Wade In the Water
This service was prepared for Bethel UMC – Seymour, Seymour TN, and premiered on YouTube at 10:30 a.m., Sunday, June 7, 2020.
CALL TO WORSHIP & INVOCATION
L: God asks us, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
P: Here am I; send me!
L: God asks us, “Who will visit those who are in prison and advocate for a justice system that is fair and restorative?”
P: Here am I; send me!
L: God asks us, “Who will welcome the stranger and recognize as family all who call to Abba, Allah, or Yahweh, regardless of country of origin or immigration status?”
P: Here am I; send me!
L: God asks us, “Who will heal the wounds of slavery, break the bonds of prejudice and oppression; affirm in word and action that Black lives matter.”
P: Here am I; send me!
L: God asks us, “Who will care for the earth and model a lifestyle rooted in stewardship, that shares and protects the goodness of creation?”
P: Here am I; send me!
ALL: Lead us, Spirit of God!
Let’s pray …
Holy Holy Holy God of Justice and Peace, divine parent of all.
Restore in us a spirit of Hope, not fear … Justice, not corruption … Peace, not violence … So that we may be agents of your love, bearing witness to your glorious salvation,
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, Creator of us all.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
This is the time when we lift up our joys and concerns to God. To protect the privacy of individuals, I will not be saying any names out loud during the prayer. Please know that I am praying for any needs you’ve sent me and for your unspoken needs as well. Let’s pray:
God, we lift up to you now, those among us who are suffering. One who’s much-needed surgery has been delayed, another who’s illness is still undetermined, but serious enough to cause hospitalization. One who is freshly grieving the loss of her husband. Many who are anxious and worried about any security in a future that is suddenly so unknowable.
Be with them, God. Give them Eirene … peace … your gift of wholeness. Wholeness of sound body and spirit. Comfort them. Guide their caregivers. Ease their pain.
[i]We pray for our brothers and sisters here and around the world. We pray for our nation. We pray for the church, and very often, too often, Lord, when we come to you with these prayers, we beseech you to remove the mountains in our path, make our paths easy and effortless.
Not this time, God. This time, we pray that you do not move the mountain, God.
Leave the mountain in place and, instead, give us the strength to climb the mountain. Don’t remove our stumbling blocks. Don’t make our way easy or effortless. Don’t let us return to that complacent normal, to those positions of personal privilege. Lead us, God. Prayer is the first step, we know that, and we know the second step is for the prayer to become action. Spirit, guide our actions that our prayers may bear fruit.
You told us we could bring you our every care, Lord, and today we do. You promised to help those who help themselves, and we believe You do.
The way may not be easy, but You didn’t say that it would be. We know that Lord, and we know that when our tribulations get too light, We tend to stray away from you and begin to take You and Your promises for granted.
Have mercy on us, God. Forgive us.
[ii]We have been complicit in systems that harm our neighbors and circumvent Your vision of peace with justice. With the confidence of Your children, we confess our failings to You, our Divine Parent.
All: God, We remember the times that we could have spoken truth in love to the bully, the rude co-worker, or the racist family member but chose instead to stay comfortably silent.
We confess that when injustice does not directly affect us we find it too easy to look the other way.
We become frozen when we face the enormity of peacemaking even though we know that the Body of Christ suffers when any of our sisters and brothers suffer.
Forgive us for our fear, complacency, and complicity.
Encourage us to leverage our privilege and use our resources to replace unjust systems with Beloved Community.
Please, Lord, let your justice roll on like a river, your righteousness like a never-failing stream.
God, you sent angels to the pool at Bethesda to trouble the waters so the first who stepped in would be healed. Let Spirit trouble our waters, Lord, and let one and all be healed.
We ask these things in the name of your son, and now, with the confidence of Your children, we pray to you in the words he taught 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.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
One: The word of God for the people of God.
Many: Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Wade in the Water
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and redeemer. Amen.
This message has been hard to craft. For one, it is my next to the last message to the people of Bethel United Methodist Church in Seymour. On July 5th, I will begin a new appointment as pastor of Union Grove United Methodist Church in Friendsville. While I’m looking forward with anticipation to my next appointment, leaving Bethel is bittersweet.
This has also been hard to craft because, honestly … where does one even begin to minister to the needs of the people in the midst of everything that is going on in this world?
I could concentrate today’s message on Trinity Sunday. I could try to explain to you one of the hardest Christian concepts to understand – that God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are all one great cosmic mystery. But the best I could do would be to ask you to imagine God removing his own heart and implanting it into the womb of a dark-skinned middle eastern teenager where it would develop in her womb, arrive in this world in the lowliest of possible conditions, and would grow to become Jesus of Nazareth, our Lord, our Savior, our King.
I could ask you to imagine that God released His own breath … ruach … one Day of Pentecost two thousand years ago and it made its home among us as the Holy Spirit … the ever-present breath of God.
Head, heart, breath … God, Christ, Spirit … three-in-one Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity.
I’m not going to do that, though. I’m going to focus on Peace with Justice.
I know you’ve been watching the news. I know you’ve heard the chants of “No Justice, No Peace.” If you’ve been paying attention to Bethel’s Facebook page, you’ve heard songs and messages from others all about peace, about justice … and about injustice.
You’ve seen the masses of people rising up in protest, initially about the murder of George Floyd, and since grown into a national and even global cry for an end to institutional, structural, and systemic racism, police reform, and so much more.
You’ve seen the results of anger and frustration that broiled over into rioting which then escalated into conflict and show of.
You have been a participant, in some way, shape, or form in all of this, even if you don’t realize it. From joining the protesters at a local march or rally or vigil to sharing posts for or against on social media, to voicing your opinion online, in line, or at home, and even when you’ve been totally silent … you have participated in the chaotic community we all currently live in.
Richard Rohr recently wrote, “So what makes a good community? … The isolated individual is fragile and largely helpless to evoke long-term change or renewal. By ourselves, we can accomplish very little. We must find common ground and common purpose to move forward. It was Jesus’ first and foundational definition of church and even divine presence — “two or three gathered together” in the right spirit (Matthew 18:20), and “I am there” — just as much as in bread or Bible!” In that writing, Rohr reinforces the presence of Christ in the gathering of the people.
When we do think about Jesus in the midst of violence or chaos, we probably all think of the day he flipped tables and wielded a whip in the Temple, or the violence he endured from his arrest to his death on the cross.
It’s hard to see Christ in the faces of those angry rioting protesters … just as hard to see it in the faces of police wielding batons, shoving 75-year-old men to the ground, firing rubber bullets into the faces of American citizens. How do you see or hear Jesus through the smoke of the tear gas bombs the flashbang grenades?
It is almost impossible to see Christ in the faces of public, appointed, and elected officials that seem more interested in damage control, avoiding civil suits and salvaging their reputation mid-campaign than actually hearing and acting on the peoples’ cries for Justice.
We like to think, we want to believe that whenever Christ is present with the masses, all is peaceful, calm, love and joy, sheer reverence …. In essence, a kumbaya moment.
Do you remember all the verses to Kumbaya? I do … “Someone’s crying, Lord … come by here.”
For far too long, when people of color – black, brown, red, or yellow – cry out that they are suffering injustice upon injustice, we don’t join them in their cry. We don’t lift up their needs, their anguish, their fear, their frustration unless there is some type of capital we can gain from doing so. We click the proverbial heart button or sad button and then look away, move past them where they lie in the ditch, wounded and beaten like the man in the story of the Good Samaritan … only so far the Samaritan has not appeared.
Proverbs is supposed to be the book that teaches us how to be good, to do right. If you’re a woman, Proverbs 31 is held up as the ultimate of what a woman should be.
And yet we consistently miss the mark in our looking away, in our silence, even though Proverbs 31:8-9 tells us to “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Matthew 28:16-20 gave us Christ’s instructions to go forth and make disciples of every nation … and yet we are prone to pick and choose who we consider worthy of sharing the Good News.
I may have mentioned this in previous messages, but it bears repeating. In a message delivered shortly after the mass shooting at the Pulse in Orlando several years ago, Steven Furtick said, “What is not healed is handed down.”
Think about that. What is not healed is handed down. From generation to generation to generation. The Pulse message was actually a revision of a message he’d previously done based on that same profound statement. The original message was about racism.
What is not healed is handed down. Again and again and again.
People of color … blacks, North and South American indigenous peoples … have been suffering the wounds of 400 plus years of oppression, of violence against them because of the color of their skin, of structures and systems built specifically to hold them down … a virtual knee on their necks. The wounds have never healed. What is not healed is handed down and grows and festers and abscesses until finally, it erupts.
Racism is a virus more virulent and more evil than COVID-19. Racism is handed down. Parent to child, generation after generation after generation. Racism infects individuals, entire families, organizations, communities, corporations, and governments. Racism is sometimes very overt, but far too often very subtle.
Not just the death of yet another person of color, but the manner in which George Floyd was killed … the blatant disregard for his life by the perpetrators … the outcry for justice by not just his community but the world …
What is not healed is handed down. But how do we do heal them? How do we heal wounds that have been festering for hundreds of years? How do we cure a virus that has infected an entire society from the very inception of that society?
I watched Council of Dads the other night for the first time. There was a scene in it that stuck with me. In that scene, the main family and the council of dads were on the dock beside the lake, saying goodbye to the dad who had passed away. They’d each taken turns spreading a scoop of his ashes in the water and, as the camera began to pan out further, a narrator’s voice said, “How do you heal a broken heart? Let it love.”
God so loved the world … this broken, hurting, infected world … that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him would have eternal life.
That son … Jesus of Nazareth … told us, again and again, to love one another as he loved us.
John 5:4 comes from the story of Jesus and the disciples outside the Temple, of encountering a lame man who asks for their help to get to the water so that when the angels come and stir the water, he can be the first to step in and be healed … remember that story?
Jesus and the disciples could have just helped the man over to the edge of the pool, tell him, good luck, hope you’re first in, but they didn’t. Instead, Jesus simply healed the man.
The anthem today, Wade in the Water, is a spiritual from the days of Harriet Tubman. It speaks to the Israelites escape from Egypt. Its refrain, Wade in the water, God’s gonna trouble the water, is based on John 5:4.
God always works for the good of those who love him. People, God has troubled the water and that water is the Living Water who is Jesus Christ. Jesus has commanded us to love our neighbors … even the ones we don’t like, don’t want to love … and we are faced now with a choice … We are the cure to racism. We can be the generation that says, “NO MORE. I WILL NOT HAND THIS DOWN AGAIN.” The protesters out there? They’ve made that choice. They’re saying, NO MORE. They’re demanding an end to it all and we need to do two things … we need to hear them and we need to wade in the water and allow the healing to begin.
We are loved so much that You sent Jesus to us . . . not to condemn us but to be saved through him. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “your guilt has departed, and your sin is blotted out. “In the name of Jesus, God, forgive us our sins, heal our wounds, drive the infection from us. You have troubled the waters, Lord. Lead us to wade in.
In Jesus’ name, we pray.
Now hear this benediction:
May God bless you with anger … at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you make work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain to joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world so that you can do what others claim cannot be done to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.[iv]
As we go into the world may the Divine Parent lead us to be agents of peace with justice, may the Holy Spirit fill us with a spirit not of fear, but of adoption so that all who we meet will know the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Go in peace.
Credits & Thank Yous:
- i] https://www.nyac.com/files/websites/www/PeacewithJusticeLiturgy2018.pdf
- ii] Adapted from “Lord, Don’t Move the Mountain” as sung by Mahalia Jackson, Songwriters: D. Akers; Lord Don’t Move That Mountain lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., BMG Rights Management US, LLC
- iii] https://www.nyac.com/files/websites/www/PeacewithJusticeLiturgy2018.pdf
- iv] A Franciscan Blessing shared on Facebook by Chaplain Rich Shockey.
The following selection of songs were used under §107 of the Copyright Act of 1976 – Fair Use Allowance – for educational purposes only. All selections came from the Smithsonian Folkways collection, Wade in the Water: African American Sacred Music Traditions Vol. I-IV
- Prelude – Oh Freedom, The Princely Players
- First Hymn – Lead Me, Guide Me, Donny Vails & The Celebration Delegation
- Second Hymn – Wade in the Water, The Howard University Chamber Choir
- Third Hymn – Peace in the Valley, The Henry Davis Singers
- Postlude – We’ll Understand It Better, Toshi Reagon
Rev. Ohle’s words are her own.