Today is the Sunday we bring our gifts for the One Great Hour of Sharing offering. Today’s message is about more
than money for the offering. It is also about imagination!
We spend lots of time in church talking about budgets, ministry projects, deadlines, and needs. We seldom have opportunities to imagine together and to imagine with God.
In the Scripture this morning, we see a letter to the Ephesians. It is a celebration of church, of God’s imagination, and of God’s power within us. The message invites us to stretch beyond our present realities, and to embrace our connection to God and to each other. God desires for us to imagine ourselves in a few ways:
1. Through Connection: We know from Genesis, God is creator of everything, including every family or grouping. In community God wants us to know that we are all invited to the table. There is room for us here. This is a place of belonging.
Community and connection are at the center of the world that Jesus envisions for us. Racial and religious divisions that once dominated the landscape separating Jew and Gentile have been rendered irrelevant by the love of Christ. Paul reminds us that we are all included in “God’s family.”
2. With Strength, power, and faith: Paul’s prayer reveals tenderness and compassion for God’s people. Paul prays that we may be strengthened with power and know the indwelling presence of Christ. This is a reminder that the strength we have, and the power we are given is the power of Christ in us. We are not given strength for strength’s sake. We are given strength so that we may have the faith to do the things God has purposed for our lives.
We are reminded that faith is part of a bigger picture, and that our God given gifts of talents, material goods, and love, are part of a bigger picture, too! Our faith therefore, can only grow as we grow in our experience of
God’s amazing power in us and through us. It compels us to action. It compels us to reach beyond ourselves and to connect with God in amazing ways.
3. As Love: Love is a recurring theme throughout Scripture. God loves us, so that we may in turn love others. We are rooted and established in love. And through God’s love for us, Christ gave his life to ensure our salvation.
In our Scripture today, “Paul uses the words rooted and grounded”. Imagine for a moment how deep the roots of a large tree are. In order to keep the tree upright, the roots must be deep. That is how stable we can be in the knowledge that God loves each of us. And when we are grounded and secure—our ability to share love with others will extend like the branches of a large tree.
When we become filled with the knowledge of the love of God, we become more loving. We become more gracefilled. We become more generous people and communities.
4. Beyond our own imagination: Paul concludes the prayer and continues to stretch us by calling on the power of God that is already at work within us, connecting us to God’s imagination. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges the church faces today is that we place limitations on what God can do in our church and in our world, with and through us.
But, there is no limit to what God can do in response to our prayers, because God himself is limitless.” As we seek to imagine with God, we draw ever closer to the source of goodness and to an understanding of the love and power that Paul prayed over our churches. We can reach beyond the limits we have placed on our own ability to connect, to be strong, and to love.
Our giving to One Great Hour of Sharing is but one concrete way we can show we are willing to reach beyond what we can see. Our contributions become a part of God’s abundant blessings to brothers and sisters in need, worldwide.
Below is a simple idea for reminding your members of the upcoming One Great Hour of Sharing offering date. You can use the idea, or modify it to suite your congregation. Have fun with it...
Prayer Station or Offering Reminder: A Piece of the Puzzle
Age Range and Setting: This prayer station may be used with all age groups except for those for whom a puzzle piece would present a choking hazard.
The prayer station can be incorporated into a worship service as a sermon response, as a prayer opportunity, as part of a benediction, or in another place that fits your congregation’s culture and order of worship. It could also be set up in a foyer or fellowship hall as a reminder of the One Great Hour of Sharing offering date.
Intention: Through the selection of random puzzle pieces that show only a piece of the picture, participants are invited into imagination, wonder, and connection. This activity reinforces the idea that we are all part of God’s work in the world, even when we don’t yet see the whole picture!
Assorted puzzle pieces
Baskets or containers to hold puzzle pieces
(optional: printed/projected introduction and instructions)
Instructions: Fill as many baskets as needed for your context with puzzle pieces. You need enough for each participant to take one. These may be varied in size and may belong to different puzzles. The baskets can be placed on a table, which people can approach on their own, or they could be passed through the congregation in the style of offering baskets.
Provide introduction and instructions verbally or through projection or printed signs.
Introduction: (may be spoken or displayed)
Today we have an opportunity to prayerfully consider our piece in the bigger picture. We may not see all that God is doing in and through us, but we trust that we are connected and that God is doing more than we can imagine.
Invitation: (may be spoken or displayed)
Prayerfully select a puzzle piece that appeals to you. Take a minute to consider its shape, its size, and the suggestion of an image or colors that you see on this puzzle piece. Imagine what it might form! Maybe it is part of a mountain view, or perhaps a seascape.
Perhaps you have a corner piece or an edge, or you may have a piece from somewhere in the middle. This puzzle piece, just like us, was made to connect. You are part of the big picture! God will use our gifts given to the One Great Hour of Sharing offering to fill in the gaps and to do More than We Can Imagine!
Take this puzzle piece with you today and place it somewhere where you will see it throughout the week. Let it be a reminder to you that your gifts and your connection matter to the bigger picture!
Youth Activity #1: Past and Future
Age range: Middle School and High School
Materials: *Optional pictures or examples of the technologies described
Intention: This is an exercise in imagination to help youth connect with the ways in which our thinking is limited by our experience.
Through discussion, youth can gain a deeper understanding of the ways in which God can use our generosity and our OGHS offering to change the world.
Optional Activity Extender
If you want to expand this activity, provide some examples of older imagined technologies--DaVinci’s flying machines, the gadgets in shows like StarTrek. Consider how our technology as lived up to or surpassed the imaginations of previous generations.
Begin by reading the focus scripture and inviting a discussion of this year’s theme: More than We Can Imagine.
You may want to start with a few questions, such as:
What do you think this means in the context of the scripture?
Why would Paul write that in the letter?
How does it make you feel to hear that God can do more than we can imagine? Encouraged? Overwhelmed? Skeptical?
After some discussion on the scripture, transition into the next part of the reflection.
Invite the youth to practice a thought experiment with you:
Imagine a time, long ago in antiquity, when there was no internet. No cell phones. No tablets. Computers were big heavy things that lived on your desk and only connected to dot matrix printers. Newspapers were only in print. People wrote each other letters on paper that they mailed. TV had a limited number of channels and there was no Roku, no Netflix, no firestick, no on demand. Music was played on radios or, if you wanted to take it with you, on a Walkman or discman. Information about the world was available on encyclopedias that were heavy multi-volume books that were often out of date by the time they went to print because the world had changed.
You may want to provide photos or examples of these ancient technologies for effect.
Having set the scene, invite the youth to consider how they would carry out some of the daily tasks they now perform: How would you catch up with friends? How would you do a group project for school? How would you get updates on what is going on in the world? How would you stay in touch with family and friends who live far away? What if you needed to reach someone right away?
Add other scenarios that may resonate with your group.
How has technology changed our lives? What assumptions do we make now about productivity and connectedness? Do you think people living in those times could have imagined the way we do things now?
Allow time for discussion and invite reflection on the ways technology has enriched our lives as well as the ways it has created new challenges.
Now imagine a world where you have to work to grow all of your food. Consider all the steps that go into that: you must prepare the soil, you have to plant your seeds, plan for how they will get water, protect the seedlings from anything that might want to eat them, from diseases and molds that could kill them. Then, depending on what you are planting, you may have to wait years for something to mature and give fruit: an orange tree may take anywhere from 3 to 15 years to yield crops!
How would your days be different? How would you find time for things like education? How would your family be different? How might you be affected by climate change? Consider things like access to healthcare and other resources. How is life changed by regular access to healthy, nourishing foods?
Add other questions for consideration that are appropriate to your group.
Through One Great Hour of Sharing, we are helping people in places like Nicaragua where people are learning agricultural techniques that survive climate change impact and provide more diversified crops for each of the farmers. They have planted citrus seedlings that have grown to bear fruit within 9-10 months!
If you have time, read together the Mission Moment found in the Leader's Guide on pages 9-10.
With our giving we are part of God’s imagination for families who will now have extra time and resources because they do not have to worry about their crops and how to feed their family. Can you imagine the ways in which people’s lives will change!? Maybe the children, who are now free to go to school and who now have enough to eat may end up inventing new technologies that will end world hunger! Maybe they will go on to create art unlike anything we’ve ever seen! Maybe the community will have more time for joy and connection now that they have more resources! And all because we contributed to OGHS with the prayerful hope that God would do with our gifts More than We Can Imagine.
Close with a prayer where you invite each of the youth to share what they imagine to help people around the world.
Youth Activity #2: In Another’s Shoes
Target age: High School
Materials: Handouts with family composition
Scratch paper/chart paper and writing implements
Information specific to your context such as cost of renting housing and supermarket circulars
This activity will help youth to consider the impact of poverty on families and consider how God can use our giving to help.
The youth may be invited to share a testimonial in worship.
Downloadable Activity Handout:
DEFINITION: Multidimensional Poverty refers to “the multiple deprivations that each poor person faces at the same time with respect to education, health and living standards.”
Youth Activity #2: In Another’s Shoes
Begin by reading the focus scripture: Ephesians 3:14-21.
Direct the youth to consider the theme: “More Than We Can Imagine.” Invite some discussion about how they understand the theme in the context of the scripture.
In a 2014 report the United Nations reported the following figures: “Globally, 1.2 billion people (22 percent) live on less than $1.25 a day. Increasing the income poverty line to $2.50 a day raises the global income poverty rate to about 50 percent, or 2.7 billion people.”
The UN talks about multidimensional poverty. What do you think they mean by that? How does living in poverty make people vulnerable? What are some of the things families may need to sacrifice if they don’t have enough money?
Let’s consider what it looks like to live in different income categories in our own country.
Break the group into “families,” assigning each a family from the attached family information sheet. Invite the youth to create a budget to meet the needs of their assigned family.
They should consider:
Clothing and other necessities
Provide adequate time for discussion before calling them back into a large group debrief of the activity.
Group debrief: Invite each group to share a bit about their family, the income they were given, and the choices they had to make in budgeting.
How did this activity make you feel? What were some of the areas where families had to make sacrifices? How would life be different for these families if their basic needs were met? How do you think this compares to families living in other parts of the world? What might be some of the same needs? What needs might be different?
What are some of the ways God can use our One Great Hour of Sharing offerings to help families and communities in need?
Close with this Prayer by Oscar Romero. Archbishop Oscar Romero was a priest in El Salvador who spoke up against poverty, social injustice, and violence in the community. He was assassinated in 1980 while offering Mass.
by Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss
Team Leader, UCC Humanitarian & Development Ministries (One Great Hour of Sharing)
(Disaster, Refugees, Development & Volunteer Ministries)
Lectionary-based reflections on the Humanitarian & Development Ministries of the United Church of Christ
through One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS).
January 14, 2018
I Samuel 3: 1-10; John 1: 43-51
Hear God’s Call
January 21, 2018
Mark 1: 14-20
January 28, 2018
Mark 1: 21-28
Authenticity that Puts Faith into Action for the Sake of Embodied Wholeness
February 4, 2018
Mark 1: 29-39
Healing that is, and that is more than…
Mark 9: 2-9
Transfiguration: Gap Moments and God’s Fullness
February 18, 2018 (1st Sunday in Lent)
Genesis 9: 8-17; 1 Peter 3: 18-22; Mark 1: 9-15
February 25, 2018 (2nd Sunday in Lent)
Gen 17:1-7,15-16; Romans 4:13-25
God’s Promise of Presence
March 4, 2018 (3rd Sunday in Lent)
John 2: 1-13
Women’s Empowerment and Persistent Action
Now to God be the glory, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine. Give God glory though all time and for ever and ever. Amen Ephesians 3:20-21
Based on Ephesians 3:14–21
The items will be revealed one at a time, as you present the message to the children.
Note: This sermon works best if you prepare materials ahead of time. Read the scripture passage together (if the scripture has already been read in worship, you can just reread verses 20–21.)
Paul talks about God’s love for all of us and of how God can do more than we can imagine. I thought we could practice doing some imagining
together and think about how God might imagine things.
(Reveal container of soil.) Here is the first thing for us to consider together. What do you think this is? (Give children a chance to respond.) What do you think God can imagine in this rich soil? (Invite responses that may be related to things growing in the soil, plants, food, trees, etc. as well as other playful responses.)
(Reveal seed.) How about this? Who knows what this is? Have you ever seen one of these? (Allow for some discussion of seeds the children may have encountered in gardening or in their food.) When God looks at a seed like this, God can already see this!
(Reveal the sprouted seed.) It’s hard to believe that from this little seed we get a whole big, tall tree that can give us wood and fruit. But God sees it! Today I wanted to bring a whole tree in here to show you, but we couldn’t fit a whole tree without making a big mess, so here’s a picture!
Reveal picture of full-grown orange tree.) How are the seed and the tree similar? How are they different? (Invite comparisons of the seed and the tree.)
(Reveal basket of oranges.) From this little seed we get these juicy oranges that we can share and enjoy! But that’s not the end of God’s work. God is able to do even more than we can imagine! What do you think God can do for the family who grew this tree?
(Lead discussion in the direction of food and income: they can eat the oranges, they can sell the oranges.) How does life change for a family who can now eat oranges and sell oranges?
(Receive a few responses from the children.) Oranges can completely change the quality of a family’s life: no more hunger, more time to do other things, money to buy necessities. That is only what we can imagine! God can do even more! When we share our offerings for One Great Hour of Sharing, we are helping to do things like planting orange trees that will help families and communities! We give with excitement and anticipation of all the things God can do through our giving! (You may wish to distribute or collect coinboxes at this time.)
(Give each child an orange, or let them know that they will be shared during the church coffee hour for all to enjoy. You may also choose to share some oranges with a local foodbank.)
Let’s pray together:
Thank you God, for doing more than we can even imagine. Thank you for taking care of us. Help us to take care of each other. Amen.
If you give a farmer a seed…
Instructions: Read one of the wonderful children’s books written by Laura Joffe Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond such as If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. In these stories we will follow the silly antics of animal adventures. There is a process of creation that happens with each animal, whether it is Mouse’s drawing, Pig’s tree house or Moose’s elaborate sock puppets.
Intention: This activity uses the adventures described in the book as a jumping off point to see what God can imagine. Children are given the opportunity to see how God might use even simple things to do great things.
The characters in this book had great imaginations! How about God? Do you think God has a good imagination? The theme for One Great Hour of Sharing is “More than We Can Imagine.” God can do even more than we can imagine. We can try to think of some of the things God has imagined in our world.
Think about a seed. A tiny seed turns into a tall, tall tree in a land where there are not many other plants, not much for animals to eat. So God makes a giraffe with a long funny looking neck that helps it to eat the leaves at the very top of the tall trees where no one else can reach. Or maybe think about a rainstorm and the way God can take rain and sun and turn them into beautiful rainbows.
What could God do with a seed?
Invite children to extend the imagination as far as they can go—kids are so much better at this than adults! So, for example, God might use a seed to grow a cherry tree. The cherry tree is beautiful so God will make the blossoms for everyone to enjoy. The fruit is also delicious so God will share it with hungry people to enjoy. When we eat cherries, there is a pit that can go on to become another tree! More cherries! When a tree gets older, it can be used for wood. The wood can make a desk where a little girl will study. She will study hard and learn to speak every language on earth so she can make lots of friends! And so on! You may add your own prompts, making sure to include some that might be silly as well as some that lead to more serious reflection. Invite them to consider the ways God can use each thing to make an impact on our lives, our communities, and the world. How do our actions and our gifts contribute to God’s imagination? As you prepare to finish with a prayer, invite children to gather in a circle. Ask each one to think of their favorite thing that God imagined. Let’s pray together. I will start and we will go around the circle and each of us will say out loud the thing we thought of! God of all creation, we thank you for your wonderful imagination.
We thank you for___________(invite the children to speak—you may add ideas from earlier discussion if they get stuck.)
Help us imagine a better world with you, we pray. Amen.
MORE THAN WE CAN IMAGINE
INTERPRETING THE 2019 SPECIAL OFFERING THEME
It may seem a weak word when compared with all the need that we see daily in the world. We hear the word “imagination” and we may think to ourselves “fantasy.” We hear the word “imagination” and we wonder if it is truly helpful in a world where some would say, “clear-eyed realism is what is needed to face the challenges before us.”
Yet far from being a light, weak, or un-real thing, imagination is actually one of the most powerful engines for change that human beings have! Long ago, the philosopher Aristotle said that “Thinking itself begins in wonder, begins in imagination,” and he was right. Imagination, particularly when it is fueled by a vision of God’s hopes for all humankind, can keep us energized to do the good that is possible.
The theme for the 2019 One Great Hour of Sharing Special Offering is “More than we can imagine!” The theme, based on Ephesians 3:20, reminds us that we are not alone in our imagining a better world for all of God’s children. For it is God’s imagination that fuels and empowers ours! You see, God imagines a world where:
- No one is left to face the ravages of natural disaster alone - neighbor helps neighbor, stranger helps stranger - for we are the church together
- Even if things will never quite be the same after a disaster, God can work through all events to bring new life, new hope, and even more resilience
- Clean and abundant water and ample sanitation facilities are available to every person;
- Work brings security from hunger and the land is treated with respect
- Families displaced from their homes are able to build new lives
- Women are no longer subject to discrimination and gender-based violence
And God also imagines Christians of many traditions, coming together to help make these things ever more a reality for more and more people! For you see, our imagination of what might be is founded and grounded in what God envisions and hopes for. We can help – through our gifts of treasure and talent, prayer, and presence to make this world ever more like the way God imagine it would be!
Please, give generously to the One Great Hour of Sharing special offering, so that your imagination might indeed be ever more joined with God’s!
CALL TO WORSHIP (inspired by Psalm 46)
LEADER: God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.
PEOPLE: Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
LEADER: This morning we enlarge our hearts; we offer our prayers; we share our treasure with those siblings in our world who are dealing with tumult and disaster and injustice.
PEOPLE: We will not be discouraged. We shall remember that God’s steadfast love is always with us and the whole world, that God’s compassion is for each and all.
LEADER: We will celebrate that love and compassion can do far more than “we can ask or imagine”!
PEOPLE: May we always be inspired by our hope in God, to serve, care, and live in hope!
PRAYER OF CONFESSION & WORDS OF
ASSURANCE (inspired by Mark 9:24)
LEADER: Let us confess our sins before our God, who is slow to anger and keen to show mercy.
PEOPLE: We believe; O Lord, help our unbelief.
LEADER: We confess, O God, that instead of believing in your goodness and mercy and love for all people, we have fallen prey to cynicism; we have looked for the worst in others instead of presuming the best; we have spoken words which demeaned instead of dignified.
PEOPLE: We believe; O Lord, help our unbelief.
LEADER: We confess that we have presumed to draw the circle of your grace much more narrowly than you do, treating some as “the other,” not deeming them our brothers and sisters in Christ.
PEOPLE: We believe; O Lord, help our unbelief.
LEADER: We confess that our attention has been too short-lived when tragedy has come to those you love in any part of the world, forgetting that you call us to be there for them in word and deed over the months and years.
PEOPLE: We believe; O Lord, help our unbelief.
LEADER: We confess that we have sometimes allowed compassion fatigue to take root in our souls, closing our hearts to those who need our help.
PEOPLE: We believe; O Lord, help our unbelief.
Words of Assurance
Our God, whose imagination for the good of all people is always wider than our prejudices will empower and transform us. God will help us change our unbelief into faith, and our self-serving cynicism into love for “the least of these” who are also God’s beloved.
PEOPLE: Thanks be to God! Amen.
RESPONSIVE PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING AND HOPE
LEADER: God of grace and wonder,
PEOPLE: Be with us in this place.
LEADER: We love you, Holy God. We love you for the feast that is life: for friendships and laughter, intimacy and trust, moments of discovering deep truth, hidden potentials we never knew we had; for beauty—serene beauty and rugged beauty, the world you have crafted; and for the words, sounds, and colors with which people reflect and explore life. God of grace and wonder,
PEOPLE: Be with us in this place.
LEADER: We love you, holy God. We love you for the challenges of community: for moments of joy and celebration, for times of anxiety and questioning, for opportunities to listen deeply, for moments to start anew, for possibilities of reconciliation, for partnerships to work for peace and hope, for commitments to join
hands for justice. God of grace and wonder,
PEOPLE: Be with us in this place.
LEADER: Gathering God, we give thanks for the vision, adventure, and passion that have brought us together in this holy place. Help us to be open today: grateful to meet Jesus in each other and in our neighbors near and far; happy to do a new thing; thankful to be your church together, to do that which by your design cannot be done apart. Challenge us, inspire us, strengthen and renew us. God of grace and wonder,
PEOPLE: Be with us in this place; may our worship today strengthen us to do more than we can imagine, that your world might be healed, that your justice might come, that your hope might be spread. May it be so! Amen.
In a world so filled with brokenness and sorrow, it would be easy to lose ourselves in never ending grief, to be choked by our outrage, to be paralyzed by the enormity of suffering, to feel our hearts squeeze tight with hopelessness. Instead, this morning, let us simply breathe together as we hold our hearts open. (Breathing in) let our hearts fill with compassion. (Breathing out) let us pray for healing in our world and in our lives. (Breathing in) open ourselves to the transforming power of love. (Breathing out) As we pray for peace in our world and in our lives. (Breathing in) the knowledge that through Christ, we may know our strength and be filled with courage. (Breathing out) a desire to pour our love into the world through our gifts that provide hope and healing, showing God’s care near and far. Amen,
OFFERING DEDICATION PRAYER
We offer these gifts, O God of all people, in the hope and trust that you will use them to bring healing and hope where there is need. Where natural disaster has befallen, may these gifts help build new life. Where refugees seek
safety from violence and fear, may these gifts enable caring and welcoming hearts and hands. Where hatred sullies your hope for your human family, may our gifts be a sign and instrument of reconciliation. Thank you, God, for the privilege of this offering. May it indeed do more than we can imagine! Amen.
LEADER: This is the feast of our Lord Jesus Christ!
PEOPLE: As it says in the scripture, “people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.”
LEADER: We come, not because we must but because we may.
PEOPLE: We come to be nourished by grace that we might go forth to share the grace, the love, the justice of God with the whole world.
LEADER: We come with thanksgiving, grateful for who we are and whose we are.
PEOPLE: For we are God’s own people, called, fed, commissioned, and sent!
WORDS OF INSTITUTION
We recall that on the night that would be our Lord and Savior’s last earthly night, he gathered his disciples around him to break bread together. They surrounded him at that table – both the disciple whom he loved and the disciple who would betray him, along with all those disciples who had been with him through his ministry, witness to his teachings, bearers of his grace, ones who saw how he broke down the barriers that separated us from them, friend from enemy, neighbor from stranger.
And as they were eating, he took the bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it to them, saying “This is my body broken for you, do this in remembrance of me.” Do this and be reminded that life is in too many places broken and hurting, and you are my witnesses and ambassadors to bring the news of help and wholeness from a loving God. In the same manner, following their meal, he took the cup and blessed it and poured it out for each one of them and said “This is the cup of the new covenant, sealed in my blood, given for you and for all for the forgiveness of your sins,” for the transformation of your lives and the lives of all who hunger and thirst. “As often, then, as you eat this bread and drink this cup, do so in memory of me.” Do so in hope. Do so knowing that God will feed you and this whole world in ways that you cannot begin to imagine. For that good news, thanks be to God! The gifts of God for the people of God!
PRAYER FOR BREAD AND CUP
Gracious God of every time and place, every people and nation, we come to this Table to receive these symbols of your grace, your hope, your sustenance. We come grateful that you feed us and call on us to help feed one another. Thank you O God. We pray that you would bless these elements to our good that we might join you in doing good for this world. May we go from this Table refreshed and renewed, having drunk deeply from the cup of courage that we might confront hunger and injustice. In the holy name of Christ we pray. Amen.
PRAYER FOLLOWING COMMUNION
We eat and we drink in hope that one day, none will know hurt or hunger or hopelessness. We thank you, God, for the opportunity to be fed and for the commission to go forth into the world, seeking to be bearers of your Good News for all people. Amen.
Find all One Great Hour of Sharing Resources from www.ucc.org/oghs_resources.
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