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March 28, 2020 FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT
*CALL TO WORSHIP
One: Sometimes we say that we are a people of dry bones; we are a people without hope.
All: God says that we shall be raised from our living graves and we shall be filled with Spirit.
One: Sometimes we say that we are cut off from one another, and our sources of joy are dried up.
All: God says that we shall be at home with one another and we shall live with celebration.
One: Sometimes we come to worship aimless and fearful.
All: Then God reveals wondrous works of love and we come to know God.
One: Mother of mercy, we come to you dry and lifeless, seeking your breath of life.
All: Lead us to the place where our hopes lie buried and call us out from the tombs of despair. Call forth our faith that, with Martha and Mary, we may know you to be the resurrection and the life, in this world and the world to come. Amen.
How do you pray? What is the content of your prayers? Do our prayers need to be full of words? Is prayer talking to God, while meditation is being quiet so that God can talk to you?
For me, prayer is a state of mind. I am simply trying to be close to God, or even just to feel God’s presence. This may take the form of quieting my soul. It may be quite similar to meditation. It may take a while for words to come to me. Seeking to be in prayer may also take the form of looking for the right place to pray. Is there a room in your house or corner of your apartment that feels closer to God? If you are restricted to a bed, is there some object that changes the environment and suggests closeness to God?
There are a number of ways to pray. Praise, gratitude, requests, laments, and more. A pastor friend once told me that when he is at the bedside of someone who may be close to death, he prays to God that the person will “get through this.” There’s an implied acceptance of death if that is what will come. Sometimes we pray to express a yearning in our heart. I remember that when I was in seminary, we learned that a classmate had just been diagnosed with cancer. We prayed together, and each contributed some words to the prayer. As we went around the circle, the mostly United Church of Christ students prayed essentially for our classmate to be held in God’s arms and to be supported by caregivers and family during their time of illness and treatment. One student who was a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) prayed differently from the rest of us. He prayed earnestly and fervently for God to “drive the cancer from the woman’s body!” It made a deep impression on me. I thought, “Wow! That’s praying!”
Can we have the courage to express what is on our hearts, knowing that the answer may not be exactly what we have in mind? We may not even understand God’s answer to our prayers. But it is one way to pray, and we can even believe in miracles.
Today’s Gospel reading tells the story of the raising of Lazarus. In a way, it is a foreshadowing of the resurrection of Christ. How did Jesus first respond to the news of Lazarus? The shortest verse in the Bible is in this passage. “Jesus wept.” (KJV, NIV) (NRSV: “Jesus began to weep.”) God is the first to cry when we face personal and community tragedy. Jesus suggests that we accept death as part of life. Believe in miracles, even pray for miracles, but when they don't happen, know that God is still present.
Leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ—the stories of Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the man born blind, and Lazarus all have something in common. They demonstrate a pattern of hope through God's presence.
Perhaps the Lazarus story tells us that sometimes the outcome must be different from what we would like. We cannot raise the dead, as Jesus did. It is often impossible for us to duplicate what Jesus did. But we can still have hope.
God has always provided hope. The Hebrew scripture reading for today reflects the hope of the community of Israel. It refers to their exile in Babylon. The Lord says, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.” (Ezekiel 37:14a).
Where do we need to keep hope alive today? I wrote about this three years ago when these readings took their turn in the lectionary. Then I mentioned polarization, racism, xenophobia, and terrorism. It’s interesting to see how well those words hold up today. But now we need to add another challenge: a virus that is new to our “herd.” Could there be a more vivid demonstration that we are a global community? Truly we are all in this together—regardless of race, creed, or any of the other artificial separations that humans have devised.
Is there hope in our current situation? There must be. We can pray for those who are most vulnerable to this disease to be comforted, as we follow the medical advice to slow the spread.
Church is something we do, not a place to go. Let us continue to pray as a church community, and remain socially close by communicating with each other even as we need to be physically apart. Everyone can contribute, even in times like this. Following the examples of Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, and those around Lazarus, we can believe in miracles and pray for them—earnestly and fervently. My prayers will be with you.
Just as he was a guest in Congress on March 24, 2020, I welcome the Rev. William Gurnee of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. as a “guest” in our church. Here is the prayer he delivered:
Almighty God, because our human weakness leads us sometimes to glamorize our elected leaders as symbols of power or status or wealth, we must rely on You more fervently in this moment of crisis in our Nation’s healthcare, that we may all together arrive at the truth. The Members of this body know that they have been tasked with a tremendous responsibility to care not for the trappings of this world, but for the real treasure of our Nation: her people. You have given each public official gifts for the building up of Your kingdom. Guide them by Your holy spirit with wisdom and humility to make the compromises and choices that are necessary for the good of all. Grant us this day Your blessings, and may we praise You always. We make this prayer in Your holy name. Amen.
March 25, 2020
Dear members and friends of CCoH,
As we learn more about the coronavirus, it seems really important for all of us to keep our physical distance from each other. Every new case leads to many more cases and potentially takes up a valuable hospital bed or ventilator for someone else who needs it. We’re trying to “flatten the curve” so that we don’t have a spike. We can all do our part.
For at least a few weeks, the Church and the Parish Hall will not be open. But if you call the church office, Jessica will listen to the voicemails. We will call you back. Also, we are doing a lot of communication by email, and we welcome emails from you. I am posting my messages to the church by email to you, and on the church website and Facebook page.
On Saturday afternoon, you will find an outline for a church service in your email. Some have suggested calling up a few friends on a conference call, or using Zoom, to go through the service together. For those who do not use the computer, we will snail mail a printed copy of the church bulletin to you.
If you want to make a prayer request, please email it to the church office, or leave it on the church voicemail. We will include the requests in our weekly bulletin.
As a church family, we show concern for each other, and I encourage you to call your friends on the phone while we are apart physically. We don’t need to be apart socially. I have been on three conference calls this week with various ministry teams. The ministry of your church goes on.
We are also mindful of our Christian responsibility to the vulnerable. This is a hard time for the single parent who used to work as a waitress while her children were in school, and is now without a job and home schooling her children. It is a challenging time for health care professionals and homeless shelter volunteers. It is a disastrous time for refugees, immigrants, and the homeless. Let us all pray for them, and be open to ways that we might help them.
It is a blessing to be part of a caring church community in a state of national emergency. We are together in spirit, and in God’s love.
Peace, Rev. Bob
March 21, 2020
I want you to have an aid to personal worship during this time of physical distancing. If you click on the scripture links, a web page at textweek.com will open and you will be able to immediately read that scripture. If you take a look at this between 10:00 and 11:00 on Sunday morning, we will all be together in spirit. For some liturgical music, check out the website of Kirsten Becker: click here. Kirsten is a friend of Tyler Martin who played for Helen MacKenzie’s funeral on January 6; and I love her music. She has samples on her website, and a CD for sale. It’s nice that she played in our church—so it’s all in the family. We will continue to look for ways to stay in touch.
May you stay safe, be healthy, and have peace of mind during this time!
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Bob Fellows
*CALL TO WORSHIP
One: God's love has been made known among us, for God has sent Christ into the world that all people might live. My friends, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
All: No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God abides in us. Let us worship God and seek to love as God has loved us.
One: Holy God, we come before you thankful that you love us as we are.
All: We are creatures of your hand; we are a community formed by your Spirit. You are the potter; we are the clay. With your sure and loving hands, shape us, through the grace of Jesus Christ. Amen.
This reading contains the story of Jesus healing the man who was “blind from birth.” One aspect of this story is that the blind man could see who Jesus was, saying “He is a prophet” and “Lord, I believe.” The community and religious leaders, and even the family of Jesus, had failed to see. Because the blind man could see the divinity of Jesus, he was healed.
In the time that this event was recorded, the blind were objects of discrimination. It was thought by the culture at the time that blindness was caused by sin. The blind person was blamed for being blind. Is there any equivalent today? I think there is, because some attitudes in our culture continue to blame and discriminate against the mentally ill and the refugee. Somehow their plight is seen as their fault.
Sometimes the vulnerable and the marginalized see better than those around them. That is part of the meaning of “Jesus is the light.”
There used to be a saying “What would Jesus do?” That’s a pretty high bar, because Jesus would miraculously heal. Maybe a more realistic question for us is “What does Jesus teach us to do?” It’s pretty clear: Feed the hungry, house the homeless, and welcome the stranger.
While we are cautioned to be distant physically, we don’t have to be distant socially. It is heartwarming to see members of our congregation step up to help those who are most vulnerable because of their age or underlying health conditions. We have people who will run errands for those in need. If you feel that it is risky for you to go to the grocery store or pharmacy, call on us.
Jesus teaches us that we can overcome our fear with faith.
“I will lead the blind by a road they do not know, by paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them.” – Isaiah 42:16
A PASTORAL PRAYER
Dear God, as a church we pray weekly and some of us every day for those on our prayer list, those we hold in our hearts, and global concerns. Loving God, we thank you for answering our prayers in ways that are sometimes clear to us, but more often in ways that we do not understand. We know that our ability to comprehend how you work in our lives is extremely limited.
Yet now we earnestly ask that you hear our prayers for all of those affected by the pandemic that is sweeping through our world. We thank you for the many volunteers, caregivers, first responders, doctors, nurses and researchers, political and spiritual leaders. We pray for all those who serve us every day in ways that are necessary for our survival.
We also humbly pray for the community of Henniker, and for our church. God, know the truth about Henniker and our church, and we know that you are bringing us together and making us stronger in the face of fear and uncertainty.
Let us also not forget other concerns both in our community and in the world. Here at home, we pray for families of those who have passed, the sick, for those in a hospital, the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the unemployed, the grieving, and those in any need.
Finally, we pray for the mission of our church and the wider Church, and for the coming of your reign throughout the world, that we may emerge from uncertainty and doubt into the fullness of your Kingdom. We pray through Jesus Christ, our ever present spiritual healer.
Giving is a spiritual practice. We can continue to participate in it even as we are unable to pass the offering plate. One way is to give online at www.churchofhenniker.org. Another way is to mail your offering to the church. Attn: Jessica, Congregational Church of Henniker, PO Box 625, Henniker NH 03242.
If you have prayer requests, you can send them by email to email@example.com. We will keep you all in our prayers.
March 18th, 2020
Dear members and friends of CCoH,
Worship services are suspended until further notice. Jessica and I will be in the office on Thursdays from 9:00 to 11:00.
We are all affected by the coronavirus in different ways. Some of you are wondering what to do with children out of school. Some are worried about older family members. Some are out of work and face financial hardship. Some don’t want to go to grocery stores and wonder if they have enough food. And on and on. As a church, we pray for you all, and we pray for a peaceful end to this worldwide crisis—the sooner the better.
We have no choice but to suspend worship at least until the end of the month. Please watch your email for announcements about Palm Sunday and Easter. At the same time, we want to be available to connect with you in ways that respect the need for social distancing. Jessica and I have decided that on Thursdays we will both be in the office at 9:00-11:00 a.m., and if you are healthy you may drop in and talk with us, drop something off or pick it up, etc.
If you are vulnerable, it is not a good idea to go out and about. How do you know if going out is safe for others? Here are the questions one of my doctors asked me: "1) Do you have a temperature? 2) Are you coughing, sneezing, or having trouble breathing? 3) Have you traveled recently or are you in close contact with someone who has traveled?" I assume international travel is most risky, but I think even travel to certain parts of the United States might also deserve some caution.
Let’s stay connected electronically and in spirit. Praying is good now. I will keep you all in my prayers.
Blessings, Rev. Bob Fellows
March 15th, 2020
Dear members and friends of CCoH,
Today we were together in spirit. I want you to know that I drove up to our church this morning and sat alone quietly in the sanctuary. I read the scripture readings for today, and said prayers for all of you, for the world, and for myself. I hope that you find, or have found some quiet time for prayer and reflection today.
You are blessed with a settled pastor in the wings who has created an inspirational message that you can view at the website for the church he currently serves. You can listen to Rev. David Jadlocki on the first video on this web page, and there are other inspirational videos there too. Here is the link:
I intend to continue communicating with you in this way as long as we are practicing social distancing, and I thank you for the email messages that some of you have sent to me. What a celebration it will be when we are all together physically again, smiling and waving to each other, chatting, singing, praising God, and praying together!
Blessings, Rev. Bob Fellows
March 14th, 2020
Dear members and friends of the Congregational Church of Henniker,
In the past few hours, your church leadership, the Vision Team and others, have made the difficult decision to cancel the church service tomorrow morning. This is uncharacteristic for our church, and for other UCC churches in New Hampshire. Three feet of snow would not keep us away. This, however, is an uncharacteristic time.
Here’s what has tipped the balance: The seventh known case of coronavirus in NH is a woman who works at the DMV in Manchester. That is a rather centrally located, crowded environment, so we have to be careful. While we may feel that we have a small chance of contracting this disease, we can contribute to “flattening the curve” to help prevent a spike by avoiding the possibility of carrying it to others.
Please pass the word on to those who might not see this message. It would be a good opportunity for you to reach out to them in this time of need. Also, I will put together a team to produce an inspirational video to go on the church website that people can watch anytime they want, and I will enhance my messaging through the weekly eblast to the church.
We are called to pray for others, and there are many who need our prayers now. Please take a moment tomorrow morning between 10:00 and 11:00 to pray on your own, and then we will be praying as a community. God knows, and hears.
Blessings, Rev. Bob Fellows
Find Your Way Here...
As our church is in transition, we provide a rare opportunity for you to experience the ministry of three United Church of Christ pastors within a one-year period. We benefited from a two-year interim pastorate with Rev. Susan Tarolli that ended on December 1. Our new settled pastor, Rev. David Jadlocki, will arrive on May 17. In the meantime, our bridge interim pastor is Rev. Robert Fellows. He was recently the pastor of Community Congregational Church of Greenland NH for nearly ten years.
The UCC is rich with diversity in theology and ministry approaches, so we invite you to be involved in our church during this exciting time. You will find differences and similarities within the UCC, and perhaps you will learn more about the core beliefs of your denomination.