Incline Your ear and answer us, for we are needy. Preserve our souls. You are our God; save Your servants because we trust in You. Be merciful to us, O Lord, for we call to You all day long. Bring joy to Your servants, for to You, O Lord, we lift up our souls. For You, O Lord, are kind and forgiving, rich in loving devotion to all who call on You. Hear our prayer, O LORD, and attend to our plea for mercy. In the day of our distress, we call on You because You answer. O Lord, there is none like You among the gods, nor any works like Yours. All the nations You have made will come and bow before You, O Lord, and they will glorify Your name. For You are great and perform wonders; You alone are God. Teach us Your way, O LORD, that we may walk in Your truth. Give each of us an undivided heart, that we may fear Your name. Grant us the grace to praise You with all our hearts and glorify Your name forever. For great is Your loving devotion to us; You have delivered us from the depths of sin.
The arrogant rise against us, O God; a band of ruthless people seek to undermine and harm us without just cause. But You, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in loving devotion and faithfulness. Turn to us and have mercy; grant Your strength to Your servants; save us.
Reveal Yourself to the unjust so they will know You are God Almighty, the Alpha and Omega, the same yesterday, today, and forever, and they are compelled to return to You their Creator.
Have mercy upon Your creation and deliver us from evil. [Glory to Your name] Amen.
Scripture Reference: John 4: 5-42. Focus verse is 23, “But the hour is coming and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”
Most of us are familiar with the phrase, “When it rains, it pours. “Friday and Saturday were such days for me. It started Friday, March 13, 2020, after I awakened to face two new realities, both required me to make decisions quickly. The first had to do with whether to seek medical treatment or self-medicate for an allergic reaction that sprang up overnight. My ears and throat itched like crazy, I had a dripping nose, and my head felt bloated. I experienced the first allergic reaction I had in more than thirty years.
Futilely, I diligently searched my medicine cabinet for over-the-counter drugs to ease the itching. Unfortunately, there was nothing in the house I could use to treat the annoying allergy. By the time I’d finished showering, dressing, and primping, The discomfort had increased, so I decided to visit the nearest Veterans Administration (VA) healthcare system walk-in clinic. By the conclusion of the visit, I was sure I had made the correct decision.
Usually, the decision to seek medical help would not be a big deal; if the symptoms warrant, see a doctor. Friday was different because of the rapid spread and transmission of the coronavirus. My dilemma was whether to clog further a healthcare system already strained with caring for the sick, to seek medical attention for what I believed was a minor allergic reaction.
In addition to my mini-medical plight, as the newly appointed transitional pastor of a small congregation, I was faced with the decision of whether to ask the Session – the ruling body of a Presbyterian congregation- to close our facility. The decision about closing was particularly tricky because several other organizations rent space in our building; closing the entire facility would require our renters to cease operations as well.
After receiving multiple telephone calls and an email from congregants, I decided to ask the Session to close the building to help curtail the rapid spreading of the coronavirus. Closing the building presented a unique quandary for our church and me as a relatively new pastor. Six other organizations besides my own would be affected. The decision to close was made and notification sent to our members, partners in ministry, and other service providers. I slept Friday night feeling better physically and at peace with the decision.
However, Saturday morning I awakened to observe nearly 90% of my son’s body covered with hives. The cause of his hives most likely came from a reaction to something he ate or from something in the heart-shape keychain the take-out-driver gave him. The hives were spreading so rapidly we decided to go to an urgent care center, where Davaughn was treated and released.
Saturday afternoon, I went to the church, expecting to have a relatively quiet and peaceful day. What I encountered was surprising. Instead of peace and harmony, I was greeted with yelling and language that I had previously heard only from teens with severe emotional problems. I found myself in an interesting predicament – should I stay and try to reason with the person, or walk away and shake the dust of that person from my feet. I chose the latter.
I could have, but did not, envisioned some negative backlash over closing the building. But I did not expect viciousness. Closing was a tactical decision made to assist in the effort to reduce the rapid spread of the coronavirus, especially to those populations most susceptible to the illness. Until late yesterday afternoon, it had not occurred to me that one decision would cause such a volatile outburst. The decision was not intended to interfere with worship, but to protect people and change the way services are rendered.
Last night and early into this morning, as I mulled over today’s sermon, it occurred to me the focus verse from today’s Revised Common Lectionary Reading, Year A, John 4:23, addresses the importance of distinguishing spiritual worship from engaging in corporate worship in a designated place. Those who focus on the physical often miss the spiritual.
The Samaritan woman depicted in today’s New Testament text began her interaction with Jesus by focusing on the wrong things. First, the woman zoned in on the ethnic difference between her and Jesus. (John 4:9) Second, she focused on what Jesus didn’t have (a bucket). (v 10) Next, she taunted Jesus, “Sir, give me this water so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water,” the woman was looking at Jesus through non spiritual eyes.
In verse 19, the woman’s spiritual eyes began to open. She saw enough to know Jesus was a prophet of God, not just an ordinary person asking for help (that’s a whole other sermon for another time.) Her breakthrough is evident in V.20 when she becomes reflective and focuses on what, for her, must have been a spiritual dilemma.- admitting she might have learned the wrong thing about where worship takes place.
In today’s vernacular, the woman might have asked, “Are you telling me that all the prophets before you who said this is the place where we must worship were wrong?”
Jesus’s gracious reply reminds us of his amazing grace:
“You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Jesus helped the woman understand God is more significant than any physical space. Jesus wanted the woman at the well, and us, to understand true worship takes place in the heart and is based on a right relationship with God. Praise God; the Samaritan woman eventually got the message to focus on the spiritual, not the material.
Like the woman at the well, at times, we too get bogged down by focusing on the physical aspects of worship- where we worship and how we express devotion, instead of concentrating on the spiritual nature of true worship, which the Apostle James called pure religion. Jesus said godly worship is based on and can only come from a place of righteousness.
God is concerned about the character of worship, not where worship takes place. However, given another chance, I probably would have given our ministry partners a little more than a day’s notice to plan alternatives to in-person gatherings. But, for those of us, whose houses of worship are closed today, let’s remember Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman, it is not where we worship, but the character of our worship that God accepts.
Thank God for amazing grace, technology, and the power to worship and experience God’s guidance when we are under pressure!
Prayer- God, grant us the grace to always worship you in spirit and truth and to do the right thing and trust you for the outcome. Amen
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3: 17)”
Usually, I write a prayer or poem for Christmas. This year, however, I felt compelled to do something different because it seems some media outlets mistakenly paint Christian evangelicals with a broad brush as self-serving, bullies, mean-spirited, unethical, fence-walkers, those who only condemn what or when it is in their interest to denounce.
Evangelicals are not a monolith. Instead, they are a diverse group of disciples of Christ trying to glorify God by following the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are present in every Christian denomination, and they represent every ethnicity and social and economic class. They work in every field and live in every neighborhood.
They are compassionate, caring people who, by the grace of God, try to behave justly, and they pray for the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. They demonstrate mercy toward others because God is merciful.
The following is a summary of what many evangelicals believe.
An Evangelical Declaration
- God is sovereign and is present all the time in every place
- The Bible, consisting of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) and the New Testament, is God’s inerrant word
- Salvation is by grace, not by works, and comes only through Christ Jesus
- God is no respecter of persons because redemption is available to all who repent and accept Jesus Christ as Lord
- The Lord, our God, is one Triune, -Creator (Father), Redeemer (Jesus, Savior), and Sustainer (Holy Spirit)
- God loves all people, including sinners – of which I am one who is saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
- We believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead and in everlasting life
- We believe Jesus is the Messiah prophesied about by the Hebrew prophets
- We believe Scripture teaches God’s people are to behave justly and practice mercy
- We believe Jesus will come again to redeem the Church
- We believe the Church is three dimensional- the spotless Church of Christ, the church within each believer, and the church as an organized body of believers
- We believe in freewill – mortals have the God-given ability to choose between right and wrong
- We believe the Church is one body consisting of different parts
- Jesus is the head of the Church
For as far back as I remember, the days from Thanksgiving to Christmas morning were exciting and my favorite time of year. As a child, I looked forward to basking in the cheerfulness that seemed to permeate the air. I liked the thought of being surrounded by people who behaved more pleasant and generous than usual. I also looked forward with anxious anticipation to buying, giving, and receiving gifts.
The excitement started with me sitting in front of the television in our modestly furnished living room watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; to overeating later in the day, watching holiday movies on TV at night, followed by decorating our house and a Christmas tree.
The colorful decorations, caroling, and holiday parties that started on Thanksgiving pointed with optimism toward Christmas as a day devoted to spending time with family and experiencing the thrill of exchanging and opening gifts.
The Holiday Season still excites me. However, I now think of Thanksgiving as the unofficial start to Advent – a time in the Christian calendar that looks forward to honoring the day set aside to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s greatest gift to the world, and a time for remembering Jesus will come again.
Likewise, as I have matured, my purpose for giving Christmas gifts has changed. I now give as a reminder that Christmas celebrates the loving, sacrificial offering the Creator made by gifting Jesus to the world to reconcile humanity to God.
I saw a photo of your gravestone today.
Praise God, I say.
The stone honors you
by announcing the loving way, you touched most of those whom you knew!
Finally, you are receiving a tiny portion of your just due!
Look at our God, working through the most unlikely people to laud you!
Continue to rest in peace, my brother,
along with David and our dearly loved mother!
In the words of God’s children in every generation and in every place:
GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME!!
Time, they say, heals all wounds
That is wrong!
Time may separate the memory from piercing pain
Time does not blot out the stain
Time keeps moving at its pace, unmoved by the human race
Mortals grapple with finding their place in time’s space
Time is enveloping and elusive, it can’t be touched or caught
Time can’t be stopped or bought
Time keeps rolling along
Like a looping melodic background song
Time goes on and on
Time is steady and strong
Time, they say, waits for no one
That is right!
Time keeps moving – morning, noon, and night
Time cannot be visualized or measured by sight
Time: birth-time, life-time, end-time
Little time, more time, no time
Time: anxious-time, happy-time, hopeful-time, sad-time
Then-time, now-time, future-time
Time is everywhere, all the time
What is time?
My time, your time, their time, our time
Time is time
This morning’s reflection is inspired by a recent reading of Isiah 58: 13 and 14.
I started reading to prepare a sermon about the importance of keeping the Sabbath sacred. But as is often the case, the longer I meditated on the passage especially in the context of all Scripture, my thoughts expanded to identifying other sacred things that are important to keep holy. From the musings, three categories emerged: Sacred Places/Spaces, Sacred Times, and Sacred Things (I’m still contemplating a more fitting title for the third category.).
My developing thoughts on the importance of recognizing sacred things and keeping them consecrated are noted on the attached chart. Double click the link below to view the chart.