In our Gospel reading for July 5th, we read in Matthew 11: 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
We all want to be accepted and acceptable. It's natural. But what about when the situation calls for going against what is accepted and acceptable? Prophet Jeremiah did this regularly and Jesus teaches his missionary disciples about accepting the unacceptable.
Jeremiah not only steps out in challenging what is accepted and acceptable from his position as a royal prophet to the king, he is often instructed by God to demonstrate it in some way. On this occasion, when Judah has been conquered by the Babylonians, has had its great Temple looted and destroyed, and its best people carted off to Babylon, Jeremiah is told to wear a yoke around his neck. The message is that the yoke of Babylonian subjugation is God's punishment of Judah for its sins.
Another royal court prophet, Hananiah, has a different prophecy, one that is far more accepted and acceptable. It is a bit nuts, suggesting that Judah revolt to overthrow the Babylonians, that God will set the people free and have their losses restored in a short period of time. The priests of the court think this is great!
Jeremiah begs to differ, intoning God's prophecy to him that the yoke of Babylon must be worn and that lessons need to be learned. See how this plays out.
Jesus's missionary discourse is closing in Matthew 10. Here he counsels his mission-going disciples about how they will be doing what those in power will find unacceptable. Those who assist them may be called out for supporting their work and become endangered. For the community for which Matthew is writing, this is meant to encourage the faithful who have been experiencing persecution in Matthew's own time. There is reward for those who support the Kingdom-building mission of Jesus.
Get the whole story in the service video below.
This week, we were able to add music from Doogie in a Prelude and Postlude. Enjoy!
This is a new feature starting this week. A link will be emailed to you so that when you watch the service video, you will have the Fairfielder available - here as a PDF since folks had trouble re-sizing, displaying, and printing a graphic attached to the email.
Pastor Bea will also be posting an Order of Worship next week as well as a Fairfielder. Look for the link to those downloads later next week via email from her.
For this week, click on the file name 06-28-20-ff below and download the Fairfielder PDF.
Fairfielder image: "Oh, look, they put in new windows, but didn't quite catch the replacement idea."
Have a plan. Think it through. Maintain control. Until ... it all goes out of control. Now what? People of faith know that God hasn't been absent. Abraham teaches faith when faced with an impossible situation. Jesus teaches faith to his disciples going out in mission.
Space missions are incredibly complex. Despite the best plans by the brightest minds, things go wrong, fast and in a big way. Mission control - pictured - tries its best when the mission goes out of control.
These become lessons of faith for people of faith. Abraham has God's promise of a child. Maidservant Hagar bears him a son when wife Sarah cannot. Problem solved? Then Sarah has a son, and now there are two sons. But only one can be heir according to the rule of PRIMOGENITURE. Now the situation has become an unsolvable mess. God assures Abraham that it will all work out and Abraham once again has faith in the promise of God.
As Jesus prepares to send out his disciples on their first mission trip, he warns them about the problems they will face and the unsolvable choices that will confront tghem. Their faith must lead them.
Let these stories teach you in the sermon video and in the downloads below the video panel.
You really have to laugh when someone does or says something really preposterous, or pokes fun at the preposterous things we do and say all the time. But preposterous stuff comes in God-sized packages, too. Sarah laughs at the prediction of her senior pregnancy. Jesus instructions to his disciples may seem preposterous, too, but he is serious.
Yes, I chastise the congregation for being the worst audience for a stand-up pastor. You try saying something funny, and even when you land a good one, they habitually stifle their laughter. It's a tough, tough house for any comedy gig.
Old Sarah hears her name mentioned when visitors come by and are chatting with husband Abraham. Her ears pick-up her name in the conversation. She hears clearly as the visitor promises that upon his return, Sarah will be pregnant. Say WHAAAT? She bursts into a deep guffaw before she can catch herself. She recalls the visitor having stated to the stunned Abraham, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" Uh-oh.
Now that's God-sized preposterous.
Taking a page from his Abba, Jesus has these ideas about what disciples should do that may seem preposterous. Teach the Kingdom, heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out evil is a short-list for the broader, 'Do all the things that I've been doing.' It looks ridiculously impossible - preposterous! - but Jesus is serious.
Get the whole story in the sermon video below.
The video camera quit before I had finished the scripture reading, so forget about any sermon video this week - a battery issue, I'm sure. I have posted it anyway - all 4 minutes - so you can see me doing my thing with a mask. No, no sermon video this week. Sorry.
While it is Trinity Sunday on the church calendar, the notion of the Trinity - the three persons of God in Father/Creator, Soon, and Holy Spirit - is never better described than as "a mystery." This seems like a nice way of saying that you can talk about until you're blue in the face and conclude nothing more. Quite frankly, it's a distraction.
With this Sunday's scripture readings associating with Trinity Sunday, it is a distraction with further distractions built into the main distraction.
For example, we look at day six in the First Creation Story - the story that features God, a calendar, and everything created in contrast with the Second Creation Story with a garden, a serpent, and naked humans which is lots more fun.
The distractions come from the words "subdue" and "dominion" in the text. These expressions have been regularly used to justify the wanton exploitation and destruction of our natural environment supposedly for the betterment of humanity. A close and contextual reading makes it clear that such corrupt interpretations are completely wrong. They misread the whole text and how God intends the human creation to regard the creation which God has entrusted to our wise, judicious, and righteous stewardship.
The full explanation is in the sermon text - downloadable below as a PDF.
Another distraction comes in the so-called Great Commission at the end of Matthew's gospel. The expression there - "make disciples of all nations" - has often been used to launch crusades, to make it a priority to convert everyone to Christianity, to save their hell-bound sinful soul. In fact, it doesn't mean that at all and is a monumental distraction created by people not named Jesus who have a domination thing of their own going on. Jesus wanted us to do what he did - it's that simple. He did not run around trying to 'convert the heathen.' He never told anyone this is what you should do, either.
Like a good distraction, this misguided missionary impulse distracts from engaging the things which Jesus did want his disciples - his students - to learn and do. Things like feeding the hungry, freeing those in bondage, working for reconciliation and peace, embracing each one as sister and brother, practicing incredible grace and forgiveness, reaching out in healing brokenness, seeking justice for the oppressed and exploited, and a whole lot more.
To dig a bit deeper into this, try downloading the sermon by clicking on the PDF link below - yes, the second link - and giving it the once over. We'll try to get the video piece right next week. Again, sorry.
What does Pentecost mean? How does the Spirit empower disciples? The Spirit didn't just show up at Pentecost. We look at Numbers 11 (yes, Numbers) to find the Spirit at work and at Galatians 5 as Paul teaches what being Spirit-led is all about.
Yes, you'll recall the Spirit is right there in the beginning. I mean "In the beginning ...." like Genesis 1. The Spirit didn't appear unknown to God's people at Pentecost.
In Numbers 11, a despairing Moses begs for God's intervention with these impossible people for whom God has made him the responsible leader. They are never content and always complaining. Moses can't take it any longer.
God has an answer, but Moses doubts its efficacy. God's reply is a keeper: "Is the Lord's arm too short?"
Gathering 70 elders in the tabernacle, Moses is somehow able to share out the Spirit in/with him with those gathered, and even with two who didn't get the memo and missed the meeting. The Spirit took care of business, empowering the elders to begin taking on some of the leadership role.
The role of the Spirit is something Paul teaches to the Galatians. After a burning hot start to his letter, by chapter 5 he has settled down and teaches wonderfully about the effect of the Spirit's leadership and how it should be manifested by faithful disciples. Get the rest in the service video below.
The resurrection faith leaves the faithful caught between two worlds, needing to navigate them both, but with the purpose and the promise of Jesus with them. This isn't easy. The ascension passage in Acts 1 and Jesus' final prayer lead us to consider the task.
When we think in personal terms of "our" world, we may discover how small "our" world is. We can make it bigger, but we run the risk of "our" small, familiar world colliding with the a world unknown, never experienced in our lives. It's daunting, for sure.
The disciples of Jesus faced the same problem, but on a much bigger scale. They had always counted on Jesus to help them navigate the new directions that a Kingdom faith led. His ascension meant that they would be on their own in the future. It would be a fast and difficult lesson in leading a Kingdom life. They had been prepared, but, like driving alone for the first time, you knew the safety net was gone - you were on your own to figure it out, to navigate the situation.
Jesus knew that the disciples faced a difficult transition and painful experiences in encountering the worldly powers when he would be taken and removed from them. He addresses these concerns in his final prayer given in John 17. Although certainly not Jesus' words, they reflect the situation faced by late first century Christians, straddling and negotiating two worlds: one sacred and just, the other sinful and corrupt.
They remind us of the task we face as faithful disciples today. Find out more in the service video below.
Are you alone? Is it only about you? Are you and what you want all that really matter? Hopefully, you can affirm your place within a community of faith, a community of fellow travelers who are never alone. Paul and Jesus teach how God is present, our journey companion, as we embody Jesus' love in our lives.
There are too many times lately when it seems like people believe that their own interests and desires are paramount over everything else. Blogger Umair Haque sees the drift to such extremes as sociopathic. There is plenty of evidence to show that people have lost any sense of a shared journey, that we are companions together.
This becomes a matter of direct interest to our congregation as we look to resume in-person worship services on June 7. We need to realize how dependent we are on each other to create as safe an environment as we can. If folks took the same degree of responsibility for others as we must do, then things might be quite different from what we have seen happening.
Paul and Jesus tells us how we are never alone, not left abandoned on our journey.
Paul's speech to the Greek philosophers in the Areopagus in Acts 17 has many noteworthy points. There was a most important one that may have caused a few of the Greeks to take Jesus' gospel seriously. Paul describes how God is close so that God may be sought and discovered, reminding his listeners that "[God] is not far from any one of us." (Acts 17:27)
Jesus continues his Final Discourse as resume where we left off last week.
Here, Jesus describes how the disciples will not be abandoned when Jesus departs. They will receive the Paraclete, the Counselor, who will be with them always.
Jesus goes on to describe the close relationship of Jesus with his Father and his close relationship with us. Indeed we are never alone!
Learn more in the service video below.
Yesterday, May 14, the Session approved the resumption of in-person services starting with Sunday, June 7. There are particular conditions for those attending and there will be changes in the manner in which we conduct worship. Please read the whole post. (The post is also available as a PDF - scroll to the download link at the end.)
COVID-19 is here to stay; it will not be possible to presume normalcy until/unless a vaccine is developed which is (nearly) universally administered. Between development, mass production, and mass distribution, that will easily be a year or more away. The safe practices that we have been learning to adopt lately in our daily lives must be continued until that time. These are not options if we are to offer faithful witness to the health and safety of all.
COVID-19 is highly communicable. Its primary modes of transmission are in the air and from contact with solid surfaces. It can hang in the air for hours, available to be breathed in by someone unprotected. It can survive on hard surfaces for several days and on porous surfaces for many hours. Avoiding unprotected breathing, particularly in closed spaces, and avoiding contact with surfaces must be priorities.
COVID-19 is remarkably insidious and difficult to detect. There is an astonishing percentage of people who have contracted COVID-19 and show no symptoms - they are asymptomatic. Although they show no symptoms, they can communicate the virus to others. This means that a person who is virus-free one Sunday could be carrying the virus the next Sunday and not even know it, exposing everyone in the closed area of the sanctuary. The procedure of temperature testing simply screens for the most obvious person who does have symptoms (we will not do this); it cannot detect the asymptomatic person. Even testing is merely a snapshot; a person could be tested one day, contract the virus the next day, and get a negative test result the next day, believing they are virus-free when they are not. In short, vigilance is critical and nothing should be assumed. I could be a carrier. You could, too. And we may have no idea that we are carriers. (If you doubt this, please email me and I will link you to a bunch of articles documenting this.)
Our congregation is in the unique position of having a tiny number of worship attendees (around 15 typically) and a sanctuary that seats over 80. It is possible for us to practice 6 foot social distancing in our sanctuary space. However, remember that our air conditioning and heating ventilation system is nothing remarkable; the air is relatively trapped for the time when we are present in the sanctuary.
The seating model will use every third row of pews with ‘household seats’ along either wall and the center aisle - three positions. We should be able to seat two dozen or so, depending on household size. Obviously, if 5 people in one household should sit in one pew, that removes the center aisle availability for that pew, allowing seating only along the other wall. Here is a graphic as an example > > > > > >
Masks are required. Unlined cloth masks provide little protection, but a lining or a blocking material - napkin, paper towel, or the like - between the mask and face is superior. Ideally, you should not be able to move the flame of a lit match by blowing through your mask. Otherwise, you are creating aerosols that can spread the virus, and you are susceptible to receiving the virus as well. Masks are mandatory. We trust that you will ensure that your mask is effective, not a flimsy, ineffective covering that could expose yourself and the rest of us to the virus. Masks are not comfortable, but if you do not wear one, you cannot worship with us in-person. You are welcome to listen to the service over the speakers outside in your car or view the sermon video online on Monday if this mask requirement is a problem. Our health as a community of faith depends on your cooperation.
I will be wearing a mask from the moment I leave my car until I enter it again after the service. You must do the same. Yes, I will conduct the service and preach with a mask on.
Minimal contacts with surfaces will be another strategy. This means no bulletins, no inserts, no hymnals, and no pew bibles. I will figure out how to arrange a screen and projector to provide viewing of the order of worship and its components, the music, and the scripture texts. You can always bring your own bible.
The Fairfielder will be available for viewing and/or download and printing by you so that you can bring your own copy with you - a link will be blast emailed late on Saturday. We will stick with familiar hymns. Those who are musically inclined and require musical notation will also have a link in that blast email to scans of the music for viewing and/or download and printing by you so that you can bring your own copy with you. Most folks probably don’t require this if the tune is familiar.
The collection will feature one usher (having two was pretty unnecessary, right?). If you raise your hand, the usher will come to you. You are strongly encouraged to use the ‘bill pay’ system provided by your bank so that your bank sends a check directly to the church’s P.O. Box. (The only thing I use checks for is the church and the dog groomer; I have been paying dozens of items each month electronically for years without issue.) The expectation of “putting something in the collection plate” is now finished, over, done with, kaput. (Hallelujah!) The best expectation is that your donation is sent directly by your bank (you save the postage stamp!) to the church. If you cannot access that service which your bank provides, then place your check or cash in the plate before the worship service, using the usher only if you forgot. In other words, it is best if the usher is making no contact either with you or with your handheld donation.
Hymn singing is discouraged in most guidelines for re-opening. However we trust that you will wear an effective protective mask that passes the ‘match test’ as described earlier and we will have hymn singing. You should be aware that an effective mask may restrict breathing patterns and folks should not be surprised if they need to stop singing to catch their breath, or will find it difficult to sing with a mask at all. Sorry, safety comes first.
Our next occasion for communion will not occur until Worldwide Communion Sunday, the first Sunday in October. Pentecost is Sunday, May 31 and we will have a remembrance of the Lord’s Supper in the service video online as we did at Easter. The Session has not decided how we will conduct communion in our new situation, so stay tuned - surely, it will be different. (Or how to blow out candles on Christmas Eve … hmmm.)
The words “church” and “change” are not welcome in the same sentence. Our church will need to experience a whole lot of change in order to resume worship safely. Your patience and cooperation as we negotiate the new terms of our faithful worship will be appreciated. Indeed, we are all in this together. Let’s be faithful and be safe.