take her to piano lessons. You will attend his soccer games or other school activities to be supportive. You will spare no expense of time, energy, and indeed, money, to do all that you can to assure your grandchild the greatest opportunities to have a successful, happy, and productive life. For indeed, we are often evaluated as a family by how much of a sacrifice we make for our children and grandchildren. We want other people to think well of us so we devote ourselves to the well-being of the next generations.
Now, I would be the last person to say that these are not worthy goals. We should be concerned about their well-being and we need to devote our attention to creating opportunities for them to grow and to reach their potential. At the same time, we should have some concern for our surroundings. It is natural that we want to live in a nice home and a pleasant environment. That is why we work hard, isn’t it? To be able to afford the things that will make life more comfortable for us, and to be able to give our children the kinds of things we may not have had.
But, and this is a big one, it seems that there are many people who have forgotten what lies underneath it all, namely, the spiritual growth that forms the roots of our lives and is the very heart and soul of our existence. Many are so busy with appearances, with the outward and visible, that the spiritual, the unseen, the foundation is forgotten. If we worked as hard at building an awareness of the presence of God into the lives of our children and our own lives, I would dare to say that we would be experiencing a lot fewer problems in our society. Where are the roots that are so necessary when temptations are presented to our children? Where is the foundation when the realities of life, the pains and the struggles and the decision-making moments, stare people square in the face? We live in a society that wants to avoid reality and goes to great lengths to shelter itself from those realities. When we fail to nurture the root system within our lives, when that system is left weak and frail, then we allow our lives to be torn apart by the slightest ill-wind that blows our way. How many people do you know who, having failed to nurture and allow God into their lives on a daily basis, suddenly when faced with crisis, expect God to come quickly to solve their problems for them? And when God doesn’t do that, when they have closed the doors for so long that they cannot feel the presence of God near them, these same folks then become angry with the God that they have ignored for so long? We do ourselves and our children no favor by treating our faith with casual disrespect. If the Christian faith is less a factor in people’s lives today, it is not due to frontal assaults on religion, but because of neglect and apathy on the part of those who call themselves Christian but fail to nurture that Christian faith within. “Will a person gain anything if he gains the whole world but loses his life? asks Jesus. Can we afford to be so completely concerned with outward appearances, with what people think of us, with what we can accumulate, with the educational and athletic opportunities for our children, that we lose our lives because we have no spiritual roots to anchor ourselves firmly and securely in the loving presence of God? We do our children no favors when we neglect their spiritual formation and growth.
Jesus said in this same passage: “Whoever wants to save his own life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Perhaps, just perhaps, we are losing our lives in the things that make for appearances. We are expending too much of our time and energy on what we think makes us pleasing to other people and acceptable, at the expense of building a firmly rooted faith that will sustain us and bear us through this journey of life. And maybe we will be lucky. Maybe we will be spared the turmoil and the realities of the life. After all, some people do seem to be fortunate in never having troubles. But then again, maybe we will not be so lucky. What are we willing to risk?
And again, maybe our children and grandchildren will be spared the trials and temptations of life. But what resources, what root system and foundation of faith are we helping them to build to prepare them if their lives are not so fortunate? Are we helping them to find the true meaning of life; are we ourselves finding the true meaning of life?
If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be? Would your root system reach deeply into the ground, firmly anchored in the life-giving soil of God? Do you find your nourishment and your strength in the presence of God? Or would you be all appearances – looking wonderful and magnificent, but really at the mercy of the slightest wind of trouble that blows your way?
“Will a person gain anything if he wins the whole world but loses his life?” That question confronts us today just as boldly as it did that day when Jesus spoke it to his disciples.
SERVICE OF THE BREAD OF LIFE
(please take the bread into your hands)
We lift up to you, O God, our praise and thanksgiving
for your wondrous love made known in all times and in all places.
Even though we live in days of change, when we are not exactly sure
how the future will unfold, your care and concern for us is steadfast and secure.
We trust that, through you, we will find a hope and a peace
that will endure wherever the journey may lead.
You challenge us to be your witnesses as we go about our daily living.
May we be found faithful to you. Enable us to look within ourselves
and see how we might make a difference as we go about our daily tasks.
A kind word, a gesture of care and concern, the ability to make others know
they are children of your love, recognizing that all people should be treated
with worth and dignity, able to express our faith as a reassurance to those who need hope. Help us to understand that even the smallest gesture on our part
can make a world of difference to someone who feels stressed and alone.
So, bless this bread which we eat that it might strengthen us for the week ahead,
both in giving us a sense of hope and peace and giving us the courage
to accept the challenges of living as your people.
May it so remind us of your love for us that we might share that same love with others.
And being fed, may we continue with a new and profound hope,
rejoicing in the days that you give us.
(you may now eat the bread)
Let us pray.
Almighty and ever living God, we thank you for feeding us and for assuring us that we are living members of your blessed and eternal community.
And now, Holy One, send us out to do the work that you have given us to do, to love and to serve you as faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.
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 30 Outdoor Worship Zion House 9:00 a.m.
September 6 Outdoor Worship Zion House 9:00 a.m.
September 10 Book Club Zion House 7:00 p.m.
Please note: No August hot dog roast today! We are hoping for cooler weather in September. Watch the bulletin for announcements.
Thank you to Angie V. and Debra S. for attending the virtual Penn Central Conference Annual Meeting along with Pastor George yesterday. Zion appreciates your representation.
Pastoral Care: If you would like a visit from George, please contact him and let him know a convenient time.
Sunday School: Zion needs your help! Christian Ed Director Dana B. has regretfully submitted her resignation effective the end of October. While we thank her
for her service, Zion needs to find a replacement so that our Sunday School program can seamlessly continue educating our kiddos and preparing them to lead a Christian life. Please prayerfully consider if God might be calling you to this position. Nothing is set in stone as to how this position is filled, it could be one person or a team, but we would like to have someone in place before October. Sunday School parents and other church members present a rich field of laborers for this particular harvest. Any interested individual or team should contact Minda H.
Upcoming Adult Education Opportunities:
Bible Study begins again on Wednesday, September 9th, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm! We began last spring with a study of the book of Genesis and will continue by starting with Exodus. Don’t worry if you missed the spring study and feel you have missed something. A fresh start. If you are interested contact the church office by September 6th so you can be included in the Zoom invitation.
Adult Sunday School via Zoom begins on Tuesday, October 6th, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm, using Max Lucado’s book, Unshakable Hope: Building our Lives on the Promises of God. This is a joint venture with the folks of Trinity Lutheran Church as we experiment with working together in learning and a new adventure. Please contact the church office by September 13th so that we can order a copy of the book for you. The class is scheduled for 7 weeks, ending on November 17th.
Book Club: If you enjoy reading, consider joining Zion’s readers on Thursday, September 10th, outside Zion House to discuss September’s selection Company of Liars by Karen Maitland. A synopsis:
“In this extraordinary novel, Karen Maitland delivers a dazzling reinterpretation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, an ingenious alchemy of history, mystery, and powerful human drama. The year is 1348. The Black Plague grips the country. In a world ruled by faith and fear, nine desperate strangers, brought together by chance, attempt to outrun the certain death that is running inexorably toward them. Each member of this motley company has a story to tell. From Camelot, the relic-seller who will become the group’s leader, to Cygnus, the one-armed storyteller . . . from the strange, silent child called Narigorm to a painter and his pregnant wife, each has a secret. None is what they seem. And one among them conceals the darkest secret of all—propelling these liars to a destiny they never saw coming.”
Ladies Breakfast: Ladies, mark your calendars for September 14th to join us for breakfast at the Apple Bin at 9:00 a.m. Social distancing is available.
Soda Can Tabs for Ronald McDonald House: Folks, if you have soda can tabs piling up during these hot summer days, please feel free to bring them to worship in plastic bags and place them on the table near the offering basket or in the container there. We are still collecting tabs and the mission continues! Thanks for participating.
Book & Puzzle Shelves: If Covid-19 has had one bright side, it has been the gift of time to pursue leisure activities. Zion’s family members are burning through books and puzzles, and it has been observed that bags of these items are making their way from car trunk to car trunk on Sundays after worship. To facilitate the exchange, a lending repository has been set up in Fellowship Hall. The shelves are along the side wall with one set for puzzles and one for books. After worship on Sundays, feel free to deposit your items on those shelves and help yourself to new material. Keep those brains active!