Home Worship Service September 27

Union Church
Biddeford Pool
…a place of peace and Presence by the sea
Union Church Home Service, September 27, 2020
National Mall, Memorial for the 200,000 Americans who have died from Covid, Alex Edelman/AFP
September 27, 2020
Comfort My People



Focus:  “As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness — just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm.”

-Laura Ingalls Wilder, Writings to Young Women from Laura Ingalls Wilder: On Wisdom and Virtues

Welcome:  A Moment to Remember

Music: Be Thou My Vision  (Text by St. Dallan Forgalli trans. Eleanor Hull, Music David Evans)     -Michelle Currie

Call to Worship: (Isaiah 40:1-11, 2 Peter 3:8-15a)
Leader: We are people longing for comfort.
People: Longing for the stones of anxiety to be cleared from our hearts.
Leader: We don’t know when or how,
People: God’s comfort is patient with our uneasiness.
Leader: So we wait with the promise,
People: God’s peace for all creation.

Opening Prayer: 

Lord, who lifts us up, reside in our hearts today. Help us to listen closely for your word to us. Remind us that you are always with us, throughout all of our lives. Give us confidence in your presence, so that we may go into your world ready to witness to your love through our works and our deeds, for we pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer

Reading and Scripture:  Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16, Isaiah 40:1-11

SermonWisdom From the Past     Rev. Paula Norbert

Moment of Contemplation:   How To Fathom 200,000 American Deaths From Covid-19 | NBC Nightly News

Music: Meditation #4 (by Michael Card)  -Michelle Currie

Musical call to Prayer:  (two times)  Hush now in quiet peace, be still your mind at ease. The Spirit brings release, so wait upon the Lord.

                        Prayers of the People

Closing Music:  Amazing Grace (by John Newton)     -Michelle Currie



May your day be blessed by moments of quietness,
light in your darkness, strength in your weakness,
grace in your meekness, joy in your gladness,
peace in your stillness. May your day be blessed.

Postlude:  Go In Peace


Our Readings This Week

Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
78:1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
78:2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,
78:3 things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us.
78:4 We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
78:12 In the sight of their ancestors he worked marvels in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
78:13 He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap.
78:14 In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all night long with a fiery light.
78:15 He split rocks open in the wilderness, and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
78:16 He made streams come out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down like rivers.


Isaiah 40:1-11   God’s People Are Comforted
40 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.3 A voice cries out:  “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.4 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.5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”6 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.7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength,  O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”10 See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.11 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.

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Wisdom From the Past

Rev. Paula Norbert


In our reading from Psalm 78 this morning, we hear these words…
“Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us.

We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” Last week, I had the pleasure of gathering outdoors with a small group of folks from our church. As we considered the times in which we are living, two out of the group shared stories that they had heard about the deaths of family members during the flu pandemic of 1918. More than 100 years later, they still remembered what they had been told and they recalled the affect that these losses had on the life of their family. As we passed a tragic milestone this week as our nation reported that more than 200,000 of our brothers and sisters had died, it was difficult to even take that in, to truly pause and imagine how the families and friends of all of those people are doing in the wake of such loss.

Let us pray, O Holy One, be with us this day as we look for strength and hope from those who have come before us and from You, our Creator and Sustainer. Bless all those who mourn and help us to grieve with them and to do what we can to stop the spread of this virus in our midst. Amen.

While I was listening to public radio recently, I heard a story about Rabbis in our country who were looking for inspiration from the Sermons that had been shared at the time of the 1918 pandemic. (“Rabbis Look For Inspiration In Sermons From Time Of 1918 Pandemic Amid High Holidays” September 17, 20204, Heard on All Things Considered)

As the Jewish High Holidays approached, some rabbis have requested sermons from the time of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic for inspiration as to what they would say. The American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati received calls from rabbis across the country, according the archives’ executive director Gary Zola, asking what rabbis had said a hundred years ago. Most of us know at this point that the 1918 flu killed hundreds of thousands of people in this country. Schools, churches and temples closed. There was a common thread in what had been shared at that time that connects them to our time and that was an attempt to search for meaning in this pandemic.

In a November 1918 sermon by Rabbi Ferdinand Hirsch of Children of Israel Congregation in Athens, Ga, he wrote, “The hand of God has lain heavily upon the world in these past weeks. There is so much to learn these days in the uncertainty of life. Let me plead with you – nay, demand of you – that you make peace with one another. There is so much newness, so much smallness in our makeups. Whatever we do, let’s be friends, bury past quarrels. Life is so short and uncertain.” Another Rabbi, Sigmund Hecht of B’Nai Brith Congregation of Los Angeles spoke in December 1918 after a long shutdown in services. “ It seems to me, as I stand in this place in which I have not been permitted to stand for the past nine weeks, I want to assure you that it is with deep gratitude to him on high that I am about to resume the duties of my office.” And in November 1918 Rabbi Moise Bergman of Temple Albert in Albuquerque spoke of a familiar balance between economic and humanitarian decisions. “It is hard to answer the man who says his business has been hurt by the quarantine, but it will be impossible to answer the one who says, my child has died because of the neglect of the state.”

There are also reports of what clergy within the various Christian traditions spoke about during that time, and obviously, they didn’t have use of Zoom or Youtube or other ways that people are able to gather today.( “What clergy said when influenza closed churches in 1918”) During the 1918 influenza pandemic in Birmingham, AL, churches were closed. The Birmingham News offered to print sermons, service outlines, scriptures and announcements sent in by various clergy to help people worship at home.

On Monday, Oct. 7, 1918, Alabama Gov. Charles Henderson ordered the closing of schools, churches and theaters to avoid the spread of the Spanish influenza. The 1918-19 influenza pandemic started as World War I (1914-18) was ending and killed more than 20 million and as many as 50 million worldwide, more than twice as many people as those killed in the war. Because Spain was believed to have experienced the first major reported outbreak, it was nicknamed the Spanish flu. Many of the deaths hit young adults age 20 to 40 who had no immunity from previous strains of influenza. Clergy offered a wide range of submissions to The Birmingham News. Some of the leading clergy of the day contributed.

Under the headline: “Sermons given for churchless people of city,” with this introduction by the newspaper: “30,000 or more persons who usually wend their way churchward Sunday morning will be spending this Sabbath in their homes. The News presents to them excerpts from the sermons they would have heard had not the ruling of the City Commission closed the churches until the influenza epidemic is checked.”

The Rev. Fletcher Parrish, pastor of Eleventh Avenue Methodist Church, preached on Genesis 24:63 and reflected on the opportunity for a true Sabbath. “Meditation is very profitable for the soul, but the rush of the world is so great at present that very little time is given to cogitation and reflection,” Fletcher wrote. “Men think they have no time to walk out in the fields for contemplation, or to sit quietly by the fireside and muse. However, we have a God-given opportunity for this helpful indulgence by reason of this unique Sabbath which has dawned upon us. Out of necessity our churches are closed, and all public gatherings must be discontinued. We cannot go motoring, and we would not go to business if we could, and even the fields are dangerous lest we should come in contact with goldenrod and ragweed and take influenza. But we can sit by the fire and give ourselves to thought and reflection which will bring great profit to us.”

Temple Emanu-El Rabbi Morris Newfield focused his reflection on the effects of World War I. “The nations of the world are struggling to find their souls; those that do not, will go, as others have gone, into the oblivion of decay.”

The Rev. P.B. Wells, pastor of Highlands Methodist Church, offered the following announcement: “There will be no services at this church until further notice. If there be sickness among the membership, please notify the pastor. The treasurer will be glad to hear from you. You will readily appreciate the importance of this announcement.”

Dr. C. Ross Baker, pastor of Woodlawn Baptist Church, preached on Romans 8:28. “Take a good look off in life, and your soul will be filled with thanksgiving to God that you are so much better off than you might be,” Baker wrote. “Every individual has his or her peculiar trials. Sorrow comes to every household. The thorns and the beetling rocks and the threatening clouds and the dark valleys seem necessary to the grandeur and splendid beauty of the scene.”
(Based on article By Greg Garrison(Al.com)

It is not surprising to me that there are so many similar themes to what religious leaders were speaking about in 1918 with what so many of us have been considering in these days. We know people have been through hard times throughout history, that they have struggled with wars that have ravaged nations, with natural disasters and plagues that have torn apart communities and have forced people to do what they can to protect themselves and their communities. These are also important times for us to reflect on the larger questions of life, our search for purpose and meaning in the midst of suffering and struggling.

I’m hoping that many of you were able to read the letter that was published by concerned faith leaders across Maine two weeks ago. We shared this with our church community. It speaks about the importance of science to help provide clear guidance as to how we may protect ourselves; it speaks about the responsibility that we all have to protect the common good and to embrace a “love without borders,” as Pope Francis shared, “A virus that does not recognize barriers, borders, or cultural or political distinctions must be faced with a love without barriers, borders, or distinctions”. This love without borders insists that we show special concern for all who are most at risk and suffering disproportionately, especially communities of color, low-income families, those who are homeless, and people living with pre-existing conditions who lack adequate health care.

We grieve these losses; we grieve the conditions within our society that perpetuate systems of inequality and lack of access to basic needs such as clean water, adequate and healthy food, and access to health care. We also hold in our prayers this day all those who continue to suffer with the long-term affects of this virus. We pray for guidance; we pray for consolation; we pray for hope…

I’d like to close with a short video that aired this past week on NBC that helps bring context to what 200,000 lives lost in our nation alone means…and we know there are thousands around the globe who suffer along with us.
(Harry Smith Video)

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