“The only thing we have to fear is … fear itself.” These famous words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt were spoken at his inauguration in 1933, to a nation at the peak of the Great Depression. Roosevelt describes that fear as a “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Today, we look back with admiration on the courage and unity of America’s “Greatest Generation.” It is easy to forget that these qualities emerged from the Roaring 20’s—a decade of reckless speculation and selfish hedonism. Something essential to our national survival emerged from an era focused on “me.”
God never gives up on us. Even in the days of Noah, when “every inclination of the human heart” seemed to be “evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21), God did not turn away. When the oppressed Hebrew slaves were crying in misery, God came down from Heaven “to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). And after Jesus was crucified, when the disciples were huddled together “with the doors locked for fear of the Jews,” Jesus appeared and stood among them, saying simply, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19).
At our music camp (my first summer in Pulaski), Sylvia Walker taught this song (by Chris Tomlin) to the children. We’ve sung it in church many times since. The song has stuck with me, and comes to me now:
I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind;
The God of angel armies is always by my side.
The one who reigns forever, He is a friend of mine;
The God of angel armies is always by my side.
Whom shall I fear? Whom shall I fear?
Today as I am writing this, I realize I have no control over my plans for the next months. This reminds me of the famous quote by Thomas a Kempis,
"For the resolutions of the just depend rather on the grace of God than on their own wisdom; and in Him they always put their trust, whatever they take in hand. For man proposes, but God disposes; neither is the way of man in his own hands".
The Bible says the same in Proverbs 16:9, “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.”
My human mind is trying to plan, but please extend me grace as God is the only one who can truly know what the next few weeks (and months) will bring. Of course, this is always true just not as apparent as it has been made to be right now in this time and place. None of us can ever guarantee our plans will come to fruition. We are not in control, no matter how much we want to be.
Rev. Robyn Hays
Relieving Stress through Prayer
In the “special edition” of the Circuit Rider, where I was sharing news developments regarding the pandemic, I noted that the Center for Disease Control encourages people to take care of themselves. One of their guidelines for coping with stress is to “take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.”
In other words … pray!
We sometimes think of “prayer” as the words we say to God. And those are certainly important. But as I was teaching the church during our “40 Days of Spiritual Life,” prayer has many dimensions. The way that we breathe has a lot to do with prayer—which is why the Hebrew word for “spirit” is the same as the word for “breath.” Feeling the relaxing relief that comes from deep breathing is part of what happens, when we pray. It is the life-force of God. It is why we tell someone who is upset, to “take a deep breath.”
There is a yoga class that meets at the church twice a week. Yoga combines stretching and meditation. Now, some people may think it “weird” to have yoga at church, but I believe there is a physical dimension to prayer as well. For instance, Janet Cortes gifted me with a membership at the Ontario Fitness Center about a year ago. I have noticed that when I have exercised, there is a sense of well-being that stays with me for the remainder of the day. The physical spills over into my spiritual well-being. “Peace” (or in Hebrew, “shalom”) means having it all together—spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, and in all our relationships. So stretching, walking, exercising, and keeping ourselves physically well are a critical part of finding spiritual peace.
Finally, “meditate.” I suppose it’s a word that the CDC can use without sounding too religious. But let’s not mince words. To meditate upon God is what we do, when we pray; to be “mindful” (or aware of God’s presence) is what we do, when we pray. So I would encourage us all to utilize our prayer time as a stress-reliever, making sure that our prayer practice takes into account our need to breathe, our need to stretch, and our need to quietly meditate upon God’s presence with us.
I have heard people say that all the precautionary measures that are being urged upon us are a gross “over-reaction.” However, I do not want to live with the thought that, by shrugging it off, I may have brought about someone’s death. Better safe, than sorry!
No one can predict exactly how events will unfold. However, epidemiologists have prepared different scenarios based on a wide range of possible infection and mortality rates. The bottom line is that, if our efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19 are minimal, we may see between 200,000 and 1.7 million Americans die. So please … follow the advice of people who know what they’re talking about! Proverbs 3:21-26 says:
Do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
preserve sound judgment and discretion;
they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.
Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Have no fear of sudden disaster
or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the Lord will be at your side
and will keep your foot from being snared.
We are all in this together. By working together with a sense of collective action, with a willingness to sacrifice and a commitment to selflessness, we can save each other’s lives. Jesus calls us to do just that:
Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:12-14)
Worship at Home
For many of us, “worship” is synonymous with “going to church.” If the church building is closed, how can we worship?
I would remind you, first of all, that the Hebrew people worshiped for a very long time without any building at all. They had a tent, and it moved from place to place as they traveled. This continued even after they settled. King David was embarrassed to be living in a grand palace in Jerusalem while God lived in a tent, and proposed to his prophet Nathan that they build a majestic “House of the Lord”—(the Temple). This proposal was extremely controversial. After praying about it, Nathan reported that God was distressed by it. “Have I ever asked for a house? Have I ever needed a house? If I want a house to live in, I’ll build it myself!” (2 Samuel 7:5-7, paraphrased).
Similarly, John Wesley ordered Methodists to have simple chapels (rather than massive churches). The original chapels were typically housed in schoolhouses, post offices, and individuals’ homes; the first location of Park Church was in a tavern next to the bridge (where LD’s now sits). When American churches first began installing organs, steeples, bell towers and stained-glass windows, it was often asked, “Why do we need them, to worship God?”
Many of us have had significant spiritual experiences at church camp, in some slipshod shack as part of a mission trip, out in the woods on our own, or in someone’s living room. The beauty of our sanctuary is there to help us experience the majesty of God … but is not required. You can worship anywhere! You can worship … at home.
How would you do that? Well, what helps you to focus on God? It might be silence, or it might be music. A picture of Jesus, or a crocus in bloom. You might read the Bible, or think about what you’re reading. You might spend some time talking it over, or sharing what’s on your mind. You might spend some time in prayer. And you might ask yourself, “Where today can I experience the glory of God?”
I was discussing worship with this year’s confirmation class. I pointed out that the word “worship” was contracted from “worth-ship”—that is: giving “worth” to God—(letting God know He’s “worth” it). How can you let God know He’s worth it, while you are at home?
I am a big fan of Chris Tomlin, and have already cited one of his songs. Another occurs to me now:
Is He worthy?
Is He worthy of all blessing and honor and glory?
Is He worthy? Is He worthy? Is He worthy of this?
Finally, this may be the time to recover the ancient practice of “Sabbath rest.” If you are not responding to an emergency, you may find that you have extra time on your hands. “Sabbath rest” means taking a break from regular work, in order to regroup and refocus on God. Rest might include not only worship and Bible reading, but also taking the time to enjoy your family or catch up with friends. It might mean focusing attention on the blessings of creation, by taking a walk (or listening to the birds). We’re often too “busy” to simply bask in the blessings God has so freely given, but by taking a sabbatical, we can do just that. It might mean slowing down and extending mealtime, or taking a nice long nap. Sabbath is a time to reclaim the self. Time … for the soul. And that may be what we all need.
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; the promise of entering God’s rest still stands. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest. For the word of God is alive and active! (Hebrews 4:9-12)
God of Comfort and God of Mercy: Be with the hundreds of thousands of people who have already been infected with coronavirus around the world. Comfort those who have already lost people they love. Bring peace to those who are anxious, living with uncertainly after perhaps being exposed. Give patience to those who are quarantined, unable to move freely in their own communities, and to those who are stuck a long way from home.
God Our Good Shepherd and God Our Faithful Guide: Watch over us, and protect us from catching this deadly virus. Watch over our town, and watch over our neighbors. Watch over the elderly, and those who are particularly vulnerable. And strengthen those who are risking their lives to care for sick patients. Guide us all into green pastures, beside the still waters.
God of All Wisdom and God Who Reigns: Inspire our leaders, we pray. Guide those who are leading our nation, and those who are leading the world. Guide those who lead our community, in government, in health care, in civic spirit, and in emergency response. Guide our pastors to pastor, and our churches to serve. Guide our schools, our community organizations, and our care providers. Fill them all with the wisdom to act responsibly, to lead us courageously, and to be themselves governed by compassion.
God who is “God with Us”: Enable us to walk in the shoes of those who are suffering, and use us to lift others up.
Help us to be … not anxious, but grounded in faith; not foolish, but realistic; not self-centered, but united across our town, our nation, our world; not afraid, but confident in your unfailing love; not hopeless, but children who walk in your light. This we pray through Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World. AMEN.
Caring for Others
There are going to be people who are sick. Many more people will be feeling isolated, lonely, or scared. And there are going to be people who need help—with picking up groceries or cleaning supplies or medications.
We as a church can rise to this occasion! For there will also be many people who are healthy and able to care for others. You can help with others’ physical needs … if you simply try to become aware what they are, and make the offer. You can phone people any time. You can check in on social media, or send a card to let them know that “I’m thinking of you.” You can pray. You can make the difference between living in a bunker and feeling the light of Christ shining.
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)