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: “Mystery” YouTube: https://youtu.be/s7v5L57zz3U
Please adapt to make this worship service your own. Your intention is what is important.
Call to Worship/Invocation
When the weight of responsibility weighs heavily on our shoulders; When we struggle to understand what we should do next; When we gaze upon the immensity of tasks ahead; Most Holy God, address our tossed and weary souls reminding us of Your most wonderfully mysterious ways. We are not alone. You always go before us making the way where there has been no way. Let us pause to rest and trust in You. Amen.
Light the Christ Candle
Song for Welcoming the Presence of God
Hymn: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” T.O.Chisholm/W.M.Runyan (#86, Chalice) Video: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness/Beginning to End” performed by One Sonic Society, Mike Weaver, published by Essential Worship (used with permission). YouTube: https://youtu.be/dxy-HSy01_w
Unburden and Gather Hope
Naming Our New Reality
Whether you are alone or with others, let this be a time of private reflection. How is it with you today? Listen to your body. Is there a place in your body which is especially noticeable today? A part of the body which is feeling very good or is hurting? An area of the body at rest or anxious. Listen to your physical self and consider the previous week. What might be forgotten if you don’t hold that memory today? Through it all God was there and is here now, listening. Offer to God anything that asks to be shared – anything. God has heard it all many times before, and yet, God eager awaits hearing directly from us.
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 is like an antsy toddler. 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. Let’s be kind to ourselves. When you’re ready to move on take a moment to thank God saying, “Amen.”
Acts of Unburdening and Affirming
Place pebbles or small items at the base of the Christ Candle thinking or speaking whatever you wish to offer to God for release or gratitude. These offerings need not be named. The soul knows what to give to God and God knows what to receive.
Take a moment and let go of everything you are carrying. (Take a deep breath.)
God is here. God has always been here. God will keep the world spinning on its axis. God will ensure night will fall and morning will break. God has designed plants to grow and the heavens to provide rain. God has called you into community and God’s Big Love will eternally weave you into meaningful relationship. God dwells in all that is and invites all that is into fullness of being. (Take a deep breath.)
There is nothing, nothing, you must do right now but rest in God’s grace. May we trust what we cannot understand. Amen.
Scripture Reading: Mark 4:26-29 “The Parable of the Growing Seed”
Jesus also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
May God add a blessing to the reading and reflecting upon God’s Holy Word. Amen.
Reflections Upon “God’s Mysterious Ways”
(This content is created for private reflection. If your pastor has prepared a written or recorded message you may use it instead of this content.)
Sermon Video: “Mysterious God” Reminders that God’s Doing the Heavy Lifting (not the same as content below) YouTube: https://youtu.be/x3amV96jf1k
Jesus often told “kingdom of God” stories planting seeds of knowing about the nature of God. This subset of Jesus’ parables features clear metaphors about who God is, how God operates, and what God desires.
The fourth chapter of Mark’s Gospel opens with Jesus teaching a large crowd on a shoreline. The group is so big that Jesus has gotten into a boat to speak to them from the sea. Jesus tells the crowd “The Parable of the Sower” (Mark 4:1-9). Later on, when Jesus is alone with his disciples, Jesus unpacks the public teaching (Mark 4:10-34). And, as Jesus often did, he told more stories, including the kingdom of God story “The Parable of the Growing Seed.” Literally, it is a story about a grain farmer and the natural cycle of agriculture – planting seeds, sprouts breaking forth and growing, plants becoming tall stalks, seed-heads appearing, ripening, and being harvested. Jesus says that the farmer who planted the seed doesn’t know how the growth happened. The crop even grows without the farmer’s help while he sleeps.
Jesus is teaching the disciples that it is not the human worker which causes growth. God is the prime force animating life. The farmer may work with seed, soil, sun, and water to encourage plants to grow, but it is God who is critical to the presence, existence, maturation, and fulfilment of living things.
Theologian Paul Tillich coined a unique metaphor for God calling God “The Ground of All Being.” Tillich was attempting to move past anthropomorphic symbolling of God – God as a super form of us human beings. Tillich reframes God as “All Being” not “a being.” The literal translation of God’s Holy Name in Hebrew “יהוה” can be translated as “I am who I am that is.” This huge concept of God informs Tillich’s thought and is a good underpinning for understanding God in this parable.
Though private teachings Jesus describes, through metaphor, that it is God who creates the harvest, not the farmer/us. We do not create the kingdom of God, Basileia tou Theou “βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ” (Greek) rather we are invited to work with God, the Ultimate Reality, to assist in manifesting God’s Dream. This work will be mysterious – we will never know everything God is doing.
Yet, we human beings are curious and like to do things. We like to create things and take pride in our efforts. We do a lot of amazing things from making breakfast to fighting wildfires, from designing internet technology to mining the essential minerals needed for computers and processors. We make languages and cultures, create rituals and theologies. We do a lot, but we don’t do this alone. God is infinitely active. There is a huge realm of mysterious divine reality which we cannot perceive.
Currently, we are living with a great deal of uncertainty. Our lives have been dramatically changed by a virus we cannot see with the unaided human eye. This microorganism, smaller than the smallest bacteria, is a novel (new) coronavirus. And this very tiny thing, COVID 19, is doing huge things to human beings wherever we dwell. It enters our bodies through breath and takes away our ability to breathe.
This invisible thing has also made many ugly truths visible. It is US, we human beings, who have created systems and practices which cause far more suffering and death through our institutional endorsement of racism, environmental damage, and unfair distribution of basic needs – food, shelter, health, and education. We have supported the enrichment of the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the poor and less powerful.
As we live amid a great deal of mystery let us keep in mind that God – the Ultimate Reality, the Being that is Being – is actively balancing life on earth aligned with spiritual realities throughout eternity. Let us pause to be grateful for what we don’t know, but can trust: God is with us and for us doing what is essential for life and life abundant.
Suggestion: “God Moves in Mysterious Ways” lyrics by William Crowper (1731-1800); Arrangement: Crossroads Music © 2020. Performed by Crossroads Music (used without permission). YouTube: https://youtu.be/51Bx1UwLc0U
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. If your prayers don’t fit words today, use your body to give your prayers to God through movement or sound, dance, tears, or silence. If your community shares prayer requests please include them as you continue your prayers of petition.
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
Today the only offering God desires from you is acknowledgement of Divine Mystery. Let us give thanks for all we do not know that God is doing, is being, is calling into being. Let us rest in profound gratitude.(see donation footnote)
We Continue in Hope
Song of Hope
Suggestion: “In the Bulb There is a Flower” – N Sleeth, PROMISE (#638 Chalice) Video: Posted by Frederic Chopin (used without permission). YouTube: https://youtu.be/v_2W2cUUfYU
We know not how – but God is always doing what is essential. Let us lean into the transforming grace of Divine Mystery. Let us gather hope and strength from what is unknowable, yet what has been promised to us through Jesus Christ. Let us proceed in peace, grateful for God’s mysterious ways. 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 20, 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 encourages trust in God’s essential goodness. 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”