The following is an outline of PoC’s Sunday, March 29, 2020 Lord’s Table gathering. This gathering was via Zoom video conference in observation of the Illinois “stay-at-home” order.
- Deuteronomy 31:7-8
- Psalm 118:5-9
- Philippians 4:6-7
- Matthew 6:24-35
“We Are Not Alone” by Pepper Choplin at Sandy Ridge Mennonite
Remember the movie Castaway? Tom Hanks plays Chuck, a systems analyst for FedEx. He’s a workaholic, has no time to tend to his relationships, to marry his significant other. He gets in a plane crash, somehow survives, and swims to a deserted island, where he survives for four years… all alone. He has to face how his busy, driven life had ill-prepared him for being alone, and vulnerable. He is lonely, afraid, and desperately needs a companion, so he paints a face on a volleyball (using his bloody hand), calls him “Wilson.” This is who he talked to while stranded on the island.
His loneliness, fear of the future, and depression all comes to a head one night when he tries to hang himself and the tree limb snaps. He reflects: “I couldn’t even kill myself the way I wanted to. I had control over nothing.”
Tom Hanks’ character in Castaway illuminates some of what we are all going through during the coronavirus.
After about the first week of self-isolating—even for those of us who are self-isolating with our families—we’re awakening to our loneliness and fear. The feeling of being vulnerable. Everything is out of my control.
Negative circumstances, finances, health are all pressing in on me …. And I really can do very little, if anything.
Amid this struggle—the fear and loneliness—we hear these words from Jesus:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Jesus says “don’t be anxious.” God is the one present and at work all around your life, much like birds get food, much like the lilies are clothed, receive daily. God is with us, working and providing.
The good news of Jesus is that you don’t have to be in debilitating fear in these moments because God is with us.
FEAR NOT FOR GOD IS WITH US
- “Fear not” is not a command but an invitation to another way of being. It is an invitation to see that the God who makes sure the birds get food and that the lilies are clothed is actually working as well in and around our lives for our provision. If we will but be faithful to tend to His work.
- “Fear not” is paired with “God is with us” and “I will not forsake you.” This is part of what Jesus is saying with the example of the birds being fed and the lilies being clothed. God is always here working even when we are not noticing. In Deuteronomy 31:8, it is the Lord who goes before you. In Psalm 118:7, the Lord is on my side, so I do not fear. God doesn’t come into suffering and impose His will over all things, He doesn’t even defeat evil that way. He enters in and walks us through the victory. Sometimes we will get a marvelous deliverance, sometimes we will outlast the evil, but it will always be by His presence, in His presence. In Philippians, the Apostle Paul says, “Be anxious for nothing but in all things prayer.” Prayer is being in His presence. And so in the midst of whatever fears, anxieties, depressions, lonelinesses… can you receive the gospel? FEAR NOT—GOD IS WITH US. God is with us through this.
- “Fear not,” and then you can take courage and put one foot in front of the other. Jesus says “For the Gentiles seek all these things.” They seek to preserve and control so they have enough and more to eat and wear. But for we who live in the Kingdom, who have made Jesus Lord of our lives, we know already “that our heavenly Father knows we have need of them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours.”
Jesus is not saying don’t move forward in this time. He is not saying to be passive in regard to your finances, your health, your ministry, your work, your family, your loneliness, your pain, your suffering, your physical malady. No, instead, seek the kingdom.
Prayers of the People
God is always at work and he graciously invites us in. His arms are open. We join together to release ourselves and our world into his hands:
Heavenly father we both thank you for, and seek your mercy over our homes, our town, our country and our world. Spirit, we ask you to examine us, cleanse our hearts and give us your prayers for our world. We know that your heart is moved by the prayers of your people. Lord, in your mercy.
We ask for your power to intervene and stop this virus in its tracks, wherever it lives, and give your wisdom to those pursuing a quick test and a cure. Thank you for each minute that anyone has gone without illness. Lord, in your mercy.
God of compassion, be close to those who are ill or are in isolation today. Lord, in your mercy.
For all who suffer: Bring healing and relief. In their loneliness, be a consolation; in their anxiety, be their hope; in their darkness, be their light. Lord, in your mercy.
Father to all who are caring for the sick and the vulnerable, give them skill, sympathy and resilience. Lord, in your mercy.
God of wisdom bring good direction to those in public service and those making critical decisions. Lord, in your mercy.
Thank you for all who are working each day, so that people have food and water and services. Protect them, bless them, in body and heart as they serve. Lord, in your mercy.
For our particular workplaces, and families, coworkers and neighbors, all who are dear to us, those who you have put in our path to care about, our prayers for them to know you more and to find their rest and healing and hope in you alone. Bring their needs to our minds often. Lord, in your mercy.
For pastor Claude Noel, wife Karen and son David at CMA of Quebec City, and our missionary partners the Voilands, as they minister in your name. Guide, protect, make your presence known in the ways that they particularly need. Especially protect the Noel’s son who is at immune risk. Thank you for their faithful prayers for us. Lord, in your mercy.
Gracious heavenly father, our hearts are at risk to turn inward—as that happens, forgive us. Fill us with your love that always leads outward. As fear grips our world, give us wisdom to perceive you, diligence to seek you, patience to wait for you, a heart to meditate upon you, and life to proclaim you through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord. Your kingdom come. Amen.
We fear not, God is with us, at our side.
Let us pray together.
Dear Jesus, we believe that you are truly present at your table. we love you above all things, and we desire to possess you within our souls. And since we cannot now receive you sacramentally, we beseech you to come spiritually into our hearts where we are. We unite ourselves to you, together with all your faithful people gathered around every altar of your Church, and we embrace you with all the affections of our souls. Never permit us to be separated from you. Amen.