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


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

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

A Really Good Day

What would a really good day look like to you right now? Attending a college football game surrounded by a blaze of russet-colored trees with a crisp breeze blowing across the field? Sounds GREAT. Or how about a day on the water catching the plumpest flounder the ocean has to offer? Sign me up! Or maybe a lazy sleep-in, stay-a-bed day reading a good novel with a pot of strong coffee on the nightstand? Or perhaps a family gathering celebrating a 90th birthday with great food, lively conversations, peals of laughter, and a lot of reminiscing? Yes, please!

Here’s one we can all agree on: a global announcement that the pandemic is miraculously and definitively gone from the earth.

Here’s another one we can all agree on: the day you came clean with God and received his forgiveness for your sins. Now THAT was a really good day.

We are blessed to be loved by a God who is far stronger in his steadfast love than he is in his anger over our sin.

We are also blessed that God doesn’t deal with us according to our misbehavior. If that were to happen, where would we be? If we were punished in equal measure to our sin, I am pretty sure most of us would be “smote” by now.

Psalm 103 (New Revised Standard Version)

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.

The sins we have committed are no longer part of our history and God has removed them as far as the east is from the west. Imagine that! This is the benefit of his steadfast love for you.

11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far he removes our transgressions from us.

Any day we remember the extent of God’s compassion for his children is a good day. Any morning that we wake up and recall his enormous steadfast love for us is the start of a good day, no matter what comes next.

13 As a father has compassion for his children,
    so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.

May God bless this day with constant reminders of his love for you.

Make it a Good One by Karen Warlitner

A Really Bad Day

I confessed to my church yesterday that I hit the wall last week and had to shut down for a day or two. It came after a string of bad days that included a two-week house repair that was now in its third month, a visit with family that included conversations that drew lines between blue and red perspectives, and getting in the car with my husband to drive over five hours home and discovering ten minutes out that we had a flat tire.

Ever had a bad day that seemed like it wouldn’t go away?

I heard about a couple that was having a really bad day together. They had each had a bad day at work and when they got home, they were arguing a lot. Finally the wife got fed up and told her husband to just write her a note if he really wanted to talk to her. He agreed, so for the rest of the night they passed notes back and forth.

When they went to bed the husband left a note on the kitchen table saying, “Please wake me up at 6 A.M. I have to wake up early for an important meeting.” He went to sleep and all was well.

The next morning he woke up and immediately realized something was wrong. He looked at the clock and saw that it was 9 A.M. He ran to his wife and asked why she didn’t wake him up. She pointed to the table.

Next to his note was another one. He opened it and it said, “Wake up! It’s 6 A.M.”

Yep. That was a really bad day.

Do you know what to do when a bad day comes along? There’s only one thing to do…bless the Lord.

Psalm 103 (New Revised Standard Version)

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and do not forget all his benefits—

Oh, especially on a bad day, do not forget all of God’s benefits to you! The author of all creation loves you so much he knows the very count of hairs on your head. The One who told the stars where to shine has loved you from the moment of your conception. The Father who sent his only Son to die on the cross was sacrificing it all for your salvation.

who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

When I “cried uncle” after my bad day, I took some time to shut down all the cacophony and really focus on my blessings. I came out a few days later feeling renewed and ready.

Next time you’re having a bad day remember who redeems your life from the Pit. Remember who heals you and forgives all of your wrongdoings. Turn to the one who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, and just sit in his presence.

More bad days are likely to come but if you rest in his arms you’ll be renewed and ready, too.

The Start of a Really Good Day by Michelle Robertson

Songs of the Pandemic

The Psalms were originally written to be sung as songs. They provide a glimpse of ancient Hebrew life when we read them and hear what the people were experiencing. Music has always been a way to record the joys, sorrows, angst, and fears of a generation. In the Psalms, we experience the hope and sadness of that generation, and surprisingly, they translate into songs for our current circumstance as well.

As you read this, think of those who have lost a loved one to COVID 19. Think of the exhaustion of the front line workers who are taking care of us, feeding us, providing services for us, and putting their own lives at risk for us.

Psalm 116 (New King James Version)

I love the Lord, because He has heard
My voice and my supplications.
Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.

The pains of death surrounded me,
And the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me;
I found trouble and sorrow.
Then I called upon the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I implore You, deliver my soul!”

In every circumstance, God’s people have called upon the name of the Lord, and in every circumstance, God has inclined his ear. Wherever we find trouble and sorrow, we also find God, right there in the midst of it.

What shall I render to the Lord
For all His benefits toward me?
13 I will take up the cup of salvation,
And call upon the name of the Lord.
14 I will pay my vows to the Lord
Now in the presence of all His people.

15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His saints.

Many have died. Many more will die. All are precious in the sight of the Lord. We are one day closer to the end of this thing, but we aren’t finished yet. How can we continue to sing in the middle of this pandemic? What should our lyrics be?

I think we should join the chorus of the original Psalmists, and sing praises. We should lift our voices high in harmonies of thanksgiving. Let us simply praise the Lord. Praising God in the storm reminds us of who he is, and whose we are. God loosed our bonds so that we might be free of all fear and sadness. Yes, there is death, but death has no sting. Praise the Lord!

16 O Lord, truly I am Your servant;
I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant;
You have loosed my bonds.
17 I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving,
And will call upon the name of the Lord.

18 I will pay my vows to the Lord
Now in the presence of all His people,
19 In the courts of the Lord’s house,
In the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord!

Singing Alone in the Pandemic by Wende Pritchard