West Congregational Church,
United Church of Christ
March 29, 2020
Fifth, Sunday in Lent
Friends in Christ
As I write this, we are entering the second week of not being able to be together in person. I am hoping that you
all were able to read through last week’s service and perhaps were able to click on one of the links I sent so as to
“watch” a service that was live streamed. Although I have a lot of knowledge about technology, live streaming
etc. is something very new for me. Please know that I am checking messages on the church phone several times
a day and that you can always contact me via email or the pastor’s cell phone.
I want to begin by again thanking Patti Burwen and all of the volunteers at our food pantry. Making sure that
people have enough to eat is a wonderful ministry, especially right now. I encourage all of you who volunteer at
the food pantry to do what you feel you need to do to remain safe. Several people have volunteered to deliver
food to those in need – again thank you!
I would also like to thank those who are continuing to keep up with their pledges / weekly offerings and
encourage you all to continue keep up as much as is possible. Even though we are not using the church right
now, there are still bills that need to be paid. You can mail in your offering or use Tithely. Call (or email)
Charlene Cutting if you have any questions.
One other thing that I am doing is learning how to set up “virtual” get togethers and meetings. This week I am
trying to set up a virtual Bible Study. Please email me at email@example.com
if you are interested in getting involved with that. It will be on Tuesday from 7 – 8PM, just like we have now, except that we will all be
in our homes (and I can take part!) If this works, I will try a worship service that way next week....
This is a very scary time for all of us. Things seem to change between when we got up in the morning and
sometimes by lunch time. Each day there are more cases of the virus reported in New Hampshire, the United
States and around the world. It seems that every day brings news of another state ordering people to remain in
their homes – in a state of lockdown. For those of us with loved ones in another state, especially a state that has
gone to a lockdown or shelter in place order, it can be anxiety producing. We hope and we pray that they will
remain virus free. I encourage all of you to learn some technology, just as I am, so as to find ways of being
together during this time. A phone call is really all it takes to remain in touch, but I have discovered that a video
call can really lift everyone’s spirits! I have learned to use FaceTime, Facebook messenger video, Google Duo,
Google Meet, Google Hangout and Skype all in the last week! This week I am learning to live stream on
Facebook. During these times of social isolation, connection with others by any safe means is essential.
One of the things that is important as we self-isolate in our homes is having a daily routine. We need to practice
self-care of our minds, emotions, bodies and spiritual life. Caring for our bodies means eating right, getting
some fresh air and exercise, getting enough sleep and washing our hands – a lot. Caring for our minds can
involve learning something new, (there are a lot of online classes that are being offered for free right now)
reading a book, and watching things on TV that are not associated with the pandemic. Caring for our emotions
involves staying in touch with family and friends. As I said, a video chat can do wonders. It can also involve
listening to calming music or practicing relaxation techniques like mindful breathing when we begin to feel
anxious. Caring for our spiritual life means setting time(s) aside for prayer and scripture reading. All of these
parts can be brought together into a whole through a routine. I pray and meditate first thing in the morning. I try
o get exercise in the morning as well. Then I get to work either on church stuff like checking messages, putting
together worship, and bible study or I tele-conference with clients from my other job. Around noon I take a
break for lunch. After lunch I tele-conference with clients, practice music and read. After dinner I relax and
watch TV. Before bed I spend time in prayer and meditation. Each day looks different, but that is the
framework. I encourage you to build a framework for a schedule, and then vary what you do from day to day,
being sure to include prayer as a part of it.
One of the readings for this week is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. It begins with this verse: “To set the mind
on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” In times when the news is all about “the
flesh” it can be hard to set our minds on the Spirit. Yet, these words are so true. To continue to focus on what is
happening in the world can be a “death” of sorts. We wonder when this will all end, we wonder when, (
if ) things will ever be “normal” again. We are afraid for how bad it might get. This can cause us to become anxious
and depressed. Paul gives us the antidote for that. Set your mind on the Spirit and you will have life and peace.
Setting your mind on the Spirit means spending time in prayer. You can do this by reading the Psalm of the
week as a prayer. Last week was Psalm 23 – The Lord is my shepherd.... I encourage you to keep praying that
Psalm. Then, when you are ready, switch to the Psalm included in this worship service. Keep praying this Psalm
next week until you are ready to switch to the one included in the next worship service. I encourage you to
listen over and over during the week to the music that Eileen is providing links to. Keeping focused on God
through prayer and music, spending quiet time outdoors or inside will indeed bring you peace and comfort.
May God’s spirit rest upon you and bring you peace.
*** NOTE: I am going to try to hold worship via a tele-video platform – either Google Meet or Zoom. I
will be sending an email out on Saturday, probably through Pat, inviting you all to 10AM worship on
Sunday. If you receive the email and wish to give this a try, all you will have to do is click on the link in
the email and you will be joined to the video meeting. Keeping my fingers crossed that this will work***
(To listen to the music simply click on the link and it will open in your web browser)
I encourage you to spend a moment in silence to bring your whole self into God’s presence.
: Breathe on Me Breath of God
PRAYER OF INVOCATION AND THE LORD’S PRAYER:
Gracious God we know that we do not have
life in its fullest unless You are with us. Send Your Spirit to live among and within us so that we may feel Your
presence wherever we are. May we be blessed with the abundant life You promise, and may we share that life
with others. Help us to live with compassion and courage. God of steadfast love bring new and abundant life to
this community of Your people. Hear our voices lifted in praise and crying out from our need. This we ask in
Jesus’ nae and pray as He taught us: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as
we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us into temptation and deliver us from evil. For Thine is the
kingdom, the power and the glory, now and forever. Amen.
READINGS FROM THE HOLY SCRIPTURES:
Finally, we have the gospel story of the death of Lazarus, a close friend of Jesus. We are told that when Jesus
got to the tomb, He wept. He cried for His friend Lazarus and his family. Jesus, and though Him, God,
experienced the pain of loss and grief. Then, He acted and went into the tomb and brought Lazarus out – alive.
All three of these readings speak to what we are facing right now in life. When God sent Ezekiel to the place
where all the dry bones were and then told him to prophesy to the bones so when God spoke to the bones they
came back to life, God was not raising people from the dead, but rather showing Ezekiel that although Israel
was like those bones, dead and dry, hope was not lost foe them if they listened to Ezekiel and turned back to
worshiping God. You see, God was not resurrecting the old. Nowhere does it say that God brought the original
people who had died and become the dry bones back to life. Rather, the translation reads “God breathed
new life into the old dry bones.
We need believe that no matter what happens, if we have faith, God will breathe new life into the world. That
can be hard to do in these times of uncertainty, in these times where we read about thousands of people around
the world dying. It can be hard to believe when we hear governors of various states, including our own, issue
orders for people to stay home and non-essential businesses to close. We know, or rather we fear, that when this
is over things will be very different from what they are right now. And that fear, that knowing is not unfounded.
I looked at Google Maps traffic this morning and saw that in Boston, Providence and Los Angelis, the highways
were green – no traffic to speak of. That is certainly a new way of being. Only through faith and prayer can we
know that no matter what happens, God will breathe new life into a hurting world.
Then there is the story of Jesus and Lazarus. Yes, God, through Jesus breathed new life into Lazarus. Before that
happened, however, Jesus wept. Jesus wept with grief over the death of his friend. Jesus wept for Martha and
Mary his friends’ sisters who now faced an uncertain future. (They lived with Lazarus which meant they were
not married and so would have no one to care for them and provide for them now that Lazarus was dead.
Remember, in ancient Israel, only family members were obligated to care for each other. If Lazarus had
brothers, they would be obligated to marry Martha and Mary – even if no one involved really wanted that to
happen.) Jesus felt their pain – the pain of their grief over Lazarus’ death and the pain they felt over their
uncertain future and He wept. Through Jesus, God learned what it is like to be human, and when Jesus wept for
Lazarus and his family, God learned what it is like for humans to experience loss and grief. (remember – God is
eternal and so very very different from us that it took becoming human through the person of Jesus for God to
finally fully understand us) Because of this, God knows and can relate to what each one of us is feeling during
these different and difficult times. God knows our fear and uncertainty when we are faced with an unknown
future. God is there to walk with us through these times bringing us comfort.
Finally, there is Paul’s letter to the Romans which speaks very powerfully to us. The following words are quite
powerful right now
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
For this reason, the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot,
and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the
body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
“The Spirit of God dwells in you” we have all been baptized and received the outpouring of God’s Spirit, so that
Spirit lives in us. During these uncertain and trouble times it is more important than ever to
set the mind on the Spirit.
This means that even though we cannot gather together on Sunday, we can still pray. If we set aside
10AM – 11AM on Sunday as a time to read through worship and pray, we are setting our minds on the Spirit
and because of this even though we are apart we will be joined together as the body of Christ. Now, more than
ever, we need to come before God in prayer and trust that no matter what happens, God is present and will bring
new life to the world through the breath of the Spirit.
All of the above are good words, I know, and hopefully they bring some sense of comfort and hope, but they
don’t address what so many people are thinking – why. Why is this happening and why are so many people
suffering. How can God let something like this happen in the world if God loves us? My faith and my
understanding of how the world works and how God works in the world tell me the following. Am I right, I
don’t know, but it is what I believe and how I understand things....
God is present, always. Stuff happens. Sometimes it is because of people being unkind to each other. Sometimes
it is because people do dumb things. Sometimes it is because people are broken in mind, and / or body, and / or
spirit. God created us humans and rather than control our every thought and move, we are given free will. We
can choose what to believe and how to be in the world. God is always present, always looking for ways to
interact with humankind so that we as a species and as individuals can get to know and be in relationship with,
God our creator. When we truly come into relationship with God, our actions, our ways of being will reflect
that. We will act from a place of love and compassion rather than from a place of fear and self-preservation. We
will act in ways that are kind rather than hurtful. This is a piece of what Jesus meant when He spoke about the
kingdom of God on earth.
Sometimes, however, bad things happen simply because of how nature works. God is creator and does still act
in creation, but I believe that God also lets creation have the same “free will” we have. Thunderstorms and
hailstorms ruin crops. Tornadoes wipe out towns. There are fires and floods. God doesn’t cause these things;
they are a part of how nature works. God is there, however, to help relieve the suffering and comfort those who
are in need of comforting. It is the same when a virus like we are dealing with emerges and spreads across the
planet. God is there to comfort us and help relieve suffering. Drew Breeze (Quarterback of the New Orleans
Saints football team) just pledged over 5 million dollars to feed people. Apple computer company is using its
connections to find medical masks and other supplies and get them to where they are needed. GM has offered to
retool and make ventilators which are desperately needed. I could go on. There are so many ways where people
are stepping up to donate from their abundance and help. These are acts of love and I believe that every act of
love is inspired by God. This is God acting in the midst of uncertainty and crisis.
While I pray that all of us will get through this, I do not know if that will happen. What I do know, is that as a
community of faith we can be there for each other. We can reach out to each other through phone calls and
video chats. We can help those in need – our friends, neighbors, and community – and are doing so by keeping
our food pantry open. What I also know is that God is walking through this with us. God knows our suffering
and our fear. So, let us set our minds on the Spirit and experience God’s presence and peace. Let us wait in hope
for the new life that God is sure to bring.
Please stop and take the time to give thanks for the blessings in your life as well as share
your concerns with God.
Gracious God we thank you for our many blessings. We ask in this time of uncertainty and need that
You be with us. Bless the offering made this week to this church. Bless it and multiply it so that we may not
only continue to do Your work in this community, but so that we may grow and be able to expand our ministry.
This we ask in Jesus name. Amen
(Please remember to submit your pledges / gifts to the church via the mail or through Tithley – than you)
We will be using the psalm of the day as our closing prayer. As we move into these uncertain
times, today’s psalm is a good one to pray, not just today but perhaps each day as a source of comfort.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord
. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my
supplications! If you, O Lord , should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered. I wait for the Lord , my soul waits, and in his word, I hope; my soul waits for the
Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning. O Israel, hope in
the Lord ! For with the Lord
there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. It is he who will
redeem Israel from all its iniquities.
Love Divine All Loves Excelling
God be with you till we meet again,
’Neath His wings protecting hide you,
Daily manna still provide you,
God be with you till we meet again.