Worship for Sunday, August 23, 2020

Isaiah 51:1-6

 Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
  you that seek the Lord.
 Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
  and to the quarry from which you were dug.
 Look to Abraham your father
  and to Sarah who bore you;
 for he was but one when I called him,
  but I blessed him and made him many.
 For the Lord will comfort Zion;
  he will comfort all her waste places,
 and will make her wilderness like Eden,
  her desert like the garden of the Lord;
 joy and gladness will be found in her,
  thanksgiving and the voice of song.

 Listen to me, my people,
  and give heed to me, my nation;
 for a teaching will go out from me,
  and my justice for a light to the peoples.
 I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,
  my salvation has gone out
  and my arms will rule the peoples;
 the coastlands wait for me,
  and for my arm they hope.
 Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
  and look at the earth beneath;
 for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
  the earth will wear out like a garment,
  and those who live on it will die like gnats;
 but my salvation will be forever,
  and my deliverance will never be ended.

The Word of our Lord.

Psalm 138

 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart;
  before the gods I will sing your praise.

I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your name, because of your steadfast love and faithfulness;for you have glorified your name and your word above all things.

 When I called, you answered me;
  you increased my strength within me.

All the rulers of the earth will praise you, O Lord,when they have heard the words of your mouth.

They will sing of the ways of the Lord, that great is the glory of the Lord.

The Lord is high, yet cares for the lowly,perceiving the haughty from afar.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe;
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right hand shall save me.

You will make good your purpose for me; O Lord, your steadfast love endures forever; do not abandon the works of your hands. Amen.

Romans 12:1-8

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

  For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

The Word of our Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 16:13-20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

The Gospel of our Lord

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Wow – these past months have been absolutely – positively bizarre haven’t they?

Our faithful bishop has taken to calling this trying time our time in the wilderness.  He is – of course – comparing this time for us to the Chosen People’s 40 years of wandering in the Desert Wilderness as they waited to enter the Promised Land.  (But I really – really – really hope that this COVID-19 wilderness doesn’t last for 40 years or even 40 months!?!)

And yet – in so many ways it is already starting to feel like we have been living in this COVID-19 world for years now – doesn’t it?  It feels like years ago or maybe even an entirely different lifetime ago when things were different.

Remember our old lives?  Remember the way things were back in the olden days before most of us had ever heard of COVID-19?  Back when global pandemics were the stuff of history books?  Or the plot to the next big blockbuster movie on Netflix?

Was it really only last August that our kids went back to school at their actual school buildings wearing real clothing instead of virtually from our living rooms in their pajamas?

Remember Christmas 2019 – back when we did wild and crazy things like smooshing into pews for worship?  Remember singing hymns in church – lots and lots and lots of hymns?  Remember shaking hands and standing close to other people and hugging folks we weren’t married to?  Remember when the only people who wore masks were surgeons and bank robbers?

Can you imagine even thinking about doing something like that right now!?!

That was only 242 days ago!  Seriously less than 250 days ago . . .  So much has changed in such a short time hasn’t it?

I vividly remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard our governor VERY strongly recommend that all churches in our commonwealth cancel in-person worship services during his news conference.

We all knew this was coming.  Rod and I had already met to discuss this very thing.  Jason and I were making plans.  We knew. . .but denial runs deep sometimes.  So even though I knew it was coming when I first heard the official declaration from Frankfort – I felt a bit ill and then I got nervous.

I wondered how on earth we would get through?  How would we endure?  Could our Christian community survive such a devastating blow?  No in-person services for a week or even 2 because of bad weather was one thing – but no in person worship services for the foreseeable future?!?  That was hard to comprehend. 

I – like you – just wanted this horrible – wretched – evil – monster of a virus to disappear.  I wanted it to take its nasty self and leave all of us alone.  I wanted my old life back. 

Honestly – I had to remind myself to keep the faith.  That God was still God – no matter what.  All of those sermons this spring about God’s steadfast love enduring forever.  I wasn’t preaching to the choir – I was preaching to the PASTOR! 

It was during this time that I began to notice something.  I had noticed it before – but it hadn’t resonated with me in the way that it was now.  Again and again as we read God’s Word – especially the Psalms – we hear two things when we cry out to our God for help.  The first is a reminder that God’s love endures forever.  And the second is when we cry out to God for help – God often answers by giving us the strength we need to keep on keeping on.  God answers by giving us the strength we need to make it through.

In Psalm 138 the writer declares “when I called, you answered me; you increased my strength within me.”

God answered this cry for help.  God’s answer was more strength to face the challenges before them.  It wasn’t the easy answer.  It probably wasn’t the answer his people would have preferred.  But it was the answer God chose. 

God’s answer wasn’t to take the challenge away – but to give his children the strength they need to face the challenges before them. 

Over and over and over again in God’s Word we see that this is God’s answer to his people.  This is the help God gives.  God gives the strength to endure.  The strength to face the challenges before them. 

It can be easy to think when we receive this sort of answer from our God that he didn’t hear us.  That he is making us wait for an answer.  Or maybe even that he has told us no. But we see in God’s Word that there is another way of understanding what is happening.  That God has heard us.  That God has responded.  But rather than doing what we thought he should do or what we told him to do – God has instead responded by increasing our strength within us.  That God has given us the strength we need to live through challenging times. 

COVID-19 has not gone away.  It hasn’t just disappeared.  But neither has our God or our church or our Christian community.  God’s steadfast love has endured and God’s Word assures us that God’s love will endure forever. 

And God has increased our strength.  We are stronger than we were before.  God has blessed us with exactly what we need to get through these truly difficult days.

God has increased our strength within us and he will continue to increase our strength within us. 

These are not easy times – but our God is with us and he has given us exactly what we need to get through these times together as his people.  Truly this is Good News – Amen.

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