Listen with joy to “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” by Joshua Stewart and the Bourbon Street Stompers, 2013.
Call to Worship
L: Blessed be God, who makes us one.
C: Let us unite as sisters and brothers,
L: Gathered around one table.
C: Let us renew our bonds of love,
L: Forged for us by Christ our Lord.
C: Blessed be God, who makes us one!
You have made it clear that you desire your Church to be united. Break down the walls which separate us and build us back up again as one body in Jesus Christ, through whom we pray, amen.
First Reading Acts 18: 1-4
After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3 and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers. 4 Every sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks.
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1: 10-18
10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. 18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
So things in Corinth aren’t going quite as well as things in Thessalonica. In Thessalonica Paul said he didn’t even have to tell people about their church because everyone knew them by their love and grace. Here he says the people need to stop fighting and get themselves together.
And wouldn’t it be great if you could just say to people, “stop fighting, stop being divided, and everyone just get along!” and they would do it? Twenty-eight years ago in the middle of riots in Los Angeles, Rodney King said those words that everyone who was around then remembers, “Can’t we all just get along?”
But even today, we’re constantly reminded of the racism in our country by incidents such as the brutal murder of Ahmaud Arbery. Our world— even within the bounds of Christianity— is still divided by race, income level, gender, and politics— we’re still not getting along. We still haven’t done what Paul told us to do.
So Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians to be united in one mind and one purpose. In other words, ultimately you’re all followers and believers in Jesus the Messiah. Put that first in your mind. Your quarreling over specifics does nothing for your witness. This doesn’t mean you have to deny who you are or pretend there are no differences. Embrace and learn from the uniqueness of each person— isn’t it remarkable that Christ has brought together this incredible spectrum of people and given us each gifts to use? But as disciples, in everything you do or say, you need to remember Jesus first. Remember the mission first. Remember the power of the cross.
A story is told about three soldiers who were the closest of friends, and who were fighting in France during World War 2. One of them was killed, and his friends wanted to bury his body in a special place, and not just in the field.
So they brought the body of their dead friend to a beautiful French churchyard that had a cemetery within it. They asked the priest for permission to bury their friend there, and the priest asked them if he had been a Catholic. “No,” they said, “he hadn’t.” The priest said that the man could not be buried in the consecrated grounds of the church, since it was reserved only for Catholics.
So the two men took the body of their friend and did the next best thing – they buried him just outside the fence of the churchyard.
The next morning, the two friends went back to the churchyard to pay their final respects to their friend. But when the looked where they had buried their friend, they could not find the grave. And so they went and knocked on the priest’s door again.
“We cannot find the grave of our friend at all!” they said, “We buried him just outside the fence.
“I know,” said the priest, “But I couldn’t sleep last night thinking of your friend and how I told you not to bury him on the church grounds. I tossed and turned, until I decided what I had to do. I got up in the night and moved the fence.”
Friends, Christ has moved the fence for us and allowed each one of us to be a part of God’s family. We have been reconciled through the cross. We are called to focus on that mission we also have of reconciliation. Divisions don’t serve that mission well.
So for a spiritual growth practice for this week of confinement, is to remember someone you feel divided from. Maybe you’ve fought over opinions of who’s right and who’s wrong. Maybe you’ve been out of touch for some time and you left each other on a sour note. Maybe it’s just someone you flat don’t like very much.
Focus on the mission of reconciliation and reach out to them in love and forgiveness. Let go of your pride, and write them a letter. Call, text, email, whatever works. Move that fence you’ve built, and pray that they will do the same. Rather than being divided by our prejudices and opinions, be united by the power of the cross.
Music and Offering
During this time, or after our prayers, you may make an offering to John Knox by going to our homepage and scrolling to the bottom where you will see a link to online giving. When you give this way, consider giving a little extra to defray the cost of this service. If you prefer, you may mail you offerings to the church directly. Even though we are far apart, the church's expenses remain the same. We give out of pure gratitude for what God has done.
Listen now to this offertory music, Dona Nobis Pacem, (Give Us Peace), presented by St Olai motettkör, Laholms manskör, ViN-kören, Sweden.
Prayers of the People*
Regardless of background, opinion, theology or ability, we all belong to you, O Lord. Speak over our stubbornness and certainty that we are right, and show us instead what it looks like to practice a radical love which truly listens to and respects others. Uniting God, hear our prayer.
Your creation is a perfect model of the interdependence we all share as your children. When we fail to acknowledge our fundamental connections, everyone and everything suffers as a consequence. Bring us back to ourselves, to each other, and to you. Uniting God, hear our prayer.
Bless all who celebrate Mother’s Day, and give strength and guidance to all who parent or mentor the young. As you tend and care for us, so may we look after those who are depending on us. Uniting God, hear our prayer.
Send the power and comfort of your healing Spirit to all those whom we know need it, especially all those who are suffering from the coronavirus and all those working in healing professions. Uniting God, hear our prayer.
Together with all your saints in light, we join our voices in praise to the one who forgives, redeems, and joins us all in one eternal fellowship. Uniting God, hear our prayer.
May all these things be granted in the name of our Savior Jesus, who earnestly prayed that we might all be one, amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
And now with confidence as the children of God, let us pray as Jesus taught his disciples: 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 debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, now and forever. Amen.
Benediction: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, and bring you peace. Amen.
Postlude: A less-polished version of Dona Nobis Pacem, from the cast of MASH, which ran from 1972-1983. The sound quality is glitchy, but still great to hear.