Worship May 24, 2020
Witnesses to Hope — Memorial Day
Focus: The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.
CALL TO WORSHIP
L: You, loving God, are the ground of our being and the river of life;
you both steady our roots and draw them to seek the living waters.
All: You are like the sunlight enticing us taller
and like the breeze rustling our leaves.
L: You are with us through hard seasons of summer heat,
and in the nights when winter’s frost ices the landscape.
Your love warms and sustains us.
All: You are everything to us.
O let our gratitude be great,
L: Let our praise be plentiful,
All: Let our worship be wonder-full,
Through Christ Jesus your ever-living Son. Amen
(Prayer by Bruce Prewer)
Opening Hymn: HERE IN THIS PLACE
long ago, faithful women proclaimed the good news
of Jesus’ resurrection, and the world was changed forever.
Teach us to keep faith with them, that our witness may be as bold,
our love as deep, and our faith as true. Amen.
Readings: Isaiah 40, Psalm 68
Sermon: Lessons In Hope Rev. Paula Norbert
Prayers: HUSH NOW IN QUIET PEACE
I tell you this:
It is a wonderful thing when members of a family
live together in love and peace. They shall be like trees
planted beside flowing rivers. May we as a community of
faith be One; May our brothers and sisters
around the world be as One, and
May the grace, mercy and peace, of the Lord Jesus,
be with you all. Amen.
GO IN PEACE:
The Present Is a Gift from God
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which God has called you…” Ephesians 1
This morning we’re going to pretend that we’re going to drive to the state fair. When we back out of our driveways, where does the driver look? The driver looks behind to make sure that he or she doesn’t run into anything and that you stay safe. After you’ve been on the road for a while, have you ever asked your mom or dad, “When are we going to be there?” Sometimes we are so focused on what will be that we don’t enjoy the present. What are some of the things you might do while you are are driving to a fair – or on any long car drive? Maybe you play games, listen to music, sing songs?
You know, a lot of times we forget what is most important. We may be so focused on getting to our destination that we don’t enjoy the trip there; maybe we don’t look out at the beautiful scenery or see the cows in the meadow or lovely lake we might pass by. Or we concentrate on what we will be once we grow up and we forget that today is a gift from God and it would be a shame to waste it.
We need to remember that yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is called the present and it is a gift from God.
Dear God, we know that you would rather have us think about today, realizing it is a very special blessing. So we thank you for this day, for the sunshine, for being able to pray, to enjoy the day’s fun and to be with our family Amen.
Our Readings This Week
Isaiah 40 God’s People Are Comforted
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has directed the spirit of the Lord,
or as his counselor has instructed him?
Whom did he consult for his enlightenment,
and who taught him the path of justice?
Who taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
Psalm 68: 3-10, 33-35
68:3 But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy.
68:4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds–his name is the LORD– be exultant before him.
68:5 Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.
68:6 God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land.
68:7 O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, Selah
68:8 the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
68:9 Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad; you restored your heritage when it languished;
68:10 your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.
68:32 Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; sing praises to the Lord, Selah
68:33 O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.
68:34 Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies.
68:35 Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!
Acts 1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
1:7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.
1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.
1:11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.
1:13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
1:14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Lessons in Hope
Our readings today remind us that our Creator is near our side to offer comfort, protection, and hope. Isaiah shares, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God…Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low.” We are reminded that God is like a shepherd, feeding the flock and gathering the lambs with arms outstretched, gently leading the mother sheep. The power of God is beyond our imaginings, able to measure the waters in the hollow of God’s hand, marking off the heavens and enclosing the dust of the earth in a measure, One of enlightenment and justice, who does not faint or grow weary and “gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.” These words from Isaiah have reminded people throughout history that our God is present to us at all times and especially at times of great distress and suffering. Let us pray, O Creator of the beauty of this earth, God of mercy and love, be with us this day as we continue to seek comfort and hope. Guide us to the path of compassion, peace, and love always. Amen.
President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.” As I’ve spoken with folks from church, with family and friends in recent days, I’ve gotten the sense that more people are indeed feeling that they are at the end of their rope. Perhaps you too are feeling this way? As much as many speak of their gratitude for health, food, and the ability to stay at home, we are all taking in great distress each and every day as we watch the ravages of this virus unfold in our country and especially in the communities where people are most at risk.
How might we think about hope in such a time as this? Are you feeling a little hopeless that we will find our way out of this tragedy? And, when we do make our way to a time when people may feel safe to connect again with those they love, with neighbors and friends, what sorrow and grief may we carry with us in the wake of so much loss and despair?
This weekend, we observe Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember those who have lost their lives during our nation’s wars. We know we have seen hard times before in this country, times of great division and suffering and loss. We have heard about the Flu Pandemic of 1918 which overlapped with the First World War. Millions lost their lives in those difficult days. What we now observe as Memorial Day has its roots in the long tradition of honoring the fallen in battle. The ancient Greeks and Romans held annual days of remembrance for loved ones each year, including the soldiers, by laying flowers at the graves and holding public festivals in their honor. Our tradition began at the close of the Civil War, a time of terrible division within these United States.
In an article by Barbara Maranzani, I read, “As the Civil War neared its end, thousands of Union soldiers, held as prisoners of war, were herded into a series of hastily assembled camps in Charleston, South Carolina. Conditions at one camp, a former racetrack near the city’s Citadel, were so bad that more than 250 prisoners died from disease or exposure and were buried in a mass grave behind the track’s grandstand.
Three weeks after the Confederate surrender, an unusual procession entered the former camp: On May 1, 1865, more than 1,000 recently freed slaves, accompanied by regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops (including the Massachusetts 54th Infantry) and a handful of white Charlestonians, gathered in the camp to consecrate a new, proper burial site for the Union dead. The group sang hymns, gave readings and distributed flowers around the cemetery, which they dedicated to the “Martyrs of the Race Course.”
In May 1868, General John A. Logan, the commander-in-chief of the Union veterans’ group known as the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a decree that May 30 should become a nationwide day of commemoration for the more than 620,000 soldiers killed in the recently ended Civil War. On Decoration Day, as Logan dubbed it, Americans should lay flowers and decorate the graves of the war dead “whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
According to legend, Logan chose May 30 because it was a rare day that didn’t fall on the anniversary of a Civil War battle, though some historians believe the date was selected to ensure that flowers across the country would be in full bloom. It wasn’t until America’s entry into World War I that the tradition was expanded to include those killed in all wars, and Memorial Day was not officially recognized nationwide until the 1970s, with America deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War.” (History.com)
It is often remarkable to me that even in the midst of despair, people find reasons to hope. We have a deep need to find hope that days will get better, that this day will be better, that whatever it is we are struggling with will be behind us one day. Even at this time, when many of us may feel relatively safe and healthy in our homes, it is nearly impossible not to feel afraid or hopeless. The news is overwhelming and as we watch in upset at the lack of coordinated leadership in many places, and the ongoing sickness and death, we may internalize the despair ourselves. What’s the balance, we might ask? How much news in print or on tv should we continue to take in? We need to know what’s going on, to educate ourselves and to keep those we hold dear safe and yet, but how much is too much? I ask myself this often.
This is the year 2020, numbers often associated with perfect vision, but we usually cannot see clearly when we are in the middle of the turmoil. One day, all of this will be in history books and we will read of the ways in which we failed, the things that could have been done to save lives, and also the heroic measures of so many who did their best, and we may understand in a clearer way all we have been through. And it’s not simply understanding that we yearn for; we seek comfort and we yearn to be people of hope.
The stories of the Acts of the Apostles tell of the early days of the followers of Jesus. We know that they too experienced great despair after the death of their friend and Rabbi. In the times that Jesus appeared to them after his death, he tried to give them a message of hope, assuring them that he would indeed be with them in spirit. Next Sunday, we will read of the day of Pentecost when they were gathered together in those fearful early days when they were visited by the Spirit which inspired them to leave the safety of where they were sheltered and go forth to continue the message of love and hope that they had shared with Jesus.
Where do you find hope in these days? Who is in need of hope among your circle of friends and loved ones? How may we be a people of hope to one another? The writer Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote, “Hope itself is like a star-not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity.” Hope is not just a feeling or something to which we aspire. There are ways to weave hope into our daily practices, there are things we can do to nurture hope within our days.
I have read that having an attitude of gratitude each day can help us to be aware of the things for which we are thankful. Some keep a gratitude journal which helps remind them of the blessings in their days. Perhaps we might find one or two things each day that bring us hope? We know how important it is to practice self-care; we need to find ways to do something each day that brings us joy and comfort. The practice of mindfulness may also be very helpful. When we feel afraid or anxious, we can do things to bring ourselves back to the present, if even for a short while. Meditation is one important way to do that. I’ve heard that paying attention to your senses is helpful. We may name 5 things that we see, 4 things that we hear, 3 things that we smell, 2 things we can taste, and one thing we can feel. Deep breathing and paying attention to our breath are also ways to be in the moment. The practice of prayer is something many have been including each day in their routine. Even if you read a brief meditation, light a candle, read a passage from Scripture or some other spiritual writer, this can be helpful in quieting our hearts. I think too that taking stock of times in our past when we have come through a difficult period and naming some of the things that helped us then may help guide us at this time. We all know that connecting with others is vitally important when we are struggling, and even if we cannot meet in person, we could visit outside from a distance or pick up the phone and call someone. Letting people know that we need help is also something we may need to learn. Exercise has been helpful for many I know and certainly in my own days. I look forward to getting outside to walk whenever possible. I certainly am not suggesting that we do all of these things every day, especially if we are struggling or feeling isolated, but maybe we could find one thing each day that we might make sure that we do practice and see if that can eventually lift us.
I wish each of you hope as we live the days ahead. I pray that our God of great comfort and compassion will be present to us in ways that we may tangibly feel and appreciate. The French author, Alexandre Dumas once wrote, “Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and never forget, that until the day God will deign to reveal the future of to all, all human wisdom is contained in these two words, Wait and Hope.” And in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, these perennial words of wisdom: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13:13