On Line Worship Service for March 15, 2020


Hello, I’m Pastor Tom Kinder of the United Church of Strafford, Vermont. Welcome to this experimental format of online worship for this Third Sunday of Lent, March 15, 2020.  We have suspended worshipping together in person until April 19th in response to the coronavirus.  You can see our letter explaining this on our website.

We decided only on Friday night that this Sunday service would be on line instead of in person.  This format was quickly produced but I hope its informality and intimacy will not get in the way of it feeling useful to you for spiritual reflection and worship.  We have refinements in mind, but please let me know how this works for you and any suggestions you have for improving it.  Also, you can respond for others to see by using the comment feature of our website and you can bring others into this experience by sharing the link.

Today we have a series of informal videos including:

  • Welcome;
  • a Call to Worship;
  • a Children’s Message;
  • Scriptures and a Sermon; and,
  • a Prayer and Benediction,
  • with music videos interspersed.

Below each video is its written text.

Over the coming week I hope to add regular times when we can gather virtually as a congregation using Zoom live video conferencing, thanks to a generous donation to the church to enable us to rise to the technical challenges of this necessary new format.

It is extremely important that we stay connected now.  Please reach out to neighbors and other members of the congregation, especially those who are struggling or vulnerable, and please overcome any obstacles to joining us on our Zoom gatherings.  It will take some getting used to, but having done Zoom myself I can tell you that even for a relative luddite it is not that hard and the rewards are great.  It is so much better than only connecting in writing or not connecting at all.  We really can feel close and keep in touch.  I look forward to seeing you there!

Now let us become centered and open our hearts to receive whatever the Spirit would have us receive here today.

Here is our weekly haiku from Mel Goertz:

Look at the brook—how it flows—
It wants to go to the sea
where gulls fly.

I invite you to move to the next video in the series when you are ready.



Call to Worship—Two wilderness journeys serve as metaphors for Lent: the forty days Jesus spent being tempted and tried and the forty years Moses and the children of Israel wandered lost.  In both cases there was no map, no expert who could lead them through, no telling for sure when or how it would end.  There were threats for which they needed comfort, there were choices of how to go for which they needed guidance, there were temptations, struggles and threats for which they needed courage, strength and the power to stay on the sacred way.  They learned what we must each learn for ourselves, that we have a source of comfort, guidance and power that we can turn to in such times.  It is hidden in the depths of our heart and in the world around us, and with practice we can uncover it and let it rise to become a source we can tap into at any time.  As the Prophet Jeremiah said, “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me…” We need this higher power for the wilderness journey we all are going through now, so let us worship together.

Spirit Of the Living God

This beloved chant uses the image of our life as raw metal that the Spirit melts, molds, fills and uses as a chalice for its living water so a thirsty world may drink.


Children’s Time—Good morning! This may look like just a stick to you, but it is actually a mysterious and sacred object.  It is called a dowsing rod, or the name I prefer, a divining rod.  I have no idea how the first person discovered this, but some people have the power to find hidden things by feeling where this stick indicates they are.  I first saw it work when my mother found the location of a buried waterpipe that no one remembered.    I hold it tightly and I walk, and sometimes I feel the stick start to pull down. I resist as much as I can, and it can pull so hard that it tears the skin on my palms.  Not everyone can do it, for some reason, and scientists have tested it and cannot see that it works.  I do not claim to understand it, all I know is that something happens, and it is not me making it happen because I could not make the tip of this rod go down while pulling it up.  So here is the thing.  There are powers at work in nature and in us that are mysterious but very real.  We can feel pulled by these powers—they speak to us usually not in words but in feelings or insights. We have ways of knowing called intuition, or gut reactions, and during Lent we remember that Jesus had these, too.  Jesus followed the Holy Spirit that led him to go places and do things that he might never have done, like go into the wilderness on a 40 day spiritual retreat.  He had to trust that the impulses he felt, that others would call crazy, were from God, and because he followed them he found welling up within him what he called a spring of living water, he gained the wisdom and power of the Spirit, and he overflowed with love and compassion.  Jesus showed us the way to be like him, and part of that way is like dowsing with a divining rod. You will never guess what it is.  Prayer helps us feel the pull of the Spirit when we are trying to find our way through a time or place that is strange or confusing or important to get right, prayer can work like a divining rod if we open our hearts and listen more than talk.  So here is the new version of the Lord’s Prayer that we pray together.  Let’s say it…

Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer,
Way, Truth and Life,
Force of Love and Light
flowing within and all around us,
may your realm of compassion,
justice and peace rule our world.
Thank you for nurturing and guiding us,
forgiving us and helping us forgive,
and leading us away from harmful desires.
Please save us from all forms of evil,
for you are our source, our home, our power,
all goodness and beauty forever. Amen.

Welcome to the scriptures and sermon for this on line service of the United Church of Strafford on March 15th, 2020, the Third Sunday in Lent.

The first scripture passage is the King James Version of the 121st Psalm.  We read it last Sunday as well.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,
from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord,
which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved:
he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel
shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is thy keeper:
the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil:
he shall preserve thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in
from this time forth, and even for evermore.

The Gospel passages are both from the book of John, first from Chapter 4 verses 5-14, the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well:  So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)  Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  Here ends the first passage…

Next we jump to John 7 verses 37 to 39: On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive.

this is the good news…

From Whence Cometh Our Help

The title of this sermon is adapted from the 121st Psalm, “From Whence Cometh Our Help.”  In the King James version that is a statement, in most modern versions it is a question, but in both cases the next line says from whence the help cometh: it is from the highest power in the universe, who made heaven and earth, what we call God.

The amazing thing about Jesus was that the Spirit of that creative power filled him to overflowing.  It was his source of comfort, guidance and power, and he poured it into those around him.  It welled up in him during the wilderness time that we celebrate at Lent and he emerged transformed into a force of transformation such as the world has never seen.

He described that inner Spirit as “living water,” and said that if we would only open ourselves to it in faith it would become a spring gushing up within us.  He said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

The earliest church was not just a spring of water, it was a geyser exploding into the world.  The members of the church had all kinds of powers far beyond their natural abilities, and they created a completely egalitarian, socialist community, even communist, where they pooled all their resources and shared as any had need, and they took care of all the most vulnerable and needy in society around them.

The church was so revolutionary, so pure in its Spirit of justice and compassion for all, so courageous in standing against the forces of wealth and power that ruled their world, that both the Roman and Jewish establishment persecuted the followers of Christ.  Many were arrested and executed.

A conservative movement arose within the church and put a lid on the Spirit in order to make the church conform to society.  Women were put back in their inferior status, rules and dogma stifled the free Spirit and the goal shifted from becoming like Christ to believing in Christ, from transforming this world to saving the believer’s soul.

The original Spirit-filled way of Christ went underground, a hidden spring that came out now and then in mystics and saints, in the nonviolent peace churches, in some of the early Pentecostal churches, in the contemplative tradition, and in moments of intense love or grief, but the world-transforming potential of a Spirit-filled church remained most of the time like a wet corner of a field that hints at the spring beneath it.

Meanwhile the mainstream of the church served the empires and establishments whose gods were wealth and power.  The church taught ethics, morals and values, it produced many fine upstanding citizens, the words and life of Jesus continued to call us to a higher level of consciousness, and we inched forward toward the realm of God on earth, but the church grew weaker as the powers of selfishness and greed grew monolithic in the world around it.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made a prophecy in his “Letter from Birmingham City Jail.”  He said, “There was a time when the church was very powerful…. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society…. Things are different now. The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound… If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning.”

A very different voice said a similar thing. A contemporary Eastern Orthodox Christian writer named Hieromonk Damascene wrote a book entitled, Christ the Eternal Tao.  It laments how the church has lost the essence of Christ’s teaching and Way.  It says it is understandable why so many people who grew up in the church turn to Asian religions because they find there the spiritual path that the church largely abandoned. Damascene says:

“In the traditions of ancient China, the Western spiritual seeker can learn the basics of spiritual life which the churches failed to teach…: how to be free of compulsive thinking and acquire stillness of thoughts, how to cut off desires and addictions, and how to conquer negative emotions.”

The book goes on to lay out the Way of Christ that accomplishes those benefits through the ancient, traditional Christian contemplative path that we practice in our Thursday Heartfulness Circle.

I don’t know about you, but I feel a powerful need in these days of checking the news every hour “to be free of compulsive thinking and acquire stillness of thoughts, to cut off desires and addictions, and to conquer negative emotions.”

I don’t know about you, but I look at what is happening in our world and feel the need for a sacrificial church that could be a thermostat that transforms the mores of society.

We need more than ever the spring of living water, the river flowing out of our hearts that transforms us and transforms the world around us, the unstoppable power that brought the universe into being and evolved life from single cells to the human mind.

We need the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We need the higher power of the Holy Spirit working through us.  Now is the time for us to get serious about it, because it is our one hope.  We need it now, when a global pandemic is forcing us to face the fragility of what we thought was so solid and immutable.  Now, when we know we have only eight years left to save the earth from even more fearful threats.

Jesus said that only one thing was needed, and that was the part that Mary, the sister of Martha, chose.  Mary resisted the temptation to race around responding with panic the way Martha did.  Mary turned fully to Jesus, she sat down at his feet thirsting for the spring of living water flowing through him, she opened her heart wide and let that Spirit fill her.  Then she rose and poured out her creative compassion and love.

Jesus taught us to look for the Spirit flowing in every moment.  To find it we need to undergo “metanoia,” we need to go beyond our narrow ego focus, our condition of distraction or denial, and turn our entire being to seek the Spirit first, letting it be what we strive to express in everything we say or do.

We were created by this force that made the universe, so we have a built-in capacity to feel its movement and discern its sacred way of love and life and light.  If we strip away all that is false or artificial in our lives, that Spirit is the true nature of our being, and it is “from whence cometh our help.”

Our calling as individuals and as a church is to tap into that source.  That is what both we and the world desperately need.  So how do we do it?

Part of the answer is to become active.  We need to keep following our yearning to serve the needs around us. The Spirit guides us through the compassion we feel, it comforts us through the comfort we give others, and it empowers us with gifts it gives us to share.

Part of the answer is to become active, but the better part of the answer is also to become still, like Mary, listening to the Holy Spirit speaking through the voices around us and digging deeply to hear the heart of the universe whispering within us.  We need music and poetry, mindfulness and centering prayer.  We need to ponder our sacred scriptures and good stories for the wisdom they offer so we can find our way through this wilderness to the Promised Land.

One great story comes from Martin Smith, the Episcopal priest and author of the book, A Season for the Spirit, that some of us are reading this Lent.  In it he tells about a hot summer day when he was a student at Oxford. He rode his bicycle into the countryside to see if he could find an ancient spring, lost since the Middle Ages, which had been said to heal eye diseases.  He had read an account of an Edwardian expedition that had gone in search of it, but failed to find it.  Smith searched the fields where tradition said it should be, poking around with a spade in every likely spot, but to no avail.

Finally he retreated dejectedly to the shade at the edge of the field to rest.  After a while he noticed that the cows were standing in a wet spot.  He jumped up and drove them off and dug down in the mud and dung.  After twenty minutes his spade grated against stone.  He uncovered an ancient carved platform from which a wooden pipe still protruded.  Pure water poured out of it in a steady flow.

Smith points out that the “fastidious Edwardian ladies and gentlemen had failed to find the spring because they had hurried past the stinking mud patch.”  (A Season for the Spirit, “Finding the Spring,” p 17)

He reminds us that the creative Spirit of love and life and light works in the midst of messes and dark places.  It can lie buried under mud and dung accumulated for generations and then resurface in all its purity and power.  The Spirit is always at hand, it is here right now, in the chaos and danger of this time.  It is waiting only for us to turn to let it heal our wounds, restore our vision and guide and empower our life, renewing the earth.

Humanity has the wisdom and love it needs to get through the planetary crisis of health it has created.  We have the comfort, guidance and power we need to do our part for our families, our neighbors, our town, our nation.  Our task, each individually and all together, is to seek that sacred spring, that treasure hidden in a field, and bring it to the surface and put its gifts to work here and now.  We do not need to solve the problems of our time, we need to let the Spirit solve them through us.

Let us open our hearts and minds in silent prayer to the Spirit from whence cometh our help…


We Turn to You, O Sacred Spring

Here is a sing-along or karaoke hymn that Christina and I recorded unrehearsed and left unpolished so that you would feel uninhibited to join our out of key congregational singing!  The words are on the video and below.


We Turn to You, O Sacred Spring

tune: Veni Emmanuel (PH#110)
text: John 4:5-14; John 7:37-39

We turn to you, O sacred spring.
You flow through every living thing.
You brought this universe to birth.
You teach us how to serve the earth.
We thirst for you, heart open wide.
Fill us, O comfort, power and guide.

You answer life’s divine desire
With new creations you inspire,
From single cell to human mind,
Evolved by you, our ways refined.
We thirst for you, heart open wide.
Fill us, O comfort, power and guide.

We turn now faced with fearful threats
And seek your spring this age forgets.
Our silent, yearning spirit hears
Your living word.  Your way appears.
We thirst for you, heart open wide.
Fill us, O comfort, power and guide.

O Spirit spring that saved and healed,
O treasure hidden in a field,
We place all hope on earth in you.
Work through us, all we say and do.
We thirst for you, heart open wide.
Fill us, O comfort, power and guide.

ã 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder


Prayer  A Prayer of Thomas Merton from his book, Thoughts in Solitude, followed by this benediction:

The Benediction is from the first letter of Peter: We are living in a time of great transition; therefore, be mindful, centered and disciplined in your spiritual practice.  Above all, maintain constant, generous-hearted love, for that love will keep you on the sacred way through this time toward a new world.  Extend extravagant hospitality to all, serve with whatever gifts you have and be good stewards of the manifold grace of God.  Let the Holy Spirit be your power and guide, and God’s love and life and light will shine through you, blessing you and creating the realm of God on earth around you.  Go in that faith and that peace, Amen.


2 Comments on “On Line Worship Service for March 15, 2020

  1. How strange that the virus has made it possible for me to have your sermon and the reassurance that I have been having to generate for myself. Thank you, Tom. I can’t do all that technology requires, but I can get to church this way! Martha Manheim


  2. Pingback: Sermon from March 15, 2020 | United Church of Strafford, Vermont

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