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FPC Weekly Lectionary – September 1-7

Job continues to battle with is friends. The early church confounds friends and enemies alike. And, in the Gospel of John, Jesus brings his listeners to a point of decision with an unmistakable sign of God’s power. Miracles provide one of the major conceptual frames for the gospel. John includes eight major miracles, each one adding to the amazement of Jesus’ followers and the perplexity of his detractors. Around the midpoint of the gospel, Jesus heals a blind man. The authorities question him—who healed you? How did this happen? The man responds—maybe innocently, maybe insolently—“why do you want to know? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” Polarization, we find, is nothing new. Jesus’ friends know that it’s another sign of God’s power. The powerful are threatened by another reminds of their fallibility (and maybe a troubling divine confirmation of what Jesus says). So, enough is enough, Jesus shows up for a festival and the authorities take the opportunity to question Jesus themselves: “22At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’” Wouldn’t we all want to ask Jesus that question?

 

Some years ago I taught a class of youth who asked something similar. Where in the Gospel does Jesus say clearly who he is? How do we know to trust him as God’s own Word? We could spend time unpacking each of Jesus’ coy confessions and each of the disciples blundering attempts at understanding. But Jesus himself takes a run at an answer: “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” This probably isn’t the answer you want to give some questioning youth; but it works for our purposes. God doesn’t just want to give us the answers, as if we could set appropriate terms for the question. We don’t get to decide who God is and determine whether or not Jesus meets the job description. We do, however, get to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, see what he does, see how he loves, and respond. The text gives us the opportunity to follow along with Jesus. If we are really serious about answers, we’ll be sure to start here.

 

Tuesday, September 1

Morning Psalms 12; 146

First Reading Job 12:1, 13:3-17, 21-27

Second Reading Acts 12:1-17

Gospel Reading John 8:33-47

Evening Psalms 36; 7

 

Wednesday, September 2

Morning Psalms 96; 147:1-11

First Reading Job 12:1, 14:1-22

Second Reading Acts 12:18-25

Gospel Reading John 8:47-59

Evening Psalms 132; 134

 

Thursday, September 3

Morning Psalms 116; 147:12-20

First Reading Job 16:16-22, 17:1, 17:13-16

Second Reading Acts 13:1-12

Gospel Reading John 9:1-17

Evening Psalms 26; 130

 

Friday, September 4

Morning Psalms 84; 148

First Reading Job 19:1-7, 14-27

Second Reading Acts 13:13-25

Gospel Reading John 9:18-41

Evening Psalms 25; 40

 

Saturday, September 5

Morning Psalms 63; 149

First Reading Job 22:1-4, 22:21-23:7

Second Reading Acts 13:26-43

Gospel Reading John 10:1-18

Evening Psalms 125; 90

 

Sunday, September 6

Morning Psalms 103; 150

First Reading Job 25:1-6, Job 27:1-6

Second Reading Revelation 14:1-7, 13

Gospel Reading Matthew 5:13-20

Evening Psalms 117; 139

 

Monday, September 7

Morning Psalms 5; 145

First Reading Job 32:1-10, 32:19-33:1, 33:19-28

Second Reading Acts 13:44-52

Gospel Reading John 10:19-30

Evening Psalms 82; 29

 

Cover art: Duccio, di Buoninsegna, d. 1319. Christ Healing the Blind Man, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=49262 

[retrieved August 31, 2020]. Original source: www.yorckproject.de.

FPC Weekly Lectionary – September 1-72020-09-08T16:04:26-05:00

A Letter to the Congregation – August 24, 2020

August 24, 2020

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

In the coming months our worship will follow the story of the people of Israel in the book of Exodus. Although they came to Egypt for refuge from a famine, Israel was enslaved, far from home, unable to realize the promise that God had given them a home, a future, and a charge to be a blessing to the nations of the world.

It may seem appropriate to read Israel’s story as we continue to struggle with the challenges that constrain our mission at First Presbyterian Church. A normal year would find us blessing backpacks in person, collecting school supplies for our neighbors at Blue Ridge, and preparing classrooms and training teachers for Rally Day. The choir would be back practicing. The doors of the church would be open for community events. We would be worshipping, studying, and serving together.

Instead, like Israel, we might wonder if God hears our prayers. The answer: God does hear our prayers; but our way to freedom isn’t just going back to the way things were before. We may have to wander in the wilderness for a little while longer.

You may be wondering, then: when will things change? When can things get back to normal? When can we worship again together? The session has met to consider these questions; and while we are encouraged that the number of cases of COVID-19 in our community seem to be declining, they are not at a point where we feel comfortable encouraging members to return to in-person worship for now.

Having said that, we are considering ways that we can safely gather outside of the worship hour. Session teams will be meeting this fall to consider ways that our ministries can continue and grow in light of these restraints. If you are a member of any of our teams, please lend your voice and your creativity as we think about ways to remain together.

In the meantime, the session has authorized that the church celebrate communion on Sunday, September 6 as a part of our regular worship. Following our livestream service, we will provide communion outside of the church. The Worship Team will meet next week to organize and plan so that we can do this safely and as a meaningful expression of worship that celebrates God’s real presence with us through the gathered community of faith, even when the community cannot gather in the way it is accustomed to doing.

As we loosen our restrictions somewhat, too, I will be available to meet with anyone—in the church, in a park, at home—for “porch visits” on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings through the Fall. Call or write the church office—I would love the chance to catch up with each of you face to face!

Remember that no matter how long this continues, or how hard this will be, the promise of God sustains us: “Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them” (Exodus 3:7-8).

 

Peace,

Will

A Letter to the Congregation – August 24, 20202020-09-08T16:04:26-05:00

A Season of Growth

One of the first things the children of the church notice in the sanctuary is the liturgical color. When the season changes, when stoles and paraments move from purple to white or white to red or green to purple, they usually point that out before I can even get to it in the children’s sermon (remember those?). But, in reality, we all notice. We all see that something is different. It could be the light falling through the windows at a different angle (be sure to sit on the left-hand side of the sanctuary right after daylight saving time, or at least be sure the shade is down). It could be the wreath that comes along with Advent or flaming streamers at Pentecost. Whatever the change is, the color reminds us of stories and events that mark the passage of time in our own lives just as they reveal the Biblical story.

C.S. Lewis once wrote a book called, The Screwtape Letters, imagining the kind of advice a demon might give to a young charge hoping to steal a soul away from God. (Interestingly, a clergyman without a sense of humor complained to the paper publishing the letters, wondering why someone was giving such “devilish advice.”)

Screwtape, the one giving advice, talks about “The horror of the Same Old Thing”—our great fear that nothing will change, and therefore we, as people, crave variety. Says Screwtape, “The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart—an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change.”

The demon laments the way the universe is ordered, claiming that God gives us the best of both worlds—change and permanence: “He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme.”

We delight in the change of season—some cooling rains in August spell a welcome change, anticipating vibrant leaves and bright Autumnal skies. We do the same at church—who doesn’t love the return of Christmas carols, or Easter lilies? We love them because they’re beautiful. We love them because they remind us that Christ came for us, and Christ was raised for us.

In the long middle of the year we get less change. We get “Ordinary Time.” We get green that seems to blend in with the furniture. We no longer notice the change. (Not a bad color for this long season when we can’t be together, is it?)

Thanks to our worship team, however, we now have something else to notice and appreciate hanging in the back of our church. Two new banners will grace the sanctuary, drawing our eyes to the cross, reminding us of the season in time where God is still—and always will be—present. The banners provide a dynamic angle of a triquetra, an ancient Trinitarian symbol reminding us of divine love in communion as we understand God to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As our church borrows this symbol—as well as our logo, a celtic knot comprised of several triquetras in the shape of a cross—we remember our communion, too—together despite the fact that we are apart.

Many thanks to Jeane Jones who led this effort; to Laura Allgood who coordinated; to Kathryn Sellers who sewed triquetras on our new matching paraments; and to Priscilla Brown, who designed and made the banners (and to Mike Brown, who helped a little, too).

The green of ordinary time symbolizes the nurture and growth of the life of faith thanks to the grace of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit. It reminds us that—even as the season slows—the grace of God is with us, changing us, even if we can’t always see it right away.

A Season of Growth2020-09-09T09:49:38-05:00

Weekly Lectionary: August 25-31

The words can leave you flat on your face. This week finds Peter and Paul struggling with the radical change that the call of God has wrought for each of them. (Paul, you’ll remember, was literally flat on his face on the Damascus road.) The disciples are regularly flattened by the challenge Jesus offers. And, perhaps most clearly, no one is overturned quite like Job, who sits on an ash heap, sick and grieving, waiting for an answer from God on why things are so bad. Maybe that’s a bit of how we feel right now: stretched, challenged, beaten, flattened. It’s likely not as bad as Job; but even Job had comforters—friends who tried to help him, no matter how insensitive they may have been. One of the challenges of this time is that—through the interruption of church, and through advice on distancing—so many have been isolated from one another. Job has one particular friend, Bildad the Shuhite, who speaks this week. All of Job’s friends offer some form of the same argument: that if bad things are happening to you then surely you have offended God in some way. But Job, unlike us, can rely on his righteousness to answer them: oh no I haven’t. Bildad takes another run at Job and offers the following: “For inquire now of bygone generations, and consider what their ancestors have found; for we are but of yesterday, and we know nothing, for our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not teach you and tell you and utter words out of their understanding?” (Job 8:8-10). And maybe here we see the irony in the friends challenge. God may correct them in the end for their simplistic rendering of the mystery of creation in their theological propositions; but maybe, just maybe, we can see that the friends actually have something to say. Because, when we’re alone—especially when we’re alone—what can we do but listen to Bildad (and Eliphaz and Zophar) and ancient wisdom because they still have something to say? Even when we muddle through our understanding of a bad situation, even when we grasp helplessly at understanding, even then, God may show up—because God was there all along in words just like these.

 

Tuesday, August 25

Morning Psalms 54; 146

First Reading Job 6:1-4, 8-15, 21

Second Reading Acts 9:32-43

Gospel Reading John 6:60-71

Evening Psalms 28; 99

 

Wednesday, August 26

Morning Psalms 65; 147:1-11

First Reading Job 6:1, 7:1-21

Second Reading Acts 10:1-16

Gospel Reading John 7:1-13

Evening Psalms 125; 91

 

Thursday, August 27

Morning Psalms 143; 147:12-20

First Reading Job 8:1-10, 20-22

Second Reading Acts 10:17-33

Gospel Reading John 7:14-36

Evening Psalms 81; 116

 

Friday, August 28

Morning Psalms 88; 148

First Reading Job 9:1-15, 32-35

Second Reading Acts 10:34-48

Gospel Reading John 7:37-52

Evening Psalms 6; 20

 

Saturday, August 29

Morning Psalms 122; 149

First Reading Job 9:1, 10:1-9, 16-22

Second Reading Acts 11:1-18

Gospel Reading John 8:12-20

Evening Psalms 100; 63

 

Sunday, August 30

Morning Psalms 108; 150

First Reading Job 11:1-9, 13-20

Second Reading Revelation 5:1-14

Gospel Reading Matthew 5:1-12

Evening Psalms 66; 23

 

Monday, August 31

Morning Psalms 62; 145

First Reading Job 12:1-6, 13-25

Second Reading Acts 11:19-30

Gospel Reading John 8:21-32

Evening Psalms 73; 9

 

 

Art Work: Blake, William, 1757-1827. Comforters of Job, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57696 

[retrieved August 24, 2020]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Job%27s_Comforters_Butts_set.jpg.

Weekly Lectionary: August 25-312020-09-08T16:04:26-05:00
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