The Consolations of the Past

While shopping for food yesterday, I heard a familiar, comforting voice on the store’s radio: Casey Kasem!  He was counting down the week’s top songs on American Top 40.  When I was younger, I used to listen every week and write down and memorize the charts.  It was a bit disorienting to hear the broadcast, as Casey announced that Frankie Valli’s latest song had just moved up to #8.

Then I got in my car and heard a song I liked from the 80s, then another.  This second radio station was having an 80s weekend.  Throughout the week, I’ve turned from the news to ESPN, and watched the Patriots win the Super Bowl again and the Yankees win the World Series.  And my mom sent me an article about old songs that are doing well again, including “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”  My friends are watching old DVDs, and some of our parishioners are reading old books (including that old leather-bound favorite!).

What in the world is going on?

Some might call this nostalgia, but I call it the consolations of the past.  We remember the things that once made us happy, and yearn for such days to return.  We relive the past through photographs and memories,
which is also the name of a Jim Croce album my parents used to own.

But this consolation is not limited to entertainment.  In yesterday’s service, Tanae chose the offertory “As the Deer,” which is based on the 42nd Psalm: as the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after you.
Continue traveling into the psalm, and one encounters these words:

My heart breaks when I remember the past,
when I went with the crowds to the house of God
and led them as they walked along,
a happy crowd, singing and shouting praise to God.
Why am I so sad?
Why am I so troubled?
I will put my hope in God,
and once again I will praise him,
my savior and my God.

The author misses public worship and longs for a day when it will resume.  Sound familiar?  He asks himself why he is so sad and troubled, and then he remembers to call upon the Lord.    Psalm 77 is similar, as the author finds that his prayers provide no comfort, until he begins to list the things that God has done in the past: the creation of the world, the parting of the Red Sea, the establishment of Israel.  He notes that God IS a performer of miracles.  In the words of Elevation Worship:  “I’ve seen you move the mountains, and I believe you’ll do it again; you made a way when there was no way, and I believe I’ll see you do it again.”  By looking to the past, the Psalmist is restored.

Yesterday our brother David at Bayport preached about the cycles of life as presented by Ecclesiastes.  Right now, we’re in the down part of a cycle.  But better days will come; God has already prepared them.  We know this truth because “He’s done it before, and He’ll do it again.”  The consolations of the past become the hope of our present.

Sunday Worship Service ~ March 29, 2020: The Refuge of God’s Wings

Good morning, everyone!  Welcome to our third online worship service!  We are worshiping at home this morning because our church is closed as a protective measure against the coronavirus.  But remember ~ the church is not a building!  We hope this service is a blessing to you.  If you’d like to say hi to everyone, you can do so through the comment section at the bottom of the page.  All comments are screened before being posted, so no need to worry if you don’t see it pop up right away.

GREETING

ANNOUNCEMENTS

All church events and activities are currently on hiatus and Mary and Joanna are working 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, simply scroll down to see them!  As of today, we’ve also added a brand new Bible Study page to our website, featuring valuable lessons and insights from Steve!

We have not yet heard from our bishop about Palm Sunday and Holy Week services, but given the fact that New York schools are closed until at least April 15, we expect that we will be holding Sunday worship online for a while.  Our Church Council voted to hold Holy Week services in person whenever we return, whenever that may be.

OPENING HYMN:  Broken Vessels (Amazing Grace)

“Broken Vessels (Amazing Grace)” is one of three versions of “Amazing Grace” that are in our church’s Sweet Sixteen!  This song is only a few years old, but has caught on in a big way.  Pastor Joel Houston writes, “I love that God takes pride in using broken vessels, ordinary people, like you and like me. It’s because of His amazing grace that our eyes are open to the fact that He wants to use us, to do what only He can do, so that people will see Him.  Whether you’ve been in church for thirty years or have never set foot in a church building, I want you to know that this grace, this amazing grace, is as much for you as it was for anybody; when Jesus died upon that cross, that it was to give you freedom as much as it was for anyone else.”  Read the full story here.

CALL TO WORSHIP
(If you are worshipping with two or more people,
choose one to lead.)

May every home give God praise!
MAY EVERY VOICE GIVE GOD PRAISE!
Across the seas, across the lands,
MAY THE WHOLE EARTH RISE IN WORSHIP.

UNISON PRAYER

LORD JESUS,
OUR WELLSPRING OF LIFE,
OUR STREAM OF FORGIVENESS,
OUR OCEAN OF HOPE:

GUIDE US THROUGH THESE TROUBLING SEAS
TO CALMER WATERS,
UNTIL THE WAVES IN OUR LIVES BECOME ONLY RIPPLES

AND WE DOCK SAFELY AT YOUR SHORE.  AMEN.

WORDS OF ASSURANCE: John 14:27, NIV

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

CHILDREN’S MESSAGE

Now let’s sing “Jesus Loves Me!”

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

Lord, sometimes we don’t know what to pray,
But we know that we want to talk with you, and to listen.
Help us to remember that our prayers are conversations
With the One who loves us the most.

Thank you for those on the front lines:
The doctors, nurses and technicians who work directly with the sick;
The police, firefighters, EMTs and every type of first responder;
The grocery clerks, chefs, stockers and entire food industry,
Along with all other essential crisis workers.

We pray for those out of work and fearful for their income.
We pray for the success of the new stimulus package.
We pray that your Holy Spirit guides every government decision,
And that in each day, we see Your hand of grace.

We pray for Larry, that you would remove this coronavirus from his system; that you would watch over him day and night with your healing and loving grace; that you would bless his doctors and nurses with wisdom and compassion; that you would cover Larry with peaceful dreams like a blanket; and that you would visit Miki and Larry’s entire family with the peace that passes understanding.

We pray for Cheryl’s friend Candice, a teacher and mother of two who is ill and waiting to be tested for the virus, that whatever illness she has is mild and treatable and that she will soon recover.

We pray for Diane’s great-grandson, who was born at 1 pound, 9 ounces, for health and growth; for his parents, who are so worried and anxious; and for all members of the extended family, that you will encourage them with something to praise every day.

We pray your healing grace to be visited upon Debbie, a friend of a congregation member,
who is suffering from a kidney infection;

We pray for those in our church family who are going through times of need:
For Margaret, Louise, Amy, Pat, Jim, Dolores, Janet, Sue, Joe & Joan, Lois, Brian & Dannie, Kathleen & Marilyn, Ken, Bunny & Marty, Harriet, Diane, Laurie & Steve, Deborah (who is quarantined, but showing no symptoms, that she continues to stay healthy), Paul, and Ruth; for all others in need; for the members of our extended family who are suffering; for this nation and for the world.

May our eyes be fixed on You;
May our hearts be fixed on You;
May our hopes be fixed on You.

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: Psalm 91: 1-6, NIV

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.

HYMN: “Breathe”

This is one of my favorite hymns.  It’s such a simple song, but so filled with yearning as Kathryn Scott sings, “I’m desperate for you, I’m lost without you.”  In a time when we’ve grown afraid of the very air, this song reminds us of the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, our daily bread, our manna, the life of Christ in us and around us.

INTERACTIVE SUNDAY SERMON
(With discussion questions if you are reading with others)

A few weeks ago I was at the home of a parishioner who had recently had surgery and was facing another one.  When I asked what had gotten her through it, she said, “The 91st Psalm.  Every day, the 91st Psalm.”

Since you’ve just read the opening of the 91st Psalm, you know which one it is.  But don’t feel bad if otherwise you’d be unable to identify it.  Many people think their pastors know the Bible by heart and if you just give us the verse, we’ll know what it is, but I had to go home and look it up like a normal person!

What I didn’t expect was that the 91st Psalm would not only be perfect for those going through a health crisis, it would also be perfect for our current crisis situation:  You will not fear … the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at noonday.  

The images of God are amazing: shelter, refuge, fortress, shield, rampart.  These metaphors for physical buildings are the inspiration for many hymns ~ a mighty fortress is our God.  But the main image is incredibly personal: God as a parent bird, sheltering us beneath powerful, protective wings.  The image is also found in Psalm 36:7 (“People take refuge in the shadow of your wings”), 57:1 (“I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed”), 63:7 (“Because of your help, I will sing in the shadow of your wings” (italics added), and even Matthew 23:37, as Jesus longs to gather the people of Jerusalem “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”

Which image of God gives you the most comfort today:
Shelter, refuge, fortress, shield, rampart, parent or another image?
(There are no wrong answers!)

Is it okay to admit when we’re not okay?
Are you okay?

In his song, “Truth Be Told,” Matthew West writes:

I say “I’m fine, yeah I’m fine oh I’m fine, hey I’m fine” but I’m not;
I’m broken.
And when it’s out of control I say “it’s under control” but it’s not,
And You know it.
I don’t know why it’s so hard to admit it
When being honest is the only way to fix it.

Can we be weak together?  Can we be broken vessels together?  Can we all fit under the shadow of God’s wings?  Of course we can!  He has BIG wings.

So I’ll start.  I’ll admit that I have had times this week when I was not feeling that I had it all together.  I mean, I thought I did, but then my belt broke.  My favorite belt, that I’ve had for 18 years!  And I was so upset.  (Please don’t send Pastor belts, he does have another belt.)  And then a CD got stuck in my laptop.  Now these are not big things, but my level of upset-ness over them was HUGE.  And it sounds weird to try to apply a Scripture to these situations: “The Lord says, ‘Do not be worried and anxious.’  ‘BUT I CAN’T GET THE CD OUT OF MY LAPTOP!”

I took Psychology in college so I knew this meant I was stressed.

But I am also a Christian so I knew it was time to pray.  Probably overdue.  But God does not charge a late fee.  And I prayed for calm, and I actually got it!  As a bonus, I got the CD out of my laptop.  (Who knew God paid attention to those things?  Okay, I should have known that.)  And while God did not heal my belt, I was able to accept it and move on with my other belt.

Has any little thing really gotten to you in the last week?
How did you handle it?

Then I went to pick up breakfast across the street and I spoke with three people, all under 25, who were also stressed.  And later that day I spoke with a person at the post office, and another from UPS, and a friend on the phone, and a few people online in different countries, and they were all stressed.  So I came to the conclusion that everyone is stressed, which seems terrible but is actually a good thing to know.

God is going to need to spread those wings really wide.

When I was in elementary school (Mom, you’re going to remember this) there was a bee that used to chase me every day after school.  Yes, the same bee.  Don’t ask, I have no idea why this bee had it in for me.  One day I ran into a stranger’s house and a teenager was kind enough to believe me and he volunteered to walk me home.  I felt safe in the shadow of his wings.  No bee was going to get me!

The reassurance of that voice, “No bee is going to get you when I’m around!” is what we hear from God when He promises to protect us:  “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day.”  In the words of Chris Tomlin, “Our God is greater, our God is stronger, God you are higher than any other.”

I’m pretty sure that bee is gone now; he’d have to be at least in his 50s, and the lifespan of a bee is 122-152 days.  So even if he exercised and ate yogurt, I think it’s safe to say I’ve outlasted him.

What is the lifespan of a fear?

When we “dwell in the shadow of the Most High,” we enter the gates of a mighty fortress.  We find refuge
and shelter.  We sleep safely beneath comforting wings.  Our outer conditions may not change, but our inward conditions do.  We remember that God is protecting us in eternal ways, and that even if every single thing in our house breaks, even if we break, God will take “all these pieces, broken and scattered /
in mercy gathered / mended and whole.”

It’s okay not to be okay.  Jesus was once broken too.

And God wept.  And God loved.  And God redeemed.

May we sing in the shadow of his wings.

Amen.

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!
Here’s Tanae playing “As the Deer.”

DOXOLOGY

OFFERTORY PRAYER

Lord, thank you for all that has been given over the past week and is all that is being given today to this church and to churches around the world.  Help us to use these gifts to help those in need and to glorify You.
Thank you for being our God; we dedicate this offering in Your name.  Amen.

HYMN:  “Blessings”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this song over the past week.  It was written as a response to struggle, doubt, and fear.  Laura Story’s husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor and spent time on a ventilator, unable to breathe on his own. To this day, he is not fully healed.  During this time, Laura asked every question imaginable ~
and some that many would be afraid to ask.  Her conclusion: that God would be with us through it all.
Read the full story here.  And now, here’s Lee, Deb and Becca with “Blessings!”

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know the pain reminds this heart
That this is not
This is not our home

It’s not our home

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?
And what if trials of this life-
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise?

BENEDICTION

And now whether we go to work or stay at home,
Whether we fight illness or try to stay healthy,

Let us remember that God is with us
Through the dark and through the storm.

As God watches over us,
May we watch over each other.  Amen.

And now here’s Tanae with
“Blest Be the Tie That Binds!”

Thank you to Tanae and Anthony, Lee, Deb and Rebecca and Jack for helping with today’s service!  And thank YOU for worshipping with us!  We wish for you God’s healing and hope!

When I Look at the Stars

I just came back from a Friday night walk.
The air was crisp and refreshing: not warm, but warmer than it had been for months.

The first thing I noticed was the quiet.  A normal Friday evening in Sayville is filled with bustle: families in front of Ralph’s Italian Ice, teenagers on the bank steps, first dates at Starbucks, window shoppers and late night diners.  The parking lots were nearly empty, the streets so devoid of traffic that it made no sense to wait for the light to cross on foot.  No one else was walking.  Families were tucked snugly into their homes for the night, low lights flickering.  I thought of the old Carpenters song, “There’s a Kind of Hush All Over the World.”

Then I noticed the stars: crisp and bright.  I quickly found one of the only constellations I know: Orion, or more properly Orion’s Belt, the three signature stars aligned.  It’s always been my favorite constellation,
a friend in the evening sky, a reliable sight year after year from childhood to the present day.
Seeing it was a comfort, a reminder of the eternal.  Psalm 8 reads,

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

Many things around us have changed, are changing.  But the constellations remain constant.
They are unfathomably older than us, larger and brighter.  And yet, God notices us.  God prefers us.
God adores us.  What is going on now is not beyond His attention; God is focused on humanity.
He wants to shelter us, to guide us, to see us through.

When I look at the stars, I see God.
When God looks at us, He sees the same beauty we see when we look at the stars.

Will the United Methodist Church Stay United?

An intriguing question is raised by the postponement of General Conference: will the United Methodist Church stay united?  Prior to this crisis, we were preparing for our denomination to split in two or three, forming conservative, liberal, and moderate branches.  Citing “irreconcilable differences,” many claimed that the break was inevitable.

At a meeting this past year, we were given various options and scenarios.  At that meeting, I mentioned that we were leaving one thing out: that God might have something in mind no one had thought of yet.  Guess what!

(This was not a prophecy; please don’t blame me for the coronavirus!)

This afternoon I was speaking with a colleague about the possibility that this crisis might unite us; that the twin threats of the pandemic and an economic collapse might make us all look at each other and say,
“those things we were fighting about back in February look really small now, don’t they?”

A handful of us cooked and distributed take-out meals at Sharing a Meal today; we had about 40 customers.  This is the church at its simplest and best:  “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink.”  Our Thrift Shop continues the theme:  “I was naked and you clothed me.”  (No one shops there naked, but you know what I mean!)  There is nothing as pure as helping to fill basic needs.  We never ask, “Are you a liberal?” before selling a 50-cent tie, or “Are you a conservative?” before passing someone a meal.

Guess what Congress did today!  They passed something bipartisan!
Bet you didn’t see that coming a couple months ago.

We just don’t know what God has in mind.  We don’t know what will happen day to day.  We never did, but now we really don’t know it.  Our minds are filled with the worst “what ifs” ~ “What if I lose my job?  What if we have another depression?  What if millions die?”  These are not healthy what ifs.  Since we don’t know what the future holds, it’s equally fair to ask, “What if churches around the world all decide that they want to put aside doctrine and work together for the good of humanity?  What if the United Methodist Church stays together?
What if Christianity sees a new revival?

Robert Schuller calls this “peace of mind through possibility thinking.”  Many know Shuller from California’s Crystal Cathedral; he was also a spiritual descendent of Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote The Power of Positive Thinking.  Their ideas expand on those of Paul, who writes, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—
think about such things … 
and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9, NIV abbreviated).

The bottom line is, we don’t know what the next day will bring.  We do know that God is good.
So why not stay positive, and claim God’s promise of peace?

Thursday Thoughts (and a message from my mom)

Hello everyone, we made it through another day!
Today I want to share a story from my mom in Connecticut (hi Mom!).  She writes:

On Saturday I walked to the bagel store, not to buy anything, just for the exercise and to see if they were staying open. The doors had just closed. I read the sign (“Close at 2:00”) and began to walk away, but was hailed by an employee. He asked if I wanted a shopping bag full of free bagels. Many people had ordered and not picked up.
I said yes, toted them home, and offered some to my neighbor Kathleen. It turned out she was on her way to
the police station with homemade soup for them to distribute to the homeless. I gave her the bagels.
So random generosity made its way through me, then Kathleen, then the police to the homeless.
And I savored every second of human contact.

Note: the above photo is from the actual bagel place that Mom goes to!

It’s easy to think about this crisis as an entirely horrible situation ~ which in its way, it is.  An oft-repeated phrase is that the Chinese word for “crisis” is the same as that for “opportunity,” but the truth is more subtle than that;
the word is comprised of two characters, “danger” and “opportunity.”

There is great danger in this crisis, but there is also an opportunity to show what we are made of as human beings and as people of faith.  Who are we at our core?  Are we people who help; people who hurt; or people who stand idly by?  Do we put our faith in action or simply read it and quote it?  Sure, there are people out there fighting for toilet paper.  But there are also people out there like the bagel store owner, my mom, Kathleen, and the officers of their police department who are out there feeding the homeless.  It’s enough to renew one’s faith in humanity.

You know who never lost faith in humanity?  Come on, you know this one!

The amazing thing about our Lord is that he saw our best, He saw our worst, and He decided that our best was worth dying for.

The virus spreads by human contact.  Yes.  But so does the Gospel.  And so does kindness.  One person at a time, one act at a time, picking up steam, growing exponentially.  We’re still searching for a counterbalance to the virus.  Maybe kindness is that counterbalance: not a cure, but the beginning of a different sort of wave that can help us to believe in each other once again.  Before all this happened, we were having a hard time doing so.  But in the last two weeks, I estimate that we’ve heard more stories of kindness, of community, of chipping in than we’ve heard
in the last twelve months ~ and this is while we’re all staying six feet apart from each other!

I’ve always rejected the theology that “bad things are good because they are part of God’s plan.”  This has never made any sense to me.  But I believe that good things can emerge from the bad, that God can be seen in the response, and that later we may look back and realize that God was with us all along.  If this crisis helps us to be a little more tender with each other, a little more kind, a little more grace-filled; if it prompts us to revive our better instincts; if it opens our eyes to the ways in which we affect each other, good or bad; if it draws us closer to one another because we miss so much being apart, then one day we may look back on this period as one of reflection, recalibration and renewal; and isn’t that what Lent is all about?

Wednesday Wisdom: God Knows Everything, So Why Not Be Honest?

In these tumultuous times, we all want to be doing well.  Some of us are, some of us are not,
and some are torn up inside while pretending to be okay on the outside.  It’s okay to protect others (especially children) by saying that we’re okay when we’re not. But our relationship with God is different.

God knows everything, so why not be honest?

In the words of Psalm 139 (Good News Bible):
Lord, you have examined me and you know me.
You know everything I do;
from far away you understand all my thoughts.
You see me, whether I am working or resting;
you know all my actions.
Even before I speak,
you already know what I will say.
You are all around me on every side;
you protect me with your power.
Your knowledge of me is too deep;
it is beyond my understanding.

The Christian singer Jeremy Camp (who is also the subject of the movie “I Still Believe”)
paraphrases the psalm in his song, “He Knows” ~

All the bitter weary ways
Endless striving day by day
You barely have the strength to pray
In the valley low
And how hard your fight has been
How deep the pain within
Wounds that no one else has seen
Hurts too much to show
All the doubt you’re standing in between
And all the weight that brings you to your knees
He knows
He knows
Every hurt and every sting
He has walked the suffering
He knows
He knows
Let your burdens come undone
Lift your eyes up to the one
Who knows
He knows

God knows when we’re worried or upset; when we’re scared and alone; when we’re confused and in doubt.  He even knows when we’re angry at him or don’t want to talk to Him.  But He yearns to have a conversation with us.  He’s God; he can take it.  In the same way, we usually know what’s on our children’s minds, but we want them
to share their feelings with us so that we can feel closer to them.  God is our parent.

Throughout the book of Psalms, King David and others express every emotion imaginable.
They rage and collapse; they exult and praise.  They dissolve in tears; they ask if God even cares.
And through it all, God listens, God loves them, God draws close to their sides.

May we draw near to God through honest prayer, that He may draw near to us.

Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.
~ Psalm 62:8, New International Version

A Tip for Tuesday

This week, the World Health Organization issued a rare mental health directive:  check the news only twice a day.  We all know this without being told, but but few of us do it.  It’s true that most of the news seems to be bad right now, but watching too much of it takes a toll: it steals our joy, blunts our hope and kills our peace.  It’s important to remember that other things are going on, and that some of these things are too important to miss.
Do you feel like this:

If so, it’s time for a change.  It’s tempting to turn on the news (or look at it online) early in the morning to see if we’ve slept through anything, to check a few times during the day to stay updated and to take one last look just before going to bed “just in case.”  But then we’re anxious during the day and restless at night.

Fortunately there’s another kind of news, and while the Bible may not seem like “breaking” news, if it makes a change in us then it definitely is!  I challenge you to try this experiment:  for every minute of news you read or watch today, read the Bible for a minute.  If you watch the news for an hour, read the Bible for an hour.  (Don’t just flip it open; I recommend starting with the Psalms or the Gospel of John.)  If you take in three hours of news, now you’re really in trouble because you’re going to have to read the Bible for three hours and it’s going to be tough on your system to receive so many blessings in such a short time.  (Reading a Christian book is also acceptable.)

Paul writes, “Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out” (1 Corinthians 10:13, Good News Bible).  Fear is a virus, but the Word of God is an antibiotic.  When we are able to center ourselves, we are able to think more clearly, see more clearly, speak more clearly; we see not an absent God, but a God hard at work.  Eternal truths such as this are our way out of damaging mindsets.  Thank you, God, for giving us this resource; may we find the time to use it, and to claim the power of your Good News.  Amen.

Mindful Monday: Ten Prayers for a Monday Morning

The Carpenters sing, “rainy days and Mondays always get me down.”  The Bangles sing, “Just another manic Monday, I wish it was Sunday.”  The Boomtown Rats sing, “I don’t like Mondays.”  For some reason, we dread Mondays: typically the beginning of the school and work weeks.  This Monday is unlike any other we’ve lived through, presenting unique challenges that we’re anxious about facing.  But what about “Mindful Monday?”
The phrase implies that there is a way to “start the week off right.”

The Lord is with us in or coming and going; the Lord is with us in the morning and the evening; the Lord is with us at the beginning and the end of the week.  We can start our day in fear, or by turning our troubles over to the Lord.  So let’s pause for a prayer as we remember the Monday morning people around the world.

  1. We pray for all those who are staying at home today, that they not feel anxious, lonely, or isolated.
  2. We pray for all those who are going to work today, especially our doctors, nurses, technicians, police officers, firefighters, EMTs, delivery people and everyone in the food industry, that they feel blessed by a sense of purpose.
  3. We pray for all those who are working from home, that they may be motivated and inspired.
  4. We pray for all those who are on furlough or who have lost their jobs, that they feel some manner of hope.
  5. We pray for all those who are sick, those who are awaiting tests, and those who have been quarantined, that they will feel Your healing presence.
  6. We pray for all government officials who are seeking to address our physical and economic fears, that they be guided by your Holy Spirit.
  7. We pray for all the teachers who are learning how to teach remotely, and all the students who are learning how to study remotely, that they will feel a sense of continuity in this crisis.
  8. We pray for all young people who are staying at home and all parents and other caregivers who are with them, that they may feel a sense of love and togetherness.
  9. We pray for a cure to this virus and an end to this crisis; we pray for divine intervention.
  10. More than anything, whoever we are, wherever we are, whatever we are doing, may we each experience a reminder today that you are with us always, that you love us always, that your peace and hope are real and available today.  Amen.

Sunday Worship Service ~ March 22, 2020: Be Not Afraid

Image result for sunday worship

Good morning, everyone!  Welcome to our second online worship service!  We are worshiping at home this morning because our church is closed as a protective measure against the coronavirus.  But remember ~ the church is not a building!  We hope this service is a blessing to you.  If you’d like to say hi to everyone, you can do so through the comment section at the bottom of the page.  All comments are screened before being posted, so no need to worry if you don’t see it pop up right away.

GREETING AND OPENING PRAYER

ANNOUNCEMENTS

All church events and activities are currently on hiatus.  The office remains open Monday-Friday from 10-12, except for Sharing a Meal days, when it is open from 2-4.  Pastor Rich is the cook for Sharing a Meal this Thursday; the meal will be prepared in the kitchen of the Sayville Congregational Church for takeout only.

Tanae is updating our Facebook page, while Rebecca has taken the reins of our Instagram page.  Every day we add a new post right here on the website.  This week we’ve shared guest messages from Fred and Carol; simply scroll down to see them!

Next week’s service will also be online as we await word on Palm Sunday and Holy Week services.  Our Church Council voted to hold these services in person whenever we return, whenever that may be.

OPENING HYMN: Shine, Jesus, Shine

“Shine, Jesus, Shine” is a prayer for our churches, our nations and our world:  “Shine, Jesus, shine, fill this land with the Father’s glory … flood the nations with grace and mercy.”  This is the original version by Graham Kendrick (Kent, U.K.), who was astonished at how the Lord used his humble song.  It’s been sung at Billy Graham crusades and national memorials, and seems particularly relevant in our current crisis. It’s one of our church’s Sweet Sixteen hymns!  Read the full story here.

CALL TO WORSHIP: Philippians 4:8-9
(If you are worshipping with two or more people,
choose one to lead.)

Whatever is true and noble,
WHATEVER IS ADMIRABLE AND RIGHT,
Whatever is pure and lovely,
WHATEVER IS EXCELLENT AND PRAISEWORTHY,
Think about these things,
AND THE GOD OF PEACE WILL BE WITH YOU.

UNISON PRAYER

DEAR LORD, IN THIS TIME OF GLOBAL UNCERTAINTY, MANY OF US FEEL ANXIOUS OR DEPRESSED, AFRAID OF WHAT THE NEXT DAY MAY BRING.  NOW MORE THAN EVER, WE NEED YOUR PEACE AND PRESENCE.  BE NEAR US, LORD; HELP US TO FIND OUR CENTER IN YOU.  REASSURE US WITH YOUR CALM AND GENTLE LOVE.  AMEN.

WORDS OF ASSURANCE: Matthew 6:32-34, TEV abbreviated

Do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own.  There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings.  Your Father in heaven knows your needs, and will provide.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

CHILDREN’S MESSAGE

But wait, there’s more!  Tammy has also prepared an entire Sunday School lesson which you can find here on our Sunday School page, including activities for parents and kids that can be done anytime throughout the week!
Way to go, Tammy!

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

Thank you for being our God!
We know that you hold our future,
And that because You live, we can face tomorrow.

Thank you for every act of kindness:
For those who write cards and make calls;
For the gifts of groceries and flowers dropped at our doors;
For those who work despite the danger, as an act of outreach and love.

We thank you for the healing taking place in Mark’s life following surgery.

We thank you that Miki and Larry’s granddaughter Kirsten is now back at work, and we ask you to watch over her during radiation treatments.  We pray for recovery for Larry who is now sick.

We pray for Diane’s great-grandson, who was born at 1 pound, 9 ounces, for health and growth; for his parents, who are so worried and anxious; and for all members of the extended family, that you will visit them with peace.

We pray for those in our church family who are going through times of need:
For Margaret, Louise, Amy, Pat, Jim, Dolores, Janet, Sue, Joe & Joan, Lois, Brian & Dannie, Kathleen & Marilyn, Ken, Bunny & Marty, Harriet, Diane, Laurie & Steve, Deborah (who is quarantined, but showing no symptoms, that she continues to stay healthy), Paul, and Ruth; for your healing grace to be visited upon Debbie, a friend of a congregation member, who is suffering from a kidney infection; for all others in need; for the members of our extended family who are suffering; for this nation and for the world.

Keep us safe from fear; fill us with a spirit of hope;
Surround us with your Holy Spirit as a halo of protection and grace.

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: 1 John 4:6 & 8 abbreviated, read by Rebecca

So we know and believe the love God has for us, God is love and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear.

HYMN: “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”

Another of our church’s Sweet Sixteen hymns, “What a Friend We Have In Jesus” is one of history’s most encouraging hymns, but it bears one of the most heartbreaking stories.  Joseph Scriven was engaged to be married, but the night before the wedding, his bride-to-be drowned.  He channeled his despair into helping the poor, moving to Canada where he pursued his humble craft of woodworking.  Eventually he fell in love again, but his second fiancee died of pneumonia before they were married.  Around this time he also learned that his mother was very ill, but he couldn’t afford the trip home to Ireland to see her, so he wrote this song as a prayer for her.  It was found in his effects after his death.  The power of the song resides in his faith, which was what kept him going through his deepest despair.  Like Jesus, Scriven was a man of many sorrows, but he writes, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.”  Read the full story here, and enjoy the heartfelt version from Alan Jackson below.

INTERACTIVE SUNDAY SERMON
(With discussion questions if you are reading with others)

I spoke with an officer on the street yesterday, thanking him for what he and his fellow officers have been doing to keep us safe.  Then I asked how he was coping.

The officer told me that he was doing okay, but that he had been doing a lot of thinking.  He said that he felt the crisis was changing the way we feel about everything.  For example, now we are realizing that much of what we have is not essential, but that the essential things are often at home in the form of our loved ones.  He said we’re all learning to appreciate each other a little more.

Have you noticed anything that’s changed for the better?
Are you remembering anything good that you had forgotten or overlooked?
For those who have more time on their hands: what are you looking forward to doing in the weeks ahead?

I admire this outlook.  He’s not the only one to see it.  As of tonight, our “enforced Lent” will deepen as we are asked to stay at home except for food and exercise.  Ironically, only a few weeks ago our Sunday Scripture was “Religion does make us very rich, if we are satisfied with what we have. So then, if we have food and clothes, that should be enough for us” (1 Timothy 6:6 and 8, Good News Bible).

We do have food ~ most of us have stocked up, and I’ve gone around to see if certain things will be staying open.  Wendy’s, Hot Bagels, Stop & Shop, Cornucopia, Dunkin’ Donuts and more will remain open for takeout, pickup and/or drive-through.  We won’t starve; in fact, most of our favorite foods will still be available.  (I did have a “first world problem” this week at Stop & Shop as I said to myself, “Now I know it’s serious, because they are out of my favorite flavor yogurt!”  There were hundreds of other flavors.)  And I trust that everyone has clothes!

If anything, we are currently seeing an abundance of people who want to help and not as many people who need help.  This may change, but for now it’s an amazing blessing ~ hearing from so many people who are saying, “Just tell me what you need.”  In our own church, this has included everything from grocery drop-offs to backyard cleanups.  The same stories are unfolding around the nation.  Over and over we hear the refrain, we’re all in this together.

I know many people are watching way too much news, and reading too little of the Good News.  But the Good News is so much larger, and so much stronger.

Rebecca shared that the Scripture on her mind this week was “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear.”  Fear is a virus more contagious than any disease.  In the words of Zach Williams, “fear is a liar ~ he will take your breath, stop you in your steps, rob your nest, steal your happiness.”

What are your greatest fears in this crisis?
When you are afraid, what gives you the most calm?
(Examples: prayer, Scripture, music, chocolate, calling a friend.)

But Jesus offers us perfect love.  Almost every appearance of an angel or the resurrected Christ in Scripture begins with the words, “Don’t be afraid.”  We tend to grow fearful whenever we take our eyes off Jesus, as Peter did when he was walking on water.  His mistake: he looked down!  But remember, just before this he was walking on water.

If you’ve driven past our church this week, you’ll likely seen our new sign:  “COVID: Christ Over Virus, Infection and Death ~ Heal Our Land.”  Leeland offers a spontaneous monologue toward the end of their version of the song “Way Maker:”  “His name is above depression.  His name is above loneliness.  His name is above disease.  His name is above cancer.  His name is above any other name ~ listen, listen.”

If you have a piece of paper and crayon/pencil/pen/Sharpie/marker handy, write Jesus on the top half of the paper, and anything ailing you at the bottom.  His name is above all of our problems, all of our worries, all of our fears.

We can’t be scared right now.  Jesus tells us that it doesn’t “add a cubit” to our lives.  (Time out as I Google “cubit.”)  Okay, I’m back!  A cubit is the length of a forearm, but the Scripture is a metaphor:  “Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan?”

Last week one of our parishioners shared the statistics of Sunday’s sermon with a co-worker, who accused me of “spreading false calm!”  Statistically, as of Saturday night, there are 493 cases of the virus in Suffolk County out of 1,493,000 people.  I’ll let you do the math this week!  The measures our government are taking are for our protection, and they are meant to keep the virus from spreading.  But there’s no need for panic or fear.

Is optimism still possible today?
Can a person be a pragmatist and an optimist?
What story or event, no matter how small, has given you hope this week?

With Jesus, there is no such thing as “false calm.”  Calm is an inner peace, “not as the world gives … but the peace that passes understanding.”  Calm is not the absence of fear, but the acknowledgement and the conquering of fear.  We recognize that times are tough, and they may be about to get tougher.  We also know, adding two words to the popular phrase, that “we’re all in this together … with Jesus.”  We’re in the desert with Jesus.  We’re walking on water with Jesus.  We’re crucified and raised with Jesus. We are part of his story; He is part of ours.  This is my story, this is my song.

Let’s all take a deep, collective breath.  Now let’s ask ourselves, “What can I do today to spread calm, to ease fears, to comfort and encourage?”  Perfect love casts out all fear, and Jesus loves us perfectly.  The more we feel loved, the less we feel fear, but also the more we love, the less we fear.  May the One who conquered sin and death conquer our fears as well, and replace them with serenity.

Amen.

OFFERING

Please use this time to make out a check to the church.  As you prepare your offering, we invite you to play the song below ~ a modern version of “More Precious Than Silver” from Paul McClure of Bethel Church.  Sing along if you’d like!

This week’s tender version of the Doxology comes from Elevation Worship;
Stay tuned for the harmonies at the end!

OFFERTORY PRAYER

Lord, you are more precious than silver;
Lord, you are most costly than gold.
Lord, you are most beautiful than diamonds,
And nothing I desire compares with you.  Amen.

HYMN:  “Because He Lives”

This hymn is also in our church’s Sweet Sixteen!  Gloria and William Gaither wrote “Because He Lives” to offer reassurance “in a time of national uncertainty,” and the words are just as applicable now as they were back in 1971.  Read the full story here.  We invite you to sing along!

God sent His son, they called Him Jesus
He came to love, heal and forgive
He lived and died to buy my pardon
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives!

BENEDICTION: The Blessing

Here is an absolute treat.  This song appeared on iTunes this past Friday and went straight to #1, not only on the Christian music chart, but on the overall chart; it’s also trending on YouTube with 4 million views in two days.  (For those of you who are older, imagine Casey Kasem saying, “Debuting at #1, “The Blessing!”  It may be THE defining song of our time, and it comes straight from Scripture.  Keri Jobe writes, “In a season of such fear, unknowns, loss, disappointments… I’m so thankful we can sing Scripture and feel a shift in the atmosphere of our hearts and over our lives. This is THE BLESSING from God over us. I pray for massive breakthrough and peace over you and your family and your children and their children. He is for you.  Cody Carnes and I had the honor of writing this with our friends from Elevation Worship only a few weeks ago and just felt it needed to be released into the hearts of people right now as soon as possible.”  Note:  this version is 12 minutes long, so we’ll understand if you want to get right to Tanae playing “Blest Be the Tie That Binds;” in that case, read the lyrics below, then scroll down a bit and we hope you’ll come back to this amazing song and video later!

Lyrics to The Blessing

The Lord bless you and keep you,
Make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.
May His favor be upon you and a thousand generations
And your family, and their children, and their children.
May His presence go before you, and behind you, and beside you
All around you, and within you; He is with you, He is with you.
In the morning, in the evening, in your coming and your going
In your weeping and rejoicing, He is for you, He is for you.
Amen, Amen, Amen.

And now here’s Tanae with
“Blest Be the Tie That Binds!”

Thank you for worshipping with us!  We wish for you God’s healing and hope!

Saturday Spirituality from Carol

A message of encouragement

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. ~ Isaiah 41:10

Let us remember during this crazy, stressful time that God is in control.  It is Him in whom I trust!
I attended a Bible study on Thursday, March 12,  just before the insanity hit.  The woman leading the study said these words, which little did I know would have a huge impact on me:  “Fear is a controlling spirit.”

I had no idea when I left the study and proceeded with my errands for the day, that Costco, Stop & Shop and Target would be filled with many people carrying that burden of fear.  I made a conscious effort NOT to let fear control me.

Psalm 29:11 says, “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”  I pray that during this time of so much uncertainty, we would all draw closer to our Lord in prayer.  Prayer is giving the impossible to a God who can make all things possible.Be that light to those who don’t know the light of Christ.  Jesus says in John 14:1, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.”

Be that light to those who don’t know the light of Christ.  Jesus says in John 14:1, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.”

Peace and God bless you ~ Carol