Focus! God Is Speaking!
God is speaking. He’s called us to rise up and we are rising. He’s called us to listen and we are beginning to hear. He’s called us to move and we are standing up to injustice and hate. He’s spoken answers to our prayers and has called us to answer the prayers of others, and we are answering. Now, we must FOCUS.
This is the liturgy for the fifth Sunday in UMC Discipleship Ministries’ Rise Up! worship series for the Season After Epiphany.
Note: For best understanding and flow, listen to each video where it is placed in the page before moving on to the next portion of text as placement is based on where the music/audio would take place during a live service.
We Gather Together
All singing together …
Prayer for Illumination
How we long for that day
when all creation will join the song,
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
We thank you and praise you
for your presence with us, here, now,
to strengthen us for our walk
and our work with you and one another.
But we are so easily distracted
from your goodness,
the greatness of your power,
and the depth of your love.
So speak to us now through your word
proclaimed among us,
and focus our hearts
Word and Response
Spoken Word © Rev. B. Kevin Smalls 2018
Somewhere in my past
the locust have destroyed
so much of what I know
it’s hard to FOCUS
on just us as we travel
throughout these barren lands.
It’s easier to focus on poverty
you see it is real, deep
and depressing no need
in suppressing the grief
that goes with it …
I get it. Focus.
On not just us …
but on our longing
for days gone by
when life was on a high
when peace and politics
were best friends
and every conflict found
an amends …
Being in an oppressive cave
for so long it’s hard to trust
freedom … and then some.
It’s hard to trust new beginnings …
that may turn sour.
It’s hard to trust new opportunities
they could collapse in an hour.
Scripture – Isaiah 40:21-31 (NRSV, alt.)
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is the one who sits above the circle of the earth,
and it’s inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them,
and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off
The Holy One says to you …
To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal?
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
Who created these?
It is the Holy One who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name;
for our God is great in strength, mighty in power,
not one missing.
So why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
All the People:
“My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Then, the Voice emerges again.
We have been delivered …
how we quiver with the good news.
We have been rescued
no miscued message this time.
We have been heard …
our walk will no longer be disturbed
with fear … our running will no longer
be short-circuited due to poor gear …
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth,
who does not faint or grow weary;
whose understanding is unsearchable.
The Holy One gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
It’s time to FOCUS … NOT on any POTUS
Not on past locust damage …
but FOCUS on Jesus’ FOCUS …
GOD God self … the one and only
Liberator of the broken community.
Come now, we’ve been heard,
come out of exile now …
FOCUS … FOLKS God loves US.
FOCUS … God SPOKE us into being
FOCUS … God woke us up into dreaming
FOCUS … will you … can you … GO THUS
and know … this race is designed FOR US!
Reflection for Sunday, February 4, 2018 – Focus!
Peter walked on water for a brief second while fixing his eyes on Jesus. Imagine what our lives would look like if we FOCUSed.
Matthew 14:22-33 is the story of Jesus walking on water. In the story (beginning at verse 28), Peter asks Jesus to order Peter to walk out to him on the water. Jesus says, “Come!”, and Peter starts walking on the water, too. Peter’s doing just fine at walking on the water until he sees a big wind, becomes frightened, and starts to sink.
Peter took his focus off Jesus, became distracted by the wind which frightened him, and began to sink.
How often do we take our focus off Jesus, off God, and let the world distract us with things that either frighten us or that feed the fears we already carry?
Each morning in the waking moment right before our eyes fully open and the world begins to creep its way into our minds, we all breathe a subconscious prayer of praise and thanksgiving. We have survived the night to see another day. We breathe it in, we hold that breath for as long as we can, and then our eyes open, that breath rushes out of our lungs to carry that unspoken prayer of our subconscious to God, we step out onto the water of the new day, and then …
We turn on the TV to catch the morning news and the world-wind begins to ruffle our hair like a fetid breeze. We reach for our phones to check messages, Twitter and Facebook, and the world-wind begins to blow at a more steady pace. We open the pile of bills waiting there on the kitchen counter as we silently sip our morning coffee, and the world-wind gains enough strength to beat branches against our soul.
By mid-morning, mid-day at the latest, we find ourselves trying to stay upright in gale-force world-winds of overly sensationalized headlines, misinformation, false or exaggerated statistics, gossip, speculation, and opinion. Those winds blow us into states of confusion, frustration, dissatisfaction, aggravation, and outrage. They kick up sandstorms of false worries and baseless fears that feed and nurture each other and, for some of us at least, they develop into a full-fledged hurricane of hate, outrage, condemnation, suspicion, oppression, distrust, depression, and objectification.
Our focus is now entirely on the world-wind storms around us and, near as we can tell, both Jesus and God have “left the building”.
That’s what we cry out, isn’t it? That’s why we put on our best impression of Jacob and Israel, and say, “God, how could you lose track of me? Why don’t you care about me? Look at all this world-wind storm damage! I can’t fix this!”
If God makes “mom-faces”, this is probably the moment when He makes the “exasperated, eye-rolling, I’ve-been-trying-to-tell-you” face, and Jesus is sitting next to God doing a face-palm and muttering, “I told you they know not what they do.”
Rise up, pay attention, listen. We’ve heard these stories all our lives and yet we are forgetting who and what God is, what God has done. We’re letting the locusts we’ve conjured up in the form of those fears and worries eat away at the harvest of wisdom and knowledge and faith that’s been cultivated in us since birth, distracting us away from focusing on GOD.
God that created all there is. God that stretched the sky over our heads like the canvas of a tent for us to live under. God that sees the rulers and princes and powers and principalities and presidents and prime ministers and premiers of this world and ignores them because He knows they amount to little and count for nothing. He knows that, with one breath from Him, they will shrivel and blow away in His God-wind like so many bits of chaff, and their world-wind will be nothing more than a weak gasp.
No one compares to God! There is no one on earth who could hold a candle to God. No prince. No ruler. No power. No principality. No president. No preacher. No prime minister. No premier. No force on earth can stand against God or rise as an equal to God or to Christ.
Look up. Look up at the night sky and remember that God hung every single one of those stars and God knows and calls them – each and every one of them – by name without ever forgetting even one of them.
God never loses track of us, never doesn’t care about us! God doesn’t come and go. God never tires or pauses to catch His breath.
God has lasted since the beginning of time. God will last through eternity. God lasts and God is.
“Lest our feet stray from the places, Our God, where we met thee. Lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.”
We need to keep our attention, our FOCUS on God and on Christ. We need to learn to trust them, to listen to God. To move in the direction His Spirit guides us.
They are with us in the valley and on the mountain. They see us always. They hear us always. They have promised us time and time and time again that they will provide for us, strengthen us, protect us, and 365 different times in the Bible we are told to not be afraid. Fear can’t take a foothold, can’t distract us, if we just maintain our FOCUS on God and on Christ.
God will give to us the power and the strength we need to face whatever lies before us. Without God, even those who are young and healthy grow faint and become exhausted, but those who wait on God, those who trust God, will have their strength renewed.
Not on the world-winds of fear and worry, not on the news or Twitter or Facebook. Keep your FOCUS on God.
God spoke us each into being, created in His image, for a purpose.
God is speaking to us even now, reminding us that we have been made to stay the course, to run the race.
God the Great Liberator has called us out of exile and is speaking.
Sung Affirmation of Faith
All singing together …
Thanksgiving and Communion
If we were in a live service, we would begin the liturgy for the Great Thanksgiving. The communion service written for this particular liturgy is different from the traditional service normally used (located in our hymnals) and is beautiful in its honesty and emotion. I have not shared it here because communion is not something one can do alone in our denomination. It requires a second person at a minimum, and that person must be a pastor for blessing the elements (bread and wine or, in the case of the UMC, grape juice).
If you are missing communion or wanting to receive communion, I encourage you to visit your local church. Since this offering is also received during this portion, please consider offering your time or a monetary gift to a local charity or church in your area.
I am including the music that would be played during this particular service and hope you take time to reflect on the messages of the songs below.
We Go Forth
All the People:
Thank you, God, for uniting us with Jesus in this holy mystery.
We are no longer our own, but yours.
So send us, and put us
to leading and serving in your mission
wherever we go. Amen.
Come now, we’ve been heard,
come out of exile now…
FOCUS…FOLKS God loves US.
FOCUS…God SPOKE us into being
FOCUS…God woke us up into dreaming
FOCUS…you can…we will…GO THUS
and know…this race is designed FOR US!
All singing together …
NOTES AND ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:
*Many thanks to the team at UMC Discipleship Ministries for providing the prayers, poem, scripture interpretation and song lists for this series. (©Discipleship Ministries 2018).
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