Sunday Worship Service ~ January 17, 2021

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Good morning, everyone!
Welcome to this week’s 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.  Tammy’s new Sunday school lesson can be found on our Sunday School page.  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!

Wednesday morning and evening Bible studies return this week at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Inauguration Day.  Our Thrift Shop remains open on Saturdays from 10-2 and is always in need of volunteers ~ simply contact Tracy S. or the church office.

Please lend your support to Uncle Paul’s House Reno, a fundraiser to help our brother Paul to stay in his home as his legs are growing weaker from ALS.  Read all about it by clicking the link in this paragraph. 

CALL TO WORSHIP

Let freedom ring from the shores of Long Island.
LET FREEDOM RING FROM THE PINE BARRENS OF SUFFOLK COUNTY.
Let freedom ring from the steeples of Sayville.
FROM EVERY HILL, LET FREEDOM RING.

UNISON PRAYER:

GOD OF ALL NATIONS, RACES AND CREEDS:
MAY WE LEARN TO HONOR OUR DIFFERENCES,
CELEBRATE OUR SIMILARITIES AND CHERISH OUR DIVERSITY.
MAY FREEDOM RING IN OUR HEARTS AND MINDS,
IN OUR CHURCHES AND HOMES.  AMEN.

WORDS OF ASSURANCE: Galatians 5:1, Good News Bible

Freedom is what we have—Christ has set us free!

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:  “We Shall Overcome”

Verse 1:  We shall overcome
Verse 2:  We’ll walk hand in hand
Verse 3:  We shall live in peace

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

Lord Jesus, in this time of national reflection, help us to remember the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King: teachings of freedom, equality, inclusion and peace.  May this be a year of progress in human dignity and human rights.

We pray that this week’s inauguration ceremony is peaceful and uplifting.  We pray for our fractured nation as it seeks a way to work together.  We pray grace upon our new president and Congress, that they may be guided by your wisdom and not their own.  We pray that you will bless American even more now than ever before.

We pray for all those suffering from COVID-19.  We are grateful that Scott and Suzanne, as well as many in Miki’s family, have gotten over the virus.  We pray for Miki’s son Jeff, who is suffering from COVID and pneumonia, and for Pastor Doug Jansen of Living Word Church as he continues to make progress under Your care.

Be with Tracy S. this Tuesday as she undergoes a lumbar procedure.  Keep her spirits calm and may there be no lingering effects.  Bless Steve G. as he recovers from back surgery.  We ask that you ease his pain and that his pain level is soon much lower than it was before the operation.  Please watch over Carol P.’s nephew Shawn as he awaits a lung transplant later this month.  Keep his spirits high and his heart calm, and be with his family as they go through this process together.

We ask your blessing upon Jane Y. and her family as Jane returns from New York City and enters Hospice care at home.  Be her hope and mainstay.  Watch over her with your eternal love.  We continue to pray for others battling cancer, especially Liz S., Laura S., and Barbara G.  We pray for progress, healing and hope.  Be with Rose A. and her family today as they remember her son John on his birthday; thank you for sharing his life with us and for his new life in heaven.

We pray for others in our church family who are going through times of need:  for Ursula, Amy, Pat, Jim, Sue, Janet, Joan, Lois, Derek, Dannie, Kathleen, Marilyn, Lily, Ken, Bunny, 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:  U2, “Pride (In the Name of Love)

Here’s something you may not know: this famous U2 song was written for Dr. Martin Luther King. It’s been a staple on rock radio for years, and this video places the song against the backdrop of his life’s work.

SCRIPTURE LESSON: Amos 5:21-24, Good News Bible

The Lord says, “I hate your religious festivals; I cannot stand them!  When you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; I will not accept the animals you have fattened to bring me as offerings.  Stop your noisy songs; I do not want to listen to your harps.  Instead, let justice flow like a stream, and righteousness like a river that never goes dry.

SUNDAY MEDITATION (Video Version followed by modified version in print)

A number of years ago, I was visiting my friends George and Angela in Georgia.  I woke up on a Monday and wished their 5-year-old twins a happy Martin Luther King Day.  They said, “Who’s Martin Luther King?”, which surprised me because the family was Black.

So I called for George and Angela, and they said, “Go ahead, Rich, explain it to them!”  No pressure!

I told them that when Martin was their age, he was friends with a boy who was white like me.  But one day his friend’s parents said they couldn’t play together any more because they were different colors.  And Martin was sad.  So when he grew up he wanted to make sure black and white people and all different color people could play together, work together and do anything together that they wanted.  But some people didn’t like this and one person shot him.  (I wondered if I should tell them that ~ too late!)

Then I went on and said, “Because of him, we get to be friends.  And your mommy and daddy and I all went to school with one of Dr. King’s daughters!”  I hoped I had done all right, then we all went downstairs and I asked George, “Please don’t ask me to explain Malcolm X!”

Today I was thinking about Martin as a child, and how hurt he must have been ~ but also about the white friend and how he must have felt.  And I remembered that we have to be taught how to be racist; it’s not ingrained.  And even those who are not racist often develop certain assumptions that may or may not be right.

I was on a Zoom call with other pastors this week and one of the Black pastors said she was tired of people telling her they knew how she must feel about racial issues.  She said, “They don’t know!  I mean, what they think is probably right, but it’s not a given.”  For example, not every Black person voted Democrat this year.

But we do know that Black people suffered more this past year from COVID than any other group, and suffered larger losses in unemployment.  We know that the Black Lives Matter movement brought race to the forefront of our national discussion.

And we know that we’re trying really hard to prove that we’re not racist.  I felt bad last year when we finally got a Black visitor and it seemed that every single person in the congregation went up to her and invited her to Coffee Hour, to join a committee, to come back the next week and so on.  She never came back.  : (

Today’s Scripture is a rough one.  The part we’re familiar with is “let justice flow like a stream, and righteousness like a mighty river.”  But it’s connected to an indictment of religion.  The prophet Amos tells God’s people that God doesn’t want festivals or fatted calves or loud harp songs (can you play a harp loudly?).  He wants justice and righteousness.  The same idea is shared by Micah:  “What does the Lord require of you?  To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God,” and repeated in the New Testament, where Paul writes, “If I have no love, I am a noisy going or a clanging cymbal,” and John writes, “If you say you love God, but you hate your neighbor, you are a liar.”  And we remember that the church has often been on the wrong side of race relations, most egregiously the KKK.

So what is our religion called to do?

1. Don’t be racist (obviously).
2. Admit that we probably have some underlying assumptions that are wrong, and don’t be afraid to talk about them.  The book White Fragility is about how defensive white people can get around race issues.
3. Address the causes, not just the symptoms.

Dr. King’s March on Washington took place three months before I was born, and sought to address both racial and economic inequity. Just before his death, Dr. King was working on Resurrection City, a tent city set up in Washington to call attention to the plight of the poor.

This year, the pandemic exposed the continued inequity between rich and poor in this country, as large companies made record profits while smaller businesses closed and families waited hours at food banks.  The poor can’t afford the best lawyers, or the best child care, or the best colleges.  They are often stuck working in the worst conditions, simply to feed their families.  In many cases, working 40, 50, 60 hours a week isn’t enough to make ends meet.

Over fifty years ago, Dr. King had a dream that still rings true today.  Back then, he said that his faith would see him through.  “With this faith,” he said, “we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together … knowing that we will be free someday.”

But in order for this dream to come true, we will have to reject other dreams – for example, the white nationalist dream that has been resurfaced in recent years:  “I have a dream that one day, the South will rise again, and we’ll fly the Confederate flag from the top of the Capitol building, and all the white children will be able to play together, and no more foreigners will be allowed to come in.”  This is not the American dream.  Although it is espoused by Christians, this is not a Christian dream.

The American dream is that anyone can make it here, if they are willing to work hard, be good neighbors and invest in our nation’s ideals.  This dream is still in play.

I have a dream that everyone in our government will start to work together, recognizing that their country is bigger than they are and that God is bigger than their country.  This dream may not be probable, but it is still possible.

I have a dream that one day there will be a job for everyone who wants one, and help for everyone who needs it ~ not a handout, but a supplement for every hard-working American.  Congress is working on this dream right now.

I have a dream that one day people will once again dream of coming to America, because we will have faced our demons and conquered them, and with God’s help, returned to the right path.  I know you share this dream.

And I have a dream that one day Dr. King’s dream will come true, and that we won’t have to wait until heaven to see it happen, and that we will be able to use Dr. King’s birthday to celebrate how far we’ve come, not how far we have to go.  Amen.

OFFERING

Please use this time to make out a check to the church (Sayville United Methodist Church, 164 Greene Avenue, Sayville NY 11782).  Thank you to all who have been contributing during this time, and helping the church to pay its bills!  As you write, please enjoy Tanae’s organ version of “Here I Am, Lord.”

OFFERTORY PRAYER

Lord Jesus, thank you for being our eternal leader and our means of grace.  We are humbled by your love and your sacrifice.  Please accept these gifts and help us to use them in the service of your kingdom.  Amen.

BENEDICTION

As we go forth, may we do so prepared to be the best citizens we can be, not only in our churches but in our communities and in our nation.  May we shine the light of Christ, that others might find their way to his grace.  Amen.

Blest Be the Tie That Binds

Thank you to Tanae and Kaitlyn for helping with today’s online service!
And thank you for worshiping with us!  We wish you God’s blessing of peace.

Too Early for Easter?

This week I was admiring the sight of Sayville’s Christmas wreaths and decorations when I walked into Rite-Aid and saw Cadbury Creme Eggs on display at the counter.  The photo above, for those who are interested, is taken from a recipe for deep-frying such eggs, because, you know, they might not have enough calories on their own.

You’ve probably heard of a famous Christian sub-group called “C & E People,” who come to church only on Christmas and Easter.  We’re glad they attend; we just wish they would attend more often (pandemic years excluded).  Christmas is appreciated more when people experience Advent, and Easter is appreciated more when people experience Lent.  But Lent is still more than a month away and is in fact the opposite of a Cadbury Creme Egg.  More importantly, Jesus did some important things between being born and being resurrected.

It’s very tempting ~ especially in these days ~ to jump from comfort to comfort, sweetness to sweetness, holy day to holy day, celebration to celebration.  That sort of life sounds great!  The problem is, it’s not very deep.  During the hardest parts of their lives, people learn more, grow more, and by many accounts, pray more; while we’d love to skip over these times, we can’t; we can, however, see their value.

Who am I?  Why am I here?  What is my purpose?  Am I good?  If not, can I be good, or at least better?  What’s holding me back?  Can the Bible really be helpful, or is it just a bunch of words?  Is it okay to sit in my house being anxious, or is there a better use of my time?  Is there anything I can do about what’s going on in our country right now, or is it okay to watch Netflix for six hours while I think about it?

God knows we all need comfort right now ~ but the Christian life is more than just comfort.  It’s also challenge, which implies rising to the challenge.  The United States currently has more Christians than any other nation, which means we should be able to handle anything that comes our way, if only we can remember the stuff that comes between Christmas and Easter:

Judge not.
Live sacrificially.
Love your neighbor.
Be peacemakers.
Help the poor.

There’s plenty more to the Gospel, but I think it’s okay to say that if we can do these five things, we will have earned our Cadbury Creme Eggs.  Although really, please, don’t fry them.

Quick note: I’ll be taking Monday off from posting due to the holiday and the fact that Sunday’s service is about Monday’s holiday.  Back on Tuesday with new posts!

The Top Bible Verse of 2020

According to Christianity Today, the most-searched Bible verse of 2020 was “Do not fear,” specifically Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Throughout the year, current events led people to their (online) Bibles, as fear was the top topic for spring, justice for summer and healing for fall.

During the summer marches, searches for Scriptures on “racism, justice and oppression” jumped to 100 times the normal amount on Bible Gateway, demonstrating an encouraging trend: that in times of trouble, people have been turning to the Bible for guidance and comfort.  During the election, searches for “governmental authority” rose by a factor of fifty.  One app reports that total Bible searches rose 80% over the previous year.

If you’re new to online Bible searches, here’s a tip: Google “What does the Bible say about ______ ” and you should be able to find a list of Scriptures graded by reader helpfulness.  I used this last week when searching for Bible verses about oxen, which would have taken me forever had I been flipping through my hard copy!

One reason that Isaiah 41:10 is so comforting is that it is lodged within a framework of comfort, which begins with the first verse of Chapter 40 (Comfort, comfort my people, says your God) and continues for the next few chapters, including many well-known verses about the Messiah.

Over and over, in the Old Testament and the New, God tells his people, “Do not fear.  Do not be worried or anxious.”  And yet we are!  It’s helpful to know that this is not God’s wish for us: God wants us to live a fear-free life, turning to His Word and walking in His ways.  But there is a flip side.

One of the most common Biblical questions I’m asked is about fearing God.  My normal answer is that the word “fear” in Biblical days is closer to “respect.”  But there are times when we are to fear God in the traditional sense.  If we keep reading Isaiah, we find that Babylon, which has turned its attention from God to idols and oppressed God’s people, should fear God, because very bad things are about to happen to them.  God doesn’t tell everyone on earth not to fear; God tells those who honor him by worshipping him and caring for others not to fear.

This is not as troubling as it seems; in fact, it’s the perfect pandemic prescription.  When we’re afraid, God asks us to turn outward rather than inward, to recognize the fear and pain around us, not just the fear and pain within us, and to do what we can to address it.  This, more than anything, is the way forward.  Isaiah 41:10 was written not to an individual, but to a nation.  The valuable message: A nation built on helping others need not fear the Lord.

Halves and Pieces

In a classic case of Pandemic Mind, I’ve been thinking about some weird things lately.  Here is one of them: Planters Cashews Halves & Pieces.

I picked up a can because it was on sale at Stop & Shop.  The can was approximately half the price of regular cashews, which was somewhat amazing but odd.  After all, if someone were to shake up a can of Planters Cashews, they would get a can of Planters Halves & Pieces, but it would cost twice as much.  In some people’s eyes, the product would be “ruined,” while it was essentially the same product.  In like fashion, if I were so motivated (and on Pandemic Time, anything’s possible), I could probably glue Cashew Halves & Pieces together with cashew butter and double the value of my initial investment.

Here’s a sobering thought: people on limited budgets, and certainly the poor, may never have tasted a whole cashew.  For reasons of frugality and necessity, they may have always made the choice to get the Halves & Pieces, and think they are missing out, because only the well-off can afford whole cashews.

(This is where most of you can sense a parable coming.)

Now that life has been shaken up, many of us are approaching life as if we got “stuck” with the halves and pieces, and we’re sad, or angry, or resentful that we don’t have our “whole” or “intact” life.  But this is an illusion.  Life is still life, after all; every life has dings and bruises.  Each of us will feel as if we got dropped once in a while, some more than others.  Furthermore, we can construct a whole, fulfilling life out of halves and pieces.  We may even see a benefit in the halves and pieces, at the very least an acknowledgment that we have something to work with ~ what some call blessings.

Those who spring for the whole cashews will likely be disappointed, because there will probably be some halves and pieces in the can as well.  Life is not perfect, and the expectation of perfection amplifies every imperfection.  And if cashews had brains (they do not, although they are allegedly good for the brain), they might wonder, “What is all the fuss about?  You’re going to eat us anyway, and turn us all into pieces!”

In conclusion, those who are willing and able to spring for whole cashews are rewarded by having what some would call “a better crunch,” while those who for any reason buy halves and pieces save money.  In like fashion, whether life seems whole or broken right now, it is still a life, and it still has a bright side ~ we just have to look for it and try not to go nuts while we do.

Social Media Is/Isn’t the Problem

We’ve all seen this story: famous person tweets something bad, is called out for it, and deletes the tweet.

It used to be that if I wanted to say something stupid in public, I had to wait until I found a crowd; and if I wanted to send something angry to someone, I had to write it out and put it in the mail, and then I still had three days to try to call the person and beg them not to open whatever I had sent.

But now, I have the incredible power to send random thoughts into the universe that I can never take back.  Wow, this is great!  I can tell people about a great pizza place or rail about politics or complain about people I know, and it only takes a second to get these thoughts from my head into the world!

Some people say that social media is the problem, but social media has only called attention to a problem that was always there: unfiltered thoughts can be dangerous, and anonymity can protect horrible words that people (we hope) would never say in public, even though they think them.  Here’s what James writes about the tongue:  “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:5b-6, New International Version).  And that was before Facebook, Twitter and texting!

This is why James also says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (1:19, NIV).  On Sunday, I focused on the third part; today, I’d like to focus on the second.  Slow to speak also means slow to text, slow to tweet and slow to post.  

Here’s another thing the NFL gets right (with some exceptions).  The broadcasts are on a 2-second delay, so it’s someone’s job to listen for bad words and bleep them out if necessary.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a muzzle on our own words like that ~ someone who would stop our worst thoughts from being heard until we had more time to think about them?  If you were to ask me to make a list of the Top Ten Things I Wish I Had Never Said, I’m sure I would have no problem compiling that list.

Social media, cellphones, computers and apps have been godsends during the pandemic, allowing us to keep in touch in ways our ancestors only imagined.  Technology is neutral, only as good or bad as we make it.  The old adages are still true:  “Intelligent people think before they speak” (Proverbs 16:23, Good News Bible); “You are the master of what you say until you utter it; once you deliver it, you are its captive” (from Islam); “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” (from my mom).

May this be a year of attentive listening, that we might hear each other, and if we are so blessed, that we might hear the still, small voice of God.  Amen.

A New Reason to Like Football

This past weekend offered a treat for football fans, with an unprecedented pair of triple-headers to start the playoff season, followed by the college championship on Monday.  It was nice to watch something on TV that wasn’t politics or the pandemic, and I thanked God for the distraction.  But as I watched in the context of politics and the pandemic, I was reminded of one old reason to watch football, and picked up a new one as well.

The old reason is that football offers us heroes that often have little to do with the actual game.  For example, each team nominates a team member for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, based on their efforts in the community.  And many teams had to overcome adversity this year, beginning with COVID battles that left one team without a head coach on Sunday and another earlier in the season without any quarterbacks!  But more importantly, there was Ron Rivera’s struggle with cancer and the fact that he kept coaching through it all, combined with the story of his team’s quarterback Alex Smith, who came back from near-death, having contracted a flesh-eating virus on top of a broken leg, and after two years of painful therapy got his team to the playoffs.

The new reason is something I hadn’t paid much attention to before:  rules.  Football teams are comprised of aggressive, combative men who like running into each other and are usually not very nice to each other.  However, they also have a great deal in common: the love for the game and for fair competition.  And so they agree that if they break a rule, they get a penalty; if they break a bigger rule, they get a bigger penalty; if they commit a personal foul, they get a warning, and if they commit another personal foul, they get thrown out of the game.

In a week during which everyone seems to be trying to hold everyone else accountable, I found this very comforting.  This is the way life is supposed to work.  The idea of fair play, of referees and rules, and of agreeing to these rules in order to commit to a higher cause is intensely appealing.

This is also the way the Kingdom of God works.  Bet you didn’t see that one coming!  Throughout the Bible, and especially in the Old Testament, people cry out to God because they see the unfairness of life.  Bad people get away with crimes.  Rich people oppress the poor.  Evil kings demand tribute.  Even the priests are corrupt.  Ecclesiastes writes, “I looked again at all the injustice that goes on in this world. The oppressed were crying, and no one would help them. No one would help them, because their oppressors had power on their side” (4:1, Good News Bible).

But things turn in the Kingdom of God.  The first become last, while the last become first; those who were full become empty, while those who were empty become full.  Justice and righteousness roll like rivers and streams.  The rules are enforced.

Like our Biblical ancestors, we too desire to see people punished (although we may have different people in mind).  God tells us to relax and not to dwell on such feelings; it’s already covered.  And as always, God turns the question around again:  “Are you playing by the rules in the book that I gave you?”

What Is “Ordinary Time?”

While some churches celebrate Epiphany season, many (including the United Methodist Church) are now in something called “Ordinary Time.”  On the surface this makes sense, as there are no Christian holidays for a while and life does seem a bit ordinary without them.  But in this case, the word “ordinary” actually refers to “ordering,” as in “the first Sunday after Epiphany,” “the second Sunday after Epiphany,” and so on.  A second round of Ordinary Time starts after Pentecost and lasts until Advent.

This short season is the bridge between Christmas and Lent, which this year falls on February 17.  Some might see this as a month and a half period during which we try to keep our New Year’s resolutions, fail miserably, and resolve to try again.  Others might call it “football playoff season.”   

If Advent is about hope, love, joy, peace and the arrival of salvation, Lent is about giving something up or taking something on, and Pentecost is about the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit, what is Ordinary Time about?

Traditionally a time for meditation, this stretch of January and February lines up nicely with the heart of winter.  We’re stuck indoors more than we’d like, trying to choose books over Netflix and often losing, foraging for nuts and berries in our cupboards and finding only cookies and jam.  But the combination of winter and Ordinary Time offers a perfect opportunity for introspection, which can lead to renewal of purpose and strengthening of spirit.

Those who have the luxury of time this season might take guidance from this famous hymn:

Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.

It’s impressive to see so many winter ideas packed into a single stanza: prayer (line 1), reading (line 2), helping others (line 3) and counting blessings (line 4).  This sounds like a great recipe for turning Ordinary Time into Extraordinary Time!

We need not fear the winter; it will bring its own blessings.  Welcome to a new season of faith!

Sunday Worship Service ~ January 10, 2021

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Good morning, everyone!
Welcome to this week’s 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.  Tammy’s new Sunday school lesson can be found on our Sunday School page.  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!

CALL TO WORSHIP

Put away your stresses and fears,
YOUR WORRIES AND ANXIETIES.
For God is our strength, help, and salvation,
OUR LISTENING EAR, OUR SAVING GRACE.
Lay your sorrows before God; tell him your troubles,
AND HE WILL EASE YOUR MIND AND GIVE YOU REST.

UNISON PRAYER:

REDEEMER GOD,
WE HAVE RECEIVED THE EVENTS OF THIS PAST WEEK
WITH A MIXTURE OF ANGER, SADNESS AND SILENCE.
BE NEAR US, LORD, IN OUR STRUGGLES TO UNDERSTAND.

BE OUR GUIDE AND MAINSTAY,
SO THAT OUR ANGER MIGHT NOT LEAD US INTO SIN,
OUR SADNESS MIGHT NOT LEAD US INTO DESPAIR,
AND OUR SILENCE MIGHT NOT KEEP US FROM PRAYER.  AMEN.

WORDS OF ASSURANCE: Psalm 62:8

Trust in God at all times, my people.  Tell him all your troubles, for he is our refuge.

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:  “Seek Ye First”

Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness
And all these things shall be added unto you, Allelu, Alleluia.
Ask and it shall be given unto you, seek and ye shall find
Knock and the door shall be opened unto you, Allelu, Alleluia.

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

Lord Jesus, in a time of turmoil, be our anchor.  Keep our minds from drifting away from your goodness.  Fix our hearts on your Holy Spirit.  Infuse our spirits with hope.

We pray for our troubled democracy, that it might turn its attention to you in order to receive your blessing.  May America once again be known as a city on a hill, a shining light, the land of the free, the home of the brave.  Remove the blight of selfishness and replace it with empathy.  Help us to pick up the pieces and build something new and beautiful.

We pray for all those suffering from COVID-19, especially for Scott and Suzanne; for Miki’s son Jeff, daughter-in-law Kelly, granddaughter Jillian and son-in-law James; and for Pastor Doug Jansen of Living Word Church.  God, we pray for miracles of recovery and grace.  We pray for those in mourning, that they may receive your comfort.

Bless Steve G. as he goes through back surgery this Thursday; may the surgery ease his pain not only now, but for years to come.  Please watch over Carol P.’s nephew Shawn as he awaits a lung transplant later this month.  Keep his spirits high and his heart calm, and be with his family as they go through this process together.

Bless Jane Y., Liz S., Laura S., Barbara G. and all who are battling cancer.  Eradicate these cancer cells from their bodies, and replace them with healthy cells.

We pray for others in our church family who are going through times of need:  for Jean, Ursula, Amy, Pat, Jim, Sue, Janet, Joan, Lois, Derek, Dannie, Kathleen, Marilyn, Lily, Ken, Bunny, 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:  Mitch Rossell, “2020”

A great song to start the new year, addressing all the country is going through right now ~ despite the fact that it was released a week before the chaos!

SCRIPTURE LESSONS from the GOOD NEWS BIBLE:

Don’t give in to worry or anger; it only leads to trouble. ~ Psalm 37:8

If you stay calm, you are wise, but if you have a hot temper, you only show how stupid you are.
~ Proverbs 14:29

If you become angry, do not let your anger lead you into sin; and do not stay angry all day.  Don’t give the Devil a chance. Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.  And do not make God’s Holy Spirit sad, for the Spirit is God’s mark of ownership on you, a guarantee that the Day will come when God will set you free.  No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort. ~ Ephesians 4:26-27, 29-31

Remember this, my dear friends!  Everyone must be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.  Human anger does not serve God’s purpose. ~ James 1:19-20

SUNDAY MEDITATION (Video followed by rearranged and slightly rewritten print version)

The British have a saying, “Keep calm and carry on.”  This is as close as they come to a national slogan, found on everything from cups to t-shirts, with hundreds of different versions, all beginning with the words, “Keep calm.”

It was not easy to stay calm this week, as COVID continued to reach new peaks and our democracy fell under siege.  I began to regret asking last week, “What if 2021 turned out to be worse than 2020?” although at the time it was a hypothetical question.  I still think things will turn around for the better this year, despite the rough start.

My original topic this week was getting through winter, but the new topic is about getting through the next ten days.  I suppose I should be thankful because after Christmas, New Year’s and Epiphany, I was running low on sermon topics.  (Thank you, rioters?)

I’ve had a hard time keeping calm this week.  Like many of you, I’ve been going through the stages of grief: shock and denial, followed by anger and sadness.  I was angry at the president, angry at the rioters, and angry at the police for not shooting them.

Then I felt regret for having such angry feelings, and I felt sad about the damage being done to our country, all of it so unnecessary.  And I remembered hearing once that anger and depression are flip sides of the same coin, that they rely on the same energy, turned outward or inward.  So I decided to take an angry walk, and when I got to the Sayville Christmas tree, I actually did feel a little peace, and I remembered hearing a news story that said more Americans have been keeping their Christmas decorations up later this year, not out of laziness but out of a need for comfort.

“Don’t give in to worry and anger,” King David writes.  “It only leads to trouble.”  How true!  This week we saw an angry president, angry rioters, angry Americans and an angry Congress.  This anger lives in us as well.  David’s son Solomon takes up where his father leaves off, writing, “If you stay calm, you are wise, but if you have a hot temper, you only show how stupid you are.”

In the New Testament, Paul acknowledges that anger is unavoidable.  He doesn’t write, “Don’t get angry;” he writes, “If you become angry, don’t stay angry all day,” and in another translation, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”  Couples are told, “Don’t go to bed mad;” the same advice is good for single people.  As James writes, “Human anger does not serve God’s purpose.”

If anger and depression are flip sides of the same coin, then it’s best to pick another coin.  Joy would be nice, but seems too high to reach.  I’m trying to find my way to calm, to “keep calm and carry on.”

Christian radio has been amazing this week.  Many people think that Christian radio exists in a vacuum, but the opposite is true.  If you listened to Christian radio this week, you probably heard an acknowledgment of current events, followed by prayer and encouragement.  Many DJs spoke about the struggles they were going through, and played songs that addressed our feelings and fears: for example, Elevation Worship’s “I’m going to see a victory, for the battle belongs to the Lord.”

But what battle?  The battle between Democrats and Republicans?  The battle for control of Congress?  The battle between rioters and police?  No ~ the ages-old battle between human nature and the Holy Spirit, playing out on national TV and in the recesses of our hearts.  Those who gave in to their human nature made things worse.  Those who turned to the Spirit provided glimmers of hope.  For example, by showing restraint, the officers at the Capitol avoided a bloodbath.  On the Senate floor, some surprising politicians became heroes, if only, as David Bowie sings, “just for one day.”  Could good really triumph over evil?  Could selflessness really triumph over selfishness?  It could, if we allowed it.

Imagine for a moment that someone had given you nine presents for Christmas, and when they asked about them a couple weeks later, you said, “Oh, I haven’t looked at them, I just put them in the closet.”  They would certainly be sad.  The Holy Spirit has given us nine gifts, and James writes, “Do not make the Holy Spirit sad.”  These gifts are meant to be used, and we need them now more than ever.

Love ~ Remember how much God loves you, and how many people love you, and how many people you love.
Joy ~ Remember there is still joy in this world, despite all its broken surfaces.
Peace ~ Strive for peace in your soul, and make peace with every person you can.
Patience ~ Be patient; this won’t get better in a day or a week, but it will get better.
Kindness ~ Be kind to those around you; they really need it right now.  And don’t forget to be kind to yourself as well.
Goodness ~ There is still goodness in this world, and you can be part of it as well.  Resist evil; don’t become what you hate.
Faithfulness ~ Hold on to your faith, no matter what occurs.  God never lets go, through every doubt and every storm.
Gentleness ~ Be gentle with others and with yourself; we’re all on edge right now.
and Self-Control ~ Don’t give in to worry or anger.  Take every thought captive and turn it over to Jesus.  Let God’s peace rule your lives.  Keep calm and carry on.  Amen.

OFFERING

Please use this time to make out a check to the church (Sayville United Methodist Church, 164 Greene Avenue, Sayville NY 11782).  Thank you to all who have been contributing during this time, and helping the church to pay its bills!  As you write, please enjoy Tanae playing “Be Thou My Vision.”

OFFERTORY PRAYER

Lord, please accept these our humble gifts, and lead us to use them in ways that honor you and your people.  We are grateful for all your blessings; our cups runneth over!  Amen.

BENEDICTION

As we go forth, may we do so restored, with courage for the days that lie ahead.  May we follow our God through every storm, and lift His name on high no matter what occurs.  And may God’s blessing of light and peace be upon us, now and forever, Amen.

Blest Be the Tie That Binds

Thank you to Lee and Kaitlyn for helping with today’s online service!
And thank you for worshiping with us!  We wish you God’s blessing of peace.

A Prayer for Our Nation

Lord God, you have promised our nation a blessing if we but turn to you.  Humble our hearts and lead us to repentance.  

Forgive us the sin of seeing each other not as brothers and sisters, but as enemies.  Forgive our quickness to devolve into anger and recrimination.  Forgive us the political turmoil that we have fomented, even among our own families and friends.  Forgive us our need to be “right,” no matter what the cost.  Forgive us for drifting from the ideals that you and the founders of our nation have established.  Forgive us for deserting the words “united,” “in God we trust,” and “liberty and justice for all.”

Help us to turn not to other human beings, but to you for guidance and strength.  Remind us that we are part of an unshakeable Kingdom, with a Faithful King, and that the government is upon Your shoulders.  

We pray that we might not give in to our own insecurities; that we might once again cherish the blessings of diversity; that we might honor differences of opinion, instead of shouting over each other and trying to drown each other out.  Fill us with a desire to listen, not only to each other, but to you.

Remind us of the strengths of this nation.  Help us to believe in each other again.  Help us to see You in the eyes of every person, even those with whom we disagree.  Teach us that our nation’s democracy, as strong as it may be, is fragile, and that we are the keepers of our own ideals.  When we are not sure of the way forward, darken every path that does not lead to You, and shine your light on every one that does.

Protect us from anger and despair.  Change our hearts, O God; may we be like You.  Fill our hearts with hope and determination; may we not give up, but press on all the more.

Be with every one of our nation’s leaders, and fill them with a desire to serve you.  May Your wisdom be their wisdom.  May Your love be their love.  Help them to see how close we are, not to falling apart but to making a mighty witness for You.

May we be your servants, and may our nation become a nation of servants, that in serving others we may honor You.  Remind us that You became a servant in order to save us from our sins.  Fill our hearts with empathy.  Lead us to be healers, helpers and peacemakers.  Help us once again to be indivisible: one nation, under You.

When sacrifices must be made, remind us that You made the greatest sacrifice of all.  Bless us in the future as You have in the past, as we continue to strive for Your Kingdom.  Amen.

The Most Ironic Sign

As a pastor, I’m obviously going to notice Scriptures when they appear in public life, especially on a giant banner being held at a rally that turns into a riot.  The most ironic sign I saw in D.C. this week was taken from the Old Testament:  “Choose this day whom you will serve” ~ Joshua 24:15.

Some of the images we saw this week: a man who had broken into the Capitol building sitting in Mike Pence’s seat, and another sitting in Nancy Pelosi’s seat.  I had a quick flashback to Harrison Ford in “Air Force One” shouting, “Get off my plane!”

One of the scariest images in the Bible is that of the “Awful Horror,” an idol that is brought into the Temple and placed in the spot reserved for the Holy of Holies.  This is often coupled with descriptions of Satan, who wishes to ascend to God’s throne and sit in his seat.  It seems so obvious that these things are wrong that we seldom talk about them.  And yet these days it seems that nothing is obvious anymore.

For example:  If you are a Christian, you should be against committing acts of violence against property and police officers.  And yet, some Christians choose to align themselves with such acts of violence.  How does this happen?

It begins when we decide, consciously or subconsciously, that anyone is more important than Christ.  Here’s a blunt quiz, even easier than yesterday’s:

Decide today whom you will serve.  Your options are:
a) Trump; b) Biden; c) Jesus.

Those who choose a) or b) will listen to their candidate, then see what Jesus has to say, and if Jesus doesn’t agree with their candidate they will chalk it up to the fact that the Bible was written thousands of years ago.  Those who choose c) will read what Jesus has to say, and throw out any human opinions that contradict his teachings.

There are many good reasons for the separation of church and state, but the one I’d like to highlight is that when churches put any human being in the seat reserved for God, they lose their moral authority.  On Wednesday night and Thursday, we saw many people struggling with their consciences, saying, “I can’t take it anymore!”, submitting resignations and/or changing their votes.  They suddenly realized that there was an authority above any human power.

And now, the full verse from Joshua 24:15:

And if you be unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. ~ Joshua 24:15, RSV

And a reminder for all of us as we pray God’s blessing upon America, that our actions will bring either a blessing or a curse:

 If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then this temple will become a heap of rubble. ~ 2 Chronicles 14, 19, 21, NIV

The decision should be obvious, but for just like the old magazine quizzes in which the right answers were given at the bottom of the page, here’s the right answer:

c) Jesus.