WORSHIP ON THE FIRST SUNDAY THAT WE ARE NOT GATHERING IN OUR SANCTUARY DUE TO THE THREAT OF THE SPREAD OF THE CORONAVIRUS THAT IS TRAVELING AROUND THE GLOBE
North Congregational Church
New Hartford, Connecticut
March 15, 2020
Oh God, I’m Spinning Out
There is so much I do not know, There is so much I cannot see, There is so much I cannot control.
In the moments I feel powerless, I will take a deep breath trusting that I am tasked only with doing my part, not the whole.
In the moments I feel unsure, I will take a deep breath trusting that I am not alone and that together, our wisdom will be richer. In the moments I feel anxious, I will take a deep breath trusting that there is no depth I can fall out of reach of the Spirit that holds me close. What I do know is that my life and love and worth extend far beyond my work.
What I can see is that spring follows every winter and new life pokes out from cold ground.
What I can control is my breath and the love I inject into a world so clearly lacking it. “And …these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
(This prayer was offered by our Conference Minister, The Rev. Kent Siladi, during a video shared this week on the website of the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ written by The Rev. Dr. Hannah Adams Ingram, Chaplain, Franklin College, Franklin, Indiana, March 10, 2020 and is reprinted here with permission.)
THE EPISTLE: Romans 15: 1-6 (The Message)
Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!
THE GOSPEL: Matthew 6: 19-24 (The Message)
“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.“Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have! “You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both.
A SHORT REFLECTION FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS
Anxiety, Isolation and Community Rev. Marcia
I heard two stories from two friends this week which illustrated the choices that people have made, and that we too can make, during such a time as this. Most of us have seen photos on social media …or have even seen for ourselves…the empty shelves in our grocery and big box stores. So this first story will not come as a surprise. It was told to me by a friend who lives in the northwestern part of the state, where many of her neighbors are from New York City but own second homes in her town. She was shopping at a local grocery store and noticed a number of them who had come up to Connecticut for the weekend.
She reported a number of adults in one family, as well as their children, each with a shopping cart, loaded to the brim with all manner of food and staples. (I hate these stories about New Yorkers, since I am a native myself. And this is not a behavior demonstrated by New Yorkers only, since we’ve seen a number of some Connecticut residents who have been guilty of this same thing.)
Clearly during this time, in light of the news reports that are both unreliable and constantly changing, people are motivated by fear and anxiety. But this hoarding and stockpiling is a terrible display of greed and selfishness no matter who engages in it. Seeing it and hearing about it brought to mind the words of Jesus found in the gospel of Matthew in our New Testament lesson this morning. “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars.“
As we keep informed of the constant news of the ever increasing numbers of illnesses and death, we are sometimes aware of our anxiety, but we also must increase our understanding of it, since it can subconsciously cause us to do and things that do not serve the common good. Certainly we all need food and household goods, but isn’t there enough to go around? After all, toilet paper is manufactured in this country so there will surely be additional deliveries being made to our stores soon. (I never thought I would ever need to use the term “toilet paper” in a sermon, but sadly that time has arrived.)
In our lesson from Matthew, Jesus cautions, “The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.“ Or in the NRSV translation we are more familiar with, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” During such a time as this, we all need to be asking ourselves where are hearts are.
Another friend told me of a brief encounter she had at the gas station. As she was filling up her tank a man, filling up his tank as well, asked her if she had any hand wipes. She answered that no, she was unable to find any in the stores. So he reached into the back of his truck and gave her a half full container, saying that he had another full one of his own. It was a pleasant surprise for her to meet someone whose heart was in the right place.
It is difficult to know when all of this hoarding will end…either when the shelves in the stores are completely bare, or when there will be a statewide or national quarantine. As we’ve seen, a number of us are already choosing to engage in self-quarantining, or social distancing, or at least avoid going out unless it is absolutely necessary. As you know by now, since you are worshipping online, we have decided not to gather as a congregation in church as a responsible precaution against the spread of this dangerous virus. I certainly support this, but we also have to keep in mind the dangers of keeping too much to ourselves. Here is an observation from the President of our denomination, The Rev. John Dorhauer:
“One of the challenges of social distancing is isolation. How do we exercise more care for one another? This is a time to consider the ways we can show love for our neighbors within the context of this current health crisis. Let’s pray for each other. Let’s look out for one another, demonstrate care for one another, and simply check in on one another. A phone call has great meaning and provides a lifeline for those who are alone.” And those of us who are able can thankfully keep in touch online.
While it is painful for those of us who value weekly communal worship to be physically separated, we must do everything we can to honor the instructions of our governmental agencies who are recommending best practices and behaviors that will help to prevent the spread of this mysterious and deadly virus. I don’t believe that in this time and under these circumstances God disapproves of our not gathering in the sanctuary on this Sunday. Actually, being alone will offer us the opportunity to be quieter, more contemplative, read, pray more often and more deeply, and thus grow closer to God in more personal ways.
And, as the saying goes, you don’t know what you have until you lose it. So, hopefully, our separation will give us a new appreciation of our Sunday mornings together. What a joyous reunion it will be when we can return to our beloved sanctuary and praise God in person, in liturgy, reflection on scripture, prayer and song! Amen.
Holy God, every present with us…we are mindful that uncertainty, anxiety, and fear are present among us as we listen to and care for one another in these days. We ask that your peace and healing presence be with us, as we pray for and hold each other in love. We ask your guidance and direction as we live out your command to love one another as we are called to love you.
In this spirit, at this time especially, we are mindful of all those people, all over the world, who are affected by this new, mysterious and life-threatening coronavirus: those who have been infected and the dedicated hospital workers, nurses and physicians who attend to them. We hold up before you all those who have died and ask that you receive them into your care. And we offer our empathy to loved ones who are grieving their deaths.
Because we are in the midst of an international pandemic, we pray that the leaders of all nations see themselves as citizens of a global community and cooperate fully by sharing resources.
We pray for scientists, who care for us by offering us their very best knowledge, and for researchers seeking diagnoses, preventative treatments and cures. And for public servants: police and firefighters and first-responders.
While this health crisis has occupied so much of our time and energy, we ask that you remind us of the needs of those who have suffered and continue to suffer because of diseases of the body, mind and spirit, those who seek purpose and employment, those who are challenged economically and food insecure, the lonely, the homeless and those who are grieving all manner of losses.
In our own community of faith here in New Hartford, we share with you our joys and concerns:
Some prayers are to deep for words or too private to share and so we offer them in the silence of our hearts. All these things we offer, In the name of the one who has called us and prepared us for these challenging days, using the words of the prayer 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 debts, as we forgive our debtors
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
(an adaptation of our reading from Romans 15)
May those of us who are strong and able in the faith step in and lend a hand to those who are in need, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Make us mindful of the fact that your gift of strength is for service, not status. May each one of us who are able look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” Amen.