Beside the Still Waters
The Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 3, 2020
—Sister Joan Chittister, 21st century
Call to Worship: ( Psalm 23)
Let us pray these familiar words,
recognizing in the Risen Christ our Good Shepherd:
We shall never want.
You invite us to lie down in green pastures;
you lead us beside the still waters.
You restore our souls.You guide us in the paths of righteousness for your name’s sake.
Even though we may walk through the valley
of the shadow of death, we fear no evil, for you, Christ, comfort us.
Jesus has prepared a table for us
in the presence of our foes;
Jesus has anointed us with the oil of salvation;
our cup runs over!
Surely, goodness and mercy will follow us
all the days of our lives,
And we will dwell in the house
of our Holy Savior forever and ever. Amen.
Opening Hymn: Make Me A Channel of Your Peace
(please see video for Michelle’s recorded version on our Weekly Service Video)
O Holy One, You come to us in Jesus Christ, our teacher,
the compassionate One. Holy One, You are the one who comes to us
in the Holy Spirit. Creator of Earth and Heaven, You are the one who calls
us to recognize you today and every day
As splendid Mystery. Gather our hearts and minds this day.
Kindle our God-consciousness.
Let us worship you in awe and wonder. Amen.
Music: Peace Like A River/Amazing Grace (On Video of Service)
A Time for our Younger Members: Giving Together (See Below)
Scripture: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 4 – Be Still, I Go Among The Trees-Wendell Berry
Prayers: Hush Now In Quiet Peace
A Prayer: Good Shepherd of the Sheep,
you have opened the door to new life for us
through your dedication and love. May we reflect your love for us
by opening the doors of our hearts to you and to all who are in need at this time.
Benediction (from 1 Peter and John 10)
One: You are called for a purpose:
for the sake of knowing and drawing close toward God
through our love for one another.
All: We are not here by chance.
One: Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them,
and they follow me.
All: Jesus, we are the sheep of your pasture.
You have chosen us. We have chosen you.
We are not here by chance. Amen
Music: Blest Be The Tie That Binds (On Video)
Postlude: Go In Peace
Our Readings for Today
God’s Defense of The City and People
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should
change,though the mountains shake in the heart
of the sea; though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of
God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
I go among the trees
I go among the trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles of water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Our Children’s Time Today
Title: Giving Together
Scripture: Acts 2:42-47
What are some ways that you care for your friends? How do your friends care for you? If you were in need, how do you think a good friend might help you?
In today’s story we’re going to hear about how the early church cared for each other during times of need.
Tell the Story
Have you ever experienced something so awesome that you just couldn’t wait to tell someone else about it?
That’s exactly what our story is about today! Our main point today is: God uses our church to spread blessings. After Jesus rose from the dead and was taken up into heaven, God sent the Holy Spirit to the disciples. For the first time, God’s spirit was within people! How amazing is that?
The disciples were so excited about Jesus that they couldn’t wait to start sharing the good news.
Have you ever gotten good news that you wanted to share with others? What good news did the disciples want to share?
They wanted to tell people about how Jesus taught us about loving one another, sharing with one another and caring for one another. The disciples also wanted to share how Jesus wanted to welcome others into God’s Kingdom so they could experience a relationship with God. That’s definitely good news!
In the Bible, God’s Word to us, we can read about the early church. It didn’t look much like our church building today.
Acts 2: 42-47: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.”
What did you hear about the church?
The early church wasn’t about a building! It was all about a community of people who believed in and were following Jesus. The people loved God and they loved each other.
What are some ways that the people took care of one another?
What were some things that they did together when they gathered?
That reminds me of our main point: God uses each of us and communities of faith to spread blessings.
God used the early church to spread blessings to others, so the church could continue to grow. The Bible tell us that more and more people were believing in Jesus everyday and trying to follow his teachings. God uses the church today for the same purpose. God wants us to love God and share love with other people.
What are some ways that we might spread blessings to other people?
Let’s pray and ask God to show us ways each day to love others and spread blessings to them!
May 3rd Reflections
Who We Really Are
Today’s central reading is drawn from the Acts of the Apostles and it speaks of stories of the ‘early church’ or the community of followers in the early days following Jesus’ death and resurrection. I wanted to share some reflections on that reading, because it is important in these weeks following Easter as a guide for how we are to live as a community of faith, now so many years later. The Gospels and the stories from Acts as well as the Letters of Paul have served as central guides for Christians over the centuries. Often, people look to the early communities to be inspired in how we are to live as they reflect the simplest teachings before more organized voices and forces within religious communities began to influence the practices and teachings of the churches.
Toward the end of the first century of this common era, what we usually call the first century “A.D.,” the author of the Gospel of Luke wrote the book of the Acts of the Apostles. In Book Two, Luke shares the proclamation of the remarkable “things that had happened”–the good news of God’s saving acts in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the continuation of Jesus’ ministry through the Holy Spirit in the life of the early church community.
In the opening of the first chapter of Acts, we hear, “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven…” and then Luke speaks of the events that followed, of the apostles coming together and setting out on their mission to preach the good news that they had experienced in the person of Jesus Christ.
“Acts tells us about Peter’s early preaching, Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit ( as Jesus had promised), the conversion of thousands of people, healings and wonders, more preaching, meetings with the religious authorities, persecutions, the first deacons, more preaching, the stoning of Stephen, the conversion of Paul and his subsequent authorities, persecutions, the first deacons, more preaching, the stoning of Stephen, the conversion of Paul and his subsequent preaching, the growth of the church throughout the Mediterranean, more meetings and more preaching, escapes from prison, Paul’s travels and adventures at sea, the council at Jerusalem, controversies, riots, trials, journeys, and, of course, more preaching.” (Rev. Kathryn Matthews)
Of course, this is a simple summary of all that unfolds in Acts, so if you feel inspired, it would be helpful to read through Acts on your own, and perhaps these days of “stay at home” may provide just the opportunity for that! In between those stories and sermons are passages which help connect the stories, much like this week’s reading, little summaries that come up from time to time along the way, and which are quite similar. In the midst of all of this, in the midst of the Holy Spirit working through the apostles, the early church expanded as more people joined them in this wonderful vision; people prayed together, shared their possessions, broke bread together, and devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles.
Commentators do not all agree about this passage from Acts and whether its description of the early Christian community is idealized or not. But how important is that? Long ago, in a far-off land, our ancestors in faith did the same things we do today: they tried to witness to their faith by doing the things that followers of Jesus are called to do. These are the practices which have connected Christian communities since the early days, including devoting ourselves to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.
These are very difficult and sad times for many around the world and we understand that our focus should be on those who are most directly affected by this reality. Numbers of people are sick and dying. Healthcare providers are working against the odds to save as many as possible and they too are getting sick and dying. Their families are at risk. So many others are suffering terribly in light of the economic fallout from all of this and folks do not have enough food to eat. There is a ripple affect that keeps moving farther and farther out and we all are touched in some way. I hope we are touched; that we are able to feel the suffering and pain, the anxiety and fear, the hunger and worry of our sisters and brothers. How are we to be church when we cannot be together in person? It has been hard; it is hard for many who are seeking comfort and solace, who are looking for spiritual meaning in the midst of this pandemic.
Rev. Mark Suriano, a Pastor in New Jersey in a community that has been very hard hit by this virus, has been working to respond in various ways, including sharing his reflections each day. He shared the story of Saint John of the Cross, who was locked away by his brothers in a tiny closet with no light for a year and what did he do? He wrote beautiful poetry that is still shared five hundred years after he lived. Mark speaks, then, of “the flowering of one’s own humanity,” and “an expansion of holding all things in loving gaze,” remembering as people of faith that we trust that “God holds all of this in compassion,” that “we ourselves can find our hearts expanding to begin to hold the world if not literally, at least figuratively and graciously in love and to pray for and work for the best within us because in the end compassion is the hallmark of every person of faith…” (Rev. Mark Suriano, Pastor of First Congregational Church in Park Ridge, NJ)
Sister Joan Chittister, writes about what we are called to as a faith community in a reflection called, Who We Really Are. She says, “In community we work out our connectedness to God, to one another, and to ourselves. It is in community where we find out who we really are. It is life with another that shows my impatience and life with another that demonstrates my possessiveness and life with another that gives notice to my nagging devotion to the self. Life with someone else, in other words, doesn’t show me nearly as much about his or her shortcomings as it does about my own…. In human relationships I learn that theory is no substitute for love. It is easy to talk about the love of God; it is another thing to practice it.”
We continue to walk in faith and to remember that we are all connected to one another, whatever the distance that divides us. We are part of a long legacy of folks who have tried to live out their faith by caring for one another and our wider community. That may mean that we find whatever humble ways we can to offer support, help, prayers and love to those most in need. That is what it means to be church, to be a community, a people called by God to be a sign of God’s love, compassion and faithfulness no matter what we are experiencing around us. May you continue to be safe, to stay healthy and to feel loved across the distance now and in the days ahead. I wish you peace…
Here are some other quotes for this week:
Mother Teresa, 20th century “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Ruth Reichl, 21st century “Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.”
Brian Tracy, 21st century “Love only grows by sharing. You can only have more for yourself by giving it away to others.”
John Wesley, 18th century “Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?”
Pythagoras, 6th century B.C.E. “Friends share all things.”
This past week, as I was preparing Worship, this reflection was shared in my email by Rev. Terry Hershey. As I had already selected the readings from Psalm 46 which reminds us of that lovely verse, “Be Still and Know That I am God” and then the poem by Wendell Berry about sitting still among the trees, the theme of stillness in the midst of this time was underscored, and so I share this lovely reflection with you and I invite you to carve out time for stillness when you can…
A Reflection for These Times
by Rev. Terry Hershey, Sabbath Moments
“Are we going to be okay? How do we pause internally to find refuge? Relief? Sanctuary?”
I close my eyes, and vividly remember the times in my life when the fragile nature of my world felt like a breaking point.
And I want more than anything to give them a reassuring and consummate answer. And I laugh at my own performance constraint, now wondering which anxiety is gloomier.
For anyone unsettled, I give them a response I learned from the Natal tribes in South Africa. They greet one another each day, saying “Sawa Bona,” which means literally “I see you.” (The response is “Sikhona” which means “I am here.”) Yes. No one of us is on this journey alone.
On my walk this morning, I ask my congregation the sheep, “Any advice on what to say to people with anxiety during a pandemic?”
“What do you say during ‘normal times?’” their look asked.
“Let’s sit a spell on the porch and listen to the birds, maybe wander the garden and smell the flowers, and savor the day,” I tell them.
“So, why would you change that?” They chew and stare at me. And a lightbulb turns on.
The relief we are seeking is connected to an internal switch, not an external one.
When standing knee-deep in the uncertain, it’s so easy to be derailed by tensions from the “unknown”, as if we can only “move forward” with some kind of resolution or tidiness. But what if… I allow tensions to expand my heart, and invite me to new appreciation of the sufficiency that is already there, inside. And from that, embrace the capacity to create a community of kindred spirits kindling the courage we need to show up, even in a messy world?
On a Passion Matters podcast with Fr. Edward Beck, I was asked, “How do you respond to people who say they cannot afford to PAUSE?”
So, I tell a story. An important and hurried and stressed businessman visits a Zen master, seeking guidance and inner peace.
The Zen master sits down, invites the businessman to sit for tea. “I’m not here for tea, I only want inner peace,” the businessman blusters.
Still, the master pours the visitor a cup of tea. But even after the tea fills the cup, the Zen master continues to pour, allowing the tea to spill, now running over the entire table.
The businessman is taken aback, “Hey! Stop! Please stop pouring the tea! Can’t you see the cup is full and obviously can’t hold any more.”
The Zen master replies simply, “Yes. So it is with you. And you will not be able to receive any guidance, or peace, unless you make some empty space first.”
Okay. I can relate to the businessman. After all, there’s something alluring about filling any empty space. And besides, I’m good at it.
This is all the more palpable, now that we stare at empty days. And we’re not so sure what to do with them.
And something very unnerving about being asked to empty (or let go of) whatever I’ve stockpiled to fill that space.
But here’s the deal: When there is no empty space, we pay the price. We are full. Stuffed. Numb. Literally; numb.
When my senses are numbed by noise and overload and worry, I am impoverished. “Anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity,” Thomas Merton wrote.
Bottom line, I become a man (in the words of Leonardo Da Vinci) who “looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odour or fragrance, and talks without thinking.”
So, our spirit is like the teacup. Overflowing. And all we wanted was guidance. We just didn’t expect that it would involve making space. “You need me to let go of what?”
Back to Fr. Edward’s question. “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty,” Etty Hillesum wrote. “To reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
Yes. That’s the gift.
The space enables me to see the sufficiency that is already there.
The space enables me to be at peace with my enoughness.
The space enables me to know that my enoughness is never predicated on what I’ve collected (or on anything external), but on the gentle hands of grace that hold me no matter what.
And, as Etty, wrote, this kind of peace spills to the world around us.
Another story this week from my friend, Rev. Susan Sparks (NYC) about Beethoven. At the end of his life he wrote the Ninth symphony (I’m playing the Hallelujah chorus in my mind, standing to my feet). I can only imagine that Beethoven wished for (prayed for) other circumstances. After all, his life had its own fragility. He was deaf. He was driven to melancholy. Yes, he wished for relief. And yet, from that place he wrote the Ninth. I love this story because it is about that internal switch. He celebrated the beauty that was within.
Beethoven added voice, turning symphony into opera.
And he invites us to engage with the music and beauty inside (“large areas of peace in ourselves”), and to share our own song.
In every single one of us, the music is alive and well. Maybe not the Ninth Symphony; fair enough… Even so, play it. Sing it. Live it. Don’t worry if it’s a good enough song or if you have the words right, or that you didn’t hear the song earlier. Savor the music. Here’s the good news: when I’m at home in my own skin, I can be on the lookout for those who are derailed and cannot hear the music in their world. (www.terryhershey.com)