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.
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
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.
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.
Now let’s sing “Jesus Loves Me!”
(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.
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!
(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.
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!”
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!