What Lasts Forever

Can you name something that lasts forever? A few things that come to mind for me are chewing gum under a school desk, grudges, a Barbie doll’s haircut, an unflattering picture, the cycle of annual tax bills, and finally, GLITTER. Heaven and earth could all pass away, but glitter will last forever.

I am reminded of a fellow pastor’s office couch after a wedding. The bridesmaids had glitter on their skirts and apparently spent a lot of time waiting on his couch. The preoccupied pastor sat down on Sunday morning to prepare to preach and didn’t notice the glitter. But the congregation did. As he processed into the sanctuary, his black robe was all sparkly across his rumpus. It was even more pronounced as he passed by the sunlight streaming though the side windows. It was glorious.

The poor man spent weeks wiping, lint rolling, vacuuming, etc. to no avail. That pastor has been gone for years, but I bet if you went into his office today, you would still find glitter embedded in the fibers.

Happily, there are other things that last which are more significant and even hopeful. We continue our study of Psalm 111 today. See if you can spot God’s promises of things that last longer than glitter:

Psalm 111 continued (Common English Bible)

God proclaimed his powerful deeds to his people
    and gave them what had belonged to other nations.
God’s handiwork is honesty and justice;
    all God’s rules are trustworthy—
        they are established always and forever:
        they are fulfilled with truth and right doing.

Powerful deeds.

Honesty

Justice.

Trustworthy rules. (Which are good only if you follow them.)

TRUTH.

Right doing.

God sent redemption for his people;
    God commanded that his covenant last forever.
        Holy and awesome is God’s name!
10 Fear of the Lord is where wisdom begins;
    sure knowledge is for all who keep God’s laws.
        God’s praise lasts forever!

This list has so many superlatives, it is breathtaking. Redemption! God’s covenant! God’s name! Knowledge and wisdom! (But only if you keep God’s laws.)

And when we put our lives under the authority of everything that will last forever, we add our voices to the chorus of praise, which also lasts forever.

Are you putting your hope in temporary things? Are you counting on earthly governments to bring justice? Are you investing in a human relationship that may not last? Are you distracted by all of the world’s “glitter” and ignoring the permanence of God’s covenant with you?

Kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but the name of the Lord lasts forever.

His Love Endures Forever by Susie Fitch-Slater

God ALONE

I hold my breath this morning as Inauguration Day is finally upon us. The horrific images of January 6th are seared in my mind and I am fearful of violence in my nation’s capital. The uncertainty of all of this overwhelms me, and I almost long for those days in 2020 when the most pressing concern was the pandemic. Who would have thought that something more frightening than the pandemic would come along? But here we are.

In God’s incredible prevenient grace, the assigned scripture for today is a timely reminder that God is our refuge. While we wait in silence to see how this day unfolds, the psalmist reminds us that we should be waiting for God ALONE. Our hope comes from him. Alone.

Psalm 62 (New Revised Standard Version)

5 For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.

Are you feeling shaken by the events of January 6th? Remember this:

6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.

It is normal for our trust in all things to be shaken right now. Politicians, the government, law enforcement, our future together…nothing seems certain. But we are reminded to trust in God AT ALL TIMES, not just on the easy days. Were there actually any easy days? I can’t remember.

9 Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.

Verse 9 levels the playing field. Those of low estate and those of high estate don’t amount to much. There is no point in putting our trust in any one human, institution, or nation. God ALONE is our hope.

10 Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God,

12 and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.

No matter what happens today, tomorrow, or until Jesus returns, know this: God ALONE has the power. God ALONE offers his steadfast love. God is in control.

PRAY.

God Alone by Susie Fitch-Slater

Fearfully and Wonderfully

A few years ago I was driving past the Kitty Hawk Police Department as the community was gearing up for our annual OBX Marathon Weekend. I passed their information sign, which usually carries messages about changing your smoke detector batteries or remembering to buckle your seatbelt. I chucked when I saw the Marathon Weekend message: “You can run, but you can’t hide! Good luck from the Kitty Hawk Police Dept.” Haha!

We continue our journey into Psalm 139 today, delving farther into how much we are known by God. In the first half of this incredibly beautiful writing, the Psalmist assures us that God knows our going out, our coming in, our rising up, our sitting down, and that his hand is upon us in every moment of every day. We join with the Psalmist in his wonder and awe of God’s love for us. To be known by the creator of the universe is mind-blowing, indeed.

But how well does he know us? When did his knowing begin?

The second half of the psalm dives deeper. Here we learn that God himself was the one who formed us and knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. Ponder that for a second. This tells us that God has been a present in our lives from our very inception. He not only created the universe, he created us and all living things that move in the wombs of their mothers:

Psalm 139 (New Revised Standard Version)

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.

God’s work is wonderful. I think that is something important to remember when we encounter people (also formed in the wombs of their mothers) who do not look, vote, or think like us. God is with each one of us in our unborn state, and he loves and cherishes us all equally.

15  My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

It is a profound thing to realize that God beheld you with his own eyes when you were unformed and made in secret. There are no secrets from God. Nothing can be hidden from his light or his love.

In your book were written
    all the days that were formed for me,
    when none of them as yet existed.

God has planned to love you and be with you all the days of your life, even before you took your first breath. And hallelujah, when you come to the end, he is still with you, and you are still with him.

17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
    I come to the end—I am still with you.

What does this say to you today about your importance to God? What is God teaching you about the sanctity of life and his activity in bringing you about? Can you find comfort in knowing that not only was he with you before your very beginning, but he will be with you when you come to the end?

This Psalm is sometimes labeled “The Inescapable God.” It is a reminder to us that we may run, but we can never hide. God is in every moment of our every moment. Thanks be to God!

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made by Nathan Dixon, Age 7

You Know Me

Recently I had the opportunity to spend time with my 14-month-old grandson. He is in the active/touching everything/put stuff in his mouth/try-to-climb-the-unclimbable stage of toddlerhood, so I purchased a large, sturdy play fence. We established one area as a kid-friendly zone, and put the 100 lb. Labrador Retriever on the other. It proved to be a good purchase, as we could sit in the kid zone and enjoy him playing without worrying for his safety. The dog wasn’t thrilled, but she got over it.

Today’s reading is the 139th Psalm. I have to tell you how excited I was that this is in this week’s lectionary, as it is one of my favorite psalms. It introduces the incredible notion that God knows us. Not just “knows” us as a people, or a nation, but really KNOWS us. Intimately. Personally. Closely. Familiarly.

Psalm 139 (New Revised Standard Version)

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.

How can the creator of the universe know us in such detail? How can the One who told the moon when to set and the stars where to spin know our very thoughts from far away? Why would he bother?

You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    O Lord, you know it completely.

It almost amuses me to think that God knows the word that is about to be on our tongues even before we say it. How it must dismay him when we actually say it! He knows us this well AND HE LOVES US ANYWAY.

You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.

Like a child inside a play fence, we are safely hemmed in by the One who made us. He desires to protect us, to surround us with grace, and to heal us with his mercy. Again I ask, why?

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is so high that I cannot attain it.

The psalmist speaks of the awe we feel in knowing how perfectly God knows us. He loves us so much that he is present in our every waking and sleeping moment.

What does it mean to you to know that God searches you and knows you to the very depth of your soul? Does it bring you comfort to know that you can never be alone? Is it a balm in your loneliness? Does it help you to realize that there is no sin you could ever commit that is beyond the reach of his understanding and forgiveness? Does it strengthen you to realize that with such a God, who is so close within you, nothing from the outside can harm you or separate you from his love?

Such knowledge is too wonderful. Such knowledge is so high, we cannot attain it. But we’ll take it anyway.

Rejoice, and be glad.

You Search Out My Path by Wende Pritchard

When You’re Worried

A gold star to everyone who can name the movie that this song comes from:

When you’re worried, and you can’t sleep,

just count your blessings instead of sheep

And you’ll fall asleep, counting your blessings!

If you said “White Christmas” (which not only refers to the snow, but the casting) you get a star.

This song is sung by Bing Crosby to Rosemary Clooney on a beautiful set created to look like a Vermont ski lodge. Rosemary’s character can’t fall asleep, so she goes in search of a snack. I like this girl. She meets Bing in the dining room, who offers her cold buttermilk, liverwurst sandwiches, and a song by a glowing fire pit. As much as I like snacks, I would have settled for just the song.

Covid fatigue has rendered a lot of us sleepless. And when we do fall asleep, many of us find ourselves awake again in a few hours. What is the best remedy, besides a snack? I mean if we give into that, COVID 19 will end up referring to how many pounds we have gained in this pandemic.

The answer is obvious…count your blessings.

Once upon a time there was a guy named Ethan the Ezrahite who wrote a maskil. A maskil, of course, is a technical term to designate the manner of composition or performance of a particular song. So this psalm was intended to be sung, perhaps around a fire for people who couldn’t fall asleep. In keeping with our theme, perhaps we could add some scat singing to this.

Ethan begins by counting his blessings:

Psalm 89 (New Revised Standard Version)

A Maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite.

I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
    with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;
    your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

When you’re worried and you can’t sleep, these are blessings that you can count on as well.

God’s steadfast love.

God’s faithfulness to all generations.

God’s grace is forever.

His heaven and his faithfulness are firm.

You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
    I have sworn to my servant David:
‘I will establish your descendants forever,
    and build your throne for all generations.’”

The reminder that God made a covenant with David is the biggest blessing. Through David’s lineage, Jesus was born. He came to bring light into our darkness, hope into our despair, and eternal life into our earthly misery. When he comes again to establish his throne, every knee will bow, and pain and suffering will be no more.

So tonight, if you can’t sleep, just count your blessings! God’s love will sustain us all.

Counting Blessings by Michelle Robertson

A Harvest of Joy

Many mornings when I sit down to write, I find myself wanting to post just the scripture without anything else. Scripture is always able to speak for itself. No intricate intro, no presentation of a personal thought to lead you into the passage, no Bible history to set the table…just the scripture without comment, so it can marinate in your heart.

Today is one of those days. Psalm 126 speaks of a harvest of JOY. It needs no packaging or special set-up. It is a song of ascents that will help your spirit ascend:

Psalm 126 (New Revised Standard Version)

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
    like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
    reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
    carrying their sheaves.

This is what I will sing when it’s all over. The pandemic, the poverty, the injustice, the oppression of people of color, the hatred, the fear and rejection of those who are “different,”the division…this is the song we will sing when those things have come to pass. We will come home with shouts of joy.

So let us begin to sing it today, in anticipation of all these things being accomplished. The Lord HAS done great things for us, and he is restoring us, even in this moment.

Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel!

With Shouts of Joy by Michelle Robertson

A Thrill of Hope

This is the time of pre-Christmas festivities when we all hunker down to watch our favorite Christmas movies. The weather is less favorable to outdoor activity, we are enjoying the beauty of our brightly decorated homes, and everyone longs for the nostalgia that these movies bring.

Whether you are an Elf/Grinch fan or lean toward the old black and white classics like Miracle on 34th Street, all of these movies have one thing in common…hope.

Hope for a better tomorrow.

Hope in humanity.

Hope in a future that is less complicated than the present.

Hope that we will get it right this year and turn our hearts toward the good things, the righteous things, the important things….the things that last.

Even the ubiquitous Hallmark Christmas movies echo these articulations of hope…albeit in the same story format. There is a girl (often played by a forgotten actress from the ‘90’s) who is recently widowed, separated, or divorced. Looking for a fresh start, she leaves the big city/corporate job and moves to a town with a name that sounds like the latest version of a Bath and Body Works lotion followed by the word Springs, Glen, Falls, or Woods. (“Welcome to Mistletoe Kiss Falls!”) There she meets an incredibly good-looking single man. Both of them are wearing sweaters. One of them hates Christmas. There is a business/community fair/school that has a crisis, and the girl and the guy come together to solve it, and eventually fall in love. (Don’t hate me! You know it’s true!)

We just can’t resist a good story about hope.

Psalm 85 is a psalm of hope, and it does not disappoint. It begins with a re-telling of God’s redeeming of Israel in the past, and points to the hope of salvation in the future.

Psalm 85 (New Revised Standard Version)

Lord, you were favorable to your land;
    you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people;
    you pardoned all their sin.

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
    for he will speak peace to his people,
    to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
    that his glory may dwell in our land.

Watch what the psalmist does next. The interactions between steadfast love and faithfulness, and righteousness and peace are portrayed as beautiful meetings between two love interests:

10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
    righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
    and righteousness will look down from the sky.

Even Hallmark would approve of this plot line.

Then comes the hope:
12 The Lord will give what is good,
    and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him,
    and will make a path for his steps.

Friends, the Lord WILL give what is good. He is giving it even as we speak. In the midst of a pandemic, hope arrives in the form of vaccines that will be available in no time. In the midst of a pandemic, we have learned the importance of family time and real connections. In the midst of a pandemic, we have learned to hope again.

When God’s people turn to him and follow his steps toward righteousness, hope reigns. What do you need to do today to correct your steps? Where are you wandering off God’s path? Where do you need hope?

Return to God in a spirit of faithfulness and he will meet you there with his steadfast love. Surely his salvation is at hand when you fear him…turn to him with all your heart.

Morning Hope by Anne Pokorny

Bread of Tears

Have you ever been down about something and then instantly felt better when you learned that a friend experienced the same thing? When you’re upset, it feels good to know that you’re not alone. A brief exchange of “yeah, me too” can result in a healing catharsis. I recently had a conversation with a colleague who was responding to a crisis with calm assurance. His response aligned with my perspective on the issue. It greatly lessened my anxiety to know I was not alone in my thinking.

I had a catharsis this morning when I read Psalm 80. We have just turned the church calendar over and this is the first week of the new year. Readings are now coming from Year B, in case you are keeping track.

This Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. Our worship would normally be filled with lights, carols, acolytes, special readings, Advent wreath candle lighting, etc. as we prepare for Christmas. But many of our sanctuaries are still closed, or operating at half-capacity with a lot of Covid modifications, including no singing. Nothing feels the same.

I don’t know where the psalmist was when he penned these words, but emotionally, he was right where we are this week:

Psalm 80 (New Revised Standard Version)

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
    before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
    and come to save us!

Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

This is a poignant prayer for right now. We long to be restored and saved.

In the next line, the psalmist responds to what he perceives is God’s anger against the nation of Israel. Do you relate to this? Do you think the pandemic and all of our nation’s issues are a result of God’s anger?

O Lord God of hosts,
    how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
    and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
    our enemies laugh among themselves.

I don’t think that God is punishing us, but I have felt as though we have been eating a steady diet of bread made of tears. I just wish we could push back from the table and leave. I know that this will end…of that, I am sure. But how long, Lord?

Restore us, O God of hosts;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Friends, God’s face is already shining on us. Even with the rising numbers, we are seeing advancements in medical science. Hope is at hand. Our race toward a vaccine, combined with staying home, is bringing us closer to the end. The God of hosts is in the process of saving us. And guess what? We’re one day closer to the end of this thing.

God’s Face Will Shine by Kathy Schumacher

More than Enough

We are moving back into our sanctuary for the first time since March. The pandemic forced us to take our worship services online, out to a ball field parking lot, over to our front yard, onto the beach, and even to a graveyard. We are beginning to feel like the early Hebrew nation that followed the pillar of fire and cloud all over the desert, setting up a temporary tabernacle each time they stopped.

Standing in one corner of the chancel area is our Lenten Cross, which is usually up from the beginning of Lent until Easter Sunday. On Easter it is covered with a white scarf and a white dove and then is removed when the service is over. Seeing the Lenten cross still up as we are preparing for this upcoming Sunday is bittersweet. This certainly has been the Lentiest Lent of all Lents….the never-ending Lent, the Lent that won’t relent, the Groundhog Day movie-remake in 3D-Lent Vision. We’ve had more than enough Lent for one year!

Whether you are in the camp of people who feel that we didn’t do enough to flatten the curve when we had the chance, or the camp that thinks it just needs to run its course, COVID-19 has been a daily struggle for individuals and institutions. The national anger that is bubbling just beneath the surface of society is bursting out in riots, property destruction, marches, and an abundance of hate speech. We are left with a feeling of gloom as we try to muddle through it.

Until yesterday.

The hope and promise of a vaccine became part of our conversation yesterday with the announcement of an experimental vaccine that has shown up to 90% efficacy. Over the last several months, real strides have been made in labs, on white boards, in research facilities, and with the brave volunteers who have been participating in early trials. Science is talking back to the virus in a meaningful and hopeful way.

Through all of this, we have always known where to look. We know to look to the one who rules heaven, and fix our eyes there until God has mercy on us.

Psalm 123 (Common English Bible)

I raise my eyes to you—
    you who rule heaven.
Just as the eyes of servants attend to their masters’ hand,
    just as the eyes of a female servant attend to her mistress’ hand—
    that’s how our eyes attend to the Lord our God
    until he has mercy on us.

It will be important to remember to continue to look to the Lord. It will be important to continue to be vigilant in our self-care practices. As a community and as a country, we will need to double down on our hand washing/sanitizer using/mask wearing/social distancing behavior.

Because we’ve had more than enough of this pandemic. We’ve had more than enough of misinformation. We’ve had more than enough death. We’ve had more than enough shame.

Have mercy on us, Lord! Have mercy
    because we’ve had more than enough shame.
We’ve had more than enough mockery from the self-confident,
    more than enough shame from the proud.

So keep looking UP. Don’t look to any one person, group, party, or institution to save us. We’ve been doing that since Lent and it hasn’t worked. It’s time to take the Lent cross DOWN.

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
    from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time on and forevermore
. (Psalm 121 New Revised Standard Version)

Keep Looking Up by Michelle Robertson

Timeless

When you think of something that is timeless, what comes to mind? In art, you might recall pieces like the Mona Lisa or the Statue of David. In music, surely Beethoven’s Fifth and Bizet’s Carmen pop up. In cars it would have to be the Ford Model T or a 1960s era Corvette. In Rock and Roll it would be Stairway to Heaven or anything by Queen. (Argue with me!)

But when it comes to the Psalms there is only ONE. Heads and tails, the 23rd Psalm stands above the rest. Because of its inclusion in most funeral liturgies, it may be the most read aloud scripture of all time. At least in this pastor’s experience it certainly is the one scripture I have read aloud the most and for good reason: it is absolutely beautiful. It teaches us about the nature of God, it includes lyrical phrases, it proclaim’s God’s majesty, and it speaks to the heart of every pilgrim wanderer. It’s timeless!

Psalm 23 (New King James Version)

 The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

I will always remember having an epiphany during a church matriarch’s funeral. I was preparing to read the 23rd Psalm as a soloist was singing. When my eyes hit the phrase “valley of the SHADOW of death” I realized that God was reminding us that death is just a mere shadow. When the light of Christ hits your life you don’t have to fear what lurks in the shadows any more. His light brings life.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

If you’ve had a rough week, meditate on these words. You will dwell in the house of the Lord FOREVER. Surely that balances out the aggravations of inflammatory politics, the constant threat of this pandemic, the uncertainty of our economy, all of our personal struggles, and the upcoming elections. ALL of these things will pass away and God assures us that the days of our lives will be filled with goodness and mercy.

Thanks be to God!

Valley of Shadows by Kathy Schumacher