Welcome to online worship with First Christian Church of Valparaiso. I hope you will find blessing and peace in this next hour as we worship God together in this unconventional way. First, though, let me mention a couple of things in the life of our church family. On Saturday, July 25 we hosted an outdoor memorial service for long-time member Ron Gill in the morning. Later, Boy Scout Troop 907 had their annual fundraiser Pork Chop dinner – though this time it was takeout only thanks to the pandemic. And, speaking of the pandemic, our elders would like everyone to know that – as a way of loving our neighbor – masks are required for any event held on church property. With that, worship team member Carol Kuznicki will bring the light of Christ to our worship candle here; we invite you to do the same at home. Also, if you haven’t already, please get a little something to drink and some bread or a cracker or something else you might use when it comes time to share the Lord’s Supper. Pause this a moment while you attend to that…. And now, our Minister of Spiritual Care, Elder Kathy Light, will lead us in our call to worship.
Call to Worship
Leader: Brothers and sisters, today’s call to worship is from a 20th century hymn, “O God of Every Shining Constellation,” based on a reading from Job. Come, let us join together in our worship of the one true God. O God of every shining constellation…,
UNISON: …grant us your Spirit’s true illumination to read the secrets of Your work.
Leader: You O God have designed the atom’s hidden forces with Your laws and energy.
UNISON: Teach us as we use and care for such riches to serve Your will.
Leader: O God, you have impressed Your image on all of creation. Even though we mar and distort that image, you love us still.
UNISON: Open our eyes to Christ whose grace helps us discern the beauty of your work and will. Amen.
Leader: Now please join in singing, “Morning Has Broken.”
God of Wonder, God of Mercy, we bow before You in stillness…, pausing our busyness to be with You.
Thank You for this day; for Creation, which fill us and surrounds us; and for each other.
Thank You for our senses through which we experience this world we are part of.
Thank you for minds that search for understanding, and hearts that desire love and belonging.
We pray for those experiencing suffering and loss, that they might draw closer to You, the great healer.
We pray for all Your children, of all ages, races, and places. Heal our fears with Your love.
Guide us as we try to understand what to believe. Guard us from expressing unkind things. Help us to stay grounded in Your love and mercy.
Forgive us when we forget we are part of You, part of Creation, part of each other.
Thank You for loving us, and for sharing with us this amazing world of endless wonder.
We pray in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray by saying…, “Our Father, Who art in Heaven….”
I think one thing we can all agree on is: pandemics bring change. Throughout all this upheaval and uncertainty, God seems to have been directing me to get back to the basics of Bible study and Nature, or Creation. Creation is our foundation. We are all part of it. I have enjoyed being in nature my whole life, but as an adult, I began noticing I could quite palpably feel the Presence of God at times through Nature. And it filled me with amazing peace.
Then about 10 years ago I entered what I would later learn was what St. John of the Cross called “The Dark Night of the Senses.” I lost the gift of feeling God’s Presence. Oh, I still see and appreciate a beautiful sunset. But it no longer offers me a spiritual feeling of God’s Presence. It’s not the same. I have a new normal. Things change.
I have learned that when we no longer depend upon our personal experiences, feelings or understanding, the world expands. When I was deprived of my feelings and experiences of God’s presence through nature, Creation sort of exploded! And with it, my image of God.
Do you remember Disney’s 1992 animated movie Aladdin? There is a scene where Aladdin is trying to understand who this Genie from the lamp is exactly. Robin Williams’ voice (as the Genie) explodes, “Phenomenal Cosmic Power….itty bitty living space.” Well, I think that’s what we so easily do with our image of God. We want an all-powerful God we can carry in our hip pocket. Do we desire a very personal relationship with God who is in the minutiae of our lives or do we desire an all-powerful, timeless God that is beyond our comprehension? Maybe they’re not exclusive.
The most recent info Google helped me find says our own Milky Way Galaxy is spinning at the incredible speed of 1.3 million MPH and there are over 1 billion other galaxies like ours in the universe; billions more that are larger. I have absolutely no idea what all those numbers mean. But I can be in awe of it. I do not need to understand. I’m not here to debate the God Particle or the Big Bang Theory. I’m not going to tell you God created the universe in 7 days or over billions of years. However, I am telling you to focus on God’s signature in Creation. Last week Rev. Dave touched on this as he spoke about Sabbath time. Slow down and observe.
It appears this cosmic sea of spinning stars functions with remarkable order and efficiency. I believe God truly did create a universe of endless wonder.
I rediscovered Genesis 1:1-2: that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…the earth was formless and empty; darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” God was present before Creation, in the darkness and chaos of the void. I find comfort and reassurance in knowing God is in the darkness and chaos.
If we keep reading, Genesis gives us an amazing account of God’s creativity and order. But if we get bogged down in the details of specific wording, we will lose the immensity and wonder of our beginnings. We can’t let black and white understanding of things keep us from embracing more of what Christ is. We are followers of Christ…let’s not keep him trapped in historic bible stories, stuck in the role of the good shepherd.
Remember in the story of Job, faithful servant of God’s who endured crisis after crisis as everything of importance was taken from him? Even in the midst of his suffering, we hear his confession of faith in Job 33:4: “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Job needed to refocus, get back to the basics of his faith to get through the ordeals being heaped upon him. Job, you and I are part of Creation. The universe is our home.
When things look bleak, follow Job’s example and remember to look up!
Psalm 103:11 reminds us: “God’s steadfast love for you is as vast as the cosmos.” And in Psalm 57:10: “God, your love is so extravagant it reaches to the heavens. Your faithfulness so astonishing it stretches to the sky!” I cannot imagine a love that big. I think in human terms. And I don’t really understand eternity. But we don’t have to understand. Just embrace it.
Jesus Christ extends God’s expansive, everlasting love to us. We in turn are also charged with extending that same mercy to others by letting overflow from us; even when it’s hard to do. We don’t have to understand it or judge it worthy. It’s what we are called to do.
The gospel of John reveals who Jesus Christ is in ways different from the synoptic gospels. John 1:1-5: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made…In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Richard Rohr, contemporary Franciscan friar, priest and Director of the Center for Action and Contemplation also says: “If we understand that Christ was present at creation and is logos (the Word), the breadth of who Jesus was and is becomes far more broad and complex.” The cosmic Christ encompasses all of creation. This is important stuff for disciples of Christ. We need to know who we are following.
Contemporary theologian and activist Matthew Fox says: The cosmic Christ is the light in all things, the holiness in everyday things…and science tells us there are light waves, photons, in every atom in the universe. Does that “Light” language sound familiar: In John 8:12 Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world.”
Why am I sharing all this with you today? Well this pandemic is one reason. We can’t lose perspective of who we are, where we’ve come from. Remember: the Cosmic Christ is in the grandeur of the cosmos, including the microscopic atomic particles that are the foundation of all life. When you feel overwhelmed, remember to “power down”, step back and refocus on the basics. Look for God’s signature in Creation. Find your place of awe and gratitude. There you will find God’s peace and joy. Amen
St. Francis of Assisi was an amazing 13th century mystic. He is credited with the lyrics to our hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King.” The words are based on Ps 148.
As we prepare for communion, would you pray with me? Lord Jesus, we find ourselves at Your table in different places, in different times, and in different conditions of heart and mind. Yet we know: in this symbolic meal, we are together in unity with You and with Christians around the world and throughout the centuries.
May each of us be humble enough to set aside our differences at Your table of grace.
Bless this small bite we are about to eat, that we may find our spiritual hunger relieved in knowing Your earthly body was broken for each of us.
Bless this sip we will soon drink, that we may find our spiritual thirst relieved by knowing Your earthly blood was shed for us. Forgive us when we forget your unifying act of sacrifice and shut you out, adding to our acts of betrayal. And may the very simplicity and commonness of these elements remind us that ALL of Creation is Your divine gift. Thank You for loving us, Lord. Amen. (Followed by the words of institution and partaking of communion.)
Benediction: May God, Who created all that is, be ever-present in our hearts and minds, reminding us that we are precious, we are loved, and we are held safely in God’s hands – in this world and the next. Amen.