Good morning, everyone!  Welcome to our very first online worship service!  We are worshipping at home this morning because all United Methodist Churches and Episcopal churches on Long Island are 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.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Church Council meets tomorrow night (Monday) at 7:30 to receive brief reports and to discuss our response to the coronavirus.  We have already activated our Disaster Response Protocol and reached out to all members by phone to determine if there are any needs.  At this meeting, we will also discuss how to be in touch, what else to keep open or closed, and if we can help in any positive fashion (such as food drives).

Still open until otherwise announced: our office, Thrift Shop, Sharing a Meal, and all small group meetings such as Bible studies.  No trustees or choir rehearsal this week; dinner and worship with Bayport on March 24 is postponed until Advent; the youth meeting for March 25 is postponed until after Easter.  Worship will be online next week and we hope to reopen for worship on Sunday, March 29.  At that point our March Madness hymn tournament will also resume!

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

Let there be peace on earth:
PEACE IN OUR HEARTS,
PEACE IN OUR MINDS,

PEACE IN OUR SOULS.
Let there be peace on earth:
PEACE IN OUR HOMES,
PEACE IN OUR CHURCHES,
PEACE IN OUR TOWNS.
In every nation, in every land,
LET THERE BE PEACE.

UNISON PRAYER:  The Prayer of St. Francis

WORDS OF ASSURANCE: Philippians 4:6-7

THE LORD’S PRAYER

HYMN: “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)

The first of four hymns today that are also part of our church’s Sweet Sixteen, “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” is a modern take on an old classic, featuring a second chorus.  When asked to write a new version for the movie of the same name, Chris Tomlin laughed and expressed doubt that he could ever add anything to “the greatest hymn of all time.”  And yet, his version not only adds to the appreciation of the original, but restores one of its classic verses.  Read the full story here.

CHILDREN’S MESSAGE

Ask your children to bring in a toy with a face (such as a stuffed animal).
Has your (animal, truck, doll, robot) ever been sick?
Have you ever been sick?  How did it feel?
If you were sick, and your (animal, truck, doll, robot) wanted to play with you,
how would you keep it from getting sick?
(They will probably say that toys don’t get sick ~ smart kids!)
Okay, let’s pretend toys can get sick.
Pretend your (animal, truck, doll, robot) has a cold and it’s sad and lonely.
How would you cheer it up?
Would you play with it?  How would you keep from getting sick?
(Potential answers: wash your toy, wash your own hands.)
A lot of people have been getting sick lately.  You’ve probably heard about it.
So we all have a job to do – grown-ups AND kids!
We have to protect everyone, especially older people like grandmas and grandpas.
So remember to wash your hands and tell your whole family to wash their hands!
And if you hear about someone who is sick and sad,
call them on the phone or send them a happy card or make them cookies!
This way we can be like Jesus, who cares for us and loves us.
Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, help us to stay healthy
And to help other people to stay healthy.

Help us to love others as you have loved us,
And to spread happiness wherever we go.  Amen.

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

Today we pray for the health and safety of the entire world:
For a cure to the coronavirus;
For the doctors, nurses and technicians working with patients and the disease;
For all persons overwhelmed with work, whether on the job or at home;
For all people trying to make ends meet, who are stretched thin by the crisis;
For parents who suddenly need to find child care;
For the isolated elderly and those in extended care facilities;
For all persons struggling with anxiety over the days to come;
and for all government officials as they make decisions.

Lord, may your peace wash over us all.
May we remember that you are in control;
That we have gotten through worse than this;
That you are always listening, always loving, always helping.
May we respond by helping others as well.
May they know we are Christians by our love.
May we feel empowered by your Spirit not to turn in but to reach out.
May we remember your miracles of old,
And know that you are the God of healing, intervention and grace.

We pray for those in our church family who are going through times of need:
For Louise, Amy, Pat, Jim, Dolores, Janet, Sue, Joe & Joan, Lois, Brian & Dannie, Kathleen & Marilyn, Ken, Bunny & Marty, Harriet, Diane, Laurie & Steve, Deborah, Paul, Ruth; for Miki & Larry’s granddaughter Kirstin, who is recovering from thyroid removal surgery, that her test results will be encouraging; for all others in need, even if unexpressed; for the members of our extended family who are suffering; for this nation and for the world.

We thank you, Lord, for every good gift and sign of blessing:
For the warm weather, for the crocus and daffodil,
For the returning birds, for the spring rain,
For the love of those who reach out to others,
For the unexpected kindness and act of love;
For answered prayer; for your life and death;
And for your promise of eternal life.
Through it all, we are truly blessed;
Thank you, Jesus; thank you, Holy Spirit; thank you, God.

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

“And now I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
If you have love for one another, then everyone will know
that you are my disciples.” ~ John 13:34-35, Good News Bible

The wisdom from above is pure first of all; it is also peaceful, gentle, and friendly;
it is full of compassion and produces a harvest of good deeds;
it is free from prejudice and hypocrisy.
And goodness is the harvest that is produced
from the seeds the peacemakers plant in peace. ~ James 3:17-18, Good News Bible

HYMN: “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love”

One of our church’s Sweet Sixteen hymns, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” has seen a surge in popularity thanks to a new version by for KING & COUNTRY from the TV series AD: the Bible continues.  Another popular modern version comes from Jars of Clay, with banjo and a slower tempo.  The song was written by a priest in 1966 “when he could not find a suitable song to accompany a series of ecumenical and interracial events for which the youth choir he led was to sing.”  It later became “the anthem of the Jesus movement.”  Read the full story here.

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

How are you?  No really, how are you?  As Pastor David asked on Tuesday, “is it well with your soul?”  On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being “OHMYGOD, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!” and 1 being “God has me in the palm of his hand,” where would you rank?

These are crazy times, in many ways surreal.  We’ve never closed our church doors on a Sunday morning, even for a blizzard!  But I was thinking today how much what we are going through relates to Lent.  In some ways, this is the most fitting time for such a crisis.  While the current restrictions are nothing compared to the rationing of WWII or the Great Depression, they remind us of the meaning of sacrifice.

Traditionally, Lent is about giving something up ~ in modern years it has also become a season of taking something on.  Here are some of the things we’ve already had to give up: social gatherings, church worship, unessential surgeries, sports, concerts, plays, and vacations.  We’ve seen temporary shortages of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, Twinkies and Ding Dongs.  The movies we want to see have been delayed.  Some of our college students are already home, and we are likely to see school closures on a wide level.  We’re not allowed to visit people in nursing homes.  We’re not supposed to shake hands.  We can’t go to the Apple store.

How has your life changed in the last week?  What are you missing the most?

In many ways, we’re just like Jesus in the desert ~ if Jesus had a house, electricity, indoor plumbing, heat, furniture, food and drink, a TV, stereo, books and a whole lot of clothes, toys and other distractions.  Okay, maybe we’re not like Jesus in the desert.

What blessing do you love the most?  What luxury cheers you the most?

A beautiful essay on the music website NewRelease Today underlined the fact that fear is the real enemy.  Franklin Roosevelt said the same thing in 1933, calling fear that “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”  Fear makes us forget the facts ~ for example, that the current risk of contracting the virus is real, but low, and that the virus is dangerous, but only 3.4% deadly.  Or that if we run out of bottled water, we have tap water, and that most bottled water comes from taps anyway.  Or that 7-11 has most of the items that are sold out at Costco.  Or that we can shop during off-peak hours.

Adding to the fear are stories that are just plain irresponsible, such as one telling us that drinking water is dangerous and another that hand sanitizer is dangerous.  It’s enough to make one throw up one’s hands in despair!

So let’s look at some actual, up-to-date numbers as of Saturday evening, March 14:
Suffolk County:  33 confirmed cases, population 1.493 million
Percentage affected: 0.00002210314
New York State:  613 confirmed cases, population 19.54 million
Percentage affected: 0.00003137154
United States:  2655 confirmed cases, population 327.2 million
Percentage affected: 0.0000081143
Planet Earth: 156,433 confirmed cases, population 7.53 billion
Percentage affected: 0.00002077463

How do these statistics make you feel?
How does watching the news make you feel?
Are you watching too much news?
How much do we need to watch to stay informed?
Do you trust what you hear?  If not, do you fact check it?

So take a breath ~ your current chances of getting the coronavirus are still statistically zero, meaning so close to zero they may as well be zero.  You are still more likely to die by pretty much any other cause.

Let’s return to the article I mentioned: “As Christians, as we live in this world that’s so full of darkness and fear, we need to look different. We need to be the ones that have peace. The ones people can go to if they have questions. The ones that look completely different from everyone else. Many of my brothers and sisters are currently looking like the rest of the world. I’m seeing them dominated by fear and grief, acting like hope is quickly disappearing. And I get it. The coronavirus that’s going around is serious, the fact is the large majority of people who conceive the virus has a full and healthy recovery.  So, have hope and fight hard to tell a different story than what fear and uncertainty are breeding all around us.”  Read the full article here.

Or to quote today’s songs (which were all inspired by Scriptures), let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us.  Let them know we are Christians by our love.

One of the saddest things about the virus is the new trend of social distancing, which is understandable for health purposes but seems to stand against everything it means to be human and a person of faith.  It’s especially lonely for a person in a nursing home not to be touched.  Or for us to avoid social gatherings at the time we need them the most.

What do you think of social distancing?
Have you become afraid of human contact?
Do you look at other people differently now (especially strangers)?

Let’s remember a few things:
1) This is temporary;
2) Social distancing can be a spiritual discipline; and
3) There are other ways to be social.

The first point is obvious ~ these restrictions are not forever.  In the best case scenario, they end before Easter.  And this is Lent, a time in which we remember Jesus in the desert, experiencing solitude, silence, slowness and space.  He used this time to grow strong in the Spirit, and we can as well, as long as we use it wisely.  Didn’t we just say, only 18 days ago on Ash Wednesday, that the world was moving too fast, that Lent was a season to appreciate the value of introspection, reflection, and a slower pace; that maybe we were buying too much, consuming too much, confusing our wants with our needs; that this year we might try giving up something more than chocolate?  Be careful what you wish for ~ because now, like it or not, we are learning how to do without.  But there’s another side to Lent as well.

Do you know people who live alone and don’t get out much, who may be feeling isolated, who might appreciate a call, a card, a cake or another expression of caring?  This is our time to let them know we’re Christians by our love.  Don’t know anyone like that?  There are plenty of worried strangers out there, plenty of overworked people at restaurants, hospitals, and stores.  Food pantries need food, and if you’re buying food to give it away, the wait on line seems a lot shorter.  Wherever we are, let’s radiate peace.  As one of today’s hymns goes, together we’ll spread the word that God is in our land.  To quote another, let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.  Yes, we could cocoon ourselves in our homes, watching Netflix, eating Twinkies and conserving toilet paper, hunkered down until the storm passes.  But Jesus never hid from a storm.

Is there something you can do as a person, couple or family that would make a positive difference?  Seize the day!

Finally, my friends, remember that light shines brightest where there is darkness, and that love makes the greatest difference when it is in short supply.  This is the greatest opportunity in a generation for Christians to make a difference.  Let this be the moment now.  Amen.

OFFERING

Please use this time to make out a check to the church.  As you prepare your offering, play the song below ~ a modern version of “Be Still My Soul” by Kari Jobe featuring a new injection of lyrics.  

Now please rise for the Doxology!  🙂
Note: this may be the best Doxology I’ve ever heard!

OFFERTORY PRAYER

Lord Jesus, every good and perfect gift comes from you.
Please use what we have given in return to glorify your Kingdom:
To spread your word, to help those in need, to serve as thanksgiving and praise.
In your name we consecrate this offering.  Amen.

HYMN:  “Let There Be Peace On Earth”

This is another beautiful hymn that is currently in our church’s Sweet Sixteen!!  The was first sung on a youth retreat, with people of all different backgrounds and races standing on a literal mountaintop.  (You can read the full history here.)  The rendition below uses perfect harmony (just like in the song!) and is juxtaposed of images of people helping others in need.  May it bring you peace!

BENEDICTION: An Irish Blessing

Amen!  And now please enjoy this choral version of
“Blest Be the Tie That Binds!”

This hymn has a special meaning to me as a long-term pastor.  It was written by a pastor with a loving congregation who could only afford to pay him with “wool and potatoes.”  He received a call to a wealthier parish, but as he loaded his cart to go, the parishioners gathered to say goodbye, everyone started crying and he changed his mind.  He ended up being the church’s pastor for 54 years!  Read the full story here.

A happy St. Patty’s Day to our Irish friends!