Stagnant

It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. ~ Ephesians 2:1, The Message

Yeah, we did that, didn’t we?  We saw other people with “cool” clothes, and we wanted cool clothes too (for me, in high school, that meant Sergio Valente and Jordache).  We heard that we were supposed to make a lot of money, so we tried.  Men were not supposed to cry, so we didn’t (or at least tried not to).  At college, we were supposed to drink.  Afterwards, we kept buying the products we were told to buy, eating at the places we were told to eat, and acting the way we were supposed to act, which was often restrictive; no matter how many times we heard the words, “Be yourself,” we knew that was a bad idea.

As adults, we’re still told that our teeth should be white, our stomachs flat, our jaws square, AND that we should eat at Burger King and Taco Bell.  Good luck!

But we are also told by the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, that if we did all these things we would be happy, and that happiness was the highest goal. But somehow, no matter how closely we followed the ever-changing template, we still weren’t happy, although we said we were on Facebook and Instagram.

Then the world said, be pessimistic!  Complain about politics, but don’t do anything about it!  The person who disagrees with you is your enemy!  And to our shame, we bought into that too, because everyone else was doing it.

All this time, our spiritual lives grew stagnant.

stag·nant /ˈstaɡnənt / adjective

1. (of a body of water or the atmosphere of a confined space) having no current or flow and often having an unpleasant smell as a consequence;
2. showing no activity; dull and sluggish.

The Devil said to Jesus, “all of this I will give to you if you bow down and worship me.”  But Jesus knew that if he did that, he would never be fulfilled, because all the Devil had to offer was stagnancy.  

In contrast, Jesus offers new life: not a stagnant pool, but streams of life-giving water.  If you’ve been feeling stagnant lately, ask yourself, who have I been learning from?  Might it finally be time, no matter what our age, to reject the world’s supposed wisdom and to trust the one who knows everything about life?  Might it be time to try a fresh perspective, a new attitude, a different path?

No, of course not, how silly of me!  The right answer is a Pelaton.

The Feast of Purim

Purim often passes without notice by the Christian church, but it’s one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar.  The observance, also known as the Feast of Esther, began last night at sunset and ends this evening.  It’s an opportunity to reflect, give thanks, and feast on kreplach and hamantashen, triangular-shaped pastries filled with ground beef, chicken, dates or poppy seeds.

The Old Testament book of Esther tells an exciting story.  Esther is a faithful young Jewish woman who wins a beauty pageant and is chosen to wed the king.  She’s wealthy and popular, having fallen into a life of ease.  But at the same time, the evil Haman is conspiring to exterminate all the Jews.  Esther risks her life to appeal to the king, who issues an edict allowing the Jews to fight back if attacked; that day, they defeat all their enemies and are saved from annihilation.  Haman is hung from the same gallows he had prepared for Esther’s brother.

Esther is one of the greatest heroines of the Bible, not only because she saves her people, but because she refuses to be defined by her beauty or success.  Instead, she risks it all for a higher cause.  She exemplifies the concept that true nobility is not conferred, but earned.  She is called “for such a time as this” (4:14).  Her ability to recognize this calling is her greatest asset.

We may feel that we have little in common with Esther, but most of us are living comfortable lives, blessed with a reasonable amount of money and security.  Meanwhile, many people around our kingdom are suffering, crying out for aid.  Perhaps we too have been called “for such a time as this.”  Are we willing to leave our comfort zones and to risk some or all of what we have so that others might have more?  Will we help others only through thoughts and prayers, or will we act?  What might the Lord be calling us to do?

National Clam Chowder Day

Today (which is also ten months before Christmas, and Bunny and Stephan’s birthdays) we recognize a minor holiday that has special significance in our church: yes, Alan, it’s National Clam Chowder Day!

Clams were introduced to the settlers by Native Americans, and clam chowder soon became a popular staple.  The white version is known as New England or Boston clam chowder, and is made with dairy and without tomatoes.  But there are dozens of other variations, and of course one can make up a new recipe at home simply by adding or subtracting ingredients, including favorite spices.  (You’ll still need clams though!)

For over a quarter century, our church has been making clam chowder under the leadership of Lay Minister Alan Gross.  Many people have moved through our kitchen and helped shuck the clams, stir the pot and serve the food, but Alan has been the constant.  The clam chowder is the staple of our annual Clamfest, which has raised tens of thousands of dollars for outreach and mission throughout the years.  In 2002, Clamfest proceeds bought an ark for Heifer International.  In 2020, we were not able to hold a Clamfest due to COVID, but we still raised over $3000 (and counting!) for missions by selling soup on Sundays.  For better or worse, people know us as “the church with the signs” or “the church with the clams!”  Our newer phrase, that we hope will catch on, is “We make a lot of money and we give it all away.”

In a nice coincidence (Alan would call it a “God-incidence”), Sayville is also the home of Steve Kuhn, a lifelong clammer who invented the Clam Power t-shirt in 1971.  The shirts, hats and related gear have proven they have legs and can still be purchased online, at Brinkmann’s hardware and directly from Steve.  The clamming industry is no longer what it once was in our town, but the legacy, the clothing, and the love endure.

So today, we invite you to celebrate the occasion with some homemade clam chowder, and if you don’t have any and would like some soon, simply contact Alan or come to church on Sunday.  These clams connect us to our town’s history, but in our church, they also connect us to our faith.  Happy National Clam Chowder Day!

God’s Plan

What is God’s plan?

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11, NIV

In all his wisdom and insight God did what he had purposed, and made known to us the secret plan he had already decided to complete by means of Christ. This plan, which God will complete when the time is right, is to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head.  All things are done according to God’s plan and decision; and God chose us to be his own people in union with Christ because of his own purpose, based on what he had decided from the very beginning. Let us, then, who were the first to hope in Christ, praise God’s glory! ~ Ephesians 1:8b-12, Good News Bible

During times of crisis, many people question God’s plan, or ask if God even has a plan, or comment (pardon the slight language), “If this is God’s plan, his plan sucks.”  I’ve heard and read that exact sentence so many times it’s worth quoting verbatim.

Here are some healthy ways to look at God’s plan.

Perhaps the most important thing to know about God’s plan is that it includes free will.  This means that we are free to follow God’s plan or stray from it.  For example, God allows sickness and disease, because otherwise we wouldn’t all be able to fit on the planet.  So it’s easy to see why God would allow something like COVID-19, but his plan (and hope) might have been for us to use our brains and wear masks, so that this all would have ended by say, last spring.  Sadly, he also allows us to hurt each other, which accounts for the majority of human suffering, and to make decisions such as spending lots of money on nuclear weapons and a much smaller amount on social services.  Our priorities are not necessarily God’s priorities, but his plan is to allow us to decide what we think is most important, and hopefully to find our way to him.

The second thing to know about God’s plan is that it is more general than specific, more long-term than short.  So while God knows everything that is going to happen, God isn’t making every little thing happen.  Look away from your screen for a second. Did God make you do that?  No – you’re not a puppet.

Part of the problem people have with God is that they get hung up on the words of a specific translation, so let’s look at a different translation of the Ephesians passage from The Message:

He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.  It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

Wait, where did that part go about all things are done according to God’s decision?  It’s not there.  So maybe God didn’t decide our loved one should die, or that we should be in a car accident, or that we should lose our job, and we don’t have to be mad at God about it and try to figure out why it’s “good.”

It’s not in the King James.  It’s not in the Revised Standard Version.  It’s not in the New International Version.

So what is in all the different translations?  The comforting thought that God has a plan for all his people that started before we were born and ends in heaven.  Add to this the words of Jeremiah, who writes that God means to prosper and not to harm, to provide hope and a future.

Not only is God’s plan still good, it’s always been good; our difficulty is that we can see the framework, but not the details. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:12, RSV

500,000

Today we pause to mark the sobering statistic that half a million people have died in the last year from COVID-19 in the U.S. alone: over 1/5 of all the world’s deaths.

Behind each number is a face, and a family.  Many of the victims died alone, unable to see their loved ones, who were robbed of the chance to say goodbye, or even to have a funeral.  By now, almost everyone knows someone who succumbed to the disease.  The globe has felt a ripple effect of sadness.  We are all in mourning together.

It’s a hard number to put into perspective.  At one point, we were shocked to learn that as many people had died from COVID-19 as had died in 9/11: 2977.  Then we surpassed the total killed in WWII.  Then COVID became the leading cause of death in America.  After that, we stopped being shocked; we were simply numbed.  675,000 Americans died in the 1918 pandemic; it’s possible we’ll reach that total.  We are still losing about a thousand a day.  But after a hundred years, we should have learned our lessons; we should have done better than this.

One of the saddest aspects of the crisis is that the number did not have to be this high.  Our country was hit the hardest, but much of this was due to humans, not to God or fate.  Imagine if we learned that half a million Americans had been eaten by sharks in the last year, that 50 times that number had been bitten, and that most of the sharks were still out there.  Would we still go swimming?  Of course not.  Yet people still refuse to wear masks.

As we continue our journey through Lent, let us remember those who are no longer with us, and whose legacies remain: those who gave us joy, company, love and laughter.  By God’s grace, we hope to see them again someday.

But may we also repent of our unwillingness as a society to protect each other, especially the most vulnerable among us: the elderly, the ill, and people of color.  We are called by our faith and our very humanity to do better ~ to use the phrase uttered after the Holocaust, never again.

Overnight

In her new nature book Earth’s Wild Music, Kathleen Dean Moore points out some of the different translations of Job 35:10.  They include:

God my Maker … gives songs in the night. (NIV)
God my Maker … gives strength in the night. (NRSV)
God their Creator … gives them hope in their darkest hours. (TEV)

Other translators offer the words vision and protection.  She goes on to write that it’s wonderful a single Hebrew word can mean all these things.  But it’s more likely that the translators saw the word through personal lenses.

How can we trust the Bible if it says different things?  In this case, the lesson is simple: each translation offers a different nuance of the same subject.  In other words, all these translations are true, although on the surface they seem to disagree.  This is why the Bible is often called the Living Word: it’s not just a collection of letters, words and sentences, but ideas that shift and adapt to our current circumstances.  Christ is also known as the Living Word, and can mean different things to different people at different points in their lives.

Most people have a favorite translation, but when we restrict ourselves to one translation, we rob ourselves of the ability to see fullness in a passage.  Often the angle we see is not the complete picture.  Taken together, they form a tapestry.  In the passage above, we discover what God was doing while we were sleeping (or attempting to sleep).  God was providing songs, strength, hope, vision and protection, raining down these blessings like manna, our daily bread, so they would be there when we awoke.  His mercies are new each morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).  For God never slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4).  Unlike us, God never tosses and turns; while we rest, he prepares a breakfast of rejuvenation, and invites us to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).

Tonight, when you lie down to rest, try to give your worries to the Lord, knowing that He will keep working all night for our salvation.  He will be there in your sleeping, and in your awaking.  Amen.

Sunday Worship Service ~ February 21, 2021

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Good morning, everyone!  We continue to meet online and in person, and are glad for all of our worshippers, whether home, away or at church!  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 Bible studies meet at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.  Our Thrift Shop is open on Saturdays from 10-2 and always in need of volunteers ~ simply contact Tracy S. or the church office.  Sharing a Meal serves the community this Thursday, February 25.  United Methodist Women meets Monday, March 1 at 1.  A blessed Lent to all!

CALL TO WORSHIP:  Isaiah 40:3-5

Prepare ye the way of the LORD!
MAKE STRAIGHT IN THE DESERT
A HIGHWAY FOR OUR GOD.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
THE ROUGH GROUND SHALL BECOME LEVEL,
THE RUGGED PLACES A PLAIN.

And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
AND ALL PEOPLE WILL SEE IT TOGETHER.

UNISON PRAYER:

SWEET HOLY SPIRIT,
AS WE ENTER THE SEASON OF LENT,
WE PRAY FOR THE POWER TO RESIST TEMPTATION,
THE HUMILITY TO BE TRANSFORMED,
AND THE COURAGE TO PUT OUR FAITH INTO ACTION.  AMEN.

WORDS OF ASSURANCE:  Mark 1:13, New International Version

Jesus was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.
He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

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:  “One Thing Remains” (originally by Passion; performed by our church band)

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

Lord Jesus, be with all those who are without power or who have been returning to homes without heat or with burst pipes.  Help to provide shelter for those who need it, sustenance for those who are on their own and encouragement to all affected by the recent storms.

We thank you for watching over Miki’s son Jeff and Pastor Doug of Living Word Church, and pray that you will help them as they continue to recover from COVID-19.  Be with Tina and Robin and reduce their symptoms so that they may soon be on the mend.

We ask for a relief of pain for John W. following surgery for kidney stones.  May the surgery have been successful, and the relief swift.  We pray for no recurrence of the condition.  Bless Carl (Sue and Todd’s son) and his wife Vanessa and surround them with your strength; heal the illness that Vanessa is suffering, and make her whole.

Be with Janet C.’s relative Rolene throughout her chemo treatments.  May her symptoms be slight and her recovery complete.  We pray your blessing upon Liz S. and Barbara G. in their fights with cancer, and ask for continued progress, healing and hope.

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, 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.

SCRIPTURE LESSON:  Luke 4:1-13, New International Version

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.  And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.  If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.  For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you carefully;
they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

SUNDAY MEDITATION:  “Pandemic Temptations”

We began our lockdown a month into Lent; in a strange way, our Lent was put on pause, and now we’ve pressed Play.  But in another way, this whole last year has been one long time in the desert, wandering in the wilderness, fighting temptations, praying we can find our way home.

We’ve fought the temptation to give into despair, as we watched our loved ones die around us, as the COVID numbers increased, as two weeks of lockdown became two months and then a year.

We’ve fought the temptation to grow pessimistic, to see the news on TV as the only news that mattered, to give up on the Good News as outdated, unrealistic and powerless.

We’ve fought the temptation to become fearful and anxious, afraid of what the next day will bring.

We’ve found the temptation to give up on humanity, as Congress has continued to feud, as our nation has separated into groups, as family members have fought, as riots have raged in the Capitol and in the streets.

We’ve fought the temptation to shrink into ourselves, to cocoon in a nest of Netflix and Uber Eats, to ride out the storm like survivalists in an apocalypse.

We’ve fought, and sometimes we’ve lost, and often we’ve wished we had done better.

Now imagine doing all this without food.

That’s what happened to Jesus in the desert.  For forty days he was tempted; for forty days, he refused to give in.

It would have been easy for Jesus to give in to despair.  It’s lonely out there in the desert.  But Jesus knew he was not alone; the Spirit and the angels were with him.  And he knew that things were even worse back in Jerusalem, where an entire populace was starving for spiritual guidance, where political and religious leaders were corrupt, where there seemed to be no hope for the common man and woman.  Instead of giving in to despair, he spent forty days and nights deciding what he was going to do about the problems of the world and praying for the strength to see it through.

Considering what he was facing, it would have been easy for Jesus to get pessimistic.  He knew he would get no support from the government and little from the Temple.  He would be fighting an uphill battle the entire way.  But Jesus wanted to go uphill ~ to the hill of Golgotha.  He could see beyond the sorrows of this world to the glory that was to come, and this foresight kept him going.

He did not give in to fear or anxiety.  Instead, he noticed how his Father took care of the birds and flowers, and realized that his Father’s love was even greater for humanity.  And so he relaxed, trusting in the One who was higher than he.

And he did not give up on us, although most people would say he should have.  After three years of preaching, teaching and healing, he was rejected by his own people.  The same religious leaders who taught him sent him to the cross.  One of his disciples betrayed him, another denied him, and the rest ran away.  And yet, even from the cross, he looked upon those who crucified him with love.

He never shrank into himself or ran away from his calling.  He cared not for his own protection, only for the protection of others.  He was a king, but he sought only to serve.

Jesus took the hard road, but it was a good road.

One of our church signs reads, “Will the road you’re on get you to my place?”  When Isaiah prophecies about the coming of the Lord, he uses a similar analogy.  “Make the rough places smooth,” he writes.  “Raise the valleys; lower the hills.  Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

When my sister and I were kids, my family got lost coming home from an out-of-state trip.  We were not only lost, we were epically lost; we were even in the wrong state!  But my father insisted that we were going in the right direction; he had just “decided to try another way” which he called “the scenic route.”  It took us three extra hours to get home and no one was in a good mood when we arrived.

Sometimes it’s hard to admit that we’re on the wrong road, or that we’ve taken the wrong path, especially when we’ve already traveled so far down that path.  But Lent is all about admitting that we’re wrong and want to get back on track.  There’s no shame in it; instead, there’s the relief of knowing that finally we’re going in the right direction.  It’s the feeling my sister and I had in the back seat when we saw a sign that said “Welcome to Connecticut,” not Massachusetts or Canada.  Sure, we were at the top of Connecticut and we lived at the bottom, but at least we were in Connecticut!  In like manner, it’s better to be on the first brick of the road to heaven than the last brick of any other road.

And so as we travel through Lent, may we do so in the knowledge that we are not alone in our wilderness, but that we have a guide who has been there before us and knows the way out.  He’s even traveled as far as heaven and come back to show us the way.  Without him, we are lost, but with him, as soon as we find the right path and begin to follow it, we are found in turn.  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 Salt of the Sound’s “Awake My Soul,” from their new EP “Lent, Vol. 2,” released this past Friday.  The band will remind many of Enya; their goal is to offer the peace of Christ through relaxation, surrendering to the Spirit’s rejuvenating power.

OFFERTORY PRAYER

Thank you, Lord, for leading us through the wilderness of our lives.  Thank you for being our Good Shepherd.  Guide us now to use what is given to help others to find their way to your Kingdom.  Amen.

BENEDICTION

As the Spirit sustained Jesus in the desert, may you be sustained in the deserts of your lives.  Whatever you are going through, whatever battle you are facing, may you always be aware of the presence, the power and the protection of our Lord.  Amen.

Blest Be the Tie That Binds

Thank you to Tanae, 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.

Welcome to the Sayville United Methodist Church!

IMG_3614The Sayville United Methodist Church is a community of faith that celebrates the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Our church welcomes people of all ages and stages of faith.  We offer many Bible studies as well as programs for youth, senior citizens and everyone in between. We are located at 164 Greene Avenue in Sayville, NY, at the intersection of Greene Avenue and Montauk Highway, across from Dunkin Donuts.  Parking is available in the lot across the street on the Greene Avenue side.  The church also has a small lot reserved for our seniors and others who may need assistance.

Main Street entrance.To the left is our annual Clamfest, part of Sayville’s Summerfest. On this day, we get together to raise funds for local and global outreach. To the right is the Main Street view.

You are invited to join us Sunday mornings at 10:00 a.m. (9:30 from July 1 through Labor Day Weekend).   Our average attendance is 100.  Be sure to pick up a visitor’s packet while you’re here!  Feel free to call us at (631) 589-0624 or email us at umcsayville@optonline.net with any further questions!  May God bless you this day!