Worship: May 17, 2020

ZION UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
22 Gettysburg Street Box 538
Arendtsville, Pennsylvania
Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 17, 2020

Before you begin to follow this service and before you view/read the sermon, please get a piece of bread and keep it close by.
Please also read the Scripture lessons for the morning.

Welcome to Zion and a special welcome to our visitors. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic we are unable to gather as a community of faith, so we invite you to use this revised bulletin to pause for reflection and as an expression of your abiding faith that our God is merciful and present with us in these difficult days. We hope you are keeping safe, doing minimal travel, and maintaining social distance in order to slow down the spread of the virus and protect yourself. But please continue to check on your friends and neighbors via social media or the telephone. We may learn a new meaning of community and caring by the time that things return to a more regular routine. God bless!!

Light a candle before beginning your personal worship, signifying the presence of God in this time.

*CALL TO WORSHIP
Having spent this week dealing with issues around the pandemic,
finding things to do, dealing with our work, feeling the
stress of what seems a long time of social distancing,
it’s good to come aside and rest a while,
to catch our breath and to worship our God.
Because God loves us, we keep God’s commandments.
We seek to love even those we call enemy.
We seek to free those who are oppressed.
We seek to comfort those who mourn.
We seek to feed those who hunger.
Because God loves us, we keep God’s commandments.

* PRAYER OF INVOCATION
It’s easy, Lord, to lose touch —
to lose touch with each other,
to lose touch with you,
and even to lose touch with ourselves,
So it’s important for us to keep this day as sacred,
as a special day, as a day of reconnection and reflection.
Help us to accomplish that purpose,
in the name of the One who invited his disciples
to come aside and rest a while.

*GATHERING HYMN # 32 “I Sing the Mighty Power of God”
Re-printed under CCLI #1149146

I sing the mighty power of God that made the mountains rise;
That spread the flowing seas abroad and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day.
The moon shines full at God’s command, and all the stars obey.

I sing the goodness of the Lord who filled the earth with food.
God formed the creatures through his Word, and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how thy wonders are displayed, where’er I turn my eye,
If I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky!

There’s not a plant or flower below but makes thy glories known.
And clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from thy throne,
While all that borrows life from the is ever in thy care,
And everywhere that we can be, thou, God are present there.

TIME OF CONFESSION
We are reminded that our best intentions so often go astray.
We join the crowds in the marketplace, instead of standing with the believers.
We take up stones and throw them,
instead of raising our voices in defense of what is true and right.
What do we need to confess this day?
All too often we have laid the blame for our actions on a misunderstanding,
or our childhood, or pressure from friends, or society,
or ignorance, or an error of judgment.
Yet we know that, deep down, the fault is our own.
So we rest, not on our excuses, but on your grace;
not on our explanations, but on your love.

Now let us silently reflect on the personal sins and fears that
keep us from being fully free.

ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS
We have already received the mercy of God, which we earnestly and honestly seek.
God is faithful in equipping us to grow into salvation.
Our Creator sees our affliction and delivers us.
We are God’s people, and God is ever our rock and our fortress.
Thank God for this magnificent gift of love.

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
And now, experiencing once again the forgiving power of our
loving God, let us say what we believe, using the Apostles’ Creed.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only begotten son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell;
the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven, and
sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

THE GIVING OF OURSELVES AND OUR OFFERINGS
Paul said of the Christians at Macedonia,
“They gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us”
Let us follow the example of those early dedicated saints.

(At this time set aside your offering of the morning; you can either place it somewhere to put in the offering plate when we are able to meet as a community of faith or you can mail it to Zion United Church of Christ, PO Box 538, Arendtsville, Pennsylvania 17307. Your ongoing support of the church is deeply appreciated in these days.)

OFFERTORY

*PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Because we belong to Jesus Christ, we offer these tithes and offerings.
Because we wish to advance the lordship of Christ, we offer our talents.
Because we wish for the world to hear the good news, we offer ourselves.

FIRST LESSON
Acts of the Apostles 17: 22-31, p. 129 (NT)

17:22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.
17:23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands,
17:25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.
17:26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live,
17:27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him–though indeed he is not far from each one of us.
17:28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’
17:29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.
17:30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent,
17:31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

GOSPEL LESSON
St. John 14: 15-21, p. 103 (NT)

14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
14:17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
14:18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.
14:19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.
14:20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you
14:21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

SILENT PRAYER AND PREPARATION

THE MESSAGE FOR THE MORNING – You can also watch Pastor George’s sermon by copying and pasting this link into your browser: https://youtu.be/BIMiG8bTlYk

May 17, 2020
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 17: 22-31
St. John 14: 15-21

On many a night in the coming months, we will sit outside and look up at a sky filled with the tiny flickers of light – stars that are billions, even trillions of miles away. Most of us will comment on what a beautiful sight the stars are, a few of us will be able to point out the big dipper and maybe one or two of the constellations; very rare the person who knows the names of many stars or where to locate the planets on a given night. While we appreciate the beauty of a star-filled sky, few people know much about the stars or the galaxies. With the launching of the Hubble space telescope, the planned launch of an even more advanced space telescope in the near future, and other specialized satellites that look into the vastness of space, limitless new opportunities to understand our universe and to comprehend its magnificence have been opened; in the process we will learn more of our human history and our relationship to all that God has created.
Most of us take the stars for granted, however, and they serve only as a source of pleasure on a starry night. But then again, there are many things closer to home that we take for granted as well. I have always been amazed at how some people can read a blueprint and almost immediately figure out how much lumber it requires to build the structure; or how a mason can look at a porch frame and, without measuring, accurately tell how many cubic yards of concrete it will take; or how a seamstress can look at a pattern and quickly estimate how many hours and how much material it will require to sew a dress.
This knowledge, whether it be of the stars, or building, or pouring concrete, or sewing a dress, results from a lot of hard work. That hard work makes other people think it’s a natural ability, that is comes so easily. But it really is the result of a great deal of energy; we should never take these abilities for granted. And neither can we take for granted God’s presence with us. God’s revelation to us is a costly and intentional thing. Jesus affirms this to his disciples. He assures them that even though he is leaving them, they will have the Holy Spirit, an Advocate, to reveal to them the truth of God. The world cannot receive the Spirit because it cannot see God or know God. Why? Simply because the world is not looking for God. It is only the person who is looking to whom God is revealed; and it is only the person who reaches up to God who can sense God reaching down. Fellowship and oneness with God are dependent on our search, our constant openness, our diligent desire to know God – in other words, hard work.  The mistake that haunts many people is to go through most of their lives rather nonchalant about this promise of Jesus. A lot of people don’t take their Christianity very seriously. As long as life proceeds smoothly and evenly, they remain rather lukewarm Christians. Faith is important, but there are other things that are more important; like where are we going for summer vacation or have the seeds started to grow in the garden or how will we ever get the lawn mown with all this rain. We tend to treat faith as a casual matter.
But then a crisis arises – illness, death, conflict – and suddenly the need for faith becomes a vital concern. And if you have ever noticed, those whose faith has been rather haphazard are sometimes the first to cry out, “Why me?”; “What have I done to deserve this?” At this point all the months and years of treating faith with a lack of seriousness, never intentionally developing a relationship with God, maintaining a casual attitude toward religious matters, results in a good deal of unnecessary anguish that could have been avoided if that person had just looked for God daily. God reaches down, but the person who fails to reach up in return lacks the tools and the wisdom to be secure in God’s presence.  Most people are sensible enough to realize that if you want to know astronomy or carpentry or masonry or sewing, it takes time, devotion, hard work, every day. It means that you need to remember what you have learned and apply it every day to what you are doing. Why don’t they have enough sense to realize the same is true when it comes to faith?
So what can we do; how do we prevent ourselves from casual attitudes when it involves our faith? This requires a desire to know God; and not only to know God on a head level, but to know God in the depths of our hearts. But we can’t know God unless we intentionally seek out God, open to how God is present in our life. This requires constant, devoted work. It never comes easily. A prayerful attitude, a humble spirit, a sensitivity to life itself are all necessary. If you want to know more about astronomy or carpentry, you learn not only from books but from personal experience, from trial and error, from an inner motivation to be the best, and from interaction with others who are also trying to learn. So it is with a knowledge and awareness of God. We learn and grow not only from Scripture but from prayer; we learn and grow through personal experiences that result from an openness; we learn and grow even when we make mistakes; we learn and grow as we are moved to act; we learn and grow from each other. All because as we reach up to God, God reaches down to us.
Jesus said to his disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you… You will see me, and because I live, you also will live.” But we can only see Jesus if we look for him; we can only know him if we reach out to him; we can only live in him if we seek him daily. That is our challenge, but it is also our hope. Jesus will not fail his promises if we reach out. Hard work – results in our faith appearing as a natural, exceptional gift, almost easy.  And it requires us to remember, in our everyday life, that we are a people who live by faith. Perhaps that is one of the greatest gifts of the Holy Spirit that is offered to us – the gift of memory. To remember each and every day that we belong to God, that we are daughters and sons, children of God. God’s mercy is, in part, the grace of memory. God’s Spirit whispers in our ear, refreshing our memory of who we are and to whom we belong. When, in situations of challenge and stress, we remember the comfort and the demand of the gospel, it is because the Holy Spirit is present in our lives to remind us, over and over again. It makes our faith look easy, because we live in the confidence of a memory that assures us of God’s Spirit surrounding us always.
During my years of serving as a pastor, it has always been of importance for me to visit those in residential care facilities and particularly to provide them with the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Many of those residents, of course, suffer from some sort of memory loss, dementia, even Alzheimer’s disease. Sometimes it is difficult to carry on a meaningful conversation, despite the fact that I may have known the person for many years and the person may have been a member of the congregation I was serving all their lives. They were confused and disoriented, and simply find it nearly impossible to remember anything, including who they are or their family members. But I have made one very striking observation. As we proceed together through the service of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, it sometimes seems as if they have no comprehension of what is going on, and I have even been asked, on occasion, when giving the Sacrament itself, “What is this?” But following the sharing of the sacrament and the prayer of thanksgiving, I always end with The Lord’s Prayer. And it seems that no matter how oblivious to what is going on, I can hear those residents begin to say the words of the Lord’s Prayer along with me or see their lips move. It is a memory of something long cherished and learned – a gift, in my mind at least, of the Holy Spirit. But it comes only with intentionally seeking God’s presence through the years. Only as a person has sought to build faith on a daily basis does that faith come back as a memory.
Jesus reassures his disciples and us that as we seek God, the Holy Spirit will touch us and reassure us, and we will remember that God’s presence goes with us, and that our faith will sustain us and help us grow in understanding. Let us give thanks for this gift, and let us make it part of our daily life to look toward the Spirit’s work within us. Amen.

SERVICE OF THE BREAD OF LIFE
(please take the bread into your hands)
Holy God, we your people remain scattered this morning;
But we trust that you are near to each of us in this day and in all days.
You have promised that nothing can ever separate us from your love,
And that as we are open to your Spirit, you will make yourself known to us
wherever we might find ourselves.
We recognize that, in the midst of what seem like endless days,
We need your encouragement and the endurance you can give us
to deal with the ongoing need for social distancing and a cautious approach to life.
We get tired of wearing masks every time we go out
as if we were hiding from each other.
Grant us the hope that we will be enabled to continue as long as is necessary
To prevent the spread of this disease within our community.
We know that we need to be nourished by you, so we ask for you to make
your presence known in this bread which we bring to you this morning.
Bless it and fill it with your Spirit that we may know that we abide in your love.
Send your Holy Spirit and its mighty power to be with us,
that in you we might have strength and patience in these times.
We pray for all those who continue to work toward finding treatments and a vaccine
so that this coronavirus will lose its power over society
and we can get back to more normal days.
Even though we cannot be together as one, we remain together in your spirit
and we share in the breaking of the bread.
May this bread empower us to be your people wherever we might find ourselves.
May it remove all fear and all doubt, so that we might be nourished and strengthened for the days ahead, knowing that you walk with us in our journey of this life.
And being fed, may we continue with a new and profound hope,
always witnessing to your love by sharing that love and care and concern with others.
Bless this bread and us, that we may be your people at work in the world.

(you may now eat the bread)

Let us pray.
We give you thanks, O merciful God, for this bread
through which we receive the presence of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
May it strengthen us always to be your willing and obedient servants
until that time when life’s journey ends
and we share in the eternal feast of your heavenly realm. Amen.

BENEDICTION

*CLOSING HYMN # 839 “Blessed Assurance”
Re-printed under CCLI #1149146

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.
This is my story; this is my song; praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song; praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission perfect delight, visions of rapture now burst in my sight;
Angels descending, bring from above echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
This is my story; this is my song; praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song; praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, all is at rest; I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above, filled with his goodness, lost in his love.
This is my story; this is my song; praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song; praising my Savior all the day long.

During this virus crisis, the Office Manager will often be working from home. Please call the office before stopping by.

FAITH FAMILY UPDATES: We offer our condolences to Angie V. on the death of her uncle in recent weeks and to Wes M. on the death of his grandfather in recent weeks.

COMING UP NEXT WEEK:
May 17 Zoom Worship service 9:00 a.m.
Zoom Confirmation mtg 6:00 p.m.
May 18 Consistory virtual meeting 7:00 p.m.
May 19 Zion Covid-19 Task Force Zoom mtg 7:00 p.m.
May 20 Zoom Bible Study 6:30 p.m.

LOOKING FORWARD:
May 24 Zoom Worship 9:00 a.m. Zoom Confirmation mtg 6:00 p.m.
May 27 Zoom Bible Study 6:30 p.m.

HONORING OUR SUNDAY SCHOOL VOLUNTEERS: A HUGE Thank you to the Sunday School Volunteers for the 2019-2020 Sunday School year. We truly could not make this growing program thrive without you giving of your time and talents. The past year was a great one that ended abruptly. To show you how much you are appreciated, you should be receiving a little something in the mail 🙂

ZOOM BIBLE STUDY: Bible Study is open to anyone wishing to participate. Just let the office or Pastor George know your interest so a Zoom invitation can be sent to you prior to the meeting.

PASTORAL CARE NEEDS: If you need to contact George, please feel free to call his home number, 717-334-0069 or email at gpheber@embarqmail.com.

WORSHIP UPDATE: In addition to the bulletin and sermon sent by email blast and the youtube sermon, Pastor George is holding a Zoom worship service on Sundays at 9:00 a.m. If you would like to participate, please let the office know so that an invitation can be sent to you. Please continue to pray for our nation, our state, our health care workers, and our service industry workers as we face the challenges of gradually re-opening the economy. We look forward to the time when we can gather in one place to worship and praise God.

ZION’S COVID-19 TASK FORCE: As Zion contemplates the future re-opening of church worship, the Consistory has heeded the call of the Penn Central Conference to form a Covid-19 Task Force to address the many requirements necessary to safely gather for worship when that is once again allowed. This task force will monitor the recommended protocols – from cleaning facilities and spacing in pews to handling bulletins and singing (or not), and all the other areas of concern in between – in order to ensure the safety of Zion’s faith family. As we anticipate moving from the “red” phase to “yellow” phase, gathering for worship will also have phases; we cannot immediately move back to the sanctuary. Consistory is strongly considering an outside service (weather dependent) with strict guidelines in the church parking lot possibly through the summer months and early fall. We will continue to provide pre-recorded sermons, written services sent via email, and Sunday Zoom worship. The Consistory thanks Craig L. for volunteering to chair Zion’s Covid-19 Task Force and Fred M., Dana B., and Meagan W. for agreeing to serve as members. Consistory asks your patience and prayerful support as Zion moves closer to gathering under one roof to worship God.