Welcome and Announcements
Hello, I’m Pastor Tom Kinder of the United Church of Strafford, Vermont. Welcome to this online worship for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 22, 2020. We have suspended worshipping together in person until at least April 19th in response to the coronavirus.
There are different ways of doing an on line service. We could stage it in the sanctuary, but we have opted for this less formal and more intimate format. It allows for some creativity that may compensate for the lack of being together in our beautiful sanctuary. One thing that could make it much richer is to have more of us participating in the service, so if you would be willing to read or sing, or if you have an inspiring youtube or quote to share, please let me know. I also have started a posting on the website with videos, poems and other forms of inspiration. You can find a link to them at the top of our Welcome page.
We are not professionals at videography, nor are we polishing our performances or doing many takes. This is not high church, it is human church, and we hope its informality will not get in the way of its usefulness for spiritual reflection and worship. Please let us know how this works for you and any suggestions you have for improving it. You can respond with thoughts about the service or with videos of your own to share on the website by using the comment feature at the end of the post. You can also bring others into this experience by sharing the link by email or social media.
Today we have a series of videos including:
- this Welcome and Announcements;
- Annemieke McLane Prelude
- a Call to Worship;
- a Children’s Message;
- the New Prayer;
- Scriptures and a Sermon;
- a Hymn to sing along;
- a Prayer and Benediction
- a Choral Benediction to sing along.
Below each video is its written text or a link to where you can find it.
We are going to gather on Zoom from 10:30 to 11:00 AM on Sunday mornings to say hello to one another and share our Joys and Concerns and Prayer requests and offer our compassion and support and company for this wilderness journey. (Please join us! Click here to see how to be part of the gathering.) Our Heartfulness Contemplative Training Circle is also meeting by Zoom on Thursdays from 6:00 to 6:30 PM. This is for anyone who is interested in practicing mindfulness or meditation, or heartfulness and centering prayer, and it is a time for talking about those practices and also more generally about our spiritual life.
It is extremely important that we stay connected now. Please reach out to neighbors and other members of the congregation, especially those who live by themselves or are struggling or vulnerable. Our Deacons, Becky Bailey, Kim Welsh and Maggie Hooker, are coordinating our outreach to people in need of support. If you would like to help the Deacons please email us or use the comment feature on this page.
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. This time it has a title:
A veil parts
and something as common as bark
reveals its beauty.
I invite you to move to the next video in the series when you are ready.
William Byrd’s Pavana “The Earl of Salisbury” performed by pianist and United Church of Strafford Musician Annemieke McLane, from her CD “Birds & Beethoven”
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.
William Bridges wrote a classic book entitled Managing Transitions. It was written mainly for businesses and nonprofits but it was required reading for my training in interim ministry, and I recommend it to anyone going through any kind of major life transition. We could all benefit from its wisdom right now.
A central metaphor for the book is the wilderness journey that Moses led from Egypt to the Promised Land. One of Bridges’ most valuable insights is that transitions are not just physical journeys, they are mental, emotional and spiritual as well, and the outer transitions will be incomplete and even disastrous if we do not attend to the inner transitions. The children of Israel were tempted and tried, they had to learn to live by faith, they gained a new identity and a new perspective and new insights for the sacred way they would try to live in the Promised Land, the reason it took them forty years was not because of the physical transition—they could have made that journey in less than a year—it was the inner journey that took all that time.
The wilderness that Jesus went into was entirely about the inner transition to prepare him for his ministry. He had to let go and die to his old self and let the Holy Spirit fill him completely so that he emerged at a different developmental level. He would not have had the powers and wisdom he did without that wilderness transformation and we would not be looking to him as our teacher and helper two thousand years later.
Today the whole world has entered a deep, dark wilderness together. Like all true wildernesses, we have no map and no way of knowing when and where and how we are going to emerge, but we know that we will truly emerge from this time not when everyone is healthy but when have undergone an inner transition of recovery, renewal and resurrection into a new form of being as individuals and a society.
The crisis calls for us to have greater vision, greater wisdom, greater compassion, greater love and a truer sense of the oneness of all people and all the earth. This calling is not new, as we will hear in today’s scriptures. What is new is the absolute, urgent necessity that we finally make this transition to full human maturity to have the heart and mind of Christ. Our peers, our elders, our children, future generations and all living species and the creator of the universe need us to undergo this transformation. Today we will reflect on what it means and how we can make this wilderness journey ourselves as individuals and as a community.
Let us worship together…
Children’s Time—Good morning! I spent hours and hours in woods and fields when I was a boy, among the happiest hours of my life. I made paths, I made secret hidden places, I played in streams, but I also worked planting, weeding, harvesting, taking care of animals.
I confess the work hours were sometimes not as happy as the play, but I had it way easier than my ancestors. My great-great grandfather led a blind horse around in circles to turn a mill wheel for nine hours a day and brought home the pennies he was paid to save the farm after his father died.
In ancient Israel a youngest son like me was usually given the job of shepherd, which meant guarding the sheep from wild animals or thieves. It was partly boring and partly life-threatening.
One of the great stories of the Bible is about a shepherd boy, but it begins in the court of Israel, where King Saul was becoming corrupted by his power and wealth and ambition. God told the prophet, priest and judge Samuel that he had to go out and find a king to replace Saul. Samuel was not happy about this, knowing that if Saul found out, Samuel’s life would be in serious danger, but God reassured him that it would be all right. He told him to go to the town of Bethlehem to a man named Jesse and the next king would be one of his sons.
Jesse’s oldest son looked like a natural born leader, a big, powerful attractive and intelligent man, and Samuel thought to himself, aha, here he is, but God said this great line, “Do not look at the outer person, look at the heart, that is what matters.”
So Samuel asked to see the next son and the next and finally he got to the last one and none had been right. Samuel said, are there no more? And they said, well, just the youngest who is out with the sheep flock.
Samuel said, we are not going to sit down until he has come, so they sent for him, and finally in David ran from the pastures, red in the face, his eyes shining, his heart courageous and loving and inspired, and Samuel anointed him then and there.
There are some lessons to take from this. First, what we need to lead us now are not good looking or rich or powerful people but great hearts, courageous and inspired and loving.
Second, we need humble people and we need people who have a strong connection to the earth, to the land and its creatures.
And third, we need youth, we need to look to our youth as leaders. And to this last point I want to say that this is happening, and to an almost miraculous degree. Do you realize polls show that in the last year awareness and concern about the climate crisis have gone way up until it is one of the most important issues for a huge number of adults? This is not because of the storms and wildfires and floods, it is because of you, because especially of the youth of the world who have skipped school on Fridays and gone out on strike and marched by the millions.
We need to change this world into the sustainable, just, peaceful, beautiful and good realm of God on earth, the way life should be, and we have a long way to go in a short time. We need you to be well equipped.
David was a poet and a musician, he was really good with a slingshot, but the thing that gave him the most power was the Spirit of God that filled him, and to have that power there was something he did all the time that you will never guess… So here is the new version of the Lord’s Prayer that we pray together. Let’s say it along with some special guests who are in the next video…
The New Prayer
I invited children, parents and teachers to record themselves saying this prayer. My original idea was to splice together lines from each, which I still may do, but they are each so beautiful in entirety that I plan to share a different one each week. Like all the videos we are doing, some of these include rough edges and even bloopers, which I hope will not offend you. God must love to laugh as much as we do. Laughter is a form of prayer. It opens the heart and mind for love to pour in and out, just as weeping does, or contemplative practice, or feeling moved by beautiful words or music. So it is still worship when these get a little silly. If you laugh at this first one, though, it will be from being moved with delight at these three wonderful people giving us this gift. Let us open wide our hearts and minds in love and prayer…
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.
You can read the text of the scriptures and sermon on this website by clicking here.
Here is a sing-along 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.
When We Can See As God Can See
tune: Canonbury L.M.
When we can see as God can see
We learn a new geography.
We see we all come from one place,
One small blue home afloat in space.
When we can see as God can see
We learn we share one history,
One tree with branches that can trace
One stem from common roots: one race.
When we can see as God can see
We learn to love diversity,
The beauty of each hue of face,
More joy, the wider our embrace.
When we can see as God can see
We learn our deep, true unity:
Why at this meal all have a place,
One bread, one cup, one love, one grace.
copyright 2007 Thomas Cary Kinder
The Prayer and Benediction are combined this week. The prayer is a powerful kind, a contemplative spiritual tool that anyone can do that comes out of the Christian monastic tradition. It is called lectio divina, a way of listening for the Word of God in scripture or any writing or even in nature, and you can read about it and find simple instructions for doing it here: https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/sites/default/files/documents/lectio_divina.pdf
I suggest you pray with the following passage, which is the Benediction adapted from Chapter 4 of Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice!
Let your humble, compassionate lovingkindness be known to everyone.
Remember that God is always near.
Do not worry about anything! Ask God for whatever you need, giving thanks at the same time. Do this and be blessed with the peace of God which surpasses all understanding. May that peace guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ, this day and forever more.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is honorable, if there is any virtue and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Practice what you have learned and received and heard from the saints, and seen them do, and be blessed this day and all days by the presence of the God of peace. Amen.
Here is a choral benediction that you can sing to end the service (or feel free to find a different version on YouTube—I chose this one because it provides the words):