In order to expedite posting the worship services here on our website, we are reducing the transcript to just the scriptures used and the message. Holy Communion is offered every Sunday. If you are worshipping with us online whether during the live-cast or through on-demand viewing, you are encouraged to have bread and juice or wine available as you watch the service and to participate in communion just as if you are present with us.



God, open us to hear and receive your scriptures today as you would have us hear them, understand them as you would have us understand them, and to act upon them as you would have us act upon them.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

*With the exception of Psalm 139 which was both our responsive reading and is one of our scriptures, the scriptures this morning come from The Message by Eugene Peterson

Exodus 20:1-17 – God spoke all these words:

I am God, your God,

who brought you out of the land of Egypt,

out of a life of slavery.

No other gods, only me.

No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, and I’m a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me. But I’m unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.

No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name.

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day.

Honor your father and mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God, is giving you.

No murder.

No adultery.

No stealing.

No lies about your neighbor.

No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s.

James 5:13-20 – Are you hurting? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven—healed inside and out.

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. Elijah, for instance, human just like us, prayed hard that it wouldn’t rain, and it didn’t—not a drop for three and a half years. Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did. The showers came and everything started growing again.

My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off. Go after them. Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God.

Matthew 5:1-12 – When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

John 8:31-32 – Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”

L:  The scriptures of God for the people of God.

A: Thanks be to God.       

Message – Do You Hear What I Hear?*

Rev. Val

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Before I begin this morning’s message I need to clear something up. We’re almost done with this series, and it’s come to my attention that some of you may be feeling bad or even guilty because you haven’t been doing the spiritual practices we’ve been learning. Please understand that these practices are simply tools you can use … if you choose to … to deepen your faith, to learn how to better listen for God’s voice. But they aren’t required, they aren’t commanded. They’re simply tools and knowing about them lets you store away that knowledge for some point when you do want to pull one or more of them out to use.

And I have some good news about today’s spiritual practice. You’re more than likely already doing this one to some degree.

As I mentioned earlier, our psalter or responsive reading, Psalm 139, is also one of today’s scriptures. Looking at it … again, it’s on pages 854 and 855 of your hymnals … Psalm 139 is a beautiful expression of a profound truth: God is the searcher of every human heart, the One from who no secrets are hidden. God examines and knows every aspect of our being in more intimate detail than we ourselves can see.

While the truth that we cannot escape God’s all-seeing eye may weigh us down at times it is finally the only remedy for our uneasiness. When we try to hide from that holy gaze, it’s usually because we know, at least subconsciously, that it will fall on what is unholy or unloving within us. It’s only under His steady gave of love, though, that we are able to find the healing and restoration we so desperately need. It’s when we feel “searched and known” by our oh so gracious God that we are both moved and enabled to search our own hearts honestly.

That’s what this discipline or practice is about: learning to honestly look into ourselves which can be, if we do it like I said … honestly … a bit painful, but the thing is, self-examination and confession should not call us to self-hatred or self-condemnation; they should open the doors of our heart to cleansing and renewal.

There are two basic truths we need to know if we want to engage in self-examination in a healthy way. The first truth is the most basic affirmation of our faith: God loves us. No exceptions. No conditions. He simply loves us. Period.

God’s passionate and personal love for each and every human being … let me say that again, because there are some folks out there that think God doesn’t love certain people … God’s passionate and personal love for each… and… every… human… being… expresses who God is. Unfailing love is the divine nature and the divine choice in relation to us. God loves us with an overwhelming love that none of our faults, our sins, our errors can erase. While we can grieve and disappoint this love, nothing we do or fail to do can alter its depth or reality. Hear that again, too … nothing we do or fail to do can change His love for us or the way He loves us. God’s love for us is a gift, a given. We can’t control whether God loves us by efforts to gain His love or even to lose it. Since we neither deserve nor earn such love, God’s fondest dream is that we will receive it and respond to it.

The second truth is our human weakness and brokenness in relation to God. We are creatures damaged by the disorientation of Sin.  When we think about sin, we think of really dark things … breaking the commandments, not loving others … but Sin means being “off target” … like an arrow wrongly directed. Instead of being aimed toward God, we are aimed toward a distorted image of self. Our state of misdirection makes us blind. Even if we think we believe in God, we try, in effect, to stand in God’s place … to be the one’s controlling everything. As long as we are turned in on ourselves, we deny our essential dependence on God. We do not see how compulsively we try to manufacture our own security and meaning in life.

There’s an important turning point in our faith life though when we acknowledge both these truths and admit that we can neither earn God’s love nor achieve our own security and perfection. We cannot “fix” ourselves or anyone else the way we want to. That’s where God’s grace comes in and when we realize that grace lies at the center of life, we start to see it in a new way.  Turning to face God instead of self is the beginning of the Good News, the beginning of personal and relational transformation. Scripture calls this turning to face God “repentance.” Facing toward God’s tenaciously faithful love frees us to start being real.

In the light of God’s grace and mercy, we find the courage to look honestly at who we are. Bathed in God’s love, we can see clearly and nondefensively all the destructive patterns of our false self: the facades we have hidden behind; the excuses we have relied on to avoid taking responsibility; our habits of deception and control; our failure to love God, other, or ourselves. Maybe, most importantly, to love ourselves because we’ve more than likely been hearing that still small voice warning us that we were misdirected.

Is it just me, or did those damning words “Sinner repent” that have been hurled at us over the years just take on a different tone? No condemnation. No self-hatred. Just recognizing our faults and turning to face God who loves us in spite of ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling better already.

The passage from James contained instructions to the early Christian community to “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” Confession is important because it unlocks a process of spiritual healing, opening us to forgiveness, cleansing, reconciliation, and renewal. But before we can confess, we have to know what it is we’re confessing. We do that through two basic forms of self-examination: examination of conscience and examination of consciousness.

Examination of conscience is a time when “a soul comes under the gaze of God and … is pierced to the quick and becomes conscious of the things that must be forgiven and put right before it can continue to love God whose care has been so constant.” That sounds ominous, but it doesn’t have to be. This isn’t an invitation to psychoanalysis, problem solving, self-lecturing, or ego-absorption. The point is to become more God-centered by observing those moments when we aren’t as well as the moments when we are. Did someone ask you for help and you made an excuse – a false excuse – for not being available or able? Were you distracted by some worry or issue and snapped at someone who really had nothing to do with that worry or issue? Did you make a harsh or rash judgment of someone, make a hurtful comment about someone, gossip about someone? Those are the kinds of things we’re most likely to identify if we’re doing self-examination of conscience on a fairly regular basis. Going back in history, this was how early Christians prepared for receiving communion. It’s why the Roman Catholic church had a long standing practice of needing to go to confession before receiving communion.

There are some cautions to pay attention to with this kind of self-examination: you don’t want to put on the rose-colored glasses of naïve optimism, nor do you want to put on the gray-colored glasses of needless pessimism. There is no need to justify, explain, blame, judge, or excuse. You are simply observing yourself with as much detachment as you are capable of by God’s grace.

Many churches today have given up the practice of regular and serious confession, imagining that it reflects or reinforces a lack of self-esteem. However, a true spirit of confession actually increases authentic self-acceptance and love. A good example of how that works are recovering substance abusers. They are able to look back at the things they did while they were actively using, acknowledge their mistakes, all while celebrating and feeling joy in the fact that they are no longer under the chains of whatever their addiction was and able to face the Highest Power honestly. Their self-esteem is much better now than it was when they were giving in to their addictions.

Most recovering addicts have gone through some type of twelve step program. Step four of such programs is to “make a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves,” identifying those personality traits, inclinations, attitudes, and behaviors that interfere with our truest good and the good of others. In other words, those things that interfere with God’s will for us. Such an inventory allows us to see where our lives are out of order.

Participants in recovery typically do a full “life review” which can take many days or even weeks and shouldn’t be rushed. A life review can bring uncomfortable emotions such as fear, guilt, shame, and embarrassment as you’ll be shining the light of truth into places you’ve most likely been ignoring or avoiding. It’s important to acknowledge such feelings and let them be real, but at the same time not let those feelings control you or prevent you from self-examination. If you’re not used to self-examination, though, a life review is something you might want to consider.

It’s also important to note that you won’t see all your character flaws right away. Being human, you have an in-built self-protection called denial. Denial is kind of how we all reach a point of being misdirected. In self-examination, we rely on the grace of God to give us insight into who we are and how we behave. God knows what we are ready to look at and when we need to do so, so be patient with yourself.

And lastly, when doing self-examination, resist the temptation to focus on what others have done to you in the past. What others have done to you is their responsibility, not yours. Self-examination is so you can discover the problematic parts of your own attitudes and choices.

Now … that was what was involved in a life review, but those same principles and cautions apply to more frequent self-examinations as well. Doing a self-examination once a week as you prepare to come to worship is probably the ideal one should strive for if you choose to apply this spiritual practice.

Self-examination of conscience is basically looking at things we did.  Self-examination of consciousness, on the other hand, is looking at how we are: how we’re behaving toward others, how we’re thinking, and so on. It’s a process of becoming aware of the contents of our consciousness so that we can respond before God in an appropriate way. It is more concerned with the level of our awareness than with particular character flaws and behavioral lapses. In this practice, we pay attention to both the good and bad, observing our state of mind and heart during various events and interactions each day. The purpose is twofold: to notice where God’s grace has been present in our day and to see where we have or have not responded to that grace.

What we call consciousness includes awareness of both external and internal realities. When we reflect on what happened outwardly, we need to be aware of what was going on internally at the tie. We are not automatically aware of our feelings, questions or beliefs in the midst of a given encounter or event. Sometimes we can’t quite articulate a question or conviction floating around inside of us.  Noticing physical clues can help us become more fully aware of our inner data. Questioning ourselves can help to clarify the nature of our feelings as well: Why was I feeling off balance in that conversation? Is my worry justified, or merely compulsive.

And finally, we are noticing what les behind our feelings and reactions.

Behind this practice of self-examination lies a very basic assumption: we have made a choice to offer ourselves to God’s service, and we have an active desire to live in God’s presence, being led by the Holy Spirit each day. We examine our minds and hearts in order to see clearly where we have been led, when we have had a sense of God’s presence, and where or when we have lost that connection. Perhaps no other practice enables us to see so clearly where God’s grace is present in the daily round of routine tasks and relationships or to see how we are responding to grace.

All of this requires confession. Please understand something up front.  Your confession is given to God. It’s just between you and God. The spirit of confession, though, can be genuine or false. Genuine confession is marked by humility, while the counterfeit is riddled with anxiety and pride. Whenever we become fascinated by our sins or sucked into despair over our weaknesses, we may be sure that false humility is at work.

Self-absorbed anxiety leads us to think obsessively about our faults, to wallow in guilt, to punish ourselves mentally. We feel like we’re so awful, even God can’t forgive us. Lack of confidence in God’s grace can be an expression of pride as well as fear.

The only remedy, according to Teresa of Avila, is to “stop thinking about your misery, insofar as possible, and turn your thoughts to the mercy of God, to how God loves us and suffered for us.” When we can personally receive the love of God revealed in Christ, our focus shifts from sin to grace.

Authentic humility keeps us facing God. It teaches us to accept the fact that we will alter and fail. When we fall into temptation, humility prevents us from vicious self-recrimination and simply turns us back to God’s love and help. As Teresa says with full assurance, “Humility does not disturb or disquiet or agitate, however great it may be; it comes with peace, delight, and calm.”

Peace, delight, and calm … perhaps that’s what Jesus was talking about in the passage from Matthew when he said, “you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Let’s pray:

God, there are parts of ourselves we may be hiding from ourselves out of fear, embarrassment or shame. Help us to understand that you’ve already forgiven us and that we need to face them in order to forgive ourselves. Help us to see those things for which we need to confess and help us bring those confessions to you in true humility.

In the name of one God, who offers grace, mercy, and peace, we pray. Amen.


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