We had a wonderful outdoor church service today. God blessed us with the most perfect weather imaginable!
Rev. Steve Hundley delivered a great sermon titled “”Peter Pride and Dana Defeated.” He assured us the names were not gender specific! If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know I take sermon notes in poetry as I listen.
I changed the title to “The story of Our Freedom.”
The story of our freedom Is written on the Statue of Liberty. We believe in that freedom, but It can make captives of you and me.
We can be captivated by Our need to be totally free. Our need to be gregarious Causes us to share with you our glee.
We strive (like Peter Pride) to be At the top – – – the Number One. But sometimes Peter Pride’s goals Get in the way of following God’s Son.
We resist the role of Dana Defeated, Who is a critic of her own. She usually feels unworthy And tries so hard she’s tired to the bone.
Jesus says to give Him your burdens. He’ll put His yoke upon you And help you carry your troubles. Let Him take a pound or two.
Peter Pride sees life through self-effort. He keeps religion in its place. He knows Jesus has a point, But you gotta work to stay in the race.
Peter doesn’t believe burdens are light. He sees Dana Defeated as sad. She walks humbly and asks for help, But seldom looks contented or glad.
Peter found the glory of being on top Often is overshadowed by loss. Way up there, it’s sometimes lonely; No one to help carry our cross.
Jesus said, “Come to Me, I’ll give you rest.” He’s talking to Dana and Peter, both. Life should not be a journey to death. Instead, accept Jesus’ helpful yokes.
Jesus will provide the yoke for us. He’ll join with us and help us carry Our burdens of pride or defeat. Let Him lift you – and be merry!
Have a Wonderful Sunday, my friends. See ya tomorrow. Love ya, JanBeek
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!
Sermon and prayers by Rev. Steve Hundley Song selections by Fran McNeill
Preparation for Worship:
Bless us, O God, with a reverent sense of Your presence, that we may be at peace and may worship You with all our minds and spirits; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Call to Worship:Psalm 116: 12-13
What can we give back to God for the blessings He has poured out on us?
We will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.
Blow upon us, O Lord, the fresh wind of Your Spirit. Refresh our souls, which are weary from continuous social distancing. Help us to forget for a little while the difficulties of daily existence, and breathe from Your presence new hope, new purpose, and new direction for our lives. Embolden us to pray and seek Your face, that everything else may find its proper place in these unprecedented times. Amen.
Prayer of Confession:
Gracious Lord, teach us always to respect and love all the lives You create. Forgive our lack of concern and love for those who are silently suffering around the world in the face of this ongoing pandemic. Forgive us when we are negligent and uncaring for those who are most vulnerable; for those who are elderly; for those forgotten in nursing homes; for those who have little or no access to medical care; for those essential workers on the front lines; and, for those who have and continue to suffer from a careless society. Teach us to open our hearts and our lives up in ways that will be beneficial to all. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 32: 3-5
Hear these words of hope from the Psalmist: “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to You, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You forgave the guilt of my sin.
A Children’s Message for Adults, too!
(a true story)
In early spring in the Blue Ridge mountains where I grew up, we would plant a garden full of corn and vegetables, as well as a strawberry patch. There were also apple and pear trees, not to mention the wild grapes, blackberries, huckleberries, and raspberries that grew in the woods.
Every summer my mother would pull out the old pressure cooker and spend days canning quart jars of every kind of vegetables and berries and put them away in the cellar. Then when winter came and the ground was cold, icy, and barren and nothing seemed to be alive, mom would go down into the cellar, come up with some canned vegetable or savory berry preserve, and it would be May and June once more at our family table, and how blessed we were!
During this difficult time while we are all forced to stay home for fear of getting or spreading the dangerous coronavirus, I can’t help but think about how many of us spent hours in front of the television, on our computers and phones playing video games, or watching meaningless YouTube videos. It occurred to me that there is hardly anything there to nourish the soul or help us through this pandemic. There’s not a calorie there at all that can strengthen us when life is hard and barren.
That is why it is so important that we turn to the stories of our faith: the stories of the Old Testament, the stories of Jesus—His life and ministry, as well as the other letters and books of the Bible. By dipping down into the deep reservoir of God’s Word for all life and faith, we can find nourishment for the facing of these days.
Message: At Home with the Risen Lord
Two travelers on the road, making the seven-mile hike from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Why Emmaus? Well, it would appear that they live there. Emmaus is home. Still, the excitement and energy usually associated with home—the place where we belong—the place where we grew up, is not evident on these traveler’s faces, nor can it be heard in their voices. The joy we normally associate with a homecoming is nowhere to be found. Instead, their hopelessly slow pace exposes their disappointment and disillusionment. The reality is, their demeanor has more to do with where they are coming from than where they are heading.
These two travelers are leaving the holy city of Jerusalem. They are leaving because there is nothing left for them there. They are leaving because everything they had hoped for and dreamed of, is gone. They are leaving because the One in whom they had placed their faith is dead. They are leaving because their hope has been nailed to a cross. Their Savior is dead. The movement is over.
Unable to ignore the tired and empty look on their faces or the despair in their voices, a stranger inquires: “What is your conversation about?” Now, having to explain the cause of one’s pain only serves to intensify it. So, stopping dead in their tracks, Luke says: “They just stood there looking sad.” Suddenly, the one named Cleopas breaks the silence: “Who are you, Rip Van Winkle?” (He didn’t really say that, but that is what he meant.) “Are you the only one who does not know what has happened?” You can almost hear the mixture of amazement and irritation ringing in his voice. And, who can blame him? They had wagered everything on this Jesus, and lost!
Have you ever lost? I mean, really lost? It is an empty feeling, like a political incumbent, who though their candidacy was certain, waits to the last hour to concede defeat. Arriving at his campaign headquarters, surrounded by a remnant of faithful supporters and the media, of course, steps to the podium and says: “I really thought we were going to win. We gave it our best shot, and we lost. But the people have spoken, and they have chosen Barabbas. I would like to thank all of you who came out. But, before we go, could you take down the posters and the streamers? We want to leave the place just as if we were never here.”
“We lost,” Cleopas says to the stranger. “Jesus was turned over to the authorities, condemned to death, and nailed to a cross, and there he died along with our greatest hopes and dreams.” Lost in his own despair and forgetting himself for a moment, Cleopas goes on to say, “Oh yes, some women surprised us babbling on about finding his tomb empty, and angels appearing and reporting him to be alive. But, we discounted it as nothing but an idle tale—some kind of cruel joke. You see, he died!”
Just ask those who were there. They will tell you: “We saw it all with our own eyes. He’s dead alright.” Ask his own mother: “Yes, I was there. My son died there on that cross.” Ask the soldiers: “Oh he’s dead alright, we made certain of that with one good thrust of a spear.” Even his closest disciples will tell you: “We didn’t get too close for obvious reasons, but yes, he is dead. And Joseph of Arimathea confirmed it. You see, he helped to take down the body and wrap it in a shroud to be laid in his own tomb.” Yes, Jesus is dead, and with him all the hopes and dreams of a new Israel.
Then, the stranger, the risen Lord unbeknownst to them, speaks. He speaks as if He sees something wonderful that they cannot see. He speaks as if the hopeless and meaningless events of the past three days make perfect sense. “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets,” Luke says, “He interprets to them in all the scriptures, the things concerning Himself!” For Cleopas and his traveling companion, it must have been something like finding the missing pieces of an incomplete puzzle.
I don’t know about you, but as I read this scripture, I couldn’t help but wonder why the Risen Jesus didn’t just say: “WHY THE LONG FACES? CHEER UP! IT IS ME, IN THE FLESH! “I WAS DEAD, BUT NOW I AM ALIVE AGAIN!” (I know; I know…I had a New Testament professor who once said that I tended to ask questions that no one else would even think to ask. I wonder if he meant it as a compliment? I meant to ask him if I ever saw him again.) Besides, maybe Jesus was afraid what their response would be if he came right out and said: “Look, it is me, Jesus, alive and well.”
I remember years ago, helping to lay the foundation for a medical clinic in the mountains of Haiti. As we were digging the footings for the building, I asked if there were any poisonous snakes in Haiti. I was told that there were no snakes at all on the island, so there was nothing to worry about. However, one morning about 6:00 a.m., while walking up the hill towards our work site, low and behold, in the middle of the path was a small brown snake. Calling out to two Haitian women carrying their goods to the market, I motioned for them to come and see what I had found. I thought clearing up a national misconception was the honorable thing to do. But, one look at that snake caused the two women to fling their goods into the air and tear off screaming and running down the side of the mountain! Perhaps, Jesus thought that He, too, would have received a similar response if He had come right out and announced His true identity. Hmm?
Instead, the risen Christ turns the two travelers’ attention back to the scriptures. He unfolds for them what God is doing in the world. He shows them how every reference in the Torah and the prophets describes what God has done or said which throws light on the events of the past three fateful days.
This is the reason we look to the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. The scriptures remind us of God’s unfolding work in our world. Scripture sets our lives and these unprecedented times in their proper perspective. Sitting here in our own homes, not knowing what the next weeks might bring, scripture reminds us that our lives, too, are in a direct, long line of witnesses from Moses to David, to Jesus and Paul, to Augustine, to Martin Luther and John Calvin, to John Knox and John Wesley, to Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr, etc. Scripture reminds us that we are not alone in this world. Through scripture we can know that the God who presides over all history is our God, and that God is faithful no matter what is happening in our lives at any given moment.
I remember reading of a famous dancer who was a victim of a terrible accident. She lay in traction for months. When asked how she was able to survive during that time, she said: “Every day, I would dance the 23rd Psalm in my head.” And, it was through Scripture that the Apostle Paul discovered faith through grace alone. It was through Scripture that Augustine found meaning and purpose for living. It was through Scripture that John Wesley found his heart strangely warmed.And, it is through Scripture that our hearts are tendered and our eyes are opened to the power and presence of our risen Lord in these unprecedented times.
Sure, I know that some of what we find in Scripture is often violent, narrow, primitive, incomprehensible, disordered, and even weird. But, so are we. And the Bible is also about us. It is God’s dealing with the likes of us throughout history. Someone said:
If you look “at” a window, you see fly-specks, dust, the crack where Jr.’s frisbee hit it. If You look “through” a window, you see the world beyond. Something like this is the difference between those who see the Bible as a “holy bore” and those who see it as the “Word of God” which speaks out of the depths of an almost unimaginable past, into the depths of ourselves.”
So, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Luke tells us, Jesus opened for them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself, preparing them to see Him in all His resurrected glory.
“Stay with us,” the travelers said to the stranger, “and when the Risen Lord was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized them.”
Some years ago when my grandfather died, my uncle did most of the planning for his funeral. Still, I was surprised how hard he seemed to take his father’s death. Even so, he wrote a moving eulogy for his father, and asked the most elegant preacher in the Roanoke Valley to read it. Looking over at my uncle during the service, I could see the despair in his eyes. He did brighten up as his eulogy was read, but slumped down in the pew during the Scripture reading and funeral sermon, seemingly unaware of the promises of Scripture and words of hope and life that the preacher also shared that day. The Scriptures read were familiar passages of eternal hope and resurrection; words I used often at funeral services I conducted…words I believed. I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would take those words of hope and the resurrection to claim victory over the pain of my grandfather’s passing from this life to the next.
After my grandfather’s service, my aunt, with tears in her eyes, said that my uncle had refused to join the family for the meal she had prepared. He said that he would not party on the day of his father’s death. However, it was at that family meal following the service together with family and friends, that those funeral scripture passages began to claim their victory over death. It was at that meal that someone said the preacher: “I cannot help but think of those Scriptures you read. They were so fitting and true.” You see, it was at that family meal, where hope, peace, smiles, tears, and laughter shouted God’s victory over death. It was at that meal that our eyes were opened and we recognized the promises and presence of our risen Lord. After all, the scriptures readings had prepared us.
I am reminded of two children coloring their worksheets and talking about this story of “The Road to Emmaus” in their Sunday School Class. One asked: “How do you know when you are blind?”“You don’t,” said the other, “You only know afterwards, when you can see again.”
O God, whom we see in every sunrise and sunset, teach us to see You as well in the haggard faces of the medical worker and every essential worker on the front lines of this ongoing fight against this unseen, but deadly virus. Help us who are called by Your name to have Your vision of the future of our world, as a place where the lion lies down with the lamb, where the person with two coats shares with the person who has none, and where everyone takes care of the suffering, the sick, and the aged.
Release us from our bondage to self-interest, worrying about what we shall eat or what we shall wear or how we look to others who are watching us. Guide us into the freedom of Your Spirit, where we shall be at peace and confident and supportive of others.
Teach us to number our days as gifts, so that we may never treat them as obstacles to be overcome or burdens to be endured until our lives are back to normal. And, though we are apart, enable us to be a community of Christ, whose body we are. Give to us a special capacity for grace to reach out to those who are ill in body and spirit, and let the very sense of Your presence become their balm in these difficult days.
Give wisdom to the leaders of our world, that they may better cope with the confusion and complexity of this perilous time. Bring us all into a greater sensitivity to the needs of those who are suffering the most, whether from the virus or from the economic hardship it has caused. We pray too, for the family and friends of Neil Kent. We will miss his gentle spirit and contagious smile, but help us to hold near to our hearts the memory of his faith, perseverance, peaceful spirit by which he faces both life and death. We pray for Jerry and Sue Woodruff’s son-in-law, Ed. Lord, bring healing to his body and wisdom for the doctors and medical professionals treating him, that he may experience a complete recovery. Lord, use the surgeons and medical staff as your instruments of healing for little Ezra, and young Michael in these coming days.
Now let Your Holy Spirit overpower us as we worship, blotting out sin that would blind us to Your glory and raising us to the newness of life that is in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom in whose name we pray saying…Our Father, who art in heaven…
May the love of God surround you, The wisdom of God guide you, And the power of the Holy Spirit encourage you As you joyfully proclaim: “The whole world is in God’s hands.” Amen.
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.
I pray your Palm Sunday has been a day of ~Peace~ειρήνη~Shalom~Love
Virtual Worship Service
We began our Sunday (after taking a nostalgic virtual stroll through Switzerland here on WP) with a virtual worship service. Many of you who are obeying “STAY at HOME” orders probably did the same. Some churches broadcast their service on You.Tube.com and their members were able to feel like they were together on the screen.
Our Pastor Steve Hundley sent by e-mail (as he did last Sunday) the church bulletin complete with songs linked and the prayers and sermon written out. Let me share a few of his words/prayers and a song with you now.
Loving Father, as we journey with Your Son into this Holy Week of remembrance and hope, help us to understand You and Your love for the world more clearly. Help us to call to mind these past events in Jesus’ life so that we can sense their significance for our present lives and for the future You are preparing for all creation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Sharing the Peace: Call someone who is isolated, discouraged and alone; ask what they might need. Pray with them. (Perhaps you would like to repeat this action throughout the week.)
Loving God, who has brought us once more to this Holy Week in which we remember the ministry and suffering of our Lord, help us now to submerge our own needs and fears in Him and learn of Him.
Show us by the resoluteness with which Christ accomplished Your will how we, too, may live gracefully under the pressure in this uncommon time. As the darkness of these days befalls us, teach us to garner our faith by finding new and creative ways to share our lives in spite of the limitations placed upon us.
Guide us as disease and death taunt us and life is cruelest, and we encounter our own “Calvaries” of the spirit, to respond with love, patience, and compassion.
Merciful God, whose healing power is so evident in the fearless and tireless work of our health care professionals, strengthen them and give them courage and confidence in everything they do. Encourage them when their efforts seem futile or when death prevails. Increase their trust in Your power to overcome the risk of their own health, pain, and even death.
Lord Jesus, as You made Your way into Jerusalem, so make Your way into our individual isolation, into our homes, into our rooms, into our hearts, and into our lives. Oh Lord, make us aware that this world crisis we find ourselves in only affirms with great intensity our need for Your saving grace.
Lord, we pray for the most vulnerable among us. Lord, heal those who are already sick, and comfort those who are grieving the unexpected loss of a loved one. Lord, we lift up each one who has been robbed of their employment, their financial security, their sense of peace, if not their health, during this pandemic. Give hope and light to hold on to until the light flows back at the end of this dark tunnel.
… 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.
May God’s Peace go with you this day and always. Bee well, my friends. See ya tomorrow.
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!
We had a wonderful day yesterday – the day of Bob’s 81st birthday. It started at our son’s house in Placerville where happiness definitely knocked on our door and entered in full array!
We went to church with our family at “Jesus Culture” in Folsom. We filled a row in the congregation of more than 1,500 people. It was amazing! Every seat was filled. People were standing in the aisles. The music and the message were God-inspired.
After church we visited dear, long-time friends whom we had not seen in a decade. We learned that our friend has stayed in touch with us (between years of Christmas cards) by following my Facebook posts. She doesn’t click “like” or leave a message, so I had no idea that she was one of my regular followers. When we got together, the years dissolved … and it was like we had never been apart. Do you have friends like that?
After that wonderful visit, with a delicious lunch and memorable, heart-felt, warm conversation, we returned to our son’s house where we celebrated Bob’s 81st birthday. Our daughter-in-law and granddaughter made Bob’s favorite birthday “cake,” a Jamoca-Almond-Fudge pie. Mmmm!
I pray that the happiness we feel be in your heart today. May it knock on your door, stay late, and leave the gifts of peace, love, joy and good health behind.