Pandemic Rules

This post was inspired by a colleague’s statement that she had gained weight during the pandemic and was trying to lose it.

PANDEMIC RULES

It’s okay if you’re gained some weight this year.  You’re not alone.  The average is 17 pounds.
It’s okay if you’re feeling mentally or emotionally stressed.  40% of Americans feel the same way.
It’s okay if your moods are all over the map.  This phenomenon has been widely reported as well.
It’s okay to not be okay.  Very few people are okay.  Those who are okay today were not okay earlier.
It’s okay to be upset by politics.  Everyone is!

MORE PANDEMIC RULES

It’s okay to worship at home.  It’s also okay to worship in person.
It’s okay to tell someone you need help.
It’s okay to spend less time around people who are negative.
It’s okay to turn off the news.
It’s okay to take naps and occasionally sleep in.

EVEN MORE PANDEMIC RULES

It’s okay to pray and to say, “I have no idea what I’m doing.”
It’s okay to not understand parts of the Bible.
It’s okay to have questions that seem to have no answers.
It’s okay to learn as you go along.
It’s okay to make mistakes.

AND FINALLY, ONE MORE BATCH OF PANDEMIC RULES

It’s okay to be optimistic.  God is still God.
It’s okay to enjoy the day even when suffering is all around.  God wants us to be joyful.
It’s okay to relax and say, “This too shall pass.”  It will.
It’s okay to look forward to heaven, even if it seems far away.
It’s okay to be you.  Really.  God loves you.

What Season Are You In?

Yesterday was the last day of summer, and it felt like fall.  Today is the first day of fall, and it feels like summer.  The North Pole is locked into perpetual winter.  Australia is three weeks into spring.  What season are you in?

One of the wildest things about our planet is that our favorite season is always happening somewhere.  Those who love summer tend to take southern breaks during the cold months, while those who can’t wait for fall are already heading up to Maine, Vermont and even Canada to check out the changing leaves.  Skiers will head north at the first sign of snow, and continue to travel upstate well into spring.

One of my favorite non-Biblical quotes comes from Albert Camus, who writes, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”  The quote continues with a lesser-known, but equally important pair of sentences:  “And that makes me happy.  For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”

For Christians, that something is the Holy Spirit ~ the breath of God.  When we call upon the Holy Spirit, it becomes possible to feel joy in the midst of sadness, hope in the midst of despair, peace in the midst of chaos, summer in the midst of winter.

In terms of the human lifespan, one might define childhood as spring, youth as summer, middle age as autumn and old age as winter, but these definitions hold little meaning in the spiritual realm.  Young people are often caught in a spiritual winter, emotionally spiraling, turning to all the wrong places for respite.  Older people are often the most at peace with themselves, their faith, and their place in this temporary world.  New life (for example, the arrival of a grandchild or a rediscovered faith) can feel like spiritual spring.

The world may be pushing against us, with all of its bad news and pessimism.  But God is pushing back.  The Holy Spirit ~ who lives within us as well as outside us ~ can show us how to dwell in our favorite spiritual season, no matter what our physical or meteorological season.  May the Lord be with you this season and always!

The Mental Health Pandemic

The statistics may vary, but no matter which one you read, we are experiencing a mental health pandemic on top of a “regular” pandemic.  Younger people have been affected at a higher rate, as have caregivers, people living alone, disadvantaged groups, lower income groups and those with pre-existing conditions.  As the pandemic continues, other worries ~ political, social and economic ~ have plunged the world into a state of disillusionment.

If you talk with ten people today, chances are that four of them have experienced extreme anxiety or depression in the past few months, and one of them has considered suicide.  Those are huge numbers.  They highlight the need to go easy on each other.  We’ve always said that “we don’t know what others are going through,” but this year, we actually do.  This is a shared crisis.  It’s easy to become overwhelmed and turn inward.  But because we’re all going through the same thing, it’s also easier to show empathy ~ and to have that empathy received with gratitude.  Even sharing our own problems becomes easier when we realize that at no other point in our lives has the possibility of being understood been so high.

September is both National Suicide Prevention Month and National Self-Care Month.  We obviously have to take care of ourselves, but when we can’t take care of ourselves, we can still try to take care of others ~ and sometimes this goodness returns to us.

This is also the right time for quiet, gentle evangelism.  This can be as simple as showing kindness, radiating peace, remaining optimistic, and staying patient, which are all related to the fruits of the Spirit, and are characteristics of our Lord.  Everyone needs these blessings.  Should the opportunity arise, we may be able to share the specifics of our own faith, but it all starts with building relationships.

We often think of evangelism as “converting non-believers to believers.”  But we might be more effective if we start by trying to convert complaint to gratitude or pessimism to hope.  And this starts with modeling such behavior and attitudes ourselves.  After all, no one will be curious about our Christianity if it doesn’t seem to work for us ~ if we’re equally likely to get in arguments about politics or to express bleak thoughts about the future.

Jesus has been called “a man of many sorrows” ~ not only because he bore the weight of the world on his shoulders, but because he waded right into the sorrow of the world, and met it head-on with hope, encouragement and good news.  Despite occasional flashes of anger ~ he was human as well as divine ~ he pushed forward with a message of God’s love and the promise of an incredible future.

Now his work has become our legacy.  The need for his message has never been greater ~ but the ground has never been as fertile.  People are desperate for hope, and our faith is built on hope.  People are desperate for peace, and our God is the Prince of Peace.  People are desperate for good news, and we have Good News.

May we delve deep enough into our faith that we might be able to shed our own disillusionment,
and emerge from our own darkness carrying the light.  Amen.

Happy New Year!

It’s already been a strange year, so why not celebrate along with our Jewish friends?  5380 was a really bad year, so we can thank God that it is finally 5381.  We may not have blown the shofar, but we can certainly light candles, proclaim the past the past, and move on.

On January 1, we made new year’s resolutions, big or small.  We were looking forward to 2020 and thought it couldn’t possibly be any worse than 2019.  On Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), we decided what we might give up or take on, and we observed the beginning of Lent at the Babylon UMC along with our brothers and sisters from the Islip and Bay Shore UMCs.  That was February 26.

Then the world changed.

So perhaps it’s a little early, but this is a good time to reexamine our lives (as our Jewish friends are doing), to reflect on the year that has passed and consider what changes we might make in the year ahead.  There are plenty of things to choose from, all of which we’ve been talking about for the past few months.  We might, for example, decide to limit the amount of news we watch, or work on our emotions, or make a list of people to call weekly, or start a blessings journal, or volunteer.  We might resolve to match every negative thought with a positive thought, or to read the Psalms, or to spend more time in nature.  We might set aside a daily time for prayer.

If God’s mercies are new each morning (Lamentations 3:22-23); God wants to make us new (2 Corinthians 5:17); and we are urged to “forget what is behind us and run straight toward the goal of salvation” (Philippians 3:13), then every day can be the New Year.  Why not make it today?

Sunday Worship Service ~ September 20, 2020

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Good morning, everyone!
Welcome to our 28th online service.
We hope and pray that it is a blessing to you!

We are now worshiping both at home and in person.  We will continue to post Sunday services indefinitely and want you to stay safe!  Mary and Joanna are working mostly from home.  Tanae is updating our Facebook page, while Rebecca is in charge of our Instagram page and Jack has adopted our Twitter account.  Every day we add a new post right here on the website that automatically pops up on Facebook and Twitter as well.  If you missed any of this week’s posts, just scroll down to see them!

On our Sunday School page is a brand new study from Tammy, plus instructions for the Fall Fun Jars that will be distributed this week to families whose elementary-aged children were attending Sunday School regularly before the pandemic.  On our Bible Study page is a new study from Steve on the 27th Psalm!

Our Thrift Shop is open Saturdays only this summer; please contact Tracy to help on Saturdays or anytime during the week.  Thank you to everyone who helped with this weekend’s outdoor inventory clearance sale!  Wednesday morning Bible study (led by Rich) meets at 10 a.m. and Wednesday evening Bible study (led by Steve) at 7 p.m.; if the weather is nice we will meet outside.  

CALL TO WORSHIP

God is with us in every season, through every change in our lives.
AS THE AIR GROWS COLDER, AND THE NIGHT GROWS LONGER,
GOD STAYS NEAR; HIS HOLY SPIRIT IS OUR BLANKET.

UNISON PRAYER

LORD JESUS, AS THE SUMMER BEGINS TO FADE,
THE AUTUMN EMERGES WITH COLOR AND CRISPNESS.
HELP US TO MOVE FROM ONE BLESSING TO ANOTHER,
KNOWING THAT YOU MAKE ALL THINGS NEW.  AMEN.

WORDS OF ASSURANCE (from “Be Still My Soul”)

In every change, God faithful will remain.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

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 the glory forever.
Amen.

OPENING SONG:  “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” by Veritas

Here’s another wonderful a cappella group, with some astonishing voices.  This song was recorded in a resonant cathedral.  The hymn is perfect for the changing of the seasons, thanks to the line, “Summer and winter and springtime and harvest.”  As one of the viewers comments, “This is why humans were given voices!”

CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
(Note: Add your own prayers at the beginning or end)

Lord God, when we think of all that is going on around us, it is easy to be overwhelmed.  We are worried about the pandemic, the election, the wildfires, the floods, the economy, racism and a seemingly never-ending stream of bad news.  And yet, you continue to send a stream of life-giving water.  May we connect to your goodness and your grace in order to have the energy to live with hope.

Be with the Wilkens family as they mourn the passing of John’s mother Monika.  Thank you for her life here on earth and her new life in heaven.  Console those who are missing her by providing your encouragement and hope.

Be with Terry V., who is hospitalized this weekend.  Clear her of her infection and help her to return home soon.  We ask your blessing on our missionary Jeff Parrett as he deals with amnesia.  Guide the doctors to the proper diagnosis and treatment, and keep his spirit calm.

Bless Tanae’s father Tadao with awareness and good days; be with Tanae and her mother as they care for him, and for Anthony, who is working in New York.  Continue to help Joanna as she recovers from diverticulitis.  Bless Janet H. with patience and ease her pain as she awaits shoulder surgery.

Watch over Liz S. and Barbara G. as they go through chemotherapy.  Guide this process so that it is not too much to bear.  Provide daily reminders of your love, your presence and your kindness.

We pray for others in our church family who are going through times of need:  for Amy, Pat, Jim, Sue, Janet, Joan, Stephan, Lois, Dannie, Kathleen, Ken, Bunny & Marty, Dawn, Harriet, Diane, Laurie & Steve, Paul, and Ruth; for all members of our extended family who are suffering; for this nation and for the world.

We come to you now in silent prayer …

Lord, as you know what is written in our hearts,
Attend now to our spirits, we pray in your name, Amen.

SONG:  “Seasons Change” by United Pursuit feat. Michael Ketterer

I think of this song whenever the summer begins to turn to fall.  The chorus:  “When the seasons change, your love remains.”  May you be blessed by this live rendition!

SCRIPTURE LESSONS: Ecclesiastes 3:1, 11; Genesis 8:22, KJV

To everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under heaven.
God has made everything beautiful in its time.
While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest,
and cold and heat, and summer and winter,
and day and night shall not cease.

SUNDAY SERMON

Note:  The video is sideways but will turn right-side up when you press Play.

OFFERING

Please use this time to make out a check to the church.
Thank you to all who have been contributing during this time, and helping the church to pay its bills!
As you write, please enjoy “Seasons” by Kristin Horne.

OFFERTORY PRAYER

Lord of seasons and time, we lift our gifts to you with thankful hearts.  Be with us in the changing of the seasons; reveal to us new blessings.  Thank you for being our God!  Amen.

BENEDICTION

As summer turns to fall, may we see God’s mercies renewed every morning.  Great is His faithfulness!  As He has led us to where we are right now, He will continue to lead us until one day we arrive at our eternal home.  Amen.

Blest Be the Tie That Binds

Thank you to Kaitlyn for helping with today’s online service!
And thank you for worshiping with us!  We wish you God’s healing and hope!

A Community in Need

When our church first opened its Thrift Shop, the Thrifty Church Mouse, the United Methodist Women viewed it as a fundraiser for UMW outreach and the church budget.  At the time, we were in a severe financial crunch and looking for ways to ease the pressure.

As time went on, we began to view the Thrift Shop in a different way.  Sure, we were making money for the church ~ more than we had ever imagined, all from the accumulation of little sales ~ but we were also serving multiple needs.  Some people came for the bargains, others for the novelty of items not found in local stores.  Some came because they needed prom dresses or interview suits.  Some came because they had no other low-cost alternative.

Yes, here in Sayville, there is poverty.

During the pandemic, the situation became even more acute.  Our local soup kitchen, Sharing a Meal, saw record numbers.  And this is years after we had already begun to notice people we knew from our own church attending as guests.  We can’t tell who is in need by appearance alone.  One night we even ran out of food, which prompted us to change our stock so that we would always have a backup supply.

When the Thrift Shop reopened, we received an outpouring of gratitude from those who had missed it.  Many reported that they were having a hard time making ends meet, and couldn’t afford the clothes in retail outlets.  For some, it was a choice of buying food or wearing worn-out clothes, or a choice between food and rent.  The stories were heartrending.

When I asked about reopening our Thrift Shop at a Zoom clergy meeting, the superintendent prodded, “Are finances really that tight?”  I was taken aback.  “It’s not about the money,” I said.  “It’s about the outreach to the community.”  Only later did I realize that this question reflected our own church’s original view of the Thrift Shop, before we knew what it really represented.  We’ve learned a lot since then.

So if the pandemic has made you more aware of the needs of others ~ if you’d like to help, but don’t know how ~ please volunteer at our Thrift Shop (or if you’re out of town, at another Thrift Shop).  Technically, it’s a store.  Physically and spiritually, it could be a lifesaver.  And if you’re curious about the Shop, stop by today (Saturday) from 10-2 to check out our huge inventory clearance sale.  We’ll be open inside and outside, and all are welcome!

Headed In the Right Direction

According to a new survey (from of all places, a wine equipment company), 2/3 of Americans “believe they have become a better person this year.”  Obviously saying one feels like a better person and being a better person can be two different things, but still this survey provides a healthy amount of hope.  The most important facet is that people still want to be better people.

The survey was divided into two parts: things people had taken for granted and things people wanted to continue post-quarantine.  The first section is obvious, because the answer to this could be “everything.”  Some specifics mentioned: family, friends, hugs, travel, stores, beaches, parks and schools.  But the second part stores the most interesting data.

Nearly 30% reported that after restrictions are lifted, they’d like to participate in the activities they’d be enjoying virtually during lockdown.  This is especially good news for churches, who are wondering how many people will continue to watch at home post-pandemic and how many will return to in-person worship.  The answer seems to be that we have discovered the need for both.  Churches of every denomination seem to have made a unilateral decision to keep online worship going forever as an extension of outreach, for reasons that should have been obvious before: many people want to experience worship services, but are busy during “live” hours, or ill, or traveling, or live somewhere out of town, or are looking for a new connection with their faith community that is available with a single click.

It’s also great to see that nearly half express interest in “quality time” with loved ones and “working to create more meaningful relationships.”  This can only help marriages, families, and friendships.  And approximately 25% want to find a better work/home balance (which will also strengthen families), while a nearly-equal number also express interest in “changing careers in order to find more meaningful work.”  This means we’re thinking about the bigger things in life, including our purpose.  And according to another survey (this one from Bubbles Ice Cream), 83% say that the “little joys in life” have been keeping them going, and the #1 joy is not Bubbles Ice Cream (as one might expect!) but “seeing a loved one after being apart for a while.”

If the pandemic has helped us to appreciate each other even more, to focus on the more important things in life, to seek meaning and purpose, and to treasure life’s little pleasures, I think it’s safe to say ~ in contrast to anything you may have heard ~ that we are headed in the right direction.

Nothing New

Today (Wednesday night, as I write), there did not seem to be any new news.  This was very disappointing because the news gives me things to comment on!  But no ~ it was politics as usual, election concerns, insults, the pandemic, the wildfires, racism, hackers and hurricanes.

So I finished reading a book.

Nathaniel Johnson wrote The Unseen City because his one-year-old daughter had a habit of pointing at things and saying, “That!”, which meant, “What is that?”  And after saying “Tree” to everything that was a tree, and not knowing what kind of tree was in his own yard, and not wanting to seem ignorant, he went on a quest to explore his urban environment.  This meant finding out the names of trees, which weeds were edible, and what ants, squirrels and pigeons were up to all day.  The most amusing part of the book: the fact that a squirrel can bury up to a thousand nuts in a season and remember where they all are … but the author tried to find a nut that a squirrel had just buried in front of him and (despite feeling guilty about looking) could not find it.

So today I too learned a little about trees and weeds and ants and squirrels and pigeons (especially timely as our Bible study had been visited by a pigeon last week and a squirrel this week), and this ended up being my news for the day.

And for a one-year-old, this is the news: what’s in the yard, how are mommy and daddy doing, what can I eat, did the cat do anything funny, I watched Spongebob, where did Barbie’s head go, can I really eat a dandelion, I don’t want to go to bed, please read me a story.

This can be our kind of day too.  God wants us to notice what’s right in front of us: the natural world, our communities, each other.  God pronounced the whole world good; we’re the only ones saying that it’s not good.  We can learn a lot from God, but sometimes the ones paying the most attention are still in diapers!  May God give us the eyes of a child, that we might see the wonder of the world around us.

Seeking Wisdom

The book of Proverbs begins with this humble introduction:

Here are proverbs that will help you recognize wisdom and good advice, and understand sayings with deep meaning. They can teach you how to live intelligently and how to be honest, just, and fair. They can make an inexperienced person clever and teach young people how to be resourceful. These proverbs can even add to the knowledge of the wise and give guidance to the educated, so that they can understand the hidden meanings of proverbs and the problems that the wise raise. ~ Proverbs 1:2-6, Good News Bible

Solomon goes on to write, To have knowledge, you must first have reverence for the Lord.  Stupid people have no respect for wisdom and refuse to learn. Foolish people! How long do you want to be foolish? How long will you enjoy making fun of knowledge? Will you never learn? (Proverbs 1:7, 22).

It’s easy to see the relevance.  No matter what the situation – pandemic, racism, even forest fires – some people want to learn as much as possible in order to be more effective in addressing the world’s problems, while others dig in with what they think they know and insist that everyone else is wrong.

A lot of people hate the word “stupid,” but it’s fun to see that Solomon’s refers to those who “have no respect for wisdom and refuse to learn;” it has nothing to do with intellectual ability.  One can be smart and stupid at the same time.  There may even be an inverse relationship: the one who claims to knows everything knows nothing, while the one who admits to knowing nothing knows at least one big truth: that we need to keep learning.

I think it’s safe to say that most people want their children to go to school, and to learn subjects such as science and history.  And yet strangely there is a divide in our society when it comes to respecting these same subjects; this week, prominent politicians once again made the news for mocking scientists, recalling Solomon’s question, “How long will you enjoy making fun of knowledge?”  On a related note, we all know the phrase, “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” and guess what!  We’re repeating history!

Solomon’s introduction highlights the benefits of wisdom, which include 1) recognizing good advice; 2) learning how to be resourceful; and 3) receiving guidance.  We all need these things, and thankfully all three are available.  Furthermore, science and religion are compatible; for the faithful, science is the study of God’s work.

But according to Solomon, all of this ~ knowledge, wisdom, and every subject under the sun ~ begins with having reverence for the Lord.  Reverence is more than simply saying we love God; it means committing ourselves to becoming better, kinder, holier and wiser people.  In the better known New International Version, this is only the “beginning of knowledge” (italics added).  One sad piece of wisdom is knowing that many people don’t want anything to do with wisdom.  To counterbalance this, Solomon concludes his chapter with these encouraging words:  “Whoever listens to Wisdom will be safe, with no reason to be afraid” (Proverbs 1:33, Good News Bible).

Smoke and Fire

Monday evening I heard a strange weather forecast.  The weatherman said that the sunset might be beautiful due to the filtered sun; that Monday’s white sky was not due to clouds, but smoke from a distant fire.  By “distant fire,” he meant the fires burning 2500 miles away, the same fires turning the skies orange on the West Coast.

What a strange feeling, to look at the sky and realize that this was the same smoke I had seen on TV ~ and to feel a tinge of guilt that the devastation on the West Coast produced a stunning panorama on the East Coast.  I felt like “protesting” by not looking at the sunset, but why fault the smoke and sun?

If anything, this is a reminder to pray, because at this moment, in this situation, we are blessed and others are not.  We are relatively safe, and others are not.  We are pretty sure our homes will be here tomorrow, but others are not.  We may have many fears and anxieties about school, politics and the pandemic, but others have only one thing on their mind: is the fire headed my way?

Sometimes these things happen to us, Hurricane Sandy being the most recent example.  This week they are happening to others.  As we look to the skies in the upcoming days, as we notice the odd beauty of filtered sun and refracted light, as we give thanks for this rare phenomenon, may we also pause in prayer to remember those who have already lost their lives or property, those who are in harm’s way, and the thousands of firefighters fighting the blaze.  In Psalm 141:2 and Revelation 8:4, prayer rises to God like smoke.  May we meet the smoke of the fire with the smoke of prayer, and may God send holy rain to quench the thirsty land.  Amen.