Order of Worship Scripture Meditation“Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.” Psalm 37: 7Opening Prayer Creator God, help us to know that we are with you, that we are in your care, that we are in your love, that we are one body unified in Christ. Amen.
Call to Worship Psalm 130 (NIV)Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word, I put my hope. I wait for the Lord. More than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
Scripture ReadingEzekiel 37:1-14
Sermon Eight weeks ago, I was in Gettysburg on a planning retreat with my pastor friend, Beth. The main purpose of the trip was to have time away to study, meditate over Scripture, and pray. All this was in the hope that the end result would be a plan for Lent and Easter. After three days, I left feeling refreshed, renewed, and ready. I left feeling all those things for the Lenten and Easter season. I was not however prepared for what would lie ahead, which is this figuring out a whole new way to stay connected as a church, a whole new way to be a pastor from my parsonage office. But the thing I have realized during this time is that the theme God laid on my heart during that retreat, “Navigating the Wilderness,” couldn’t be more appropriate, considering our current situation. And maybe this is the perfect way to learn the lessons of Lent, and Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. Maybe this is the perfect time to return to God as the prophet Joel implores each of us to do. And maybe this is the perfect time to begin figuring out what is really important in life.
Frankly, if this time of social separation and uncertainty isn’t a time to rely on God and trust him for our every need, I don’t know when it will be. That being said, let’s look at our Bible passage, Ezekiel 37:1-14, and the Valley of Dry Bones. Keep in mind this vision was given to the prophet Ezekiel while the children of Israel were in exile. As a nation they were dead, spiritually they had stopped breathing. Yet this passage speaks of hope and renewal. If you read verses 4-10, you see that the Spirit of God leads the prophet to a valley that is filled with dry bones. The bones are very dry. They have been there a LONG time. To say there are no signs of life in this place is an understatement of epic proportions. A massive army has been reduced to a pile of bones. There’s nothing else left, nothing to build upon.
But what happens? The Spirit breaths into them and things start rattling, bones begin to piece together. Tendons and flesh form and begin to cover the bones. Now there are bodies, which is amazing enough all things considered, but still no real life. So, the Spirit breaths again and this vast army comes back to life and stands up on their feet! But what is wrong with this picture? I’ll tell you what’s wrong. Things don’t fall together, not naturally, not in our world. Remember science class? The Laws of Thermodynamics? The Second Law of Thermodynamics, states “that the entropy of any isolated system not in thermal equilibrium almost always increases.”
In other words, things fall apart. Food decays, metal rusts, even things that we work hard to preserve over the years, naturally age. We as humans age, our hair color changes, our bones become brittle, and we lose muscle mass naturally after a certain age. That’s just the way it is. Things age, things fall apart. But what Ezekiel witnesses in this vision is something that goes against nature. Because of the breath of the Holy Spirit, bones connect, tendons and skin appear, and with a final breath the bodies come back to life. This speaks to the renewing, restorative nature of the Third Person of the Trinity. Israel may have been dead as a nation, but here in the Valley of Bones, the Spirit showed Ezekiel that he, the Holy Spirit, had the power to save, and the power to fashion a new people out of utterly dead bones.
So, what can we learn from this wilderness scene in the Bible? What do we learn about God here? I believe it is that the same Holy Spirit who breathed life into that army that had been reduced to nothing but dry bones, lives within the heart of every believer, and he will breathe new life into each of us, too. Our God is a God of renewal and resurrection to new life. Romans 8:22-27 tells us some things about the Holy Spirit: He helps us in our weakness. He helps us when we are so upset that we don’t know how to pray. He searches our hearts and intercedes for us before God the Father.
Earlier, on my morning walk, I was once again reminded of God’s power to renew all of his creation. There are two signs of spring I always watch for: the return of the southern bluebirds, and the forsythia bush behind my house. This bush is always the first thing to bloom this time of year, and I see it as a sign of hope for warmer weather. If you notice, most everything in the background still looks pretty bare, but yet there is hope in the life of this tree. That’s the way it is with God. Despite what is going on in the background and all around us, he gives us hope for renewal through a new life in Jesus Christ.
In conclusion let me say that if you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, the Holy Spirit dwells in you. He is alive and well in all believers. He is also very much at work in this world, creating and renewing through the work of those who love the Lord.
The Holy Spirit is the same now as he was in Ezekiel’s day. He is our advocate, our helper, and our guide. He helps us to understand Scripture and he compels us to be God’s light in a dark world. And just like in the valley of dry bones, the Holy Spirit can make things happen that do not naturally happen in our world. Bodies, families, relationships, all fall apart in our broken world. But the Holy Spirit has the power to reverse that, if we only ask him for his help and heed his wisdom.
Because our God is a God of renewal, restoration, and reconciliation. He is a God of transformation. And that will never change, because God will never change. His love for us is, and will remain, steadfast and unfailing throughout eternity.
Pastoral Prayer God of resurrection power,you have called us to be your people,a community living by faith in you,and obedience to you.Yet we tend to trust in our own limited power, and in our inability to control the future.You call us into a new and different Kingdom, your Kingdom where the poor are held in high regard, and those who suffer are blessed, and those who mourn are honored for the truth they tell.The gifts you give us we often ignore or don’t want, and the circumstances you place us in we often do not welcome, nor do we see them as opportunities to serve you and love people.Yet, you do not abandon us to our confusion or our doubts.Open our eyes and ears to the presence of your Son whose suffering and death has redeemed us.
Open our eyes to your Holy Spirit, whose work in our own spirits turns us again and again toward you.Turn us toward hope, for even death could not stop you from bringing us life.And be with all those today who are weak in mind, body or spirit, and with those who mourn. Because of our faith in you, we boldly ask for a cure for the COVID-19 virus that has swept our nation and world. We pray for wisdom for our leaders, and wisdom for each of us, too. May all we do bring honor to you and may your will be done.We pray in the name of Christ Jesus, our crucified and risen Savior. Amen.
The Lord’s PrayerAll: 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 that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. Closing Prayer & Blessing God has placed before you, life & death, blessings & curses. Therefore, choose life, follow God’s way. And in all the paths you walk may God hold you steady and close. May Christ Jesus bless you and every place you enter. And may the Spirit give you length of days and fullness of life. In the name of Christ. Amen.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Every day I wake up and say to myself, “Is this for real? Is this really happening?” I don’t plan to say it. It’s just what pops into my head. Many times, through the years, I’ve wondered how I would make out if life as we know it drastically changed for some reason. If for whatever reason, we didn’t have all the things we have; if we didn’t have the things we think of as needs, the things that, in reality, are truly luxuries. Now, living through this COVID-19 pandemic, we are all experiencing such a drastic change first-hand. And I’ll be the first to admit that this is challenging. Loneliness, frustration, and hoping we have enough, are daily concerns now for many people. We all know this is temporary, and yet we still wonder, “But how long?” Yesterday, I walked over to the church to get something and for some reason, the stained-glass window that depicts Jesus as our Good Shepherd caught my eye. It reminded me of something my mother said about 20 years ago, right before she went in for minor surgery. I asked her if she was frightened. She said, “No, because I’ve realized in life that sometimes it comes down to just you and the Lord. And I trust Him with my life.” I didn’t really understand what she meant back then. But I understood it when I faced my first cornea transplant in 2004; and I understand it again now. Sometimes, it really does come down to just you and the One who created you. There are so many things we don’t know right now. The stained-glass of our Good Shepherd reminded me of what we DO have, and that is a promise. We have a promise from the Almighty Creator of the universe, who is limitless in possibilities, grace, and power. It is a promise that he will lead us, he will provide for us, and he will be ever-present in our lives. It is a promise that in his presence, we will always find rest, refreshment, and comfort. And his promises stand firm, despite what is going on in the world around us. So, in the days to come, when tension runs high, when anxiety takes over, and when doubt fills your heart and mind, let this be your mantra, “The Lord is my shepherd, his promises are true, and because of his love, I lack nothing.” Peace be with each of you this day.
Blessings, Pastor Kim
Prayer Dear Lord, my Good Shepherd, help me to read this psalm in a brand-new way today. Remind me to always depend on your goodness, mercy, and love. In this time of uncertainty, lead me to rest in your holy presence. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Scripture Meditation Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own Son for us in this: While we were till sinners, Christ died for us.” Opening Prayer Creator God, our great God and King. You are the Rock of our salvation. May we hear your voice and respond to your message today, so that our hearts are softened and molded to your will, and so our spiritual thirst may be quenched. In Christ’s name. Amen. *Call to Worship Psalm 95:1-7 (NLT) Come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too. Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care. Amen. Pastoral Prayer Gracious Lord, you are the God who loves us, the God who came to us, and the God who chose to die for us. You are the God who remains with us through your Holy Spirit, and will come again someday. You knew thirst as you were tempted by Satan in the wilderness, and you knew it again on the cross at Calvary. You understood the spiritual thirst of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, and you understand ours, too. For all these truths, we praise your Holy name. We thank you for the fountain of goodness you provide for us each and every day. Things we may often take for granted: the warmth of the sun, the life-giving rain, family, friends, and a congregation who share our joys, and our sorrows; those who lift us up in times of loneliness and need. And we thank you most of all, dear God, for you, Because you are a God who always loves, and who wants to be in communion with us. Lord, the Bible tells us to come boldly before you and make our requests known. So, we lift up to you all the people who are on our hearts today. We pray that you keep us strong, healthy, and wise throughout this COVID-19 pandemic. Give us patient, peace, and compassion for all. As we continue our Lenten journey together, in a much different way than we had planned, remain with us as your Church, and continue to strengthen and equip us to do your good will in this community and world. May the work done in Jesus’ name here at Bethel be an oasis of hope and provision for all who thirst for truth, justice, and love. All this, we pray in the name of our Risen Savior, Jesus. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer 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 that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. Scripture ReadingJohn 4:5-42 (NIV) SermonWhat Are You Thirsty For? Last week, in our teen Sunday school class, the subject was Jesus’ teaching on the Beatitudes. These are the “blessed ares” in Matthew 5, a picture of what spiritual happiness looks like in God’s Kingdom. In particular, the lesson focused on Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” We talked about the idea that God created us in such a way that our spiritual needs often reflect our physical needs, and vice versa. Today our gospel lesson is about Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, and once again Jesus talks about thirst. Once again, Jesus compares physical thirst to spiritual thirst, so I want to share a few things we learned last week in Sunday school about physical thirst. If you’ve ever been really thirsty because you worked outside all day in extreme heat, or you had a hard sports practice, or any other situation in which you didn’t drink enough water, you may have experienced one or all of these symptoms:
Your mouth gets dry: When your body doesn’t have enough water, you feel it. Literally.
You get a headache. When your brain doesn’t get enough water, it can start to shrink or contract. That’s what makes your head hurt.
Your muscles start to cramp. Fluids help your muscles work properly, so they cramp up when you don’t get enough water.
Or you feel dizzy or light-headed. That’s because when you are severely dehydrated, you brain might not be getting enough oxygen, which will make you dizzy.
Human beings can survive three weeks or more without food. (Although I’ve never been willing to try that myself.) However, because at least 60 per cent of the adult body is made of water, and every living cell in the body needs it to keep functioning, we can only last about three days without water. Water is essential to life. So, it’s no wonder that Jesus uses it more than once to teach us about our spiritual condition. ********** Friends, I think it’s pretty safe to say that right now we are living in a time of fear, frustration, and anxiety. No one saw this coming. No one made a New Year’s resolution to get through a global pandemic 2020 with grace and patience. Things are changing by the minute. Grocery stores are running out of everything. (Side Note: we are currently holding onto out toilet paper supply in the church hallway. Please…. if you get desperate…. call me…. Seriously!) We are also living in a time when we could get very spiritually dry and thirsty. God created us to live in community with him and each other. When businesses close, work places and schools move to online formats, and we are supposed to practice “social distancing,” we begin to feel isolated and desperate. Anxiety and depression are amplified. These are normal human reactions, so we have to do what we can to stay healthy and protect ourselves. Some symptoms of spiritual dryness are:
You feel lonely. This is normal when you can’t connect with family and friends.
You feel guilty, or regretful. Right now, maybe it’s a simple matter of feeling like you’re not doing enough, not buying enough food, not being cautious enough, etc.
You feel lost. We are used to connecting with each other, and with God, in a certain way. But worship within our church walls is not an option right now. We have to find new ways to connect, new ways to “be together,” and new ways to connect with God.
So, how do we stay spiritually healthy at a time like this? I believe we start by staying connected to God. The nourishment Jesus talks about is spiritual nourishment. It includes Bible study, prayer, worship, and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. And, yes, we now have to find new ways to do these things. Guidelines are changing every day, every minute, really. But Jesus is still the head of the Church, and we are still the church together in Him. Philippians 4:6 tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” This won’t be easy, but I encourage you to try, and I believe God will bless your efforts. If you don’t already, take 10 minutes every day and read the Bible and pray. Use online Christian resources. If you don’t know of any, please ask me. Also, I encourage everyone to reach out to each other through email, text, and phone. Send cards to our shut-ins. If you think of someone, reach out. Maybe God is nudging you to do so. We’re all dealing with the same things right now. Until we meet again, together in one place, I encourage you to use these weekly worship plans in your homes, as families. I also ask you to think of those who live alone. Maybe call them and invite them to join you by speaker phone. And please, please, take care of your physical health! If any of you are in need for anything, tell me. If you need prescriptions picked up, or food, or toilet paper, we will help each other. Oh, and drink lots of water and take a little walk if you can. Our bodies are the temple of God. Let’s not neglect them either. Take care of yourselves and each other. Know that I am praying for you daily. We will get through this together and come out stronger on the other side because God is our King. Blessings to all! Pastor Kim P.S. I miss all of you very much!
Closing Prayer & Blessingsinspired by Romans 5:1 (NIV) “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1 (NIV) Friends, through Christ we have entered into a place of undeserved privilege with God. Equipped with this good news, may you be a wellspring of hope to your thirsting neighbors, may you be an oasis of opportunity to all you encounter and may his love flow freely from you in both word and deed. In the name of our Savior, Jesus. Amen.