The Great Unknown

On Saturday I was at the beach with a few families from our church.  After we had been in the water for a bit, one of the teenagers said, “something really big just swam right by me.”  When we got on the shore, I asked, “how big are we talking about?”  He said “big.”  “Bigger than you?” I asked.  “Yes.”

Then we played volleyball for a while.  And then we went back in the water, and a group of us ~ teenagers, parents and myself ~ all swam about a hundred yards out to the sand bar.  The same teenager said, “something just brushed my leg.”  But we still stayed out there for a while, splashing around.  This time when we came in, people were standing on the shore, pointing to where we had just been.  A small crowd was beginning to gather.

Often we have the feeling that something really big is passing right by us, maybe even brushing us: a shadow we can’t quite make out, an amorphous fear.  Because it passes so close, we get scared.  We retreat to the safety of the shore.  Some of us never leave.  Others realize that while caution may be wise, withdrawal can be stunting.

Most of us, at least once, have experienced the enormity of real love ~ and have either been terrified and retreated, or courageous and plunged forward.

Some of us, if we are so blessed, have experienced the awe and fear (yes, fear) of feeling God pass close ~ of having to come to terms with the fact that God actually exists and is right here.  Once we get over that moment of spiritual terror, we realize that God is a benevolent force, and means to protect us.

There are large forces at play in this world, many of which we will never comprehend.  In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul calls them “spiritual forces” of good and evil.  A few years ago, a parishioner told me that she “didn’t want to be too good, because then the devil would notice her.”  But Paul tells the Corinthians, “there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend” (2 Corinthians 4:9, Good News Bible), and teaches Timothy, “the Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid; instead, his Spirit fills us with power, love, and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7, Good News Bible).

What would you do if you encountered the unknown?

Dare to be different!

A new translation can offer a new angle on a familiar passage of Scripture.  The more familiar translation of the above passage is “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (New International Version).  The New Living Bible updates the passage in a relatable fashion.  While the catchy “conform/transform” pairing is dropped, the phrase, “changing the way you think” is added.

10 Different Ways of Thinking

 Change the way you think about the government.
Instead of criticizing the government, we might pray for all government officials.

Change the way you think about vulnerability.
Instead of worrying so much about ourselves, we might reach out to others in need.

Change the way you think about guidelines and restrictions.
Instead of complaining about what we can’t do, we might thank God for what we can do.

Change the way you think about the way the world is going.
Instead of thinking everything is getting worse, we might remember that God’s plan leads to salvation.

Change the way you think about Scripture.
Instead of looking things up when we need them, we might start reading Scripture now to increase our wisdom.

Change the way you think about people.
Instead of thinking the worst of humanity, we might remember that all have sinned, and that Christ died for all.

Change the way you think about time.
Instead of being stuck in the moment, we might take solace from the past and borrow hope from the future.

Change the way you think about power.
Instead of feeling powerless, we might remember that God has given us incredible power through the Holy Spirit.

Change the way you think about happiness.
Instead of needing things to be happy, we might seek our happiness in the blessings we already have.

Change the way you think about love.
Instead of seeking earthly love, we might remember that God loves us, and asks us to love others in return.

Do we dare to be different?

Sunday Worship Service ~ July 5, 2020

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Good morning, everyone!
Welcome to our 17th online service.
We hope and pray that it is a blessing to you!

We are also worshipping in the church this morning at 25% capacity.  Many more UMCs are open in our district today, a blessing and a testimony to the good work we’ve done in New York.  We will continue to post Sunday services indefinitely and more than anything, we want you to stay safe!  

Mary and Joanna are working mostly from home.  Tanae is updating our Facebook page, while Rebecca is in charge of our Instagram page and Jack has adopted our Twitter account.  Every day we add a new post right here on the website that automatically pops up on Facebook and Twitter as well.  If you missed any of this week’s posts, simply scroll down to see them!  We plan to open our Thrift Shop this coming Saturday with new safety regulations including a limited amount of shoppers and masks and gloves for all workers and customers.  Other activities are still on hold ~ simply see Pastor Rich for details on how to resume.

CALL TO WORSHIP (from “This Is My Song”)

This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth’s kingdoms;
THY KINGDOM COME, ON EARTH THY WILL BE DONE.
Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him,
AND HEARTS UNITED LEARN TO LIVE AS ONE.
O hear my prayer, O God of all the nations:
MYSELF I GIVE THEE: LET THY WILL BE DONE.

UNISON PRAYER

WE THANK YOU, LORD, FOR THIS GREAT NATION.
WE THANK YOU FOR OUR FREEDOMS AND OUR IDEALS.
AND YET WE KNOW THERE IS MUCH WORK TO BE DONE.
MAY WE PROTECT THE RIGHTS AND DIGNITY OF ALL.
MAY WE BECOME SERVANTS, AS YOU WERE TO US.
MAY WE ONCE AGAIN BECOME A CITY ON A HILL.

WHERE WE ARE IN ERROR, CORRECT US.
HELP US TO FOCUS ON THE THINGS THAT UNITE US,
NOT THE THINGS THAT DIVIDE US.
HEAL YOUR LAND, O LORD.
MAY JUSTICE ROLL DOWN LIKE WATERS,
AND RIGHTEOUSNESS LIKE AN EVER-FLOWING STREAM.
AMEN.

WORDS OF ASSURANCE: John 8:35, NIV

If the Son sets you free, then you are free indeed.

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: “The Star-Spangled Banner”

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

Lord Jesus, we know that you have all power and all authority on earth and in heaven. As the coronavirus surges across the South and West, we pray for your divine intervention.  Wipe this disease from our land, either directly or through a vaccine.  Continue to protect the Northeast, which has been through so much already.  Help us to breathe easier again.

We pray for our nation on this Independence Day Weekend.  May our celebrations be pure and true, and may we give all of our thanks to you.  May we not be concerned with the type of celebration or the size of the gathering, as long as you are glorified.  Thank you for this great nation; help us to be citizens of unity and purpose.  Lift our ideals high, and help us to achieve them by means of your Spirit’s power.

We thank you for the life of Gretchen Stang, who passed away this week after a year-and-a-half struggle with illness.  We thank you for receiving her into your kingdom, and pray that your Holy Spirit is visited upon those who are in mourning.

We pray your continued blessing on June, who is in Hospice care at Momentum; for Tadao (Tanae’s dad), who is undergoing immunotherapy, and for Terri (Anthony’s mom), who is undergoing radiation treatments; for Liz S., who begins chemo this week; for Barbara G. as she recovers from surgery and awaits test results afterwards; for Mary, our office administrator, as she recovers from surgery; and for Stephan K., as he awaits double hernia surgery this coming Friday.  Bless all of these people with your comfort, encouragement and love.  Be their shepherd and healer, their comfort and strength.

We pray for others in our church family who are going through times of need:  for Amy, Pat, Jim, Sue, Janet, Joan, Lois, Dannie, Kathleen & Marilyn, Ken, Bunny & Marty, 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 celebrate together the news that Liz S. is now engaged to her companion Eddie.  Liz has been battling cancer, but making progress, and this good news is well worth celebrating ~ thank you, Lord!

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.

Anthem Lights: “America the Beautiful”

“America the Beautiful” is one of ten patriotic anthems on the brand-new Anthem Lights album,
God & Country, released this past Friday!

SCRIPTURE LESSONS

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance. ~ Psalm 33:1-2, NIV

Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil. ~ 1 Peter 2:16a, NIV

My friends, you were called to be free.  But do not let this freedom become an excuse for letting your physical desires control you.  Instead, let love make you serve one another.  For the whole Law is summed up in one commandment: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” ~ Galatians 5:13-14, TEV

SUNDAY SERMON
(Print Only This Week Due To Holiday)

It’s Independence Day Weekend in the U.S., and there are a lot of things wrong in our country right now.  But I don’t want to spend a lot of time on what’s wrong, so I’ve written two new verses of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” which is the quickest way I could think of to mention the bad news before going on to the good news.

Face masks, CDC, culture war society,
COVID-19, race wars, bounties on Afghani shores
Unemployment, stock rise, politicians trading lies,
Isolation, quarantine, lock up all the Epsteins

Netflix, fake news, sit in every other pew, 
Try to stop the suffering, practice social distancing
Trying hard to beat the heat, don’t give me a middle seat,
MLB is on its way, Brady plays for Tampa Bay!

We didn’t start the fire, it was always burning since the world was turning
We didn’t start the fire, but it still goes on and on and on.

There are a lot of ways to interpret Billy Joel’s song, but the most obvious is to say that there have always been problems, and always will be.  As individuals, as Christians, and as a nation, we are not defined by our problems, but how we address them.

Now I’d like to talk a little about charts.  Take a look at this first one:

That’s a chart of the sermons I’ve preached over the past few weeks.  The peaks are Sundays, and the chart ends Saturday (yesterday).

This next chart is about flattening the curve.  Don’t try to read the small print.

The first curve is how many Krispy Kreme donuts I ate when I lived in Atlanta and first heard about Krispy Kreme donuts.  The second curve represents how many Krispy Kreme donuts I ate after leaving Atlanta ~ the peak is when 5 Krispy Kreme stores opened on Long Island for a couple years.  But now the closest Krispy Kreme store is in Penn Station, and I almost never go there, and there’s a pandemic, so I have successfully flattened the curve!

This next chart is about America.

This is a chart of the progress we’ve made since we were founded 616 years ago.  Keep in mind we’re still a relatively young nation.  But we’ve grown by leaps and bounds in ingenuity, inclusiveness, racial and gender justice, health, life span, GDP, technology, diversity, and freedom.  Notice that growth is not always a straight line, but can be measured over time.  What we’re experiencing now are growth pains.  But these don’t reflect the big picture, and the steepest drops in our nation’s outlook are typically followed by the highest gains.  Here’s one eye-opening statistic: the average American life span during the Civil War was 35.  In 1900 it was 48.  100 years ago it was 53.  Now it’s 79.  Even during the pandemic years of 1918-20, it dropped by only one year before rebounding.

America’s greatest values and ideals are intact: that all people are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights by their Creator, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  We believe in equality, due process, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and religion, diversity, democracy, individualism and unity.  None of these things are actually under attack, although some people say they are; we have raised the amount and level of conversation around them because we want to make this nation the best it can possibly be.

In my opinion, a patriot is someone who loves his or her country, sees where it needs to be changed, and tries to change it.  Patriots can disagree.  And this brings me to a point that some may construe as political, even though it’s not.  America has always been great.  It didn’t stop being great under any one president and start being great under another.  We can’t “make something great again” if it was always great.  We can, however, make it greater.  And there’s only one way to do this.

Today’s Scriptures all talk about freedom.  They say that we are free to do what we want, but that we should always choose love.  If we choose love, and love our neighbors as ourselves, our nation will be blessed.  And who is our neighbor?  That one’s easy too: everyone.

Our neighbor is the person in a MAGA hat screaming, “I love America!” while lighting fireworks at Mount Rushmore.  Our neighbor is a protester painting “Black Lives Matter” on a city street.  Our neighbor is a transgender teen who has been ostracized in school.  Our neighbor is the fundamentalist preacher who says such lifestyles are evil.  Our neighbor is the Muslim at the convenience store, the football player who kneels for racial justice and the redneck waving a Confederate flag.  They can’t all be right.  They can’t all be good.  But they are all our neighbors.  And that’s how we move forward.

We can be petty and want what WE want more than what others want.  Some would say it’s the American way.  It’s not.  The American way is charity, which is translated in newer Bibles as love: a generous way of living that sees each person as a reflection of God.  The American way is to put country above ourselves and God above country.  The American way is to ask, “how can we assure that everyone is treated equally and fairly?”

We’re not there yet.  But here’s the good news: we’re getting there.  We’re making progress.  Each generation asks, “What is the world coming to?”  And yet, amazingly, each generation improves on the one before.  We fail in one area, we succeed in another, but across time, when we look at all categories together, we’ve been moving forward since 1776 and we’re moving forward still.  2020 has been a rough year so far, but it’s also demonstrated signs of recalibration: we’ve found a lot of things we want to improve upon, and we’ve already set our shoulders to the plow.  This nation will keep getting better because we want it to, and we’re willing to put in the work it takes.  God bless America, land that we love!

OFFERING

Please use this time to make out a check to the church.
Thank you to all who have been contributing during this time, and helping the church to pay its bills!
As you write, please enjoy Tanae’s version of “God Bless America!”

OFFERTORY PRAYER

Thank you, Lord, for giving us this nation.
Thank for for spacious skies and amber waves of grain.
Thank you for bringing us people of every nation.
Thank you for our hopes, dreams and ideals.
Help us to use these gifts with humility,
To honor you in every way.  Amen.

BENEDICTION:

Now as we go forth, may we do so
filled by your Spirit of freedom and grace.
May we resolve to be the best Christians,
the best Americans, the best people that we can be.
God bless America, and God bless you!  Amen.

Blest Be the Tie That Binds

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

Top Ten Scripture Verses

As a lifelong fan of charts, beginning with American Top 40, I am always interested to see new rankings appear.  And while there’s usually only one Scripture chart appearing at the end of the year, the good folks at Bible Study Tools compiled one early due to the pandemic.   “In times of stress and worry,” they report, “people look for inspiring messages of hope. The overwhelming themes from these verses focus on finding strength, growing in faith, and trusting in God. You are not alone in feeling the weight of today’s struggles and temptations!
We are all in this journey of faith together.”

Here are the Top Ten Most Popular Bible Verses of the year so far!

  • John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
  • Jeremiah 29:11: 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.
  • Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
  • Philippians 4:13: I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
  • Genesis 1:1: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
  • Proverbs 3:5: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
  • Proverbs 3:6: in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
  • Romans 12:2: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
  • Philippians 4:6: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
  • Matthew 28:19: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

We’ve covered a lot of these verses on this site this year, but it’s comforting to see them all in one place.  The overall message is clear:  people are turning to Scripture in their time of need.  This is a great encouragement, because it means people are looking in the right place.  Read together, they even tell a story:  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  He has always had a plan for His children. When Christ came, this plan was revealed.  In this earthly life, we can find peace, strength and guidance by turning our troubles over to the Lord.  The path that God gives us ~ a path of prayer, trust and action ~ leads to eternal life.  Let others know!

I’ll be taking a day off to celebrate the holiday, but we’ll return on Sunday with our Independence Weekend service.  May the Lord surround you with His love!

Temporary

What is seen is temporary.  What a comforting phrase!  What we see is a pandemic, social unrest, unemployment and anxiety:  all temporary!  What we don’t see (save through spiritual eyes) is heaven, salvation, the company of angels, the beauty of God’s tapestry.  But like Hagar’s well, these things exist even when we don’t notice them.

When we fix our eyes on what is seen, we begin to think that’s all there is.  We start to get a skewed image of the universe.  We forget that many of the most beautiful things are invisible: the love of a friend, the forgiveness of Christ, treasures in heaven.  When we fix our eyes on what is seen, we’re dragged down by the temporal, instead of lifted up by the eternal.  Here’s another passage that addresses temporary things (in two different translations):

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:17, New International Version

And this small and temporary trouble we suffer will bring us a tremendous and eternal glory, much greater than the trouble. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:17, Good News Bible

This is a jaw-dropping Scripture.  How can Paul call our earthly sufferings “light” or “small?”  We’ve been sick, we’ve lost loved ones, we’ve been heartbroken.  But Paul was whipped, stoned, imprisoned and more.  He’s saying that one day, from the perspective of eternity, all our troubles will seem so much smaller.  Let’s look at the math:

100 years of suffering followed by 100 years of joy – equal
100 years of suffering followed by 1000 years of joy – now we’re getting somewhere
100 years of suffering followed by 1000000000000000000000000000000000000+ years of joy –
that 100 years seems pretty small now, doesn’t it?

Apparently, when I was a toddler, I was pigeon-toed and wore metal braces on my legs.  This can’t have been pleasant.  I’m sure I hated it.  But here’s the thing: I don’t remember it at all.  I just take my mom’s word for it.
Is it possible that one day the sum total of our suffering will seem like this?

There’s no denying that we’re going through a terrible time: more terrible for some than for others.  Some are only experiencing a mildly bothersome time.  But no matter what degree the discomfort, it’s temporary.  When it seems like the worry, the fear, the uncertainty will never end, just remember that it will.  This too shall pass.  In the words of John, “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17, NIV).

Halfway Through the Year!

Pat yourselves on the back; breathe a sigh of relief.  We’ve made it halfway through the year!  In one sense, it seems like our New Year’s resolutions were two years ago; in another, the half year arrived pretty quickly.  In six months, we will wake up to 2021.  We will have just celebrated New Year’s Eve.  With any luck (and a whole lot of prayer) we may even have a vaccine.  New Year’s Day 2021 is a Friday, so we’ll also have a holiday weekend.  Yay!

The official not-very-creative name of the day is Second Half of the Year Day, defined as “a chance to step back, evaluate your year so far with your goals and objectives and to take action to get back on track if necessary.”  (Today is also Canada Day and the day the Walkman was invented, but those seem less relevant.)

So, what are your plans for the second half of the year?

Plan A
1. Nap at home.
2. Watch TV between naps.

Tempting, but I believe we can do better!  I’m a big fan of having one achievable goal.  So let’s think about who we want to be in six months.  The old hymn goes, “Lord, I want to be more loving in my heart.”  Maybe we want to be more loving, or more patient, or more peace-filled.  Maybe we want to finish reading the New Testament (plenty of time if we start now!), or make more time for our friends, or appreciate the beauty of nature.  Maybe we want to adopt a social issue, such as feeding the homeless, or cleaning up the ocean, or fighting for racial equality.  Maybe we’ve thought, “I would like to be a person who prays every day” or “I would like to be a person who gives thanks for at least one thing every day.”  We can!  Second Half of the Year Day 2020 is our chance to make a new start.

Why wait for New Year’s or Lent to come around again?  We can be closer to God by the end of the year, more fulfilled and Spirit-filled, happier and more content, with a greater sense of purpose.  Today is a great day to begin!

God sets another day, which is called “Today!” ~ Hebrews 4:7b, Good News Bible
The word “Today” in the scripture applies to us.
 ~ Hebrews 3:13c, Good News Bible

Grace Upon Grace

We have all received grace upon grace. ~ John 1:16, ESV

A huge thanks to Carolyn Leyboldt for the above photo, whose sepia tones make it look like a tinted postcard from the 50s.  The photo was taken locally this past Saturday night.  The lighting is perfect: light in the foreground, darkness in the background, amplifying the contrast.  Carolyn writes, “not much rain, but a double rainbow.”

This got me thinking.  So often we look at the rainbow as a metaphor for grace after suffering.  We do this not only because of Noah, but because it makes sense to see beauty after a storm, whether physically or in the human response to a disaster.  But we forget that sometimes we get a rainbow without rain, or with very little rain.  Sometimes God blesses us when we’re already blessed: a double serving.  And here, a double rainbow!

We don’t always receive everything that we want or pray for.  But this doesn’t mean that God is not generous.  He has given us “grace upon grace” in the life of His Son.  (To quote “White Men Can’t Jump completely out of context, God loves us “infinity times infinity.”)  In the 23rd Psalm, David writes, “my cup runneth over.”  We never need more than a full cup, more than infinity, or more than the grace of God’s love; and yet, God gives it to us anyway.

When I woke up today, I was already saved.  And look, I was still alive too!  Later I saw an egret (although I had to Google it when I got home to make sure it was an egret)!  I ate fresh strawberries from a local farm.  I received a CD in the mail from my friends in Hawaii.  And then I saw this beautiful photo.

My cup runneth over.  Maybe yours does too?

Don’t believe everything you read!

You know this, right?

On a surface level, “don’t believe everything you read” means read the whole article, not just the headline and check your sources.  A couple examples from this past week: a New York Times headline read, “Churches, Strip Clubs and Bars are Spreading the Coronavirus.”  (The headline was later changed to “Churches and Bars are Spreading the Coronavirus.”)  Some well-meaning people forwarded the article to me, but only one megachurch was mentioned, where people did not practice social distancing or wear masks.  Then I fell for some clickbait on AOL:  “You’ll be shocked at the number of people who have never even heard of the coronavirus.”  Turns out they were Somalian refugees who had been walking for months to escape violence.

These days it’s hard to figure out what’s safe and what’s not.  Some of the topics require a lot of research (which in the old days meant digging through the stacks in the library basement, but today mean looking at the second and third pages of search results).  The current consensus on air conditioning is that it’s safe if windows are also open and the flow of air is not directly onto a person.  The early warnings were based on a single study in which a man from Wuhan sat in front of an air conditioning unit and got all the nearby people infected.

Now let’s look deeper.  “Don’t believe everything you read” has to do with proportion as well.  Of the top 25 stories in Sunday’s online New York Times, only two could be construed as positive: 1) Most Americans trust medical experts and 2) Son Sails Solo Across Atlantic to Reach Father, 90.  As for AOL, it’s hard to tell what’s news and what’s not, but about ten stories into the list we find “The Health Benefit of Eating Potatoes.”

What if one were to go a day without “news?”  No TV, radio or online news?  One’s top stories might be, “Another beautiful day” or “Friendly People Saying Hi to Strangers on the Street” or “Small Town Shops Happy to Open, Packed With New Inventory” or “Ocean Temperature Rises 10 Degrees in One Week, Swimmers Delighted” or “Grass Grateful for Brief Downpour” or “Neighbors Have New Puppy.”

After such a day, would one be tempted to peek at the news, to see what we “might have missed?”  When we allow the news to dictate our mindset and mood, we’re already missing the most crucial information.

What if we were to get our news from church?  Recurring events and continuous goodness tend not to make the news.  But one of the most popular Bibles is The Good News Bible.  From church (online or in person) we hear the real news: that God is in control, that we are forgiven, that we are blessed, that we are loved, and that we can make a difference by forgiving, blessing and loving others.

Cynics might respond, “Don’t believe everything you read, including the Bible.”  I agree!  The same rules apply:  1) Read the whole thing (now you’re groaning); and 2) Check your sources.  In other words, find out where the Bible came from, who wrote it, what it meant to people at the time it was written, how it’s been interpreted over time, and how it has changed lives for the better and continues to do so.  It’s a big book; it can withstand the scrutiny.

Finally, don’t believe everything you read, even if I write it.  Google the articles, look up the Scriptures, practice the recommendations and see if they work.  I believe there is more goodness in the world than we can possibly comprehend.  Not sure you agree?  Turn off the news and head outside!

Sunday Worship Service ~ June 28, 2020

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Good morning, everyone!
Welcome to our 16th online service.
We hope and pray that it is a blessing to you!

We are also worshipping in the church this morning at 25% capacity.  A few more UMCs are open in our district today, bringing the total up to 11.  Next week is the last week we will require sign-ups, but after that we hope to enter Phase 4 and no longer need them.  Sign-up details are found in the weekly church emails; the deadline for next week is TODAY so that we will know whether to ask for approval for one service or two.  We will continue to post Sunday services indefinitely and more than anything, we want you to stay safe!  

There are still 3 days left to complete a 5K walk or to sponsor someone in our church who is walking to raise funds for Sharing a Meal.  Details are on our Outreach page or you can see Al Croce for more (or to sponsor him)!  

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!  This week Miss Tammy has posted summer activities on the Sunday School page, while Steve’s new Bible study on contentment can be found on the Bible Study page.  To see these, simply click the links above.  

CALL TO WORSHIP

God watches over us.
CHRIST WALKS BESIDE US.
The Holy Spirit surrounds us.
GOD IS EVERYWHERE.
TAKE HEART.

UNISON PRAYER

IN CHRIST ALONE MY HOPE IS FOUND,
HE IS MY LIGHT, MY STRENGTH, MY SONG.
THIS CORNERSTONE, THIS SOLID GROUND,
FIRM THROUGH THE FIERCEST DROUGHT AND STORM.
WHAT HEIGHTS OF LOVE, WHAT DEPTHS OF PEACE,
WHEN FEARS ARE STILLED, WHEN STRIVINGS CEASE,
MY COMFORTER, MY ALL-IN-ALL,
HERE IN THE LOVE OF CHRIST I STAND.  AMEN.

WORDS OF ASSURANCE: Jeremiah 29:11

“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.” 

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:  “My Hope Is Built”

This contemporary version is performed by Norton Hall Band, and can be found on their live EP My Hope and Stay: Hymns Project Vol. 2.

CHILDREN’S MESSAGE

Now let’s sing “Jesus Loves Me!”

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

God of every nation, we pray your blessing upon your people.  As the coronavirus surges once again, help us to make the sacrifices necessary to stay safe.  Eliminate this virus from our land and every land.  Send your Spirit of wisdom and inspiration to those working on a cure.  Lead us to a brighter future; and as we wait, help us to do so with hope.

We also continue to pray for peace and justice around the world: for people not to be judged by the color of their skin, but the conduct of their character; for an end to every inequity and divide, especially those based on gender and race; and for humankind to see itself as one great tribe instead of warring factions.

We thank you for the life and faith of our friend Gloria from the Bayport UMC, who passed away this weekend from leukemia.  She was a blessing to many people in many churches.  We thank you for receiving her into your kingdom and ask your consoling Spirit to visit those who are in mourning.

We pray your continued blessing on June, who has now entered Hospice care; for Tadao (Tanae’s dad), who is undergoing immunotherapy, and for Terri (Anthony’s mom), who is undergoing radiation treatments; for Liz S., who is battling illness and undergoing treatments; for Barbara G., who will be undergoing a procedure Tuesday and waiting for test results afterwards; and for Mary, our office administrator, who will be having surgery tomorrow.  Bless all of these people with your comfort, encouragement and love.

We pray for others in our church family who are going through times of need:  for Amy, Pat, Jim, Sue, Janet, Joan, Lois, Dannie, Kathleen & Marilyn, Ken, Bunny & Marty, 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 LESSONS

Those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
~ Isaiah 40:31, New International Version

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. ~ 1 Peter 5:10, New Living Translation

“I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe,
as performed by One Voice Children’s Choir!

SUNDAY SERMON
(Video followed by same sermon in print)

Evangelism has been called “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”  But in this statement, bread is not just bread; it’s the Word of God, it’s our daily bread, it’s manna, it’s hope.  And hope is what people are searching for these days, more than peace, more than patience, more than love.

According to Hebrews 11:1, “faith is to be sure of what we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.”  The chapter goes on to list stories of hope involving Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and more.  But the biggest slice of hope arrives with Jesus.

One of the greatest gifts of our faith is that we already know the ending of the story.  We are headed to a place of perfect peace and joy, with no masks and no social distancing.  Heaven is secure.  Our eternal hope is secure.  And yet, this hope seems so big and so far away that it doesn’t always help us in the day-to-day.  Many people are feeling hopeless right now, not because they don’t believe in heaven, but because they are wondering if it will ever feel like heaven on earth again.

So today I’m going to talk about some reasons to feel hope right now, that our strength might be renewed: that we might run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint before we get to heaven, and that we might soar on wings of eagles, even today.

1. First, an exercise.  Imagine that two things are happening at once, and you have the choice of where to walk.  To your left, a little girl is giving away free gluten-free frosted cupcakes.  To your right, there is a car accident, with paramedics already on the scene.  The natural human tendency is to want to see the bad thing first, not the good thing.  The point: acknowledging the bad, but focusing on the good, can increase our store of hope.

For example, we can allow our thoughts to be dominated by the pandemic situation in Florida, Texas and California.  It’s definitely bad.  Or we can take a moment to feel proud to be New Yorkers.  We had it worse than anyone for the longest time, but now we have the lowest rate of transmission in the U.S.  Furthermore, we saw no spike after the protests.  Who knows how long our good fortune will last?  For now, let’s be proud of what we’ve accomplished together, and keep up the good work.

2. Bad news doesn’t erase good news.  And here’s some of the good news of the past three months:  we have a renewed sense of community, summarized by statements such as “We’re in this together” and “We’ll get through this together.”  We’ve seen incredible examples of selfless behavior: one-on-one caring, dedicated workers, teachers going over and above, fundraisers and online giving.  We’ve flipped our entire society, and the people we choose to honor: no longer sports figures and entertainers, but health care workers, cashiers at 7-11 and Stop and Shop, sanitation engineers and cleaning staff.  This was the theme of a YouthWorks summer a couple years back: “The Upside-Down Kingdom” that Jesus imagined.

We’ve also seen an increase in empathy.  We’ve always said, “Everybody’s going through something,” but now, everybody’s going through the same thing.  Questions like “How are you?” and “How you holding up?” are suddenly legitimate.

3. Individuals can make a difference.  We’ve been hearing many pay-it-forward stories.  We’ve seen rainbows in windows.  Up the street, a family covered their lawn with plastic flamingos to celebrate a daughter’s tenth birthday.  Many of the acts of kindness we’ve seen have been led by children, who are showing us the way.

4. We’ve seen a burst of creativity that honors God, our Creator.  For the first time, we can get haircuts outside.  Drive-in theaters are coming back.  My insurance company sent me two refunds this season ~ that’s never happened before!  People are decorating their cars for birthday and graduation parades.  And while there’s not much on TV and nothing in the movies, the music industry has been booming as artists have been recording at home and releasing music online.

5. We haven’t lost our sense of humor, although jokes have a short shelf life these days.  At the beginning of the pandemic I joked that we could finally get tickets to Hamilton; then Broadway shut down, and it wasn’t funny anymore.  Then I joked that because of social distancing, people would finally sit in the front pews; then the churches were closed, and that wasn’t funny anymore either.

My latest attempt at humor is describing my daily commute.  I used to have to walk all the way to the church, braving the elements; to fumble with my keys; and finally to reach my office.  But these days it’s been a lot easier.  My laptop broke at the beginning of the pandemic, so I ordered another one; then the first one started working again, so now I have two.  I start my days on the north side of the couch with my old laptop and do all my church work.  When that’s done, I shut the laptop and head to the south side of the couch, where I open my new laptop: it’s free time!

6. We’ve shown a real desire to make the world a better place, starting now, and we’re seeing real results.  This may be a reflection of increased empathy.  It may be a reaction to meanness, which stands out when everyone is suffering; it may be due to the lack of distractions such as sports, jobs and TV.  But we want a better world.  Not only do we want a cure for COVID-19, we want a cure for racism, and for sexism, and for climate change.  And we’re showing great momentum; this is one curve we don’t want to see flattened.

7. We did all this without an earthly leader.  Instead, there have been many local leaders, all operating simultaneously and independently on the ground level.  It was like something in us woke up ~ call it conscience, call it hope, call it faith.

8. History is on our side.  Every pandemic and time of social upheaval in history, from the Influenza of 1918 to the Great Depression to the Second World War, was followed by an unprecedented time of societal change, new inventions and community spirit.  Those who rebuilt after WWII were called “the greatest generation.”  We’re headed there now.

9. This will not last forever.  Sometime in the next 6-18 months, we’ll have a vaccine.  Already in New Zealand and Iceland, things are back to normal.  (I’ll bet you’re looking up plane tickets now.)  But we don’t want things to go back to normal; we want a better normal: to show who we are, to rise from the ashes.

The 126th Psalm describes the joy of a nation following a great disaster.  The people of Israel had been taken away in chains to Babylon; but finally they were allowed to return.  This is what they wrote:

When the Lord brought us back to Jerusalem,
it was like a dream!
How we laughed, how we sang for joy!

Then the other nations said about us,
“The Lord did great things for them.”
Indeed he did great things for us;
how happy we were!

Lord, make us prosperous again,
just as the rain brings water back to dry riverbeds.
Let those who wept as they planted their crops,
gather the harvest with joy!

Those who wept as they went out carrying the seed
will come back singing for joy,
as they bring in the harvest.

So imagine the day when the restrictions will be lifted, when it will all be safe again.  Imagine the joy we’ll feel.  Imagine 2022, when we may have two services, not because of social distancing, but because so many people want to worship the Lord.  Imagine all our environmental protections back in place.  Imagine us celebrating our diversity: not saying “We don’t see color” but that we do see color, and honor it, and want to know more about every culture.  In 2022, the first of four new “Avatar” movies will be released, but we probably won’t care, because our attention will be focused on more important things.  We may look back on 2020 and say, “It was terrible.  We wish it didn’t happen.  But we needed this.”

10. Finally, and this is a point I make often: we can’t stop bad things from happening, but we can’t stop good things from happening either.  Even the grumpiest person will have to admit that we’ll still have beautiful summer days and colorful sunrises and sunsets; babies will still be born, children will still laugh and play; our friends will still be our friends, and our God will still be our God; some days will be better than the ones before, and some of our fears won’t come true; we’ll experience moments of perfect peace; there will be birthdays and Christmases and pleasant surprises; dogs will still wag their tails, and cats will still purr.

And once in a while ~ more often if we look and listen ~ we’ll see that God is still in control, and that this is still a wonderful world.  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!
As you write, please enjoy Tanae’s version of “It Is Well With My Soul!”

OFFERTORY PRAYER

Thank you, Lord,
for being our Hope and our Strength.
May these gifts be a source of hope and strength
To your Church and to all who are served by your Church.  Amen.

BENEDICTION: Romans 15:13, NIV

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Blest Be the Tie That Binds

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

Are We Going Backwards?

There are a few ways to answer this question.  In terms of the pandemic, New York is NOT going backwards.  We’ve gone from worst to first, like the 1991 Braves.  Unfortunately, the United States IS going backwards.  Or is it?  We have more cases, but fewer deaths; the infection is affecting more younger people than old.  At first, the warnings were for people over 60; the new warnings are for people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.  I’m in my 50s, so I feel like I’m in the sweet spot; all I have to do is avoid frat parties this summer, and I should be fine.

We can also answer this question in terms of emotion.  Given new statistics, are we going backwards to anxiety and fear, or continuing to move forward in hope?  The combined forces of summer and reopening make it hard to put the genie back in the bottle.  Is it even possible to return to fear, given that every day has been so beautiful?

(Be sure to get outside!)

Now it gets tricky.  Paul writes, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14, NIV).  Paul is writing about leaving behind his life of sin, his own faults and failures, and moving on to perfection, to heaven, to God.  But we can also apply this passage to our spiritual lives and attitudes in the midst of multiple crises.  We can allow ourselves to be dragged backwards to doubt, or we can remember that our entire future is filled with God ~ not just heaven, but next year, tomorrow, one minute from now, one second.

Try not to be discouraged; take heart.  God is still sovereign, and closer than a prayer.

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past;
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still my soul; the winds and waves still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.