“Weekly Words of Wisdom”

Wednesday April 29, 2020

Last Sunday, Rev Jen used as the text for her sermon the familiar, but never old, story of Jesus calming the storm. You remember how it goes: Jesus asleep in the stern of the boat as the wind whipped up the waves, which began to swamp the boat. The disciples, panicked and fearing for their lives, woke him up and yelled, “Don’t you care that we’re about to die!”  And the record says Jesus “rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And there was a dead calm.”

I’ve often wondered, and I invite you to wonder with me, if Jesus were to come to me today and say, “Peace!  Be still,” what would that mean for my life—for your life—right now?  Especially in these days of sheltering in place and avoiding close contact with those who are important to us, days of growing anxiety, fatigue, fear, and loneliness, can you hear Jesus say to you, “Peace! Be still.”? It will mean something different for each one of us, but maybe that’s what each of us needs to hear, in his or her own life, right at this moment, in the midst of the darkness and the storm that is brooding, or blowing, across our lives: “Peace!  Be still!”

Back in the 14th century, Julian of Norwich, an English mystic, lived through the Bubonic Plague which struck her city three times.  Carts, loaded with dead bodies, would roll by her window. She welcomed those who were caught in pain and fear and offered them a listening, compassionate heart.  She herself suffered right up to the moment of her death. But, in spite of it all, she was able to write the well- known words; “…all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well…”  And then, this: “These words, you will not be overcome, were said insistently and strongly, against every tribulation which may come.  He did not say: You will not be troubled, you will not be belabored, you will not be disquieted; but he said: You will not be overcome.”

In this day of our corona virus, in these days of loneliness, and anxiety, and fatigue, we desperately need to hear all of this—“Peace! Be still.” “You will not be overcome.”  “All will be well…and every manner of thing will be well…”

Rev. Sherm Skinner

“Weekly Words of Wisdom”

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Sherm and I have been given an extraordinary gift during this time when each news report causes us fear, anxiety, and sadness, fear of being out of control, anxious about those without jobs or income, and incredible sadness (as well as pride) at the stories of our current heroes on the front lines.  So we have asked, “How can we counter the fear, anxiety, and sadness with a different perspective?  Can we begin to think of this time as a God-given Sabbath, a time of quiet and reflection, a time to relax and regroup?”. Our friends are helping us do just that!  They have been emailing us with the most amazing videos, cartoons, and jokes that have us laughing our heads off. That’s the gift for which we are so grateful.

Norman Cousins, author of the groundbreaking Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration, was one of the first to popularize the idea of laughter as medicine, in 1979. Cousins had overcome a painful battle with connective tissue disease by prescribing himself laughter. “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep,” he wrote. Laughing, he wrote, is like inner jogging. It helps us heal by activating the immune system.

When I was a student at Union Theological Seminary in NYC (about 100 years ago) I read Reformed theologian Jurgen Moltmann’s Theology of Play. The Christian life, according to Moltmann, is not to be envisioned as a ‘purpose-driven life’ but, perhaps, as a game of delight in the God who creates and redeems the world for nothing.  Learning from children, finding ways to enjoy God, celebrating the good news of Jesus Christ, all demonstrate the Easter event in the world.  Yes, Easter reminds us that God has the first and the last word, that life not death wins out, as does joy over sorrow and laughter over weeping.  Yes, God has the last laugh!

We have not chosen this new style of life nor would it have been something we preferred.  But this is what we have, so what does it mean to be disciples who regard Jesus as Lord at this moment?  Father James Martin, Jesuit priest and best-selling author of Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, writes about the sacred link between humor and spirituality.  He says this: “Jesus continually says, “I have come so that your joy may be complete.” Humor is a virtue because it helps us not to take ourselves too seriously. Laughter is an enjoyment of God’s world. It’s a wonderful gift from God.”  As Karl Barth said, “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.” 

Rev. Lorrie

“Weekly Words of Wisdom”

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

How is it possible to be present to one another in this age of coronavirus?  As Governor Murphy said the other day, “Take care of each other, but do it six feet apart!”  What does it mean to be “present with” when we can’t be “with” others?  At the Oaks, where we live, visitors are not allowed in.  That means families cannot come to visit, cannot see their loved ones, cannot share physical presence, unless they take them out—if they are able to go out!  This absence, of “not being with,” increasingly marks our days.

We know from Scripture that God’s presence is always with us. Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.”  The promise of God’s presence with us—no matter what is happening to us—is what we need to hear right now!  God’s presence is a reality we can experience. When we sit in silence in prayer, we are present with what we cannot see, yet we trust God’s presence to be with us in that moment.

So I would invite you today to be consciously present with those you love and care about, but can’t touch. Reach out with your heart toward those you hold in your heart.  Write a personal note, an email; send a text, letting them know you are thinking of them. Make a phone call and listen—truly listen—to their worries, their fears, their hopes. Know, as you do so, that you and they are always held in God’s loving presence. Trust that God can help you be present to all those you can’t be physically with today.

Let us pray:  “Always and Everywhere God, help us to be intimately aware of your Presence, and help us to be present–in spirit–with those we love, those we care about, all those we hold in our hearts. Amen”.

The Rev Sherm Skinner

“Weekly Words of Wisdom”

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

We’ve arrived at this last Wednesday of Lent.  Just five weeks ago we began our Lenten journey with ashes.   As we placed ashes on one another’s foreheads, we may have said “Hope does not disappoint”.  And we prayed “Loving God, we now open ourselves to your presence as we seek HOPE in your promise of love and grace.”  Little did we know what would lie ahead.

And today, just like those ashes, the fragility of our lives seems to be in the balance.  Today we observe new rituals of distancing, quarantine and washing. There is a new urgency as we hear the voices of fear, and words of false hope, as we face the trauma of isolation.  We are in the midst of something we cannot fully understand, nor an outcome we can yet imagine.

And as we reflect on this Lenten experience during this history-making time our emotions probably run the gamut:  anxiety, fear, disappointment, fear, sadness, fear, anger.  Did I mention fear?  So natural at a time like this!  Every time I cough, I start to worry.  My friends have their thermometers in regular use. We worry about how cautious we should be when the alarmists come after us with what often turns out to be the wrong information.  No feeling takes over our lives more completely than fear. Fear can blind us.  So, what to do??

We can lose ourselves in the Psalms where prayers are offered up to God to be able to face our fears as they rise up.  You can remember to keep reaching out and stay engaged with the world.  And remember to keep reaching in to stay engaged with your soul.  That’s Parker Palmer’s suggestion and in addition he says this: “I will always have fears, but I need not be my fears, for I have other places within myself from which to speak and act.”

You can remember God’s promise made through the prophet Jeremiah to give us a future with hope.  Where do you look for hope?   Some of us find it in the myriad of stories, jokes and cartoons circulating on the net and find the healing power of laughter.  Some of us look to nature, at the hopeful signs of Spring all around us right now.  Some of us lose ourselves in a good book (I have a friend who’s just finished his fourth) or in the comfort and inspiration of music (singing and dancing is a great way to work out!).  Connecting with family and friends, in whatever way we can, sustains us, lifts our spirits, makes us grateful, gives us joy. 

I would love to hear your stories of where you’re finding hope in these days of uncertainty and bewilderment.  Email me at lorriers34@gmail.com

The Rev. Lorrie Skinner

Holy Saturday: Burial of Jesus by Josephy of Arimathea Luke 23:50-54

50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning.

Final Reflection

Why did Joseph ask Pilate for Jesus’ body? The four Gospels supply us with many thoughts, musings and possible answers to that question but, why don’t we enter Joseph’s inner debate as he seeks to answer that question. Joseph is pondering…

“I’m taking a big risk, asking Pilate for the body of Jesus, a convicted criminal. I’m well aware that Jewish law prohibits executed criminals in family tombs, but I own a new, unused tomb in a garden near-by that would not violate any of our laws if used.

This is the Day of Preparation and our rabbinic tradition teaches that a body should not be allowed to remain unburied beyond the day of death. I feel I should hurry to bury Jesus’ body as sundown is near. Perhaps I owe this to him since I was not in agreement with the action taken by the Sanhedrin in condemning Jesus.

For a long time, I have been looking for the Kingdom of God, and Jesus did say he is the dawning of that kingdom. My friends, Jesus’ disciples, certainly believe he is innocent and is sent from God. John the Baptist also called him, the Kingdom of Heaven.”

In the end, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and asked to be given the body of Jesus. Mark, in his Gospel, even said he went boldly. Why do you think Joseph asked for Jesus’ body? Could you or I find the courage to do the same?

Daily Prayer:

God of Discernment, guide us as we seek answers to things that trouble us and then help us find courage to take action favorable in your sight. Amen. 

~Marilyn Ward

Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise: Good Friday

Psalm 22:1-2

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

Luke 23:39-43

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

On this holiest and darkest of days, we can actually find solidarity in these two texts; one from the Old Testament that Jesus himself cries out at his darkest hour. This is a pain that we will never know. Yet, for all of us, it is a lament that we can also cry when we are in our darkest hour. We can cry out the SAME words that Christ did; hoping and trusting that God is still with us in our pain, desolation, suffering and loss.

The HOPE that is foreshadowed in the second text is a gift because it is both a vision and a promise; that Christ promises our future, because he not only promises paradise (freedom from all pain, crying, and desolation) but that he precedes us to that paradise and will greet us there. Further, he will also be with us in between our current suffering and the future, which is a promised arrival in spite of our brokenness.

May you find the courage to pray Psalm 22 in your most honest voice as you also cling honestly to a promise already made for you by the prayers and promises of our Saviour.

Daily Prayer – Suffering God, give me the strength to sit at the base of the cross and seek to comprehend the suffering you made on my behalf so that I, and the world, may have the HOPE you promise us. Amen.

~Rev Jen

Maundy Thursday: Not My Will, But Yours Be Done: Luke 22:41-42

41 Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”

Daily Reflection

Jesus’s actions are really interesting in our reading today. He made a point of having the disciples accompany him to the Mount of Olives to pray. But upon reaching their destination he removes himself from them and then drops to his knees to offer up his prayer. Why bother bringing the disciples if he was going to pray alone? He needed the isolation to have a singular focus on the Father. The distraction of others can sometimes weaken our prayers.

Also, this passage is the only place in the gospels where Jesus lowers himself in supplication to pray. We can find him praying by standing with the disciples, or seated with them at a meal, or seated in a boat, or standing before a crowd, but here before Gethsemane, Jesus lowers himself. Our own prayer life should be so varied. Sometimes we pray with others, sometimes alone. Standing, sitting, riding in a bus; those are all times for prayer. In Jesus’ example here kneeling should be reserved for special times.

We can say that God answers all prayers, but Jesus’ hope or desire in this prayer isn’t answered. The cup of sacrifice was not taken from him.  He’s still on the path to the cross. Jesus submits himself to the will of the Father – physically by lowering his body, and willfully, by offering his will to serve the Father. And it is this portion of the prayer to which God responds; in the next verse he sends an angel to strengthen Jesus for the trials ahead. Our lesson: Jesus was mentally anguished – tormented. He understood the difficult path ahead, but he lowered himself before the Father and prayed, not for himself but to do God’s will.

The basis of all Christian faith is submitting ourselves to Christ and the Father– Let God’s will be done.

Daily Prayer

Christ, let your sacrifice inspire us to be like you and fully submit to the will of the Father for our lives. In your name we pray.

~Dan Keoppel

A Future With Hope: Jeremiah 29:11-13

11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,

Daily Reflection

The Lord has plans for us that I was not even aware of; plans to give me HOPE for the future.  Plans to overcome despairs, fears, and anxieties over what the future might bring.  I searched for his wisdom through prayer, for His guidance, and realized He was always there and with me.  I was never alone, and now I know He will be with me forevermore.

Without Hope and a future, I found myself lost in a deep black hole that enveloped me and I could not climb out and see the light again; paralyzing thoughts and images, but very real. I felt completely devastated, consumed and overshadowed by the evil that had surrounded me.  I worried about loved ones, their needs, and selfishly my own needs.  I called on His help over and over again.  When I stopped to really listen, I heard and felt His presence. He made me realize that there is always HOPE and with HOPE, a FUTURE.  All we need to do is look and seek.

Daily Prayer

Dear Lord, I have passed another day, and thank you for your care.  As darkness deepens, help me see the Hope and Future yet to come. Amen.

~Arlene Langdon

New Heaven, New Earth: Rev 21:1-4

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

Daily Reflection

Every time I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I am especially drawn to the stanza “Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done on EARTH as it is in heaven”. (I emphasize EARTH).  Contemplating how wonderful and joyous the world will be when the Earth’s new kingdom is at last finalized, may have been this writer’s (John) motivation.  He seems to revel in this new future with Hope, mentioning a new Heaven, a new Jerusalem, and God dwelling right here on Earth with men (not just in Heaven).  Wiping away every tear from their eyes completes the magnificent new future with a Hope.  May it be so!

Since this passage is almost the final chapter of the classical New Testament, it certainly fits my vision of the new Kingdom coming.  Over the last twenty plus centuries we have been getting closer and closer to this Kingdom where the dwelling of God is with men, and “God himself will be with them and be their God”:  this is the epitome of “A Future with Hope”.

Daily Prayer

Our Heavenly Father, please motivate us, guide us, inspire us, and invite us to make your Kingdom come and your will be done here, as it is in Heaven.  Amen

~Doug Langdon

For God So Loved: John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Daily Reflection

As music speaks to the soul, we reflect on one of the most well-known texts in scripture through the words of a well-known anthem.  So Loved The World (Stainer)-Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge

God so loved the world, God so loved the world,

that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoso believeth, believeth in Him

should not perish, should not perish, but have everlasting life.

For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world,

God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world;

But that the world through Him might be saved.

God so loved the world, God so loved the world,

that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoso believeth, believeth in Him

should not perish, should not perish, but have everlasting life,

everlasting life, everlasting, everlasting life.

God so loved the world, God so loved the world, God so loved the world.

Daily Prayer

Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your great love, in the gift of your Son Jesus who came not as a judge but as a Saviour, promising eternal life through our belief in him.    Help us to open our hearts to the joy of your love and let us share that joy with others. Amen.

~Ellen Scardena