“When we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again.” 1 Thes. 2:17–18a
The words of the Apostle Paul resonate deeply within me during this time of social distancing. I feel, literally, like we've been "torn away" from one another. While we thank God for technology that is available so we can continue to connect, it doesn't take the place of face-to-face, person to person ministry. That is a painful fact.
I uncomfortable in what people are calling, 'the new normal.' There is nothing 'normal' about being separated from one another; we are not created to live in isolation. There is nothing normal about living with continual underlying anxiety, or having to sanitize our groceries (if we can get groceries), or gun shops being designated 'essential' while houses of worship remain closed. There is nothing normal about taking our temperatures every day, or taking a deep breath each morning to see if we can hold it for ten seconds, or to gasp in fear at every stray cough.
During times of anxiety, we are used to rallying together. We're used to holding on to one another as we worry or hugging one another even as we weep. It brings comfort to our minds and hearts, but also to our physical bodies.
So with this gift of physical contact taken from us, albeit temporarily, we must name it for what it is... grief. We name it, not to give it power, but so that we can recognize it for what it is, and care for ourselves appropriately.
During times of sadness, fear, stress, and crisis, we are often under the misconception that we should put on a smile, keep our chin(s) up, hang in there. After all, the feelings we have underneath are scary, and we don't often know how to handle them. But when we repress our feelings, or push them down in order to 'keep it together,' we set our heart and soul up for exhaustion and even damage.
Jesus tells us, "“God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted” Mt. 5:19. When we can muster the courage to name our fears and release them to God; name our grief and all of those feelings of being torn away from each other; name and release the deepest most painful part of our suffering, God's healing power and gentle comforting can begin.
May God give you grace and peace. 1 Thes. 1:1b -Pastor Linda
We must not forget the reason for this Lenten season! Our focus has been directed in many different places over the past week or so. Let us remember the gift that was given to each one of us. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is our promise that the lives we live are not in vain. Our lives have a purpose! Jesus' triumph over death gives us courage and faith that we can overcome and endure the challenges of life. So whatever our circumstances are we can be confident and know that better days are ahead! In my own mind and soul I'm looking at the END of this challenge that we are facing with the Coronavirus as a RESURRECTION. A renewal of life, a return to "normal" living, a strong come back from this pandemic. This is a form of resurrection!
"With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God's grace was so powerfully at work in them all." - Acts 4:33
As believers in Christ we have a future of hope and great confidence with grace, for there is power in Christ Jesus for all who trust and believe!
Some of us have young children and talking about the resurrection of Jesus may be a little difficult to explain to them. So below, I have added the Jelly bean prayer and the last memory bible verse we were learning in Sunday school.. If you don't have jelly beans at home you can use colored pencils, markers, or crayons to symbolize each color. As you read each line of the prayer you can breakdown it's meaning in a way that you feel comfortable sharing with your child. You can also have them draw a cross on a piece of paper and color it in using all of these fun colors! Reading this prayer reminds us that God loves us, forgives us, and is always with us! " Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you."- James 4:8
There are two words I would like to highlight in Deuteronomy chapter 30 that Moses said to the Israelites to encourage them in their days ahead. The Israelites were on the brink of entering into the Promised Land. They came out of slavery and survived the perils of the wilderness. In verse 19 Moses says, “…Choose life so that you and your descendants may live”
These two words Choose Life have found a place in me over the past several hours. If you know me, you know that I am a pretty upbeat and pleasant person. I want to smile, laugh, and squeeze all the joy and fun out of the moment that I can. I am also fortunate to work two jobs which I love. As a business manager for a family business that serves or ministers to people during difficult times, I am still going into work four days a week. As the Associate Pastor, my ministry of service, support, and connection has not stopped but it looks different. Day-to-day life has assumed different ways and different energies. At times all this change can be overwhelming. I am sure many of you, if not all of you, can relate to this.
Yesterday, I struggled to find the joy, fun, and life around me. Even with two dogs with endless energy and the best person for me to share life with, it was a hard day to choose life. Muddling through the day eating brownies(1), staying in my pjs too long, flipping through a book of poetry(2), cooking something new(3,) and playing a VERY important video game(4) did not help my very flat day to rise.
I went to bed and I fell asleep praying. While awake I asked God for strength and safety, health and happiness, and clarity and kindness for myself and all those around me. I told God exactly how I was feeling and that I was frustrated, sad, and worried. I prayed for our church; I prayed for you all, going pew by pew. (It is a good thing many of you are creatures of habit.) I prayed for someone I care about and her family who are infected and affected by COVID-19.
I told God that I was having a rough day and I needed some light in the darkness in which I found myself. I told God that I didn’t like going through my days like this. I told God exactly how I was feeling…and then fell asleep. I’m sure my prayers continued in some sort of dream state.5
As it would be, I woke up this morning and the words from Deuteronomy were on my lips and in my heart. Choose Life! I preached on this text a month and a half ago at the Moravian Church in Riverside, so it is a text I am familiar with, but I haven’t given it much thought in recent days or weeks.
Choose Life! I shared my difficult day with you all because we are in this together! If you are having a rough day, have it! Acknowledge the challenges, struggles, and overwhelming feelings. As folks say these days… Feel all the feelings… and when you have let them all out…Choose Life!
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in God’s ways, and observing God's commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying God, and holding fast to God; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Painting by Ali Lehr
(1) Homemade Katharine Hepburn brownies via NYT Cooking
(2) Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Elliot
The musical Cats is based upon this collection of poems. Thank you MaryLiz for loaning it to me.
(3) Steamed Bao Buns as found on the Moorestown Parents' Facebook page.
(4) Possibly Fortnite, Zelda Breath of the Wild, or Merge Dragons.
(5) I would love to discuss this with our resident dream expert when the day comes that we can take a friend to lunch.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Christ you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.- Ephesians 2:19-22
We've moved from self-quarantine to a 'Stay at Home' order from the Governor of NJ. In the passage from Ephesians we remember our link to our community of faith, both local and global, and emphatically pronounce, 'we do not need a building to be the church!'
Yet the facts remain:
Our building Is Important to us. It Is our community gathering place; the place of sanctuary where so many of us find peace, and others call "home."
Our ministries are important to us: the food pantry, PRISM, Q-Munity, small groups, Bible study, recovery groups, and other outreach efforts based in and out of our church walls are the ways in which we serve.
Gathering is important to us. Nothing takes the place of a face to face meeting, a handshake, a hug, or looking into the eyes of a friend for comfort, compassion, or a good cry.
And for as much as we will miss the things so important to us that we will not be able to do for the for the next several months, (and honestly, it's only been 2 weeks and I am missing them already!) we also can claim these facts:
Community is important to us. As disciples of Christ we thrive on helping, serving, healing, and restoring. Each time we connect with a person in our church, we celebrate that community.
Worship Is important to us. As a people of God, we surrender ourselves, our ego, our biases, our selfishness, and our pride, and lay them at the throne of Grace and worship in Spirit and in Truth. Each week we are given the opportunity to join with one another to worship.
Prayer Is Important to us. As believers who lift our joys, concerns, praises and problems to the one who hears our prayers, we are confident those prayers will be answered. We have been given the gift of time- something that usually we complain we never have enough of. Each day we can hold one another in the light of God and pray for each other.
During this reflective and solitary season, why not celebrate the gifts we have been given, and notice each day, the ways God Is building us Into a spiritual household, with Christ as the cornerstone.
In the comments below, why not provide a beginning. What is important to you in our community for which you are grateful? (Mine are in the comments)
Peace to you!
"Be still, and know that I am God.
This verse takes on a whole new meaning during a challenging time like we are presently experiencing. As the possibility of being 'sheltered in place' due to the Coronavirus grows more realistic, we are witnessing people respond in a variety of ways. But whether you find yourself in panic or are peaceful about social distancing, this is but one of the changes we will face in the coming weeks. Life as we know it has shifted without any of us being truly prepared for what will follow. This can serve to heighten our already acute anxiety. And we may wonder, how can we feel secure or even optimistic about the future?
As our emotions swirl in the face of an unknown future, we hear the voice of the Psalmist entreating us to, "Be still." The same words Jesus used to calm the storm. But how?
The Apostle Paul tells us to guard our hearts and minds through Christ, to control our thoughts so that we do not get swept up (and swept away) by fear and runaway minds. God has given us the ability to do this, even when it seems the rest of the world has succumbed to fear: "The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ." 2 Cor. 3-5- MSG
Later In that same letter, Paul will talk about keeping our thoughts captive to Christ. Does this mean that the trials we will be facing are not real, or that we should deflect, escape, or delude ourselves into thinking that none of this is going to affect us or our families? Of course not. It simply means that throughout this season of angst and turmoil, we keep our eyes, minds, and hearts, fixed on Christ. That even during the worst times of our lives, God is present with us. The "barriers of th e world erected against the truth of Christ" would tell us that we are now on our own- that we have been left floundering and that somehow God is not present with us, working, healing, and moving! Controlling our thoughts allows us to see that whatever happens, we are not alone, not abandoned, not overtaken; stilling our thoughts (minds) means recognizing God's live-giving spirit in our midst; creating and restoring.
Carve out some time each day to notice God, and give thanks in the stillness of your quiet and centered mind. "Be still, and know that I am God."
"Prayer does not change God, but it changes (the person) who prays." - Soren Kierkegaard
During times of crisis people pray. I have even heard from people who do not claim to have faith in God or any higher being admit to praying over the past couple of days. As people of faith, prayer is a part of who we are. We pray when we are filled with joy. We pray when we have concerns regarding health, jobs, family situations, and viruses that are having an unimaginable effect on our world. Sometimes we have the right words and they flow freely from our mouths and our hearts. Other times, the words feel lost so deep within that that we find ourselves sitting silent in a deeper prayer space than we have ever been.
I have said in church that the Prayers of the Community is one of my favorite parts of the service. I look forward to praying together as a community of faith. Together we lift up our prayers and pray for one another. We pray for healing, guidance, and health. We pray for strength, humility, and patience. We pray for the ones we love and the ones we struggle to love. Though we are not gathering together in a physical space, and are practicing “social distancing”, it is essential that we continue to pray together as a church family.
I invite you to use this Connections Space to pray… share your joys and concerns and let us continue to pray for one another. You’re invited to post your prayers to share with our faith community. Who knows, your written prayer may help another find the words that their heart is searching for.
Below is a prayer that poet and theologian Padraig O’ Tuama shared on Krista Tippet’s program, “On Being”. During this time of questions and uncertainty, when life seems to be changing every minute, may this prayer and every prayer we pray help us make sense of that which seems so senseless.
“Prayer can be a rhythm that helps us make sense in times of senselessness, not offering solutions but speaking to and from the mystery of humanity. Prayer is comfort. Prayer is words and shape and art, around desperation and delight and disappointment and desire.”
The March breeze prompted my need for a coat. I set out for a local park, intentionally using the next hour to quiet my restless mind and emotions. The place was inviting with winding paths that meandered through woods, meadows and streams. Walking - listening - observing - breathing - along the muddy shores of a pond I noticed the prominent foot tracks of several deer who had previously made their way to this very spot.
Psalm 42 reminds us of our innate desire for the water of God’s divine nature. Not just connection to the natural environment that we call “mother nature”, but the deeper soul within us that longs for God’s own essence or nature. Our desire for intimacy with the Divine is as natural as deer searching for life sustaining water. Richard Rohr says this: “You cannot know God the way you know anything else; you only know God or the soul of anything subject to subject, center to center, by a process of “mirroring” where like knows like and love knows love—“deep calling unto deep” (Psalm 42:7). The Divine Spirit planted deep inside each of us yearns for and responds to God—and vice versa (see James 4:5).”
In this time of change and uncertainty, there are many voices loudly calling for our attention. It is important for us to seek the ever-flowing stream of God’s presence - deep calling to deep.
Psalm 42:1-4, 7, 11
As the deer longs after the water brooks, so my soul longs after You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When will I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they always say to me, “Where is your God?” When I remember these things, I pour out my soul within me. Deep calls to deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and Your billows pass over me. Why, my soul, are you cast down? Why do you groan within me? Wait for God; I will yet thank God, for God is my deliverance and my God.
References: Richard Rohr, The Lost Tradition of Contemplation - Tuesday, January 9, 2018
Martin Nystrom, As the Deer© 1984 Universal Music - Brentwood Benson Publishing CCLI License # 11537482
Welcome to another way we can communicate with one another and connect during (and potentially after) the COVID-19 Pandemic. Since this is a blog page, you may leave comments, discussion items, and encouraging words for our whole community to read and share.
Each day, Monday- Friday, you will find a short message and/or devotional from one of our Ministerial Staff. Today's message comes from Senior Pastor Linda Pepe. When you are finished reading, why not take a moment to let us know you've found our page, and perhaps leave an note of encouragement for someone else!
Enjoy, and Let's Connect!
Hebrews 10:25 The Message (MSG)22-25 So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. God always keeps God's word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.
What a wonderful scripture passage; so relevant for all of us as we go about navigating the shift in normal life during the COVID-19 Pandemic. I hope you were able to watch yesterday's live-stream worship service. If not, here is a link to the recording: https://www.fbcmoorestown.org/
In the sermon, you heard me talk about the importance of remaining connected. Hearing from one another during various levels of social distancing, self-quarantine, or more stringent measures (curfews, closures, etc.) is crucial, not just for us as a congregation, but for our individual emotional and mental health.
Our modes of meeting together have changed, and that will take some getting used to. However, as I mentioned yesterday, we have a plan to help us all stay connected, and all of us are invited to participate. We are asking each person in our church to call 3-5 fellow congregants per week to share concerns, joys, and even pray together should you feel the spirit move in that direction. As you might imagine, a project like this will take some organization to ensure that all of our congregants are contacted, and I am asking for your patience as well as your flexibility as we put the connection lists together.
Admittedly, our comfort level with speaking on the phone may not be what it used to be in the days of no email (for those of us who remember what it was like to NOT have internet) and each of us have different gifts when it comes to talking to people we do not yet know well. As we begin, I am asking for each of you to sign up to participate so that we can form call lists. As you sign up, please indicate your comfort level of calling based on 1-3 system. 1: I am only comfortable calling 3 people a week and only those I already know very well. 2: I am comfortable calling 3-5 people per week and will call those I know well or moderately well. 3: I'll call anybody, and I may not get off the phone for an hour!
My hope (and yes I am still an eternal optimist- after all, we serve a God who loves us with an everlasting love) is that we have 100% participation in this. Yes, it is THAT important. Feeling isolated or alone is a dangerous and unhealthy state to live in, and unless we are intentional (and for some of us, that means stepping outside of our comfort zone) we may not reach everyone in our congregation; and each person is important.
To sign up, please reply via email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Please include your level of participation/comfort 1,2,3
I look forward to hearing from each of you. Together, we can make it through this challenging time as the church, as a connectional and relational people. And I believe with my whole heart that we will come out stronger on the other side of this.
With much love and gratitude,