The Path of Life
Hymn # 611 Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
Prayer of Invocation
God of life,
we praise you for the miracle of Easter.
We pray for great joy for ourselves and for all who come
to worship today to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.
We pray especially for those who will join us for worship
and whose lives are filled with pain, loss, or deep sadness.
May they sense how the resurrection is a source of great hope. Amen.
Call to Confession
Prayer of Confession
in raising Jesus from the grave,
you shattered the power of sin and death.
We confess that we remain captive to doubt and fear,
bound by the ways that lead to death.
We overlook the poor and the hungry
and pass by those who mourn;
we are deaf to the cries of the oppressed
and indifferent to calls for peace;
we despise the weak
and abuse the earth you made.
Forgive us, God of mercy.
Help us to trust your power
to change our lives and make us new,
that we may know the joy of life abundant
given in Jesus Christ, the risen Lord. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have died.
For since death came through a human being,
the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being;
for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.
Prayer for Illumination
Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.
From everlasting to everlasting you are God.
Speak to us now as you have spoken to us throughout the ages.
On this glorious Easter, reveal yourself and your will for our lives,
that we might live as your Easter people.
We seek your face, O Lord; hear our prayer through Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.
4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.
5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.
7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. 10 For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.
11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Sermon: The Path of Life
Good morning. I usually start my work week by looking at the Lectionary readings for the following Sunday. It’s the first thing I do. Well, besides brewing a pot of coffee. Like any good Presbyterian, I always start with coffee. Nothing illuminates the scriptures like a good cup of coffee. Then I say a prayer for illumination—especially if the caffeine has kicked in. And after that, I read all the texts for that Sunday and I begin to make decisions about which scriptures I’ll use for Sunday. This was one of those weeks when the text just leapt off the page.
Psalm 16 offers such a clear word of peace in this time of fear and uncertainty. It is the word that we all need to hear. This psalm tells us that comfort and joy, even in the midst of trying times, come to us through relationship; relationship with God.
The opening verse begins with a plea: “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” The word refuge might be why this psalm resonated with me. We’re all taking refuge right now. We’re hunkered down in our homes and apartments. Unless we have essential jobs that compel us to venture out in the world, we only leave our cloisters to buy groceries, medicines, and other supplies.
When I hear that plea, “Protect me, O God,” I wonder what the psalmist was going through. Why did he ask God for protection? He doesn’t name specific fears; we don’t know why he sought refuge. Perhaps that makes the psalm more powerful. The word refuge appears a lot in the psalms, so this is a common theme. In these times of fear, uncertainty, and social distancing, I’d say it’s universal.
The psalmist places his trust in God, rather than in himself. This trust stems from a relationship with God: “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” All of the psalmist’s blessings come from God; not from his own efforts or as rewards for making offerings to other gods.
It would seem that the psalmist is surrounded by people who worship other gods, who make sacrifices to those gods. But the psalmist clings to his faith in the God of Israel, and he chooses to associate with other “holy ones.” That is, others who keep the First Commandment, who keep the faith, who refuse to worship other gods. For the psalmist, that’s what faith looks like. That’s where the psalmist finds strength in challenging and uncertain times.
Beloved, we live in challenging and uncertain times. Interesting times, one might say. But you don’t need me to tell you that. Again. You feel it every day. The coronavirus is frightening. There is so much about the disease that we still don’t know.
We don’t know how much longer we’ll be confined to our homes.
We don’t know how long it will take to get the economy going again.
We don’t know if the number of COVID-19 cases has peaked, or if we’ll have another spike in cases after we go back to our typical routines. We don’t know how long it will take to produce a vaccine against the virus, nor how effective it might be. We just don’t know, and that’s frightening.
Over the past couple weeks, I’ve heard from a number of you who are struggling with anxiety and uncertainty. Several of you have told me that you can’t stand to watch the news on TV, yet you can’t turn it off, either. It’s like a drug; you want to quit; you know it’s dragging you down, but you can’t stop using it.
I mean, you need to know what’s going on in the world, right?
There are other ways to get information, of course, but there’s something about TV news that keeps us watching. Maybe it’s the combination of the human voice, moving pictures, and the text crawling along the bottom of the screen. It engages every little nook and cranny of our minds. It demands our attention and it commands our attention—like an idol.
I’m not saying that watching TV news is sinful, but there’s definitely something about it that holds our attention in ways that other media do not. If you read a story in a newspaper or magazine, you finish the story, and then you read an entirely different story, or you get up and do something else. But with cable TV news, we watch the same stories, hour after hour, with only the tiniest bit of new information added. And if we spend all that time watching all the horrible things in the world, then we’re not busy looking for what God is doing—we’re simply focusing on our own fears and anxieties.
This week, as I spent time with Psalm 16, I began to wonder if the psalmist is giving himself, a pep talk. And not just the psalmist himself, but the other faithful people around him. Yes, without a doubt, the psalmist is giving praise to God and celebrating the gifts he receives from God. But maybe that’s because his faith is being tested by some external circumstance. Of course, there’s nothing in the text to tell us what that something might be.
As a reader, I wish I knew what circumstances moved the psalmist to write this psalm. It’s frustrating that I don’t know, but perhaps that’s not as important as the solution that the psalmist provides: finding refuge in God and drawing strength from relationships, both with God and with faithful neighbors.
If you want to find peace in this time of the coronavirus, turn off the TV news and turn to God. I know that’s easier said than done—especially when we’re spending all this time in our homes. Old habits are hard to break. So, here are some suggestions to help you reorient your attention:
· Pray more.
· Read the Bible.
· Read the scriptures aloud—over and over again, if necessary.
That last one is important. For some of us, prayer doesn’t come easily or naturally. My mind wanders when I say my prayers at night; I have trouble focusing. Reading a piece of scripture aloud is a form of prayer. You don’t have to study it in depth—though that’s not a bad idea—all you have to do is read it aloud for five or ten minutes. That’s it!
So, here’s my suggestion: If you’re having trouble with fear and anxiety, commit to spend as much time with God as you do with the TV news. For every half-hour you spend watching the news, spend at least thirty minutes reading your Bible or praying. I would even suggest that you commit to doing this before you start watching the news.
When we come to God in prayer, we admit that we depend on God, not ourselves. As the psalmist says, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” Prayer changes us; it restores our relationship with God. This is the path of life. This is one way to strengthen your faith in this time of uncertainty.
In doing this, you may also be a blessing to others. You can help strengthen the faith of the other holy ones. And if you haven’t yet gotten to that place of strength, reach out. Let someone carry you for a while. We’re not supposed to do this on our own and we don’t have figure it out on our own. We are gathered, as a community of faith, to be a blessing to one another. Whether you are feeling strong or weak, you are loved. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymn # 450 Be Thou My Vision
Prayer of Thanksgiving
We give our thanks through our talents, our time, and our treasure.
Thanks be to God; whose love creates us!
Thanks be to God; whose mercy redeems us!
Thanks be to God; whose grace leads us into the future! Amen.
Prayers of the People
Our prayer shawl ministry has shifted gears for the time being. They’ve produced a number of prayer hearts, which they are sharing with our deacons. So, we would ask that you pray with us as we dedicate these prayer hearts. Lord Jesus: In this season of quarantine, worry, and fear, may each prayer heart remind people that they are loved and valued as our sisters & brothers in Christ, and members and friends of our church community.
We lift up our deacons, God. We ask that you equip them with a Spirit of grace and inspiration as they minister in holy, quiet ways to those in our congregation who are less visible and heard from less frequently.
We pray also for the nurses in our congregation: Sue McKinney, Christy McCoy, and Diane Canto. We ask that the Holy Spirit fill them with courage, energy and comfort, so they can be comforted and can comfort others, in this time of overwhelming stress & suffering.
We offer continued prayers for Darrell Parks. This is Trena Parks’ brother. He’s in the hospital with COVID-19. Prayers for continued improvement for Darrell.
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn # 268 Crown Him with Many Crowns