Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Give us grace to love one another, to follow in the way of his commandments, and to share his risen life with all the world, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Acts 7:54-60: The Stoning of Stephen
When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16: Prayer and Praise for Deliverance from Enemies
In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. 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.
1Peter 2:2-11: The Living Stone and a Chosen People
Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation–if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner.” and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do . But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not recieved mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul.
John 14:1-14: Jesus the Way to the Father
“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 and 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.”
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines refuge as a shelter or protection from danger or difficulty and a place of safety or shelter. The word refuge really fits with what;s going on in our world today. As we “shelter in place” we are making our homes into fortresses against an unseen, but deadly foe: COVID-19. We arm ourselves with masks and disinfectant and shut our doors in an attempt to “flatten the curve.”
This week’s readings also speak of refuge. In Psalm 31 God is a refuge from danger and in John Jesus offers his troubled disciples a heavenly refuge, promising to prepare them a heavenly home. In the Acts reading, Stephan takes refuge in a glorious vision of heaven, even while he is being stoned to death. And in the 1Peter reading we are urged to seek shelter in restraint from the “desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul.”
Today’s readings remind us that to live on this earth is to live in a war zone. Martin Luther, who lived through many wars and plagues; said it best:
And though this world, with devils filled;
Should threaten to undo us
We will not fear, for God has willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him,
His rage we can endure,
For lo! His doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
As this pandemic continues, some members of our society struggles to “endure” the rage of the pandemic more than others. Part of our struggle against COVID-19 is to acknowledge and address the needs of those who are especially susceptible to the virus’ deadly consequences. This is a great reason to honor the fifth commandment, “You shall not murder.” Martin Luther defines it this way, “We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.”
Our readings for today are very timely. We live in times of heightened anxiety and it’s important to remember that true peace, the peace of the Gospel, doesn’t come from our attempts to protect ourselves from earthly harm. No leader, vaccine, or test can truely bring peace. They are important and necessary for life to flourish in this world, as Luther states above, but they don’t bring the peace of Christ.
The peace described in today’s readings doesn’t depend on the calming of the storm or the removal of our distress. Instead, the peace of God holds us safely. The psalmist invites us to trust because we know that “my times are in your hands.” This is a deep trust in the goodness of God, even when God’s goodness is hidden or obscure.
In our John reading Jesus speaks to his troubled disciples and asks them to believe in God, whose love and works they have witnessed in the person of Jesus: “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.” But Jesus has made this command very difficult, especially for Peter. In the chapter before this, Jesus has just told Peter that he would deny Jesus three times. With this news on Peter’s mind, Jesus tells his disciples not to be troubled but instead to “believe in God, believe in me.” Jesus calls the disciples to find peace in his trustworthiness, despite the gathering storm clouds.
Stephan similarly, finds peace in the thick of persecution. Right after Stephan’s sermon the crowd becomes enraged, drags him outside the city and begins to stone him. In the midst of this, Stephan sees Jesus at the right hand of God and testifies to his vision. Stephan commits his spirit to Jesus and asks that God, “not hold this sin against them.” Stephan finds peace in knowing that the resurrected Jesus sees his suffering, is enthroned on high and will soon receive him into his heavenly court. At the height of his adversity, Stephan is given the gift of peace–Jesus himself, resurrected and glorified.
We live in a time of great anxiety where our world is filled with things that threaten to undo us. My prayer is that we remember what kind of peace Jesus gives to us. It’s the kind of peace that prevails in battle. It’s the kind of peace looks at death and sickness and knows that they have ultimately been conquered in Christ’s own body. This peace alone allows us to say with the Psalmist:
O how abundant is your goodness
that you have laid up for those who fear you
and accomplished for those who take refuge in you,
in the sight of everyone!
In the shelter of your presence you hide them
from human plots;
you hold them safe under your shelter
from contenteous tongues. Psalm 31:19-21
May we all find God’s peace today and always. Amen.
Let us pray for the church, the world and all those in need.
Eternal God, amid all the turmoil and changes in the world, your love is steadfast and your strength never fails. In this time of danger and trouble, be to us a sure guardian and rock of defense. Guide the leadership of our nation with your wisdom, comfort those in distress and grant us courage and hope to face the future. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.
O God, where hearts are fearful and constricted, grant courage and hope. Where anxiety is infectious and widening, grant your peace and reassurance. Where impossibilities close every door and window, grant imagination. Where distrust twists our thinking, grant healing and illumination. Where spirits are daunted and weakened, grant soaring wings and strengthened dreams. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.
Merciful God, your healing power is every where about us. Strengthen those who work among the sick; give them courage and confidence in all they do. Encourage them when their efforts seem futile or when death prevails. Increase their trust in your power even to overcome death and pain and crying. May they be thankful for every sign of health you give, and humble before the mystery of your healing grace. We especially ask for your healing on Kim, Audrey, Arlene, Loren, Karen, Harlan, Daryl, Nathan, Madelon and those we name in our hearts. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.
God of earth and air, water and fire, height and depth, we pray for those who work in danger, who rush in to bring hope and help and comfort when others flee to safety, whose mission is to seek and save, serve and protect, and whose presence embodies the protection of the Good Shepherd. Give them caution and concern for one another, so that in safety they may do what must be done, under your watchful eye. Support them in their courage and dedication that they may continue to save lives, ease pain, and mend the torn fabric of lives and social order. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.
Merciful God, we ask that you look upon the members of Red Oak Grove with love and grace. We lift up to you by name this week: John and Anita Angell; Terry Bonnes; Larry and Cheryl Helgeson; Brenda Johnson; Jessica Johnson; Loren Kittelson; Pete and Cathy Kleinschmidt; Keith and Lana Kruger; Angela, Cody and Cory Wagaman; Benjamin Weikum. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.
With bold confidence in your love, almighty God, we place all for whom we pray into your eternal care; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lord, remember us in your kingdom and teach us to pray. 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 trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Blessing: The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor + grant you peace. Amen.
Go in peace and serve the Lord. Thanks be to God!