WORSHIP-MAY 24, 2020

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH ~ JANESVILLE, WISCONSIN
SUNDAY, MAY 24, 2020
MEMORIAL DAY OBSERVANCE

Greetings Members and Friends of First Presbyterian Church – Janesville!

This is Memorial Day weekend and it will be much different this year with no parades or public gatherings. Many families will get together
for picnics or cookouts and if this includes you, may you have a great time with family. May we all take time during this weekend to remember
those who have served in the military forces and who are serving today. It is also time to share precious memories of loved ones who have
gone on to the next life.

Be safe, be well, and blessings always,
Pastor Lee

 

THE OPENING PRAYER
Gracious and loving God of glory, we know that the risen Christ calls us to carry your message of life to all people. Led by the power of
your Holy Spirit, may we witness always to the hope to which we are called as we share Christ’s love to the ends of the earth. Amen.

HYMN                                                                                       “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
he is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
he hath loosed the fateful lighting of his terrible swift sword;
his truth is marching on.

Refrain
Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

I have seen him in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps,
they have builded him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read his righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
his day is marching on.

THE CALL TO CONFESSION
Jesus tells us that repentance and forgiveness is to be offered in his name. Therefore, let us confess our sins to God, who assures us of new
life through the power of Christ’s redeeming love.

THE PRAYER OF CONFESSION O God, how often we stand staring into heaven, not contemplating your goodness or your majesty, but simply wondering where you are. Forgive us, O God, for looking for you in all the wrong places, for not trusting your promise of hope, and for living
too often as if you had abandoned us. Grant us again the confidence of your Spirit, and the assurance that nothing can separate us from your love. We pray in the name of Christ who is with us yet.  Amen.

THE WORDS OF ASSURANCE AND PARDON
Sisters and brothers, as Christ is our witness, God’s power to pardon is immeasurable. Therefore, proclaim this good new to the ends of the earth; through the mercy of Christ, our sins are forgiven. Amen.

THE OLD TESTAMENT READING                                                                                                                                                                                 Psalm 47:1-9
Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy. For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet. He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm. God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.

THE NEW TESTAMENT READING Acts 1:1-11 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until
the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the
times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white
robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you
into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

THE MESSAGE                                                                                 “Beam Me Up, Scottie”
Thursday, May 21, 2020 is Ascension Day which is always 40 days after Easter so it always falls on a Thursday. Churches that celebrate
Ascension Day will do it on May 24th because the following Sunday is Pentecost. The account of the ascension of Jesus is found in Acts 1:1-11 and in Luke 24:44-53. The books of Luke and Acts were intended to be two halves of one book. The first half is the story of Jesus as told by Luke who is sometimes referred to as the beloved physician (Colossians 4:14). Luke was a companion of Paul. We don’t know a lot about Luke but he was most likely a Gentile convert. Both Luke and Acts are addressed to Theophilus, a Roman official. The second half of this two part volume
by Luke is the story of the early church, the Acts of the Apostles. Today’s lesson from the first chapter of Acts is a transitional chapter between those two critical events: the story of Jesus and the story of the early Church.

In most Christian churches Ascension Day, which is on a Thursday, is “A Silent Day.” The church doors are closed and locked. The sanctuary
is empty. The pulpit and the choir loft are unoccupied. The candles on the altar are topped with charred wicks, indicating that worship has happened here in the past, but isn’t happening now. It is interesting that we so easily confess the Ascension in our creeds, but we have great difficulty in celebrating it in our churches. Perhaps, this is due to the fact that Ascension is tucked away on a weekday and we are Sunday-only worshipers. It may be that our neglect of the Ascension story is due to the fact that it is dependent on a world view which we have long ago discarded. Or have we?

Think of some of the events in the Bible that people, o, let’s say 100 years ago, had a problem believing. Now everyone of any time period believes in the crucifixion. That is totally believable. The resurrection, well that is a matter of faith and we want to believe that physical death
is not an end but rather the beginning of a new and glorious life in the kingdom of heaven. In the last fifty years or so we have heard many people tell of out-of-body experiences. They tell of being in heaven and seeing relatives or friends. This has not been just one or two people. There are many accounts of this and it is believable. But this thing of Jesus blasting off into space like a rocket and landing on some celestial satellite or a spaceship called heaven would have been hard to believe even 50 years ago. But today we see spacecraft traveling to the outer limits of the solar system and the idea of Jesus shooting up skyward is not so far-fetched. It’s as if Jesus said, “God, beam me up.”

But again, the fact that Ascension Day comes in the middle of the week and sometimes the nearest Sunday is Mother’s Day and the following
is Pentecost, well, Ascension Day just seems to get buried.

Pastors have dealt with this in many ways. Rev. David Harrison, a pastor of a church in Bolton England used to bring a human skeleton with him to the front of the church wherever he preached. He hung it on a stand next to himself as he stood in the pulpit. He explained this practice like this: “If you don’t rivet their attention, you are lost!” In another church in England, in a sermon about John the Baptist and his strong words:
“Even now, the axe is laid to the root of the stump.” The preacher pulled out a chain saw, and savagely attacked a potted tree near him. I
imagine he got the attention of the congregation.

Then there was the pastor who hooked himself up to cables and pulleys, and when he preached about Christ ascending into the sky, his
off-stage crew hoists him to the sky. Would it help if, while I was preaching about Christ ascending into the sky, that I would be hoisted up to
the roof of our church? Would it help to have the special effects people come and do something like that? One of two things usually happens
on Ascension Day. One is that we move through the passage fairly quickly and we get ready for next Sunday and all the excitement of Pentecost. Now that is a big deal. You have your flames of fire, your speaking in tongues, the preaching of Peter and the birth of the Church.
Even Hollywood would have trouble beating that! The second thing that can happen is that we get hung up on the aerodynamics of this mystical, mysterious lift-off of the risen Jesus into heaven and then we focus only on the Second Coming and all that might mean to us and
the world.

But today I want to focus on the simple question asked by some strange messengers in white robes: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?” Or as Eugene Peterson puts it in his translation of the Bible, The Message: “You Galileans! Why do you just stand there looking up at an empty sky?” Or to say it another way, “What are you looking for?”

The picture that comes to mind for me is that wonderful story from Lake Wobegon, where Garrison Keillor says a group of Lutheran pastors came for a day in the country at the small town ministry conference. Pastor Ingqvist asked Wally to take them out on the lake on his pontoon boat, the Agnes D. Unfortunately, with twenty-four preachers and a few kegs of beer, remember these were Lutheran pastors, the Agnes D
sank lower and lower in the water. Then Wally poured about half a can of lighter fluid on the charcoal grill. As the heat rose, the pastors all shifted to one side of the boat. The fire got hotter and hotter, and the crowd shifted to one side of the boat and someone yelled out, “We’re sinking!”

With that, they all tried to rush to the front of the boat, the pontoon pitched forward and, as Keillor says, “Twenty-four Lutheran clergy took
their first step toward total immersion. As the boat tipped, they all slipped over the side, clerical collars, hush puppies and all; ready to give
their lives for Christ, but in only five feet of water.

Keillor says this: “The ministers stood perfectly still in the water, five feet of water, some of them not six feet tall, faces upraised to the bright
blue sky in prayerful apprehension. Twenty-four pastors standing up to their smiles in water, chins upraised, trying to understand this
experience and the deeper meaning of it.

So here stand the disciples, face upturned, gazing into the bright blue heaven and the messengers in white ask, “What are you gazing at?
What are you looking for?” Today I’m going to turn this question around and ask the world around us, “What are you looking for?” The studies and statistics tell us most people are looking for three things. The first is people are looking for meaning and purpose in life. They are looking
for something that will make their life count, they are looking for something that will make a difference in the world.

In the face of frustration and turmoil, in a world of violence where human life seems so cheap, and in the shadow of 9/11 when life seems so fragile in a world where we all too often measure the value of a person’s life by what they make rather than who they are, many people are looking for meaning and purpose in life.

If you need more evidence just look at the popularity of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. My guess is that it says more about what we
are seeking than what we have found. Retired Chaplain of the Senate Lloyd John Olgivie says: “Everywhere I go these days, I hear the same urgent appeal. People want their lives to count. Everyone seems to know that something is missing. We long for something which will add
zest and gusto to life.” People are looking for meaning and purpose in life.

People are also looking for relationships - meaningful, loving, lasting relationships. Waylon Jennings says it best: “We are all looking for love,” and all too often, looking in all the wrong places.”

The most powerful witness to that came from those last ditch phone calls and voice messages that came from the Twin Towers in New York
or the doomed airplane in Pennsylvania. And what did they say? You can sum it up in one phrase: “I just want to tell you that I love you.” They didn’t ask about their portfolio. They didn’t ask how the children were. They didn’t even ask for help. They just wanted to reach out to the
people they loved. In the end, it’s the relationships that matter. People are looking for meaning in life. They are looking for relationships and
they are looking for power for living.

I don’t mean power as in power tie and power suit, or political power or military power or economic power. People are looking for the strength
to get through the day, confidence for the journey and courage to face life’s uncertainties.

Some years ago, Lloyd John Olgivie wrote a book on Acts. He titled the first chapter “Prelude to Power,” and he describes what we are looking for: intellectual power which is wisdom, knowledge and insight for living in these complex times. Next was spiritual power, that is faith, confidence and inner strength. Last was emotional power which is deep love, radiant joy and compassion for the world. People are looking for an energizing, life-giving power for living the daily routine of our lives.

In a sense it seems like we are all standing around, up to our chins in water, gazing up into heaven, looking for something to meet these basic needs. And at this turning point in the journey, Jesus promises all three: meaning in life, loving relationships and power for the day.

Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” He offers a purpose worth dying for and a vision
worth living for which is to live out the unfinished work of Christ and to be his witness in the world.

Rev. Ben Holmes was well into his eighties and he lived to be the oldest clergy member of the area and thus became the bearer of the “conference cane” which was a real cane passed from generation to generation and was always kept by the oldest living clergyperson. Once you have it there is only one way to lose it and only one way to claim it. Ben Holmes is a fiery little man and in his nineties he came to the
annual conference to receive the cane. When he received it he said: “You know, I don’t really need this yet. I still have a vocation, a calling, a purpose, something to get me out of bed in the morning, and that makes all the difference.” Then he turned to the newly ordained and said:
“I hope you all will speak a good word for Jesus Christ.” And then he went on to make a passionate speech on behalf of senior citizens and the need to build the new wing at a retirement home. Ninety years old and still discovering meaning in his passion for others and his witness for Jesus Christ!

The messengers in white seem to be saying, “What do you think you are doing standing around gazing up into the sky? You’ve got work to do. You’ve got a world to save and a life to give. You’ve got a story to tell to the nations who will turn their hearts to the right, a story of truth and mercy, a story of peace and light. If you are looking for meaning and purpose in life, you will find it in service to the risen Christ. If you are
looking for loving relationships, you will find them in the fellowship of Christ.

Luke says that they returned to Jerusalem - Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James,
Simon, Judas the son of James, Mary and Jesus’ brothers and the other women. In one accord, in one place, together. The Eugene Peterson translation says: “They agreed they were all in this for good, completely together in prayer, women included.

Wouldn’t it be neat if we had a verbatim record of what happened in those days? Wouldn’t it be great to hear them retelling all the stories of their time with Jesus? There must have been laughter and joy, tears and remembrance. And if the rest of the New Testament is any indication, there was probably some bickering and nit-picking, jockeying for power and jealousy. Fearful and fretful, delighted and depressed, disabled
and doubting, grieving for the past and dreaming of the future. It was all there. But through it all, anticipation, joy and great love. That’s
the Church.

A pastor shared a personal story. “If you ask why I am where I am today, I could say it was because of loving parents who planted in me the
seed of faith, the call of God which I experienced at summer church camps, the nurturing I received in college. But if I trace it back, I would
have to say it goes back to the local church. It was here, in the church, in the family of God, that even as a kid I knew I was loved, I was welcomed, I was accepted for who I was. See, I was a scrawny and awkward kid and I was not the least bit athletic which, in my small town
high school, meant that I was a nobody. But when I went to church, Sunday school teachers like Emma Traister brought Kool-Aid and Ritz crackers and made me feel special. My pastors encouraged and praised me. Other adults seemed to tolerate me. And in that world, I was somebody, I was accepted, and I was loved. It wasn’t a perfect church, but then I wasn’t a perfect kid. And in the circle of grace, I came to
where I could even accept myself. This is why we believe in the body, the loving care and nurturing of the family of faith; why it is so important for the Church to be a welcoming, loving, caring fellowship where every person who walks through that door knows they are loved, accepted, special.  If you are looking for loving relationships, look here, in the fellowship of Christ.”

And if you are looking for power, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” Power for living. Confidence in the face of uncertainty. Hope in the face of loss. Assurance in times of fear. Yes, these are difficult times with the many conflicting ideas on how to reopen society and how best to deal with this pandemic. We can add to that the prospects of an economy that may not take off as fast as we would
like. And there is always the fear of terrorism. All of that is real. But just as real is the assurance of God’s spirit, present with us in the life of God’s people, to enable us to live with the assurance of hope.

Yes, there is evil and wickedness in the world but that isn’t the full story. In Christ there is freedom and power to overcome, power for living.
The old gospel song says this:                                                                                 

There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the blood of the lamb,
there is power, power, wonder working power
n the precious blood of the lamb.

So let’s go back to the basic question: What are you looking for? Frederick Buechner, the Christian writer, says that we are looking for a
“home” - a place where we are accepted and loved, a place from which we can share the gospel and make a difference in peoples lives, a
place that supports us spiritually and a place where we can grow in faith. And that is exactly what Jesus Christ and the Church have to offer.

Let us not be like the men who were just looking up in the sky. Let us share the good news of the gospel wherever we are today and for all
of our tomorrows.  Amen.

THE PRAYER
Gracious Heavenly Father, we give you thanks in this and every age for the many blessings we have and are still receiving from your gracious hand. May we never take your love, grace and blessings for granted. We are thankful for the healing power of Christ that is at work in our world. We pray for our world, for all people and nations. May we exercise a spirit of wisdom as we serve the common good. Shield all who suffer from the terrors of violence and war; bring them to safety and new life in you. Make us one family gathered up in your love and clothed in the power of your peace.

In these difficult times guide those who are seeking a cure to this pandemic that has disrupted our lives in so many ways. For those who are unemployed we pray for opportunities for them to return to work. We pray for parents who are now teachers and for health care workers who are doing their best to assist people in restoring their health.

On this Memorial Day weekend we think of those who are and have served in the military forces of this country and we especially remember those who gave their lives for our freedom. We also remember those loved ones who memories bring us a sense of peace as we remember their many acts of love and kindness.

We pray for the Church, the body of Christ that is found throughout the world. May it continue to share the good news of the gospel. And
enable our local church to continue in mission and ministry as we can during these times. We are a family of faith and we pray together the prayer that Jesus taught us: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, they 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; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us
from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.

THE CLOSING HYMN                                                                       “America, the Beautiful”

O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!
America, America! God shed his grace on thee,
and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years
thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears!
America, America! God shed his grace on thee,
and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!

THE BLESSING
And now may the love of God, the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the fellowship and communion of the Holy Spirit be with you today and always. Amen.