Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
Since I have worked with sheep, I understand what is being said, but it is sometimes hard to convey that sheep need to be found. Sheep are not the most intelligent animals. They for the most part they are very easy to work with. However, getting them to move is sometimes a challenge. More than one time out on the farm in Fife, Scotland I would just pick them up and point them in the right direction. I would give them a gentle pat and off they would go. I worked for many years I was sent out to move the sheep. As for lost sheep, they were not only hard to find but hard to get moving in the right direction. However, I can still feel the relief when you find the one sheep that seems to be totally gone. You sometimes expect them to be killed by a stray dog or something else. So, when you find that sheep there is great relief.
But the same emotion was echoed when I received a call from a friend that knew that I was very good at computers. He had lost a file that he needed for a big presentation, but he could not find it on his computer. He was desperate and after over an hour on the phone we found his file. You could feel his relief over the phone. As he hung up the phone he said, "You saved my life." Now we all know that was not the case, but at that moment he would have understood how horrible it is to have lost something very valuable. A quick epilogue to this story. I have been called on many times in my neighborhood after that to fix computers. I understand the relief when I manage to fix a computer. I feel like I have done some real good. As my neighbors got to know me first as computer support, they then found out I was a pastor. More than once I got asked to help as a minster as well.
God wants to help and that is the reason he sent the Messiah. In the passages from this morning we can reacquaint ourselves with the many reasons that Jesus came. Jesus came to help us find God. Additionally, there is a profound sense of the grief of God expressed in this passage. Why did God send a Messiah? The prophet lists the reasons: Because of our sufferings, which God sees. Because of our sorrows which God sees. Because of our punishments which God sees. Because of our guilt which God sees. God was being wounded by our rebellions and these same rebellions were causing us a suffering, which God does not choose for us.
In the forecast of the Messiah who finds the sheep and restores them to the fold, we see a commingling of bruises. Being apart from each other hurts both humanity and God. The sheep and the shepherd are mutually wounded by each other. We then are "healed by his bruises" which is a problematic notion but nevertheless quite clear to the prophet.
In the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, the prophet uses the metaphor of sheep to help us understand the concept of the Messiah. The Messiah is the one who leads us back to the fold, from which we have all gone astray. This notion of a lost humanity is expressed in the farmer's metaphor: this metaphor may not be completely accessible to those of us who have never touched a sheep or lost a sheep or found one. Nevertheless, we can imagine the intimacy of the prophet with both the metaphor and with sheep. The writer of the messianic passage is clearly acquainted with sheep. He knows what it means to lose one. He knows it can mean the difference between life and death. There is an urgency that comes through the sheep metaphor that is very important to the prophet's understanding of what a Messiah is. Messiah is a life and death matter!
The Messiah was ill-treated and afflicted but never opened his mouth, like a lamb led to the slaughterhouse. Like a sheep dumb before its shearers, he never opens his mouth. In other words, the Messiah agrees to suffer with us and for us to restore us to our proper relationship with God.
This is one version of the atonement, that theory that God through Jesus suffered for us and by that suffering redeems and heals us. Many are troubled by this notion that God had to suffer. This passage makes the suffering somewhat mutual and softens the hard edges of the atonement. It speaks of humanity as suffering through sufferings, sorrows, guilts and punishments and then speaks of God as compassionate about those sufferings.
The source of the suffering is the most important part of the passage: the source is our going away from God, not God going away from us. The source is "each taking his own way."
The second part of the passage is the demonstration that the Messiah is both like humanity and different from it. The Messiah is understood as God's perfect offspring, the one who did not stray and therefore did not deserve the suffering into which he throws himself. Again, we have revealed for us what we now call the theology of the atonement. The perfect one, who did not stray, suffers for those who did stray. "The upright one will justify many by taking their guilt on himself."
The conclusion of the passage is with the liberation of what will come once the Messiah regathers the sheep and suffers with them, if not for them. “He will share the booty with the mighty….and intercedes for the rebellious.” There is a sense here of an act already completed, as though God was foretelling through the prophet the entire story of Jesus.
The key to the passage is the lost being found, the stray being returned. The metaphor becomes minor as the passage develops into a full-blown salvation story of the "upright one" saving humanity from itself. To suddenly find something long lost, reminds us how often we need help in finding the important things in our lives.
The central question is “Why did God send Jesus?” The answer is put in very simple terms with incredible meaning. Jesus came to connect us directly to God. Jesus the Messiah came to show us that God wants to help, and Jesus called on us to be living breathing examples of others wanting to help. Jesus wanted others to see in our willingness to help God’s direct connection with each of us.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
We are a culture that tends to be fond of inflicting violence, and we don't appreciate those who question it. This past spring a student in Marshfield, Massachusetts, wore an anti-war T-shirt to school one day. But when his principal saw it, he immediately made him cover it up by putting on a sweatshirt. The 15-year-old boy had on a shirt that said, "Who Would Jesus Bomb?" Later the principal checked with the school's attorney to see if it was permissible for a student to wear a shirt like that, for fear that it might be infringing on someone else's rights. The attorney decided that the T-shirt was acceptable, and the principal then reversed his decision to make the student keep it hidden. One week earlier a lawyer was arrested at a shopping mall near Albany, New York, for wearing a T-shirt that declared "Give Peace A Chance," which he put on after purchasing it at a shop in that mall. Charges against the attorney, however, were eventually dropped.
During 2016, the most recent year for which complete figures are available, the United States spent $767.3 billion on defense. That staggering sum is more than what the next eleven highest defense-spending nations combined spent on their militaries. If current trends continue, the United States defense spending will soon exceed what the entire rest of the world spends on weapons and armaments. By our actions, we certainly seem to express our disagreement with how Jesus submitted to the abuse of his enemies without fighting back.
In a survey conducted by the Pew Forum, based in Washington, D. C., most Americans say that religion tends to have a good influence in the world, but at the same time a majority believes that religion also plays a significant role in most wars and conflicts. According to that poll, 80% have a positive attitude to religion's influence throughout the world. Especially in the aftermath of September 11, 51% think those terror attacks demonstrated a need for more religion in the world, not less. Yet a large number acknowledge that religion often gets turned from its peaceful aims and is used as a justification to inflict pain and death on others.
In American society, we seem to have lost the ability to endure minor offenses without feeling the need to lash out in retaliation in some way. Back in February, a couple in Panama City Beach, Florida, filed a lawsuit against a McDonald's restaurant. Their complaint was that they had been served an improperly prepared bagel. But instead of dealing with the matter in a calm, reasonable way—perhaps by simply asking the restaurant for another bagel—the couple apparently used that opportunity to escalate matters and ran off and found an attorney.
There is a tendency today not to appreciate our need to be delivered from our sins. A Harris poll conducted earlier this year found that more than two-thirds of all Americans say they believe there is a hell. Yet that same survey found that only one per centof Americans think that they will be going to hell personally.
There is little doubt that one of the sources of violence in American society is the music that fills our airwaves. The American Psychological Association released a study in May that found that violent song lyrics lead to a measurable increase in aggression-related thoughts and emotions, which in turn may result in an overall more hostile social environment. The research involved over 500 college students. The researchers found that violent words—not musical style or the specific performing artist—had a definite role in raising people's feelings of hostility. The music industry has been under criticism for some time for not providing more information in their parental advisory labels. The labels do not currently say whether the music contains sex, violence, or strong language. In the research done by the American Psychological Association, they examined the effects of seven violent songs performed by seven different artists and eight nonviolent songs by seven different artists. After listening to the music, students were then given various psychological tests to measure aggressive thoughts and feelings.
Although the American prison system focuses on punishment, it does not seem to be too successful in liberating people from the sins that led them to be incarcerated in the first place. The United States Department of Justice tracked former inmates from prisons in fifteen states for three years after their release in 1994. As a result, the study monitored about two-thirds of all prisoners who were released in the country that year. The findings were that seventy percent of those who had been originally arrested as robbers were back in prison within three years. Burglars were re-arrested seventy four percent of the time. Similar statistics were found for larcenists, motor vehicle thieves, and those in prison for possessing or selling stolen property. Within 3 years, 2.5% of released rapists were arrested for another rape, and 1.2% of those who had been imprisoned for a homicide were back in prison serving time for another homicide.
From Jesus' role as the Suffering Servant, countless generations of Christians have drawn strength from knowing that Jesus is familiar with all the depths of human fear and pain. When the Battle of Gettysburg was over, more than fifty thousand Union and Confederate soldiers were dead, wounded, or missing in action. Approximately six thousand soldiers, about equal in number from North and South, lay dead on the battlefield at the end of that conflict that raged from July 1-3, 1863. When it was decided that President Lincoln and other dignitaries would come to Gettysburg in November of that year to dedicate a military cemetery, one of the pressing issues was how to sort through all of those soldiers' belongings and return them to their families. Among the items that were found among the dead were diaries, letters, photographs, money, watches, and jewelry. But the most frequently found item of all were Bibles. An overwhelming number of the soldiers, from both sides of the battle, had carried Bibles with them to give them comfort and strength in the midst of extremely difficult and challenging times.
In God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics, professor Stephen Carter observes that in today's culture the general sense is that "there are loads of causes around the world worth killing for but none worth dying for." He notes that while we pay intense attention to accurately reporting the number and the details of any American deaths, the total number of enemy deaths is often never known, nor is that number viewed as a particularly meaningful piece of data by most Americans.
In I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, Rene Girard offers an insightful analysis of how violence tends to spread in a culture. He suggests that "persecutors think they are doing good, the right thing; they believe they are working for justice and truth; they believe they are saving the community." After all, wasn't that the mindset of those who arranged Jesus' death? Girard goes on to say, "We all try to tell ourselves that we have only legitimate grudges and justified hatreds." But there eventually comes a point where we are forced to realize, like with the abuse inflicted on the Suffering Servant, that our acts of violence are not nearly so noble as we might try to convince ourselves. According to Girard, the only way out of our never-ending cycle of violence is to conceive of a power that is even greater than violence. By enduring his persecution and looking to God alone for help, Jesus demonstrated his faith that such a higher power truly does exist.
We tend to point to acts of violence in the Bible as the justification for our own aggressions, but we are not always quite so quick to follow the biblical examples toward non-violence, such as we find in the account of the Suffering Servant. Shortly after the reign of Constantine, emperor Theodosius got into a rather fierce dispute with the Thessalonians. The emperor proceeded to invite the members of that entire Greek tribe to Milan to meet with him. But Theodosius orchestrated a gory massacre, resulting in the deaths of countless Thessalonian men, women, and children. The archbishop of Milan, Ambrose, expressed his horror at what the emperor had done, and Ambrose resolved to publicly refuse to give Theodosius communion. The emperor protested, pointing to the biblical example of how David had slaughtered his enemies. But Ambrose remained determined. For the next eight months the emperor, the most powerful man in the world, periodically dressed in sackcloth and stood outside the Milan cathedral until the archbishop finally granted him forgiveness for what he had done.
"Wherever the Holy Spirit is, there is great suffering and persecution....You should remember that they didn't crucify Herod....No, they crucified Christ, and they mocked him too." (St. Makarios the Egyptian)
"Many times, our people are left perplexed by this remarkable fact, that those who treated them so abominably were not heathen but those who claimed to be fellow Christians who read the same Bible." (Desmond Tutu)
"If suffering went out of life, courage, tenderness, pity, faith, patience, and love in its divinity would go out of life, too." (Father Andrew)
"A Christian is someone who shares the sufferings of God in the world." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
"Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars." (E. H. Chapin)
"We often learn more of God under the rod that strikes us, than under the staff that comforts us." (Stephen Charnock)
"No man is fit to comprehend heavenly things who hath not resigned himself to suffer adversities for Christ. "(Thomas á Kempis)
"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world." (C. S. Lewis)
In Billy Bob Thornton's masterful film Sling Blade Deutero-Isaiah's Suffering Servant takes the strange form of a mentally impaired man. Karl Childers (the last name is an apt one) has been released from an institution for the criminally insane where he has been locked up for killing his mother and her lover. The kindly warden finds him work doing what he does best, repairing small motors. Karl becomes friends with young Frank Wheatley, whose mother Linda is living with an abusive boyfriend, Doyle. After Linda has a friend check Karl out, she okays the friendship between the boy and the man, even to the extent of offering him a place to stay in the old shed behind her house. As Karl comes to love the boy more and more, and thus the mother as well, he becomes increasingly disturbed over Doyle. The boyfriend is a control freak jealous of Linda's every move. When Frank tries to protect his mother, Doyle vents his wrath on the boy. Karl wants to help Frank and Linda, but there does not seem to be any lawful way that he can. Therefore, he decides to sacrifice himself by repeating his crime of long ago. Regarding Doyle as the evil threat to the welfare of those he loves most, Karl kills Doyle with his sling blade, and then waits quietly for the authorities to arrest him. He is willing to give up his freedom for the sake of his loved ones.
An equally strange (to Karl) suffering servant figure is the Czech immigrant in the tragic film Dancer in the Dark. Selma is the dancer referred to in the title, and the dark is the blindness that is slowly overtaking her. A single mother working in a metal stamping factory, Selma has come to America to make a better life for her son. He has inherited her birth defect, and thus also will go blind when he reaches his teens or twenties. Selma is determined to save from her meager wages enough money to pay for corrective surgery. Her blindness, which thus far she has managed to conceal, even from her best friend, is progressing faster than she had anticipated. She takes on overtime work and drops out of the one activity that had given her a little pleasurable relief from her bleak life, an amateur drama group putting on "The Sound of Music." Selma makes a series of mistakes at the plant because of her blindness, thus losing her job. On the same day she is dismissed at the factory, Bill, the kindly neighbor, in desperate need to buy things for his wife who has vastly overspent their budget, steals Selma's nest egg, driving her into despair. She confronts the man. Bill denies the theft, and Selma tearfully persists, the two entering into a struggle in which the man is killed. Selma offers no defense. She knows that if she dies, the insurance money will be enough to pay for her son's operation. Even when others read the worst of motives into her seemingly cold refusal to provide any information, Selma refuses to defend herself. The sequence of her execution by hanging is one of the most harrowing scenes to be found in any film, and yet in the music there is a hint of hope, however so slight. Selma dies so that her son can live a full life. Her "dance in the dark" is akin to the sacrifice of the one who "was wounded for our transgressions."
Understanding the process or method of atonement is very difficult… unless we understand the depth of the love of God for us. St. Augustine is said to have asked, "Why do you love us so much?" at one point in the process of prayer. There is a near sense of contagion that God's love comes to us so mysteriously but so surely. Obviously, contagion has both positive and negative features.
At both the conscious and the unconscious level, these days, many of us are worried about contagion. The threat of biological and chemical warfare remains in our minds if not also on our globe. The threat of the SARS virus remains in our minds if not also on our globe. (One editor friend of mine hates the word we have given this virus _ "Severe" and "Acute": both don't need to be in the same sentence.) We are newly aware that one small piece of foam probably took down a mighty space ship. Small, invisible things are more than carrying their weight. It is almost as if we have all become homeopaths _ that version of medicine that inoculates with the smallest of substances in order to produce the largest of healing.
Indeed, there are many negative forms of contagion. You can "catch something" and suffer with it for weeks. Simultaneously there are positive forms of contagion, like in homeopathic medicine or in being around contagious people or in understanding just how this gospel of ours works.
Imagine God trusting the salvation of the world to the disciples! Clearly the strategy is a kind of chemical, not physical warfare. It is an inoculation. It is a contagion. It counts on Jesus being infected by God and Jesus infecting others and those others infecting others. And guess what? It worked. There was no public relations budget. No forcing of the issue by armies or advertising. One believed, then another believed, and then a third. Today we find Christianity a more than vibrant world religion, just now growing with vigor in Africa and Asia and South America that makes the northern continents look small. Positive contagion is the gospel strategy God used to save the world.
Many people would like to tell you that Christianity is a great world religion that fell into the wrong hands. I beg to differ. Indeed, Christianity is a great world religion. And indeed, some of its spirit did fall into the wrong hands. People have hit each other over the head with Jesus on more than one occasion. I remain consoled that so much of its spirit is in the hands of people as ordinary as gardeners and fisherman and single women without portfolio. That spirit is as strong as any virus _ and it will infect the world, if not sooner than later.
What does it mean to be inoculated by faith? It means that we trust the small. We become like gardeners, who know that the smallest of seeds make the grandest of flowers. I think of the great lupine seed, which is so small you have to scatter them with a mix of sand in your hand. Lupines easily can be a foot tall with an inlay of flowers in several colors that defies the tiling on the great temples in Morocco. We become like a bit of yogurt culture, which can firm up a whole pot of warm milk. Of course, there are negative viruses as well. I think of the way we used to make vinegar, under the sink in a glass jar. The substance used is "mother of vinegar" and I am sure it has a spiritual as well as physical meaning.
Can you remember how that works? A cloud of chemicals is taken from vinegar gone old. It is placed in a combination of water or apple juice or cider or wine, left over from the table after the guests have all gone. As these leftovers become available, we put them in the hidden jar. It all becomes vinegar in contact with the mother.
Congregations and families can be infected that way too. The smallest amount of vinegar, if allowed to contaminate the sweet, can sour the whole barrel. The folk saying is absolutely right: one bad apple can spoil the bunch. Likewise, infection can be positive. One good apple can improve the whole bunch. My point is that God uses small powerful virus like seeds to get Jesus launched into the world. We become inoculated positively, with faith and hope and love by Jesus' entry into the world. From there, we become contagious _ and spread the news. We try to stop the vinegar _ and start the wine.
Sometimes we inoculate a whole confirmation class. We have so little time to tell them the whole Christian story. But we can't worry about curriculum overload so much as worry about what they see when they come to church. Church members are their main teachers. They are the ones who make Christianity attractive or unattractive. Indeed they either make the wine or the vinegar out of this story. We do it in the smallest of ways _ by whether we speak truth or stop rumors, by whether we enjoy the good or the bad about others, by whether we know how to touch the arm of someone who aches in pain. We are contagious, either positively or negatively, and the choice is all ours.
This elevation of the small to the powerful is a very hard lesson for people raised in the bigger is better world. I watched two men at the hospital the other day. They knew each other only slightly. One said, "I just had three parts of my heart done." The other said, "that's nothing, I had five." I thought, isn’t it great just to have one done, if it is blocking blood to the heart? Why is it better to have more? But I know that our world is inoculated with the large _ and I know how lethal that largeness is. Bigger says it's better but it's not.
Many ecologists are teaching us how to think small again. It is a way we have lost. They say that the main reversal in our thinking is to understand just how beautiful small is. In the resurrection stories, we have God modeling an admiration of the small and the connected. I love the way Jesus faced his doubters, in the flesh, and said, "Touch me. See me." Those of us who would like to fund a massive publicity campaign on behalf of peace and justice might look closely right here. It could backfire.
Another reversal in our thinking is that of prevention. Old ways of thinking have to do with programmatic mopping up of what has gone wrong. I think of the Department of Children and Family Services. Or of most medicine. New ways of thinking have to do with creating the bodies and world and children that we want now. One is preventive and long term and focuses on wellness; the other is palliative and short term and focuses on sickness. The very strategy that God uses in the resurrection of Jesus is a preventive, long term, wellness focused strategy. It inoculates the world with hope.
So many of us fear that we cannot get what we want out of life. We imagine that it's going to take something big to produce the desired results. The Messiah, who infects the disciples, who then infect us with all that we want and need, shakes up that falsehood. We are like the missing sheep: we will be found, we will be loved, we will get what we want, which is to be a part of the fold.
My mother always said, "Be careful what you pray for, you might get it." What we think would be fulfilling, exciting, or adventurous might turn out to be more than we bargained for.
Comedian Dave Gardner once said, "Happiness is not getting what you want; it's wanting what you get!"
Putting yourself in the place of a parent is a helpful way to understand unanswered prayer. Often parents understand that "No" is the best answer, that what the child wants is inappropriate, out of balance, hurtful or just plain wrong. Helping children to learn to want what is best, rather than what is present, bright and sparklingly alluring, or tantalizing, is one of the most important opportunities we have. Sometimes we do let them have what they think they want, so they can experience the responsibilities that go along with possession. A central question is "Do we possess and control things, or do our possessions possess us?"
Looking for something Lost
By Mark Van Doren
Looking for something lost is mind
And matters playing a game
The thing knows it is lost and waits;
The adversaries are now the same;
The wallet under the leaves
Lies there and breathes.
And what if the something lost was never
Matter in the beginning:
Purpose or hope or bravery,
Or innocent the spirits cunning?
The piece of soul that is gone
In the dark shines on.
I Know It’s Here Somewhere…
Most of us can identify with the frustration of knowing that a file exists, or that a colleague said it did, but we just can’t quite put a finger on exactly where. Various studies underline the scale of the problem. According to K2’s Going Paperless report, 15% of documents are misplaced and, even when found, 30% of documents contain obsolete information.
Iron Mountain’s research last year discovered that 45% of respondents in Europe said their access and storage capabilities were under “significant strain,” leaving them unable to retrieve information quickly enough. A couple of years ago, Harris Research (on behalf of Perforce Software) found that over 70% of respondents in the UK and US experience issues every day, searching their hard drives and email inboxes for the most up-to-date or correct file. (http://www.northplains.com/thousands-of-hours-lost-looking-for-files/)
Perhaps the best-known hymn describing this parable is "The Ninety and Nine" by Elizabeth C. Clephane (1868), which begins:
There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold.
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold.
Away on the mountains wild and bare.
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.
Every year, sheep farmers and their assistants spend tens of hours looking for sheep that have been separated from their flock. Sometimes this search is successful, but sometimes a farmer just has to admit that their sheep is lost.
What if all of these lost sheep could be found?
This is the idea behind Svein-Olaf Hvasshovd’s work. This professor at the Department of Computer and Information Science has participated in the hunt for lost sheep before and experienced just how difficult it can be to find the woolly creatures. During last year’s sheep-finding operation, they discovered that several sheep had managed to pull off their bells, making them almost impossible to find. After this, he put on the proverbial thinking cap to find a better solution for finding lost sheep.
How do you find sheep that can’t communicate in any way? After considering the options, Hvasshovd came up with the idea of using drones to look for lost sheep.
But a normal camera drone wouldn’t work. You need more advanced equipment.
“We decided to put an infrared camera on the drone,” says Hvasshovd.
Infrared cameras ‘see’ temperatures, so they can be used to look for living creatures in a geographic area.
A few weeks ago, Hvasshovd, together with colleagues from the control systems group at NTNU completed a test in Oppdal. In their backpack was a drone equipped with a thermal imaging camera. The group had a drone pilot, and someone to scan the data sent from the camera on its flight.
In a snowy landscape, identifying sheep with a thermal imaging camera would be even easier, because of the greater difference in temperature between the animal and the snow shows up well in infrared. On the other hand, the difference between white wool and white snow is much more difficult for our eyes to see. For this reason, Hvasshovd is optimistic about using drones for finding sheep when it is colder.
“The sheep was very visible. There was a clear difference between the hill and the sheep.”
During the Oppdal test, the experts used a so-called quadcopter, which is a small, battery driven drone with four rotors. This type of drone is, however not the best solution, as sheep often spread out over a large area. Small quadcopters like the one used in the test can only fly for about 20-30 minutes.
“Our test has shown that this is a technique worth investigating further. But we need more flying time. So, we’re going to try a similar test with an autonomous plane.”
Having a system of radio base stations that pair with collars on sheep to keep in contact. This idea will be tested thoroughly next summer, but Hvasshovd has already had promising results. An early test last year showed that coverage even in rough terrain is good. The idea is to use signal strength to determine a sheep’s location.
Sensor technology to help monitor sheep health. One type of sensor can be attached to a sheep’s ear, while another can be swallowed. These can provide information about heartbeat and body temperature.
Another idea is to use electrical signals to help keep the sheep within range of the farm, setting up a sort of virtual fence that makes an annoying sound when a sheep gets to close, or a mild shock if a sheep crosses it. The problem is that sheep don’t necessarily respond reliably to this. (http://sciencenordic.com/drones-help-find-lost-sheep)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: Bless the Lord! Our God is wrapped in glory and honor!
People: It is God who made the universe! It is the Lord who stretched out the skies and who reigns from one end of creation to the other.
Leader: How wonderful is everything that God has made! All the world is filled with the works of God's hands.
People: Bless the Lord for all that God has done! Praise the Lord!
Loving God, the Bible tells us about how Jesus suffered and died. The Scriptures speak of the crown of thorns and the splintery cross. But we confess that we do not want to think about such things. We prefer pleasure over pain. We prefer happiness over hardship. You certainly do not call upon us to suffer simply for the sake of suffering. But when suffering becomes a part of our lives as we follow You, enable us to endure those difficult times. Keep us from turning aside to some easier path. Empower us to remain faithful to You as we remember how You are always faithful to us. In the name of our gracious Lord we pray. Amen.
God of compassion, every day of our lives You give and give to us beyond measure. Lead us to be faithful imitators of You as we seek to give in abundance to You. Receive our gifts and use them to spread Your good news throughout all the world. In the name of Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.
God of truth and wisdom, as we gather here to worship Jesus, help us to see Jesus as He truly is. While He was a man who spoke with authority and who captured the attention of great multitudes, He was also a man who was abandoned by his closest friends and betrayed by one of His own disciples. While Jesus was a man who healed the sick and brought wholeness to the deaf and the blind, He was also a man who was made to suffer as He was beaten, mocked, and crucified.
Yet it was through that valley of tears and blood that Jesus emerged as the victor. It was through the passageway of death and a grave that Jesus opened the door that leads to eternal life. By the power of the Holy Spirit, grant us the desire and the will to follow in His way. Keep us from turning our faith into a way of avoiding the pains of this life. Instead, enable us to turn our faith into a way of facing the trials of this world as we put our trust into the hands of the One who is able without fail to deliver us. O Lord, You are the good shepherd. Guide and protect Your flock until that day when we will finally be in Your fold forevermore. In Your name we pray. Amen.