Welcome to our online worship service! No, this is not the same as worshiping together, but it is a way of continuing to gather together around the scripture as we are apart. There are many times in history when the church has gathered in secret for safety. Those secret meetings were also a contrast to what we are accustomed to. Today, as we too worship apart for safety, we do so believing that prayer and God’s word continue to be powerful and effective.
In this online service, there are a number of different elements. These include a video, a recorded sermon, prayers, and links to other resources. I encourage you to enter into this service as a time set apart to God, just as you would in a regular worship service. There are always distractions, just as there can be in regular worship, but do your best to make certain that this time is God time.
At this time, it is good for us to remember that the challenges that we face for today do not define eternity. Instead, as we follow Jesus, what defines our eternity is God’s love. In this spirit, we invited the congregation this week to share “Signs of Beauty to Come.” The picture to the right is the first of a gallery of images. Move the cursor over the photo to see the arrows to navigate. Take a few minutes to enjoy these images and give thanks to God for the graces that enter into every day.
We trust in Jesus because we know God’s care for us. We believe in God’s love and trust that even in these challenging times, God is at work preparing new life and blessing.
'Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus
Prayer is important in all situations. As we are moved off of normalcy, it can be a challenge to maintain the routines that sustain us. But God is eager to receive us and minister to us as we come to him.
There are a couple of prayers that have been widely shared in the past week. As you pray this prayer, consider your own experiences in life and those of the people around you. Lift these people in prayer to God, that the Spirit may comfort, heal, and transform.
Adapted from “Prayer for a Pandemic” by Dr. Cameron Wiggins Bellm of Seattle, Washington
May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake
Lord, we pray for those who are sick, that they will experience your healing.
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable.
Lord, we pray for those we love, and those we do not know, who are weak or who are serving others. Keep them safe.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
Lord, we pray for those who face dire need during this season. Help us to help each other, to bear each others’ burdens in love.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
Remember those who have no options.
Lord, we pray for children and parents, for peace in the midst of challenge, and provision in the time of need.
May we who have had to cancel our trips
Remember those that have no safe place to go.
Lord, we pray for those who know danger every day. Provide safe shelter for them now.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
Remind us, O God, that you are the one who provides. May our sharing be a generous sign of your love.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
Remember those who have no home.
Shelter us all under your wings, O God. Make us faithful stewards of the spaces we are given.
As fear grips our country,
Let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
Let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.
New Earth, Heavens New
Currently, millions of parents are adjusting to having children at home that they did not expect to be there. As children are theoretically supposed to be continuing to learn during this period, many of them are in need of supplies that they may not have. While the Church World Service School Kit distribution is probably not prepared to serve on this scale, it was created to address this type of need.
As we planned for our Sharing Sunday on March 29, we decided to dedicate that Sunday to assembling School Kits for children and families in times of need. We may not be able to assemble those kits on March 29, but we still plan to continue gathering materials for kits to be assembled at a later date. Please visit this page for more information about our school kit collection and continue to be in prayer for families around the world being affected by this pandemic in many different ways.
This week our church has been a different kind of gathering place. There have been fewer in-person meetings and more emails and phone calls. We do not have preschool students going in and out of our doors every day. The Marriage Retreat that we had planned for this weekend has been postponed until later in the year. The physical distancing has become real.
But yet, the church remains a hub for the living out of our faith. God has declared that we are a part of his body in Christ, and that is being lived out in the care that we are sharing with each other: phone calls, emails, arrangements for answering need and offering support. It reminds me of the first hymn in our hymnal, What is this Place.
“Only a house, the earth its floor… Yet it becomes a body that lives when we are gathered here. We in this place remember and speak again what we have heard: God’s free redeeming Word. … Here in this world, dying and living, we are each other’s bread and wine.”
God is present with us and through us as we share together. During this time, we recognize and know that some will be facing hardship and will not be able to give to the church. But please share as you are able. The church continues to be committed to being the church, sharing God’s love, and caring for those in their time of need.
You came to walk among us
as the one who has the power to heal all of our ills.
You entered into our trouble and pain
in order to be our path through today
into the promise of new life for tomorrow.
Pour out your Spirit on your church now.
Equip us to be ministers of your Good News for all times.
Help us to effectively share your love, even at a distance.
We name the needs we see around us,
and pray that you will help us bear your graces to each other.
We lift up to you those who are battling illness directly.
Provide the medicine and treatments that are needed.
Preserve the health of those who are helping provide care.
Give strength in the midst of the stresses of this crisis.
Set aside places of rest for our souls.
We lift up to you those who are caught in despair and isolation.
Provide for them reminders of your continuing love and beauty.
Guide us to be able to walk with each other in new ways.
We lift to you all who are making hard decisions during this time.
Give them clarity of understanding
and wisdom and courage to make the right decisions.
Bless every gift that we share with each other,
that we can use them to support each other well,
that in this time, all will be able to see your light. Amen.
A couple of weeks ago, I ran across this video giving an overview of the story of Jonah. I found that it puts together the pieces of the story well and helps to clarify who Jonah was, and his relationship with God. I hope this is helpful for you in strengthening your understanding of this surprisingly significant and relevant book of the Bible.
Today we reach the end of our sermon series on the book of Jonah. We find Jonah after he had proclaimed God’s warning about what was to come to Nineveh because of their violent ways. Nineveh had responded to the warning quickly, proclaiming a fast and repenting of their sins. Once again, we have a contrast to how Jonah responded to God’s instruction. It’s just like being back in the ship with the sailors and Jonah in the storm in chapter 1. While Jonah ran from God’s call and instruction, the pagan Ninevites repented and turned to God’s ways.
And Jonah is not happy about it. He knows his God. He knows that God responds to the condition of the heart, and is quick to forgive. Jonah, on the other hand, is not looking for forgiveness and reconciliation. He is looking for vengeance and destruction. So the conversation between Jonah and God continues. And God leaves Jonah and us with a question.
Jonah 4 (NRSV)
But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’
But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’
This text from Matthew 12 highlights the darkness of Jonah’s response even more. This time, the contrasting examples are those of Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus will not ignore those in need.
He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?’ so that they might accuse him. He said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.’ Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.
Go from this sacred time:
With God’s power to guide you,
With God’s might to uphold you,
With God’s eyes to watch over you,
With God’s ears to hear you,
With God’s word to give you speech,
With God’s hands to guard you,
With God’s way to lie before you,
With God’s love to shelter you.
–Adapted from a Celtic prayer.