First Congregational Church of Searsport, Maine
10: 00 a.m.; Sunday January 22, 2023
Third Sunday after Epiphany
Rev. Ed Gabrielsen, Pastor Carolyn Maunz, Minister of Music
Dionne Haase, Associate Minister of Music
Jill Perkins, Deacon Jennifer McKeon, Trustee
Welcome Pastor Ed Gabrielsen
Prelude: “As the Deer” Nystrom
Introit: “Thy Lord is a Lamp” Smith
Presenting Ourselves to God
*Call to Worship: (Psalm 27)
Leader: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
People: The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Leader: One thing I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after:
All: To live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.
O Christ, who commanded the apostles to go into all the world, and to preach the gospel to every creature, let your name be great among the nations, from the rising up of the sun to its going down, now and for ever. Amen.
*Opening Hymn “Jesus Calls Us” (verses 1-4) #314
Anthem: “In the Bleak Midwinter” Pethel
*Hymn “Hear, O Lord” (Insert) Repp
Sharing Our Joys and Concerns
Pastoral Prayer and Lord's Prayer
God's Word to Us
(Ushers please come forward)
Offertory: “Prelude in G Minor” Bach
Doxology and Prayer of Dedication
Sermon Pastor Ed
Choices We Make Following the Light of Christ
This year, our focus is on Matthew. In our readings today, we see a transition in the Gospel story. The first section of the Gospel ends with the death of John. In this first section, chapters 1 to 4, we have seen the birth of Jesus and his identity revealed as the Son of God. Now, we begin the second section of Matthew’s Gospel, which describes Jesus’ public ministry. The stories of his public ministry will carry us through Matthew 11. By the time we get to Matthew 11, it will be July. But before we get there, we’ll take a break from Matthew during Lent and Easter, when most of our readings will be from John.
The lectionary provides a good framework for reading the Bible. There are many ways to read the Bible, many study guides and daily devotionals such as “The Upper Room.” And I encourage you to follow a study guide of some kind. Our Monday Bible study group usually follows a study guide. Reading and studying the Bible is a good choice for the Christian life.
When I was a kid, my grandparents read one chapter of the Bible every night together before going to bed. And so, during the summer months when my brother and I were at their house, Grandma and Grandpa would get out the Bible every night and read the chapter they happened to be on. They were reading straight through the entire Bible! I think that’s probably the hard way to do it. As you know, some of the books in the Old Testament are a challenge: Leviticus and Numbers, for example. Night after night, my grandparents read every single word!
In our scripture today, Jesus hears the tragic news of John’s execution, and in response, he travels back to Galilee. He “withdraws” to Galilee. We have a sense of sadness here. We see his humanity. He has just lost a dear friend, someone he loved, John the Baptist, who suffered a horrible death. So, Jesus withdraws to Galilee. Here we see him as a person who feels deeply, a private person who is, at the same time, required, because of his mission to live and teach in public, constantly surrounded by people. Jesus must say goodbye to John and walk away from that place. And it’s still the same for us, isn’t it? Saying goodbye to people we love and walking away: surely this is one of the great sorrows in a human life. Jesus shared these human sorrows.
As we read the Bible, it’s fascinating to look on a map and think about the actual places Jesus lived and walked. I wonder why he chose to return to Galilee? Jerusalem would have been closer. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River at place called “Bethany Beyond the Jordan,” ten miles north of the Dead Sea and about 30 miles east of Jerusalem. From where he was baptized, it was an 80-mile walk to Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee. That would be like walking from Searsport to Brunswick.
You know, we have to think about something. Our minds are always thinking about something. Why not think about something beneficial? Why not think about scripture, for example? Do you ever notice what you are thinking? Ever notice the amount of mental energy that you spend thinking about things that really are not all that important? Or even worse, thinking about things that are harmful to your mind and spirit? Perhaps you find yourself stuck in repetitive patterns of thinking, repetitive thoughts, negative thoughts that bring your spirit down. When it comes to our thoughts, we have choices. We can choose the objects of our attention, and these choices are consequential. What we choose to think about makes a difference in our lives, affecting the way we feel, and the way we interact with others. Our minds are very powerful.
Here is an example of how powerful our minds are. My brother’s son, Evan, is an Air Force pilot. Evan is in his second year of training to fly the Osprey. He graduated from the Air Force Academy two years ago. When Shari and I were in Texas a few weeks ago, we got to see Evan, and I asked him about his experience at the Air Force Academy. He told me about some of the things he had to do as a young student. It was a tradition that the upper classmen would haze the freshmen cadets, you know, intimidate and punish them all the time. One of the punishments was making a cadet stand at attention without moving. Evan told me that more than once, he was made to stand at attention for four hours!
I asked him if he had learned anything about himself from those experiences. Did he learn anything about his mind? And he said yes, he used the time standing at attention to practice guitar in his mind. Evan is a classical guitarist; he started studying guitar at age five, and he is highly accomplished. So, while he had to stand at attention for four hours without moving, he decided to mentally practice his guitar pieces. He would go through each piece in his mind, mentally visualizing himself playing the music, the sound, his hands, everything happening only in his mind. And later, when he was able to actually play his guitar, he told me he played those pieces better than ever before.
We can choose what we think about. In our readings today, there is a great deal to think about. Matthew refers to the Book of Isaiah, and the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulon, descendants from the sons of Israel. We are reminded of the Assyrian invasion of the Northern Kingdom in the eighth century BC, and Matthew is suggesting here that the people in Jesus’ time are living in a similar darkness, the darkness brought by the Roman occupation.
“The people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
Here is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Light has dawned. At this point, Jesus returns to Galilee and begins to call his disciples. Living in a time of darkness, Peter, Andrew, James and John see light in Jesus, the light of God’s love and grace, and they drop what they are doing and follow him. So it is for all Christians, even today. Living in a time of darkness, and seeing the light of Christ, we follow him. We are constantly making choices. Let us continue to make choices that bring us ever closer to God’s light, the light of Christ, and so live in grace and peace. Amen.
Entering the World
*Closing Hymn “We Are Called” #307
*Benediction Pastor Ed
*Sung Benediction “Go Now in Peace” Besig
Go now in peace, never be afraid.
God will go with you each hour of everyday.
Go now in faith, steadfast strong and true.
Know God will guide you in all you do.
Go now in love, and show you believe.
Reach out to others so all the world can see.
God will be there, around you and above.
Go now in peace, in faith and in love.
Postlude: “This Little Light of Mine” Hayes