G+M Worship – December 30, 2012

The following was written by Joshua for the service of worship and prayers held at Grace and Main Fellowship on December 30, 2012.

Worship on First Sunday after Christmas – December 30, 2012

Preparing and Setting the Altar

Lighting of the Christ Candle

Lord Jesus, who is a light shining in the darkness and who cannot and will not be overcome by the darkness of this world,
Fill this place with your light, so that we might shine in a world that does not know you.

Passing the Peace

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Let us give praise to our God—three in one and one in three:
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

As we worship our God who became one of us to save all of us, let us sing!

Singing

 
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted…

Psalm 148
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the Lord!
 
 

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted…
Luke 2:41-52
Let them praise the name of the Lord , for his name alone is exalted…
Colossians 3:12-17
Let them praise the name of the Lord , for his name alone is exalted…

We Listen and Interpret Together


C.H. Spurgeon, the 19th century British preacher thought to have preached to over 10 million people in his lifetime, once preached: “You cannot do your own business and God’s too. You cannot serve God and self any more than you can serve God and mammon. If you make your own business God’s business, you will do your business well; and you will be useful in your day and generation. Never shall we see any great revival in the church, or any great triumphs of religion until the Christian world is more touched with the spirit of entire consecration to Christ.”

Prayers for OthersThe Lord’s Prayer

Singing

May you go from this place and be about our Father’s business in the world around us. May you go with the confidence that comes from serving our Lord who made himself less so that he could dwell among us and redeem sinners like you and like me. Go in peace.


May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you.
May he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm.
May he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you.
May he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.
Amen.

Josephine Butler, Activist and Grieving Mother

The following was written by Joshua for his collection of stories, Telling the Stories that Matter.

Josephine’s life was indubitably envied by many of her contemporaries and acquaintances. She had had the blessing of a happy childhood with good parents and now was married to an academic and cleric and his income provided more than sufficiently for their needs and many of their desires. They even had four children–three sons and a daughter.Josephine and her husband were active in social causes and vicious opponents of slavery anywhere in the world. In fact, they were known sympathizers with the Union cause of the Civil War in the States. Their activism was a tame sort that would be expected from a socially progressive cleric and his wife and they lived into these roles and expectations with ease. Yet, as life often does, things took a turn and their happy way of life was suddenly and painfully upset: their six-year-old daughter Evangeline died without warning and left the family reeling.

Josephine was overwhelmed with grief and was absolutely inconsolable. She resisted the efforts of her friends and acquaintances to comfort her and instead looked for distraction. In her pain, she was immediately desperate for somebody more desperate than herself. She found an object of focus and compassion in the prostitutes of London who she viewed as victims of the cultural machine–as the ones who were ground up in the gears of a machine designed to help and protect some by sacrificing others. She hated prostitution and saw it as a dehumanizing sin against God and themselves but her growing passion and love for the women enslaved by desperate need overcame her aversion to the acts. Soon, she found herself loving the women more and more and helping them less and less out of a desire to be distracted and more out of an honest and consuming love.

The Contagious Diseases Act that had been passed in the 1860s–which Josephine referred to in a gripping way as “surgical rape“–meant that a police officer could accuse any woman of prostitution and turn them over to a group of government backed medical workers who would perform an intrusive examination upon the woman and confine her for a period of three months to “quarantine” her. This became a way of intimidating and abusing women on the streets of London and a simple accusation by a police officer–no matter their honesty or integrity–annihilated the reputation of the woman and left her untouchable withing polite British society. So, Josephine fought for the repeal of these laws because of the abuse it assisted and the victimization it spread among women who were already victims. Josephine could not understand how a society could be so ostensibly Christian yet simply reject women who were in critical need of help. Josephine had learned to love these women and had become their benefactor–a voice to the voiceless. She was slandered and physically assaulted by Christians and non-Christians alike but her faith bade her remain the friend of the victim and the oppressed. She rejected any morality that appeared built upon a double standard of sexual justice and–finally–in 1886, the laws were repealed in large part due to Josephine’s work.

Later in her life, she fought again to have the age of consent raised from thirteen to sixteen to help fight yet more abuse and double standards inherent to the system. This was the life she had been cast into first by her desperate grief and second by a genuine calling from the God she loved and followed. Until the day she died, she remained a powerful activist and feminist who insisted upon the equal rights of women in a system that thrived by victimizing the already victimized.

Stephen, Protomartyr

The following was written by Joshua for his collection of stories, Telling the Stories that Matter.

Stephen had just been appointed to be one of seven deacons in the Church in Jerusalem. His job was reaching out to the poor, widowed, and orphaned among the Hellenized Jews of the community. Since he spoke Greek as his native tongue–and was himself a Hellenized Jew–this seemed an especially appropriate calling for Stephen. The necessity of having deacons largely came out of a desire to be more transparent with the use of the Church funds. Some had complained about an inappropriate use of money set aside for alms and the leaders of the Church had responded by appointing more deacons like Stephen. This was a great opportunity for Stephen who felt a passion burning within him to offer the Faith to those around him. This same passion is what led him to talk freely with friends and acquaintance as well as preach in the open where anybody could hear. This same passion is also what got him into trouble with the powers.

They insisted that he had blasphemed God and Moses. They drug him before the Sanhedrin and insisted that he be punished. Yet, they had taken time on the way to get their story straight and decide how they would spin Stephen’s words and preaching to be blasphemy.”This man never stops saying things against the Temple and the Torah…” his accusers began with subtle rage, “we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” They had leveled a charge against Stephen that would indubitably result in his execution if he was found guilty. Yet, Stephen had a response:

 

“Beloved ones, listen to me. God appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, “Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.” So Abraham did it. After his father died, God had him move from Haran to this very country. God said to childless and aged Abraham: ‘This isn’t yours, it’s your children’s.’ And God insisted that his descendants would be strangers in somebody else’s land, who would enslave and abuse them for 400 years. ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ Then he gave him the covenant of circumcision–a physical mark of a spiritual condition–and this covenant and its mark continued with Abraham’s son–Isaac–and his grandson–Jacob–and his great-grandsons–the twelve patriarchs.’

Then, Stephen rehearsed their mutual history and spoke of Joseph and Moses and how their people had insisted upon bringing along their false gods even as God led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness. Stephen made his argument: you’ve missed the point of all of it–you’ve fallen in love with the words of the story and failed to get the message. He summed it up:

‘You stubborn people, you still don’t get it! You may have the circumcision–the physical mark– but you are uncircumcised in heart and ears. You lack the spiritual part that the physical part is supposed to represent. You are always opposing the Holy Spirit, just as our fathers and forefathers used to do. You know the history but you still haven’t learned its lesson. You’ve killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You received the glorious gift of the Law but you’ve cast it aside for other whims.”

So, they drug him out of the city for his death and found a low spot near a wall for him to stay. His accusers went to gather stones and the witnesses laid their cloaks at the feet of Saul–who would become Paul–so that they might better murder the one who dared speak the truth to them. As they were preparing to cast the stones on him (some stones so big they needed two people to carry them), Stephen fell to his knees and cried: “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” They rushed him with a furious rage and began pummeling him with stones. As he died–in a posture of prayer–he cried out: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit and do not hold this sin against them. They don’t get it.” He died under a pile of stones.

G+M Worship – December 23, 2012

The following was written by Joshua for the service of worship and prayers held at Grace and Main Fellowship on December 23, 2012.

Worship on the Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 23, 2012
 
Preparing and Setting the Altar
 
God who was, and is, and always will be, we wait upon you not only in this place where we gather to worship, but also in our homes and in our lives.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
 
 
The Advent Wreath – The Fourth Candle
 
 
Lamb of God who is coming into the world to take away our sins, we confess that we have chosen ourselves over our neighbors, we have not loved as we are called to love, we have rebelled against your commandments and your callings. We have sinned and fallen short of your glory. For these sins and so many others, we now pray.
Silence
With confidence that you are a God of forgiveness and claiming your promise that mercy triumphs over judgment, we pronounce one to another: You are forgiven. Now, nothing stands between you and the God who showers you with grace and love.

As we wait on our Lord who will make all things right and all things whole, let us sing.Singing – “O Lord, Hear our Prayer”

 
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. 

Psalm 80:1-3

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim,
shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Micah 5:2-5a
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Luke 1:39-55
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

We Listen and Interpret TogetherOur sister, Dorothy Day, was a 20th century activist, journalist, and Roman Catholic convert. Alongside Peter Maurin, she established the Catholic Worker movement, which provides shelter and direct assistance to the homeless, poor, and disenfranchised, while also acting and advocating on their behalf. In December of 1945, the following was part of her article in the Catholic Worker newsletter:

“It is no use saying that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ.  Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late.  Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts.

“But now it is with the voice of our contemporaries that he speaks, with the eyes of store clerks, factory workers, and children that he gazes; with the hands of office workers, slum dwellers, and suburban housewives that he gives.  It is with the feet of soldiers and tramps that he walks, and with the heart of anyone in need that he longs for shelter.  And giving shelter for food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ…

“If Mary had appeared in Bethlehem clothed, as St. John says, with the sun, a crown of twelve stars on her head, and the moon under her feet, then people would have fought to make room for her.  But that was not God’s way for her, nor is it Christ’s way for himself, now when he is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth.”

Prayers for Others

The Lord’s Prayer

Singing

Even though we now prepare to leave this time of worship and these with whom we have worshiped, let us not stop waiting on and anticipating our Lord who will make all things whole. Go, not in peace, but in anticipation and expectation of that which our Lord will yet do in our world and in our lives.

So, in place of our usual blessing we voice the cry of the Church for many centuries:
Come quickly, Lord Jesus. We wait upon you.

Amen.

 

Ignatius of Antioch, God Bearer

The following was written by Joshua for his collection of stories, Telling the Stories that Matter.

As he walked across the wilderness flanked by guards and wild beasts, Ignatius’ mind drifted back to the day Jesus had come to his little town. He had been teaching for a while and offering that particular blend of love and expectation that he was so well known for when a ruckus had been stirred up. Ignatius peeked from behind his mother’s skirts to see that the disciples had been trying to keep some of the local mothers away from Jesus when they tried to bring their children closer to him. Ignatius immediately knew what had been on their minds–having their children blessed by this wandering holy man–because his own mother had mumbled something about it earlier that day. So, he knew this Jesus was an important man and he had been trying very hard to listen especially close to what he had to say. It made sense, as far as he could tell, and so he assumed that he was missing the point since he was only a child and wasn’t used to understanding wandering holy men. He had much to say about the power of love to change things and the love of God for all people. To young Ignatius this made sense and he hadn’t questioned it but he was surprised to see quizzical looks on the faces of the adults. Then, it happened. Jesus beckoned him forward from behind his mother’s skirts. “Don’t keep the children out,” Jesus started, “for they understand the Kingdom of God in ways that you struggle to grasp.” Jesus took Ignatius into his arms and blessed him–much to Ignatius’ mother’s approval–before saying: “If you want to be a part of the Kingdom, you have to lay down much and be just like a little child.”

From that day on, Ignatius had been keen to follow after Jesus. Jesus had confirmed Ignatius’ feeling that the Kingdom he spoke of was honestly that simple (not easy but simple) so as to allow a little on to understand it. Ignatius had followed after the words of Jesus as best he could but Jesus had eventually been killed. On that day, Ignatius had wept for the death of his Lord but, also, for the slaughter of his innocent hope in a Kingdom where love was enough. When Jesus was raised from the dead, Ignatius was finally and irrevocably stamped with the high-minded hope that dared to trust God to bring life through death and redemption out of sin and brokenness. He had become a student of the Apostle John and had, eventually, matured into a leader in the early Christian Church when it was no more than a movement much maligned by the powers that be. Eventually, Peter had appointed Ignatius as Bishop of Antioch and entrusted many souls to his shepherding before finding his own death at the end of a life of truth-telling and at the hands of the Empire. Eventually, these same forces conspired to rob Ignatius of his life. He was arrested and marched to Rome for his execution: being torn apart by wild beasts in the Colosseum.

As he traveled, he had the opportunity to write letters to various congregations along his route.He had heard rumors that they were hoping to release him from the soldiers who guarded him and so he sent them letters pleading with them to allow the will of the Empire to be done since it coincided with God’s will. The Empire hoped to snuff out the fledgling faith by killing another of its leaders. Of course, this failed and only further spread the Gospel of love and forgiveness but they were convinced that a little more blood might make the difference. Ignatius assured the congregations that martyrdom was an honor that he looked forward to. As he approached Rome, he sent one final letter to the Church in Rome and insisted that they do nothing except tell the story of his martyrdom. He included a powerful image:”I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” The soldiers eventually threw him to the floor of the Colosseum and the beasts killed him for his faith.

Sebastian, Martyr and Soldier

The following was written by Joshua for his collection of stories, Telling the Stories that Matter.

Sebastian had been raised within the bounds of the Roman empire and knew well the laws and principles that were the foundation of Roman reason and expectation. Further, he had been appointed a captain of the Praetorian Guard under emperors Diocletian and Maximian. However, they had appointed him to this influential and powerful position without the rulers knowing what it was he did on Sundays. Sebastian was a Christian and professed his ultimate allegiance to the same Lord that Rome had slaughtered to keep the pax romana in Judea. Had they known, they likely would have had him executed if he would not deny his faith. Yet, his faith remained secret even as the power of the Praetorians was weakened by Diocletian and Maximian. Because of this secrecy, Diocletian was unprepared for what came next.

It seems that two Christians had been arrested and tortured when they refused to deny their faith. Mark and Marcellian were close to abandoning their faith in exchange for an end to their pain and an opportunity to be with their family again when they heard whispering outside of their cell. Sebastian comforted them and shared his own faith with them. There in the Roman prison they prayed together and invoked the protection of their crucified Lord. Sebastian encouraged them to be courageous as death approached and they received the holy crown of martyrdom. The next day they surprised Diocletian who expected them to be sufficiently worn down. Diocletian had them tortured again yet their faith would not cave. He called for the family members of the men to visit them and plead with them to make a token sacrifice and renounce their faith. As they visited and pleaded with Mark and Marcellian, Sebastian arrived. At first, the families were worried to see a Praetorian captain near their loved ones yet were comforted by Mark and Marcellian’s joy to see him. Again he comforted Mark and Marcellian and offered prayer with them but he also shared his faith with their non-Christian family. In a few short hours, the families were confessing faith in Jesus and joining with the men in their prayer and worship.

Diocletian was surprised again but this time he thought he had an idea what had happened. Some important families had been having family members become Christians at surprising times and all of the conversions seemed to be connecting around one central figure’s visit: Sebastian. Diocletian called Sebastian to him and gave him no opportunity to regain his status. Instead, he had him taken to a nearby field and tied to a stake. The Roman archers raised their brutal bows and rained death upon him. His flesh was pierced on account of his faith. He was left for dead as his blood was slowly consumed by the soil beneath his naked body. Yet, as the sun fell and the soldiers departed, Sebastian’s heart still beat and he was taken from the place by a Christian widow–Irene of Rome who had been married to Castulus. She took him to her home and nursed him back to health after cleaning his wounds and giving him her bed to sleep in. Amazingly, he recovered and worked a wonder in the house of Irene. A blind woman from the community was skeptical of his faith–perhaps because of his status as a Praetorian–and refused to accept that he was a Christian. He called her to himself and asked, “Do you desire to be with God?” She responded in the affirmative and he made the sign of the cross upon her forehead. Miraculously, she gained her sight the moment after his thumb left her brow.

Yet, one day Diocletian and his entourage were passing through the city and Sebastian saw him coming. He stood upon the step of the home and called out to Diocletian in a loud voice: “See now, Diocletian, the one you condemned to death stands before you. You hope to kill the disciples of Jesus Christ but you only honor those whom you murder and encourage those who escape your desperate grasp.”In a fit of rage, Diocletian ordered his soldiers to beat Sebastian to death and throw his body into a garbage heap after they were sure he was dead. Sebastian died a martyr and evangelist who espoused a faith that was contagious and compelling.

G+M Worship – December 16, 2012

The following was written by Joshua for the service of worship and prayers held at Grace and Main Fellowship on December 16, 2012.

Worship on the Third Sunday of Advent – December 16, 2012
 
Preparing and Setting the Altar
 
God who was, and is, and always will be, we wait upon you not only in this place where we gather to worship, but also in our homes and in our lives.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
 
 
The Advent Wreath – The Third Candle
 
 
Lamb of God who is coming into the world to take away our sins, we confess that we have chosen ourselves over our neighbors, we have not loved as we are called to love, we have rebelled against your commandments and your callings. We have sinned and fallen short of your glory. For these sins and so many others, we now pray.
Silence
With confidence that you are a God of forgiveness and claiming your promise that mercy triumphs over judgment, we pronounce one to another: You are forgiven. Now, nothing stands between you and the God who showers you with grace and love.

As we wait on our Lord who will make all things right and all things whole, let us sing.Singing – “O Lord, Hear our Prayer”

 
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid…

Isaiah 12:2-6

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God  is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the  Lord, call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.


Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid…
Zephaniah 3:14-20
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid…
Philippians 4:4-7
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid…

We Listen and Interpret TogetherOur brother, Gregory of Nazianzus, was a 4th century archbishop and theologian. He was one of three “Cappadocian Fathers” and was known as one of the greatest rhetorical minds of his time. In his 14th oration, entitled On the Love of the Poor, he writes: “Since we ourselves are human beings, we must set before others the meal of kindness no matter why they need it – whether because they are widows, orphans, or exiles; or because they are brutalized by masters, crushed by rulers, dehumanized by tax-collectors, bloodied by robbers, or victimized by the insatiate greed of thieves, be it through confiscation of property or ship-wreck.  All such people are equally deserving of mercy, and they look to us for their needs just as we look to God for ours.”

Prayers for Others

The Lord’s Prayer

Singing

Even though we now prepare to leave this time of worship and these with whom we have worshiped, let us not stop waiting on and anticipating our Lord who will make all things whole. Go, not in peace, but in anticipation and expectation of that which our Lord will yet do in our world and in our lives.

So, in place of our usual blessing we voice the cry of the Church for many centuries:
Come quickly, Lord Jesus. We wait upon you.

Amen.