January 17, 2021

Here I Am!
Bradenton-Sarasota Community of Christ Online Service
January 17, 2021

Welcome and Call to Worship – Joyce Keenan

Good day. As I greet you this way, I am reminded of our African brothers and sisters who we have had the privilege of hosting in our home prior to several World Conferences. When they use the word “good” it is strongly emphasized. You understand it as something special, a gift from God, who is the creator of all things good. So I say to you again, GOOD day.
It is a blessing to share with you in this service of worship to God.

A Hymn of Invitation – Community of Christ Sings 277: Welcome, Jesus, You are Welcome
(See CCS #277 if you would like to read the words)

Call to Worship

Over these many long months of isolation and separation, times of great concern, and yes, fear; it has been astounding and truly wondrous to see how God who knew what was to come, has prepared ways to assure us of his presence and care. Additionally, he is challenging us as his church to be the peacemakers “during these portentous times”.

I see this particularly in the worship themes, scriptures and suggestions for each Sunday. It is amazing that these materials were developed more than a year before this pandemic erupted worldwide. What a testimony this is to a God who is ever aware of us, who is mystery beyond understanding and love beyond imagination.

 ……Lord, you know me…..you are familiar with all my ways.

Where can I go from your Spirit? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, hold me fast.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful.
May God’s loving presence be a strong influence in our lives. May we remember He is always with us. – Psalm 139


MESSAGE – Bishop Fred Keenan

The setting for this Sunday’s lectionary message takes place in ancient Israel after the nation has been led through the wilderness by Moses and Joshua into the “Promised Land” and where the people are being governed by Judges. Tribal rivalries were causing much trouble and even armed conflicts. Life was far from perfect in the promised land and the Old Testament mentions that the “word of the Lord was rare”. As shown in the animated video, Hannah prayed to the Lord and was able to give birth to a son named Samuel. She fulfilled her promise and placed her son in the service of God with the priest Eli. Samuel is called by God three times and goes to Eli and says “Here I am” thinking it is Eli calling. After the third time Eli tells Samuel if you hear the voice again, it is God calling and to answer “Speak, Lord for your servant is listening”. And that is what happens. God reveals to Samuel a message indicting Eli for not correcting his sons who have been stealing sacrifices to the Lord. Samuel tells Eli about the troubles coming to Israel for the wickedness of the people and especially his sons. That prophecy comes true with the death of Eli’s sons and defeat of Israel. Samuel becomes a great prophet trusted by all Israel and continued to bear witness of God’s inspiring messages. “Here I am”, is the theme of today’s worship service.

And so, we focus on the concepts of calling, listening and responding as Christian disciples, especially as it relates to the designation of this Sunday as “Racial Justice Day”.

As a church we have received inspired words that call us to speak up for justice:

D&C 163:3 a. You are called to create pathways in the world for peace in Christ to be relationally and culturally incarnate. The hope of Zion is realized when the vision of Christ is embodied in communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness.

c. There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.

It is hard not to recognize the prophetic nature of those words dealing with walls of fear and prejudice evident in today’s world, and unfortunately experienced here in our own country. Perhaps the recent chaos that took place in the heart of our democracy echoes the division and conflict that Israel experienced back in Samuel’s day. I know that the walls of prejudice and racial injustice have been with us throughout our history. I recall a time when as a young man, I worked at Sears over the summer and became friends with an African American as we worked in the shipping department together. Johnny James was one of the kindest, gentlest, and humblest persons I’ve ever met. We even bowled together on a team. One Saturday we traveled upstate to a tournament and stopped at a diner for lunch. As we got out of the car, Johnny said to me “I hope these people aren’t funny”! At that moment I recognized how twisted and hurtful racial prejudice was. My friend was concerned about going into a restaurant! In upstate New York!

In another inspired counsel to the church, we are encouraged to:

D&C 162:1b. Listen to the Voice that echoes across the eons of time and yet speaks anew in this moment. Listen to the Voice, for it cannot be stilled, and it calls you once again to the great and marvelous work of building the peaceable kingdom, even Zion, on behalf of the One whose name you claim.

These words marry the idea of listening and calling. God consistently calls us as disciples to take up new challenges, new responsibilities, new works of justice, of peace and ministry. Those calls come in many different ways – sometimes as inspiration, sometimes through individuals and sometimes when we least expect it. In my life, many calls came from individuals who were looking for someone to help. Would you serve on the Allocations Committee of the United Way and run the UW campaign at the Pfizer facility where you work? Will you allow your name to stand in nomination for Pastor or Reunion Director? I’m sure many of you have similar experiences.

Sometimes the call comes through inspiration and perhaps leads to an unexpected ministry. After I was given an early retirement at Pfizer, I started working for the church as a T-2000 minister. After some time in that role, I was asked to serve as the Financial Officer of a newly established Mission Center. As I look back on that position, I realize that the most rewarding part of that job was in dealing with the needs of the marginalized and physically and financially bereft individuals and families through the ministry of Oblation support. One particular instance stands out. There was a recently widowed woman whose only income was from Social Security. She had no savings, and her husband hadn’t any life insurance. She was poor. The foundation of her modest home was crumbling and was about to leave her homeless. We were able to work with the World Church Bishopric to obtain the funds to have the problem fixed and she continues today to be a fully engaged member of the church.

In a sense I was only doing my job in response to a need. In the Worship helps for this Sunday it asks the question: What is God calling you to say and do, and to whom. How can you respond? Or perhaps: How will you respond?

There is a famous quote from Pastor Martin Neimoller during the Nazi scourge in Germany:

“First, they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

I certainly don’t think the level of dissent and activism in America has reached that level of social, racial, ethnic injustice – but the elements are there. I see it in some of the posts on Facebook and receive forwarded emails spewing some of the damaging rhetoric. Am I willing to respond? What is the cost? Will I lose a friend or some standing in my social setting? How did Jesus Respond? How has the Community of Christ responded? Hear these words:

D&C 164:9d. If you truly would-be Community of Christ, then embody and live the concerns and passion of Christ.

e. The challenges and opportunities are momentous. Will you remain hesitant in the shadows of your fears, insecurities, and competing loyalties? Or will you move forward in the light of your divinely instilled call and vision?

Christ’s Mission – Our Mission. I pray that God will give me the insight, the strength, and the courage to move forward in the call for Peace and Justice and say, “Here I am”. Will you join me?

Christ, You Call Us All to Service – CCS 357 – The Beyond the Walls Choir

A PRAYER FOR PEACEToday has been designated Racial Justice Day

Fount of Love and Well of Peace, We thirst for your presence as we wander in a violent desert land. As children are gunned down and nations war, we cry for your peace. You have beautifully created us all, we are fearfully and wonderfully made: all sizes, shapes, and personalities. What blasphemy kills based on the differences you have created? What iniquity terrorizes through the barrel of a gun? Will warring madness never cease? We raise a petition for peace in your presence. Oh God, let us carry the banner of your peace with holy courage to the rulers of the nations. Hear our prayer and inspire our actions in accordance with your divine will, we pray. Amen.

MINISTRY OF MUSICWeave Us Together – Sarah and Grace Keenan


Let us also remember to share generously, that the mission of the church will go forward. A disciple practices generosity as a spiritual discipline in response to God’s grace and love.
Our lives have been blessed by the good news! Let us respond and give our whole lives to God, aligning our purposes with God’s purposes; our heart with God’s heart. Thus, ever ready to hear God’s call and to respond, Here Am I.


Community of Christ 2013 World Conference: “The Spirit of God”

This service was prepared by Joyce and Fred Keenan.