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!
For God did not give us A spirit of cowardice, But rather a spirit of power and of love and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7
Do we have enough self-discipline To take advantage of this time – This time to just BE and just LOVE And make the world a better place?
Ann Weems, in Putting the Amazing Back in Grace, wrote: “Remember, you’re in charge of remembering that God is in charge, and that’s a big job that will last a lifetime.”
God’s got this!! Have a peace-filled Sunday, my friends.
Oh, and in case you, like us, missed church today, here is the sermon for today that our pastor, Rev. Steve Hundley sent out via e-mail.
Find a comfortable chair, grab a cup o’ tea or coffee, and augment your Sunday with a worshipful, inspiring message:
INSTRUCTIONS FOR LIFE
Read Psalm 23
Not long after becoming the pastor of three small churches in the mountains of Virginia, I was asked to give the Baccalaureate Address to the graduating class of Bath County High School. It used to be, at least in the Bible Belt where I grew up, that local high schools have both a Baccalaureate and Graduation ceremony. The Baccalaureate was held one evening, a day or two before the actual Graduation Commencement. And it was tradition to invite a religious leader in the community to speak. However, I’m not sure that the message I delivered was what the school administration, or even the students, had in mind.
In most cases, the message given would be a positive one meant to motivate the students to go out and change the world, such as: “You are God’s ambassadors, the hope for a broken world!” Or: If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.” Or, perhaps: “Shoot for the Moon, for even if you miss, you’ll find yourself among the stars!” Most Baccalaureate, as well as, Commencement speakers would have them believe that they can be and do anything they set their minds to, (but with God’s help, of course).
I, however, felt that it was my duty to inform them that they were nothing but a bunch of “harebrained” sheep. I saw that! You raised your eyebrows, didn’t you? (Note from JanBeek, see the picture of sheep I put at the end of this sermon!)
Yet, that is what the Bible says. Yes, as much as we would like to think of ourselves as having the heart of a lion, we share more in common with sheep.
You see, like sheep, we tend to stray easily and lose our way. I’ve have been told that if one sheep spooks and tears off in one direction, all the others will follow. Imagine a bunch of sheep running up a hill. Suddenly the one in front makes a sudden left turn, and all the others, with no questions asked, mindlessly follow. If the one leading heads right off a cliff, tumbling to its death, all the others follow right off the cliff as well. But, you say, “We’re not like that!”
I heard recently about a young married couple. The wife bought a country ham to cook for her husband’s family who were coming over for dinner. Before putting it in a pot to bake it, she cut both ends off. “Why did you do that,” her husband asked. “I did it because that is the waymy mother always did it,” she said. Calling her mother on the phone, she asked: “Mom, why do we cut the ends off a ham before cooking it?” “I don’t know. I do it because it is the way my mother always did it.” Calling up her grandmother, she asked, “Grandmother, why do we cut the ends off a ham before baking it?” “I don’t know why you and your mother do it, but I always did it because it wouldn’t fit in my small baking pan.”
Yes, if one sheep spooks and tears off, all the others will follow. Still, you say, “We are smarter than that!” (Try to find a roll of toilet paper, or a bottle of hand sanitizer these days. Just saying.)
Attending a Montana State University lecture not long ago, the speaker, a journalist professor, pointed out just how partisan our country has become. He said that we have lost the will, and therefore, the ability to listen and dialogue with those who disagree with us. “We only listen to those news networks that confirm what we believe to be true,” he said. “We socialize with those who believe like us. In other words, we are like sheep who follow blindly our own flock.” Oh, by the way, did you know that a flock of sheep are called a “MOB?” Google it.
Secondly, sheep not only tend to follow their “mob”, they are also fragile creatures. Ken Davis, a comedian, tells of growing up on a sheep farm. He said there was an old ram on their farm that loved to sneak up behind him and butt him when he wasn’t looking. He hated that old ram. One day he spotted the old bruiser coming around the back of the barn. Determined to get back at that old ram, he looked around for something to hit him with. With nothing in sight and ram rounding the corner, Ken jumped out and hollered: “BOO!” It was all he could think to do.
“Startled,” Ken said, “that old ram just keeled over AND DIED!”
Later, his father confronted him, “Son, you hit that sheep, didn’t you?”
“No dad, I said, BOO! and it just died!”
A crack of thunder is all it takes to scare a sheep literally to death. As much as we like to think of ourselves as indestructible, this present pandemic and the fact you are reading this sermon in your own home, shows just how fragile we are. Our Lord Jesus said: “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven…give us this day our daily bread…and, deliver us from evil’.”
Yes, we are like sheep who are in need of a Shepherd. We need help. Going it alone, depending on our own wiles, spells certain disaster. I remember one sheep herder/shepherd telling of turning his flock loose one night in the mountains to graze alone on their own. He knew it was a risk, because sheep cannot defend themselves, much less outrun, even the slowest predators. Sheep tend to go astray, grazing along without looking where they are going.
He did, however, leave them in the care of his trusty sheep dog. Locating them the next morning, he discovered that they had wandered into a rather rugged mountain park. Being the rather clumsy animals that they are, more than a few of them had managed to fall over while feeding on the uneven ground. He found sheep scattered around the meadow upside down on their backs unable to get up. He said: “I had to go around picking up sheep and placing them back on their feet.
The Prophet Isaiah warns the Israelites of the danger of going it alone. “See, the Lord’s arm is not too short to save … to pick you up when you have fallen.” (Isaiah 59:1)
While I doubt that anyone was prepared for me to compare the graduating class of Bath County High School to a “flock”, or should I say “mob” of sheep…the foolish notion that the future of the world rested on their shoulders is categorically untrue! The longer I live, the more I am convinced that what we need to make it in this world is not popularity and success, not financial wealth or even personal happiness.
What we need is Christ, the Good Shepherd, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves and instruct us in the proper order of our lives. For, “The Lord is our Shepherd, we shall not want. He makes us lie down in green pastures; he leads us beside still waters; it is our Shepherd who restores our souls, who leads us in right paths. Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear not evil…”
Notice how Psalm 23 reverses the order of how we tend to live our lives. It is our tendency to approach life head on, burning ourselves out. And then, turn back to God in search of rest and soul-restoration after a week of chasing the illusive American dream. Yet, notice that this Psalm reverses the order. First, there is the Shepherd who provides what we need most, rest and soul restoration. Only then is it possible to find meaning and purpose in God’s emerging kingdom or face dark valleys.
This is the blessing Jesus wanted Martha to see when she was burning herself out by busying herself in the kitchen. Jesus said to her: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part…” (Luke 10:41-42).
Notice how the New Testament church began in Acts 2:46-47: “They followed a daily discipline of busying themselves with programs and activities, burning themselves out, so that people liked what they saw and everyday their numbers grew…” ??? NO! NO! NO!
It says: “They followed a daily discipline of worship in the temple, followed by meals together in their homes, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Everyday their numbers grew as God added those who were saved.”
Yes, Genesis tells us that “God created the world and on the seventh day, and then He rested.” That’s true, but WE ARE NOT GOD! Christ died for our sins, our weaknesses, and on the first day of the week He arose from the dead! So, we begin with rest, worship, and spiritual recreation before facing the challenges of daily living and serving our God.
We are His sheep, who find our rest in the arms of the Good Shepherd, so that He might equip us for the facing of this hour even as we face this dark valley of the shadow of death. For we are not alone, for God in Christ is with us. Amen.
Read Psalm 23 again.
In what new and unique way have you felt God’s comforting presence?
See ya tomorrow. Thanks for visiting JanBeek and for hangin’ in there together. Have a beautiful Sunday. Together, in FAITH, we shall overcome!!
If you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you know that usually I post sermon notes after church on Sunday afternoons. I failed to do so last Sunday because I left behind the bulletin with my sermon notes. Today I retrieved it. So, here, my friends are my poetic notes from Sunday, March 8th.
Based on Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:1-21; Sermon by Rev. Steve Hundley; recorded through JanBeek’s filter:
Let Your Soul Sing
Moses lifted up a bronze snake. Those bitten by a snake were saved; Not by anything they did or said, Not by the way they prayed or behaved. . It was by the grace of God that they Looked up at the statue and then The poison did not kill them. It was not by the power of women or men. . If we are to avoid being foolish, We need to admit our dependence And we need to acknowledge risk Wherever we happen to be in attendance. . We are dependent on God for life. It is He who guides our days. We, in our pride, think we’re in control – And we fools trust our own ways. . We cannot do for ourselves what’s needed To be independently self-made. We must trust and believe it’s God Who created us, and with His Son, our debts paid. . We must trust God to lift us up On the top of an eagle’s wing. His breath blows our life toward Him If we let our souls in His glory sing. . . Sing to Him today. Praise His name always.
God, You know our troubles, our concerns, our anguish. Bring peace and comfort to Your loved ones. Give us hope and assurance. Bring healing to the hurting, the sick, the lonely. Lift us on Your wing. Remind our souls to sing Your Praises and Trust in Your Promises.
The coldness of this Montana winter inspired our Rev. Steve Hundley to pray to our Lord using snow and ice as metaphors that grabbed my attention last Sunday at our church.
I asked Steve for permission to share his Pastoral Prayer with you. I think it is so poetically and beautifully written, I hope you will appreciate it as much as I do.
“We come to You, O Lord, at a time when much of our valley has been gripped by snow and cold – when roads have been clogged and winds have been strong and some have struggled to keep warm.
Let the coldness of this season raise the question of our own spiritual temperatures.
Has our relationship to You been frozen and stiff?
Are the ways of our hearts clogged by snowdrifts of apathy and indifference?
Do the lines of communication between us sag and break beneath the iciness of neglect or doubt?
Send now a warming trend into our lives. Let there be a melting of our hearts, and a surrender to Your will and Your Way. Grant that the icicles of pride and loneliness may fall from our hearts, and that the heat of Your love and grace may break up the ice floes that have kept us apart.
Transform us into centers of warmth that will radiate Your presence into the cold-hearted world around us. Show us how to be Your light, like the warmth of the sun, warming the earth.
Grant peace to those who are anxious and renewal to those who are tired. Instill in our nation a longing and a desire for the common good. Let Christ come and touch us now so that all our problems may be small ones, dwarfed in the magnitude and beauty of His presence.
For in Christ there is no coldness, but eternal springtime.”
This is a prayer that I will read each morning during these cold, winter months … and pray to our Lord that indeed He will “transform [me] into a center of warmth that … radiates [God’s] presence into the cold-hearted world around us.”