+ Welcome & Call to Worship :: Rev. Courtney Richards
Our highest call as people of faith, as those who follow the ways of Jesus, is to love. For now, love looks like an empty sanctuary. It looks like love of neighbor, over love of self. It looks like concern for the greater good, over doing what we’d rather. We know that faith is active, that it is lived out, that it moves and breathes in the world. But today – for a number of days we don’t yet know – we’re moving differently, and breathing slower, and we’re doing all of this each in our own place. Yes, it is strange. And it’s something we’re still sorting out. What we know for sure is that sanctuary is more than a room. It is the soul-deep truth that we are held and loved by the God who made us. For now, love looks like an empty sanctuary. But God is here, wherever we are, and sanctuary is wherever we find it.
+ ‘Sanctuary’ :: Rev. Kevin Howe
+ “Pandemic” (Lynn Ungar 3-11-20) :: Rev. Darlene Martinez
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath –
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny that now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love –
for better or worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
+ Pastoral Prayer / Lord’s Prayer :: Rev. Howe
Holy God, Word among all words,
you were there in the beginning.
You remain still the most important word
that is spoken into our lives;
one of grace and love and mercy.
We give thanks for the word of Good News
that you have imprinted on our hearts,
and we ask that you give us awareness of that Word this day,
and the strength and courage that comes from knowing You are with us.
Take our words and live your grace through them.
Transform our words and change our lives through them.
Take our voices and use them to speak out against the injustices
that are out of line with what You would have this world be.
And when our words are too deep to speak aloud,
we pray that your Spirit will speak them for us,
so that all the words of our mouths
and the meditations of our hearts
will be acceptable in your sight.
We lift these things to You, O God,
Word beyond all words.
+ ‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness’ :: Kelly Ford and Mark DeLuca
+ from ‘For Courage’ (John O’Donohue) :: Rev. Martinez
Close your eyes.
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark.
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.
+ Reflection :: “change” :: Rev. Howe
Change: the only constant everyone agrees upon and that everyone resists. Every day—at church, at home, at work—we are expected to adapt, to modify, to alter, to change. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt there is absolutely nothing in this world that is not changing, and for the most part, we fight every minute of that change. Especially, when it comes to deeply instilled routines and patterns of being.
Even trying to putting on our socks in a different order can make us feel like we’re starting our day off on the wrong foot. There are actual physiological explanations about the neurological connections in your brain that explain why this is so discombobulating, but the bottom line is: having to learn a new way of doing things—a new way of communicating, a new working, a new way of being church, does not come without its fears and anxieties.
Fear and anxiety are natural reactions when we cannot see the future or know for sure what will happen next. But the invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to trust God with an unknown future. And this commitment comes with a promise. The promise of the gospel is that we can choose abundant life over our fears of what will come next. It is a promise that God will walk beside us and will equip us to be faithful even when our circumstances demand that we live into new ways of being and doing.
Our current context requires that we do things a new way. It‘s unchartered territory for many communities of faith, but the promises of God remain: God takes the people who are willing to lean in to the gospel during the changes of life, and with them God does beautiful, beautiful things.
In this time, what new and beautiful things will God do through you?
“Behold: I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” – Isaiah 43:19
+ Scripture :: Isaiah 58: 1 – 11 :: Rev. Richards
Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
3 “Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
+ Reflection :: “prepare: satisfied” :: Rev. Richards
We’ve been reading Isaiah 58 together this Lenten season. Beginning with vs. 1 – 5 on Ash Wednesday, we’ve added verses the last two Sundays. Today, our new verses, verses 10 and 11 … satisfying the needs of the afflicted, the Lord guiding us continually, the spiritual strength and refreshment of never-failing waters.
Wow. I feel like the fact that this happens to already be our text for today … for today of all days, for all that our worship on this morning changes and means … it is a sermon in itself, just as it is.
It is impossible to shape a theological reflection, to consider a scripture and what it might say to us, and not address the events of the day. That’s part of the purpose, right?
Here is text, a sacred word from within our faith history … words spoken to and about God, words gathered to represent God’s speaking to us, words shaped and retold by people who encountered God and wanted others to know what it meant and that it mattered.
We take these sacred texts, and we consider how others have shared them … who was the original audience? What was going on that the speaker or writer was trying to address? How were these words held or shared within the community? How have other audiences absorbed these same words in the generations since?
And then we do the work of the ‘so what?’ … so what does this mean for us? All these generations removed from the original scene, entire millenia past the prophet’s first speaking, what do we do with a call to fasting, to compassion, to justice, to mercy?
We sit in our homes, on a spring Sunday morning, and listen to worship we can’t see, with people we won’t join for a while, and imagine a place and a day when our familiar room is filled again with laughter and song and familiar greetings and ritual practices.
What do we do with this sacred text, these words of the prophet?
We get out our church directory, and we pick up the phone, and we call the person we usually sit next to, and we ask how they are, and how they feel, and what they need.
We keep our eyes open for new ways to be together … for writing notes to people we haven’t seen in a while … for texting happy birthday wishes and anniversary greetings. We take advantage of the technology at our fingertips to see each other’s faces even when we can’t be in each other’s spaces.
We read that book we’ve been meaning to. We choose a scripture to calm our spirits. We search out music that brings meaning. We watch our children, and our friends, and our neighbors, create new things in the midst of this wild and unknown season.
We remember the meaning of a fast. That Ash Wednesday started us into a season called Lent, where we’ve said from the beginning that it isn’t a diet plan, it isn’t about giving something up to get credit for being good at being good. We hear the words of the prophet bringing the word from the Lord that the fast to seek is one that clears distraction, and sets aside personal privilege, and brings forth community, and empowers those who need encouragement, and cares for those who need help, and does it all in the name and for the sake of the One who is in and above and beyond all that we could ever fear, or know, or imagine.
This feels like a very dark time. And in so many ways it is. In biblical imagery, darkness is often a way to name what feels like the absence, instead of the presence, of God. And so light is its opposite; light is the image that brings God closer to us, and us closer to God.
So maybe right now, wherever you are, whoever you’re with, maybe right now you can light a candle.
Sit for a minute with that light.
Take a slow breath in, and then let that breath out.
Feel the yoke of worry release from your shoulders.
Break free of the urge to dismiss, and demean, and even just to be frustrated.
Breathe in, looking toward that light.
Unburden your spirit of the evil and distraction that wants to rest there.
Later today, maybe even in just a few minutes, when you’re washing your hands – again – for those 20 seconds … consider that blessing of water that never fails. One of our great resources in this public health moment is the simple task of hygiene – of opening a faucet, of using soap, and washing our hands. As the water runs over your skin, as it does its work on you and for the health of the community, sing a doxology, give thanks.
This is a season of uncertainty and chaos. It can also be a season of creativity and wonder. Of inspiration and miracle. Of God’s breaking in and light coming forth. That is the promise of our faith, and the foundation of our life … that God will make a way, where it seems there is no way. The words of the prophet remind us, when we focus on the work that is ours to do, when we remove the distractions that tell us we can’t do it, then the Lord will be satisfied and we will be strengthened, and the life-giving waters of grace and mercy will flow with abundance.
Our time spent physically apart from one another does not mean God is apart from us. God is closer than ever, and the Spirit is at work to bind our hearts with steadfast love, with relief for our parched and anxious souls, with streams of life, which never fail.
+ ‘My Feet Are On the Rock’ (I Am They) :: The Rising Band; Isaac Herbert, leader
+ Benediction :: Rev. Richards
Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping;
that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.
Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.
Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping;
that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest with peace.
(The Song of Simeon)