ZION UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
22 Gettysburg Street Box 538
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 26, 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
God’s Spirit gives us good and varied gifts.
Praise be to God for the gift of loving one another.
Praise be to God for the ability to serve one another.
Our lives are enriched by these gifts from God.
Praise be to God that we are bound together
as one by the Spirit which gives us these gifts.
Praise be to God who brings us together to enjoy
and to use the gifts that we have been given.
* PRAYER OF INVOCATION
Amazing God, revealed to us in more ways than we can count,
we raise up our voices in thanks for your many blessings given to us.
Source of mountains and seas, giver of light and darkness,
we marvel at the work of your creative power.
Reconciler and Redeemer, we are awed by the forgiving love
that draws us to you and empowers us to care for one another.
Spirit of truth, whose guidance is available to us every day,
we rejoice in your transforming presence.
TIME OF CONFESSION
We who are tossed about in a sea of competing images and priorities
are summoned before God to be drawn back to a life centered by faith.
Let us call upon God’s mercy and forgiveness.
We admit, Lord, that we sometimes confuse our priorities.
We make sacrifices for those things that are of little consequence.
We worry about those things that really don’t matter.
Then we don’t have the time or energy to do the things that are really important.
Pardon us, we pray,
and help us daily to invest our time and treasure
in those things that have eternal significance.
Now let us silently reflect on the personal sins and fears that
keep us from being fully free.
ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Thanks be to God for this magnificent gift of love.
THE GIVING OF OURSELVES AND OUR OFFERINGS
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).
We know that the opposite is also true –
that where our heart is, there will we place our treasure.
Wherever our love is, our finances will follow.
(Your ongoing support is appreciated and can be mailed to Zion United Church of Christ, PO Box 538, Arendtsville, Pennsylvania 17307. 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, we pray,
as tangible evidence of our dedication to Jesus Christ
and of our desire to follow him completely.
Romans 8: 26-39, p. 147 (NT)
8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
8:27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
8:28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
8:29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.
8:30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
8:31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
8:32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?
8:33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
8:34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
8:35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
8:36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
8:38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
8:39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
St. Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52, p. 13 (NT)
13:31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field;
13:32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
13:33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
13:45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls;
13:46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
13:47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind;
13:48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.
13:49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous
13:50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
13:51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.”
13:52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
THE MESSAGE FOR THE MORNING –
July 26, 2020
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 8: 26-39
St. Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52
Whenever you travel or have a family gathering, most likely you’ve taken a camera to capture the sights as a memory of the trip or taken photos of family gatherings, or more conveniently these days you simply pull out your cell phone and store them for later. Particularly, upon returning from that trip, you might print out or develop the best photographs and share them with friends, a way of describing where you’ve been and what you have seen. The beauty of a panoramic view of the mountains, the historical sights, the wonders of the world around us. Wouldn’t it be wonderful and reassuring if we had the same advantage when it came to God’s eternal home? But there are no photographs, no DVD clips, no movies of that place; NetFlix has not found a way to capture the view of heaven. And no matter what Jesus might say, the realm of heaven does not look like a buried treasure or a pearl. These merely symbolize the great value and worth of God’s realm. The realm of heaven does not look like a mustard seed that grows into a large bush where birds rest. Jesus here is telling us how the realm of heaven will grow. Nor is the realm of God like yeast in dough; that is how it spreads. And it isn’t like a net; that’s how tremendously inclusive God’s home happens to be.
So, if these parables don’t tell us what the realm of God looks like, what precisely is this place that all Christians anticipate with hope? To be truthful, we don’t know. Jesus never gives us a photographic description that we might share with others. Scripture only gives us a glimpse, bits and pieces of information. These provide us with an image and vision in our minds. We read that it is a place overflowing with milk and honey, more than enough for everyone; in God’s realm there will be peace and harmony among all those who reside there; the lion will sleep side by side with the lamb, children will play happily, even with poisonous snakes. God will be fully present; there will be no more tears nor pain nor sorrow.
Each of us has our own personal vision of this realm which, although it may be vague, is indescribably glorious – all we can hope for, and probably more than we can imagine in our most fantastic dreams. It is our highest hope and, although Jesus is vague with details, it was at the very heart of his ministry. Jesus told these parables of God’s realm for a purpose. That purpose was to encourage his listeners to make a choice about their goals and priorities. The realm of God, starting out as small and as insignificant as the mustard seed will, by God’s action, transform creation. Like the yeast it will penetrate into all that God has made. It will involve all of creation, catching every aspect in its network and web. Like a buried treasure or a pearl of great value, God’s home is to be valued and prized, pursued by all who seek the very best.
A decision is therefore called upon. A conscious, deliberate decision about our relationship to the inevitable arrival of God’s realm. How will we value it for ourselves; how will we live in order to be part of the God’s realm of heaven? Like the sixteen year old practices driving with an experienced adult in order to successfully pass the driver’s exam; like an artist works hours at the drawing board in order to learn to paint portraits; as the athlete trains for months and years to excel in the chosen sport, so we, by the choices we make in everyday life, are preparing ourselves to either embrace expectantly the realm of God or to look upon its arrival with fear and trembling.
We cannot force God to bring about the realm; it will arrive in God’s time. We will never remove all the tears and sorrows of this world, but we can live in such a way that our actions and words and attitudes avoid bringing tears and sorrow and anguish to others. We cannot cure all the disease and illness there is in the world, but we can choose to offer compassion and comfort to those who are hurting. We cannot force the lion to lie down with the lamb without harm, but we can struggle to live at peace with our neighbors. In this world a child could never play with a poisonous snake, but we can work toward the kind of world that assures our children safety, free from the threat of hunger, abuse and exploitation.
It is a deliberate lifestyle that we can choose, not easy or simplistic or convenient, but a way of living that reflects the glory of God’s realm. And as we pursue this kind of living, we will discover the depth of God’s home. If we trust that God is the One who rules, guides and shapes our lives; if God is the center of our living, then Jesus tells us we will experience incredible and unimaginable joy. Everything else will seem of lesser value in comparison. Perhaps one of the reasons we so often fail to choose living a style of life that reflects God’s home is that we have allowed so many other things to take priority over God in our lives. Maybe we find so much frustration and lack of peace in our lives precisely because we are motivated, not by a desire to live in the ways of God, but in pursuit of lesser things. We find no peace, no satisfaction, no joy in this; the joy of the greatest treasure, the most precious pearl, the realm of heaven, is experienced in all its fullness only when it is placed where it belongs – at the center of life.
We all need, at times, to reevaluate what is truly important to us. Maybe in light of this morning’s Scripture, we should look into our lives and consider where we are now and where we are headed if we continue in our present direction. The realm is too important to let it slip out of our grasp because we are distracted.
Remember what it is toward which you are working. Remember that what you do and say, your attitudes and actions, will determine your relationship to God and to God’s home. Remember Jesus claimed that it is the most precious of all possessions. God’s home, alone of all things, cannot be taken from us. We can only lose it for ourselves, if we cast it aside. God’s realm, this is our most worthy goal. A goal worth pursuing with our whole lives.
SERVICE OF THE BREAD OF LIFE
(please take the bread into your hands)
Holy One, as we gather together at your table, let this bread be a celebration
of our thankfulness for your mercies and tender care, embodied in your Son, Jesus Christ, who walked among us, and touched us, and healed us.
By partaking in this bread, we remember your providence
when you fed our ancestors with manna as they wandered in the desert.
We remember how Jesus fed the 5000 with only a few loaves of bread and some fish. Likewise, we remember the lilies of the field, holding onto the hope that even as you care for these that neither toil nor spin, so will you also provide amply for us.
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.
As you poured out your Spirit in abundance upon those first disciples,
we pray for your Spirit to be upon us and within us in these difficult days.
Empower us to be your people in the world, witnesses to your magnificent
and overwhelming love at work even now.
In eating this bread may we be strengthened for the week ahead,
nourished in a spiritual way to be confident and hopeful.
May we be voices of reason and compassion in the midst of the strident
and often harsh rhetoric of those who are impatient and angry.
We understand the frustrations but seek to find a way to provide
both safety and security in these precarious times.
We pray for all essential workers, for all those who continue to struggle with unemployment and overwhelming need, for all those who are feeling forgotten,
for all who deal with illness, for all those who are afraid.
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.
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.
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:
July 26 Outdoor Worship Zion House 9:00 a.m.
Covid-19 Task Force mtg Virtual
July 27 Consistory Mtg Zoom 7:00 p.m.
July 28 Profile Cmte Mtg Virtual 7:30 p.m.
August 2 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.
Holy Communion: We will be celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Communion on Sunday, August 2nd, 9 a.m., at the outdoor worship service. You are asked to bring your own bread for this service, as well as either juice (of any kind) or grapes. We will make sure that these items will be available if you happen to forget. Surely our God wants us and expects us to be creative in these unusual times.
Hoffman Home School Supplies: It’s time to start thinking about school! Zion will again be supporting Hoffman Home’s Hoffman Academy by purchasing school supplies for the start of their academic year. However, in deference to Covid-19, this year members are asked to simply give Jo M. money (cash or check made out to Jo), and she will be our personal shopper and select all the necessary items! If you have purchased items in prior years, you are encouraged to give that same amount to Jo. She will be collecting money the next three Sundays. Thanks for your participation in this worthwhile Mission project.
Hot Dog Roast: The hot dog roast has been cancelled due to the extreme heat.
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 H. or Craig L. about the duties involved.
Ice Cream Fundraiser: McDannell’s Fruit Market is planning to hold an ice cream sale to benefit the Bieseckers on August 2nd. In previous years, Zion also held a Bake Sale at the market but has decided to not do that this year. We hope to pick up again next year so if you discover a delightful dessert or snack, keep that recipe on hand for next year!