ZION UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
22 Gettysburg Street Box 538
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 28, 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
Our faith draws us together this day.
Let us trust enough to open our ears and hearts.
We have heard of God’s miracles in other times;
our ancestors kept the story alive for us.
Give ear, all people, to God’s word for today.
Taste the bounty of God’s blessing here and now.
We long for a faith that makes sense today.
We want to keep the story alive for new generations.
* PRAYER OF INVOCATION
Help us, Lord, to focus our minds and our souls —
to focus on your presence,
to focus on your goodness,
to focus on your grace,
to focus on your pardon,
to focus on your call upon our lives,
following Jesus Christ, our Lord and example.
TIME OF CONFESSION
How have we lived in trust of God this week?
Have we been open to God’s presence leading us?
Has God been in our thoughts at all?
Let us confess our weakness to God.
All too often, Lord, we allow our fears to overwhelm us.
We are intimidated by those who challenge our faith.
We are worried about the health of our bodies.
We are worried about our financial welfare.
We are worried about what the future holds for our world.
We sometimes question your providential care.
Forgive us, we pray,
and lift us up to a new level of confidence and faith.
Now let us silently reflect on the personal sins and fears that
keep us from being fully free.
ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS
I was sinking deep in sin far from the peaceful shore,
very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more.
But the master of the sea heard my despairing cry;
from the waters lifted me, now safe am I.
When nothing else could help, love lifted me.
Thank God for this magnificent gift of love.
THE GIVING OF OURSELVES AND OUR OFFERINGS
Every man according to how his heart is pure, so let him give;
not grudgingly, or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.
(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
Receive these tithes and offerings
as tangible expressions of our love and gratitude,
and use them as real and effective means
of helping and healing a struggling world.
OLD TESTAMENT LESSON
Genesis 22: 1-14, p.17 (OT)
22:1 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
22:2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”
22:3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him.
22:4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away.
22:5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.”
22:6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.
22:7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
22:8 Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.
22:9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.
22:10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.
22:11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
22:12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
22:13 And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.
22:14 So Abraham called that place “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”
Romans 6: 12-23, p. 146 (NT)
6:12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.
6:13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.
6:14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
6:15 What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
6:16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
6:17 But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted,
6:18 and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
6:19 I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
6:20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
6:21 So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death.
6:22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.
6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
St. Luke 9: 51-62, p. 66 (NT)
9:51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
9:52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him;
9:53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.
9:54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
9:55 But he turned and rebuked them.
9:56 Then they went on to another village.
9:57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
9:58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
9:59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
9:60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
9:61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”
9:62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
THE MESSAGE FOR THE MORNING –
June 28, 2020
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 22: 1-14
Roman 6: 12-23
St. Luke 9: 51-62
One hundred and fifty-seven years ago today, the storm clouds were clashing all around the Gettysburg area, including Arendtsville. Gen. Robert E. Lee had led his Confederate Army troops up and out of the Shenandoah Valley; they had entered Cashtown and defeated the Union defenders west of Gettysburg and overrun the town. Confederate Army scouts were roaming north of Gettysburg, all the way to Carlisle and approaching Harrisburg, feeling out the possibilities of confronting the Union Army. Communications with the Union headquarters in Washington warned of an impending battle somewhere near here. Jeb Stuart, at the head of the Confederate Cavalry was roaming around the Hanover area waiting for orders of how to proceed. Gen. George Meade was beginning to muster the Union forces north out of the Washington DC area, and the two armies were about to engage in a fierce contest that would impact the rest of the Civil War. George Custer with his cavalry forces were planted east of Gettysburg waiting to see what would happen. A lot of famous names – in addition to Longstreet, and Ewell, Reynolds and Pickett, Abner Doubleday, Chamberlain and Sickles.
One hundred and fifty-seven years ago, there was another man marching with his regiment toward Gettysburg. He was a private, with the 151st Pennsylvania Volunteers, marching from Fredericksburg, Virginia, where his regiment had been guards and messengers. They had served for nearly their entire term of enlistment of nine months but had not fought directly in any battles. He would march with them until June 30th, 1863, when they arrived from Emmittsburg and camped at a covered bridge just west of Gettysburg, this 21 year-old private among them. His name was William Henry Shaffer, a farm boy from Berks County, just a common ordinary young man who was serving his country.
On Wednesday of this week, one hundred and fifty-seven years ago, on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg, early in the afternoon, his regiment ended up at Reynold’s Woods, facing the initial onslaught of the Confederate forces. William Henry Shaffer encountered his first battle, but it did not last long because shortly after the fighting began, he was shot in the chest and carried to the seminary where he would lie for the next eight days.
We know all the famous names of the battle of Gettysburg. They are etched in our memory, and they are mentioned in the history books over and over again. But there would never have been a battle of Gettysburg if it weren’t for the 170,000 relatively unknown men who fought there. They were for the most part volunteers who fought because they believed in their cause and were willing to make the commitment to serve. But their names remain unknown except to their loved ones who remember as part of their family history.
In this morning’s Gospel lesson, we encounter three people who seem quite willing to volunteer. They appear to be making a choice to serve Jesus, at least that is what they say they want. After all, the journey to serve Jesus involves choices and commitment. The three conversations in this morning’s gospel lesson are about choices too.
We do ourselves a great disservice when we only compare our Christian faith against unworthy choices. One of the tricks that deceptive religious leaders use is to establish a scenario that pits a happy and wholesome Christian life on this side against a life of drunken gambling and broken relationships on that side. Given those extremes, almost everyone would choose Christianity! But I don’t know very many people who struggle to choose good over evil. Most people I know, and I include myself, struggle with a greater reality. Our faith challenges us, not when we’re at our worst but at our best. Then our faith calls on us to choose against those things which seem best in human wisdom, insight and emotion. Then we are challenged to remember that the very good is often the worst enemy of the best. That’s when it gets tough. That’s when we wrestle long and hard. That’s where the three encounters in our gospel lesson come into play.
Jesus seems to be very harsh with these three would‑be disciples. After all, they want some security, they want to pay attention to family relationships, they want to say goodbye. All of those seemingly reasonable requests, Jesus rejects and denies. We want to ask, “Just what is the problem here? Jesus, give these people a break. Lighten up, for crying out loud!” Jesus seems to be making discipleship as difficult as possible. And he loses potential disciples as a result.
It is important to remember, however, that we can never truly understand the Scripture unless we learn about the culture, the situation, and the world of the Jews in Jesus’ time. Consider the first conversation. After Jesus left the village in Samaria where the people rejected him because he was going to Jerusalem, a man comes up to Jesus and volunteers to join up. But, like most people in first century Palestine, this man’s idea of the Messiah probably didn’t include a suffering, rejected and crucified Savior. That’s really not his fault. Very few people in Jesus’ day expected Jesus’ way of fulfilling the role of the Messiah. Jesus doesn’t reject him outright. He tries to show this would‑be volunteer just what’s in store.
But there’s a second level to the dialogue that I discovered in preparing this sermon. We are familiar with the association of nations with certain birds and animals: for instance, the United States with the eagle, England with the lion, Russia with the bear, China with the dragon. In the first century the Gentile nations, including Rome, were referred to as “birds of the air” and members of the Amonite nation were called “foxes”. You may recall Jesus referring to Herod as “that fox”.(Lk13:32) Think again about Jesus words: “foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”. In other words, everyone has a home in Israel except the one who truly is Israel. The kings supported by the Roman Empire have palaces, but God’s Messiah has nothing. So, Jesus is saying, in this oppressed country, where people rarely speak out and cannot oppose the ones in power: do you really want to join the opposition? Are you willing to risk your neck in order to follow me? Are you willing to forfeit your comfortable life for a life following me?
Consider the second conversation. “Let me go and bury my father”. What do you hear in those words? Normally, we would think that this man is saying that his father has just died or is about to die and he is simply asking for time to respectfully bury him. And Jesus says “no” ‑ and Jesus comes off pretty picky and pathetic. But if the man’s father were dying or had just died, he would have been sitting in mourning rather than spending time with traveling teachers at the roadside.
The phrase “to bury one’s father” has a long history in Israel of being used as an expression for doing one’s duty of remaining close to home until one’s parents are respectfully buried. His father’s death in actuality could be years, if not decades, down the road. The man is balancing Jesus’ call against peer pressures. “Jesus, my community and my family have certain expectations of me. The pull of my community and what the neighbors think is very strong. Surely you don’t expect me to violate those community standards. I’ll follow you after I’ve done those duties to stay close to home until my father dies.” And Jesus replies “that’s precisely what I expect”. Jesus is saying there is a duty that supersedes all others – the duty and responsibility to God. Hard words. Tough, isn’t it?
Again, in the third situation we have a would‑be volunteer with a seemingly reasonable request, to go home and say good-bye. But again, we need to understand precisely what that means in ancient Israel. In reality, the good and obedient son would have to ask permission of his father to leave. This was not just a formality — he literally needed his father’s permission. Everybody knew that no father in his right mind would allow a son to go off on a crack‑brained scheme like following Jesus. It’s easy to agree to something when you know a higher authority will overrule you. Maybe you’ve used that dodge yourself: “Oh, I’d love to but I have to ask…” and depending what the request is you can fill in the blank with spouse, parents, children, supervisor, boss, head office, whatever. But Jesus is claiming a greater authority over this man than his own parents. Jesus is saying that He is the highest authority, a bold claim.
So, as we look at these three conversations, we begin to realize that Jesus is saying that in order to follow Him, we must be willing to make a lifetime commitment, building a deep and lasting relationship with Jesus. That’s the relationship into which Jesus invites us. Here we have three potential disciples and three disturbing questions. We don’t know how the would‑be disciples in the parable answered. But in the end, it doesn’t matter how they responded in their day. In the end, it matters how you and I respond today.
Jesus is saying three things to us. (One) The price of discipleship is too high for us to simply make a snap judgment or quick decision. Following carries a cost ‑ have we considered that cost? (Two) Jesus will accept no higher loyalty than his own. Regardless of how long‑standing or good or respectable or beneficial the claims of society might be, if they conflict with Jesus’ claims, they are not acceptable ‑ are we willing to choose him even though the neighbors might stare and chatter? (Three) Jesus will allow no voice to speak more loudly than God’s. Following Him is not an inner glow or an intellectual insight but a strenuous and serious commitment ‑ are we ready for that degree of commitment?
The history of the Christian Church is filled with many famous names – Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, St. Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King, Billy Graham, just to name a few. But without the unknown names of those who were willing to make a commitment, who chose to serve without regard for self-interest or convenience, who sacrificed because they believed, the Church would never have grown, or prospered, or made a difference in the world. It is the common, ordinary folk like you and me who make the day-to-day church alive and real and present in the community and the society in which we live. Just as the battle of Gettysburg would never have been fought except for the unknown thousands, so the church has lived through the unknown millions who have served faithfully and diligently over the ages.
Jesus is not being harsh or unreasonable or unrealistic. He is simply honest about the demands and the costs of a commitment we might make too lightly and a journey we might undertake too easily. He believes we can choose the best over the merely very good. So, how do you answer his questions?
And now to the end of the story I told you at the beginning of this sermon. William Henry Schaeffer suffered a grievous chest wound at the battle of Gettysburg, but he survived and was taken by train to Philadelphia where he recovered in a hospital and eventually returned home to Berks County. There he lived out the rest of his life as a farmer and died in 1929 at the age of 87 years old. He was my great-great-grandfather. Amen
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.
During this virus crisis, the Office Manager will often be working from home. Please call the office before stopping by.
Coming Up Next Week:
June 28 Outdoor Worship Zion House 9:00 a.m.
Zoom Worship 11:00 a.m.
Hot Dog Roast Zion House 6:00 p.m.
July 5 Outdoor Worship Zion House 9:00 a.m.
Pastoral Care: Now that we have entered the “green” phase, if you are interested in having a visit from the pastor please let him know. George is quite willing to do home visitation, but it needs to be at your comfort and convenience.
Volunteer Needed – Zion is looking for someone to fill the shoes of Dawn C. as Christian Ed. Secretary. If you’ve been searching for a way to be more involved with the life of the church, this might be the opportunity you want! Please see Minda Harbaugh or Craig Long about the duties involved.
Hot Dog Roast: Come join us this evening for the hot dog roast at 6:00 p.m. by the fire pit behind Zion House. Bring a side dish to share with your friends as well as a lawn chair and mask. Social distancing will be in effect; come join us for fellowship 6 feet apart.
Ladies Breakfast Group: A note from Sally – Ladies, please join us July 13th at The Apple Bin at 9:00 a.m. for breakfast. We will be in our usual room with tables spaced for social distancing. Looking forward to seeing all of you.
Men’s Breakfast Group: Zion’s men will meet for breakfast at The Apple Bin on Monday, July 20th at 8:00 a.m. Please call Eddie D. if you plan to attend.
Worship Update: Wow! We have been blessed with great weather for Zion’s outdoor worship services, but it IS summer so heat will be returning! Please feel free to place your lawn chairs near the tree hedge at the back of the parking lot or near any trees to take advantage of their shade. If you have hand-held fans lying in a drawer at home, you could resurrect them. You may also want to bring along umbrellas to shield yourselves from the sun. If the heat is too bothersome, you may choose to park in the rear and start your car engine from time to time to run your air conditioning for a bit until your car cools down. Just crack your windows to continue hearing the service. Remember, if 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.