Sunday, October 18, 2020

20th Sunday after Pentecost: Grateful for Caesar

20th Sunday afterPentecost Live Video 

Let’s start with three deep breaths and relax….

Opening Reflection

let us begin today’s worship

Call to Worship:

L: We belong to God.

P: God’s stamp is on our lives.

L: God’s love and compassion is built into us.

P: God’s mercy and hope flow through us.

L: Let’s celebrate the powerful presence of God.

P: Let’s rejoice in all the opportunities God gives us to serve. AMEN.


Opening Hymn #459 Come, O fount of Every Blessing.

(All candles lit.)

Matthew 22:15-22

The Question of Paying Taxes

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

The word of God for the people of God!

P: Thanks be to God

Sermon; Grateful for Ceasar

In today’s divided America, where I find myself having to tell members of my community I ain’t that kind of Christian. Many people believe that the political arena is something the pastor should stay clear of. Religion and politics don’t mix. Of course one never discusses religion or politics in polite company. I have heard people say we can get enough of that from television.  If I want politics I’ll read it in my newspaper.  Therefore, due to today’s Gospel reading, there will be no sermon today.

Today’s Gospel is the beginning of four tests put to Jesus.  One commentator states “here we have four skirmishes, all a part of the bigger battle which is the cloud on the horizon. The first is a potentially lethal trap laid by the Pharisees, with connivance of the ‘Herodians’, unlikely bedfellows of the Pharisees, since they would be expected to support the Roman domination.”[1]

So who were the Herodians?

“At the time of Jesus, there were certain groups—the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Sadducees—that held positions of authority and power over the people. Other groups were the Sanhedrin, the scribes, and the lawyers. Each of these groups held power in either religious or political matters. The Herodians held political power, and most scholars believe that they were a political party that supported King Herod Antipas, the Roman Empire's ruler over much of the land of the Jews from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39. The Herodians favored submitting to the Herods, and therefore to Rome, for political expediency. This support of Herod compromised Jewish independence in the minds of the Pharisees, making it difficult for the Herodians and Pharisees to unite and agree on anything. But one thing did unite them—opposing Jesus. Herod himself wanted Jesus dead (Luke 13:31), and the Pharisees had already hatched plots against Him (John 11:53), so they joined forces to achieve their common goal.

The first appearance of the Herodians in Scripture is Mark 3:6, "Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus." Jesus had been doing miracles, which caused some of the people to believe in Him for salvation, and that threatened the power and position of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Herodians. The Herodians again joined with the Pharisees to challenge Jesus, to see if they could trap Jesus in His words by a trick question, to either discredit Him or to get Him to stop preaching (Matthew 22:16).” [2]

Reverend Martin Dale reminds us that “In any other situation, these two groups wouldn’t have passed the time of day with each other.

The Pharisees were “devout” Jews. They were sworn enemies of the Romans and vigorously opposed Roman rule. And they stood against paying taxes to Caesar.

The Herodians, on the other hand, were the party of that Roman stooge, Herod. They were the wealthy and privileged class who gladly collaborated with the enemy - helping them rule the Jews - in exchange for status and power in society. So they would have no problems in paying taxes to Caesar!!

The adage: “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.” was certainly true that day

The enemies of Rome and friends of Rome were united in their opposition to Jesus.” [3]

Okay so now let us look at the setting if we read backwards Mathew 21:23 tells us Jesus is in the temple. He has given a few parables including one that stated many are invited to the wedding feast but few are selected…this is when “the Pharisees went and made a plan to set a trap for him. (matt.22:15)” So they ask Jesus a political and potentially volatile question.  “the tax issue is a perfect stratagem to entrap Jesus.  If he supports the payment of the highly unpopular poll tax he will lose standing with the people; if he rejects payment he runs the risk of being identified with Groups (such as those later known as Zealots) who were in more or less perpetual rebellion against Rome, and so presenting himself as a significant threat to peace and public order.”[4]

Basically, should Jesus answer one way he is discredited in front of his followers.  If he answers the other way he is guilty of encouraging rebellion. Of course this is exactly what he will be accused of in Luke 23:5 “We found this man subverting our nation, forbidding us to pay the tribute tax to Caesar.”

So Jesus calls them Hypocrites, which they are for they never work together but to discredit Jesus, and to prove that they were he asks them to produce a coin by which the poll tax would be paid…. Let’s stop right here for a minute. Remember when Jesus gets angry in the temple, which at this point hasn’t happened yet, but remember that??? What does he turn over?  What is the famous image showing us goes flying.  The change tables among other things. What is this fuss around a coin?

Well you see the temple had a tax.  The temple tax was one third shekel per year. Originally in Solomon’s time it was half a shekel. “Shekel was a weight—not a coin—equaling from ten to twelve grams, or less than half an ounce. It could be cast as either gold or silver in the form of bars, bracelets, and necklaces. In fact, kikkar, Hebrew for "talent" in the Old Testament, literally means "ringlike." People would wear their money!”[5]

Now as time went on coins eventually came into fashion, Stan Hudson has a bit of education for us around that:

At any rate, by the end of the second century B.C., coins were probably fully accepted in Temple services. From this time to the first century A.D. , Jews were not able to make their own silver coins, for political reasons—their Syrian or Roman rulers wouldn't permit them. So they chose the silver coins of the nearby city of Tyre, which enjoyed a special political status. 

Specifically, the coins chosen were Tyrian didrachms (two drachma pieces) and tetradrachms (four-drachma pieces), which approximated by weight the Jewish half-shekels and shekels, respectively. First minted in 126 B.C., they appeared in large enough numbers and with good enough quality to end the real need of scales and weights (if they were still used). These coins were dated according to the year of the Tyrian dynasty, 126 B.C. being "year one."

It is ironic that Tyrian coins bore the image of Melkart, the Phoenician equivalent of Baal, Israel's old enemy. This surely stirred a resentful thought or two from the pious Jew worshiping in the Temple. The reverse carried an Egyptian-styled eagle and the Greek inscription "Tyre the holy and inviolable." The date was to the eagle's left (Figures 2 and 3).

That Jews so soon after the religious revival of the Maccabees chose coins tainted with paganism for sacred service is based on two factors: (1) the liberal Hellenistic Sadducees had gained administrative control of the Temple, and (2) no one wanted to use Roman coins, such as the tetradrachms of Alexandria or Antioch. Apparently no one wanted "Caesar's image" around the Temple. Even Baal was better than Caesar! [6]

So Jesus asks these Good Jewish leaders to produce the coin of the poll tax , right there in the temple and well they do. What they show him is most likely a denarius which has the head of Tiberius on one side with an inscription that reads (“Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus”), claiming that Augustus was a god. To have such a coin proves Jesus point that these men are hypocrites. Any one nearby may already be laughing and smiling at the irony that Jesus is bringing into view.

Then he says one of the most controversial things he could say.  Whose head is upon that coin?  Then pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and Pay to God what is God’s. The Reverend Martin Dale asks;

“What can we draw from this today?

The problem is not such a hot potato in our society as it was in Jesus day. In the first century AD, the state and religion were closely joined. "The cult of the gods and the power of the ruler" went hand in hand (Matthew - Michael Green p. 232-233)

But it is a real dilemma in countries where the State (such as certain Islamic and Communist states) persecutes Christians and demands their religious allegiance away from Christ.

We all enjoy the benefits that the State brings. What would we do without electricity, roads, rail and running water.

As Michael Green has so succinctly put it: in Jesus day, the Jews benefited from "imperial roads, education, justice and freedom from invasion.... Jesus was saying that those who enjoy Caesar’s benefits should pay Caesar’s taxes" (Matthew - Michael Green p. 232-233)

We can, as Christians, be good citizens in a secular society provided what that society asks of us does not contravene our commitment to Christ.

“Render unto Caesar’s the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are of God” (Mt. 22:21) cannot mean anything else.

For our ultimate loyalty lies with Jesus and our heavenly Father.

(Reverend Martin goes on to say) When I was preparing this talk, I was very taken by a thought of Michael Green’s. In Jesus’ response to the Pharisee, he used the Greek word "apodote" which is translated render or give back. "The coin bore Caesar’s image : give it back to him. You bear God’s image: so give yourself back to him." (Matthew - Michael Green p. 234)”[7]

One of my Professors at Christ Church points out that “We are to applaud his adroit response: ‘give to God what belongs to God’ – and what belongs to God, of course is nothing less than everything.”[8] I want to say that this is the very point.

We all have choices to make; What laws do we support, what leaders do we support, even what taxes we support that is all literally a matter of choice or perhaps, if you prefer, circumstance. What is the governments, belongs to the government, but when it comes down to it, even that, even that frustrating tax we have to pay by April the 15th we must understand that over it all, our God reigns.

So, if we are to give to God what is Gods then amid frustration, in the midst of Grief, in the midst of anger and pain.  We are called to Give it to God.  Offering our circumstances, offering our lives, offering our pain, anger, and disappointment to God is not blaming God.  It is part of this life, we are spiritual beings who have chosen to live a human life and with being human comes… well… life. God chose to be human that the God self might know and understand our suffering.

God shares in our grief and suffering.

Unfortunately, many of us were taught that grief and suffering were to be done in private. We were brought up to believe that we are good when we serve others and we should keep our pain and suffering to ourselves. The author in a proverb of ashes shares this thought. “When I was in distress, I did not turn to my family or my church. In Both places, I had learned that personal need had no place. The good person cares for others, but if she herself is hurt, frightened, confused, or in need, these weaknesses are to be nursed in private, covered over, or solved without bothering anyone else.”[9]

This things we are living through, the fires, the storms, coviid 19, all give us an opportunity to explore the way we walk with God.  The God of all things.  How do we walk with God?  How do we talk with God? Do we acknowledge God in our lives properly? Are we okay in taking our grief and anger to God? Are we okay taking our Joys and surprises and successes to God?” You know It is funny but, we, as humans, are in the habit of asking why did God do this when things are bad and then we say Didn’t I do Great when things are good.

Okay, and now for an Oprah moment.  

This moment is brought to you by Praxis. Practice or dare I say …Prayer.

I remember first hearing of a Gratitude Journal on Oprah.  But this is a Good practice.  Keeping track of things we are grateful for.  Especially if we are in a time of tragedy and despair. “studies have traced a range of impressive benefits to the simple act of writing down the things for which we’re grateful—benefits including better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness among adults and kids alike.”[10]

“The basic practice is straightforward. In many of the studies, people are simply instructed to record five things they experienced in the past week for which they’re grateful. The entries are supposed to be brief—just a single sentence—and they range from the mundane (“waking up this morning”) to the sublime (“the generosity of friends”) to the timeless (“the Rolling Stones”).” [11]

There are studies that show that this practice is beneficial and other studies that say not so much but the key is just how you practice.  As with any prayer you need to be attentive to it.

Robert Emmons “a professor at the University of California, Davis, shared these research-based tips for reaping the greatest psychological rewards from your gratitude journal.

Don’t just go through the motions. Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and others suggests that journaling is more effective if you first make the conscious decision to become happier and more grateful. “Motivation to become happier plays a role in the efficacy of journaling,” says Emmons.

Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.

Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.

Try subtraction, not just addition. One effective way of stimulating gratitude is to reflect on what your life would be like without certain blessings, rather than just tallying up all those good things.

Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.

Don’t overdo it. Writing occasionally (once or twice per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling. In fact, one study by Lyubomirsky and her colleagues found that people who wrote in their gratitude journals once a week for six weeks reported boosts in happiness afterward; people who wrote three times per week didn’t. “We adapt to positive events quickly, especially if we constantly focus on them,” says Emmons. “It seems counterintuitive, but it is how the mind works.” [12]

Now to add to this, to bring it back to this day, this practice can be made sacred Simply by making a prayer out of the practice and living gratefully into the God of All things. We must choose to be grateful, I am not saying to be Pollyanna but to be truly grateful and in times of trouble that may be the smallest of things.  Even in Giving onto Caesar what is Caesars we can be grateful because, though it doesn’t always work as well or as quickly as we like our government is here in the midst of tragedy, helping those in need.  Providing shelter, water, food, medical supplies, research, social-workers, police and fire fighters.

So Today let us pause. Let us pause and be grateful, grateful for all that surrounds us in nature, for all that provide service to us through “Caesar” and let us be grateful for the spirit of God that surrounds us all.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

19th Sunday after Pentecost


19th Sunday After Pentecost Live Video

Let’s start with three deep breaths and relax….

Opening Reflection

let us begin today’s worship

Call to Worship:

L: Invited by God,

P: we gather to worship.

L: Partnering with God,

P: we gather to grow in faith

and to change the world.


Opening Hymn #55 rejoice you pure in heart.

(All candles lit.)

Matthew 22:1-14

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

22 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The word of God for the people of God!

P: Thanks be to God


Today’s gospel reading is an interesting one to say the least. Mathew has seemed to take two stories and blended them into one. The story of the wedding banquet and the story of the vineyard holder.  Both appear to be harsh and cruel.

But let’s place ourselves in the context. Professor Sharon Ringe of Wesley theological reflects…

“Think back over the recent celebration of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. It was the event of the season!

Can you imagine those invited not attending, and even making a joke of it? Even those of us not bowled over by royal pomp and splendor caught the reruns on television, to catch a glimpse of The Dress, or simply because we were charmed by the sweet affection evident between the bride and groom.

And oh, the "wedding garments" in evidence, from the elegant and cheerful yellow ensemble worn by Queen Elizabeth, to the military uniforms covered with medals, to the extravagant hats and "fascinators" (Who had even heard the word before this event?) of other women guests!

That is the type of event evoked by the beginning of the parable, depicted as directed once again to "them"--the chief priests and elders who have been the audience of the previous two parables (21:23). It is a story of etiquette and bad manners that escalate into violence, and of an arbitrary decree by the king reminiscent of the royal folly Alice encountered in Wonderland: ‘Off with their heads!’” 

I mean it is confusing to me why anyone in their right mind would refuse a summons by their king and to a wedding yet.  Then when invited again with a full menu of all the wonderful foods that the ordinary cannot afford to put on their table they still refuse. In normal days this would be seen as strange and yet it is strange behavior we come to expect in a parable.

We are aghast at the next actions the messengers are seized upon and slaughtered with all the shock and horror of an unexpected murder scene in a Hollywood movie. Wow did not see that coming! “And the weirdness and violence are just getting started. In retaliation, the king goes to war against his own people. Enraged by their actions he unleashes an army. Before we know it, the murderers themselves are murdered, and a city (presumably the king’s own city!) is a pile of smoldering ash (verse 7).

But it gets weirder still. With our heads still spinning, we learn that the dinner is still on (verse 8)! Now the invitations go out again, this time to commoners on the “main streets” of the (destroyed?) city (verse 9). Apparently, while soldiers pillaged and slashed -- all the while as great flames devoured the buildings outside the palace walls -- little Sterno burners toiled away silently under the sumptuous dishes in the great hall, keeping the meal hot for the eventual guests!” 

Ok this sounds ridiculous because it is.  This is the way it is supposed to be heard. The hearers for which it was originally written would recognize the burning city as Jerusalem bringing images of the city destroyed after its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE. “interpreted here as God’s judgment on those who rejected the new thing God was doing in Jesus. An unexpected invitation to commoners on the main streets points toward the surprising ways the invitation to God’s kingdom banquet is increasingly extended to and embraced by those once considered outsiders.” 

 Another note about this is at the time Mathews community was having a “turf war” if you will with a synagogue down the street. Lance Pape from Brite Divinity reminds us that “this is not a matter of “Christians vs. Jews” -- that kind of thinking would come later -- but an intramural conflict within Judaism. Surely Matthew and his community understood themselves as faithful Jews who had responded to God’s summons to the kingdom banquet offered in honor of God’s Messiah, Jesus. But others had inexplicably rejected the great invitation, ignoring or persecuting both the prophets of old, and the new missionaries of this good news.” 

So after all are invited and the wedding is in full swing, in walks the King.  He wanders among his guests and stops at one.

“The parable-within-the parable has no parallels outside of Matthew, so it must reflect his particular agenda. The language of the parable ranges from sarcasm, with the address of the man as "Friend" (see 20:13 and 26:50), to apocalyptic violence (verse 13). The details of ejection into the "outer darkness" with "weeping and gnashing of teeth" invoke earlier declarations of judgment (for example, 8:12; 13:42; and 13:50) and require that we read this parable in an eschatological key.

Clearly the issue is not the man's clothing, but rather something else about how he presents himself in this ultimate moment. We are left without a list of specific criteria that move a person from the list of the many "called," to that of the few "chosen" (verse 14), but it appears that Matthew envisions further accountability beyond one's initial response of discipleship, our "yes!" to God's invitation to the banquet.” 

What more is required of us?  What more is required of who is prepared to participate in the Banquet? I definitely do not want to be thrown out of heaven for having the wrong shoes!

What more is required? Before we discuss what more is required I suggest we pay attention to the verses again…

The king sent out his servants once more and invited everyone….both Good and bad and the hall was filled…

Did you hear that? No one was excluded…no one  and the king’s servants were not told to stand outside the gate and judge who was too be allowed in or not. This is a vision of what the Kingdom of heaven might be compared too.

I cannot help but think on my own experience as a queer person and the witness of The Church. The UCC prides itself on being the first church to welcome the LGBTQ community. It wasn’t.  The united fellowship of metropolitan community churches were. This being LGBTQ History Month and National coming out day I thought I would include a bit of Troy Perry’s story.

“In 1968, after a suicide attempt following a failed love affair, and witnessing a close friend being arrested by the police at The Patch Bar, a Los Angeles gay bar, Perry felt called to return to his faith and to offer a place for gay people to worship God freely. Perry put an advertisement in The Advocate announcing a worship service designed for gays in Los Angeles. Twelve people turned up on October 6, 1968 for the first service, and "Nine were my friends who came to console me and to laugh, and three came as a result of the ad."[10] After six weeks of services in his living room, the congregation shifted to a women's club, an auditorium, a church, and finally to a theater that could hold 600 within several months. In 1971, their own building was dedicated with over a thousand members in attendance.

Being outspoken has caused several MCC buildings to be targeted for arson, including the original Mother Church in Los Angeles. Perry's theology has been described as conservative, but social action was a high priority from the beginning of the establishment of the denomination. Perry performed what Time Magazine described as the first public same-sex unions in the United States as early as 1968 [11] and ordained women as pastors as early as 1972.”  

All are invited. The servants do not get to decide who comes to the banquet if they did well…

Tomorrow marks the 22nd anniversary of the Murder of Mathew Shephard…the details of his torture and murder make this gospel reading seem tame.

The servants do not get to decide who comes to the banquet if they did well…

“Medina Leon was the second trans woman to die after falling gravely ill in ICE detention in just over a year. Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez, a Honduran who had traveled with one of the migrant caravans to seek asylum in the U.S., died on May 9th, 2018. Though autopsies found she died of dehydration, an independent autopsy commissioned by civil rights advocates also found that Hernandez Rodriguez's body showed signs of abuse sustained during her 16 days in ICE custody in New Mexico—an allegation ICE denies.

Jennicet Gutiérrez, a transgender and immigrant rights activist who helped found the Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement says that these deaths continue the "heavy attack" on transgender immigrants enabled by an immigration system that emphasizes criminalization and detention. She also fears for her own well-being: "As a transgender person, living in this country without documentation for some time, it makes me feel like it could happen to me at any time," Gutiérrez says. "That I could be the next victim, that my own life could be at risk just because of who I am." 

The servants do not get to decide who gets into the wedding banquet…we just don’t! 

Maybe our churches ( I use the term in the broadest sense) need to start looking more like this kings banquet as opposed to any of London’s royal weddings.  Our church should be homes to rich and poor, all nationalities and all sexual orientations.  We should be doing what we can to stand with those in recovery as well as those who need help with mental challenges. We should welcome the person who just got out on parole with equal if not more enthusiasm as those who have a big checking account.

This is exactly what the king’s banquet hall looks like.  But wait didn’t the king kick someone out for not being properly robed?

“This king is no pushover, and if the new guests are beneficiaries of an unexpectedly generous invitation, they must nevertheless be on guard against the complacency shown by the first invitees. The doors of the kingdom community are thrown wide open, and the invitation extends literally to all. But once you come in, there are standards. You can’t go on acting like you are not at an extraordinary party.

But even if appropriate clothing is a metaphor for the need for appropriate behavior in the new, inclusive community, the parable may be saying more here than anybody expected -- and the surplus will preach. Maybe Matthew originally intended this as a stern warning to live up to the rigorous standards of a higher righteousness (5:20, 48), but the story, pushed down and contorted by allegorical demands for too long, rises at the last to assert its own delightful possibility.

Within the world of the story as told, the problem with this guy is not that he is not taking things seriously enough. No, his problem is a failure to party. The kingdom of heaven (verse 2) is a banquet, after all, and you’ve got to put on your party dress and get with the program. The kingdom music is playing, and it's time to get up on the dance floor. Or, as the slightly more sober, but no less theologically astute Barth put the matter: “In the last resort, it all boils down to the fact that the invitation is to a feast, and that he who does not obey and come accordingly, and therefore festively, declines and spurns the invitation no less than those who are unwilling to obey and appear at all.” 

We know we have an invitation to a royal banquet.  We know now that no matter what we believe to be good or bad the invitation is to all.  We are called to celebrate the invitation and treat all around us as equals in that invite.  That’s the hard part.  That’s the challenge today. No matter what someone does, no matter how they behave in public and or do their job we are called to remember that they are just as equal in the invite as we are, no better no less. Let us Pray;

“God, we come before you in these mortal bodies,

Pledging that we will become instruments of peace, love and hope.

Christ called us to serve as disciples to all nations, to all people.

We commit to serving without fear, learning how to serve as Jesus served,

Seeing the beloved-ness of your people, people set free through the Life of Christ.

Let us be instruments to glorify you, O God.

Let our hearts and minds hear the message of love and hope delivered on Calvary.

God of all truth and goodness, help us to set aside shame,

Shame that has no advantage.

Shame that does not reflect the good news, that we have been given eternal life.

Let us be obedient to the work Jesus entrusted to us,

Let us hear their teaching, and through it learn how we are to treat one another.

Hear this prayer of our hearts, O God. Amen.” 

A call to prayer

God of All,

gather us into a time of prayer

for our family.

Expand our vision

to understand each human being

as our sister or brother;

and enlarge our hearts

to offer love for each other,

even as you love each of us.

Be with us now as we pray for members of your family.


#423 Great is your faithfullness

Let us pray the prayer Jesus taught us

Our Creator, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kin-dom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kin-dom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen

Invitation to the Offering

Offering our gifts to God is a holy act. In this sacred moment, let us offer our gifts and our lives to the holy work of God.

‘Donate Here!

Doxology #778

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;

Praise God, all creatures here below;

Praise God for all that love has done;

Creator, Christ, and Spirit, one.

Offering Prayer 

Gracious God, thank you for your abundant love

     and your nourishing grace.

Thank you for the gifts we return to you now.

Bless these gifts,

     that they may become for others

          signs of your abundant love

               and vessels of your nourishing grace.



 The office is open for regular hours

We are accepting donations for the kidz cupboard and the food pantry

I am available for one on one virtual visits or phone calls if you need any prayer we will be together again one day, but until then remember you are the hands and the feet of our lord in this world and in this world of no physical contact we can still smile, wave, chat, check in

#543 Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life

Benediction/sending forth

As partners with God,

go to serve God’s world.

As friends of Christ,

go to share Christ’s love.

So go Now with the blessing of God,

the strength of Jesus Christ,

and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Remember we have coffee with the pastor on Tuesdays and Bible study on Wednesdays and the link to those meetings come out the evening before. 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

18th Sunday after Pentecost - Francis, Animals, and World Communion

Feast of Saint Francis - Live Video

 Let’s start with three deep breaths and relax….


Opening Reflection: from a Sermon of St Francis:  ‘Peace, birds, peace!’

My brother and sister birds, you should greatly praise your Creator

and love him always. He gave you feathers to wear, and wings to fly,

and whatever you need.  God made you noble among his creatures

and gave you a home in the purity of the air, so that, though you do not

sow nor reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you without your

least care.

let us begin today’s worship



L: Jesus Christ, we assemble with all your creatures in this circle of life.

P: We ask you to join our circle and celebrate with us.

L: Jesus Christ, as we join in celebration with you and all creation,

P: We ask for your blessing, your shalom,

on the creatures present here that we love,

and all creatures celebrating in the wild. 

L: In the name of God, who creates all life,

In the name of Jesus Christ, who redeems all life,

and the name of the Spirit, who renews all life,

we cry with all in the circle of life:

P: Shalom! Shalom! Shalom!

May your blessing come!


All things bright and beautiful #31



Matthew 21:33-46

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants

33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected

    has become the cornerstone; 

this was the Lord’s doing,

    and it is amazing in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

The word of God for the people of God!

Thanks be to God!



Today is world communion Sunday and the Sunday in the season of creation in which we celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis which would include the blessings of the animals.

I wanted to share just a bit of Francis’ story today.

“Francis was the son of Pietro di Bernardone, a cloth merchant, and the lady Pica, who may have come from France. At Francis’s birth, his father was away on a business trip to France, and his mother had him baptized Giovanni. On his return, however, Pietro changed the infant’s name to Francesco because of either his interest in France or his wife’s background. Francis learned to read and write Latin at the school near the church of San Giorgio, acquired some knowledge of French language and literature, and was especially fond of the Provenƈal culture of the troubadours. He liked to speak French (although he never did so perfectly) and even attempted to sing in the language. His youth was most likely without serious moral lapses, and his exuberant love of life and a general spirit of worldliness made him a recognized leader of the young men of the town.

In 1202 he took part in a war between Assisi and Perugia, was held prisoner for almost a year, and on his release fell seriously ill. After his recovery, he attempted to join the papal forces under Count Gentile against the emperor Frederick II in Apulia in late 1205. On his journey, however, he had a vision or dream that bade him return to Assisi and await the call to a new kind of knighthood. On his return, he dedicated himself to solitude and prayer so that he might know God’s will for him.

Several other episodes contributed to his conversion to the apostolic life: a vision of Christ while Francis prayed in a grotto near Assisi; an experience of poverty during a pilgrimage to Rome, where, in rags, he mingled with the beggars before St. Peter’s Basilica and begged alms; an incident in which he not only gave alms to a leper (he had always felt a deep repugnance for lepers) but also kissed his hand. Among such episodes, the most important, according to his disciple and first biographer, Thomas of Celano, occurred at the ruined chapel of San Damiano outside the gate of Assisi when Francis heard the crucifix above the altar command him: “Go, Francis, and repair my house which, as you see, is well-nigh in ruins.” Taking this literally, Francis hurried home, gathered some fine cloth from his father’s shop, and rode off to the nearby town of Foligno, where he sold both cloth and horse. He then tried to give the money to the priest at San Damiano, whose refusal prompted Francis to throw the money out the window. Angered, his father kept him at home and then brought him before the civil authorities. When Francis refused to answer the summons, his father called him before the bishop of Assisi. Before any accusations were made, Francis “without a word peeled off his garments even removing his breeches and restored them to his father.” Completely naked, he said: “Until now I have called you my father on earth. But henceforth I can truly say: Our Father who art in heaven.” The astonished bishop gave him a cloak, and Francis went off to the woods of Mount Subasio above the city.

Francis renounced worldly goods and family ties to embrace a life of poverty. He repaired the church of San Damiano, refurbished a chapel dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle, and then restored the now-famous little chapel of St. Mary of the Angels (Santa Maria degli Angeli), the Porziuncola, on the plain below Assisi. There, on the feast of St. Matthias, February 24, 1208, he listened at mass to the account of the mission of Christ to the Apostles from the Gospel According to Matthew (10:7, 9–11): “And as you go, preach the message, ‘The kingdom is at hand!’…Take no gold, nor silver, nor money in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the labourer deserves his food. And whatever town or villa you enter, find out who is worthy in it, and stay with him until you depart.” According to Thomas of Celano, this was the decisive moment for Francis, who declared, “This is what I wish; this is what I am seeking. This is what I want to do from the bottom of my heart.” He then removed his shoes, discarded his staff, put on a rough tunic, and began to preach repentance.

Francis preached to townspeople—even though as a layperson he was without license to do so—and he soon attracted followers. In 1209 he composed for his mendicant disciples, or friars, a simple rule (Regula primitiva, “Primitive Rule”) drawn from passages in the Bible: “To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps.” He then led the group of 12 disciples to Rome to seek the approval of Pope Innocent III, an important step that demonstrated Francis’s recognition of papal authority and saved his order from the fate of the Waldensians, who had been declared heretics in the late 12th century. At first Innocent was hesitant, but, following a dream in which he saw Francis holding up the church of San Giovanni in Laterano, he gave oral approbation to the Franciscan rule of life. This event, which according to tradition, occurred on April 16, 1210, marked the official founding of the Franciscan order. The Friars Minor, or Lesser Brothers, as they came to be known, were street preachers with no possessions and only the Porziuncola as a centre. They preached and worked first in Umbria and then, as their numbers grew rapidly, in the rest of Italy.

Probably no one in history has set out as seriously as did Francis to imitate the life of Christ and to carry out so literally Christ’s work in Christ’s own way. This is the key to the character and spirit of St. Francis and helps explain his veneration for the Eucharist and respect for the priests who handled the elements of the communion sacrament. To neglect this point is to present an unbalanced portrait of the saint as a lover of nature, a social worker, an itinerant preacher, and a celebrant of poverty.

Certainly the love of poverty is part of his spirit, and his contemporaries celebrated poverty either as his “lady,” in the allegorical Sacrum commercium (Eng. trans., Francis and His Lady Poverty, 1964), or as his “bride,” in the fresco by Giotto in the lower church of San Francesco at Assisi. Indeed, poverty was so important to Francis that in his last writing, the Testament, composed shortly before his death in 1226, he declared unambiguously that absolute personal and corporate poverty was the essential lifestyle for the members of his order. It was not, however, mere external poverty he sought but the total denial of self (as in the Letter of Paul to the Philippians 2:7).

Francis considered all nature as the mirror of God and as so many steps to God. He called all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters,” and, in the most endearing stories about him, preached to the birds and persuaded a wolf to stop attacking the people of the town of Gubbio and their livestock if the townspeople agreed to feed the wolf. In his “Canticle of the Creatures” (less properly called by such names as the “Praises of Creatures” or the “Canticle of the Sun”), he referred to “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon,” the wind and water, and even “Sister Death.” He nicknamed his long and painful illnesses his “sisters,” and he begged pardon of “Brother Ass the body” for having unduly burdened him with his penances. Above all, his deep sense of brotherhood under God embraced his fellow men, for “he considered himself no friend of Christ if he did not cherish those for whom Christ died.”

In 1212 Francis organized a second order, one for women, that became known as the Poor Clares. He gave a religious habit, or dress, similar to his own to the noblewoman later known as St. Clare (Clara) of Assisi and then lodged her and a few companions in the church of San Damiano, where they were joined by women of Assisi. For those who could not leave their families and homes, he eventually (c. 1221) formed the Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance, a lay fraternity that, without withdrawing from the world or taking religious vows, would carry out the principles of Franciscan life. As the friars became more numerous, the order extended outside Italy.

Determined to bring the Gospel to all God’s creatures, Francis, on several occasions, sought to take his message out of Italy. In the late spring of 1212, he set out for the Holy Land to preach to the Muslims but was shipwrecked on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea and had to return. A year or two later, sickness forced him to abandon a journey to the Muslims in Spain. In 1217 he proposed to go to France, but the future Pope Gregory IX, Cardinal Ugolino of Segni, an early and important supporter of the order, advised Francis that he was needed more in Italy. In 1219 he did go to Egypt, where the crusaders were besieging Damietta. He went into the Muslim camp and preached to the sultan al-Kāmil, who was impressed by him and gave him permission (it is said) to visit the sacred places in the Holy Land.” 

So as you can hear in Francis’ story it is appropriate that today we celebrate Him, The Blessing of the Animals and world communion.

In the season of creation we celebrate all that Francis loved about nature. “Francis has been described as a nature mystic, one who finds God in the vast and beautiful fields of nature. Everything spoke to Francis of the infinite love of God. Trees, worms, lonely flowers by the side of the road—all were saints gazing up into the face of God. In this way, creation became the place to find God and, in finding God, he realized his intimate relationship to all of creation.

He did not consider himself at the top of a hierarchy of being nor did he declare himself superior to the non-human creation. Rather, Francis saw himself as part of creation. His spirituality overturned the spirituality of hierarchical ascent and replaced it with a spirituality of descending solidarity between humanity and creation. Instead of using creatures to ascend to God (from earth to heaven), he found God in all creatures and identified with them as brother and sister; that is, he found heaven on earth. By surrendering himself and daring everything for love’s sake, the earth became his home and all creatures his brothers and sisters.

As he continued to move more deeply into the mystery of God through his relationship with Christ, he came to realize his familial relationship to creation. He came to live in peaceful relationships with all creatures. To live in the justice of love is to live in peace. For Francis, justice and peace are related to poverty, compassion, contemplation and on-going conversion by which we realize our familial bonds with all living creatures, joining with them on the journey into God.” 

In the same way world communion Sunday celebrates the bonds of all Christian churches; “World Communion Sunday offers congregations a distinctive opportunity to experience Holy Communion in the context of the global community of faith. The first Sunday of October has become a time when Christians in every culture break bread and pour the cup to remember and affirm Christ as the Head of the Church. On that day, they remember that they are part of the whole body of believers. Whether shared in a grand cathedral, a mud hut, outside on a hilltop, in a meetinghouse, or in a storefront, Christians celebrate the communion liturgy in as many ways as there are congregations. World Communion Sunday can be both a profound worship experience and a time for learning more about our wider community of faith.” 

I would bless and encourage you to go to the Global ministries website and just browse some of the resources for world communion Sunday. In a non-pandemic time we may have breads and decorations from all over the world. We may pray and or practice the communion in different languages or none at all. The true mystic thing as we are now in diaspora, spread out all over we will share a cup and bread and in each home that is different. Maybe that makes this world Sunday feel more connected to rest of the world. just as we are connected to each other, all of Christ church is connected. And this is why the prayer of the united church of Christ is that they all may be one!

Finally I know that many of us are blessed by our pets and/or we are simply blessed by nature.  I want to offer a simple blessing of the animals. BTW I hope you know you do not need me to do this. We are a priesthood of all believers therefore, by the grace of God, we can each bless our animals and Gods nature around us.

Kevin E. Mackin, OFM writes;

“This time of year, people in various places may notice something odd. A procession of animals, everything from dogs and cats to hamsters and even horses, is led to churches for a special ceremony called the Blessing of Pets. This custom is conducted in remembrance of Saint Francis of Assisi’s love for all creatures.

Francis, whose feast day is October 4th, loved the larks flying about his hilltop town. He and his early brothers, staying in a small hovel, allowed themselves to be displaced by a donkey.

Francis wrote a Canticle of the Creatures, an ode to God’s living things. “All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures.” And there was testimony in the cause for Saint Clare of Assisi’s canonization that referred to her little cat!

That there are today over 62 million cats in the U.S. attests to the continuing affection we have for our furry, feathered or finned friends. We’ve even had a cat called Socks in the White House. Other popular presidential pets range from Abraham Lincoln’s Fido to Lyndon Johnson’s beagles, named Him and Her.

For single householders, a pet can be a true companion. Many people arrive home from work to find a furry friend overjoyed at their return. Many a senior has a lap filled with a purring fellow creature.

The bond between person and pet is like no other relationship, because the communication between fellow creatures is at its most basic. Eye-to-eye, a man and his dog, or a woman and her cat, are two creatures of love.

At Franciscan churches, a friar with brown robe and white cord often welcomes each animal with a special prayer. The Blessing of Pets usually goes like this:

“Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired Saint Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.” 

A simple prayer you all can do in your own time with your pets or even with the great outdoors around you…

And finally I lift this prayer the Canticle of Saint Francis

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord, All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.

To you alone, Most High, do they belong, and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.

Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,

especially Sir Brother Sun,

Who is the day through whom You give us light.

And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,

Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,

In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,

And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,

by which You cherish all that You have made.

Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,

So useful, humble, precious and pure.

Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,

through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,

Mother Earth

who sustains and governs us,

producing varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon for love of You and bear sickness and trial.

Blessed are those who endure in peace, By You Most High, they will be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,

from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.

No second death can do them harm. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,

And serve Him with great humility.



A call to prayer

This is a time of sharing.

A time of lifting, lifting up our hearts

In gratitude and supplication.

What joys do you have to share,

What blessings?

What needs weigh on your heart?

Bring them here in community that we may all lift them up to God.




Please write your joys and concerns in the comment section and I will lift them up after this hymn




A prayer of St. Francis


Make me a channel of your peace

Where there is hatred let me bring your love

Where there is injury, your pardon Lord

And where there's doubt, true faith in you

Make me a channel of your peace

Where there's despair in life let me bring hope

Where there is darkness, only light

And where there's sadness ever joy

Oh, master grant that I may never seek

So much to be consoled as to console

To be understood as to understand

To be loved as to love with all my soul

Make me a channel of your peace

It isn't pardoning that we are pardoned

In giving to all men let we receive

And in dying that we're born to turn around

Oh, master grant that I may never seek

So much to be consoled as to console

To be understood as to understand

To be loved as to love with all my soul

Make me a channel of your peace

Where there's despair in life let me bring hope

Where there is darkness, only light

And where there's sadness ever joy



Let us pray the prayer Jesus taught us


Our Creator, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kin-dom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kin-dom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen


Invitation to the Offering

God, our Creator, through your love you have given us these 

gifts to share. Accept our offerings as an expression of our deep thanks for all the animals and other creatures that have enriched our lives.

Donate Here!


Doxology #778 

Offering Prayer


With great joy, we present these tithes and gifts for the ministry of this church.

Be with each of us as we, too, commit ourselves to lives of joyful, thankful service.

 In Jesus’ name, AMEN.




Celebration of Holy Communion

(Please if you have not already prepared elements for communion do so. Remember that even an English muffin can become a sacrament, even a cup of water or tea can become a remembrance of God’s redeeming love)


For Holy Communion this morning,

I invite you to lend Christ your table.

We recall that once a long time ago Jesus gathered with his friends in a room. Men, woman, children, free and slave, Jewish, roman, tax collector and priest all gathered as friends to celebrate a feast.

We do not know all the conversations that were shared. We do not know the menu of the day. Yet by faith we proclaim these words.

The Communion words sent to the church at Corinth.

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,

that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed

took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks,

he broke it and said,

“This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying,

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood.

Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,

you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Sharing of the Elements

Leader:    Let us in our many places receive the gift of God, the Bread of Heaven.

Unison:    We are one in Christ in the bread we share.

Leader:    Let us in our many places receive the gift of God, the Cup of Blessing.

Unison:    We are one in Christ in the cup we share.

Prayer of Thanksgiving


Let us pray in thanksgiving for this meal of grace,

rejoicing that, by the very method of our worship,

we have embodied the truth that Christ’s love

is not limited by buildings made with human hands,

nor contained in human ceremonies,

but blows as free as the Spirit in all places.


Spirit of Christ, you have blessed our tables and our lives.

May the eating of this Bread give us courage to speak faith and act love, not only in church sanctuaries, but in your precious world,

and may the drinking of this Cup renew our hope

even in the midst of pandemic.

Wrap your hopeful presence around all

whose bodies, spirits and hearts need healing,

and let us become your compassion and safe refuge. Amen


The office is open for regular hours

We are accepting donations for the kidz cupboard and the food pantry




I am available for one on one virtual visits or phone calls if you need any prayer we will be together again one day, but until then remember you are the hands and the feet of our lord in this world and in this world of no physical contact we can still smile, wave, chat, check in


To You, O God, All Creatures Sing #17 (Thanks to the village church of Cummington UCC)




Closing Prayer

Lord, we have listened to your word for us this day. We are grateful for the love of Jesus who takes our burdens and lightens our spirits. Be with us today as we leave this place. May we continue to place our trust in you, for it is in the name of Jesus that we pray. AMEN.


Benediction/Sending Forth

May the Spirit of God, who is above all and in all and through all,

fill you with the knowledge of God’s presence in Earth

and the pulsing of Christ within you.

Go in peace! 

Serving Christ and loving all creatures!