As we continue the selfless practice of restricted physical contact, as we adapt and welcome new ways of being communities of faith, our souls need special care. This service is one of a series designed to align us with the Living God during these pandemic-impacted times as social justice reforms arise.
- You may wish to arrange to worship distantly with others at the same time.
- Read through this service beforehand to assemble items needed.
- A “Christ Candle” can be any sort of candle or object which represents Christ’s presence.
- Choose songs to sing (our suggestions or your favorites). Assemble what you’ll need to sing.
- Ensure an uninterrupted place to worship.
- Decorate your space to welcome God’s presence.
Time for Children of All Ages
Out of the Bag: “Choices” on YouTube channel: Kathryn Schreiber https://youtu.be/e-Xr2rxB0kA
Please adapt to make this worship service your own. Your intention is what is important.
Call to Worship/Invocation
This is a complete invitation: Choose Life.
This is a complete covenant: Choose Life.
This is a complete prayer: Choose Life.
Holy God, may each moment of this day be filled with the commitment to “Choose Life.” Help us choose to be as fully alive as possible and to encourage the same for others. I “Choose Life” in the name of Jesus Christ, my Brother and Friend, my Teacher and Savior. Amen.
Light the Christ Candle
Song for Welcoming the Presence of God
Hymn: “’Tis the Gift to Be Simple” Shaker song, SIMPLE GIFTS (#568, Chalice) Video: ‘Simple Gifts’ in a crisis: Yo-Yo Ma and Joyce DiDonato collaborate for the first time” YouTube: https://youtu.be/4fHc1o48DqM (used without permission)
Unburden and Gather Hope
Naming Our New Reality
Whether you are alone or with others, may this be a time of private reflection. How is it with you today? What brings a smile to your face or a lump to your throat? Is this a good day or one that requires kindness and patience? Honor the swings of contentment and concern that are a part of every life, as well as the unique shifts that are new to this era. Tell God how you are doing. Invite God to help you remember a decision from the past week when you chose the Way of Life. God is always very lovingly toward us even when we can’t sense God’s presence. Rest in the hope of God’s sustaining care.
We shift from speaking to God to sitting with God silently. A helpful way to enter sacred silence is to offer this simple prayer based on Psalm 46:10:
Be still and know that I am God. (pause)
Be still and know that I am. (pause)
Be still and know. (pause)
Be still. (pause)
Try to sit quietly in a state of calm devotion. It can be very hard to still the mind. Our thoughts wander, feelings arise, our bodies wiggle. It can be shocking how quickly our good intentions go astray! Do not fret, dear one. The mind likes to think. With compassion, acknowledge what rises but try not to engage any thought or feeling. (Important matters will return later.) Practice choosing to refocus on God. Take a breath and try again. Each time we choose to return to God, gently turning away from our over-active mind, is a gift we give God. When you’re ready to move on take a moment to thank God saying, “Amen.”
Acts of Unburdening and Affirming
Write down whatever you wish to release to God and leave at the base of the Christ Candle, or if it is safe, you may burn these prayers. It may be that what you have to offer cannot yet be consciously named. This is fine. The soul knows what to give to God and God knows what to receive.
The God of our ancestors is the God of our descendants and the God of this very moment, too. The Eternal One forever calls all living beings into being. We are invited, again and again, to choose life. God’s eternal encouragement is a form of grace. We are always being coaxed by God’s goodwill into a better future. Let us be grateful for God’s life-giving grace. Amen.
Scripture Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
(Moses is speaking to the liberated Hebrew people as they near the Jordan River. Their ancestral homeland is very near.)
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in God’s ways, and observing God’s commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.
“But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying God, and holding fast to God; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
May God add a blessing to the reading and reflecting upon God’s Holy Word. Amen.
Reflection Upon “Choosing Life”
(This content is created for private reflection. If your pastor has prepared a written or recorded message you may use it instead.)
On days when sheltering in place feels like a burden, in those moments when putting on a mask feels uncomfortable, when the weight of change is real it is helpful to remember we are doing these things because we choose life. We are choosing to change our actions to keep each other and ourselves alive. We are choosing life.
Throughout human history there are epic turning points when the masses must decide between life and death. Today’s reading is about one of those times for Jesus’ ancestors.
It took a few generations for Moses, with God’s help, to lead the enslaved Hebrews out of Egypt. The Hebrew metaphor for a long time is “forty years.” The Hebrew metaphor for a very long time is “four hundred years.” The Hebrews had been enslaved in Egypt for “four hundred years.” It took “forty years” to leave Egypt, wander in the wilderness, and then finally come into sight of their ancestral home – Israel. They arrived at the Eastern shore of the Jordan River having traveled up from wild lands beside and below Israel. This natural geographical boundary, the Jordan River, descends from Mount Hermon to the mouth of the Dead Sea. To this day The Jordan River remains a line of demarcation between nations and cultures. Crossing it can still be a choice fraught with dangers.
Today’s scripture narrative is from the end of Moses’ life. The elderly prophet is speaking to the people he’s led for decades. Moses knows they need a new spiritual leader as they face new challenges while reentering the land from which their ancestors were removed a very long time ago.
Moses prepares to pass on the sacred mantel of leadership to Joshua, his anointed successor, by asking the people to renew their covenant with God. Moses asks them to choose God’s ways – the great laws given to them on their journey to freedom. The call to God’s way of life is an invitation, not enforcement. Moses asks each household to choose between life and death, blessings and curses.
This is a time of big choices for us, too. Not just choices about public health – where we go and how we stay safe around others. Rather, bigger choices surround us: How to address and mend the wounds of racism? Which lifestyle choices are least harmful to climate disruption? How should we use our gifts and talents for the uplift of the many? Household by household, person by person, we are faced with big decisions. Moses would remind us to go back to the basics – to reflect upon God’s ways through the foundational rules of moral decency found in the Ten Commandments.
Globally, nationally, institutionally, communally, filially, and personally we are being asked to choose between the ways of God which lead to life and the ways of not-God which lead to death. These choices are so big; they can be overwhelming. Let us view these choices as invitations to join God in growing a new era of well-being for all beings. “Choosing Life” may be our portal to a new, very better tomorrow.
Suggestion: “Gratias Tibi” performed by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and Montclair State University Singers. This world premiere of “Gratias Tibi,” commissioned by NJSO commission from José Luis Domínguez, is an expression of gratitude to frontline workers of the COVID-19 pandemic. (used with permission) https://youtu.be/ATpVXvwnBy0
Prayers of Petition
Though distant, when we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, we are connected one to another in the Holy Spirit. We never pray alone. What prayers does your soul ask to be lifted up – joys and concerns? Speak them. You may wish to use your body as movement or sound, dance, tears, or silence. If your community shares prayer requests please include them at this time.
The Lord’s Prayer
Imagine a place where you feel close to God, maybe a sanctuary where you’ve worshipped. Welcome the memory of your Beloved Community filling your soul with companionship as we pray together the prayer Jesus taught us to pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
We Give Thanks
This week we are reminded of the great Hebrew leaders – Moses and Joshua. Pause to consider the leaders who impact your community. Pray for them and give thanks for those who call us to embody God’s ways – ways of life. (also see donation footnote)
We Continue in Hope
Song of Commitment
Suggestion: “Take My Life” – written by FR Havergal (#609 Chalice; #457 HOL) Video: “Kari Jobe – Take My Life with Lyrics” created by Janelle (used without permission) YouTube: https://youtu.be/6QubPnYFavY
We are at a crossroads. Shall we choose life or death? The way of blessings or curses? May the Prince of Peace fill us with the courage to always choose life. Amen.
(the service is concluded)
Worship Resources: All content prepared and written by Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber unless attributed to another source. (NRSV) New Revised Standard Version ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. (Chalice) The Chalice Hymnal and (New Century) The New Century Hymnal, among other worship publications, have suspended copyright restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Chalice: Online Chalice Hymnal: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/CH1995
TNCH: Online New Century Hymnal: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/NCH1995
HOL: Hymns of Life, bilingual hymnal. ©1986, China Alliance Press.
YouTube Music Videos: search by title AND one of the authors for best results
Worship Credit: © 2020, Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber, Living Liturgies.
Online Publishing Date: August 27, 2020.
Permission: Permission is not granted to share or distribute this resource beyond your community without additional permission from the author.
Donation for Use of Content: Due to the current coronavirus pandemic this content is offered free. However, you may express your gratitude financially by making a donation to an organization which develops and tends prophetic leaders who lean into God for guidance. If you’d like to support the congregation I serve as pastor – Berkeley Chinese Community Church – we’d be most grateful for your support. Please send checks to: BCCC UCC, 2117 Acton Street, Berkeley, CA 94702, Attn: Diane Huie, Treasurer. Thank you!
Living Liturgies online: www.inthebiglove.com; Facebook: “Living Liturgies”; YouTube: “Kathryn Schreiber”