Focus: “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” – Coretta Scott King
Threshold Moment: A Time for Centering
Gathering Music: Be Still (Text Psalm 46/Music by Patricia Mulholland) – Patricia Mulholland
Opening Prayer of Confession:
Let us acknowledge our need to restore, repair and renew our Holy Vessels, which include the communities of which we are a part.
Let us pray: God of All,
You created us for each other. You set in us a yearning for companionship and an empathy that binds us together, protecting each other and delighting in one another.
We know that too often we have broken down our relationships instead of building them up.
We have built systems and economies that widen the gap of resources rather than safeguarding equitable practices.
Too many, and growing numbers, are suffering hardship, food insecurity, joblessness. We cannot fathom the proportions of loss and so we look away, sometimes even from the need in our own community.
Help us, Healer.
Show us our empathy.
Forgive our complacence.
Help us to move
one step at a time toward greater care for one another.
In this silence, we sense and acknowledge our yearning for wholeness.
Anthem: Love Has Broken Down the Wall (by Mark A. Miller) – Michelle Currie
Words of Assurance:
Know this: God’s love and security are meant for all people.
No. Matter. What.
We are capable of sharing our light and not running out of “enough.” Jesus showed us the power of breaking down the boundaries which too often separate us.
For you, for me, for all.
Take a deep breath in to let this truth fill you…
and breathe out with the relief of assurance.
Opening Hymn: Gather Us In (by Marty Haugen) – Michelle Currie
Readings and Scripture: Selected contemporary readings, Matthew 8: 5-13 – Nancy Batchelor
Sermon: A New Social Contract – Rev. Paula Norbert
Music: Meditative Instrumental ~ Healer of Our Every Ill (by Marty Haugen) – Michelle Currie
Musical call to Prayer: (two times) Hush now in quiet peace, be still your mind at ease. The Spirit brings release, so wait upon the Lord.
Prayers of the People:
Closing Music: You Raise Me Up (by Brendan Graham/Rolf Lovland) – Michelle Currie
We pray as we go forth that your love
will help make us whole.
May we rest in your compassion.
Calm our weary souls
in the warmth of your love.
May your peace fill our hearts.
May we know the love of Jesus.
By your grace, console us.
Make us holy, make us whole.
Postlude: Go In Peace
Our Readings for Today
“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” – Margaret J. Wheatley
“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.” – George Bernard Shaw
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa
An Ancient Word
Matthew 8: 5-13
When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.
An Ancient Word
The Word of the Lord
Sermon: Second Sunday in Lent “Safe Keeping”
“How Do We Heal as a Community”
Rev. Paula Norbert
Welcome: God gathers us as a community so that we may support one another and grow in faith and love. We are never alone, we are never lost to the One who seeks humanity’s wholeness. We affirm our commitment to be the Body of Christ that knows we cannot be personally healed until we see the interconnected community as part of the process of healing. Jesus has the power to re-vision the family of God in which false boundaries are overcome. In a year of devastating loss by so many, loss of livelihood, loss of jobs, loss of dear ones, we affirm our connection to one another.
How Do We Heal as A Community?
Scripture: Matthew 8: 1-13
5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him 6 and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” 8 The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 10 When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.
When we take a closer look at this story from Matthew this morning, we might feel that it was truly bold on the party of the Centurion to approach Jesus with the assumption that He would grant the authority and the ability to heal a paralyzed man. But the Centurion does just that. His boldness was an enactment of his faith and Jesus responds to it by healing the paralytic. In granting his request, Jesus is transcending cultural boundaries in extraordinary ways. Let us pray, O Holy Healer, we are inspired by the stories of Jesus who reached out to heal those he met, crossing boundaries and teaching us along the way. We ask your healing this day for ourselves, for the wounds we may carry, and for the brokenness that affects too many lives in this time. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
In this Gospel passage, we hear of this army commander, a non-Jew, who is not a part of the community of Jesus followers and of the servant for whom he is advocating, a gentile and a slave, “the ultimate nobody,” according to Professor Walter Wilson in his book Healing in the Gospel of Matthew. We are reminded from this story and from so many others in the Gospels that Jesus does not worry about the social divisions of his time; Jesus came to bring salvation to everyone and he goes about the work of reaching out to build a community of followers, a community whom he hopes may realize the essential truths of his ministry and teaching and begin to embrace them as part of their lives as well. When we hear of the strength and boldness of the centurion to approach Jesus directly and ask for healing for someone in his life, we might reflect upon our own inner strength and the lengths the efforts we have made on behalf of the people in our lives to advocate for their healing. We certainly pray for others; are we able to ask God to help heal ourselves as well? Do we pray for ourselves when we are in need of healing?
As writer Walter Wilson points out, the story in Matthew is also about eschatological (of end time or our ultimate destiny) hope and healing. In other words, this story is a vision of the Kin-dom in which all people come together to enjoy one another and feast at the table of God. God gathers us all. God longs for us to be together and for us to all be safe and whole. And God gives us the inspiration and the capacity to help bring this vision to fruition.
I recall seeing an interview with Dr. Eddie Glaude, Professor of African American Studies at Princeton back in December. His words really struck a cord in me such that I wrote them down. He was commenting on the status of our country and he said, “We need a new social and moral contract with one another. Our nation is broken; our obligation to one another is broken.” Whether or not we believe our nation is broken, I think we’d all agree that there are immense cracks in our social fabric and that they have only become wider during this past year. It’s been really difficult to watch, hasn’t it? Families have become separated by the virus and tragically by the loss of loved ones. Friends and families have lost one another due to political differences and conspiracy theories and differences of how to respond to the pandemic. And, the most vulnerable continue to suffer the most, whether because of race, gender or socio-economic status. In a speech he gave at the University of North Carolina, he said, “We have to live into a different way of being together, a different way of doing our work together. It involves in some ways a revolution of value, a shift in what and who we value … an ongoing criticism of the very idea of a ‘majority’ white America, this idea that some people like to be valued more than others because of the color of their skin. There is nothing about that idea that is redeemable. Americans have to tell themselves the truth about our failures. And we have to take the risk to be bold and visionary.” “We have to grapple with the realities of death, loneliness and selfishness. We all suffer from a kind of loneliness that can get in the way of shared suffering.” he said, if we are to find our way to healing.
Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of our common humanity more than 50 years ago when he wrote, “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be… This is the inter-related structure of reality.” Dr. Martin Luther King
We are all caught in an inescapable web of mutuality and we need to find our way back to one another and create ways to make it stronger and more resilient as we look ahead. And we know that people are doing that every day. The many individuals who have responded to the crisis in Texas by helping donate and staff the lines for food and water; those who have driven many miles to bring help to those in need and deliver needed supplies and food and water. It’s all deeply inspiring and wonderful, but there were so many social in inequalities and vulnerabilities that led to that disaster, beyond the weather, and those need to be examined too.
One organization that has provided great hope to many communities across our nation and in other countries in times of crisis has been World Central Kitchens, of which you may have heard. Chef Jose Andres had a vision back in 2010, along with his wife, to use food to empower communities and strengthen economies. In the years since, they have worked with thousands of local restaurants in our country and in countries hard hit by natural disasters around the world from Australia to Central America. Over the course of the past week, in Texas, they were able to mobilize their volunteers and restaurant partners to provide thousands of meals across the state to those who were suffering in the cold weather without power.
One of the wonderful parts of the work of World Central Kitchens is that they have helped support countless local restaurants to do the work that they do best, to provide healthy, warm food to folks in their communities, while also being able to pay their own employees and manage to stay afloat during Covid. (World Central Kitchens.org)
On a smaller scale, a restaurant owner in Chicago, Robert Magiet, has also found a way to make a difference in his community. In the early morning hours, he drives to purchase hot Tamales from the single vendors, often women, who sit in the cold for hours to help support their families. Instead, Magiet purchases the days’ supply, allowing the women to return home, and then turns around to distribute them to the homeless at shelters and in the tent camps under train tracks. Originally, he bought everything out of pocket until others heard about his work and started sending donations. As one news story wrote, “Buying the hot tamales does a lot more than get vendors out of the cold. It gives hope to those who need it most. “We all need to have a little more compassion for each other and things will take care of themselves,” Magiet said. (CBS News, Charlie DeMar Feb 18, 2021)
In his short years of ministry, Jesus challenged so many social structures of his day. His actions, his outreach, and his words led others to stop and think about their lives; he challenged people in positions of power to think about those who were most vulnerable and he reached out to the most vulnerable to tell them that they were indeed worthy and loved. Jesus was on a mission to change the way people cared about each other; he presented this beautiful image of the Kingdom in which all were included and he told his early followers that this was what God wanted for our world. It was revolutionary then and it still is today. To be a follower of Jesus brings with it many blessings as well as a greater responsibility to do our own part to co-create that Kingdom. We need a new social contract or perhaps we need to recommit to our social contract with one another and to take it seriously, to do what we can to find a better way forward. This virus has taught us that we need one another; we need our social contacts; we depend on one another and are responsible for one another. The vision which Jesus spoke of often and to which he witnessed, a vision of a Kin’dom where we take care of one another, where all are welcome at the table, is a vision which we are invited to believe in as a real possibility; it is a vision we are invited to embrace. Our communities need healing and hope; we need healing and hope; we all need to believe that we can find our way back to one another.
In what ways is your church living out this vision? In what ways are you bringing people together? How are we, through the power of Jesus Christ, bringing healing and wholeness to our communities? Our bodies are connected to other bodies. God gathers us. God calls us to be gatherers. We long for communities of recovery and none of us are free until all of us are free.