Next week – Music Sunday
Call to Worship LEADER: If I look at myself I am nothing.
PEOPLE: But if I look at us all I am hopeful.
LEADER: For I see the unity of love among all my fellow Christians.
PEOPLE: In this unity lies our salvation.
-Julian of Norwich
*Hymn of Praise # 466 God of Grace and God of Glory
Invocation (the Lord’s Prayer) O God, our Father, we stand in awe of the marvelous intricacy, the amazing harmony, the astounding wonders within your creation. Keep us ever mindful that we too are intertwined, by your providence, within the fascinating fabric of the ecosystem. Help us to remember, always, your strength in all creation to achieve harmony through allegiance to the lordship of Jesus…
Wanda Gilbert – Costa Rica
Our Offering to God Whatever we bring in faith is acceptable to God. Let us join in our offering now.
Prayer of Dedication We pray, O God, that as you receive what we have given, you open our hearts to see your possibilities for the expansion of kindness within our lives.
*Hymn of Prayer # 225 Standing on the Promises
Pastoral Prayer We lift our voices in prayers of praise, great God, for you have lifted us to new life in Jesus Christ, and your blessings come in generous measure.
Even as with our bodies, so also with our souls, Redeemer, Christ: Sunshine and storm, mist and greyness eddy round our inner lives. But as we trace the pattern, looking back, we know that both darkness and light have been from you for our own soul's health. -excerpt from George F. MacLeod, The Whole Earth Shall Cry Glory (Isle of Iona: Wild Goose Publications, 1985),13. Today we thank you for the privilege of worship and service in this congregation… the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ for us….food and drink to share in the Lord’s name…. our calling to discipleship…. We hold up before you human needs, God of compassion, for your have come to us in Jesus Christ and shared our life so we may share his resurrection. Because of the power in his name we pray for the healing of those who are sick…. The comfort of the dying…. The renewal of those who despair… The Spirit’s power in the church
*Hymn of Praise # 453 Faith is the Victory
Scripture Reading Ephesians 6:10-20
Message Christian MDRs
How to keep each individual person in church in prime spiritual shape.
As a communal event, worship and praise are the mainstay of a church's health and vigor. This week the scrippture focuses on the protective armaments that shield and strengthen every individual believer, as a community of faith draws its vitality from the health of each and every soul present.
Today when we read about the "armor of God" we find it hard to envision all those ancient means of military protection, much less actually climbing into all that stuff ourselves. But it was not the author's intention to make God's protective nature appear foreign or exotic to the community of faith. The soldier's apparel he describes was something familiar and easily understandable to his audience.//
Perhaps if we translated this illustration into something more familiar and easily comprehendible today, we too could sense the security and power the "whole armor of God" offers to each and every believer.
For years we have been taught about our body's "minimum daily requirements." Remember the "four food groups?" Dieticians drilled into us how many servings of meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables, bread and grains we should consume every day, that pyramid now has changed. After several decades what we believed to be our "minimum daily requirements" have turned out to be far more minimal and not even daily. Depending on who we listen to, we are informed we no longer need all that meat, or all that milk. Fat is out; fiber is in. The pasta lovers of the world can rejoice, as the daily demand for carbohydrates climbs and proteins plummets, or carbs are out and proteins are in, milk products will help you loose weight. Even if we are no longer sure what exactly our "minimum daily requirements" should be, we do recognize that our bodies need certain things everyday to maintain health and strength.
Just as we all have physical "minimum daily requirements," so our own spiritual body must be constantly nourished with a carefully balanced diet of prayer and praise, worship and work. For too long our spiritual health has been ignored or taken for granted, as though it were an aspect of our lives that would simply take care of itself. Not true. Unlike the still new and burgeoning field of nutritional science, Christians have a long tradition of those elements necessary to meet our spiritual MDRs. The prophets, the saints and Jesus himself demonstrated how a vital life of faith is dependent on the presence of certain spiritual One-A-Days.
MDR#1. Communal Rituals -- Christians are not found in singles. Christians grow like grapes -- in clusters. Participating in a community of faith is not an elective. Daily communal rituals must be a part of any healthy spiritual regime. Whether family devotions, prayer breakfasts, study circles, Bible studies, or Just for Kids we need each other to practice love, keep the faith and have hope.
MDR#2. Spiritual Exercises -- Each person must flex his or her spiritual muscles on a daily basis if he or she is to keep them fit and flexible. Do you make room in your morning or evening schedule for a time of prayer and devotions? Do you regularly sing out to the Lord - even if it's in the shower or in the car? Our faith must find words, and the words of praise and adoration that come out in song and prayer should be a part of our daily spiritual regime. Prayer is especially crucial to spiritual health. It keeps us in close personal contact with the One whose love draws us together in the first place. Prayer is not just an excuse for giving God a long list of requests. ("I'm gonna say my prayers now," a six-year-old yelled from up in his bedroom. "Anyone want anything?") Prayer is the act of opening our spirit to a two-way street of communication. Like breathing, prayer involves both exhaling our needs, our love, our praise, and inhaling God's peace and power and presence. Think of prayer as a kind of spiritual aerobics, exercise that forces your spirit to breathe deeply and fully oxygenate the soul.
MDR#3. Mission -- A refreshed and strengthened spirit will naturally flow out and over others. No matter how "busy" our lives become, our spiritual energy and health will suffer if it is hoarded, not shared in service. Being ministers of the gospel to others is what it means to be a Christian. We become ministers through the acts of love, and works of faith, that we offer to the world.
MDR#4. Intermission -- Keeping spiritually fit doesn't mean having to run a decathlon of events every day until you drop. A wiped-out spirit leaves us feeling exhausted and wrung out. Rev. Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, an ABC pastor, spoke to the Women in Ministry at the biennial – in her book The Sister’s Rules for Ministry she speaks about PS 46:10 Be still and know that I am God. God is asking us to stay put so that He might speak to us. Sometimes we are so busy that he doesn’t have a chance to tell us what he needs to tell us or to make contact with us. If we’re not still enough, God will wake us up from our sleep or maybe we’ll find ourselves on our backs, ill. So we must make time to be still or as popular lingo puts it, “chill”. // ask God “have I completed the assignment that you’ve given me? Have I done the best that I could with what you’ve placed in my hands? // By staying put, the seed- God’s purpose – doesn’t stop growing in you. It’s God’s time to germinate the seed so that you can grow, and grow in a healthy direction. Staying put also allows God to weed out what stagnates your growth. // Taking "down-time" to rest and regroup is an important part of maintaining spiritual health. No one can give of themselves to others when their spiritual cupboard is bare. Take time to be silent -- to read, to meditate, to walk quietly in the world with open eyes and closed mouth. Only by taking this kind of "intermission" are we equipped for "mission."
MDR#5. The Word of God -- Thankfully our spiritual strength is not dependent on our own abilities, our own insights, or our own wisdom. Christians have a record of God's continuing activity in the world, God's words of love and guidance and judgment to all creation. But do you actually immerse yourself in the Word everyday? All Christians need a dose of Bible as part of their minimum daily requirements for spiritual health. Strangely, what seems like such an obvious additive is the one we are most likely to slough off. Too often we think of "Bible study" as something required of kids, but optional for adults. Others of us have never read whole portions of the Bible, and have no idea what these texts can contribute to our growth and development. Scripture is the most vital part of spiritual health.
Take all of these minimum daily requirements - work them together in a way that works for you, and God will be the strength that our scripture started out with. The exhortation to "be strong" carries with it in English a fairly active connotation, inferring a "shape up" or even "get strong" admonition. The Greek, however, is definitely the passive form, carrying the sense of "be strengthened." This understanding of "be strong" clearly connects this demand with how we may attain this strength, i.e., "in the Lord and in the strength of his might." Strength, then, is not something we bring with us into the fray; it is a quality that comes as a gift from God.
*Hymn of Response # 456 Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus
*Sending forth Blessed are the eyes, O Jesus, that see you in these holy signs;
blessed is the mouth that reverently receives you;
blessed are the feet of those that bring the Good News.
Blessed even is the heart that desires your coming.
-John Wesley, [1703-1791], adapted
The exhortation to "be strong" carries with it in English a fairly active connotation, inferring a "shape up" or even "get strong" admonition. The Greek, however, is definitely the passive form, carrying the sense of "be strengthened." This understanding of "be strong" clearly connects this demand with how we may attain this strength, i.e., "in the Lord and in the strength of his might." Strength, then, is not something we bring with us into the fray; it is a quality that comes as a gift from God.
The author emphasizes the combative nature of the Christian encounter with this world by invoking military images throughout this exhortation.
Christians are made strong, then, by putting on the "whole armor" of God to protect and prepare them for their encounter with "the wiles of the devil" that will assault them. The whole armor refers to the entire stock of protective apparatus available to soldiers going into combat -- a wholeness that is necessary so that no unprotected surfaces are open to harm. That Christians "stand" against these forces reasserts the simple foot-soldier image of the Christian -- those who may expect to combat the enemy at close quarters, hand-to-hand and face-to-face.
This battle requires God's strength because the opponents facing believers are not other human beings ("flesh and blood") but "cosmic powers of this present darkness." The battle that confronts Christians is in the here and now, the "present darkness" and not some distant future. Having revealed the frighteningly powerful forces that oppose the faithful, the writer once again urges his reader to take full advantage of the protection God offers, the "armor" that is our only hope to withstand that "evil day."
We are able to stand only by wearing this promised armor that God provides. The items the author describes are all part of a standard armored soldier's wardrobe, and each piece protects and prepares the soldier for combat in a particular way. The "belt" or "girdle" of truth plays a dual function. First, its complete encircling of the faithful supports the Christian wholly, leaving no part unprotected. Second, the soldier's belt was also a place to store other weapons, showing that the truth of God's love through Christ also provides Christians with a grounding for other convictions -- salvation, deliverance, adoption, inheritance.
The "breastplate" of the soldier protects the most vital and vulnerable places, i.e., the throat, heart and lungs. God's righteousness functions similarly for Christians confronting evil. Without the unyielding righteousness of God, we, too, would never be free from the threat of some mortal blow.
The "shoes" with which believers must be shod are surprisingly less clearly defined than the other armored accoutrements. Traditionally soldiers wore sturdy sandals or even boots that had nails driven through the soles. These could then act as cleats, helping the battling soldier to "dig in" effectively against an opponent. But this author doesn't stipulate a particular style of shoes; instead, he leaves open the question of what "will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace." Mentioning "peace" in the midst of these images of war and conflict is startling. It highlights the radical difference between the gospel Jesus offers and the violent discord the "spiritual forces of evil" pour out upon the world. For those "in Christ," however, no matter how much chaos swirls about them, they can stand firm within a calming peace -- for Christ is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).
While vague about the foot covering, the description of the "shield of faith" is quite detailed. The image described here refers to the ancient tradition of taking the heavy wood, cloth and hide-covered shields of the front-line soldiers and dipping them into water just before the battle. The shield soaked up this water and retained its wetness for quite some time. In this way when the enemy rained down flaming, pitch-covered arrows on the advancing troops, the arrows that embedded themselves in the wet shields harmlessly fizzled out, instead of engulfing the shield and its soldier in flames.
The "helmet of salvation", part of God's own armament against injustice and evil is now given over to protect those standing faithfully in the fight. By being given God's own "helmet," this author demonstrates just how directly and personally our salvation comes from God.
The final piece of equipment itemized here is the only potentially offensive one -- the "sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Note that though the Spirit is mentioned, the Spirit itself is not a sword, but the Spirit works through the word of God. It is the Spirit's vitality and strength which lends the sharp cutting edge to the sword which every believer can wield: God's holy word.
But Christians have yet another piece of armament on which they may rely, another positive, indeed aggressive power that gives added protection -- prayer. The "war" Ephesians envisions is fought with both the power of prayer and the sword-like word of God. The final exhortation to pray may initially seem like an unusual demand in the midst of all this military imagery, but for this author it is yet another weapon in the Christian's arsenal. Verses 18b-20 outline how this state of constant prayer is to be attained -- we must "keep alert" and "persevere."
Constant prayer was greatly emphasized in the early church community -- for it was only by remaining in a state of constant contact with God that Christians felt assured that God's protective presence remained near at hand, ready for the imminent eschaton. By persevering in prayer for all those who are members of the body of Christ -- the bond between individual Christians is strengthened and tightened and the armor of God protects all.
The best three minutes on television pay tribute to our spirit's desperate need for down-time and intermission.
Charles Kuralt, who has spent his life banging around the back roads and small towns of America, ends his award-winning "Sunday Morning" show with three minutes in which no one says anything. There are instead images from nature designed to touch our hearts and calm our souls -- an Adirondack stream making its way down white birch-guarded mountain slopes, undulating wheat in the plains of Kansas, ....
In his 1993 commencement address at Emory University, the CEO of Coca-Cola, Donald R. Keough, compared the human brain to what it most looks like: a sponge.
When we step out into the world, the sponge is full and we begin to squeeze it. It's our turn now to impart information and wisdom to others, and we squeeze it and squeeze it to relieve that sponge, and one day there's nothing left. It's all dry and hard.
But there's another alternative. Replenish that sponge. Throughout your life, keep doing what you've been doing here. Keep signing up for new courses. I don't mean that you should literally take courses necessarily, but approach the world as if it were a wonderful, limitless curriculum from which you can continue to soak up the new and enriching juices of life.