content prepared by Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber, (c) 2020
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) and prepare music.
- Ensure an uninterrupted place to worship.
- Decorate your space to welcome God’s presence.
Time for Children of All Ages
Out of the Bag “Tied to the Mast” Odysseus shows us how to be strong when we’re tempted
Please adapt to make this worship service your own. Your intention is what is important.
Call to Worship
In the turning that bends too quickly, too sharply, God invites us to make this wondrous journey.
In the weight of chains we’ve come to befriend, God lures us into an unimaginable freedom.
In the very moments when it seems most impossible, God calls our hearts to blossom with love.
This is the God we have gathered to worship. Amen.
Light the Christ Candle
Song for Welcoming the Presence of God
“Be Thou My Vision” https://youtu.be/rMQFzqUb5OM (Chalice #595) Traditional Irish song, lyrics: M E Bryne, SLANE; Performed by Selah (P) Curb Records; video: Epic Goblin
We Unburden and Gather Hope
Naming Our Reality
Whether you are alone or with others, let this be a time of private reflection. Take a few moments to reflect on the past week. How are you doing? What would you like to tell God? Share the easy moments, the times of challenge, and the situations that confound. If words don’t flow, speak to God with a smile or tears, heartache or swelling of gratitude. God is with you however you are.
Acts of Unburdening and Affirming
It can be helpful to physically acknowledge the burdens and weights we carry. Place pebbles or small items at the base of the Christ Candle as you offering God released concerns. If you do not have words, do not be concerned. The soul knows what to give to God and God knows what to receive. Whatever you give, however you give it, Christ will receive your prayerful offerings.
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. Thoughts and feelings will occur; this is natural. Return focus by chanting a name for God or Christ – such as “Friend, Friend, Friend Jesus” or paying attention to your breath. Rest in the ultimate reality of God’s lovingkindness. When you’re ready to release this practice, take a deep breath, let it out, thank God, and say, “Amen.”
Isn’t it lovely that God’s grace is not dependent upon us? Grace is not God’s reward given to us for our better moments, it is the space God perpetually holds open for us no matter what we have or haven’t done. God’s grace is a refuge, a sanctuary.
No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, God’s grace is offered to you with full welcome. Praise God!
Scripture Reading: Galatians 5:13-15 (TNT&P)
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence. But through love serve one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbors as yourself.”’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
May God add a blessing to the reading and reflecting upon God’s Holy Word. Amen.
Reflection “God’s Way”
This week a politician reflecting upon the local race he just lost, said: “The election was not an engine. It was a thermometer.” (wh) Running as an agent of change, he discovered that a large percentage of voters were content with the status quo. While he and other change-makers had hoped to be an engine of change, they discovered this election was a thermometer reflecting the current values of the local community.
On election eve a commentator noted, “Moral victory and political victory are not the same.” (vj) We should keep that in mind. This awareness would have resonated with the original followers of Jesus of Nazareth. There was no such thing as democracy in ancient Israel. In Jesus’ time political victories were the work of empires and corrupt colluders. Though they hoped God’s justice would be expressed through kings and high priests, such hopes were far-fetched. Into that reality, Jesus taught individual commitment to practice the ways of God and in so doing dwell in the liberation of a spiritual freedom while actually being severely restricted legally and socially.
The earliest followers of Jesus were drawn to the Gospel proclamation of a God who works in this world amid failed human moral systems. No wonder Christ’s call to divine freedom has long drawn disenfranchised persons? A God who “makes a way out of no way” still speaks to anyone living in horrible human conditions.
Today’s scripture reading is from an early letter written by St Paul the great missioner. Traveling throughout the Roman Empire, Paul was our best church-starter. Converted on the road to Damascus, blinded by the light of the Risen Christ, he was reborn an insightful evangelist who freely offered the Gospel to all people. However, fellow Jews believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. To follow Jesus one had to become Jewish. And the Galatians were not Jewish.
There is scholarly debate about which communities of Galatians Paul was writing to and when he wrote to them. We do know they were an established ethnic group, descendants of Celtic people who had migrated to Asia Minor and settled in what is today Turkey. We don’t know if Paul had founded these faith communities or if he was stepping in as a spiritual advisor. What we do know from the Letter to the Galatians is that these non-Jewish followers of Jesus were in conflict about how to be true followers of the Messiah Jesus.
Paul mentions a false Gospel – one that required they observe Jewish religious practices to become part of the Jesus movement. At that point in time, Christianity wasn’t a unique religion separate from Judaism. Followers of the Messiah Jesus arose from the existing Jewish community.
St Paul’s understanding of God’s Love manifest in the Messiah Jesus was a very inclusive vision. He believed that anyone who wished to follow Jesus was welcome. Not all Jewish followers of Jesus agreed. Conflict flared. Those poor Galatians were in the middle of a messy fight.
Two thousand years later it is impossible to imagine Christianity without the conversion of peoples from diverse religions. I suspect that most people reading this are not of Jewish decadency. Most of us, and our ancestors, received Jesus of Nazareth as Christ while rooted to another religion. In hindsight, it’s easy to see that St Paul represented God’s will by freely offering Jesus Christ to everyone. However, in the earliest days of the Church, this was not so. Let us be humbled and remember this.
With this history in mind, let us turn to current religious conflicts playing out in national and global politics. Passions are high. All parties vie as authorities of true righteousness. Re-read today’s scripture, words of advice from St Paul to non-Jewish followers of Jesus. May they speak to us:
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence. But through love serve one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbors as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”
God is still speaking. God speaks through St Paul quoting Jesus Christ. We are called to freedom to love and serve each other. To love others as we wish to be loved. This is the way of Christ’s true Living Church. This is the moral universe we truly wish to dwell within. May we strive to live into the gift of this holy freedom. Amen. Soli Deo Gloria. (Glory to God Alone)
“The Lord Will Make A Way Somehow” https://youtu.be/WdQ6wNP2ZZE Written by Bishop Hezekiah Walker; performed by Al Green and the Bobby Jones Gospel Nashville Super Choir.
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 carry – 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. Now is also the time to include prayer request from your community.
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 is a very vulnerable time for our nation. Let us offer a personal commitment to try and love each other, especially with those whom we are in conflict. Let us, also, offer our gifts and abilities to God for God’s purposes. God knows we are hurting and is making a way forward, if we will offer ourselves to be servants. Thank You, generous God! (see donation footnote)
We Continue in Hope
Song of Hope
“We’ve Come This Far by Faith” https://youtu.be/HmmDJiEmltg Written by Albert Goodson; Performed by Oakwood University Church.
We are called to Freedom! We are called to Love! We are called into a mysterious future following the God who makes a way out of no way. Amen.
(the service is concluded)
Online Chalice Hymnal: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/CH1995
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 Resources: All content prepared and written by Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber unless attributed to another source.
(wh) Wayne Hsuing, Facebook post, 11/4/2020.
(vj) Van Jones, CNN commentator, 11/3/2020.
(tph) The Pilgrim Hymnal, revised edition, 1935. © 1931, Sidney A Weston.
(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.
(TNT&P) The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version, © 1995 Oxford University Press.
(Chalice) The Chalice Hymnal and (New Century) The New Century Hymnal, among other worship publications, have suspended copyright restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Online Publishing Date: November 5, 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 supporting disaster relief giving to One Great Hour of Sharing through your church, our church, or directly: http://www.ucc.org/oghs. 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!
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