Sunday August 16, 2020


Announcements

* GVPC Session Meeting- Wednesday August 19, 2020 at 7pm via Zoom

* GVPC Deacon's Meeting- Thursday August 20, 2020 at 7pm via Zoom

* GVPC Church Picnic- Sunday August 23, 2020 outside after worship

Call to Worship

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!

2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. 3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

Opening Hymn

How Long O Lord, will you forget an answer to my prayer? No tokens of your love I see; your face is turned away from me; I wrestle with despair!

How Long O Lord, will you forsake and leave me in this way? When will you come to my relief? My heart is overwhelmed with grief, by evil night and day.

How long O Lord, but you forgive with mercy from above. I find that all your ways are just; I learn to praise you and to trust in your unfailing love!

Prayer of Confession

Gracious God, our sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide, and too deep to undo. Forgive what our lips tremble to name, what our hearts can no longer bear, and what has become for us a consuming fire of judgement. Set us free from a past that we cannot change; open to us a future in which we can be changed; and grant us grace to grow more and more in your likeness and image; through Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

Words of Assurance:

Hear the good news: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia. Amen.

Apostle’s Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

Almighty God, in Jesus Christ you taught us to pray, and to offer our petitions to you in his name. Guide us by your Holy Spirit, that our prayers for others may serve your will and show your steadfast love; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord:

  • Let us pray for the world.

  • Let us pray for the church.

  • Let us pray for those who govern us.

  • Let us pray for world leaders.

  • Let us pray for the sick.

God of compassion, bless us and those we love, our friends and families that, drawing close to you, though we are apart, we may be drawn closer to each other, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Offertory

What is distracting you from following God?

Revelation 17

7 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. 2 With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”

3 Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. 5 The name written on her forehead was a mystery:

babylon the great

the mother of prostitutes

and of the abominations of the earth.

6 I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.

When I saw her, I was greatly astonished.7 Then the angel said to me: “Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns.8 The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.

9 “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. 11 The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.

12 “The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. 13 They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”

15 Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages.16 The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. 17 For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. 18 The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”

Sermon

Let us pray,

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be pleasing and acceptable to you, our rock and our redeemer…

For those of you who have been following along with our Revelation reading plan. I’m sure you’f agree that Revelation is a difficult book to understand. I believe that understanding genre is key to understanding Revelation. We have to know what type of writing revelation is. Otherwise our interpretations are going to be way off. That’s true when it comes to scripture in general, but especially Revelation.

First and foremost, Revelation is a vision. It’s not something that literally happened. Nor is it something that the author sees, and something that will literally happen in the future. It’s full of metaphors. Figures of speech where a word or a phrase is applied to an object or action that is not literally applicable. It’s raining cats and dogs right now. Doesn’t literally mean it’s raining animals. Just that it’s raining a lot.

Secondly, Revelation is apocalypse. It is an uncovering of some sort of divine truth. Remember that apocalypse originally doesn’t mean “end of times”, it means “uncovering”. God is uncovering God’s plan and God’s purpose for humanity. Even If human history never literally unfolds the way it does in the book of Revelation.

Today I want to further complicate things by exploring how Revelation is also satire.

Dictionary.com defines satire as:

The use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

When done well, satire takes the ills of the world, and points them out through humor.

Saturday Night Live is a good example of satire. Have any of you seen the Zoom Church skit? In it, the pastor has to spend the entire service reminding everyone to mute themselves. Only to accidentally mute himself. And not be able to unmute himself. So all people can hear is the choir singing off key. Everyone who has attended a Zoom meeting during the pandemic knows how frustrating it is when you are in a meeting with people who can’t figure out how to mute and unmute themselves. The skit makes fun of this problem in an effort to convince people to mute themselves during worship services!

I love satire, but there is one big problem with satire: not everyone gets it. Some people just don’t think it's very funny, because we all have different senses of humor. If you’ve never attended a Zoom Church service, you won’t get the Saturday Night Live Zoom church skit. Also, maybe you are a person who thinks it is sacrilegious to make fun of the church. So instead of finding the skit funny, the skit will make you angry. For some people, satire can come across as too much, whereas for others it can go right over their heads.

The Revelation is not just meant to be silly like many of these SNL skits are. But it is taken literally in much the same wrong way that people take SNL skits literally. And we’re not here to make fun of anyone who has taken it that way. Rather, we’re here to point out the real power of what John has to say by noticing how he said it.

One of the powerful things about the book of John’s Revelation is that one of the important functions of humor, and especially satire specifically, is that it makes the scary things less scary. It makes them easier to confront. Empires like Rome or Babylon or any large empire in history are scary. Sure, they are great for a while for the “in” crowd, but for the common every day people on the ground, they are bad news. So picturing these empires as an over the top prostitute on top of a crazy wild monster thing defuses the fear while pointing out God’s ultimate victory over this self-absorbed, opulent empire.

The challenge of a self-absorbed, opulent empire is that it is an attractive one. One that can lure us in if we aren’t careful. The whore of Babylon makes fun of something very serious. The danger of pledging our allegiance to empire instead of to the Lamb. While it’s easy to castigate empires like Rome or Babylon. The danger of pledging allegiance to an empire still exists in our modern world.

The world witnesses the dangers of empire last week in Beruit, Lebanon. Where an enormous explosion left 171 people dead, thousand injured, and hundreds of thousands homeless. The explosion originated in a warehouse that contained 3000 tons of ammonium nitrate. Despite repeated sanctions and warnings to the Lebanese government to remove the ammonium nitrate, the government did nothing. The government wanted to wait until the crew paid them the money they owed before they did anything with the nitrate. In other words, this enormous explosion was an accident. An accident that happened due to the Lebanese government’s failure to take appropriate action to reduce the threat.

Days after the explosion, the Lebanese cabinet resigned. You would think this is good news right? At the very least a step in the right direction? Not necessarily. At the time that I wrote this sermon, Lebanon has no plans to elect a new cabinet. The cabinet is basically still in power because of Lebanon’s state of emergency. Someone has to make sure that the hospitals still operate, roads are open, and victims receive the supplies they need. The cabinet just cannot propose laws or issue decrees. Many Lebanese citizens see this move as political satire. The cabinet found a way to resign while effectively staying in power.

I think the Lebanese bombing is a good example of the limits of governments and the dangers of putting all of our faith in them. While governments are useful ways of administering human services and protecting natural security, they are not powerful enough to tell us who we are. They are not powerful enough to give our lives meaning and direction. They are not powerful enough to bring about true peace on earth. As the Lebanon bombing illustrates, they certainly are susceptible to corruption, greed, and gross incompetence.

Friends, the good news of our Scripture passage for today is that the Lamb will ultimately be victorious. In the battle between good and evil we will face many distractions. And some of those distractions may initially look good. We have to keep constantly drawing our energy and purpose from the Lamb. Otherwise we will be distracted by the bright shiny toys the enemy will throw our way to distract us from the battle raging all around us.

This week I asked you all to reflect on what is distracting you from following the Lamb. I know for me I get distracted by laziness. For example, I know that I need to sit down and write my sermon. But I will do anything to get out of doing what I have to do. I will buy stuff on the internet I don’t need. I will do laundry. I will write birthday cards. I will draft worship plan for the fall. All to distract myself from the intimidating task of wrestling with God’s word bringing God’s word before you all. I can work so hard on being distracted that I look busy, when really I’m just being lazy.

When under stress, I think we’re all more susceptible to that which distracts us. And that’s okay. But part of the work of Christian discipleship is to be aware of our distractions so that they don’t overpower us. I’ve accepted that I will always want to do the thing I don’t need to do. So I make to-do lists for my work days. I reward myself with breaks throughout the day after I’ve finished the tasks that I didn’t want to do. I try to be kind to myself when I don’t accomplish all that which I set out to.

Friends as we transition from Summer to Fall, I hope you all are thinking about how you are going to deal with distractions that come with new seasons of life and ministry. Particularly as we navigate the stress of an unprecedented school year, what is bound to be a highly contested presidential election, and a socially distanced holiday season. While we have the time, the space, and the brainpower, let us discern how we can do the work God has called us to do without giving in to the distractions that derail us from our purpose.

Thanks be to God,

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Closing Hymn

We Shall Overcome

We shall overcome; we shall overcome, we shall overcome someday

O, deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome someday!

We’ll walk hand in hand; we’ll walk hand in hand; we’ll walk hand in hand some day.

O, deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome someday!

We shall live in peace; we shall live in peace; we shall live in peace someday

O, deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome someday!

We are not afraid; we are not afraid; we are not afraid today.

O, deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome someday!

God will see us through; God will see us through; God will see us through someday

O, deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome someday!

Blessing

You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has put you there. God has a plan and a purpose to you being there. Christ who dwells in you has something he wants to do, through you, wherever you are. Believe this and go in his grace and love and power, Amen.

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