LENT LETTERS March 22, 2020
Amity United Methodist Church
March 22, 2020
The Fourth Sunday in Lent
“One Church, One Body In Christ”
Welcome to the “Lent Letters.”
Fires, earthquakes, sickness, snow & ice – there are a lot of reasons why we might have to cancel worship services. Ordinarily, we just do what we can and then pick back up when things improve. But this is the middle of Lent. Somehow, I couldn’t accept the notion of “oh well, what’re you going to do?” So these “Lent Letters” are love letters, in a way. They come from the want and the need to keep the love of Christ first and foremost in our hearts….to keep our God with us and within us till we meet again.
Table of Contents:
Notes from the Pastor ~ Pg. 2
Opening prayer & scripture Pg. 3
1 Samuel 16:1-13 & commentary Pg. 4
Psalm 23 & commentary Pg. 5
Ephesians 5:8-14 & commentary Pg. 6
John 9:1-41 & commentary Pg. 7-9
Church News – Circuit Choir Pg. 10
A letter from Tim Overton-Harris Pg. 11-12
Prayers & closing Pg. 13
Notes from the pastor ~
Thanks for your response to last week’s “Lent Letter.” I didn’t know what to expect – after all, a newsletter is no substitute for a service of worship. But with your help we will stay tuned to the good news of the Gospel in whatever way we can.
Over the past few weeks, I found myself muttering, “I refuse to give up Lent for Lent!” Funny – you’d think that a pastor would jump for joy at the prospect of a little relief during their busiest time of year. To be honest, the thought did cross my mind, but that’s when the little voice said, “I refuse to give up Lent for Lent!” I have to say, I’m glad there are many others who feel the same.
To get a break from the news this morning, I dialed in a local sports talk program from Portland. I’d rather not plug the show’s name, but this show is basically two guys sitting at microphones every morning talking about – you guessed it – sports. I told Margie that this should be interesting. I mean, what in the world is there for them to talk about! Everything is shut down: basketball, football, hockey….even baseball looks grim. But there they were doing their job, and I have to say it was hilarious. Margie even got a kick out of it. But later in the day I got to thinking. Yes, these two were doing the best they could with what they had. I wasn’t so much impressed by how they made the best of a bad situation. I mean, you have to admit, it was a bit awkward. What impressed me was that they seemed frustrated. I can’t say that they were frustrated because the shutdown had made their jobs harder to do. No, it seemed to me that they were frustrated because they missed doing it. They missed the clutch shots in the final seconds, they missed the bad calls and the good hits and all the crazy things that get a sports geek’s heart pumping. But there they were, giving it their best shot. These guys love doing what they do, and no pandemic viral shutdown was going to keep them from talking and sharing the world of sports – even if there is nothing going on. Gentlemen, I salute you. By the way, Tom Brady (from the New England Patriots) signed with Tampa Bay – who saw that coming?
So, let’s not give up Lent for Lent, OK? Let’s continue to read the stories, tell the stories, and share the stories of Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem…and to the cross. That being said, the worship team would be interested in any and all ideas that you might have to keep us connected through these times of isolation. Video hymn singing? FM sermon transmission to your car radios in the parking lot? These seemed like ridiculous ideas at one time… but now?
Anyhow, hope you enjoy this Lent Letter as much as we enjoyed putting it together. Hold onto those you love and be joyful in the knowing of this amazing love – the love of God the Father in Jesus Christ.
Quotes of the Week ~
“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” ~ Blaise Pascal
“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” ~ Helen Keller
“God grant me the serenity to accept the people I can’t change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know that it’s me.” ~ Paul Tillich (and others)
I’d like to offer up a Gregorian prayer from the 6th century.
Its timeless simplicity seemed well suited for us right now:
O Lord Jesus Christ,
by your incarnation you united
things earthly and heavenly.
Fill us with the sweetness
of inward peace and goodwill,
that we may join the heavenly host
in singing praises to your glory;
for you live and reign
with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Scriptures for the week:
1 Samuel 16:1-13 Psalm 23 Ephesians 5:8-14 John 9:1-41
Our scripture selections for this week are rich and powerful. We’ll print them in their entirety with a listing of the translation chosen. It’s good stuff; so good that I don’t quite know where to begin. So let’s begin with the story of the anointing of young David from 1 Samuel 16:1-3
The following is a commentary by Doug Ballard from McCabe Chapel.
“In the Hebrew Bible, Samuel was originally one book (as was the book of Kings). When Jewish scholars translated the Old Testament into Greek in Alexandria Egypt about 150 BC (the Septuagint) both books were divided into two parts, our present books of 1st and 2nd Samuel and 1st and 2nd Kings.
Samuel is named after the prophet Samuel, and Jewish tradition was that he was the author of the first part of 1st Samuel, with the prophets Nathan and Gad completing the books. The books cover the birth and judgeship of Samuel, the people’s demand for a king, the selection, reign, and fall of Saul as first king, and the anointing, rise, and reign of David. In rough terms, the period covered is from about 1100 BC to David’s death in 970 BC at the end of 2nd Samuel.
Saul, who had been anointed King with great promise – and who looked the part, being tall, good-looking, and endowed with strength and military prowess. But in a series of events, he had proven disobedient. Unlike kings of surrounding nations, the King of Israel was clearly subordinate to the ultimate KING of Kings – the LORD God. In Chapter 15 of 1st Samuel, Saul disobeyed God not only by taking the spoils that were devoted to the LORD and sparing the life of Agag, King of the Amalekites, but initially lied to Samuel about it. The last verse of Chapter 15 reads: Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel. (New International Version). And so we come to this morning’s scripture below.” (from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message.)
1 Samuel 16:1-13 The Message (MSG)
God Looks into the Heart
16:1 God addressed Samuel: “So, how long are you going to mope over Saul? You know I’ve rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your flask with anointing oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I’ve spotted the very king I want among his sons.”
2-3 “I can’t do that,” said Samuel. “Saul will hear about it and kill me.”
God said, “Take a heifer with you and announce, ‘I’ve come to lead you in worship of God, with this heifer as a sacrifice.’ Make sure Jesse gets invited. I’ll let you know what to do next. I’ll point out the one you are to anoint.”
4 Samuel did what God told him. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the town fathers greeted him, but apprehensively. “Is there something wrong?”
5 “Nothing’s wrong. I’ve come to sacrifice this heifer and lead you in the worship of God. Prepare yourselves, be consecrated, and join me in worship.” He made sure Jesse and his sons were also consecrated and called to worship.
6 When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Here he is! God’s anointed!”
7 But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.”
8 Jesse then called up Abinadab and presented him to Samuel. Samuel said, “This man isn’t God’s choice either.”
9 Next Jesse presented Shammah. Samuel said, “No, this man isn’t either.”
10 Jesse presented his seven sons to Samuel. Samuel was blunt with Jesse, “God hasn’t chosen any of these.”
11 Then he asked Jesse, “Is this it? Are there no more sons?”
“Well, yes, there’s the runt. But he’s out tending the sheep.”
Samuel ordered Jesse, “Go get him. We’re not moving from this spot until he’s here.”
12 Jesse sent for him. He was brought in, the very picture of health—bright-eyed, good-looking. God said, “Up on your feet! Anoint him! This is the one.”
13 Samuel took his flask of oil and anointed him, with his brothers standing around watching. The Spirit of God entered David like a rush of wind, God vitally empowering him for the rest of his life. Samuel left and went home to Ramah.
The next reading is the 23rd Psalm. Since many of us probably know the King James Version by heart, here might be a different perspective from The Good News Translation.
Psalm 23 Good News Translation (GNT)
The Lord Our Shepherd
23 The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.
2 He lets me rest in fields of green grass
and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water.
3 He gives me new strength.
He guides me in the right paths, as he has promised.
4 Even if I go through the deepest darkness,
I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me.
Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me.
5 You prepare a banquet for me,
where all my enemies can see me;
you welcome me as an honored guest
and fill my cup to the brim.
6 I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life;
and your house will be my home as long as I live.
When Rabbi Harold S. Kushner learned that his 3 year son, Aaron, would die in his early teens of a rare disease, he struggled with how to cope with such a tragedy. The end result of his struggle was the book “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.”
“I knew that one day I would write this book,” says Rabbi Kushner. “I would write it out of my own need to put into words some of the most important things I have come to believe and know. And I would write it to help other people who might one day find themselves in a similar predicament.” “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People” has indeed helped thousands of people find strength in a God of comfort, a God of purpose, and a God of loving care. Of the 23rd Psalm, Rabbi Kushner later wrote, “God is good. Nature is not good. Nature is amoral. Fire burns and bullets wound and falling rocks injure and disease germs infect everybody, whether they deserve it or not.”
If I had to sum up the 23rd Psalm in 10 words or less, I would have to say that this is a psalm of trust. The 22nd Psalm of David is a sorrowful lament beginning with the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Could it be that the 23rd Psalm was God’s answer of confidence and trust to David’s anxious heart?
Our Epistle reading comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus – Ephesians 5:8-14 – and speaks to the themes of darkness and light; blindness and sight. The short quotation at the end is best thought to be the words to a hymn commonly sung at the time of Paul’s ministry. I have a feeling it was one of those catchy tunes that get stuck in your head sometimes. Funny, I always imagined that the Apostle Paul had a singing voice like a mangled mule, but who knows?
Ephesians 5:8-14 Common English Bible (CEB)
8 You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light. 9 Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth. 10 Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, 11 and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them. 12 It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret. 13 But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light. 14 Everything that is revealed by the light is light. Therefore, it says,
Wake up, sleeper!
Get up from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.
Margaret Aymer tells us, “Ephesians focuses heavily on discipleship: how we should live in light of the grace that has been given to us in Jesus Christ,” and this text is all about that. But if all the talk of darkness and light start to get confusing, all we need to do is look at verse 10: Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord. There’s an old saying that states, “Whenever you see the word ‘therefore’ make sure you know what it’s there for.” When I get cut off in traffic and calmly comment on the driver’s mother, is that pleasing to the Lord? When I judge, when I snarl, or when I complain how rough it is in this world, is that pleasing to the Lord? That’s what the therefore is there for: to get our attention. To live in the light of grace that has been given to us in Jesus Christ is joy to believers. But it’s not necessarily easy and sure doesn’t happen overnight.
Last, but not least is our gospel lesson from the gospel of John. This is yet another long story; mostly because there are so many twist and turns. Once again, from the Message –
John 9 The Message (MSG)
9 1-2 Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”
3-5 Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.”
6-7 He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “Sent”). The man went and washed—and saw.
8 Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, “Why, isn’t this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?”
9 Others said, “It’s him all right!”
But others objected, “It’s not the same man at all. It just looks like him.”
He said, “It’s me, the very one.”
10 They said, “How did your eyes get opened?”
11 “A man named Jesus made a paste and rubbed it on my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ I did what he said. When I washed, I saw.”
12 “So where is he?”
“I don’t know.”
13-15 They marched the man to the Pharisees. This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. The Pharisees grilled him again on how he had come to see. He said, “He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “Obviously, this man can’t be from God. He doesn’t keep the Sabbath.”
Others countered, “How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?” There was a split in their ranks.
17 They came back at the blind man, “You’re the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?” He said, “He is a prophet.”
18-19 The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”
20-23 His parents said, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.” (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. That’s why his parents said, “Ask him. He’s a grown man.”)
24 They called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind—and told him, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor.”
25 He replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.”
26 They said, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
27 “I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?”
28-29 With that they jumped all over him. “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”
30-33 The man replied, “This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”
34 They said, “You’re nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!” Then they threw him out in the street.
35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 The man said, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”
38 “Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.
39 Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”
40 Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”
41 Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”
Healing of a Blind Man ~ John 9:1-41
How do we even begin with this incredible passage? First of all, it’s good to understand that it was the common belief of the day that if you have a stroke of bad luck, then either you have sinned or your ancestors have sinned. Hours were spent around the fires, I’m sure, discussing the depth of someone’s sin judging by the breadth of their misery. It is the way things were, which explains the seemingly snarky questions that the disciples asked when first spotting the blind man: Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents causing him to be born blind. Jesus played the part of “Myth Buster” in this case, you might say, answering (vs. 4) There’s no such cause-effect here. And that settled that.
By the same token, people did not understand the idea of light reflection very well in those days. They believed that things – trees, rocks, water – actually gave off light; the light came from the thing. Therefore, if something was dark, then it lacked light and vise-versa. So much of the Christ’s teaching using light and darkness took advantage of that belief to teach a larger understanding. Think “I am the light, the light of the world.” See what I mean? To us, it is a wonderful metaphor describing Christ the Redeemer. To folks in those days, it was much more.
But the real kicker, I believe, comes when the blind man’s sight is restored. The Pharisees, of course, could not believe this crazy thing. The parents are called in to testify that he was indeed blind, but out of fear of the temple priests, they pass the buck. (vs. 23) Ask him, he’s a grown man. But here’s where it gets good. The Pharisee call the previously-blind man back in and grill him good this time, but he’s too happy to care so they throw him out in the street. Jesus finds him and asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Do you believe in the Messiah? The man’s answer is priceless: (vs. 36) “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.” Jesus reveals himself by saying, “You’re looking at him. Don’t you recognize my voice.” (vs. 38) “Master, I believe,” he said, and worshipped him.
At this point, the story becomes like a parable – at least to me. The quote from Blaise Pascal comes to mind: “In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” The beggar who had been blind from birth wanted to believe. But his was not a belief of desperation – heck, he could see as well as anyone now. His future looked bright. (no pun intended) The Pharisee, on the other hand, would not/did not want to believe. All the evidence was there, but they were blind with their eyes wide open.
Take a moment and think on the crux of your faith. What makes you want to believe? How is that the love of Christ still brings joy to your heart when it seems like little else does? This is worship: to be content in the love of God. We pray for the day when we can be together again – to worship.
Amen & Shalom
CHURCH NEWS ~ Circuit Choir
It feels like many of us are still in shock by the fact that we can’t come to church. Granted, the “church” is not the building, but the buildings in which we gather to worship have become an integral part of our lives. It just feels wrong. However, we will continue to seek out ways to worship until the time comes when we can meet together in these buildings that we love.
For those in the choir, however, this had been a total freeze-out, and members of our circuit choir have been voicing their frustrations loud and clear. We miss preparing for the cantata we planned on singing this season, we miss the singing – we miss all there is about being a part of our choir. But most of all, it seems, we miss fellowship and the push and pull of working together to sing praises to God.
So, with that in mind I have assembled a short collection of choir notes to cast a little humor on our dire situation. It’s a roast, of sorts, but please note that no one was left out ~
Q: How many tenors does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Five. One to do it, and four to say, “It’s too high for him!”
Q:How many sopranos does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Just one. She holds the bulb and the world revolves around her.
Q:How many altos does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. They can’t get up that high.
Q: How many basses does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. They’re so macho they prefer to walk in the dark and bang their shins. And lastly…
Q: How long does it take for a conductor to change a light bulb?
A: Nobody know because no one is watching.
Seriously, we love our choir and wish them peace, joy,……and patience!
The following is a recent letter from our District Superintendent, Tim Overton-Harris
March 20, 2020
God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble. That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart, when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea, when its waters roar and rage, when the mountains shake because of its surging waves. (Psalm 46: 1-3 CEB)
Dear Siblings in Christ,
These are times of great trouble and challenge. You are doing amazing things with limited resources, knowledge, and accessibility. Thank you for stepping up at this time of crisis and for working so diligently to make sure people are cared for, connections are maintained, and folks are fed body and soul.
It looks like we will be in this new norm for a while yet and that once we reach the other side things will never again be as they were. No one knows what the resulting ramifications will be for our society, our government, our economy, our communities and our church. It is said too often but nothing else seems to convey it: we are living through an unprecedented time.
I want to tell you that the Annual Conference and Greater Northwest Area leadership are actively engaged in this with you. We are meeting frequently to assess the ever-changing situation and trying to respond in ways that enhance the health and safety of us all while being mindful of our call to love our neighbors.
I have heard many ideas of how we can still be church, still serve, and still connect even with personal distancing and limited gatherings. Here are a few I would offer for your consideration:
· The town of Windsor Locks, CT ring bells at 8:00pm each night as a sound of joy, solidarity, connection and above all hope.
· In some neighborhoods people are gathering in their front yards and on their porches at 5:00pm and waving at each other, calling out greetings and checking in.
· Clergy are sending out regular notes or devotions or Bible Studies to their congregants.
· Churches are holding Zoom prayer gatherings and Bible Studies.
· While maintaining recommended personal distancing, groups from churches are doing prayer walks around their neighborhood and community – stopping to pray at schools, closed businesses, homes, parks, etc.
· Using recommended precautions, churches are finding ways to continue to operate their food banks (like drive by box pick-ups) and meal programs (through meals-to-go handed out as folks drive by).
· Churches are purchasing gift cards for restaurants that do take-out and delivery either to give away to those in need or to give these businesses some immediate income with the intent to use the cards in the future.
· Having a prayer station on the sidewalk or in the parking lot of the church where people can stop (always practicing appropriate protocols) for prayer or self anointing/baptismal renewal as a reminder of our being part of God’s family.
Other ideas will come to you. You are already doing things that I don’t know about. There are plans afoot to help you in your efforts to love your neighbors by the District and the Annual Conference. Just because we can’t do things as we always have doesn’t mean we can’t still serve and love.
You will receive an email invitation from me for weekly Zoom get-togethers. One for clergy and one for laity. These are not mandatory but are just an opportunity to connect, worship together and be community. I hope you will join me. If you need something from me, from the District or Conference, let me know. The District and Conference Offices are “open” regular hours even though people are working remotely. The business is getting done.
Thank for your diligent work of faithful discipleship. In times such as these we partner together, and we partner with God and Christ to love and serve. You, your people and your communities are in my prayers. God bless you and keep you, may God’s countenance shine upon you and bring you peace.
In Christ’s service with you,
Rev. Tim Overton-Harris
Cascadia District Superintendent
Scriptures for next week, March 29, 2020
To Hold In Our Prayers ~
Let’s keep Dawn in our prayers, especially in this time of isolation.
Also, asking for prayers for Pastor Ken’s daughter, Libby in New Orleans
Let’s all be in genuine prayer for the friends we have and the friends we have yet to meet. The weeks and months ahead will be trying at best. Our prayers are needed now more than ever: for the homeless, the refugees of this world, for the frightened and the lonely – our prayers are needed. So when tempers flare, vision fades, and hopes grow dim let us seek to be the light of Christ as best we can, always mindful of the words of the Apostle Paul, “Test everything to see what is pleasing to the Lord.”
In Other News ~
Commission on the General Conference
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 18, 2020
Nashville, Tenn.: The Executive Committee of the Commission on the General Conference has been notified by the Minneapolis Convention Center that they are restricting events at the venue through May 10, 2020, following recommendations by the Minnesota Department of Health, the Governor of Minnesota and the Mayor of Minneapolis to postpone or cancel events involving 50+ people in order to slow the spread of coronavirus. As a result of this decision, the Executive Committee is announcing that the General Conference will be postponed and will not occur May 5-15, 2020 as planned.
General Conference is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church, which meets once every four years. The conference can revise church law, as well as adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. It also approves plans and budgets for church-wide programs.
Thanks for taking part in our “Lent Letters.” I’m anxious to receive feedback from all of you. Let’s give some thought to alternative ways of doing what we do well. There was a time when video conferencing a Bible Study seemed like a crazy idea – but now, not so much. Also, we need to be looking at the financial needs of the church if a long shut down takes place. There is much we can do – we’ll just have to do them differently for a while. God’s blessing and take good care.
503-835-2422 Church office
503-857-0825 Pastor phone
406-550-1805 Pastor cell