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~Service for the Lord’s Day~
FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
May 2, 2021 10:00 a.m.
Pastor Joan Priest, Worship leader
Andrea Barbour, Ministry of Music
Elder Anne-Marie Knochenhauer, Liturgist
Elder Dale Green GATHERING WE PREPARE OURSELVES FOR WORSHIP BY PASSING THE PEACE OF CHRIST, ACKNOWLEDGING WHO WE ARE,
AND RECEIVING THE ASSURANCE OF GOD’S GRACE.GREETING & ANNOUNCEMENTS
PASSING OF THE PEACE (USING ASL))
PRELUDE Fantasia on “Morning Song” Lani Smith
*CALL TO WORSHIP One: Shout out to God, all the earth! Break into joyful songs to the one true God!
Sing of the glory due His name and offer the most magnificent praises!
All: All Your works are wonderful!
The entire earth bows down to worship You,
singing songs of praise and glory to Your name.
One: Come, let us bless God together!
Let us praise the One who gives us life and keeps us safe,
who watches over us, and keeps our feet from stumbling.
All: Let us worship God.
*OPENING PRAYER *OPENING HYMN: #33 Praise the Lord! God’s Glories Show Praise the Lord! God’s glories show, Alleluia!
saints within God’s courts below, Alleluia!
angels round the throne above, Alleluia!
all who see and share God’s love. Alleluia! Earth to heaven exalt the strain, Alleluia!
Send it, heaven, to earth again, Alleluia!
Age to age, God’s mercies trace, Alleluia!
Praise God’s providence and grace! Alleluia! Strings and voices, hands and hearts, Alleluia!
in the concert, bear your parts, Alleluia!
All that breathes, your Lord adore, Alleluia!
singing praise forevermore, Alleluia! PRAYER OF CONFESSION Holy God, hear our prayer:
For the mending of our hearts, torn apart by our unkindness;
For the healing of our souls, wasting away from the despair around us;
For the forgiveness we seek for the sin we have allowed to persist;
For the reconciliation of the world, whose division condemns us;
We pray for the courage to admit our fault,
The strength to amend our actions,
And the hope that your grace awaits us.
Through Christ we pray. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF GRACE
*GLORIA PATRI TRADITIONALHEARING
WE HEAR GOD’S WORD, WRITTEN & PROCLAIMED. GOD’S WORD IS CENTRAL TO OUR FAITH;
HENCE WE PUT IT AT THE CENTER OF OUR WORSHIP.FIRST READING Psalm 31:1-5,15-16
In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness
Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress
to save me.
You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.
My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.
The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
SECOND READING John 14:1-14
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
SERMON What is Truth?
What is Truth?
I begin with a story: During a trial, in a small Missouri town, the local prosecuting attorney called his first witness to the stand. She was sworn in, asked if she would tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help her God. The witness was a proper well-dressed elderly woman, well-spoken and poised. The prosecuting attorney approached the woman and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know me?” She responded, “Why, yes I do know you, Mr. Williams. I’ve known you since you were a young boy and frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie, cheat on your wife, manipulate people and talk badly about them behind their backs. Yes, I know you quite well.”
The lawyer was stunned. He couldn’t even think for a few minutes. Then, slowly backed away, fearing the looks on the judge and jurors faces, not to mention the court reporter who documented every word. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?”
She again replied, “Why, yes, I do. I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster. He’s lazy, bigoted, and has a bad drinking problem. And his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Yes, I know him.”
The defense attorney almost fainted and was seen slipping downward in his chair, looking at the floor. Laughter mixed with gasps, thundered throughout the courtroom and the audience was on the verge of chaos. At this point, the judge brought the courtroom to silence, called both counselors to the bench, and in a very quiet voice said, “If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, you’re going to jail, and I will personally throw the key into the river.” The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
A Few weeks ago I asked for you to think about and then send me your questions, questions about your faith, about God, what you fear, what you question about your beliefs right now. One person wrote to me this question about their faith – What is truth? How do I know what is the truth, with all I have been told over the years? What does Jesus say about truth? Well, our gospel lesson for today is one of the most familiar of what we call the “I AM” passages. Jesus proclaims – I am the Gate, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Bread of Life, I am the Vine, I am the Resurrection and the Light” and this one – “I am the way, the truth, and the life”.
Now for most of us following the way of Jesus is pretty clear, this is spelled out in our Gospels, and following this way gives us life, eternal life with God; pretty easy. The way, the life. But what is truth, the truth? In today’s world, truth has become more and more confusing. We hear this every day in the news! What is true, what is news, what is fake news? By definition: truth is that which conforms to reality, fact or actuality. Okay, but what then is reality? Which facts are true? What does actuality look like? And isn’t truth sometimes related to one’s personal perception? For example, I know this to be true: I love my husband, I love putting together puzzles, I love weeding my garden, I love pasta. Now, for probably most of you here – except for maybe pasta, none of what I just said runs true to you, right? So this morning, let’s explore truth and well, everything else Jesus states because there is a lot of good news here, I think we all need.
So, first a little background about our scripture passage. We have entered the time before Jesus’ death and resurrection, and Jesus is getting ready to leave the disciples. And of course the disciples are anxious and afraid. What do you mean you’re leaving us? What are we supposed to do without you? It’s like our children before we left them with the babysitter – where are you going? How long will you be gone? When are you coming back? Why do you have to go out?
And Jesus states, “Let not your hearts be troubled” – don’t be nervous, anxious, afraid. Yea, easy for you to say! He has just told them he is leaving, dying in fact, Judas will betray him, Peter will deny him, and he’s leaving forever! And Jesus’ big word of comfort here is to essentially tell them, don’t worry about it – – you won’t lose me, well, not completely. What he is really saying to them, it is time, it is time to trust. Believe in God, believe in me. Trust this relationship and commit yourself to following me. The way.
And Jesus goes on, “I go prepare a place for you. In my father’s house there are many dwelling places” or many rooms – you will join me later. And of course the disciples take him literally – where is this place? When do we go there? How do we get there? Again this is like a child. I remember when my son was very little and we would ask if he had “room” for dessert and he would always answer, yes, I think I have 2 rooms left open. As if his stomach had literal rooms to fill with food! Wouldn’t that be great! Where are these rooms, where is this place, and how do we get there?
But Jesus is speaking symbolically about Heaven. He is the way to God who is the ultimate destination, and so those who dwell with him will abide with God in the eternal realm. Think about this news: Life as God has designed it is not confined to this world, because Jesus was raised from the dead, he will prepare a place for each of us. And when the time comes for us to make that transition, Jesus himself will be there to greet us. That’s Heaven. Awesome.
You know, a lot has been written about Heaven in recent years. “Five People You Meet in Heaven”, “90 Minutes in Heaven”, or “Heaven is for Real” the story of a four-year old boy who experienced heaven during emergency surgery or “Proof of Heaven” by a Neurosurgeon who was in a coma for days and made a full recovery. Do I believe the expert scientist or the little boy’s view of Heaven? Sure, why not? Perhaps I love Max Lucado’s image of heaven best – he thinks heaven is like a maternity ward. Angels passing out cigars, horns rejoicing each time a new arrival pops onto the scene. (1) Sometimes the birth is very difficult, a long road, sometimes its quick, but always it’s a miracle. What if you could choose who could greet you first – I think I would chose my father, or maybe Esther, or Mary or John Calvin or Martin Luther King Jr.; but we already know the first person who will greet us, Jesus.
I use this passage in many Memorial services and it is obvious why. We grieve because we love, we grieve because love cannot rescue us from death, but it is love which nurtures us, it is love which conquers death. We can’t know the way ahead, what Heaven is like, and we need to be reassured that we will be able to find our way into the future, into a place where we will be greeted with open arms, where all we have been through, all we have sacrificed, all we have worshipped, will be made true and real. We have a home beyond this home. A home where we will know God and praise God – that’s what we practice here on earth, how to praise God, getting ready to enter into our new home with God.
While people come and go in our lives, there are some who remain in our hearts having a lasting impact of us, who help us see Christ, in others, in ourselves. Can you think of such a person? Dr. Dana Fearon was the pastor of the first church I served as an Associate Pastor, in Lawrenceville, NJ. He was my mentor and a wonderful colleague who passed away a few years ago. In one of his final sermons Dr. Fearon preached about living a life according to God’s rules, not our rules, God’s way, Jesus’ way, “like this, [he preached]: try to tell the truth, but don’t tell it to hurt another person; give the best you have, not to show off, but because in giving you will make friendships; take Sabbath time, time for yourself and for that which is holy in your life; trust in Christ you are a cherished person, and you don’t have to prove your rank and value in the world. Believe in God, the gracious God of mercy and truth – more than you believe in any other power in the world.” (2) Great insight, great truth.
But many times in this life we are like Thomas – like little children – who want to know – are we going the right way, are we even on the right path? And Jesus’ response is basically, you already know the way – I am the way. Love as I have loved, teach as I have taught, and nothing can separate us, not even death.
So, we know the way, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to walk his walk, talk his talk. But in today’s world of instant results – just Google it! – we are used to trying many shortcuts or others paths we think are better, faster, truer. Am I right? We get off track and follow people, ideas, and ideologies, thinking that will bring us life. It is as if Jesus is saying, come with me, let me take the wheel and let me drive your life. But we sometimes try to take the wheel ourselves, cutting corners, thinking we are in control of everyone and everything. Thinking that the one who preaches a way of life that is easy, with less burdens and no problems is best, and then we discover that this road, this path doesn’t really work, right?!
Disasters happen, illness, death, pandemic’s, loss, and we find ourselves on a detour or at a dead end, because we can’t do everything by ourselves, we can’t know everything, we can’t be everything, we need God, we need this path. We need each other. We need the foundation of a community, a church body, to support and help us along the way. That’s why we’re here. For God never promised us a life without hardship and pain but did promise a constant presence to help us make it through the day and stay on course. Our rock, our redeemer. And we are being built into a cornerstone – a spiritual house – upon the house Jesus built which the disciples and all before us stand upon – for we are God’s own people who have come out of the darkness into the light and not just light but the marvelous light. The light of life.
But just so we are not confused, as Frederick Buechner states, Jesus “does not say the church is the way. He does not say his teachings are the way, or what people for centuries have taught about him. He does not say religion is the way, not even the religion that bears his name. He says he himself is the way. And the life we are dazzled by in him, haunted by in him, nourished by in him is a life so full of aliveness and light that not even the darkness of death could prevail against it.” (3) It is by simply loving as Jesus loved, knowing in that, is truth.
Jesus, the one who walked on water, performed miracles, accepted all people, taught amazing stories, rose from the dead, is the truth. Many witnessed these truths, wrote about these truths, so then it is really up to you and I and everyone else whether or not to accept this truth.
And now, that phrase – Jesus then states, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Did you think I was going to skip it? So many pastors do! Not me.
Now your first thought may be, this is Jesus saying, my way or the highway, I’m the only way. And then we think, so does that mean Jews, Muslims, all non-believers – have no access to God? No, hear me clearly, no! This has become one of the most damaging passages in the Bible, for believers in God throughout the world. But this was written by John and he purposely chose to emphasize Jesus as the one way to God to remove all hesitation among those early followers.
I have always said, there are many paths to God, but in my belief, Jesus is the best way. Jesus is the closest way to have access to God. Here is what other theologians say about this – “we as Christians belong to Jesus Christ, having been joined eternally to him in the waters of baptism, [but] Jesus doesn’t belong to us. We are his, he is not ours. That is something all too often forgotten. We are the Lord’s, to be sure; his promises are for us. And we are to share this good news with all who will receive it. But we don’t control it nor have the authority to place limitations on it. Where did we get the notion that Jesus’ statement that he is the way, truth and life pertains exclusively to Christians? Jesus has the freedom to call whomever he chooses, whoever he chooses, whenever he chooses, even if they may not know it. God has acted in Jesus Christ on the world’s behalf. What God did in Jesus Christ, God did for the world.” (4)
This is not language meant to exclude others, but rather language intended to embrace those closest to him and to comfort them – come to me, Jesus says, come to God through me, that’s all you have to do. I am in the Father and the Father is in me, so if one comes to God, one is coming through the Son – so if you know God, sorry, you know Jesus, whether you acknowledge this or not. When Communion with God happens, Jesus is there, period. Follow that path, wash feet, live your life as a shepherd who cares for sheep, who weeps at the tomb of a friend, who prays for the sick and cares for the needy – – that is the true God, and this truth is what unites all believers.
As a Christian, I follow Jesus not because he is the only way, but because Jesus embraced me as a sister and calls for me to love as he loved. It doesn’t mean hearts won’t be broken, trust shattered, or pain, sorrow, fear, frustration, anger, won’t exist in our lives. It doesn’t mean that at times we will cry out like little children – where are we going, is this the right way? Show me the way, tell me the truth, give me the life!
Almost 2,000 years ago, truth was put on trial as Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” And Pilate asks, “What is truth?” This is a question each of us needs to answer in our own way but what I do know is this, truth is not always understandable, not always that which makes us feel good, not only what the majority say is truth. Truth it is not publicly proven but privately known, Jesus is the way, the truth, the life. Let that settle into our struggling hearts and search to find ways to walk out of the darkness and into the marvelous light of God’s eternal love and shine! May it be so, Amen.
Hunt, the Rev. Dr. Allen. “God’s Promises for You: I Prepare a Place for You” Fearon, The Rev. Dr. Dana. “The Resurrection and the Life” 3/11/2001. Buechner, The Rev. Dr. Frederick. “Let Jesus Show”Anderson, The Rev. Dr. Fred R. “No Power Shortage Here”
RESPONDING GOD HAS SPOKEN, AND WE RESPOND. WE AFFIRM OUR FAITH, PRAY FOR THE WORLD, RE-COMMIT OURSELVES TO MISSION,
PRESENT OUR TITHES & GIFTS, AND OFFER THANKS THAT GOD CONTINUES TO SPEAK TODAY.*APOSTLES CREED
I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen. * HYMN: #494 Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts (Vs. 1, 4, 5) Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts,
thou fount of life, thou light of all,
from the best bliss that earth imparts
we turn, unfilled, to heed thy call. Our restless spirits yearn for thee,
where’er our changeful lot is cast,
glad when thy gracious smile we see,
blest when our faith can hold thee fast.O Jesus, ever with us stay;
make all our moments calm and bright.
O chase the night of sin away;
shed o’er the world thy holy light. PRESENTING OUR TITHES & OFFERINGS (If you’re joining us via Zoom,
we invite you to make your offering online.
Thank you to everyone for your generous support!)
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Gracious God, source of life and bringer of light to all nations, we celebrate the possibilities of this offering. Use it to accomplish great deeds, going where we cannot go, nurturing to faith, and maturing to grace all who hear your word and call on your Holy name. We pray in the name of Christ, the giver of new life. Amen.
SHARING OUR JOYS & CONCERNS
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE & THE LORD’S PRAYER
INVITATION TO THE LORD’S TABLE
PRAYER OF GREAT THANKSGIVING
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
PRAYER AFTER COMMUNION *HYMN: #542 God Be with you Till We Meet Again God be with you till we meet again;
loving counsels guide, uphold you,
with a shepherd’s care enfold you:
God be with you till we meet again. God be with you till we meet again;
unseen wings protecting hide you,
daily manna still provide you:
God be with you till we meet again. God be with you till we meet again;
when life’s perils thick confound you,
put unfailing arms around you:
God be with you till we meet again. God be with you till we meet again;
keep love’s banner floating o’er you;
smite death’s threatening wave before you:
God be with you till we meet again. SENDING WE HEAR THE CHARGE, RECEIVE THE BENEDICTION, AND ARE SENT TO CARRY GOD’S WORD INTO THE WORLD.*CHARGE & BENEDICTION
*POSTLUDE Trusting Jesus Lani Smith