ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Prelude – Be Not Afraid, Pianissimo Brothers
- Welcome & Opening Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Call to Worship – Come As You Are, David Crowder
- Prayers of the People – Rev. Ohle
- Words of God for the People of God – Psalm 91, Matthew 22:36-40, Romans 8:28
- Anthem – Shelter Me, John McDermott
- Message – Leaning Into the Unknown – Rev. Ohle
- Closing Hymn – Be Not Afraid, John McDermott
- Benediction – Rev. Ohle
- Postlude – From A Distance, Pianissimo Brothers
By Rev. Robert Sorozan, Elizabethtown PA, New York Annual Conference
Great and awesome God, we humbly beseech you to answer our prayers for ourselves and the entirety of your domain.
Grant us your redemption and your precious gift of sanctification. Now and forever and ever. World without end.
Did that sound holy enough, God?
We hope it did because, to be really honest with you, we are really facing a lot of challenges right now. We’re scared. We worry about diseases, racial and social divisions, the economy and we’re just wondering when the next plague will fall upon us.
Our nation is the most divided since the Civil War, and you remember how that worked out for us. And that doesn’t even touch on the normal, run of the mill, problems we face every day.
We need you—we need you as our friend. Please come into our lives, lift us up, and heal us. Restore our nation and give us your peace.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God, you give us so much and I give thanks for our many blessings, known and unknown. Thank you for those who’ve taken their time to spend with me this morning and to worship with me. Thank you for this opportunity and for my calling that you so patiently waited for me to hear.
Thank you, God, for all those who have come before us. For their sacrifices and their work. Thank you for those who even now are putting their lives on the line to battle this virus.
God, I ask that you guide the caregivers and that you heal the sick, the wounded, the broken where it is your will, and give comfort and peace where it is not. I ask that you bring peace and unity back to this nation, that you open the eyes of those who unwittingly perpetuate systems of oppression so that they may act against any inequity or inequality that occurs.
I ask that you guide the leadership of our communities, our states, our nation, and our world. Soften the hearts of those who abuse their positions of power in ways that harm others, and protect the innocents caught in the midst of wars they didn’t make or choose. Cleanse the hearts of those who seek to exploit their positions for personal wealth or fame and protect those who would suffer from that exploitation.
Lead us as your church, God, to go forth and share the Good News, the Gospel, the story of Jesus … not just that in him we find personal salvation, but all his teachings, those things he gave us so that we might build your kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
I know you have already forgiven us for our sins … for our human weakness, for our failure to carry out your commands. Strengthen us, God. Help us to be better disciples. Help us to grow stronger faith. Help us to better hear and see and recognize the guidance of the Spirit.
Bless this congregation, Lord, and the community of this congregation both here in Friendsville and all those who worship with us today from afar. Help us to grow this congregation to become a vital, healthy, active extension of Christ.
I ask these things in the name of your son, and now, with the confidence of Your child, I pray to you in the words he taught us to pray:
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 not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.
WORDS OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.
Psalm 91 – Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings, you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life, I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
Matthew 22:36-40 – “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Romans 8:28 – For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
MESSAGE – LEANING INTO THE UNKNOWN
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
As that song from the sixties goes, the times, they definitely are a-changin’, amen? It’s reached a point where too far often, you can’t tell if you’re coming or going, if you’re locked in or locked out, if you’ll ever be able to have church at Union Grove again or whether you even want to go back to church at Union Grove again.
All the uncertainty in the world … the anger, the frustration, the doubt, the division … it all creates a tension that seems unending.
And then, just to top it off, Conference sends you a new pastor that you don’t know …
I get that. I really do. Because as that new pastor, I’m here staring at myself in the camera screen of my phone as I record this, trying to imagine each of you … wondering if you’re sitting there in rapt attention, waiting to hear what Spirit speaks through me today … or if you’re leaned back, arms crossed, waiting to see if I say something that you may find disturbing or offensive … or if you’re simply tuned in and half-listening while multi-tasking lunch preparations, the newspaper, and catching up with the posts you haven’t read yet on Facebook.
As the new pastor, I want you to know that change is hard for me, too. I don’t know yet what we have in common beyond Union Grove. I don’t know yet what we have in common on personal levels or where we may need to agree to disagree. I don’t really know yet what you expect from a pastor, what you expect from me.
But, there is something I do know … something I am pretty sure we all have in common, and that is our love for God, our hope in the resurrection, our trust in the Spirit, and our desire to follow Christ. I know this because, if we didn’t each have those things, at least on a subconscious level, we wouldn’t any of us be here right now worshipping together.
There is something else I know, too. Even though I’m sitting here, staring at myself on this tiny screen, I know I’m not alone. I’m not talking about my family in the other part of the house. I’m not even talking about each of you watching from the comfort and safety of your living rooms or kitchens or the glider on your back deck.
I know Spirit is here in all her glory, breathing life into the embers each of us has carried from the moment we were born. I know my Lord and Savior is here, present in every face watching this, present in every home, always and ever with us. And, I know God is here, too, for wherever there is Love … there is God.
In these uncertain times, it can be easy to forget their presence. The tensions, the worries, the fears, and, especially, the speculation of what might happen can distract us from feeling or remembering that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are always with us, always present.
And granted, there is a lot to worry about these days. Worrying whether we might be exposed to an as yet incurable virus. Worrying about our job security if the cases continue to rise and we go into another mandatory shelter-at-home, worrying if our retirement funds can survive the effects of the ups and downs the economy is causing in the stock market. I know some of you are worried about your health or the health of your loved ones. And, I know some of you are worrying about decisions specific to the church … decisions that won’t even be made for at least another year or two, but they’re worrying you now and have been for some time.
Now, I have it on good authority that the members of Union Grove are quite good at studying the Bible, so remember what the psalmist told us … “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
And … “If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.”
And … “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life, I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
If we remember these things the psalmist told us … if, when we are tense, when we are anxious, when we are worried or angry or frightened, we turn to these things the psalmist told us and take them into our heart … if we pray these passages … we will find shelter under His wings.
I know it’s hard to, as the saying goes, “Let go and let God.” I struggle with and frequently fail at that on a daily basis. I know we’re all prone to think to ourselves or even speculate out loud, “What am I going to do now? How should I handle this? What should I be doing?” I know we’re all prone to plot and plan in our minds how things might work out or what we believe we might say. I do that all the time. And then I catch myself and I remember what Paul wrote in Romans 8:28: “For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
In all things … It doesn’t mean that, eventually, God will come around to seeing it my way or your way or our way and if he doesn’t then we’re going to hit the highway.
It means that, even when things don’t work out the way we would like or the way we think it should go, God is still working for our good … because we love Him and because we have each been called according to his purpose. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. has been called to His purpose, and we need to trust that whatever happens is part of His plan.
To trust means that we are willing to lean into the unknown. To trust means to be willing to accept God’s will even when it isn’t what we, ourselves, would will. To trust means to have faith and to let go of our fear.
And yes, that’s a tall order. We are, after all, human with all the brokenness and weakness that entails. But remember what Jesus said over and over and over again. “Be not afraid.”
In John 14:27, on the evening when they would come to arrest him, on an evening when, knowing his fate, he of all people had the most justification to be fearful, Jesus told the disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Now, I know that those of you watching who are members of Union Grove have spent the last four years studying the Bible, so I’m pretty confident none of the verses today come as a surprise to you. You’ve probably read them all at least once, maybe more often. And, like all who read the Bible, you’ve read them in light of your personal experience, your personal beliefs, your personal interpretation, your own eyes.
I wonder, though, if you’ve read them the way Christ commands them to be read. If you’ve read them through his eyes.
In Matthew 22:36-40, one of the Pharisees asks Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
The Pharisee who happened to be an expert in the laws of the Torah was trying to trip Jesus up, trying to cause the people there in the crowd to doubt Jesus, trying to generate fear and mistrust. Trying to find a way to declare Jesus a false teacher, a heretic that could then be tried and eliminated.
Jesus replied to the Pharisee: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. In other words, when we read and study the Bible, we should be doing so with loving eyes. When we read the Bible, we should be seeing instructions for how to lift one another up, how to make a place for all at the Lord’s table, how to see not cause for fear or anxiety or anger or frustration when we look at our situations, but to see hope because we know from scripture God is working for the good of those who love Him. To see hope and brothers and sisters even in our enemies because Christ has told us that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. As he has loved us. And anyone and everyone we meet is our neighbor.
So, when we study the Bible, when we read the scriptures, when we see and interpret them not in our own understanding, but through the eyes of Christ … eyes that know only love … Christ’s admonishment to “be not afraid” is much easier to accomplish because there is so much less to fear in the world. And, with less fear, it is much easier to find and feel and rest in Christ’s peace that he has left for us, that he has given us. When we see through Christ’s eyes, we will find the strength, the faith, to willingly lean into the unknown.
Adapted from “A Prayer for the Unknown” by Lisa Whittle
God of past, present, and future, of known and unknown, you already know our hearts, you know our fears, our worries, our frustrations. You know the sources of our anger.
Help us, God. Help us to trust more than doubt, to rest more than wrestle.
We are afraid of an unknown future, even though you are already there.
We live in fear of the unknown when we should be confident because you live in us.
We need strength, hope, promises, safety. We need to be able to face the unknown, to lean into the unknown with courage that we do not have. Courage that can only come from you, God.
Help us to not be afraid. Help us to see not through our own eyes and to lean not on our own understanding, but to see through the eyes of Christ. And when we pull back in fear, when we hold back in frustration, help us to lean back in, God, and remind us when we are leaning into the unknown, we are in the shelter of your wings.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
Traditional Irish Blessing
May you see God’s light on the path ahead when the road you walk is dark.
May you always hear, even in your hour of sorrow, the gentle singing of the lark.
When times are hard, may hardness never turn your heart to stone.
May you always remember when the shadows fall …
You do not walk alone.