Happy Sunday, my friends. I hope you had a great day. As usual, Bob & I attended church and I took notes as I listened to the sermon.
The message was delivered by Pastor Mary Grace Reynolds. The sermon was inspired by John 6:51-63.
I was amazed at how cleverly MGR took the scripture and applied it to today’s world.
John 6:51-63 NIV
51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” 52Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 60On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” 61Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.
The Living Bread
We come to church to seek comfort, But is that the point of our faith? Aren’t we called to be moved by Jesus? He appeared a bit delusional to His disciples.
Jesus suggested what was prohibited. People didn’t eat human flesh! That teaching came across blasphemous. Associating with Jesus caused them alienation.
Jesus’ message was meant to teach His followers that He was the food That would bring them into relationship With God … and not laws or codes.
God saves – Rituals don’t. God sent manna and now Jesus. First physical, then spiritual saving. Jesus told them, “I am the Bread.”
Trust Jesus to provide the catalyzing calories in our lives. Feed on Him daily!
God Bless You for visiting JanBeek today. I appreciate you.
It’s that time of year again. “Bah Humbug!” declared Mr. Scrooge. Our sermon today started on that same note. See my poetic notes below.
Rev. Steve Hundley Madison Valley Presbyterian Church Ennis, Montana 12-6-20
“Here We Go…”
“Well, here we go again,” The woman spoke with regret. The Christmas season has arrived – We must prepare lest we forget.
Prepare for peace on earth – Prepare for goodwill toward men. But will we feel the peace? Will there be good will again?
This year seems so very strange. It’s hard to enter with trust The coming of the Christ Child. But trust and hope we must!!
God’s chosen people felt The same worn-out feeling of despair. They wee caught in the wilderness, Feeling God was no longer there.
In this time of pandemic, We’re tired of this quarantine. The pain and struggles continue. What does all this mean?
Are we caving in to hopelessness? Can’t we remember God is good? We must live hearing His promise And believe He’ll save us as He said He would.
If we have ears to hear And we have eyes to see, Know God’s message, “Here we go anew,” Is meant for you and me.
God has the power to get us out Of this situation we’re in. Believe! Have faith in God. Carry His hope. Carry His light within.
Share that light with others. Walk in His way and then you’ll know The peace and trust Jesus brings. “Here we go anew!” Let it glow.
Advent is about preparing room For something new at our place. So stay alert and wait with faith. God is coming in Christ – Clear a space!
Our friend, Jim Forsberg, sang this beautiful song today in church, accompanied by his guitar (sung here by the marvelous Susan Boyle). The words are so beautiful. Be sure to click on that link and enjoy.
Prayer of Confession: “Merciful God, always with us, always coming: We confess that we do not know how to prepare for Your Advent. We have forgotten how to hope in miracles; we have been distracted by the challenges of the past nine months. Forgive us, O God. Grant to us the simple wonder of the shepherds, the intelligent courage of the Magi, and the patient faith of Mary and Joseph that we may rediscover the good news of the child born for us. Amen”
Thanks for visiting JanBeek today. I pray your Sunday was a lovely one.
Thanks for all your love-filled comments on the “Dogs in Heaven?” post yesterday. My friend, Fran appreciates all your prayers.
Today I received in my “Messages” a picture of a dear friend who is fighting cancer. She is in a hospital bed at home. Her family is gathered around and her BFF (best friend forever) is on her way to be at her bedside. My heart goes out to the BFF and to my friend’s husband and children. Seeing a friend preparing to leave this earth is soooo hard!
But, my dear friend is a devoted Christian, and she knows where she is headed. She does not fear death, because she has a friend in Jesus – and she believes in God and His promises. It’s comforting to know where you will spend eternity. It’s just hard on those left behind.
Today’s sermon at Madison Valley Presbyterian Church was the perfect topic for this day when my heart is aching because my dear friend and her family are suffering.
Today we had a guest minister, Phil Taylen. Here are my
Sermon Notes on: “Friendship Sharing”
Friendship is a special thing. In it we all are connected. In the New Testament, we see how In God’s friendship, we all are protected.
The best part of friendship is Sharing with each other the Good News, Asking one another and telling them Of how Jesus opens new views.
God cares about our friendship. He opens His arms to you. Through Christ, He came to show us How to love as He loves: True.
As believers, we need YES faces; Our countenance should show Trust. God’s light should shine through us. Radiate His love; We MUST!
To communicate God’s love We must be trustworthy and fair. We must share our eternal vision, And tell our friends we’ll all be there!*
(*there is our eternal home with Christ and one another)
Share the simplicity of scripture, Be sure the promise of God is heard. He gave His only begotten Son To save our souls. Believe His Word!
What a Friend We Have in Jesus!
Lean on Him and His promises. Know that when your Christian friends Leave this earth, they are going To heaven … where eternal life never ends.
See you “there,” my friends!
Pray for my friend, Gloria, will you? And I pray for you… that you have faith in His promises, too. Love ya, JanBeek
Sermon Notes August 9, 2020 Rev. Steve Hundley Jan’s poetic notes taken while listening to Steve’s message based on John 21:15-23
“A Side-Long Glance”
Jesus was with His disciples on shore. Peter thought Jesus didn’t believe him. Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep. The answer failed to relieve him.
Have you ever felt misunderstood? Ever had your sincerity questioned bare? Peter told Jesus, “You know I love You.” Jesus had asked him three times there.
Was Jesus expecting too much of Peter? Does He expect too much of us? A tithe is a tenth of what you make. The visible return’s not much to see – why fuss?
Well, Jesus expected even more than a tenth. “What about him?” Peter asked. Like Peter, we question others’ faith. We want Jesus to take ’em to task.
There has to be a difference between Faith and foolishness – so it’s not fair Those rich folks don’t seem to give – They don’t seem to do their share.
We cast a side-long glance across the aisle, And we ask, as Peter did, “What about them?” And Jesus answers us as He did Peter, “What is it to you?” From where does fairness stem?
Jesus says, “Feed My sheep -just love!” Your side-long glance has no place here. You do your fair share and don’t worry about What others do. Give, love, and have no fear.
No side-long glances allowed. Look ahead at the One who stands Before a hurting world and says, “Feed My sheep in all My lands.”
Just follow Jesus – And what will happen today? To tell the truth, I don’t know! Just do it anyway!!
After church today we had a barbecue. It was the kick-off of the fiscal year’s drive for finances to fund the Pastor Search Committee and to consider our pledges for the 2020-21 church budget. Jesus said, “Feed My sheep!” and these sheep were fed in grand style out on the church lawn.
After the church BBQ, we went to my friend, Sue’s. Her birthday is tomorrow. We needed to sing “Happy Birthday!” while we socially distanced. She and her husband are being really careful around this COVID-19 … especially with Montana’s case numbers rising. They are being kept really busy at their beautiful home. Just look at their gardens!
Sue and Jerry joined the Madison Valley Presbyterian Church on the same Sunday Bob & I did nearly 15 years ago. We have been fast friends ever since. The two of them built this gorgeous house themselves! Just this summer they added that deck outside their bedroom window on the right.
Here is the front of the house:
Yes, we are blessed. We live in the gorgeous Madison Valley. We have a terrific church, a wonderful pastor who gives great sermons, beautiful friends, and a picture-perfect setting with glorious August sunshine and enormous “BigSky” drama. Ah, my friends, life is good!
No need for side-long glances. Keep your eyes on your own blessings, your own giving, and your own business. No need focusing on what’s “not fair!” Remember while you’re counting your blessings to share your love with others with your whole heart!
Do have a fantastic week ahead.
Thanks for visiting and for sharing with me the sermon and our visit with Sue. Happy Birthday, Sue!!
We all are human So we all are imperfect Good and bad combined
Today’s sermon drummed home that point to us. Rev. Steve Hundley at our Madison Valley Presbyterian Church here in Ennis, Montana, used this scripture to springboard into the message for today:
Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43 The Parable of the Weeds
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
The Parable of the Weeds Explained
36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
You know I like to take poetic notes as I listen to the sermon each Sunday. Here are my notes, taken during today’s message:
The Message – “So What About the Weeds?”
Gardens are lot of trouble. The weeds grow more than flowers. The weeds choke out vegetables. Why do weeds have such powers?
Jesus says the garden is the world, And in it the devil plants seeds. His are never flowers or veggies; They are nothing but nasty weeds,
There has always been – and always will be – Weeds – the stuff planted by sin. Weeds, tares, or wild rye Looks like wheat and mixes in.
The wild rye is actually poisonous, But we can’t tell one from the other. Just like us – who try to judge The authenticity of our sisters and brothers.
Our “weed pulling” – ridding us of enemies – Is a job some think is ours. We try to separate the good from the bad, As if calling out evil is in our powers.
Trouble is we each have wheat and weeds. We’re all a part evil and a part good. Who is capable of separating the weeds? It’s not our job. Leave ’em. We should!
Sometimes trying to eliminate sin Is a process that has reverse effects. We inadvertently pull of the flowers, Those beautiful people our Lord protects.
Too much weeding can rob people Of the right to hear the Gospel and read The Words Jesus spoke to us all: “Do not judge.” Risk the weeds as you plant Good seeds.
Have a beautiful Sunday evening… Enjoy your garden (it’s another form of creative art… yes, Derrick!)
See ya tomorrow. Bee well! And let’s all strive to bee more good than bad! Hah!
I have heard (and often repeated) the phrase, “Fear is the opposite of Faith.“
Fear or Faith?
Are wearing a mask, washing your hands often/thoroughly, and practicing social distancing acts of fear?
Is opening your home or your church, your store or your restaurant with no extra precautions due to COVID-19 an act of faith?
Is being too cautious an act of fear? (What does “too cautious” look like?)
Was shutting down our church at the height of the virus pandemic being too cautious? Was it contradictory to our faith?
To Open or Not to Open
Many questions of fear or faith were posed during our sermon today by Rev. Steve Hundley. I’ve listed ten of them below. We met as a congregation in the church building for the first time in twelve weeks. We’ve been ZOOM meeting since this pandemic was announced in the USA in mid-March.
To keep people safe, every other row of pews was ribboned off and people sat at least six feet apart in the pews.
During the hymns, Fran played a verse on the piano while the congregation either listened, read the words silently in the hymnals, or hummed along. For now, no singing out loud. That was hard for those of us who love to sing. But the emissions from singing travel farther than those of just talking … some even further than coughing or sneezing. So, we were cautious.
Jim Forsberg provided special music during the service. Playing his guitar and singing… one of the numbers he sang was an old time favorite, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” The lyrics go on to say, “all the children of the world… red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world.” So pertinent in light today’s issues of racial inequality.
In the photo above, Jim and his wife, Jo, are chatting with Fran about the music – and I am sure commenting on how good it is to see one another again.
Mask or Not?
This mom had her hands full with this adorable, very active little guy. Murray keeps us all smiling with his exuberant energy. I love seeing the little ones in our worship service. Pastor Steve quoted a doctor at our Madison Valley Medical Center who said masks on children can be more bothersome and dangerous than no mask at all because children have a tendency to touch their face more when wearing one.
Here is Murray’s dad and little sister:
Questions to Ponder
Rev. Steve Hundley posed some very thought-provoking questions in his sermon today. He didn’t really give us answers… just left the questions for us to ponder:
Is God angry with us?
Is God larger than this dreaded virus? (He said the affirmative of that was a quote from a pastor who opened his church early on in the pandemic … and later died of the virus)
Was shutting down the church for 12 weeks contradictory to our faith? (Some of our members were not happy about the closure)
Why have we allowed partisanship, economics, and race to divide us?
In spite of their devout faith, why has the Navajo nation been hit so hard by this pandemic? (Their deaths per capita are higher than any state in the union.)
Is the unity of the church under attack in our polarized world?
Can we be angry without sin?
Can we set aside our political stances as conservatives or progressives and just unite to strengthen the body of the church?
Is it possible for us to focus on what brings us together rather than what separates us?
When someone leaves the church saying they won’t return because “Nobody cares about me,” and I tell them, “Yes, they do,” and they respond with “OK, name ONE!” Can I name YOU? (This question brought tears to my eyes… I know people who have left, and I wanted to stand up and shout, “I care! Name me!!”)
Fellowship in the foyer after church found people reconnecting, but remaining cautious. Are we maintaining our distance?
It may be easier for us in Montana to try and stay six feet apart, but you will notice in the pictures that even here, we don’t always adhere to that social distancing. It’s difficult! It’s neither foolishness nor fearlessness, it’s just hard!
How are you doing with this business of staying apart? What did you do this Sunday? Did your church meet physically again? If not, how did you worship our God today? Did you approach Him with your most difficult questions?
I hope you are healthy, happy, and safe. I’ve gotcha in prayer, my friend. See ya tomorrow. Love, JanBeek
Rev. Steve Hundley delivered the prayers and inspirational message below by way of ZOOM to a “screenfull” of appreciative worshipers this morning.
Fran McNeill selected the songs. I am pleased to share parts of this service with you today.
Come, let us worship!
Call to Worship:Psalm 116: 12-13
God invites us into His healing presence with these words: “I am the Lord, who heals you.”
Diseased, depressed, dysfunctional, defeated, we come hungering for health that only God can provide.
God calls us to bring open eyes, hearing ears, and tender hearts turned towards Him, the Great Physician.
We worship our God with faith and expectation.
Come and sing along!
O God, our Rock, our refuge, our resting place, we come to You out of another week of mostly sheltering in place. We come out of our desire to find some meaning in this strange, unusual, and frightening time. We come out of our desire to meet You and know You as the center of our being. We gather in spirit and in the security of Your love. Fill our hearts and prepare us for service and for the living of these days. Amen.
A Children’s Message for Adults, too! (a true story)
When we were teenagers, my brother bought an old wooden canoe with the intent of restoring it. Ridge spent one entire summer re-conditioning it. He stripped the wooden ribs and re-varnished the interior. He “re-fiberglassed” the outside and even painted it to resemble an Indian birch bark canoe.
For its maiden voyage we decided to take it out on the James River for a day of fishing. After what turned out to be a banner day of catching a passel of smallmouth bass and sun perch, we reached the designated take-out point. Pulling the front of the canoe up on the shore, we jumped on my brother’s motorcycle that we had left there and headed back up river to retrieve the pickup truck.
When we drove back to get the canoe, it was nowhere to be found. Searching the river bank, we spotted it floating off downstream. Running along the bank and crashing through the underbrush, we were able to draw even with it. Grabbing the longest tree branch we could find, we strained to reach out to it, but with every attempt, it moved further out into the main current of the river, gaining speed as it drifted away.
Then came the moment of truth! It was clear that one of us would have to strip down and swim after the canoe. Looking at each other, we knew who it would be. HEY, IT WAS NOT MY CANOE! Don’t look at me like that! If I had offered to strip down and drive into the icy water to recue “his” canoe, he would not have learned anything about the responsibility of ownership. I did, however, cheer him on as he dove into the frigid water.
There is no greater blessing in life than to have someone who is willing to strip down and dive into the dark and icy waters of this world; particularly when what is disappearing down the river happens to be us. especially during this life-altering virus outbreak. Yes, we belong to Jesus, who has redeemed us with His life on the cross. Like my brother who was willing to dive into the icy waters to save his canoe, Jesus said: “I am the Good Shepherd, and I lay down my life for my sheep.”
SONG: Shepherd Me O God Sm 2058
Prayer for Illumination:
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of Your Holy Spirit, that we may hear Your Word with joy. Amen.
O Lord, our Shepherd, who leads us by still waters and into green pastures, we thank You for the times in our lives when life is strong, good, affirming and everything happens for the best. Teach us to remember, though, that You are with us at all times, even in the midst of this ongoing pandemic when the waters are not still and the pastures are not green, when our days are fraught with danger and difficulty and we eat our bread in the presence of a silent killer called COVID 19.
Remind us that Your loving kindness surpasses even this and Your faithfulness is to all generations. Help us to recall Your undying love for us in these days of adversity and disappointment, so that even this misfortune may but strengthen our sense of Your presence and encourage us in faith.
Though we are still sheltering in place, O Lord, we continue to pray for each other. Hear our individual prayers as we lift up to You all those we love who need your comfort and strength and healing today.
In Jesus name, Amen.
Go now – and bee the heart, ears, and hands of love. Thanks for joining us in worship today. God bless you!
Thanks to Pastor Steve Hundley and our music minister, Fran McNiell, for the prayers, stories, and sermon, and the music for today’s worship service.
THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
April 19, 2020
Risen Christ, the brightness of God’s glory and exact image of God’s Person, who death could not conquer nor tomb imprison, as You have shared our frailty in human flesh, help us to share Your immortality in the Spirit. Let no shadow of the grave terrify us and no fear of darkness turn our hearts from You. Reveal Yourself to us this day and all our days, as the First and the Last, the living One, our immortal Savior and Lord. Amen.
Prayer of Confession:
We confess, O God, that we have not lived the past weeks in the faith of Easter. We have been like the disciples, who saw life in terms of the suffering of the cross more than in the joy of resurrection. Forgive our hopelessness in the face of our world’s response to the COVID 19 pandemic, these past few weeks, and help us to trust more fully that You are the Lord of our future. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon:
As God raised Jesus from the dead, so God will lift us all from the graves of broken dreams. God makes us whole again and send us forth to witness to His name.
A Children’s Message for Adults, too!
Steve’s message for the children today tells of a boy carrying two buckets… not just one, and not on a sandy beach like this one… read on and see how his buckets and path differed from this!
(a true story)
When I was a boy, my mother would often send me down the road to Clyde’s cabin to help him with his laundry. Clyde lived in a log cabin he had built in the early nineteen-hundreds. His cabin had no running water, only a well out back. There was a creek out front less than a quarter mile from his front door.
Clyde had an old roller washing machine, a tub and an old scrub board. It was my job to carry water from the creek to the cabin in two old milk pails. I would fill the pails in the creek and make my way back to the cabin, pouring what water that didn’t spill or leak out of the buckets into the large tub. Filling each bucket to the rim each trip, I would arrive with less than half a bucket of water. At that rate, it would take me practically all day to supply enough water for Clyde’s washing and rinsing.
Complaining about the amount of water that I was spilling over the top of the buckets, not to mention the water lost from holes in his dilapidated buckets, Clyde instructed me to place a small block of wood in the buckets. He explained that the blocks of wood floating in the buckets would help water from splashing out the tops. Though it helped a little, I continued to leak water from the holes the buckets.
On one trip from the creek to the cabin with water leaking down my legs and into my shoes, I had had about enough. “Clyde,” I moaned, “When are you going to throw away these sorry buckets and buy new ones? These dented old rust buckets are full of holes.” Clyde just smiled his toothless grin and said, “Why boy, those are my special buckets. I could never get rid of them.” “But these sorry things are full of holes,” I whined. “And, it takes me twice the effort and double the trips back and forth from the creek, to fill your tubs.”
“Boy, take a look along that path leading down to the creek,” Clyde said. “Do you see all those beautiful wildflowers, lining the path?Every time you made the hard trip from the creek to the cabin, spilling water along the way, you were unknowingly watering God’s beautiful flowers for us to enjoy.”
Jesus’ followers found the path towards Easter to be really difficult. Peter denied knowing Jesus, not once, but three times, though he vowed never to do so. After that, he was so upset that he no longer considered himself worthy of being a disciple. Mary, the mother of Jesus, had to watch her son suffer and die on the cross. Mary Magdalene was not only upset by Jesus’ death, but was horrified to think that someone had stolen His body when she found the stone rolled away.
I am sure that God could have found an easier path for them to follow than the way of the cross. But, without the pain of the cross, there can be no Easter joy. Without God coming into the world in the person of Jesus Christ and paying the price for our failures on the cross, we would not see, know, or enjoy the beauty of His love for us.
Prayer for Illumination:
God of life, whose Spirit raised Jesus from the dead and draws us to Christ, send Your Spirit now to give us deeper insight, encouragement, faith and hope, through the proclamation of the Easter gospel. Amen.
An Easter Message: “Through Locked Doors”
For centuries Christians celebrated Jesus’ resurrection the week following Easter with parties and picnics. The week culminated with “Bright Sunday” or “Holy Humor Sunday”, a day of joy and laughter. Churchgoers and pastors would play jokes on each other, tell silly jokes, and would sing and dance. The custom was rooted in the notion of early Christian theologians like St. Augustine, St. Gregory of Nysa, and St. John Chrysostom that God had played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. Early theologians called it “the Easter Laugh”. Later, it became known as “the Gospel as Divine Comedy.”
However, the thought of the resurrection as God’s practical joke on the devil and death is not something we tend to think about the Sunday following Easter. Over the years, the tradition of “Bright Sunday” or “Holy Humor Sunday” has been lost. That tradition has been replaced with what we have come to know as “Low Sunday.” Compared to the highest feast day in the church year – Easter Sunday- the Sunday following is considered the lowest. Why is that?
I don’t know. Maybe the excitement of Easter Sunday fades so quickly because the church, over the years, has lost its hope in the power of the resurrection. Maybe. Or, perhaps it is because the stories of Easter and the resurrection have become so familiar to us that we have lost sight of the irony of life overcoming death, especially given the high death toll we are experiencing during this recent pandemic. Well, maybe.
You have to admit that someone rising from the grave is a rather fantastic idea in our modern world. For instance, when my son was in middle school, he came home one day after school to discover that our Brittany Spaniel was running around in the backyard with our neighbors’ pet rabbit in its mouth. Chasing the dog, my son finally caught it and wrenched the rabbit from its jaws. He quickly discovered, not only was the rabbit covered with mud and dog slobber, it was also dead as a door nail.
Panicking, he scooped the rabbit up and ran into the house. In the bathroom, he carefully washed the rabbit off, carefully brushed it out, and dried it with his mother’s hairdryer. Stealthily, he crept back into the neighbors’ yard and quickly placed the dead rabbit back into its rabbit pen. Arranging it just right, it was impossible to tell that the rabbit was dead. Sneaking back to the house, my son retired to his room, promising himself not to tell anyone what had really happened.
Arriving home from my office, I was standing in the kitchen when I heard the blood curdling scream coming from my neighbor’s backyard. Running out the house, I ran to the fence to see our neighbor’s wife staring with horror into the rabbit pin. “What on earth has happened?” I called. “THE RABBIT, IT DIED!” she screamed. “It died?” I said inquiringly. Turning to run back into her house, she screamed: “YES, IT DIED THREE DAYS AGO! WE BURIED IT, BUT NOW IT IS BACK! (Now this story may not be true, but you have to admit, be it rabbit or human, rising up from the grave is a fantastic notion in this day and time!)
Can you and I even fathom the shock of the disciples when Jesus appeared to them, passing through locked doors? Sure, they had trudged behind Jesus through the entire Judean countryside. Jesus’ purpose and teachings were hard to understand, even though He spoke of being the Christ—the Messiah—the Holy One of God, who is of the Father.
But, all that must have seemed like a dream (or more like a nightmare) when Jesus was crucified, ending all hope. The death of Jesus had slammed the door on their greatest hopes and dreams. It was over. It had been good while it lasted, but now the door was locked and nothing could bring Him back to life again, or so they thought. They had buried Him three days before, AND NOW, HE WAS BACK!
Of course, the reaction to God’s practical joke on death was varied among Jesus’ followers. While the “beloved disciple” may have believed without evidence except for an empty tomb, Mary Magdalene only believed because the Risen Christ called her by name. The remaining disciples, excluding Thomas, believed only because their Risen Christ appears to them, granting peace to them, and showing them His hands and His side. Yet, for Thomas, neither the word of his fellow disciples, nor the sight of the Risen Lord would be sufficient. For Thomas said, “Unless I place my fingers into the nail holes, and stick my hand in His side, I will not believe.”
It would seem that true FAITH is not the same experience for everyone, not then, not now. Neither is FAITH generated with the same kind and degree of evidence for each individual. For some, FAITH is born and grows as quietly as a child sleeping on grandmother’s lap. For others, FAITH is a lifetime of wrestling with the angel. And, some cannot remember a time in their life when they didn’t believe, while others cannot remember anything else with their lives having been shattered and reshaped by their decision of FAITH.
No matter how FAITH came, or comes, to you and me, it would do us well to remember the words of Jesus who said: (and I paraphrase), “REMEMBER THIS, UNLESS YOU ACCEPT GOD’S KINGDOM IN THE SIMPLICITY OF A CHILD, YOU’LL NEVER GET IT.” And like a child, what better way to celebrate God’s joke on death than with joy, laughter, singing, and dancing? Yet, what a shame it is, when the voice of doubters or the voice of those of us for whom FAITH has become the norm, even commonplace, drown out the true irony and wonder of the resurrection.
When I think of the true joy and wonder of faith, I cannot help but remember a boy named Lonnie, years ago, in my 3rd grade classroom. Lonnie’s parents had died in an automobile accident, so his grandparents were raising him. I remember how we used to tease Lonnie mercilessly, because he would believe anything. We’d say, “The school burned down, so we don’t have to go to school Monday.” “Oh, boy!” he’d say. You see, he’d believe it!
“They are giving away free ice cream down at Mr. Kern’s grocery store.” “FREE ICE CREAM?” he’d squeal and off he’d go running. “Lonnie, did you know that that Elvis is coming to our school?” “HE IS REALLY? WHOOPEE!” Yep, that boy would believe anything!
One day, Lonnie showed up at our little country church and came to our Sunday School class. Our teacher, old Miss King, told Lonnie that: “God loves you and cares for You. And God will come to you in Jesus Christ who has risen from the dead.” And do you know, THAT KID BELIEVED IT! HE ACTUALLY BELIEVED IT!
Do you believe it? Do we really believe it? And, if we do, then where is our laughter? Where is the singing and dancing? Where is our uncontrollable joy? Hmmm.
Lord of the cross and the Empty Tomb, we worship You. Though the pandemic rages on, You give us reason to hope. We thank You that we are not alone even as the news of more Corona Virus cases and deaths dominate the headlines. Though we are well-acquainted with death, dying and grief, we praise You that death has been vanquished and its spell broken. And though our lives are still embroiled in sin, failure and inadequacy, thank You, O God, for giving our lives meaning, purpose and direction.
We confess that the more days we stay at home, the more likely it is that we may forget Your power and fall into despair. Yet, today we remember and hope comes back. Though the darkness of the night brought doubt and disarray, in the light of this new day we bow our heads in worship. Like Thomas, we desire to see the nail prints and touch the wound in Your side, but Your presence is enough, and we cry out, saying: “My Lord, and my God!”
Walk among us, Lord, and touch our troubled lives. Give hope to the hopeless, strength to the faltering, love to the lonely, compassion and courage to those on the front line of this pandemic. We pray for health, hope, and help for those who have lost their incomes and/or health insurance in the midst of this ongoing lock down. Let the radiance of Your resurrected presence shine upon them and us as it shone upon Your first disciples and make new persons of us all, as it did of them.
Transform us from frightened, hesitant, uncommitted followers into people of fire and steel who know what we believe and who will follow You no matter what the future holds. Live in and through us. Walk among us and teach us to walk with You. For You alone have the words of eternal life, and You alone can call us into discipleship. Lord of the cross and empty tomb, we praise You! Bring healing and hope to our hurting world, for Your name’s sake, saying together, as One Church, One Body …”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 debts (trespasses), as we forgive our debtors (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.”
Go into the world: dance, laugh, sing, and create.
Go into the world: risk, explore, discover, and love.
Go into the world: believe, hope, struggle, and remember.
Our pastor, Steve Hundley, and choir director, Fran McNiell, teamed up to present a wonderful on-line church service for us. It’s not a video. It’s a Word document with links to a couple of majestic Easter hymns performed by The Hereford Cathedral Choir and congregation with orchestral and pipe organ accompaniment.
Resurrected Lord, like Mary Magdalene alone in the garden we, too, find ourselves alone, separated from those we love on this Easter morning. Risen Christ, come to us as You came to her. Let no shadow of the grave terrify us and no fear of darkness turn our hearts from You. Reveal Yourself to us this day and all the days ahead, as the first and the last, the Living One, our Immortal Savior and Lord. Amen.
Celebrate the Empty Tomb
Today we celebrate the empty tomb and our risen Savior. Let us confess our shortcomings and ask our Savior to forgive us. Here is Pastor Steve Hundley’s
Prayer of Confession:
Almighty God, in raising Jesus from the grave, You shattered the power of sin and death. We confess that we remain captive to doubt and fear, as CORVID 19 virus rampages through our world and alters our lives. Forgive us, God of mercy. Help us to trust Your power to heal, to give us life and make us new, that we may know the joy of life abundant given in Jesus Christ, the risen Lord. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: (I Corinthians 15:54-57)
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is Your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Prayer for Illumination:
God of life, whose Spirit raised Jesus from the dead and draws us to Christ, send Your Spirit now to give us deeper insight, encouragement, faith and hope, through the proclamation of the Easter gospel. Amen.
Overcoming Life’s Greatest Temptation
“Do not worry about anything.” Paul said it. Jesus preached it in His sermon on the Mount message. It is Scripture to be obeyed. But, is it really humanly possible not to worry about anything? It is like telling a lame man to stop dragging his feet, or telling someone with a virus not to cough or sneeze so much. If life were predictable, maybe we could avoid “worrying about anything.” But as this deadly virus and empty pews on this Easter Sunday has reminded us, life is full of the unexpected—the unforeseen life interruptions that can turn our world upside down.
Of course, some unforeseen interruptions can be weathered better than others. When an appliance breaks at the most inopportune time, it is annoying, but we can handle that. Or, when we are late for an appointment and stuck in traffic. I know, I know, this is Montana, but it can happen.
And yet today, the whole world is in lockdown, in this, the mother and father of all unforeseen interruptions, and it has turned our lives upside down, stopping us dead in our tracks. The boss says: “I am sorry but we are going to have to let you go,” leaving you without a job or health insurance. The doctor says: “I’m afraid you’ve tested positive for the virus”; or, the paramedic says: “We did everything we could, but there is nothing more we could have done.” And we wonder: “Why is this happening? Where is God in all of this?”
Even though our faith assures us that God has a plan, it is little comfort as hopes, dreams, plans, and future crumble before us. You see, the greater life’s interruption, the more it bleeds over into the love for whom we care most.
As a pastor, husband and father, I tended to be a bit of a workaholic with more than a healthy dose of guilt. Some years ago, I was so caught up in my ministry that I was neglecting my own family. Concerned that I was not spending enough time with my daughter, Elaine suggested that I plan some quality time with Bethany. Elaine pointed out how much our daughter cherished the time I took her on a road trip to upstate NY. We attended the Eastern Traditional Archery Rendezvous where we camped out and competed with traditional archers from all over the country. My daughter described it as one of the best times of her life.
So, I suggested we take the same trip together. She was beside herself with joy and could hardly contain herself as we began to pack the car for the eleven-hour trip. I too, was so excited about getting away, I inadvertently left the car keys on the kitchen counter as I was telling Elaine “Goodbye”. I ran back into the house, grabbed the keys and headed back out the door. As I was about to climb into the driver’s seat, I looked up and saw Elaine standing at the edge of the porch with a concerned look on her face and the phone in her hand. “What is it,” I called out? “You really need to take this call,” she said.
Taking the phone, I learned that an elder and professor, beloved by her husband, young daughters, our congregation, and her students at the university, had just committed suicide. No one saw it coming. On any given Sunday, her face was the brightest and happiest face in the church choir. She was so bright, bubbly, and attractive, that no one had the faintest idea that she had been fighting a long, but losing, battle with her own inner demon called “depression.”
Stunned, I handed the phone back to Elaine, walked slowly to the car, leaned in and told my daughter that we would have to cancel our trip, for there had been a tragedy in the congregation. I think what was most painful for me was the fact that my thirteen-year-old daughter didn’t cry. She did not protest or fuss. She just got out of the car, walked quietly to the house, passing her mother on the porch, never to mention the trip again.
Yes, life has always been filled with unexpected interruptions that catch us off guard, disrupt our lives, and keep us off balance. What is so insidious about life’s interruptions, whether large or small, is that over time, they have the power to erode our trust and our very relationship with God. For, those places where our faith is stretched so much, we begin to wonder whether we are actually “standing on the solid rock,” or whether it is “just shifting sand.”
Yet, in God’s great love and concern for us, and because of our inability to recognize God’s power over life’s greatest interruptions, God took a body like ours in order that we may witness God’s power more clearly in the life of Jesus. In Christ, God has demonstrated for all the world to see His power over all life’s unexpected interruptions by: feeding the hungry masses, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, making the lame to walk, and even by raising those who had died.
In the person of Jesus Christ, God demonstrated for us that “nothing can separate us from His love for us in Christ: not life’s greatest interruptions; not even death, the greatest interruption of all. And this is why, even in the face of this worldwide pandemic, we make our annual journey back to the empty tomb, remembering God’s all-encompassing power.
On this abnormal Easter morning, we remember how Christ’s own death on the cross interrupted the lives of his disciples and the life of Mary Magdalene. We remember how they must have felt, when all that they had believed in and hoped for, was buried and entombed with the body of Jesus.
We remember Mary Magdalene and how devastated and alone she must have felt, there at the empty tomb. Not only had they killed her Lord, but it seemed someone had even stolen His body, denying her closure. Of course, Jesus warned them that this was to fulfill all scripture, but Mary didn’t understand the scriptures. Peter did not understand the scriptures. None of the disciples understood the scriptures.
Besides, who is “the other disciple” who entered the empty tomb and believed? For that matter, what did he believe? Did he believe that Christ had risen from the dead, or did he simply believe what Mary said was true, that the stone had been rolled away and the body was stolen? After all, John says, “they left there and returned to their homes.” And who is this “unnamed disciple?” Is this simply a reference to John, or is it a reference to you and me, at home on this Easter morning?
Of course we remember that Mary lingered at the empty tomb, frozen in grief. But then, the risen Christ appeared to her, called her by name, proving that not even death can interrupt God’s gift of everlasting life. We remember, in spite of our own loss of life as we have known it, how Mary, overcome by shock and joy, threw her arms around Jesus, clinging to Him as if somehow she might shield Him from life’s greatest interruption once and for all. Still, just being alive is not enough. We remember on this Easter morning that Jesus is alive to do something for all humanity.
We remember on this Easter Sunday that:
Jesus is alive to make us all alive again.
Jesus is alive to make His God, our God; His Father, our Father.
Jesus is alive to raise us up from our own chaos and loss.
Jesus is alive to raise us up from death’s destructive power.
Jesus is alive to raise us up from every unexpected interruption that would threaten to separate us from the love of God.
JESUS IS ALIVE!
YES! We remember that “JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN TODAY!” And that the life, hope, love, and peace He gives can overcome all of life’s greatest interruptions!
YES! DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY! O DEATH, WHERE IS THY VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS THY STING?
Let’s sing of His Victory over death. Let’s lift our voices in praise!
Almighty God, on this triumphant day, we know that the whole host of heaven—angels, seraphs, and cherubim raise their voices singing “Alleluia,” for Christ the Lord is risen today. We want to join them, even though we are confined and suffering and the hands of a hidden and insidious enemy. We want to sing with the pure joy of those who celebrate the life You give in Jesus Christ. Give us freedom this day to lift our voices with all of heaven as we celebrate Christ’s victory over death.
Oh God, on this day some find it difficult to be glad. For them, life has too much pain. The present pandemic will not let them own too much hope. Some are angry in their loneliness. Some are worried about family.
We pray for each other in this unwanted, but necessary, internment. Touch us in our individual need. Free us today to be glad; to rejoice in the promise of newness of life; to let our hope out of its prison. Free us to shout and make joyful Alleluias. You know that we need to celebrate for You have done great things for us in the resurrection of Jesus.
O God, You know that we do not understand all there is to know about the resurrection. You know that we have questions, we have our doubts, we want to believe, we do believe, we wonder about our own belief. But on this day, help us to understand just enough about what faith means, that we are willing to let faith be what it should be; deep conviction without proof, trust without protested guarantees, joy in a promise which does not have to be fulfilled before it can be enjoyed.
Yes, on this day grant us the freedom to rejoice and sing glad Alleluias, for “Thine Is the Glory, Risen, conquering Son; Endless is the victory Thou o’er death hast won!”
As Christ bursts forth from the tomb,
May new life burst forth from us
And show itself in acts of love and healing to our hurting world.
And may that same Christ, who lives forever and is the source of our new life,
Keep your hearts rejoicing and grant you peace this day and always.
Go Now! for you cannot go where God is not. Go with noble purpose, and God will give meaning to Your days. Go in love, for it alone endures. Go in peace, for it is the gift of God to those whose hearts and minds are in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee; I give Thee back the life I owe, That in Thine ocean depths its flow May richer fuller be.
O joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to Thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain, And feel the promise is not vain That morn shall tearless be.
Today’s Worship Service
In the absence of a worship service in our church today because of COVID-19 and the need for social-distancing, our worship service was e-mailed to us. The hymns I include in this blog were chosen by our pastor Steve and our music director, Fran McNeill, and then e-mailed to us from our Madison Valley Presbyterian Church here in Ennis, Montana today.
The following sermon by Pastor Steve Hundley was printed for us to “hear” in the privacy of our homes. It is powerful!
Please take your precious time now and hear it with me:
TRUSTING GOD IN THIS DARK TIME
Read: Psalm 130
Read: Romans 8
Some years ago, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a book entitled, “WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE.” He wrote this book in response to the death of his 14-year-old son, Aaron, from a rare disease called “Progeria” which causes the body to age and die prematurely.
In his bestselling book, Rabbi Kushner concluded that we must decide between a God who is infinitely powerful, but not loving enough to prevent such tragedies as the suffering and death of his 14-year-old son, or, a God who is all loving but not all-powerful. “You can’t have it both ways,” he says, “we must choose: all-powerful or all-loving.”
Yet as Christians, we believe that:
Evil exists in this world, causing bad things to happen to good people, so evident in these past weeks of the COVID 19 pandemic.
Secondly, we believe that our God is all-powerful; and
Thirdly, we believe that our God is a loving God.
Now, I admit that our dilemma is that we can reconcile any two of the above philosophically, but not all three. For example: If evil exists in the world, how can a loving God be all-powerful? Or, if God is all loving and all-powerful how can evil possibly exist?
Still, the Bible does not deal with human, philosophical questions, as much we would prefer it be so. Instead, the Bible deals with divine faith questions. So, even if we cannot know philosophically how evil can exist in light of God who is all-powerful and all-loving, what we “can” know from scripture is that “no matter what evils or tragedies we face in life, our God will not desert us.” And, knowing that is enough.
Yes, it is enough for most of us—most of the time. But, in moments like this, that alone may not be enough. When our entire world is paralyzed by this current pandemic, it is difficult in this dark hour not to cry out to God: “WHY, OH WHY, GOD?” I don’t mean to make you feel guilty, for It is only human to want to know “WHY?”
I don’t know about you, but I find myself cringing every time I hear someone in the media refer to this COVID 19 pandemic as “AN ACT OF GOD.” In all fairness, I realize it is an accepted way for referring to any such natural disaster. Still, I am uncomfortable attributing such death and tribulation to the will of God. As someone said: “If God is light,” according to Holy Scripture, “then why should we impart darkness to God?”
Visiting a young couple who stopped coming to church after their only child died of cancer, their pastor pleaded: “You can’t stop believing in God because of what has happened, can you?” “Oh, I still believe in God,” said the grieving father, “I don’t come to church anymore because I hate God!”
It is for people much like that father that I have chosen to venture further out on the “thin ice” of what is called “the Theodicy Problem”, that is: “Why do bad things happen to good and innocent people?”
So, I humbly dare to venture forward on behalf of all around this world who have suffered or lost loved ones in the midst of this unprecedented natural disaster that has and will continue to cost so many lives.
Let me begin by saying that the Bible, as I understand it, speaks of our all-powerful God who does not completely control everything in our fallen creation because of the limitations God has placed on God’s self in order to allow us freedom of faith. Without freedom, there could be no faith. Faith, by its very definition, requires us the freedom to love and believe in God, or to reject belief and love for God. God does not desire us to be puppets, manipulated into having to believe in or love God. Therefore, our God has granted us, and creation itself, freedom by relinquishing total control over our lives and the world.
The Bible speaks of Satan—and other dark forces at work in this world. And, our own human experiences confirm that there is a dynamic evil force that exercises a powerful presence in our world contrary to the will of God.
“Yet, God in Christ,” writes Paul to the Roman Church, “broke the power of these dark forces on the cross,” which means that we are dealing now with mortally wounded, though still very dangerous “principalities” and “dark powers.” Bad things continue to befall good people because these dark forces are still alive, powerful, and enemies of all that is good in this world.
As Christians, in this Easter Season, we have hope and assurance that through Christ and His resurrection, God’s eventual victory over the evil in our world is a foregone conclusion. But, until that time “when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord,” our God will do all that can be done to drive back these dark forces and utterly destroy them, as we continually pray and serve Him until God’s Kingdom comes on earth as it is in Heaven.
Until that time, says Paul in Romans 8:19-23:
Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
In his book: “Christ and Time”, Oscar Cullmann uses the analogy of WWII to illustrate our and creation’s struggle against the powers of darkness. He makes a clear distinction between two definitive days of the war: D-Day and V-Day. D-Day was the day Allied Forces landed in Normandy and established a beachhead. The strategizing generals on both sides recognized that the outcome of war was decided on that fateful day, June 1944.
They understood that if the enemy had driven the Allies back into the sea, the Nazis would have won the war. However, the Allied Armies prevailed in Normandy and sealed the doom of the evil Nazi regime. Still, in spite of the triumph of D-Day, the Allies had not yet totally subdued the enemy. Between D-Day and V-Day (Victory Day), there would be many months of suffering, death, and struggle. There would be horrendous battles as the Allied Army, little by little, pushed back the Nazi forces. Still, the ensuring battles would culminate in “Victory Day,” which marked the complete surrender of the enemy and the total liberation of Europe.
So you see, the cross and resurrection of Jesus were our D-Day. God in Jesus won the decisive battle over evil and death in this world. However, God and His children, as well as nature itself, continue to face struggles while driving back the forces of darkness whose power has been broken. Still, dark forces are alive in the world and free to raise havoc. God’s V-Day is not yet here! However, we can be confident in God’s triumph over evil and death (and COVID 19), because we know how it will end.
Or, as Paul says:
Who (or what) shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine or nakedness, or peril, or sword (or this COVID 19 pandemic)? As it is written, “For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither, death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 35-39)
(Written by Rev. Steve Hundley and printed in our worship e-mail)
“In midst of life, O Lord, our lives have been interrupted by death: the death of our normal routine, the death of worship as we have always done it, the death of life as we have known it, the death of our personal plans, the death of innocence, the death of institutions, the death of promises, the death of those we love, the death that works in our own bodies.
In spite of our broken dreams we give You thanks for the gospel of Jesus Christ, whose message is not death but life: the life of the Spirit, the life of dreams, the life of faith, the life of love, the life of justice; life for the small people of the world, life for the meek, life for the broken and rejected, life for the diseased and afflicted, life for our loved ones, and life for us.
Lord, we pray for those who need hope, healing, and grace. We hold up before you those who are alone and isolated, those who are sick, and those who are scared of what the future holds for them. Lord, help us to discover new ways of living: living for Christ, living for those around us, living for this frightened world, living for Your Kingdom. Let the Christ of the empty tomb make empty tombs of all our disappointments and fears. Come and reign over us, now and in the days ahead and forever and ever. Amen”
Verse One: God be with you till we meet again; By His counsels guide, uphold you, With His sheep securely fold you; God be with you till we meet again.
Chorus: Till we meet, till we meet; till we meet at Jesus’ feet; Till we meet, till we meet, God be with you till we meet again.
Verse Two: God be with you till we meet again; ‘Neath His wings protect and guide you, Daily manna still provide you. God be with you till we meet again.
Verse Three: God be with you till we meet again; When life’s perils thick confound you, Put His arms unfailingaround you; God be with you till we meet again.
Verse Four: God be with you till we meet again; Keep love’s banner floating o’er you, Smite death’s threatening wave before you; God be with you till we meet again.
(Back to chorus)
Spread Love and Hope
I pray you found love and hope in these songs, these words, and these prayers.
If you did, as I did, you can spread love and hope by forwarding this post to your friends and family. Or you can sit with those in your household (as I did with my husband this morning) and read/sing these messages together. Or you can do both!