Devotional || Psalm 100

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

Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with celebration!
    Come before him with shouts of joy!
Know that the Lord is God—
    he made us; we belong to him.[a]
    We are his people,
    the sheep of his own pasture.
Enter his gates with thanks;
    enter his courtyards with praise!
    Thank him! Bless his name!
Because the Lord is good,
    his loyal love lasts forever;
    his faithfulness lasts generation after generation.

Psalm 100, Common English Bible

Shout with joy to the Lord, or Make a joyful noise in some versions. Celebrate God’s goodness. If you play an instrument, even if it’s collecting dust in a closet, pull it out and play joyfully. If you sing, sing joyfully. If you can’t sing, listen to joyful music. Music calms the restless soul. Music brings back memories of times when you heard a particular song before.

God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. God cares for us. God claims us and loves us and wants what is best for us. So, celebrate God. Celebrate the beautiful flowers and the budded trees. Celebrate the longer days and the stronger sun. Celebrate what you can do, even in isolation, rather than worrying about what you can’t do.

God’s home is not in the sanctuary, we can still find God when we can’t enter into the church building. God is everywhere around us. We can see God’s creation and call it good, just as God called it good on each day of the creation story in Genesis. We have so much- food and clean water and shelter which meet our basic needs. We also have so much more than we need. Thank God and bless God’s name.

Even on those days when we are frustrated and irritable, God still loves us. God’s loyal love lasts forever. No matter what we do, God forgives us and loves us.  And that is an incredible promise which we can celebrate joyfully.

A Prayer from the Extended Cabinet

By Rev. We Hyun Chang, Metro-Boston Hope District Superintendent

Good morning, God,
Thank you for such a wonderful and warm day yesterday. 
Looks like today will also be nice. Thank you for making the beautiful sky, the shining sun, green grass, budding flowers, birds in the air, dogs and cats in our houses, and all toys we can play with and books we can read.
 
We have been home with our parents and family for so-o-o long. It is not easy and sometime very boring. But we know that there are people who are very sick and that we need to stay home and stay away from people to help one another. Help us remember that you are our best friend. We believe that we can tell you anything in prayer and you will do your best to answer our prayers.  
 
Our parents are doing their best. Help us remember their love for us even when we get little antsy and bored. Be with our teachers also. They are trying their best too! We pray for all who are helping people to stay safe and get better. Cheer them up every time they may feel tired. 
 
We miss our family and friends at the school and the church. Until we can see and play with one another, please keep them safe. We pray for many people who are hurting and sad all over the world, especially children who do not have homes or are very afraid. Please be their best friend too. 
 
Dear God, you’ve got the whole world in your hand. Please keep all the people in the world safe and healthy in your hand. We will make sure to wash our hands, wear our masks, and remember to pray to you always. Amen.

Devotional || Psalm 112

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

Praise the Lord!
    Those who honor the Lord,
    who adore God’s commandments, are truly happy!
Their descendants will be strong throughout the land.
    The offspring of those who do right will be blessed;
    wealth and riches will be in their houses.
    Their righteousness stands forever.
They shine in the dark for others who do right.
    They are merciful, compassionate, and righteous.
Those who lend generously are good people—
    as are those who conduct their affairs with justice.
Yes, these sorts of people will never be shaken;
    the righteous will be remembered forever!
They won’t be frightened at bad news.
    Their hearts are steady, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are firm; they aren’t afraid.
    In the end, they will witness their enemies’ defeat.
They give freely to those in need.
    Their righteousness stands forever.
    Their strength increases gloriously.
10 The wicked see all this and fume;
        they grind their teeth, but disappear to nothing.
    What the wicked want to see happen comes to nothing!

Psalm 112, Common English Bible

Psalm 112 is a praise song to God. Those who honor God are truly happy. Their children will be blessed. It begins to look like prosperity gospel- if we trust in God, we will be blessed with wealth and riches and all good things, but the wealth we accumulate may not be material wealth, it may be a wealth of reputation and happiness.

It reminds us that we are an example to others- we will shine in the dark for others. Our actions speak for us, as we give to the poor and show compassion to others.

The Psalm does not promise us that we will have perfect lives and perfect health. In verses 6–8,  the Psalmist tells us that the righteous will not be shaken, that we won’t be frightened when we hear bad news because our hearts are steady, trusting in God.  Because we can be free of fear, we can give freely to those in need. We don’t have to hoard what we have, because we trust that God will provide for us when we have needs.

In this season of the Coronavirus, hoarding is rampant. Because people are hoarding, shortages are a self-fulfilling prophecy. People who bought out stores, thinking that they could make a big profit reselling at exorbitant rates hurt everyone, and when they were shut down, they were left with products they couldn’t get rid of. The Psalm ends with, “The wicked see all this and fume, they grind their teeth, but disappear to nothing. What the wicked want to see happen comes to nothing.” So, for all those who are hoarding, scamming and trying to take advantage of those who trust too much in people, the Psalm offers a warning. Your attempts to hurt others will be thwarted.

For those who are righteous, God is with you. Trust in God and God will stand beside you and keep you firm and steady, even in the face of this virus.

A Prayer from the Extended Cabinet

By Rev. Rick McKinley, Director of Congregational Development

Life. Life! LIFE! 
This is your promise — your intention for us. 
“I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly,” Jesus said. 
Abundantly. 
Over the top.  
Excessively abundant. 
Disproportionately bountiful. 
Extravagantly exuberant.  
God, we really need some of that right now. 
When the thieves around us and within us 
   threaten to kill it, 
When worries and fear build to the point 
  they begin to strangle it, 
When our own tendencies toward selfishness and dark things 
   begin to smother, 
O God, call us. Call us again. And again. And again. 
Call us back to life. 
Call us to dwell in your words, the words of life. 
Call us to sit in silence, listening for the heartbeats of life all around us. 
Call us to love our neighbor, in whom you dwell. 
Call us to the table, where in the breaking of bread, you are to be found. 
Life. Life! LIFE! Abundant, extravagant, wonderfully, disproportionately full LIFE! 
Amen. 

Sunday, May 3, 2020 || Worshipful Conversation & Fellowship

Join us for a time of Worshipful Conversation and Fellowship on Sunday, April 26, at 10am. 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 23

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

Psalm 23 is so familiar to all of us, even for those who are not regular church-goers. It is read at funerals so frequently that we sometimes think it is about dying. In fact, it is about God’s care for all of God’s children throughout our lives. The shepherd metaphor is also used by Jesus as he speaks of being the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep.

Consider the words:

The Lord is my shepherd.
    I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
    he leads me to restful waters;
        he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
    for the sake of his good name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
    they protect me.

You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
    my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love
    will pursue me all the days of my life,
    and I will live in the Lord’s house
    as long as I live.

Psalm 23, Common English Bible

God promises to provide food for the sheep in the green meadows, he promises to provide water and shelter. We lack for nothing. He guides us along the safe path and protects us from danger. Even in the face of the enemy, we can relax and eat, because we are in God’s hands. In our darkest moments, God is there.

This Psalm is a comfort to us throughout the difficult moments of life. God promises to love and care for us during times when our enemies are out to get us. Right now, our biggest enemy is the Coronavirus. Some are extremely ill, and many have died. God is with those in hospitals and nursing homes when their families can’t be present. God is with the dying as they enter into life eternal. God is at gravesites when families are burying their dead with no opportunity to celebrate the life of the one who died, because they can’t gather in groups. God is with those who are sick in their homes, not sick enough to be in the hospital, but fearing that they may get sicker. God is with those isolating at home and feeling lonely. God is in the stores providing for the workers and providing for our basic needs, even among the shortages.  

In your dark moments, remember that God is our shepherd, and that Jesus, our shepherd, came to live among us to care for us and to bring us hope and healing and a promise of eternal life. 

A Prayer from the Extended Cabinet

By Rev. Megan Stowe Central Massachusetts District Superintendent (based on John 10:1-10 and Psalm 23)

O Good Shepherd,
We seek and listen for your voice.
We are thankful that you guide and protect us.
Be with us these days when we are literally walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Restore all of us who are struggling body, mind and spirit.
Lead us alongside the still waters.
We look forward to the day when we can feast at the table you have prepared for us.
Your mercy comforts us.
All of our days, we are reminded that you are with us. Amen.

Devotional || Psalm 134

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

Psalm 134 is a traveling Psalm, one of 15 beginning with Psalm 120 and ending with Psalm 134. This series of Psalms were sung by pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover. Picture the travelers, whole communities walking together to get to the holy city of Jerusalem, to the holy temple- set apart for the worship of God. As they traveled, they sang these Psalms. Picture the child Jesus, traveling with Mary and Joseph for Passover at age 12, in a group with his friends. As they traveled, they sang of the mountains, and of God’s glory and as they neared the city, they sang this Psalm.

Come bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord!

Lift up your hands to the holy place, and bless the Lord!

May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.

They expected a blessing from worship. It was a joy to be there in the Lord’s house. Imagine what it will be like for us as we return to worship in person in our own church. What a joy it will be when we can all  be together in God’s house.

But while we wait, create a holy worship space in your own home, as we come together to celebrate God’s love for us through this time of the pandemic. I have my cross and my candle near me when we worship. We sing or say praises to God with the Doxology and the Psalm for the evening. We may not be making a pilgrimage to the holy land, or even driving down the street to our local church, but the time we set aside to worship God together is a holy time, set apart for God.

Devotional || Psalm 15

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

Psalm 15 is probably an entry Psalm, for the beginning or worship. Who can come into God’s temple?  Right now, no one can.  The Psalm lists the qualities that we need to be God’s people. We are God’s people when we are worshipping at home.

The hymn, “We Are the Church,” says:

I am the church
you are the church,
we are the church together.
All who follow Jesus,
all around the world,
we are the church together.

The church is not a building,
the church is not a steeple,
the church is not a resting place,
the church is the people.

No. 558, v. 1., “We Are the Church,” The United Methodist Hymnal (1989). Words & Music by Richard K. Avery and Donald S. Marsh, 1972.

We are God’s people in our homes, in our neighborhoods and in the world. The people form the church.  What qualities do we need to show?

Integrity– doing what’s right when no one is looking.

Truth-telling– not spreading bad information, or tweeting gossip.

Kindness– not insulting one another, not speaking ill of one another.

Being with people who do good things– not hanging around with people who are bullies or doing or saying evil things.

Keeping promises– doing what you say you will do even if it hurts or is hard.

Avoiding usury– lending money at high interest which will push people into debt that they can never fully  pay.

Avoiding bribery.

During this time, as we are all locked down in our homes, it is hard to be the church. We can’t come together, but we still can be kingdom people, following God’s laws.  Be kind to your family members when you are sheltering together. Remember those who are sheltering alone. Give what you can, whether it is sewing masks, or making phone calls to check on neighbors, or donating to organizations which are helping others with less, or thanking a medical provider a nurse,  a first responder, a grocery clerk or pharmacy technician. There are many ways to show kindness. We can smile, though they may not see our mouths through our masks, our eyes can express a smile as well.

Whoever does all these things will never stumble. Bring God’s kingdom to this time and circumstance. Be kind. Praise God! Hallelujah!

Discussion Notes || Sunday, April 26, 2020

These discussion notes were written by Pastor Jacob and used to lead the conversation on Sunday, April 26, 2020 during our virtual service of Worshipful Conversation and Fellowship. Feel free to use these notes to start a discussion with your small group, family, and/or friends. This conversation is based on a reading from Joel 1.


Finding a New Normal:
The Crisis Now

By Rev. Dr. Jacob W. Juncker

I spent the better part of the last few weeks searching the scriptures to try and find a biblical book or story that might ground our discussion about the current novel-coronavirus pandemic that has so drastically changed all our lives.

To be honest, it was tough going.  While I won’t pretend to have perused all of the Bible in the last few weeks, I did search and skim and read significant hunks of it.  The fact of the matter is, the Bible speaks nowhere of global pandemic.  In a few places great sickness comes across the land, generally in a very localized context (think the plagues on Egypt), but the problem with those stories is that these sicknesses come at the direction of God.  God causes the sickness.

In my own thinking about the current global pandemic, I refuse to believe that God has inflicted a sickness on our world that has, to date, infected over 2.9 million people and resulted in over 203,000 deaths[1] worldwide including over 2,700 deaths here in Massachusetts.[2]

It is inconceivable, to me, that the God who created and wills life would impose a global pandemic, sentencing death on thousands, to make some divine point.

For sure, there are people who believe this.  There are those who believe that God is using this virus to cleanse the world of people who had it coming for one reason or another.  Such thinking is bullshit dangerous.  I once heard it said that those who believe in hell often think they know who should go there.  I think the same may be true of those who think that God works through global crises, including pandemics: if you think God works through divine retribution, harming people who have offended God, then you probably have certain people in mind who you think have offended God and stand under divine judgment.

Let me be clear—I do not believe that God has caused the current global pandemic.  I do not believe that those who have died have offended God any more than I have.  And, I do not think that we, as people of faith, should try to be reading into this global pandemic some sort of divine judgment or apocalyptic end.  Such thinking is bullarkey.

So what, then, are we left with?  How can we understand what’s going on?

It is at this point that I thumbed through and found the book of the prophet Joel.  Joel’s writing is found in the part of the Hebrew scriptures known as the Twelve Prophets, or the Minor Prophets.  It was written approximately 2,500 years ago (between 500 and 350 BCE) and is comprised of a series of poetic oracles.  Unlike other prophets in the Hebrew canon, Joel leans heavily upon a wide array of Hebrew prophets and writings using images and phrases from Obadiah, Malachi, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zephaniah, Nahum, Exodus, and others.

Prophetic writings in scripture follow a pretty standard rubric.  Something is happening, the people are disobeying God, and the prophet calls them to change their hearts and lives (repent!)and return to God.  What is unique about Joel is that he does not follow this familiar formula.  The book of Joel does not call out God’s people for a specific sin.  He doesn’t accuse them from wandering away from God. Instead, Joel is trying to make sense of a devastating crisis that has occurred.  He uses the scripture he has at his disposal to make sense of what is going on around him.

In the opening chapter (our reading for today), we do not find Joel calling out the people’s sin.  Instead, he is calling the people to look around and acknowledge the devastation: to bear witness to the crisis that surrounds them.

Pay attention, everyone in the land!  Has anything like this ever happened in your days, or in the days of your ancestors?

Joel 1:2b, Common English Bible

It is hard to underestimate how devastating the locust swarm was on Joel’s community.  It decimated all the crops, the vineyards, and the grain in the land.

Be shocked, you farmers; howl you vinedressers, over the wheat and the barley, for the crops of the field are destroyed.  The grapevine is dried up; the fig tree withers.  Pomegranate, palm, and apple—all the trees of the field are dried up.  Joy fades from the people.

Joel 1:11-12, Common English Bible

Joel tells the people to pay attention, to acknowledge the crisis that is right now; and, he calls them to mourn what was lost.  Joel recognizes that the normal they had all gotten used to—the fruitful land and the full barns—is no more.  There would be no return to “normal.”  The people would have to find a new normal.

To begin the process of finding a new normal, we must first acknowledge what we are going through now.

How do you understand what is going on?

We are each experiencing this pandemic differently based upon our family structure, economic status, where we live, and what resources (medical and otherwise) we have access to.

This global pandemic is (we hope and pray) a once in lifetime experience.  What has been your experience of this pandemic?  What will you tell your children and have your children tell their children, and their children tell their children?

Do you find yourself mourning during this time? about what?  What have you lost?

These are challenging times. Now is not the time to hide your head. We need to be aware what is going on around us, if we are ever to get through this crisis and find a new normal.

Amen? and amen.

“We Shall Overcome,” sung by The Aeolians (Oakwood University, Huntsville, Alabama)

[1] information pulled from the Johns Hopkins University and Medicine “COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU).”  Accessed April 26, 2020, at 8:35am.

[2] information gleaned from “Massachusetts Department of Public Health COVID-19 Dashboard—Saturday, April 25, 2020” (https://www.mass.gov/doc/covid-19-dashboard-april-25-2020/download).

Sunday, April 26, 2020 || Worshipful Conversation & Fellowship

Join us for a time of Worshipful Conversation and Fellowship on Sunday, April 26, at 10am. 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 116:1-4, 10-19

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

Psalm 116 is a Psalm of gratitude. God loves us and walks beside us throughout our lives in sickness and in health. God loves us and walks with us when our loved ones are ill or struggling. God loves us and walks with us when we mourn. In return we give thanks to the Lord for all that God has done.

How do we show gratitude when we are struggling to just survive? For me, I think about what good is in a situation. Because I have ALS, I have had several losses. When I first went to my support group, I thought everyone there must not like it when I come walking in when most of the others are in wheelchairs. I can physically care for myself when others are dependent on caregivers to bathe and dress them. I have come to realize though, that they all fear the loss of speech and swallowing which is what I first lost. Each of us sits there and says, at least I can still … whatever they haven’t lost. I am grateful that I can walk and care for myself. I am grateful that my left arm is growing weak and not my dominant right arm.

I am thankful that I live alone and not in a care facility where COVID-19 can run through all the patients very quickly. Whatever it is that you have lost through this virus, be thankful for what you still have. If your needs are financial, be thankful for unemployment checks and food pantries that can help you. If you are a healthcare worker, be thankful that you are well enough to work. If you are a parent and trying to become a teacher too, be thankful for this time with your children, to watch them grow and develop. If you are graduating from high school, be thankful for your education, even if you have to miss out on graduation ceremonies and all the excitement that brings.

So, whatever you’re feeling sad about, or grieving, or worrying about, take a moment to give a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord.

Praise the Lord!

Devotional || Psalm 114

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

Psalm 114 recalls the Exodus, the time when God rescued God’s people from their difficulties. It is a celebration of God’s grace and mercy when life becomes difficult. When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, God sent Moses to bring them out. When they needed to cross the Red Sea, God, held back the water to allow them to pass. Then years later God stopped the waters of the Jordon River to allow the Israelites to cross into the promised land. When they were hungry, God sent manna in the morning and quails at night to feed them- enough for everyone. When they were thirsty, God allowed spring water to burst forth when Moses struck the rock. At every turn, God provided for the people.

And so, the mountains and hills leaped in the air.

This is a time of trouble for us, as we continue to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic. We know people are dying, people are desperately ill. Families can’t visit with their sick relatives. There are shortages of medical supplies and essential medication. Grocery stores are empty of some essentials. And yet, we see medical and nursing staff stepping up to care for very sick patients putting their own lives at risk. Factories are changing their manufacturing process to create personal protective equipment. Breweries are making hand sanitizer. People are making masks in their homes. People are caring for their neighbors.  Others are donating money to emergency relief funds. God always provides; and, God provides by using humans.

And so, we to join the earth in singing praise for God’s mercy and provisions in times of need.

“Shout to the Lord” by Hillsong (feat. Darlene Zschech)

A Prayer from the Extended Cabinet

By Rev. Taesung Kang, New Hampshire District Superintendent

Who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Who saw the pain of the people of Israel and redeemed them from slavery, 
Who heard the mourning of the captives and ransomed them from their lonely exile, 
Who watched Your Son Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and raised him up from the dead. 

We were so grateful for the celebration of this Easter Sunday that was like no other;
Singing Hallelujah at home, at the top of our lungs, along with a virtual choir, 
Watching the powerful story of the empty tomb from the couch, 
Sharing a Love Feast with family members, 
Recognizing how greatly we needed the spirit of Easter and living it out as Easter people. 

Now, only five days later, after being filled with the great joy of Jesus’ triumph over death,  
We feel like those Israelites who were in captivity, 
We feel like Thomas who doubted your real presence, 
We find our daily life compromised by anxiety, fear, and doubt. 

There are times when we wonder, “Where is God in this pandemic?” 
There are times when we feel that God seems so far away, 
There are times when we think God is absent from our midst, 
There are times when we ask, “How long, O God, do we need to endure?” 

So continue to have mercy upon us, O Lord, 
And redeem us from the doubt and despair that is within us and around us, 
Deepen our faith so that we may remain pure and genuine through this trial, 
Grant us your peace and restore our true Easter joy, 
Help us to understand that “Blessed are those who believe without seeing me” 
Help us to love you, O Lord, “even though we do not see you now.” 

Risen Savior, 
We choose to trust in your ever-present love, 
Our faith will remain “strong through many trials” 
For “it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” 
Amen. Hallelujah!