FRAME MEMORIAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
September 10, 2006 Season of Creation – Rivers Sunday 9:30 a.m.
GATHERING AROUND THE WORD
PRELUDE Cornet Voluntary in G HENRY HERON
*CALL TO WORSHIP
We invite the rivers to worship with us:
the Wisconsin, the Mississippi, the Nile, the Jordan and all the rivers that flow to the sea.
We invite the country creeks to sing:
perch, sunfish, and flashing bass, trout streams and gurgling springs.
We invite the fauna to praise God with us:
loon, heron, and mallard duck, dragonflies, otters and sleepy tortoises.
We join with the waters in praising God:
waterfalls singing upstream and ripples dancing at the river mouth.
We celebrate the song of the river!
Sing, river, sing!
*HYMN Song of Waters insert
We remember the rivers God created in Eden and across our planet, rivers that are the lifeblood of Earth and the soul of all that lives. We remember the streams of our past, the pools and ponds where we played and felt the soft caress of water, the touch of life on our skin,
and the feeling of celebration as we splashed and played.
*PRAYER OF CONFESSION:
We remember the rivers where we have sailed and played.
O God, we thank you for the splendors of creation and the gift of rivers.
We remember and confess how we have poisoned and polluted the rivers in our garden planet.
Christ, crucified on a tree, hear our cry.
We regret that we have forgotten Earth and treated this garden planet as a beast to be tamed and as a place to be ruled.
Christ, the hope of all creation, we lament our failings.
*WORDS OF ASSURANCE
Christ, baptized in the Jordan, hears our confession, forgives our sins against the river, and calls us now to open our ears and our hearts to revive rather than to desecrate the rivers pulsing through our planet.
Christ, teach us to love Earth as our home and all living creatures as our kin. Help us to return home to Earth.
*RESPONSE (Hymn No. 455, verse 1)
All Creatures of our God and King, Lift up your voice and with us sing, Alleluia! Alleluia! Thous burning sun with golden beam, thou silver moon with softer gleam, Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The peace of Christ be with you all. And also with you.
(You may share Christ’s peace by saying “Peace be with you,” and/or with a handshake or hug.)
MOMENT WITH CHILDREN AND THE YOUNG AT HEART
PROCLAIMING THE WORD
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
HEBREW SCRIPTURE LESSON Jeremiah 2:9-13
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
ANTHEM Come to the Water
O let all who thirst, let them come to the water. And let all who have nothing, let them come to the Lord: without money, without price. Why should you pay the price, except for the Lord?
GOSPEL LESSON John 7:37-39
LESSON FROM THE PSALMS Psalm 46
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
SERMON Going with the Flow Rev. Zencka
RESPONDING TO GOD’S WORD
*HYMN My Life Flows On insert
SACRAMENT OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
This is not my house.
This is God’s house.
I cannot tell God who is welcome and who is not.
This is not my table.
I do not sit at the head as host.
It is the table of Christ. He is Host.
I cannot tell the Host who can sit here and who cannot.
This is not my food on this sacred table.
I did not prepare it. It is not my blood, my body.
It is the very life of the Christ laid out here.
I cannot tell Him, this one who constantly ate with sinners, who is worthy to partake of it and who is not.
The doors of God’s House are open to all who need shelter, who crave the fellowship and friendship of God, and even to those who hate God or cannot bring themselves to trust that God exists or could care for them. Anyone, everyone is welcome as honored guests in God’s house.
This table of Christ is long and it has many chairs.
There is always room for one more, for those craving the fellowship of the sacred table, a place to belong, to be somebody to Somebody.
Anyone, everyone has a place at the table of Christ.
This food, simple yet divine, is bountiful, abundant, ample for all, especially those who are hungry and thirsty for what mere bread and drink cannot supply.
Anyone, everyone has a plate and a portion served by the very hand of the Christ. No one is sent away hungry or thirsty here.
Lord, who am I that you swing open your door and embrace me?
Who am I that you escort me to your table and pull out a chair for me?
Who am I that you would provide such wondrous and costly food?
How can I but humbly bow my head at such grace?
How can we but embrace, like you, all your guests, all who, like me, are unworthy of your house, unfit for your table and food, yet are welcomed, seated and fed anyway?
Strengthen us and nourish us in this meal, that we may live in our own lives the hospitality of the One who taught us to pray, saying:
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 sins, as we forgive those who sin against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
HYMN during Communion In the Singing Insert
OFFERING OF OUR GIFTS AND OUR LIVES
OFFERTORY Pastorale D. SCARLATTI
RESPONSE (Hymn #455, verse 6)
All creatures, your Creator bless, and worship God in humbleness. O sing ye! Alleluia! Praise ye Creator, praise the Son, and praise the Spirit, Three in One! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
SHARING OF CELEBRATIONS AND CONCERNS
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE AND PRAYER TO THE CREATOR
Our Creator and Parent, who is as far as the stars and as near as our breath, You are holy. Let all creation worship you and live in harmony with you and each other. Give us today what we need; and forgive us for withdrawing from mutuality with You, as we forgive those who have withdrawn from mutuality with us; let us find our happiness in You. For all that matters is in You, and through You, and of You and for You, forever. Amen.
BEARING THE WORD INTO THE WORLD
*HYMN Wade in the Water insert
Men in choir and congregation sing “Leader” part (call)
Everyone sing refrain and “all” (response) portions of hymn.
*CHORAL RESPONSE Song of Earth
Hail the Earth that first appeared. Alleluia! When a word from God was heard. Alleluia! Let the Earth arise and be. Alleluia! Filled with living mystery. Alleluia!
Hail the planet blue and green. Alleluia! Where the face of God is seen. Alleluia! Glory filling all the Earth. Alleluia! Celebrating every birth. Alleluia!
*Please stand, as able
OUR LITURGY THIS MORNING comes from Dr. Norman Habel and Rev. Bass Mitchell.
Going With the Flow
September 10, 2006
Rev. Susan Gilbert Zencka
Frame Memorial Presbyterian Church
Texts: Jeremiah 2:9-13; John 7:37-39; Psalm 46
Looking out my study window into the woods, I can see the beginnings of changing colors on a couple of trees. And I am reminded, again, that change is the only constant in life. It seems like just yesterday I was marveling at these branches as they leafed out and the woods filled in the empty spaces with green. And now already, there is just the faintest hint of changes to come as I look at the leaves.
At the end of the twentieth century, for the first time ever in human history, more people lived in or near cities than not. This is a shift of major importance in many ways. Increasing numbers of people, now more than half of the world’s population, at least, spend more time in human-created environments than in God-created environments. In America these days, more people walk in the malls than in the mountains. What happens to our senses, and our ability to relate to nature, when we spend more time in built environments than in nature?
When Robert Kennedy Jr. was here this summer, he spoke of the importance of wildness to America’s soul. A scholar whom Kennedy called the greatest American historian, Frederick Jackson Turner, who was born in Portage, WI 145 years ago, developed an understanding of American history which became known as the Frontier Theory. In a nutshell, this theory concluded that the westward expansion of the United States was not only responsible for the enlargement of our national boundaries, but also for the enlargement of our national character. He argued that the traits which had developed in pushing the frontier back, traits such as egalitarianism, individualism, nationalism and mobility, had become the heart of who America was. Interestingly enough, he foresaw a time when the frontier would be gone, and Americans would face the challenge of transitioning from understanding ourselves as a people who with endless boundaries, to living in a closed-space world, with limitation as the dominant attribute. He wondered how well we’d negotiate that transition.
I would say that in the midst of that transition, we’re in danger not only of losing our national character, but our human soul. We’re in danger of losing our sense of identity as creatures in the kingdom of God – we’re forgetting that we are created by God, and instead, we focus on our own achievements. In the old days, they’d call it idolatry. As we have become an increasingly urban world, we’ve been losing touch with the God-made world, and substituting for it an environment that we have made for ourselves. And as we’re losing touch with wilderness, we are losing touch with our souls, and the soul of God as well.
Four-plus years ago, I was preparing to walk a marathon in Dublin, and being in roughly the same physical condition I am in now, I was being pretty rigorous about training – I knew I had to be faithful in my workouts to be able to do the marathon. So even when I went to Washington for a conference, I made sure to take my walks in the morning. I was staying a couple of blocks from the Potomac River, and so I’d get up, walk past the Reagan Airport, and walk a couple of miles along the river and back along with morning commuters. Amazingly enough, I’d walk right past the airport, around the end of a runway, and then as I walked along the river, next to an expressway, even with all the noise of jets, autos and the occasional bike bell, I could still hear the waves of the Potomac lapping up on shore.
It was such a centering time of day for me – all those signs of technological power and political power as I saw the Capitol dome across the river, and yet, hearing that gentle lapping of the river kept me aware of God’s presence, God’s activity in the world, God’s order in creation, God’s care for me and call to me, in the midst of all our human busyness and self-importance.
We’re in danger of losing that centeredness, and we’re in danger of losing God’s Word – it is full of images from Creation, and as we move our lives from immediacy with God’s Creation into being surrounded by our own creation, we are left with primarily romanticized images of Nature. And God’s Word loses its power when the images no longer have living meaning to us. (I was going to say, when the images are no longer concrete…but the irony of that was too apt.)
Today, between the Scripture choices that Chris and I read, and that the choir sang, and that the bulletin cover portrays, we have 3 selections from various prophets, a psalm and Jesus, all making use of the imagery of a river to tell us about God’s work in the world. And we live on a river, so perhaps these images are alive for us, but even for us – how many of us, living as close as we do to the Wisconsin and Plover Rivers, how many of us get close enough in a given week to hear the lapping of the water on the shore? When our primary contact with rivers is pictures of rivers, it’s easy to forget that the distinctive characteristic of a river is its flow – it’s water that moves, or as the Bible calls it, living water. That’s what living water means – water that moves.
So the prophet Jeremiah, whose work Chris read to us, is criticizing the people of Israel who, he says, have given up the living, moving, flowing fresh water of God for stale water in a cracked cistern. He’s saying something like: you’ve given up fresh, clean, bubbling spring water for water in a rusty water tank. And he’s criticizing religious practice, saying that the people of Israel have given up a lively, dynamic relationship with the living God for rituals and religious practices that are all form and no substance.
The text from Isaiah 55 that the choir sang spoke of coming to the water, being refreshed by the water, being enlivened by the water. This prophet was alluding to the refreshing, life-giving dimension of water, and contrasting the free-flowing water with that which only comes as the result of hard work. It was a reminder to people that God’s blessings flow from God freely, without human effort, only as the result of God’s work and God’s generosity.
In the Gospel, Jesus draws a parallel between the Spirit, guiding people in the moment by moment, dynamic experience of God alive in their midst. This would have made sense to the folks at the time – painting that visual image of fresh water newly arising every moment.
In the Psalm, the people are reminded that even in the midst of life’s changes, and the volatility of nature and human nature, God’s presence and care is a constant. It just keeps coming, in much the same way that the river’s waters continued to provide for people in a city on its banks.
Amos, whose words are quoted on our bulletin cover [let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream…Amos 5:24] makes a slightly different point – that while God is a God of movement and dynamism, that movement tends toward justice. That we are sometimes called to be agents of the change toward which God is calling us.
When we talk in our culture about going with the flow, we tend to mean a kind of passive, que sera sera approach to life. I’m reminded, however, of the greeting card I bought once with a wise man on the front who was saying: “only dead fish go with the flow”. We are called to a dynamic life in relation with this dynamic God – we may be called to change, or to be agents of change. If you’ve ever gone canoeing or tubing in rapids, you know that going with the flow can mean allowing yourself to become part of a bubbling, swirling energy that moves us more quickly than we could move ourselves.
When our church was founded in Stevens Point over 140 years ago, folks were more aware than we are now of living in a river community. In many ways, the river was the center of life – it provides water, water animals, birds and fish, a waterway that was critical to commerce. And living then, we would be more aware of the dynamism and constant change of God’s creation – so perhaps we would more readily understand that God calls us to a lively relationship in which we are present to God with the immediacy and dependence with which our ancestors were present to nature.
When I was in seminary, one classmate of mine, a woman from a remote village in South America remembered when the missionaries had brought Bibles to her community, and described her memory of their excitement at reading these stories of God and God’s people, stories, she said, that affirmed their own experiences of God. I was fascinated to hear that, as people in our culture more often say that they don’t feel a connection to the Bible and its people. Perhaps living closer to God’s creation, they were able to sense God’s work woven through their environment and their lives, and in the threads, warp and woof that together weave the fabric of the Biblical narrative as well.
Like the people of Jeremiah’s time who had exchanged living water for cracked cisterns – we have increasingly exchanged the liveliness and immediacy of life in close contact with nature for the flatness of a pretty picture, and so our faith lacks the vigor and dynamism of the real thing. As we are increasingly distant from nature, we not only lose contact with nature, but with ourselves, with God, and with the reality of the web of relationships that sustains us. When our closest contact with nature is our screensaver, when people are increasingly out of touch with God’s creation – as we might expect, there is an increasing spiritual hunger and sense of spiritual homelessness. When Jesus was baptized in a river, instead of with a drop or two of water from a bowl, he understood joining a flow that was greater than himself. So we are called to heal the earth not only for the future but for our own humanity. And let’s go to the river, to play, to walk, to listen, to pray, to find God, and to recover our selves. Amen.