Manuals of Faith and Duty revisited

I don’t know where people get all this time to read; I’m lucky to scratch out ten pages a day. So that prompts me to shorter books and that reminded me of an article I wrote in 2008 about a set of eleven Universalist handbooks, written at the end of the nineteenth century. And if you can read through the breathless optimism and pre-Einstein, pre-Freud thought, you can learn a thing or two. I just finished Heaven and got some food for thought about what the kingdom of heaven means.

Back in 2008, I used Google Books; now I prefer Internet Archive, both to reduce my “Google footprint” and because Internet Archive has a better reading experience, and a wider variety of download options. So, I’m reprinting a period advertisement, with links to the Internet Archive, with two exceptions. Also, I’ve not reviewed these for bad scanning, so leave a comment if you find a book that’s a skew. The Internet Archive often has different versions of the same book so it’s worth a re-search. Enjoy.

“Manuals of Faith and Duty”

Manuals of Faith and Duty
Edited by Rev. J. S. Cantwell, D.D.

A series of short books in exposition of prominent teachings of the Universalist Church, and moral and religious obligations of believers. They are prepared by writers selected for their ability to present in brief compass an instructive and helpful Manual on the subject undertaken. The volumes are affirmative and constructive in statement, avoiding controversy, while specifically unfolding doctrines.

The Manuals of Faith and Duty are sold at 25 cents each. Uniform in size, style, and price.

I. The Fatherhood of God. By Rev. John Coleman Adams, D.D., Brooklyn, N.Y.
II. Jesus The Christ. By S. Crane. D.D., Earlville, Ill.
III. Revelation. By Isaac Morgan Atwood, D.D., President of the Theological School, Canon, N.Y.
IV. Christ in the Life. By Rev. Warren S. Woodbridge, Medford, Mass. [Google]
V. Salvation. By Orello Cone, D.D., President of Buchtel College, Akron, O.
VI. The Birth from Above. By Rev. Charles Follen Lee, Boston, Mass.
VII. The Saviour of the World. By Rev. Charles Ellwood Nash, D.D., Brooklyn, N.Y. (book notice)
VIII. The Church. By Rev. Henry W. Rugg, D.D., Providence, R.I. (1891)
IX. Heaven. By Rev. George Sumner Weaver, D.D., Canton, N.Y.
X. Atonement. by Rev. William Tucker, D.D., Camden, O.
XI. Prayer. by Rev. George H. Deere, D.D., Riverside, Cal. [Google]

Audio service, May 24, 2020

The full text of the service for the Sixth Sunday after Easter, follows. low bandwidth users might want to download and unzip the lower-quality audio file.

Higher-quality audio:

Download: Lower-quality audio file, zipped (1.9 Mb)

Welcome

Greetings. This is a service of worship for May 24, 2020, the Sixth Sunday after Easter.

Sentence and Votum

Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord! [Psalm 27:14]

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. [Psalm 124:8]

Collect for the Day

Let us pray:

O God, the King of Glory, who hast exalted your Son Jesus Christ with great triumph into your kingdom in heaven; we ask you to not leave us comfortless; but send to us your Holy Spirit to comfort us; and exalt us into the same place where he has gone: your own blessed and glorious presence, there to dwell in fullness of joy forever and ever. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer

Let us pray, as Jesus taught, saying:

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. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalm

Let us praise God with words from Psalm 77 [77:1-12, NRSV]

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.
I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints.
You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.
I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit:
“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
And I say, “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Lesson

A reading from the fourth chapter of the first letter of Peter: [1 Peter 4:7-11, NRSV]

The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

Here ends the reading.

Address

Today’s reading from the first letter of Peter is good pastoral care in the broader sense of the term: loving-kindness, set in a theological framework.

The letter, whether or not from St. Peter, was written to menaced and derided Christians in what’s now central Turkey. But it was probably not what we think of as organized, official persecution. From the context earlier in the chapter, the blow back comes from people they knew, who did not approve of their new way of life. As Peter puts it, “They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme.” Perhaps, the angry people wanted their old party buddies back. And perhaps — this is my imagination — these new Christians were, as we’d say today, preachy and judgy. A revised way of life sometimes does that to you, so be on alert for a spirit of superiority or condescension. But even if you’re minding your own business, living in a healthy, kind, wholesome or moral way can bring out the worst in others, especially if your new life pulls you away from old friends and their hurtful lives. And if that’s the case, the best we can do is say no, firmly but kindly.

Kindly is not optional. Christianity cannot sanctify rude, pretensious or overbearing behavior, or make it acceptable. Peter counseled them to “maintain constant love” and “be hospitable to one another without complaining.” Something had gone wrong; perhaps there was some bad behavior shown by Christians to their former friends, and, and if so that was a mistake.

Remember: we all will be judged, and “for this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead” (that’s in verse six, just before our lesson) and which has long been a source of hope for Universalists. The plan includes everyone. Judgment follows justice, but in seeking the last and the lost, ends in divine mercy. So we starts with carefully kept humility. “Maintain constant love for one another,” to finish the thought, “for love covers a multitude of sins.” We live, not as judges, but as those who are and will be judged. Don’t make your behavior harder for yourself or anyone else.

Let us then be “good stewards” of God’s love, and from it draw courage and goodness to bear up in hard times with courage and goodness. God bless.

Winchester Profession

Let us profess our faith:

We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament contain a revelation of the character of God, and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.

We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.

We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.

Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things we know not to desire or for which we are not worthy to ask. And this we ask for your infinite mercy’s sake. Amen. [Based on Book of Common Prayer]

Holy and eternal Spirit, source of life and light, you are our helper in every need, you fulfill all our joy. Be this day the present help of all who turn to you, here and everywhere, whether hurt or ashamed, whether sick or disheartened. And when we are strong, be a light beyond our present thoughts and pleasures, to guide us into ways of larger right and nobler blessedness. Amen. [Von Ogden Vogt, edited]

Eternal and ever-blessed God, who hast made us heirs of many ages and set us in the midst of many brothers and sisters; deepen our gratitude for your blessings as we have received them from our fathers, our benefactors, and our friends. May we never forget the kindness that surrounds us in the present, nor be careless to the treasures we inherit from the past; but in having a lively sense of debt to our brothers and sisters, and a loving remembrance of departed generations, may we reverently carry forward the work of the ages. We thank you for the fellowship of the living; for partners in duty; for comrades in the good fight; for all who feel with our joys and our sorrows; and especially for those by whom we are beloved and whom we love. We also bless your name for the laborers; for the succession of prophets, apostles, and martyrs, continued even to this day; for leaders and commanders of the people, who have made themselves great by becoming the servants of all; and for the nameless multitude of the loyal and devoted, who have fallen asleep in their generations, leaving their memorial with you. Make us of one heart with all these your worshippers; of one purpose with all these your servants; of one communion with all these your saints; and of one will with thine. Amen. [Orders of Worship for Manchester College, Oxford]

Concluding prayer

Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen. [1979 Book of Common Prayer]

Benediction

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Amen.

Notices

For more information about these services, visit revscottwells.com. The portions of scripture are from the New Revised Standard Version.

This is Scott Wells. God bless.

Audio service, May 21, 2020 (Ascension)

The full text of the service follows, and low bandwidth users might want to download and unzip the lower-quality audio file.

Download: Lower-quality audio file (MP3) (1.9 Mb)

Welcome

Greetings. This is a service of worship for May 21, 2020, Ascension Thursday.

Sentence and Votum

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. [Hebrews 4: 14, 16]

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. [Psalm 124:8]

Collect for the Day

Let us pray:

Grant, we ask you, Almighty God that as your best-beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, has ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind follow, and with him continually dwell in your glorious presence, world without end. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer

Let us pray, as Jesus taught, saying:

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. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalm

Let us praise God with words from Psalm 150:

Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Lesson

A reading from the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, the end of the gospel. [Luke 24:49-53 (end), NRSV]

Jesus said to his disciples:

“And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Here ends the reading.

Address

The Ascension of Jesus, which we observe today, is not a greeting-card holiday with its own cultural, festive trappings. But it is a natural fit with Universalism, for as we heard in the opening collect, we pray that we “may also in heart and mind follow [Christ] and with him continually dwell.”

Yet many faithful Christians give it less than it deserves. The Universalist point aside, Ascension is an important if bittersweet, moment in Jesus’ life and ministry. His time with his disciples after his Easter resurrection has come to an end. He would no longer be seen on Earth in the flesh. Jesus would return to the heavenly realm, and there prepare a place for us; in his place, the Holy Spirit would come and give life and power to the believers, which we mark in ten days on Pentecost.

I think one reason Christians neglect Ascension comes from the art that depicts it (and in a larger sense they way it gets described) which undercuts the spiritual message and seems rather silly. Here we see Jesus in white robes, blown like a kite out of reach. Or worse, painted stiff as a Saturn rocket, half out of the scene as if he’d just sprung off a trampoline. It’s hard not to smile, even laugh and that’s a problem.

If you’re likely to think that Jesus Christ is some kind of deep space probe, it’s hard to take his departure very seriously, and you’ll miss the point of what’s being communicated: a promise of continuing divine care and connection, even when it’s not standing plainly in front of you. So much of the Gospel comes with this dynamic: “you have heard it was this way, but really this is what happened.” The Gospel frees us from the cruelty of wrong, and gives us hope that God will break decisively into our live as a blessing, countering the hardness and sadness of the world.

So, you have heard that Christ was put up – risen up – on the cross and died. Yet he lives, and now rises himself to glory. You have heard that earthly power establishes what we must believe, but we have seen that might does not make right. You have heard that everyone has a price, but we have seen that some acts of love and courage have no price. You have heard that some people are important, and others aren’t, but we have seen that the Lord of heaven and earth first lived with us, and suffered as we do, and will draw each of us up. Where he goes, we shall follow, and where we live, his promise of the Spirit shall yet dwell.

My blessing at Ascension to you.

Winchester Profession

Let us profess our faith:

We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament contain a revelation of the character of God, and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.

We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.

We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.

Prayer

O God, the Protector of all who hope in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy, multiply your mercy upon us, that, being our governor and guide, we may so pass through things temporal so we do not lose the things eternal. Amen. [Services of Congregational Worship]

Inspire our thoughts of a higher life, that we may feel how divine a thing it is to rise above ourselves, by out-growing selfish aims — and how we may be lifted into peace though sharpest suffering — and how the kingdom of heaven comes down to the heart, when the affections are set upon things above. [The Gospel Liturgy for Ascension-Exhaltation]

O Thou Guiding Spirit of the souls of men, whom all worship under many names and diverse forms, we pray for thy blessing upon the great company of those who fain would know thy law and do thy will. Grant unto thy Church Universal, wheresoever it may be found, an increasing knowledge of the truth, a deeper understanding of human need, a more generous spirit of sacrificial love. Where it is weak in the presence of evil, strengthen and upbuild it in the hearts of human beings; where it is in error, re-establish it in the right way; where it is corrupt, purify it, though it be by fire; where it is divided by misunderstanding, jealousy or suspicion, bring it into one spirit of good will. Draw together in one accord the spirits of all thy children until each shall labor in his or her appointed way for thy kingdom of righteousness and love; until the discords of earthly strife and clamor shall be lost in one great hymn of praise. So may thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen. [Composite, in Services of Religion]

Concluding prayer

Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen. [1979 Book of Common Prayer]

Benediction

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Amen.

Notices

For more information about these services, visit revscottwells.com. The portions of scripture are from the New Revised Standard Version.

This is Scott Wells. God bless.

Audio service, May 17, 2020

The full text of the service follows, and low bandwidth users might want to download and unzip the lower-quality audio file.

Download: Lower-quality audio file (MP3) (1.5 Mb)

Welcome

Greetings. This is a service of worship for May 17, 2020, the Fifth Sunday after Easter

Sentence and Votum

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. [Matthew 7:7, NRSV]

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. [Psalm 124:8, NRSV]

Collect for the Day

O Lord, from whom all good things come; grant to us your humble servants, good things by your holy inspiration, that by your merciful guidance we may perform the same, as true followers of your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer

Let us pray, as Jesus taught, saying:

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. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalm

Let us praise God with words from Psalm 20: [NRSV]

The Lord answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you!

May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion.

May he remember all your offerings, and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices.

May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans.

May we shout for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God set up our banners. May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.

Now I know that the Lord will help his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with mighty victories by his right hand.

Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.

They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright.

Give victory to the king, O Lord; answer us when we call.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Lesson

A reading from sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of John [NRSV]

Jesus said to his disciples:

Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete. “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.

I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.” His disciples said, “Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

Here ends the reading.

Address

We have inherited problematic ideas from today’s passage from the gospel of John, particularly the phrase, “if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” Too many Christians have take this as a license to desire anything, claim anything, want anything, expect anything. If you have entertained a variety of television evangelists, or their hearers, you will have run across this line of thinking. But when you consider the person of Jesus Christ and the promises of the Gospel, it is a strange attitude and devastating both to the hope of the Gospel, and the spiritual health of the believer. Be on guard against it, even when it tempts you in subtle ways.

First, it runs against the commandment, repeated by Jesus in the wilderness, that you shall not tempt the Lord, your God. God is God, and not some particularly well-connected benefactor. And in the wilderness, it wasn’t God who promised Jesus all things, but the Tempter. Lord: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”! Second, if this was the chief benefit of Christianity, then Jesus Christ is himself a bad example. There’s little evidence he owned much, not even having a place to lay his head. He and his disciples relied on the support of their hearers. He had no tomb of his own, but was lain in one given to him. There’s nothing in Jesus’ ministry that suggests his blessing will provide you earthly riches. He could not spare himself the betrayal of friends, the jeering of the crowds or a painful, public execution. This is not the path to a big house, a luxury car or even a quiet life.

But the passage means something. I suspect it’s a call to learn what is truly valuable, and to rely on Jesus Christ to receive that call. We are, by this same passage, to call on God in his name to receive what we ask. But what then ought we to ask for, dare to ask for? And this isn’t just my bourgeois aesthetic sensibility speaking. The thinnest fraction of Christians who have ever lived have known opulence and wealth, many knew no peace, and there’s no just reason for thinking that these are false and unfaithful believers. Which makes me think that the deepest prayers and desires of the Christian faithful lie somewhere else. Again, this makes demands on God, when God makes demands on us. What then to ask of God, in Jesus’ name? That’s a lifetime’s meditation, but there are some hints.

Christian faith, well practiced and — even more — well lived, redirects our desires. We might want and not simply obey that commandment that Jesus gave his disciples: that you shall love one another, as he loved them, and he loves us. We might want the fulfillment of the Golden Rule: trusting in God’s will “on earth as it in is heaven.”

Such things last when fortunes fall, when passions cease, when wishes end, and God will be with you. Friends, think on these things.

Winchester Profession

Let us profess our faith:

We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament contain a revelation of the character of God, and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.

We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.

We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.

Prayer

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we bless and praise you: we have awakened to the light of another earthly day; and now we will think of what a day should be. Our days are yours, let them be spent for you. Our days are few, let them be spent with care. There are dark days behind us, forgive their sinfulness; there may be dark days before us, strengthen us for their trials. We pray that you shine on this day — the day which we may call our own. Lord, we go to our daily work; help us to take pleasure therein. Show us clearly what our duty is; help us to be faithful in doing it. Let all we do be well done, fit for your eye to see. Give us strength to do, patience to bear; let our courage never fail. When we cannot love our work, let us think of it as your task; and, by our true love to you, make unlovely things shine in the light of your great love. Amen. [George Dawson]

O God, who puts into our hearts such deep desires that we cannot be at peace until we rest in you: mercifully grant that the longing of our souls may not go unsatisfied because of any unrighteousness of life that may separate us from you. Open our minds to the counsels of eternal wisdom; breathe into our souls the peace which passes understanding. Let our hunger and thirst be for righteousness, that we may be filled with the bread of heaven. O Lord, give us grace to seek first your kingdom; and we know that you will add unto us all needful things. Amen. [Services for Congregational Worship]

Almighty and ever living God, who has taught us to make prayers and supplications and to give thanks for all persons, we pray that you would inspire the universal church with the spirit of truth, unity and concord; that all they who do confess the name of Christ may live in peace and in godly love. Give grace, O heavenly Father, to all ministers of the gospel, that they may, both by their life and doctrine, set forth your true and living word. And to all your people give your heavenly grace, that with meek heart and due reverence they may serve you in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life. Comfort and succor in your infinite goodness, all those who in this transitory life are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any adversity. And we also bless your holy name for all your servants departed this life in your faith and fear; praying you to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of your heavenly kingdom. Grant this, O God, for your infinite mercy’s sake. Amen. [Book of Common Prayer]

Concluding prayer

Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen. [1979 Book of Common Prayer]

Benediction

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Amen.

Notices

For more information about these services, visit revscottwells.com. The portions of scripture are from the New Revised Standard Version.

This is Scott Wells. God bless.

Audio service, May 5, 2020

This is the first of seven audio services; as you will see, I’m still getting used to the software and the microphone, but I hope it’s a blessing for you.  (Onward and upward, right?) The full text follows, and low bandwidth users might want to download and unzip the lower-quality audio file.

Download: Lower-quality audio file (MP3) (1.3 Mb)

Welcome

Greetings. This is a service of worship for May 10, 2020, the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Sentence and Votum (Psalm 124:8)

This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Collect for the Day

Let us pray:

Almighty God, who unites the minds of all the faithful: grant your people love for what you command, and desire for what you promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely be pointed to where true joys are to be found, the kingdom and promises of your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer

Let us pray, as Jesus taught, saying:

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. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalm

Let us praise God with words from Psalm 34 (1-7, NRSV)

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Lesson

A reading from the first chapter of the letter of James (1:17-21, NRSV)

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

Here ends the reading.

Address

Our passage from the letter of James ends on a hopeful note: “welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” The same power which saves us, and all persons, in the span of creation comes to help us in the trials of our daily life. As in fact it must. We don’t profess a faith that only has benefits in an unseen future state. God implants a desire to hope, not just for a string of “perhaps tomorrow, perhaps tomorrow” but also that we might live fully today. Spiritually deep living proves the value of faith more than any turn of logic or theological dispute. From it comes the gift of God “from above” granting us power to be generous givers ourselves, to enjoy good times and to bear up with hard times.

While the virus sickens and kills many people, threatens livelihoods and inconveniences everyone, it is not correct to say that the days before the outbreak were good and today is bad. For many people, perhaps most people on Earth, life was hard before and is harder now. There was death, loss, hunger, sickness and violence then and now. But the burden is lighter on those with more resources. Typically, we speak of these resources as financial or material: money to not worry about lost work or medical bills, a bigger house to shelter in or the means to have food and resources delivered to you. There are other, intangible resources, say, taking comfort in the company of family and friends, but these too are limited, and the pandemic is a special burden for those who live alone. And we also have spiritual resources that give us a context and response to that crisis. Spiritual resources, unlike material resources, can be re-charged by their use. How often do we feel refreshed by being kind, and see that kindness returned, but weary from demanding indulgences from others. Don’t think it comes automatically, or that’s it’s a fraud to put yourselves in an attitude valuing goodness, service and care over, as James puts it, sordidness and wickedness.

This particular pandemic will some day pass, but other challenges will come instead. Prepare yourself — not just with canned food and toilet paper — but with an approach to life that values goodness, and “has the power to save your souls.”

Winchester Profession

Let us profess our faith:

We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament contain a revelation of the character of God, and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.

We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.

We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.

Collects

For peace

Let us pray for peace:

O God, who is the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom stands our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; Grant us, your servants, we humbly ask you, that peace which the world can neither give nor take away; that we, who in all our dangers rely on your goodness, may under your parental protection be defended against all adversities, and rejoice evermore in your blessed service, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

For grace

Let us pray for grace:

O Lord, our heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God, who has safely brought us to the beginning of this day; Defend us with your mighty power; and grant that we fall into no sin, nor run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings may be ordered by your governance, to do always that which is righteous in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For healers and caretakers

Let us pray for healers and caretakers

Almighty God, who inspires the hearts of all who would serve you, we ask you to give your special blessing to all healers and caretakers who attend to the sick and afflicted. Give faithfulness and skill to their work, efficiency to the means they employ, and guide them to the understanding that in their best service, they also serve you. In the name of the Divine Physician, Christ our Lord. Amen.

For all conditions of humankind

Let us pray for all people

O God, the Creator and Preserver of all humankind, we humbly ask that you would make your ways known unto the breath and width of the human family, your saving health to all nations. More especially we pray for the good estate of the Church Universal; that it may be so guided and governed by your Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to your tender goodness all those who are any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body, or estate (particularly sick people and those close to death); that you would comfort and relieve them according to their various needs, giving them patience under their condition, and a happy result from all their afflictions. And this we ask for your mercy’s sake in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Concluding prayer

Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen. (attributed to St. John Chrysostom)

Benediction

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Amen.

Notices

For more information about these services, visit revscottwells.com. The portions of scripture are from the New Revised Common Version.

This is Scott Wells. God bless.

Audio services to begin

Update: I’m planning for a May 10 launch. Details to follow.

For six weeks, plus Ascension Thursday, I will be creating short audio services of worship and posting them here. I will start this Sunday (May 3) or the Sunday following, depending on how quickly I can work through the logistics.

Why? As always, I think Universalist Christianity is a word of comfort, sorely needed now. In part to share an expression of Universalist Christian worship at time when other expressions of Christian faith are being distributed through internet-published video, audio and text. Also, I want to offer something to readers, a couple of whom wished aloud that the services of my home church, Universalist National Memorial Church, Washington (UNMC) could be available. In fact, they may be in time (that’s not my decision), but for now they can only be experienced live. Six weeks is all I’m ready to commit to, and that also may see us through this wave of the shutdown. (I hope.)

Even if UNMC starts broadcasting, surely there’s room for two Universalist Christian services. But keeping that possibility in mind, I want to distinguish my efforts in several ways:

  1. The services will be rooted in the now little-known Universalist prayer book tradition. It’s close to my heart and I want it to be better appreciated. I hope to show that it’s approachable enough to learn and adopt where there is no Universalist Christian church nearby.
  2. The profession of faith I will use is the one I turn to the most: the Winchester Profession of 1803. UNMC uses a local declaration of faith based on the 1899 Chicago “Five Principles” Declaration.
  3. I will use the older one-year lectionary rather than the Revised Common Lectionary that I almost always use in my preaching.
  4. There will be no sung or choral music; it’s past my ability.
  5. The services will be pre-produced, not live.
  6. The services will serve more a supplement than as a principle worship service, though that may not be an important distinction for many.
  7. The services will be audio only, probably with a text option. This should make them more available for persons with limited internet access. The digital divide is real, and even in the United States, many people live with no internet or a poor connection; streaming or recorded video is not an option for many people.

Pray for me as I take the first steps into a different mode of ministry.

Non-Subscribing Presbyterians have new website, services online

I was watching some Holy Week and Easter videos from Non-Subscribing Presbyterians in Ireland. I have known about them for decades but have never seen one of their services. Be sure to see and the several videos by the Rev. David Steers, including his effective use of a litany to create a moment of worship, here for Good Friday, and the Easter service from Killinchy, led by the Rev. Philip Reain-Adair.

Killinchy, where is that? I went to the website of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, and saw that it had been completely revamped. Congratulations!

Sermon: Good Friday 2020

I preached from this sermon manuscript online for the Universalist National Memorial Church, on Good Friday, April 10, 2020.  The text was the passion of St. Matthew.  (Matthew 27:11-54)


Friends, we turn to the difficult fact of Good Friday. Here, God’s beloved dies before the jeering crowd. Betrayal, cruelty and falsehood triumph. Hope burns to ashes, and light and color drain from the world. We are left with questions, grief and silence.

Good Friday so becomes a spiritual challenge. In good times, we might have to specially direct our spirits to be receptive to this horror and grimness; so when the sun shines and the air is warm, it can seem a strange thing to try and be sad. And when times are bad, well, who needs more sadness? That’s this year, and I’m sad and anxious enough, and don’t like it. The trope, well-shared in social media, is that this Lent has been far more Lenty than anyone expected, perhaps too much to bear. Nevertheless, Good Friday prepares us for hard times, at least giving us familiar concepts to interpret them.

Perhaps we can identify the losses that come from the COVID-19 pandemic, and try to set them directly in a framework that Good Friday presents. It is a natural thing to do: tying Good Friday to the suffering we’re experiencing collectively. There’s a risk, though. It’s a collective hardship, but not an even or fair one. It is not a leveler. Those who suffered before, will suffer more — including the loss of health and life, and anxiety and depression, not to mention the economic impact. Millions of people will be pushed beyond breaking, into lasting or deeper poverty and unemployment. Its results will follow us for many years, perhaps for the rest of our life. Most hardships don’t end in redemption.

Instead of comparing the pandemic to the crucifixion directly, I think about what the disciples must have asked themselves that Friday when all their hope died: where do we go from here?

If Easter’s resurrection brightness is hard for us to conceptualize now, after centuries of meditation and interpretation, it surely must have been unthinkable for the disciples: not even an option to consider, much less weighing the up pros or cons of its likelihood. But Easter did come, and those who survive this crisis will have to decide what we will do next.

The trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate is remarkable for any number of reasons. We know so little of individuals from that period, and what little we know of Pilate is that he crucified a lot of people. I’m not prone to read him as the antihero, swayed by the mob. (Passages which have been used for centuries to justify violence against Jews, I should add. And this scene from Matthew is less troubling that the one from John.) And another odd thing was the choice of the crowd in letting one condemned man go, a practice that has no independent confirmation. So what follows is not an original thought, but one I picked up in college (I was a religion major) about thirty years ago. Consider that there were not two criminals, one of whom might be set free, but one man with two names, Jesus the Messiah, the anointed one, and Jesus Barabbas, Jesus “son of the Father.” The first tinged with triumph and the power of the governance; the other pointing to mystical connection with God. Which seems backwards, doesn’t it? Because Barabbas is described as a bandit, but well, we know not to take one-sided charges too seriously. After all, the man who died on the cross told us, “they know not what they do.” We know he was innocent.

We might have two names, too. Which will we chose? We must seek the good impulse, and live into it, but that won’t protect us. We may not escape hardship, but might, just maybe, choose what we suffer for. For goodness and for the common good. To defend the helpless, and to overcome domination. To chose life in its fullness, rather than to concede to bitterness.

How will we be known? And will that name be a blessing to those who come after us? Challenged by the experience of the Resurrection, the disciples went out to ends of the world, to share the gospel that the world might not despair, because on the cross we saw that all is not as it seems and that God’s purpose and blessing come to those, however grieved and confused, do what is good, and right and true.

Let us pray:

Eternal God, before the cross we stand in awe and trembling. Comfort and console the mourners this day. Confirm in us that mind and spirit you put within Jesus, our comfort and our strength. And lead us from this place, to go forth with your blessing, and to live without fear, waiting in hope.