At General Synod 2009 in Grand Rapids, water was the symbolic thread woven throughout worship; water - life-giving, sometimes threatening, freely-flowing or pooled. At General Synod 2011 in Tampa, sand becomes the central image - a vast, ever-changing landscape where "water" makes the difference between a seemingly barren desert and abundant life.
To the people of Israel, sand was an easy image to understand. So vast were the grains of sand, both in the desert and at the seashore, that a mention of it would be interpreted as something that is beyond measure - a symbol of abundance outside of human understanding. And the people of Israel knew well that in their place in the world the difference between little-to-no harvest and abundance was drought or life-giving rain.
To the Biblical audience of today, sand remains a powerful image of an unimaginable quantity. It also reflects the rich imagery of desert, of journey, of shifting sands dangerous yet captivating in beauty. And, of possibility: the desert blossoming into an oasis, life growing on the edges of the sandy seashore, and justice found in crossing a desert (both physically and metaphorically) to new life.
At the Twenty-eighth General Synod in 2011, the United Church of Christ finds itself in oasis and desert. Blessed with diversity of thought, vibrant life, and shifting sands, we journey through challenging times seeking possibility, engaged in thoughtful and difficult conversations, and wait on God. Scripturally, as we "Imagine What’s Possible," worship will be informed by Isaiah 43:1-19, with attention to verses eighteen and nineteen where God challenges us: "Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."
Scripture and sermon, songs familiar and new, poetry and movement, and technology will engage us in worship. We will imagine God’s new thing, both for the world and the United Church of Christ, and seek wisdom in helping it come into being.
On Friday evening, we will focus on Isaiah 43:1-19 as we remember God’s faithful past, but make way for the future God is providing. What is God doing in our midst? Do we perceive it?
On Saturday morning Ephesians 3:20-21 will guide us as we celebrate God who does far more for us than we can ask or imagine! This service will open Sun Coast Saturday with playful speculation on what God might imagine for us.
Our Sunday afternoon community worship will include Holy Communion. There will also be a massed choir. The stories of Abraham and Sarah (from Genesis and Hebrews) will challenge us. With God all things are possible! How does this ancient story speak to us today?
Worship on Monday evening, July 4th will bring us into the world of justice and mercy as we explore through movement and art Mary’s story and her Song of Joy in Luke. What can we learn from a God who chooses and lifts up the least likely?
And, Tuesday evening’s worship will take us to an encounter with the Samaritan Woman at the Well in John 4. How will Jesus surprise us, refresh us with Living Water, and send us into the world to imagine and live into what is possible for God.
Additional scripture references to sand as a reference for vast and abundant
In Genesis 22:17 a faithful Abraham is told by an angel that his descendants will be “as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.”
In Genesis 41:49, Joseph stores the produce of seven years: “Joseph stored up grain in such abundance—like the sand of the sea—that he stopped measuring it; it was beyond measure.”
In 1 Kings 4:29, “God gave Solomon very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore.”
In Psalm 139, the Psalmist speaks of an ever-present God: “How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand…”
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