The spread of the COVID virus has shown us how connected we are as people of the earth, and how vulnerable, fragile, our lives. In tragedy and struggle the differences between people are erased – even for those we might call enemies – compassion rises to the top. The Song of Peace speaks to that communion.
This is my song, O God of all the nations, A song of peace for lands afar and mine. This is my home, the country where my heart is, Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.But other hearts in other lands are beating, With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean, And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine. But other lands have sunlight too, and clover, And skies are everywhere as blue as mine. O hear my song, thou God of all the nations, A song of peace for their land and for mine.
We come with our hearts full, with our living spaces perhaps too empty, with new responsibilities and cares – we come in the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
‘God is in us’ is a meditation for worship written by Susan Palo Cherwien* May it help quiet your many distractions as you enter these words:
Perhaps we do not remember it, … as loving arms held us. And water of new belonging splashed over us. Each Ash Wednesday we see the sign again revealed. We had forgotten it on ourselves; we had neglected to see it on others, But it persists. That sign. That cross.
A smudge of mortality. A nudge of remembrance. A remembrance of water poured. A remembrance of anointing. A remembrance of a way made straight for God.
You have been sealed… With the cross… Forever. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.
Prayer of the Day
O God, our teacher and guide, you draw us to yourself and welcome us as your beloved. Help us to lay aside all envy and selfish ambition, that we may walk in your ways of compassion and wisdom as servants of your Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we pray. Amen.
We find ourselves intently focused on our health these days, our bodies, and on our isolation. This psalm reminds us that we are never alone or unknown. God is in all things and all things find their being in God.
Lord, you have searched me out.
O Lord, you have known me.
2 You know when I sit down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You trace my journeys and my resting places
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You encompass me, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
7 Where can I go then from your spirit?
Or where could I flee from your presence?
8 If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
17 How deep to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.
Scripture and sermon
Tension has been building week after week (in our readings) as Jesus gets closer to Jerusalem. There have been disputes and debates between Jesus and the ‘scribes, elders, and Pharisees’ ever since the beginning, but the arguments are heating up. There’s more at stake. As Passover approaches, the scribes and Pharisee’s urgency to silence Jesus and diminish his influence is palpable. He is a threat – not only to their self-interest as he usurps their authority, but now to the nation. Their public attempts -and failure- to expose him, to trap him in his own words, and the way Jesus can twist or evade their questions while staying true to scripture, is infuriating to them, and has becomes a spectator sport for everyone else. The adoring crowd only makes it worse.
Now in Jerusalem, Jesus teaches in the temple courtyards every day. The attendant crowd milling around is attracting more attention, swelling their numbers. Passover is coming and with it the usual extra ‘security’ afforded to them compliments of the Roman army. Religious leaders fear Jesus, fear his ability to excite the crowd’s imagination. What if they start a riot? What if they call for Jesus, not Herod, to be their king? This rebel Jesus could bring the whole thing down on their heads. He has to be stopped; now, before passover, before the frenzy gets any worse.
“As they came out of the temple, one of Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Later, sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to occur?” Jesus said to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” Mark 13:1-8
Mark is writing about 40 years after the events that he is narrating. He is writing during or shortly after the disastrous fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple resulting from Jewish insurrection: a rebellion against Roman rule that failed catastrophically. This bleak and forlorn time echoes throughout Mark’s gospel. For him, the time seems ripe for Jesus’ return, for the apocalypse. The end of this violent and wicked age must surely be close at hand. Looking back at the Jesus events in Jerusalem 40 year earlier, and experiencing the fall of the temple in his time, Mark sees a convergence – he believes he is witnessing the beginning of the end.
He goes on, “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
“But I tell you, about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, therefore and keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”
You might be familiar with this reading because of our culture’s fascination with the cataclysmic Last Days, with the battle between the forces of Good and Evil. Video games, book series, scores of movies, and the Jehovah witnesses who come to my door, point to these events as the last and deterministic drama of human life on earth.
Apocalypse. It is quite a reading for this week in our world. The Narrative lectionary cycles through the four gospels every four years. So this wasn’t my choice, nor was it intended to fall into the midst of a coronavirus outbreak. Still, it feels like it fits really well into our lives this year. Maybe too well. A world-wide pandemic gaining ground in nation after nation, state after state, county by county, seems… well, is, apocalyptic. But maybe not what you’re thinking.
Apocalypse come from a Greek word that found itself caught up in the tribulation of the final book of the New Testament, and is mostly held captive there – implying a disastrous cataclysmic end. But as a word, it means to take away the cover, to peal back, to reveal what is hidden beyond sight.
And, that is what Jesus did. He apo-calypsed the shallowness of religious practice among the Pharisees, scribes, and elders. Their main orientation was to the Law. To maintain the law was to control the people. This, of course was in their personal best interests. It supported their elevated social standing, gave them the best seats at banquets, afforded them the flattery and fear, bows and nods of honor as they walked among the people. But none of that was the ‘purpose’ of religion. Nor was it true to their own scripture’s witness of God’s will and way. It is the human way, often.
Control is possible through force, shaming, punishment.
Leadership through practicing justice, lovingkindness and walking humbly with God wouldn’t have had the desired effect for the scribes and Pharisses. (But it is the purpose of religion)
Loving God above all things… wow, all things? Loving your neighbor as yourself – even if that neighbor turns out to be leprous or a tax collector or a Samaritan? These ways of God do not bring public honor or social acclaim. More likely one would be avoided in the street, would loose face, not advance in community.
Servant leadership was just not appealing to the Pharisees and scribes. That is what Jesus revealed about them. They knew scripture, but didn’t behave scripturally. When you peeled back their words, and their ritualized belief, not much was found of love and mercy, empathy, humility. Not much of the way of God was revealed underneath the cover of respectability.
We are witnessing a similar dynamic, an apocalypsing of our health care system, for one. It didn’t take long for the rug to be pulled back in this public health crisis. We’re seeing the results when the cover of competent national leadership and the storyline of abundance is lifted. There are weak spots and large holes in a system that was supposed to support a nation. True, no one expected this, or anticipated the web of devastation a virus could create, but why does health care readiness fall so far behind military readiness? (for example) We would never leave our service personnel scrambling for protective gear, scrounging for essential equipment. The lack of centralized accountability, supply, and foresight is startling.
We will discover in the weeks and months ahead what the apocalypse of the financial realm will reveal about the values of our leaders. Current spiraling financial insecurity reveals interconnections within big and small markets, big and small businesses evident now. There is an equalization of sorts in the midst of crisis, all are brought low. But who will benefit in the recovery, who will be lifted up? Who will be shown grace? Will all be raised in equality? Chances are the least will not be considered first, nor the big guys pushed back to wait their turn.
Chances are God’s upside down economics of lifting a child in Jesus’ arms and showing this insignificant little scrub to be the entry point to the realm of God’s will and ways, will not be replicated in our political will and way.
But, all is not lost. There is at least one more apocalypse du jour. An interpersonal one.
The COVID virus shows no favoritism. It does not prejudice our social hierarchies of color, wealth, extroversion, neighborhood, age, race. We are all susceptible. We are all vulnerable. And in that is the cause of our fear – and the revelation of our blessing. We each hear the whisper, “That could be me. What about my loved ones?”
While crisis may reveal the selfishness, greed, and self-serving impulse of our corporate intelligence, crisis often pulls back the blinders of individuals, so that we’re more likely to notice those around us – or their absence – and inquire about them, help them if we’re able. We’re more likely, in crisis, to recognize our shared fears and needs, our essential interdependence, and work side by side – all for one, one for all. Yes, it seems the first impulse is to procure as much of the perceived ‘goods of necessity’ as you can carry, but we are also witnessing remarkable courage, integrity, generosity, willingness to serve against one’s self-interest. The strong are helping the weak. Creativity is exploding to find another way, to bridge a new gap, fill a new need. People unused to being home are discovering new ways to live, new ways to use their industrious natures and their gifts. People unused to sheltering at home are reaching out to strengthen community in the vacuum created overnight.
If we remember the beatitudes of Jesus, we’ll remember that they expose unexpected places of blessing – it’s not just the joyful, but also those who mourn, not only the wealthy but also those who are poor, not only the satisfied, but also those who are hungry and thirsty and lonely and scared. They, too, receive God’s blessing – equally – that is, in full measure of God’s love. It is our misunderstanding of the nature of being blessed – and our misunderstanding of God – that makes the beatitudes seem not quite right, or upside-down somehow. The beatitudes reveal the equality of God’s economy where all are loved as one.
Our ability to find goodness even in these deeply anxious times, to find commonalities where we never noticed them before, to stay home and shelter even when we don’t have known active COVID cases in our county – but to do it out of concern for the health of our neighbor, or the stranger in the store, or those who must work instead of staying ‘safe’… these things are blessings being born out of our shared humanity and suffering, our share of God’s love.
Jesus warned his disciples not to live into, or focus on, a future they cannot see, but to pay attention to the now of their lives, to the here of their faith. “For you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn…”
But we do know that God is with us in all the watches of the night. God’s presence can be found in all the hours of our sleepless fear, in the long night of sickness, in those who watch for the dawn, those confined with a love one who is ill, those who serve in essential ways and are overburdened and weary. God is present now in the hours of each of our lives. Psalm 139 asserts that we were written into the book of life ‘before our bodies yet had form’. Certainly, God is present with you now. Be alert! to the many faces of Christ. And since you are sheltering at home, look in the mirror.
God be with you.
Prayers of the people
- God of love, thank you for the examples of kindness we have known in our lives, for those who demonstrate your love to those around them, and by doing so inspire others to live a life of kindness and love. We ask that we would remember the eyes and ears all around us, especially the little ones who follow the examples of our actions, whether kind or unkind. And, by your grace, let us be kind. Lord, in your mercy…
- God of grace, thank you for this church community, for every person who makes up this fellowship of faith. Help us as a community to see how we may be a voice of love now. We bring before you our magnificent world, full of sorrow and sickness again this week, and courage and compassion. We trust that you are present especially with families broken apart by the virus pandemic, by tragedy, poverty, circumstance, or violence; with spirits torn by addiction, loneliness, domestic violence, abuse or worry. You’ve promised that you are present with the least among us, but we ask in addition that you would grant them some tangible proof of your presence through the intentions of others. Lord, in your mercy…
- Dear God, in our own community, we shelter those who are hurting, who rely on your grace:
Darrel and Milda, Cordelia and Nikki, Ken and Mark, Tom and Joyce, Lois, Bob, Karma, Vivian, Doris, Donna, John and Karen, Ava, Sarah. We add to these all those named silently or aloud in this silence……Lord, in your mercy…
- God of justice, the governments and corporations ruling our world don’t seem very good at justice or peace or compassion or raising the most vulnerable. We add our voices to a chorus of your people, asking for peace in our world, for justice for the oppressed, for policies that protect all the habitats of your earth. We pray for those who serve in policing, military and governance: especially Monte, Luke, Matt, Phillip and Alec. Lord, in your mercy…
- God of grace, we pray for lives and livelihoods turned so suddenly upsidedown. Grant us patience, perseverance, and imaginations to see what good there is even in times of stress and heightened anxiety. Bless those who are struggling to stay at home, and those struggling to provide care. Bless us all as we enter this week. Help us remember that we do not enter it alone – As you have promised to all who have come before and all will follow, let us trust you at your word. We ask these things in a sure and certain hope, and through the name of Jesus. Amen.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen
May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord look upon you with favor and grant you peace. Amen
Be well, loving God, keeping your distance, praying intentionally for those with great need. Amen
Built on a Rock
Built on a Rock, the church shall stand even when steeples are falling; Crumbled have spires in every land, bells still are chiming and calling, calling the young and old to rest, calling the souls of those distressed, longing for life everlasting.
Surely, in temples made with hands God the Most High is not dwelling – high in the heav’ns his temple stands, all earthly temples excelling. Yet God who dwells in heaven above chooses to live with us in love, making our body His temple.
We are God’s house of living stones, built for his own habitation; He fills our hearts, his humble thrones, granting us life and salvation. Where two or three will seek his face, he in their midst will show his grace, Blessing upon us bestowing.
Thro’ all the passing years, O Lord, grant that, when church bells are ringing, many may come to hear yuor Word, where he this promise is bringing: “I know my own, my own know me, you, not the world, my face shall see; My peace I leave with you. Amen.”
- p45 “God is in us” from Crossings – Meditations for Worship, by Susan Palo Cherwien. 2003 Morningstar Music Publishers