January 15, 2023 - Home Worship

For the week of January 15-21 – Human Relations Sunday

Morning prayer: Almighty God, Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, is the light of the world. Grant that Your people, illumined by Your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that He may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth, now and forever.  Amen. (UM Book of Worship #308)

Hymn: #568 Christ for the World We Sing

  1. Christ for the world we sing, the world to Christ we bring, with loving zeal;
    the poor, and them that mourn, the faint and overborne,
    sinsick and sorrow-worn, whom Christ doth heal.
  2. Christ for the world we sing, the world to Christ we bring, with fervent prayer;
    the wayward and the lost, by restless passions tossed,
    redeemed at countless cost, from dark despair.
  3. Christ for the world we sing, the world to Christ we bring, with one accord;
    with us the work to share, with us reproach to dare,
    with us the cross to bear, for Christ our Lord.
  4. Christ for the world we sing, the world to Christ we bring, with joyful song;
    the newborn souls, whose days, reclaimed from error's ways,
    inspired with hope and praise, to Christ belong.

Psalm 40 selected verses

You, Lord my God! You’ve done so many things—Your wonderful deeds and Your plans for us—
no one can compare with You! If I were to proclaim and talk about all of them,
they would be too numerous to count!

I’ve told the good news of Your righteousness in the great assembly. I didn’t hold anything back—
as You well know, Lord! I didn’t keep Your righteousness only to myself.
I declared Your faithfulness and Your salvation.
I didn’t hide Your loyal love and trustworthiness from the great assembly.

Let all who seek You celebrate and rejoice in You. Let those who love Your salvation always say,
“The Lord is great!”

Children’s message 1 Corinthians 1:9  God is faithful; by Him you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Children’s Message 

There are different ways we talk about God’s grace. We talk about grace as God’s love given to us because God loves us. There is nothing we can do to deserve or earn it, it is fully a gift of God. It really is mind boggling that God can love us just because God is God. We aren’t always capable to love the way God loves. We can love the people who love us quite easily, people like our parents and grandparents, our aunts and uncles, special friends and people who love us. It is harder to love people we don’t understand or aren’t nice to us. This is why God’s grace can be baffling to us.

The kind of grace the apostle Paul is talking about in our scripture today is called prevenient grace. Prevenient is a big word that means something that goes before us or makes a way for us. God is always going before us, leading us to God. It isn’t something we easily recognize when we are living in it. It is something we most easily see when we reflect on our lives and the ways things in our lives line up to lead us to God. Those events and people that lead us to God are channels of prevenient grace, guiding forces, leading us into relationship and love with God.

Where have you seen God’s grace in your lives? Have there been people pointing you to God? Be thankful for them and praise God that God is always leading us to God.

Prayers of Intercession:  Thank You, Lord, for hearing our prayers for those dear to our hearts.  We now pray as You have taught us: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us, not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen. 

Offering spotlightHuman Relations Day is a denomination wide Special Sunday designed to celebrate and raise awareness to further the development of better human relations by involving congregations in community and youth outreach.   

Offering prayer: Good and generous God, we bring our gifts to You this day and pray You might dedicate them to Your work. We confess that we have too often missed being the church You wanted and needed, and we have placed the blame on “not having enough” money, members, talent, time, or power. We needed to be reminded by John the Baptist that we have all that we need, whatever our circumstances. Renew us, loving God, and give us a new day and another chance. In Christ’s holy name, we pray. Amen. (Discipleship Ministries)

Hymn #189 Fairest Lord Jesus

  1. Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature, O Thou of God and man the Son,
    Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor, Thou, my soul's glory, joy, and crown.
  2. Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands, robed in the blooming garb of spring:
    Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer who makes the woeful heart to sing.
  3. Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight, and all the twinkling starry host:
    Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer than all the angels heaven can boast.
  4. Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations! Son of God and Son of Man!
    Glory and honor, praise, adoration, now and forevermore be Thine.

Scripture Lesson John 1:19-34 (CEB)

19 This is John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?”

20 John confessed (he didn’t deny but confessed), “I’m not the Christ.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

John said, “I’m not.”

“Are you the prophet?”

John answered, “No.”

22 They asked, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied,

I am a voice crying out in the wilderness,
Make the Lord’s path straight,[a]
just as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 Those sent by the Pharisees 25 asked, “Why do you baptize if you aren’t the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”

26 John answered, “I baptize with water. Someone greater stands among you, whom you don’t recognize. 27 He comes after me, but I’m not worthy to untie His sandal straps.” 28 This encounter took place across the Jordan in Bethany where John was baptizing.

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is really greater than me because He existed before me.’ 31 Even I didn’t recognize Him, but I came baptizing with water so that He might be made known to Israel.” 32 John testified, “I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove, and it rested on Him. 33 Even I didn’t recognize Him, but the One who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The One on whom you see the Spirit coming down and resting is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and testified that this One is God’s Son.”

Message:    John the Baptist’s Proclamations            Rev. Ron French

On September 16, 1998, a funeral service was held at the First United Methodist Church of Montgomery, Alabama. It was the funeral service for George Wallace, the former governor of Alabama. In the 1960s Governor Wallace was the symbol for racism and bigotry in our country. In his 1963 inaugural address he proclaimed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” When African-American students attempted to enroll at the University of Alabama, he used the National Guard in an attempt to prevent their entry, and when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March, Wallace called him every name but human.

The last thirty years of Wallace’s life dealt him some cruel blows. His wife, Lurleen, died from cancer at a young age. A would-be assassin’s bullet confined him to a wheelchair leaving him in constant pain, and Wallace just plain got old.

Whether it was the injuries, the aging, or a spiritual change – Wallace made some dramatic U-turns. He recanted his “Segregation Forever” speech, he met with Vivian Malone-Jones, one of the students whose entry to the University of Alabama he had tried to prevent. And at the 30th anniversary event honoring the Selma to Montgomery March, during prayer he held the hand of Joseph Lowery, Dr. King’s successor as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

George Wallace seemingly came to see that in God’s eyes, black people, white people, brown people – are all children of God. George Wallace’s change of heart came to mind when I thought about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day which our nation celebrates tomorrow.

Did George Wallace really change? The answer to that question is beyond our knowledge, but if he did, then George Wallace made a great leap, for it is one thing to change human laws, but quite another to change human hearts.

When it comes to changing hearts you won’t find a better example than John the Baptist. He prepared the way for Jesus, but his techniques and his appearance were peculiar. His home was the Judean desert. His diet of locust and wild honey was never featured on the Food Network. His attire of camel’s hair never earned him a mention in GQ.

His strange demeanor underlined his brazen message. In Matthew 3:7 he called the religious leaders “children of snakes”. Then he asked them, “Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon?”

We might picture John the Baptist as a powerful ice cutter carving a lane through a frozen lake for the kinder and gentler Jesus. And there is some truth to that, but to limit John to the role of advance man is to diminish his contribution to our understanding of Jesus. John was not some wide-eyed fanatic. He provides us with some profound insights into the meaning of Jesus’ coming into our world.

In today’s Gospel reading John gives us three definitive statements as to how Jesus is “a light to the nations.”

First, John states that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Who would have thought that John, that camel-hair-wearing, locust-and-honey eating social critic could offer such a sensitive insight? By lifting up Jesus as the Lamb of God, John points us to the meaning of Jesus’ life.

Throughout Scripture the image of the sacrificial lamb conveys the idea of the persecuted innocent suffering on behalf of others. And then, in the Festival of the Passover, the lamb becomes the symbol for deliverance.

This was demonstrated in the way that the Passover was observed in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. In those days, portions of the Passover, or Paschal Lamb, would be offered at the Temple. The remaining lamb portions would be consumed at home during the Passover meal. To the religious faithful, the lamb meant both sacrifice and deliverance from sin. When John said “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (29) He is saying that Jesus is both the Innocent Suffering One and The Triumphant One who conquered sin and death. Jesus is both the Paschal Lamb and the Lamb of victory!

You and I may not fully understand the image of Jesus as the lamb. And part of that reason is that lambs do not have a powerful image in our society. It’s like an experience John Hazel had when he was a boy. Money was tight in John’s family. His mother had been left severely handicapped from and accident when he was 7.

Her needs were a drain on the family’s meager resources. One evening, John’s Dad took him to a men’s store just outside of Philadelphia. John needed a jacket, and there for only a few dollars was a beautiful white coat that would keep him warm. There was only one problem: on the chest, just over the heart was an embroidered animal and around it the title, “Portelli’s Lambs.” Now John was nearing his teen years and the last thing he wanted his buddies to see was a sheep on his chest. The salesman put his fears to rest when he told him, “Don’t worry son, this is the jacket of one of the rowdiest bowling clubs in our area. There’s nothing sissified about any of these guys.” Knowing that, John wore the jacket with a certain amount of pride from that day forward. “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (29)

Lambs have a reputation of being meek and mild. Yet this Lamb of God defeated the greatest enemy of all, death itself. John was making a very profound statement when he called Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

In the second place, John teaches that Jesus was the pre-existent word. In verse 30, John says, “This is the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is really greater than me because He existed before me.’”  This is particularly fascinating because John and Jesus were related. When Jesus’ mother, Mary, told John’s mother, Elizabeth, that she was going to have a baby, “the child leaped in her (Elizabeth’s) womb.” (Luke 1:41) That leaping baby was John the Baptist who was born six months ahead of Jesus.

By saying that Jesus came before him, John was not speaking chronologically, he was speaking theologically, pointing to that great truth found in the prologue to the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning." (John 1:1-2) Sisters and brothers, that “Word” is Jesus.

In his book, Just Like Jesus, Max Lucado tells how while working in Brazil he sometimes served as a translator for visiting English speaking persons. The speaker would stand before the audience, complete with message. Lucado would stand at the speaker’s side, equipped with the language. His job was to convey the speaker’s message to the listeners. Max says he did his best to allow the speaker’s words to come through him. He was not at liberty to embellish or subtract. When the speaker gestured, Lucado did, too. As the speaker’s volume increased, so did Lucado’s. When the speaker got quiet, Max did as well. 

Lucado makes this parallel: “When He walked this earth, Jesus was ‘translating’ God all the time. When God got louder, Jesus got louder. When God gestured, Jesus gestured, too. He was so in sync with the Father that He could declare “…I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.” (John 14:11) John the Baptist tells us that Jesus is the Lamb of God, and that He is the pre-existent word of God.

And here is John the Baptist’s crowing insight. Jesus is the Son of God. This is revealed to John by the voice of God and it flows out of the understanding that Jesus, the Word of God, has become flesh and dwells among us. When Jesus allowed John to baptize Him, it surprised John. He felt unworthy even to untie Jesus’ sandal, much less baptize Him.

Yet Jesus was baptized to show His identification with John’s work as well as to offer an identifying sign. And that sign was the Holy Spirit resting upon Jesus as God’s voice spoke, “This is my beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.”  If more children could hear unconditional love from their parents, like Jesus heard from His Father, I am sure that many of our social ills would decrease.

Dr. John Trent tells of a childhood friend, named Roger, who came from a tough home environment. Roger’s father was an alcoholic. His erratic behavior kept the whole household on edge. When Roger was fifteen his father died. We might assume that Roger would be bitter about his upbringing. Therapists tell us that Roger had a high probability of following in his father’s footsteps. But just the opposite happened. Roger was one of the most stable, caring young men Dr. Trent ever knew. He grew into a fine, responsible young man who took good care of his wife and children.

The secret of Roger’s success lay in something few people outside the household knew. Every single night before Roger went to bed, his father came into his room and told him how proud he was of him. He pointed out all of Roger’s accomplishments and good points. This love and encouragement from his father more than made up for his short-comings.

It makes a big difference in our lives when we know we are loved. In fact, people whose lives are twisted with hatred for others are usually people who have never received unconditional love. “We love,” says the writer of First John, “because He first loved us.” Acts of unconditional love have tremendous redeeming power.

It was a Saturday morning in January in Michigan. A blizzard was in full force. Pastor Frank Lyman was making a hospital call and when he returned to his van, he discovered he had a flat tire. This was not a pleasant situation, but he thought to himself, “Well, at least I remembered my gloves.” His self-congratulations was short-lived, for when he pulled the gloves out of his pockets he found they were both left-handed gloves. He asks if you have ever tried to jack up a van to change a tire in a blizzard wearing two left-handed gloves.

Lyman testifies that it exceeded his level of dexterity. After 25 minutes of futility, he gave up and called AAA on his cell phone and then retreated to the hospital lobby to wait for the wrecker. He had waited about 20 minutes when one of the hospital’s maintenance staff came up to him and asked, “Do you own the white van in the parking lot?” Lyman replied that he did. And the maintenance man said, “I just finished changing your tire and I need to know where you want me to put the flat.” Lyman couldn’t believe it. He felt like he was witnessing a miracle.

The maintenance man wouldn’t accept any money, he wouldn’t even give his name, he just wanted to be helpful. The unknown Good Samaritan’s gift to Pastor Lyman was a gift of grace, a gift of unmerited favor. Often negative experiences cast a gloomy pall over our lives, but this gift of grace cast a sunshine beam into this snowy “winter of discontent.”

Lyman could do nothing to express his gratitude except write a letter of commendation to the hospital and to live more faithfully as a person of grace himself. That’s the way Jesus works in our lives. He loves us unconditionally and the only way we can return such love is through loving others.

Perhaps George Wallace discovered God’s unconditional love in his life. He was a product of his time and culture just like you and I are products of our time and culture. George Wallace’s political ambitions caused him to do much damage, just as our wayward hearts can cause us to do much damage. But as a boy, George Wallace heard the stories of Jesus, and deep in his heart he knew that “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world; red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Maybe his change of heart was simply a recognition that he needed to restore Jesus to the throne of his life.

Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus is the pre-existent Word of God who reveals to us the will of God. Jesus is the Son of God, the one whose unconditional love both compels us and enables us to love one another.

Closing Hymn: #733 Marching to Zion

1        Come, we that love the Lord, and let our joys be known;

Join in a song with sweet accord, join in a song with sweet accord

And thus surround the throne, and thus surround the throne.

Refrain:  We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion;

We’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.

2        Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God;

But children of the heavenly King, but children of the heavenly King

May speak their joys abroad, may speak their joys abroad. 

3        The hill of Zion yields a thousand sacred sweets

Before we reach the heavenly fields, before we reach the heavenly fields,

Or walk the golden streets, or walk the golden streets.

4        Then let our songs abound, and every tear be dry;

We’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground, we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground,

To fairer worlds on high, to fairer worlds on high.

Go into your week with the blessings of The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit.