Sermon and prayers by Rev. Steve Hundley Song selections by Fran McNeill
Preparation for Worship:
Bless us, O God, with a reverent sense of Your presence, that we may be at peace and may worship You with all our minds and spirits; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Call to Worship:Psalm 116: 12-13
What can we give back to God for the blessings He has poured out on us?
We will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.
Blow upon us, O Lord, the fresh wind of Your Spirit. Refresh our souls, which are weary from continuous social distancing. Help us to forget for a little while the difficulties of daily existence, and breathe from Your presence new hope, new purpose, and new direction for our lives. Embolden us to pray and seek Your face, that everything else may find its proper place in these unprecedented times. Amen.
Prayer of Confession:
Gracious Lord, teach us always to respect and love all the lives You create. Forgive our lack of concern and love for those who are silently suffering around the world in the face of this ongoing pandemic. Forgive us when we are negligent and uncaring for those who are most vulnerable; for those who are elderly; for those forgotten in nursing homes; for those who have little or no access to medical care; for those essential workers on the front lines; and, for those who have and continue to suffer from a careless society. Teach us to open our hearts and our lives up in ways that will be beneficial to all. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 32: 3-5
Hear these words of hope from the Psalmist: “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to You, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You forgave the guilt of my sin.
A Children’s Message for Adults, too!
(a true story)
In early spring in the Blue Ridge mountains where I grew up, we would plant a garden full of corn and vegetables, as well as a strawberry patch. There were also apple and pear trees, not to mention the wild grapes, blackberries, huckleberries, and raspberries that grew in the woods.
Every summer my mother would pull out the old pressure cooker and spend days canning quart jars of every kind of vegetables and berries and put them away in the cellar. Then when winter came and the ground was cold, icy, and barren and nothing seemed to be alive, mom would go down into the cellar, come up with some canned vegetable or savory berry preserve, and it would be May and June once more at our family table, and how blessed we were!
During this difficult time while we are all forced to stay home for fear of getting or spreading the dangerous coronavirus, I can’t help but think about how many of us spent hours in front of the television, on our computers and phones playing video games, or watching meaningless YouTube videos. It occurred to me that there is hardly anything there to nourish the soul or help us through this pandemic. There’s not a calorie there at all that can strengthen us when life is hard and barren.
That is why it is so important that we turn to the stories of our faith: the stories of the Old Testament, the stories of Jesus—His life and ministry, as well as the other letters and books of the Bible. By dipping down into the deep reservoir of God’s Word for all life and faith, we can find nourishment for the facing of these days.
Message: At Home with the Risen Lord
Two travelers on the road, making the seven-mile hike from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Why Emmaus? Well, it would appear that they live there. Emmaus is home. Still, the excitement and energy usually associated with home—the place where we belong—the place where we grew up, is not evident on these traveler’s faces, nor can it be heard in their voices. The joy we normally associate with a homecoming is nowhere to be found. Instead, their hopelessly slow pace exposes their disappointment and disillusionment. The reality is, their demeanor has more to do with where they are coming from than where they are heading.
These two travelers are leaving the holy city of Jerusalem. They are leaving because there is nothing left for them there. They are leaving because everything they had hoped for and dreamed of, is gone. They are leaving because the One in whom they had placed their faith is dead. They are leaving because their hope has been nailed to a cross. Their Savior is dead. The movement is over.
Unable to ignore the tired and empty look on their faces or the despair in their voices, a stranger inquires: “What is your conversation about?” Now, having to explain the cause of one’s pain only serves to intensify it. So, stopping dead in their tracks, Luke says: “They just stood there looking sad.” Suddenly, the one named Cleopas breaks the silence: “Who are you, Rip Van Winkle?” (He didn’t really say that, but that is what he meant.) “Are you the only one who does not know what has happened?” You can almost hear the mixture of amazement and irritation ringing in his voice. And, who can blame him? They had wagered everything on this Jesus, and lost!
Have you ever lost? I mean, really lost? It is an empty feeling, like a political incumbent, who though their candidacy was certain, waits to the last hour to concede defeat. Arriving at his campaign headquarters, surrounded by a remnant of faithful supporters and the media, of course, steps to the podium and says: “I really thought we were going to win. We gave it our best shot, and we lost. But the people have spoken, and they have chosen Barabbas. I would like to thank all of you who came out. But, before we go, could you take down the posters and the streamers? We want to leave the place just as if we were never here.”
“We lost,” Cleopas says to the stranger. “Jesus was turned over to the authorities, condemned to death, and nailed to a cross, and there he died along with our greatest hopes and dreams.” Lost in his own despair and forgetting himself for a moment, Cleopas goes on to say, “Oh yes, some women surprised us babbling on about finding his tomb empty, and angels appearing and reporting him to be alive. But, we discounted it as nothing but an idle tale—some kind of cruel joke. You see, he died!”
Just ask those who were there. They will tell you: “We saw it all with our own eyes. He’s dead alright.” Ask his own mother: “Yes, I was there. My son died there on that cross.” Ask the soldiers: “Oh he’s dead alright, we made certain of that with one good thrust of a spear.” Even his closest disciples will tell you: “We didn’t get too close for obvious reasons, but yes, he is dead. And Joseph of Arimathea confirmed it. You see, he helped to take down the body and wrap it in a shroud to be laid in his own tomb.” Yes, Jesus is dead, and with him all the hopes and dreams of a new Israel.
Then, the stranger, the risen Lord unbeknownst to them, speaks. He speaks as if He sees something wonderful that they cannot see. He speaks as if the hopeless and meaningless events of the past three days make perfect sense. “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets,” Luke says, “He interprets to them in all the scriptures, the things concerning Himself!” For Cleopas and his traveling companion, it must have been something like finding the missing pieces of an incomplete puzzle.
I don’t know about you, but as I read this scripture, I couldn’t help but wonder why the Risen Jesus didn’t just say: “WHY THE LONG FACES? CHEER UP! IT IS ME, IN THE FLESH! “I WAS DEAD, BUT NOW I AM ALIVE AGAIN!” (I know; I know…I had a New Testament professor who once said that I tended to ask questions that no one else would even think to ask. I wonder if he meant it as a compliment? I meant to ask him if I ever saw him again.) Besides, maybe Jesus was afraid what their response would be if he came right out and said: “Look, it is me, Jesus, alive and well.”
I remember years ago, helping to lay the foundation for a medical clinic in the mountains of Haiti. As we were digging the footings for the building, I asked if there were any poisonous snakes in Haiti. I was told that there were no snakes at all on the island, so there was nothing to worry about. However, one morning about 6:00 a.m., while walking up the hill towards our work site, low and behold, in the middle of the path was a small brown snake. Calling out to two Haitian women carrying their goods to the market, I motioned for them to come and see what I had found. I thought clearing up a national misconception was the honorable thing to do. But, one look at that snake caused the two women to fling their goods into the air and tear off screaming and running down the side of the mountain! Perhaps, Jesus thought that He, too, would have received a similar response if He had come right out and announced His true identity. Hmm?
Instead, the risen Christ turns the two travelers’ attention back to the scriptures. He unfolds for them what God is doing in the world. He shows them how every reference in the Torah and the prophets describes what God has done or said which throws light on the events of the past three fateful days.
This is the reason we look to the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. The scriptures remind us of God’s unfolding work in our world. Scripture sets our lives and these unprecedented times in their proper perspective. Sitting here in our own homes, not knowing what the next weeks might bring, scripture reminds us that our lives, too, are in a direct, long line of witnesses from Moses to David, to Jesus and Paul, to Augustine, to Martin Luther and John Calvin, to John Knox and John Wesley, to Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr, etc. Scripture reminds us that we are not alone in this world. Through scripture we can know that the God who presides over all history is our God, and that God is faithful no matter what is happening in our lives at any given moment.
I remember reading of a famous dancer who was a victim of a terrible accident. She lay in traction for months. When asked how she was able to survive during that time, she said: “Every day, I would dance the 23rd Psalm in my head.” And, it was through Scripture that the Apostle Paul discovered faith through grace alone. It was through Scripture that Augustine found meaning and purpose for living. It was through Scripture that John Wesley found his heart strangely warmed.And, it is through Scripture that our hearts are tendered and our eyes are opened to the power and presence of our risen Lord in these unprecedented times.
Sure, I know that some of what we find in Scripture is often violent, narrow, primitive, incomprehensible, disordered, and even weird. But, so are we. And the Bible is also about us. It is God’s dealing with the likes of us throughout history. Someone said:
If you look “at” a window, you see fly-specks, dust, the crack where Jr.’s frisbee hit it. If You look “through” a window, you see the world beyond. Something like this is the difference between those who see the Bible as a “holy bore” and those who see it as the “Word of God” which speaks out of the depths of an almost unimaginable past, into the depths of ourselves.”
So, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Luke tells us, Jesus opened for them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself, preparing them to see Him in all His resurrected glory.
“Stay with us,” the travelers said to the stranger, “and when the Risen Lord was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized them.”
Some years ago when my grandfather died, my uncle did most of the planning for his funeral. Still, I was surprised how hard he seemed to take his father’s death. Even so, he wrote a moving eulogy for his father, and asked the most elegant preacher in the Roanoke Valley to read it. Looking over at my uncle during the service, I could see the despair in his eyes. He did brighten up as his eulogy was read, but slumped down in the pew during the Scripture reading and funeral sermon, seemingly unaware of the promises of Scripture and words of hope and life that the preacher also shared that day. The Scriptures read were familiar passages of eternal hope and resurrection; words I used often at funeral services I conducted…words I believed. I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would take those words of hope and the resurrection to claim victory over the pain of my grandfather’s passing from this life to the next.
After my grandfather’s service, my aunt, with tears in her eyes, said that my uncle had refused to join the family for the meal she had prepared. He said that he would not party on the day of his father’s death. However, it was at that family meal following the service together with family and friends, that those funeral scripture passages began to claim their victory over death. It was at that meal that someone said the preacher: “I cannot help but think of those Scriptures you read. They were so fitting and true.” You see, it was at that family meal, where hope, peace, smiles, tears, and laughter shouted God’s victory over death. It was at that meal that our eyes were opened and we recognized the promises and presence of our risen Lord. After all, the scriptures readings had prepared us.
I am reminded of two children coloring their worksheets and talking about this story of “The Road to Emmaus” in their Sunday School Class. One asked: “How do you know when you are blind?”“You don’t,” said the other, “You only know afterwards, when you can see again.”
O God, whom we see in every sunrise and sunset, teach us to see You as well in the haggard faces of the medical worker and every essential worker on the front lines of this ongoing fight against this unseen, but deadly virus. Help us who are called by Your name to have Your vision of the future of our world, as a place where the lion lies down with the lamb, where the person with two coats shares with the person who has none, and where everyone takes care of the suffering, the sick, and the aged.
Release us from our bondage to self-interest, worrying about what we shall eat or what we shall wear or how we look to others who are watching us. Guide us into the freedom of Your Spirit, where we shall be at peace and confident and supportive of others.
Teach us to number our days as gifts, so that we may never treat them as obstacles to be overcome or burdens to be endured until our lives are back to normal. And, though we are apart, enable us to be a community of Christ, whose body we are. Give to us a special capacity for grace to reach out to those who are ill in body and spirit, and let the very sense of Your presence become their balm in these difficult days.
Give wisdom to the leaders of our world, that they may better cope with the confusion and complexity of this perilous time. Bring us all into a greater sensitivity to the needs of those who are suffering the most, whether from the virus or from the economic hardship it has caused. We pray too, for the family and friends of Neil Kent. We will miss his gentle spirit and contagious smile, but help us to hold near to our hearts the memory of his faith, perseverance, peaceful spirit by which he faces both life and death. We pray for Jerry and Sue Woodruff’s son-in-law, Ed. Lord, bring healing to his body and wisdom for the doctors and medical professionals treating him, that he may experience a complete recovery. Lord, use the surgeons and medical staff as your instruments of healing for little Ezra, and young Michael in these coming days.
Now let Your Holy Spirit overpower us as we worship, blotting out sin that would blind us to Your glory and raising us to the newness of life that is in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom in whose name we pray saying…Our Father, who art in heaven…
May the love of God surround you, The wisdom of God guide you, And the power of the Holy Spirit encourage you As you joyfully proclaim: “The whole world is in God’s hands.” Amen.
Forgiveness is a two-way street. Not only do we need to forgive others, but we need to forgive ourselves. Sometimes that is much harder than forgiving others.
So, as this decade of 2010 to 2019 ends, commit your heart to forgiveness. Let go of any hurts from others. Tell them so. And let go of those regrets that creep into your heart and cause you to scold yourself.
None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes. We all say things and do things and think things that we regret afterward. Forgive yourself … and move on!
Let those mistakes (sometimes intentionally placed in our lives … so not mistakes at all) be building blocks toward a better you! With 20/20 CLARITY, let this new decade be a time of strength and sincerity, compassion and courage, challenge and change, faith and fearlessness.
Know in the midst of life’s struggles that you are never alone. In my devotional this morning, I am reminded of God’s love for me and His changelessness with Ps. 59:10
It is our fluctuating emotions that cause us to ask for forgiveness and then take back the guilt that God has taken from us. We try to forgive, but we remember. We remember our own wrongs. We suffer the wrongs others have inflicted on us, carrying them in our hearts long after we think we have given them to God. The devo from Guideposts for today tells me, “Stop that!”
Accept His forgiveness. Acknowledge His death that took away our sins. Know His changeless love and His unconditional acceptance of us. And pray with me the prayer Rebecca Barlow Jordan wrote as our “Faith Step” for today in the last entry of Daily Guideposts 2019:
“This coming year, as I confess any wrong things in my heart to Jesus, (either my own wrongs or those inflicted on me by others), remind me to thank Him for His changeless love and acceptance. (And help me imitate His unconditional love as I interact with others… and with myself.
Dr. Perry, posted a blog titled, It’s OK to Have a Bad Day. It caused me to internalize this inward journey for peace and think about the habits I have worked to develop in order to be my own best friend.
He quoted Emerson, who wrote: ““Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ten Habits of Peaceful Living
Traveling inward, looking for contentment, I have found that I need to consciously adopt habits that foster inner peace:
Recognition of Limitations
Confrontation of Temptations
Elimination of Blame
Hope in the Face of Despair
Celebration of Where my Hope Lies
In the process of traveling the Road to Inner Peace, it is important to stop every now and then to look back. Consider your progress or regression. Have you every noticed when you’re traveling up a hill that you don’t realize how steep it is until you look back at the incline you have just traversed?
Likewise, when the road is on a decline, you may not realize how drastic the angle until you stop and look back up to the place you began. Reflecting on where you started and seeing how far you have improved or deteriorated can be very helpful.
Dr. Perry, in the post I referenced above says it this way, “After a period of time, reflect on what you have learned and gained from the negative event or interaction in your life. More often than not you will find that you have learned something. Perhaps you will discover an inner strength that you were not aware of or a higher purpose for your existence.”
In her September 27th, The Godly Chic Diaries posted a WordPress guest writer. She introduced Matik Nicholls by saying, “I’m a firm believer that if you have a pulse, you have a purpose. I say this with my whole heart, Everyone needs a blessing. And if you have the ability to bless others, be a blessing. And when you are a blessing to others, you will find ‘joy unspeakable’ in the process….”
Guest Blogger: Matik Nicholls wrote: “Every gift, ability and blessing we have is for the service of others. We are blessers not blessees! We carry the presence of God wherever we go for a greater purpose than just for us to be happy. It is our privilege and purpose to transfer the blessings of God to others!”
Take Joy in the Journey
Traveling life’s road, I take joy in the journey. Spreading it’s my goal.
With The Godly Chic’s help, I discovered this new website, and decided to subscribe to it. The author, Matik Amilcar Nicholls, has created an inspirational web blog at http://www.Authenticjoy.org. This handsome, positive-thinking young man resides in the beautiful islands of Trinidad and Tobago.
On his site, he shared, “I am an engineer by training, having graduated from the University of the West Indies with a B.Sc. Computer and Electrical Engineering (with honours). More recently, I completed an M.B.A. with the Heriot-Watt University. I also have a certificate in Applied Theology (class valedictorian) from the Millennium Bible Institute and currently I am pursuing an online programme with the International Coaching Academy to become a Certified Coach.”
Naturally, reading about him, I am inspired to want to learn more. My Road to Inner Peace is made more successful when I can join hands on the journey with people like Matik. People in other parts of the world. People whose life stories are far different from mine, but who share the common purpose of wanting to “Be a Blessing.” I encourage you to let Matik’s JOY infect you as I found it to be quite “catching” indeed!
Like me, spreading joy – and the source of his joy (his FAITH) – is what Matik says he is all about. He wrote, “I love Jesus. I love spending time with Him. I love His mercy that keeps flowing endlessly in my life. I love what He stands for: love, grace, mercy, peace, truth, freedom, humility and transformation. I am committed to these values. I’m committed to doing my part to preach the gospel, heal the sick, feed the poor, comfort the hurting and free the oppressed… I enjoy seeing people walk in the fullness of all that God has for them to be and do.“
Walk in the fullness Of all that God has for you Find that Inner Peace.
Bob and I have been married more than 57 years. Our love for one another is more alive today than it ever has been. (I read that statement to him just now and asked if he agreed. Of course, he said, “Of course,” That’s part of the secret, guys! Ya gotta readily agree on things like that!)
How do we do it? How do we keep love alive after all these years? What is a healthy marriage anyway?
Jane Smiley, in her book, At Paradise Gate, wrote the following:
“You know what getting married is? It’s agreeing to take this person who right now is at the top of his form, full of hopes and ideas, feeling good, wildly interested in you because you’re the same way, and sticking by him while he slowly disintegrates. And he does the same for you. You’re his responsibility now, and he is yours. If no one else will take care of him, you will. If everyone else rejects you, he won’t.
What do you think love is? Going to bed all the time? Poo! Don’t be weak. Have some spine! He’s yours and you’re his. He doesn’t beat you or abuse you, and you’ve made the same bargain. Now that you know what it’s like to be married, now that all the gold leaf has sort of worn off, you can make something of it; you can really learn to love each other.”
I love that take on marriage by Jane Smiley. It coincides with my opinion on what it takes to make a marriage work. Here is my list: Ten Constant Steps toward Being Married Happily Ever After:
Accept and Respect one another’s differences, and celebrate your areas of sameness.
Stick by one another – even as you slowly disintegrate.
Take responsibility for yourself and your actions. Be forgiving.
Defend one another to a hostile world.
Be strong in your faith; pray and laugh and play together.
Be a diligent partner, doing more than your share without bitterness or resentment or complaint.
Praise one another for the little things.
Never take one another for granted.
Always be trustworthy; don’t stab one another in the back!
Practice the art of compromise – with God as your Constant Guide.
Yes, when all the gold leaf has sort of worn off and you’re each comfortable in your own space, keep the space open and inviting. Invite one another in. Keep on learning to love one another as long as you both shall live.
You’re in this box together. You’re in it for the long haul. Enjoy the ride!
Faith is belief in the unseen. To look beyond the obvious and see endless possibilities adds depth and meaning to our lives. It opens us to gifts beyond measure.
In Mark 9:22-24, a father of a mute son said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, do it! Have a heart and help us!”
Jesus replied, “If? There are no ‘ifs’ among believers. Anything can happen.”
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the father cried, “Then I believe. Help me with my doubts.”
In their book, Spiritual Literacy,
Frederic & Mary Ann Brussat talk about faith, “Recognize and accept that there is another dimension to life than what is obvious to us. Live with obstacles, doubt, and paradox, knowing that God is always present in the world.”
And because we believe in the God who is our Creator, and the One He sent to forgive us for our repeated wrong-doings to ourselves and one another, we also have the capacity to forgive.
The Brussats wrote about forgiveness: “In both your private and public lives, discover the sweet release that comes from forgiving others. Feel the healing balm of being forgiven and of forgiving yourself.”
Enjoy the sweet smell
Of receiving and giving
“I am a wretched sinner! I am going to Hell!” Mark shouted from his nursing home bed.
“Mark, we all have sinned. We all make mistakes. None of us is perfect. You have asked God to forgive you. He has! You need to forgive yourself!”
“I can’t! You don’t know how bad my sin is! You don’t know what I did! I can never forgive myself! I am miserable,” Mark moaned.
My friend, Mark, died later that week!
I don’t know if he was able to forgive himself on his deathbed, but I believe our Lord and Savior died so that Mark could be forgiven. He did believe in God. He professed his belief many times.
John 20:21-23 says,
“Again Jesus said to His disciples,
‘Peace be with you!
As the Father has sent me,
I am sending you.
And… He breathed on them and said,
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive anyone his sins,
they are forgiven’ …”
Are you looking for more meaning, more purpose,
and a peace that permeates your soul?
Live in Faith, my friends. Know the Holy Spirit lives in you, and know You ARE Forgiven.
You do not need to end your life crying in misery.
Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that by believing you will have eternal life in His name.
See yourself opening doors to joy, peace, healing, prosperity, and love.
Doors to understanding, compassion, and forgiveness.
Doors to freedom…
Doors to self-worth and self-esteem…
Doors to self-love…
It is all here before you…
Which door will you open first? ~ Louise L. Hay
I have a lot of crackpot friends
Who make me laugh and sing
They say good friends always are
Half-cracked (if there is such a thing)
It’s through the cracks that light
Can sneak in and add levity
To the darkened places in
The hearts of you and me
We need those crackpot friends
Like we need doors that open wide
To let the light shine in our lives
And erase the shadows we try to hide
So, crack the door open, friends
And invite your light to shine bright
I need it in my life each day
I need it today; I’ll need it tonight
For life can be filled with darkness
If you close yourself into a knot and stay curled
Open your heart to the blessings out there
Crack the door open and welcome the world!