A Communal Lament in COVID-times

This lament was written as part of our Life Together small group discussion on October 1. We had spent three weeks discussing the Book of Lamentations and were modeling our final lament after the final lament in the book. Lamentations 5 is the only lament spoken by the community and the community’s cry is addressed solely to God (unlike the other laments which seem to be addressed to God and anyone who will listen). The community is relentless in their protest–their description of what is wrong in God’s world–and they issue a series of challenging questions, near the end, to God. With Lamentations 5 as our model, the group gathered on October 1 humbly offers their lament. It is unedited (language alert).

A Communal Lament in COVID-times

Life is not normal, Lord,
and we don’t know why.
A sickness is spreading
faster than we can keep up.
We are afraid:
a cough may not be just a cough,
allergies may be more than the sniffles.
Our heads ache.
Is it the plague?
Our loved ones are getting sick.
people are dying alone.
Family cannot visit.
Even those who recover
are not well.

And we’re pissed.
You gave us scientists and physicians
to help care for us
and people are not listening.
It is getting worse.
People are out of work.
There are food shortages.
Our young people think they are invincible,
others are in denial
and all are getting sick
some are dying.
Our elders and persons of color
are disproportionately effected:
they are seen as expendable casualties.
Our leaders have failed us.
Our healthcare system is overwhelmed–
understaffed and short supplied.

Where are you, O God, in the midst of all this?
Did you create this plague?
Why does this devastate some and not others? Are you choosing who dies?
Have you, O God, forsaken us? Have we forsaken you?
How could you allow us to suffer? What have we done to deserve this?
How can you allow your children to put others at risk?
When will you comfort us?
When will rest come?

Sunday, May 31, 2020 || Worshipful Conversation & Fellowship

Join us for a time of Worshipful Conversation and Fellowship on Sunday, May 31, at 10 am ET. You can join this service virtually through Google Meet by clicking this link (http://meet.google.com/ens-kcoq-bgg) or by calling 1-262-885-7027, the PIN is 172 874 072#.

You can view and download the bulletin for this service below. To add this event to your Google calendar, click here.

In order to best participate in this service, you will need access to a bible (bound or electronic), and some sort of food/snack and drink.  The Bible is for the discussion.  The food is for the love feast during which you will be invited to share some aspect of your hope, joy, or faith before you eat what you have with you. Prompts for our time of sharing are provided in the bulletin.

All are welcome.

Sunday, May 24, 2020 || Worshipful Conversation & Fellowship

Join us for a time of Worshipful Conversation and Fellowship on Sunday, May 24, at 10 am ET. You can join this service virtually through Google Meet by clicking this link (http://meet.google.com/ens-kcoq-bgg) or by calling 1-262-885-7027, the PIN is 172 874 072#.

You can view and download the bulletin for this service below. To add this event to your Google calendar, click here.

In order to best participate in this service, you will need access to a bible (bound or electronic), and some sort of food/snack and drink.  The Bible is for the discussion.  The food is for the love feast during which you will be invited to share some aspect of your hope, joy, or faith before you eat what you have with you. Prompts for our time of sharing are provided in the bulletin.

All are welcome.

Devotional || Psalm 93

By Beth Ferguson, Lay Leader and Member to the Annual Conference.

The Lord rules!
    He is robed in majesty—
    the Lord is robed,
    clothed with strength.
Yes, he set the world firmly in place;[a]
    it won’t be shaken.
Your throne is set firm for a very long time.
    You are eternal!

Lord, the floods have raised up—
    the floods have raised up their voices;
    the floods raise up a roar!
But mightier than the sound of much water,
    mightier than the sea’s waves,
    mighty on high is the Lord!
Your laws are so faithful.
    Holiness decorates your house, Lord, for all time.

Psalm 93, Common English Bible

God is in charge! From the beginning of time and on into the future. God is in charge. God rules. God is and has always been–Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer. The waters of the earth are powerful; floods and hurricanes with all their power are not more powerful than God, though they may seem to be stronger in the midst of the storm.

The coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic are not stronger than God. God stands among us to carry us through and God will be with us as we begin to move out of our homes and back into the world.  In the midst of suffering and death, in the midst of economic collapse, we believe that God is there. Jesus came to call us to the kingdom of God, and invited his disciples to enter the kingdom. “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:14-15). We are called to decide- are we kingdom people or not.

The Hebrew people complained repeatedly through their time in the wilderness and God always provided for them. So, if today is one of those days when you are miserable and can’t think of anything except your complaints, raise them up to God.  Just as God provided for the Hebrew wanderers, God will provide for you and find a way to lift your spirits. We are seeing improvement in our situation now, but we don’t know when it will be brought to a new normal. Yet we have the promise of the kingdom, the promise of God’s rule in the world, which brings us comfort, peace and strength despite the reality of the troubles the world faces.

Claim the Kingdom!  Praise the Lord!

A Prayer from the Extended Cabinet

By Rev. Ted Crass, President of The United Methodist Foundation of New England

Loving God,
Thank you for these Spring days that explode with new life.
For the flowering crab apple, cherry, dogwood, redbud, and plum
For the buds that pop with leaves that unfurl
For warblers, phoebes, grosbeaks, and indigo bunting
For the blue skies and warm sun.
I thank you that this same Spring comes in the diversity of other plants, trees, birds and signs in other lands, too.
And that the warmth of your sheltering love can be felt all over creation.
This morning, I bring to mind the faces of friends in Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceana, South America, the Middle East, and also here in my little corner of the world.
Whether welcoming the same Spring or facing the same pandemic,
They are my sisters and brothers.
Today, I pray a prayer of peace for these my siblings, for their land and for mine.
Help me never to forget 
That their joy is my joy and that mine is theirs,
That their suffering is my suffering and that mine is theirs,
That we cannot fully realize our own being without each other.
O God, help me never to forget our shared oneness in Christ 
As I enter this blessed Spring morning.
Amen

Sunday, May 17, 2020 || Worshipful Conversation & Fellowship

Join us for a time of Worshipful Conversation and Fellowship on Sunday, May 17, at 10 am ET. You can join this service virtually through Google Meet by clicking this link (http://meet.google.com/ens-kcoq-bgg) or by calling 1-262-885-7027, the PIN is 172 874 072#.

You can view and download the bulletin for this service below. To add this event to your Google calendar, click here.

In order to best participate in this service, you will need access to a bible (bound or electronic), and some sort of food/snack and drink.  The Bible is for the discussion.  The food is for the love feast during which you will be invited to share some aspect of your hope, joy, or faith before you eat what you have with you. Prompts for our time of sharing are provided in the bulletin.

All are welcome.

Devotional || Psalm 68:8-20

By Beth Ferguson, Lay Leader and Member to the Annual Conference.

8 All you nations, bless our God!
    Let the sound of his praise be heard!
God preserved us among the living;
    he didn’t let our feet slip a bit.

10 But you, God, have tested us—
    you’ve refined us like silver,
11     trapped us in a net,
    laid burdens on our backs,
12     let other people run right over our heads—
    we’ve been through fire and water.

But you brought us out to freedom!
13     So I’ll enter your house
        with entirely burned offerings.
    I’ll keep the promises I made to you,
14         the ones my lips uttered,
        the ones my mouth spoke when I was in deep trouble.
15 I will offer the best burned offerings to you
    along with the smoke of sacrificed rams.
    I will offer both bulls and goats. Selah

16 Come close and listen,
    all you who honor God;
    I will tell you what God has done for me:
17 My mouth cried out to him
    with praise on my tongue.
18 If I had cherished evil in my heart,
    my Lord would not have listened.
19 But God definitely listened.
    He heard the sound of my prayer.
20 Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer;
    he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me.

Psalm 66:8-20, Common English Bible

Once again, we sing a Psalm of praise. We sing of God’s love and care for the world even in the darkest times. The whole world has been tested, but despite that, God has brought the Israelites out of their troubles. They’ve been burdened and struggled through fire and water, but God brought them out to freedom. Now the individual Psalmist is ready to give sacrifices to God, to keep promises that he made when he was in deep trouble. He prayed and was answered, and now offers songs of praise.

Throughout the ages there have been repeated trials and disasters. In each time, God was there, God was working among the people during the previous pandemic in 1918, during the world wars, during the black plague.  God is with us through the Covid-19 pandemic. God is working in the world and God is working in each one of us.

God is with the scientists who are trying to find and effective treatment and with those working on vaccines. God has given the gift of creative thinking and experience with other diseases to the scientists doing this work. God is giving courage to the health care workers going into hospitals and nursing homes to treat those infected and the love and care they bring to their patients despite their own risk. God is with those who are trying to make ends meet and keep their businesses despite the shutdown. God is with those of us who are isolated, so that we are never alone.

And so, as things improve and we begin to slowly open up businesses, we will praise the God who has been with us throughout this experience and we will find ways to sacrifice to God in thanksgiving for all God has done.

A Prayer from the Extended Cabinet

By Rev. Dr. Jacquelyn Brannen, Northern Maine District Superintendent

Lord, during this pandemic, life has become so confusing.
There is fear, grief and so much anxiety.
And yet, your Spirit resides within me. Sometimes, I feel you as near as my breath.
Sometimes, I long to feel you but cannot. 
Today, I will trust that you are here. I will trust that you are with me even when my emotions hide your presence.
Today, Lord, I will concentrate on keeping your commandments and I will trust that the Spirit that resides within will help me with that, for I do love you God.
Thank you for loving me. 

Devotional || Psalm 102

By Beth Ferguson, Lay Leader and Member to the Annual Conference.

Lord, hear my prayer!
    Let my cry reach you!
Don’t hide your face from me
    in my time of trouble!
Listen to me!
    Answer me quickly as I cry out!
Because my days disappear like smoke,
    my bones are burned up as if in an oven;
    my heart is smashed like dried-up grass.
    I even forget to eat my food
    because of my intense groans.
    My bones are protruding from my skin.
I’m like some wild owl—
    like some screech owl in the desert.
I lie awake all night.
    I’m all alone like a bird on a roof.
All day long my enemies make fun of me;
    those who mock me curse using my name!
I’ve been eating ashes instead of bread.
    I’ve been mixing tears into my drinks
10         because of your anger and wrath,
        because you picked me up and threw me away.
11 My days are like a shadow soon gone.
    I’m dried up like dead grass.
12 But you, Lord, rule forever!
    Your fame lasts from one generation to the next!
13 You will stand up—
        you’ll have compassion on Zion
        because it is time to have mercy on her—
    the time set for that has now come!
14 Your servants cherish Zion’s stones;
    they show mercy even to her dirt.
15 The nations will honor the Lord’s name;
    all the earth’s rulers will honor your glory
16     because the Lord will rebuild Zion;
    he will be seen there in his glory.
17 God will turn to the prayer of the impoverished;
    he won’t despise their prayers.

Psalm 102, Common English Bible

Psalm 102 was probably written at the end of the Jewish exile, a time when the people were preparing to return to Jerusalem. They were tired and sick. The Psalmist cries out to God for help. He describes himself as skin and bones, weary, eating ashes with his food and his tears are mixed in his drinks. He can’t sleep or eat, he is lonely like a bird alone on the roof, like an owl in the desert. His days disappear like smoke.

This seems to mirror how many people feel during this pandemic, I think.  People are worried, they can’t sleep, they are lonely. We’re tired of all of this. And so, we cry out to God, just as the Psalmist called God.

He also spoke of his enemies mocking him and cursing him. When I read that, I thought of the protesters making their way to statehouses with their weapons and posters cursing the governors who won’t open their state’s businesses.

The Psalm switches from an individual prayer to one for the whole nation. We know that we can’t recover ourselves until the whole nation is recovering and for us the whole world!

In verse 12, the Psalmist remembers that God is Lord and rules forever. God will have compassion on Zion, because it is time to show mercy. He trusts that the Lord will rebuild Zion, and be seen in God’s glory. God will hear the prayers of the poor and will not despise their plea.

We also trust that God will hear our pleas. In Massachusetts, we are beginning to see the decline in hospitalizations and new cases of the virus now. We are praying that we can begin to reopen carefully in the next few weeks. We trust that God is with us and has been walking with us through the worst of the pandemic and that God will continue to walk with us over the next weeks as we try to recover. We believe God has been with the sick and the dying and their families. We believe that God will help those whose businesses have been decimated and we pray for a time when we can gather together again in God’s presence.

Remember, Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). Hold on to Jesus’ promise, and to God’s compassion and love for all humankind as we move forward.

A Prayer from the Extended Cabinet

By Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, Resident Bishop of the New England Annual Conference

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

John 14:15-21, New Revised Standard Version

Growing up in India, I saw orphaned children daily. I saw first hand the sadness, the longing, and the experience of abandonment.That vivd childhood memory comes back to me when I read the promise, ‘I will not leave you orphaned.'” — Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar.


Merciful God,
We stand in the midst of 
   sickness, death, and grief;
we see people 
   without jobs, standing in mile-long food lines;
we witness the unjust distribution
   of resources and racial discrimination, 
we watch health care providers 
   exhausted and overwhelmed
   farmers with no market for their crops
we wonder … 
   have they, have we, been abandoned?
   
   Jesus promised …
that we would not be orphaned*
that you would send your Spirit
that, because he lives, we shall live
that you are not gone from us
that we have not been deserted
that you abide with us, 
and in us.

   O God our Help, hear our prayer —
to love you
to keep your great commandment to love others
to know you revealed through our loving acts
to see you —
here and now
with us and in us,
forever. 

   Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. 
Amen.

Sunday, May 10, 2020 || Worshipful Conversation & Fellowship

Join us for a time of Worshipful Conversation and Fellowship on Sunday, May 10, at 10 am ET. You can join this service virtually through Google Meet by clicking this link (http://meet.google.com/ens-kcoq-bgg) or by calling 1-262-885-7027, the PIN is 172 874 072#.

You can view and download the bulletin for this service below. To add this event to your Google calendar, click here.

In order to best participate in this service, you will need access to a bible (bound or electronic), and some sort of food/snack and drink.  The Bible is for the discussion.  The food is for the love feast during which you will be invited to share some aspect of your hope, joy, or faith before you eat what you have with you. Prompts for our time of sharing are provided in the bulletin.

All are welcome.

Devotional || Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

By Beth Ferguson, Lay Leader and Member to the Annual Conference.

I take refuge in you, Lord.
    Please never let me be put to shame.
        Rescue me by your righteousness!
Listen closely to me!
    Deliver me quickly;
        be a rock that protects me;
        be a strong fortress that saves me!
You are definitely my rock and my fortress.
    Guide me and lead me for the sake of your good name!
Get me out of this net that’s been set for me
    because you are my protective fortress.
I entrust my spirit into your hands;
    you, Lord, God of faithfulness—
    you have saved me.

14 But me? I trust you, Lord!
    I affirm, “You are my God.”

15 My future is in your hands.
    Don’t hand me over to my enemies,
    to all who are out to get me!
16 Shine your face on your servant;
    save me by your faithful love!

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, Common English Bible

In Psalm 31, David takes refuge in God. He depends on God for protection. He depends on God for guidance. He knows God hears him when he asks for help. He trusts that God will help him out of difficult situations. Jesus quoted from Psalm 31:5 on the cross- “Into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Even  in death we can trust in God.

Trust. Do we truly trust in the Lord? Do we give God our fear and anxiety? Do we trust our future to God?

In this time of pandemic COVID-19, we have reason to fear: we fear getting the virus and becoming very ill; we fear dying; we fear being an asymptomatic carrier and unknowingly spreading the virus to others; we fear getting medical attention; we fear that our retirement savings are being depleted in the stock market; we fear our businesses will go bankrupt; we fear we won’t be able to get what we need. We are expected to step up: to teach our children; to work from home; to go out to work and risk getting the virus; to stay home and be isolated; to change the way we do business.

David reminds us that God is with us, God loves us, and God wants to take away our fears and anxiety. God wants to lead us through this pandemic so that we can move forward. We can say “I trust you, Lord! You are my God. My future is in your hands.” We can ask God to “shine your face on your servant; save me by your faithful love!” If we truly mean it, our anxiety and depression can be relieved by the grace of God.

A Prayer from the Extended Cabinet

By Rev. Jill Colley Robinson, Vermont District Superintendent

Loving Christ,
You say to us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
I guess our hearts are troubled, or you would not need to say it.
You say to us, “Believe …”
I guess we struggle to believe, or you would not need to remind us.
Tell us again that you go to prepare a place for us.
Tell us again.
Tell us you will take us to yourself —
that you will be with us no matter what,
that we get to be with you,
that your way will be made plain before our faces.
Love us the way you loved Thomas
who so often gave voice to everyone’s doubts.
Love us the way you loved Philip
who needed to be shown again and again.
Dwell in us so that we can be about your greater work
of finding your way,
of speaking your truth,
of honoring your gift of life,
even now …
especially now.
We ask all of this the way you teach us to ask — in your name,
believing that you will make it so. 
Amen.