“First Things First” • Isaiah 40:28-31 • Preparing for The Year of the Ox with Saints Isadore and Maria • Worship Service for In-Home or Remote Group Use

artwork: icon of San Ysidro y Maria, Fr. Robert Lentz, ©1992. image from Fine Art America’s website

worship format and original content: Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber (c) 2021

Worship Note

As the Living God guides us through these pandemic-impacted times, as social justice reforms arise, we freely offer this worship content for you to adapt for your needs.

Lunar New Year

Many cultures celebrate a Lunar New Year, including Chinese-Americans. The Year of the Ox begins on February 12, 2021 and concludes on January 31, 2022. (see videos in Worship Notes below)

Time for Children of All Ages

Out of the Bag: “Ysidro and Maria” Working hard – being true to God and God’s Dream for Us

Worship Service

We Gather

Call to Worship

From our chores and duties,

From our play and entertainment,

From our weekend release from work-a-day doings…

Let us set it all down and come worship God!

As we tend and care for our households,

As we work hard to get things done,

As we plow through each day’s daily activities…

Let us be sure to spend time with God!

May we enter this New Year like the Ox

with diligence, patience, and humility,

like saints Isadore and Maria,

with prayer and charity, putting first things first…

Let us Praise God! Amen.

Light the Christ Candle

Song: “Praise to The Lord” Words: J Neander, C Winkworth (trans); Tune: Lobe den Herren; Performed by: Emu Music, arrangement © 2018 Alanna Glover, CCLI Song Number 7125857. (Chalice #25)

We Rest in God’s Grace

Releasing and Receiving

How is it with your soul? Check in with God. Turn toward God in honesty, however is best for you today. Release what is no longer yours to carry. Hand it over to God. Receive what God is bringing to you in this precious moment, including sweet memories and new awareness’s. When you are ready to move on, say “Amen,” with gratitude in your heart.

Silent Prayer

Shift into simply being 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)

Be. (pause)

Rest in God’s loving presence for as long as you wish. When you’re ready to move on, take a deep breath, let it out, thank God, and say, “Amen.”

God’s Grace 

Isadore and Maria were poor, Spanish share-croppers. Overcoming the death of their young son opened their hearts to the needs of others. Their faithfulness has long inspired others – they are “saints” – Christian role models. Like the Ox of the Chinese zodiac, Maria and Isadore experienced tragedy and hardship but kept on going. Isadore began every day with lengthy prayers. Some say God rewarded his faithfulness by sending angels to guide the oxen plowing his fields while he was absent.

When we put God first, unnoticed grace may flow. Ease appears where once there was hardship. God helps us. May we attend what is first from God’s perspective trusting that unearned blessings will flow somewhere.

We Listen

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 40:28-31 (RNSV)

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary; God’s understanding is unsearchable.

God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

May God add a blessing to the reading and reflecting upon God’s Holy Word. Amen.

Quote from Robert Ellsberg, contemporary author of All Saints:

Writing about Saint Isadore – “His kindness extended to animals. One winter day he was so moved by the sorrowful noise of some hungry birds that he opened the sack of corn he was carrying and poured out half its contents. Though witnesses scoffed at this prodigality, later, at the mill, the bag was found miraculously to be full.” (re)

Spiritual Practice: “Holy Stories”

Holy stories are beloved tales or myths we tell, from generation to generation, to teach key moral values and principles. All peoples have such teaching stories. We may call these stories “tales” or “myths” – but they are not untrue. They carry deep truths using symbols, metaphors, and sometimes a little supernatural magic to illustrate big wisdom.

Jesus, himself, was a great storyteller. He often told a special kind of holy story – “a parable.” Like other teaching narratives, the characters or activities in the parable stories are symbolic and not to be taken literally. Remember the story of the farmer sowing seeds on different types of soil? Jesus wasn’t teaching farming methods. He was teaching his disciples that their efforts to spread the Gospel would not always be productive; to be patient.

We also have stories about Jesus in the Bible, most specifically the four Gospels. All recount holy stories about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection – but they aren’t the same. Each version differently illuminates the meaning of Jesus as Christ. Holy stories always serve a bigger purpose than our quick reflections might suggest.

Christian holy stories arose and continue to rise. Stories about two 12th century poor Spanish farmers, Saint Isadore and Saint Maria, are cherished among campesinos around the world. They are holy stories that also speak to non-farmers. Holy stories are always about our common human condition and meant to uplift and empower anyone in need of guidance.

What holy stories are dear to you? Maybe you’ve set aside some that used to be important? Maybe, you’re open to new teaching tales? Holy stories need not be Christian in origin to inspire a righteous life. One of these stories is the adventure of the Ox and his efforts to please the Jade Emperor and repair his mistakes.

May we ask God to open our minds to the larger truths in our holy stories. May we be inspired to living well — bringing glory to God, wellbeing to our neighbors, and delight to our own precious souls. Amen. Soli Deo Gloria. (Glory to God Alone)

Recorded Sermon: “Putting God First” Relying upon God’s promises of spiritual prosperity this Year of the Ox

Song: “Give Me Jesus” African-American Spiritual adapted and performed by Fernando Ortega. (P) 1999 Metro One

We Pray

Prayers of the People, The Lord’s Prayer

We Give Thanks


Saint Isadore put prayer first – whether he was at home, in the chapel, or in the fields working. Isadore and his wife Maria regularly offered God attention, devotion, and sincere relationship. From such a foundation grew compassion for all beings and a deep-seated sense of inner well-being – a state of mature contentment. Let us give thanks for our sister and brother in faith. May they inspire us to put first things first, too.  Amen. (also see donation footnote)

We Continue in Hope

Special Music: “On Eagles’ Wings” Written by M Jonas ©1979; Performed by Ellen and Michael Haygood


As the Year of the Ox approaches, as we assemble our New Year’s hopes and dreams, goals and agendas, let us remember to put God first. Let us be like the Ox, and farmers Maria and Isadore, responding with acts of humility. Let us dedicate our labors to the well-being of all-beings – the embodiment of God’s Dream.

May God bless the New Year! Peace and Well-Being upon all beings! Amen.

(the service is concluded)

Worship Resources:

All content prepared and written by Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber, unless attributed to another source.

(re) Robert Ellsberg, All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses For Our Time. ©1997.

“2021 Story of the Ox” Animated, short video https://youtu.be/QJm0pky7sjo

“The Myth Behind the Chinese Zodiac” Animated, short video https://youtu.be/may2s9j4RLk

“St. Isidore the Farmer” Short video about St. Isidore the Farmer, a 12th century Spanish laborer, and his wife St. Maria who were devoted to God. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDfooT7ahrs

Support Chinatowns: The Northern California-Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ’s PAAM (Pacific Islander, Asian American Ministries) recognizes that Asian-American businesses are reeling from a double economic impact – the pandemic and anti-Asian xenophobia. Please support your local “mom and pop” Chinese and other AAPI-owned restaurants. The ox is a symbol of hard work that produces prosperity. Lets’ help make 2021 Year of the Ox prosperous for our Asian-American families and neighbors. Thank you! (see #SaveChineseRestaurants).

Online Chalice Hymnal: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/CH1995

Online New Century Hymnal: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/NCH1995

Note: (Chalice) The Chalice Hymnal and (New Century) The New Century Hymnal, among other worship publications, suspended copyright restrictions early during the coronavirus pandemic. Permission may shift as conditions change. Please observe ethical use of resources and follow your platforms’ publishing requirements.

Online Image: artwork: icon of San Ysidro y Maria, Fr. Robert Lentz, ©1992

Online Publishing Date: February 2, 2021.

Permission: Permission is not granted to share or distribute this resource beyond your community without additional permission from the author. Please observe ethical use of resources and follow your platforms publishing requirements for all created content.

Donation for Use of Content: Due to the current coronavirus pandemic this content is offered free. 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: www.inthebiglove.com; Facebook: “Living Liturgies”; YouTube: “Kathryn Schreiber”

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