OUR CHOICE FOR THIS SEASON

Today New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas joins many other congregations and communities of faith in canceling our usual gathering.  However, I hope this message will provide you with strength and comfort as we worship together separately.  If so, feel free to share it with others.    I hope you will be able to Google the titles of the Hymns and find the words and melodies.  The information below would ordinarily be in our worship bulletin (except for the sermon manuscript).

PASTORAL GREETING

Most of us have not experienced what is happening now before.  We are unaccustomed to the cancellation of gatherings.  We have not been directed to avoid touching one another before.  This is a strange experience, for most of us.

Yet there are many for whom separation, estrangement, avoidance, and the sense of isolation that goes with these things are commonplace.  Our brothers and sisters who are incarcerated know what this is like.  Our brothers and sisters who have been isolated, estranged, and forced to live as refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants know what it means to be forced apart from family, friends, and places they cherish. 

The coronavirus pandemic has made each person a refugee.  We each yearn to be welcomed, affirmed, and gathered into community.  Yet, we must distance ourselves to protect against exposing one another to an invisible health threat to the world. 

So today, the New Millennium Church community worships in our respective homes.  Some of us live alone.  Some live with others.  Some may be separated from loved ones due to work or travel commitments.  Yet, we sense a divine call to gather, to affirm that we belong to God and one another, and that God’s grace and peace will strengthen and guide us.  In that spirit, this worship outline is offered.   In that spirit, I welcome you to worship God and dare to celebrate our common bond.

Welcome to worship!

INVOCATION

Artist of souls,
you sculpted a people for yourself
out of the rocks of wilderness and fasting.
Help us as we take up your invitation to prayer and simplicity,
that the discipline of these forty days
may sharpen our hunger for the feast of your holy friendship,
and whet our thirst for the living water you offer
through Jesus Christ. Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE:  The Lord is My Light and My Salvation (#160, African American Heritage Hymnal)

AFFIRMATION OF ONENESS
We praise and worship God, together.
We petition God, together.
We proclaim God, together.
We welcome all persons in God’s love, together.
We live for God, in every breath and heartbeat, by the power of the Holy Spirit
as Followers of Jesus Christ, together.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE –

Faithful God of love,
you blessed us with your servant Son
so that we might know how to serve your people
with justice and with mercy.
We gather the needs of ourselves and others,
and offer them to you in faith and love,
seeking to be strengthened to meet them.

Let us pray for one another in this pandemic season.  Let us remember those are constantly living a pandemic of despair, fear, oppression, sorrow, and neglect.  And let us pray for healing, health, and God’s peace, together.

Prayers of the People, concluding with:

Shape us and transform us by your grace,
that we may grow in wisdom and in confidence,
never faltering until we have done all that you desire
to bring your realm of shalom to fulfillment. Amen.

PRAYER RESPONSE:  Be Still and Know (#559, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism Hymnal)

SCRIPTURE READING

Psalm 46
1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
8Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
11The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah


THE HOMILY – OUR CHOICE IN THIS SEASON 

OUR CHOICE FOR THIS SEASON
©Wendell Griffen, 2020
New Millennium Church
Little Rock, Arkansas
March 15, 2020 (3d Sunday in Lent)

Psalm 46
1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
8Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
11The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Enduring Presence,
goal and guide,
you go before and await our coming.
Only our thirst compels us
beyond complaint to conversation,
beyond rejection to relationship.
Pour your love into our hearts,
that, refreshed and renewed,
we may invite others to the living water
given to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

      This is an unsettling time for the world.  People are becoming ill from the coronavirus before they know they have been infected.  Although most of them experience mild symptoms, some require hospitalization and intensive care.  Some people have died already in various countries across the world, including the United States.  Their loved ones grieve. 

      The virus is not a hoax.  This is no gimmick.  People are becoming ill.  Some are dying. This is an unsettling time for the world.

      Although some politicians act otherwise, most people are not primarily concerned about the stock markets.  We are mainly concerned about the health and safety of ourselves and our loved ones.  We are concerned about finding food and supplies to sanitize our dwellings and workplaces.  We are concerned about being able to pay our bills.  We are concerned about access to testing.  We wonder if health professionals have what they need to treat us if we become ill.  We wonder what will happen to seniors who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus if they become infected. 

The temptation to move from anxiety to fear is real and strong.  Empty store shelves and long lines at checkout counters in grocery stores indicate that panic has overtaken us. 

      Given all these things (and more), the sentiment expressed at Psalm 46 is comforting and challenging.  The Psalmist admitted that life can present unsettling situations when we read these words:  "...though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult" (Ps. 46:2-3).

        The Psalmist affirmed that even in the face of unsettling situations, there is another and far better option for us than fear and panic.  Three times in the passage the Psalmist directs us away from fear and panic.  The passage begins with this theme message.  God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Ps. 46:1).  Another rendering of the words "very present" in that verse is "well proved."  At verses 7 and 11 the theme is restated in different words:  The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge [fortress]. 

      We are not facing the coronavirus pandemic alone.  We are not helpless or hopeless.  God is our refuge [fortress] and strength, a well proved help in trouble.  God has been through this even though we haven't. 

      Because God is faithful, we will not fear.  Because God is present, we will not fear.  Because God is a "well proved help in trouble," we will not fear.  Coronavirus is unsettling, but coronavirus is not God! 

      Because we know God, we choose to refuse fear. Because we trust God, we refuse to panic.  Because we know God is our fortress, we are not hopeless or helpless.

      Instead, we choose to walk by faith.  We join the Psalmist in pointing to "the works of the LORD" (Ps. 46:8). 

      The God who made a way out of no way for others in previous unsettling situations is with us. 

      The God who opened shuttered doors and moved obstacles in other fearsome situations is with us. 

      The God who brought us through SARS, AIDS, and other threatening health situations is with us.

      The God whose truth overruled centuries of slavery in the United States is with us.

      The God whose justice delivered women from political disenfranchisement and transformed them into voters is with us.

      We have history that teaches and comforts us to remember that God is faithful, present, able, and willing to help us through this unsettling situation.
     
What does "Be still and know that I am God" look like for us?  I suggest that it means "settle down, people." 

      Be kind to one another.  Take courage.  Look out for each other. 

      Remember that God provides more than enough sunshine, air, water, and the other vital necessities for our survival every day. 

      Remember that no amount of fretting, fussing, fighting, panic, hoarding, and scheming makes the sun shine, makes water wet, and makes air fresh to breathe.  Instead, our fussing, fighting, fretting, panic, and hoarding disable us from enjoying these and other blessings from God and sharing them generously with our neighbors.

      "Be still and know that I am God" also invites us to stop and re-think our slavish and idolatrous trust in capitalism and the self-centered greed and vanity that undergird it.  God's example for us is extravagant generosity and hospitality, not selfish greed and fearful hoarding. 

      Now is a good time for people in the United States to openly question why universal free access to test kits for coronavirus required declaring a national emergency. 

      Now is a good time to question why universal access to free healthcare is somehow deemed "unfeasible." 
     
Now is a good time to remind the world that God does not charge the world for air, water, and sunlight.  God does not seek to profit from our dependence on air, water, and sunlight. 

      "Be still and know that I am God" invites us to choose to realize that our capitalist arrangements for providing healthcare do not follow God's generosity.  Instead, those arrangements and the system on which they are based represent idolatrous devotion to human greed, opportunism, and oppression toward our vulnerable neighbors. 

      Yes, this is an unsettling season, but it is no time for fear and panic.  Instead, this is a season for choosing faith and grace rather than fear and panic-driven greed.  This is a season to choose to re-connect with God, with one another, and re-new our sense of being a global community. 

God is our refuge and strength, a well proved help in trouble...The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress...  Therefore, we will not fear...

Grant us, God of Grace and Strength, faith and wisdom in this season of pandemic.

We see signs of fear and panic.
We see evidence of hoarding and greed.
We recognize the failings of our capitalist empire, the vanity of our greed, and even the incompetence of some who are entrusted with the responsibilities of leadership.

At the same time, we thank you for trained, learned, and skillful scientists and health professionals.  Thank you for people who are laboring to supply food, supplies, and other necessities.  Thank you for people who comfort, console, and encourage us.

Forgive us for putting saving faith in systems of economic exploitation at the expense of the common good.  Forgive us for trusting false prophets of xenophobia, nationalism, bigotry, and hypocrisy rather than your call to love one another and love you consummately. 

Grant us grace and strength for as we journey with you as faithful rather than fear-driven people.  Help us journey together in love for you and one another, today, tomorrow, throughout this season, and always.  We ask these things through Jesus, the prophet who lived to show us more clearly who You are and demonstrate how we should live as your people.  Amen.


MEDITATION:  O God, Our Help in Ages Past (#228, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism)

OFFERTORY:  We Are People on a Journey (#305, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism)

CLOSING HYMN:  God Be With You Till We Meet Again (#210, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism)

GRACE AND PEACE TO YOU! 

he/him/his
Author, The Fierce Urgency of Prophetic Hope (Judson Press, 2017)
wendell.griffen@gmail.com

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