Wednesday March 25, 2020) SHELTER IN GRACE Interim Pastor Linda Bergeon
(SUMMARY TEXT OF MESSAGE) This morning during what is suppose to be my quiet time I was finding it difficult to stay focused on being quiet, not that this is all that unusual however, today my mind was exceptionally busy offering one distraction after another. Finally I decided to practice one of the meditation techniques Pastor Karen shared with us a few weeks ago. So I took a deep breath, turned my palms down and gave all my anxiety, fear, grief, anger and unsettledness over to the Lord.
Then I turned my palms up, keeping my mind as still as possible and all of a sudden into this quiet space came the words “shelter in grace.” My breathing deepened and I felt a sense of calm and peace come over me. My mind stopped jumping around. It was as though the whole world went quiet for a few all to brief moments. Shelter in grace; what a great reminder that we are sheltered in God’s grace at all times in all places and in all circumstances. For some reason that phrase reminded me of God’s answer to Paul when Paul asked God to heal a physical affliction he was suffering from. Paul tells us that he asked three times to have this affliction removed and God’s only answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
“My power,” God says, “is made perfect in weakness…” I believe we are seeing signs of God’s power at work in our weakness as we find new ways to be in community, to reach out to others and support each other during this crisis. God’s power is at work in neighborhoods like the one I hear about where the neighbors go outside at 6:00 each evening to check in with each other. God’s power is at work in families who are using their sidewalks and sidewalk chalk art to share messages of hope and encouragement with those who walk by. As I was listening to K-Love this morning I heard another example of God’s power at work. A woman called in to say that her community has started a drive-by zoo. Can you imagine that?! Here’s what is happening, people are putting stuffed animals in their front windows so families with children can drive by and the children can see the animals. She stated that the kids love it and that it is bringing their community together in a new way.
Phone trees are another way God’s power is at work. Okay, now for those of you who are too young to know what that is, it is a system for contacting a large number of people quickly. A coordinator and a network of reliable people form the foundation of the phone tree. Each person in that first group then telephones a number of other designated people who call another group of designated people and next thing you know; everyone gets the message. Thanks to Katharine and Millie, New Life now has its very own phone tree system in place which will be utilized to help us keep in touch with each other. Another sign of God’s power is seen in the explosion of people being called together to pray. There are Zoom prayer groups meeting online, there are phone prayer groups, there are families who have committed to praying at a specific time each day. K-Love and other Christian radio stations have declared tomorrow to be a Day of Hope a day during which prayers for our nation and the world will be shared all day long. At a time when we are experiencing physical distancing, we are seeing God’s power overcome those distances and bring people closer together in spirit and in love. We are so abundantly blessed to serve a God who can overcome all circumstances, who never abandons us and who loves us unconditionally. A friend sent me a text this morning in which she stated that home is currently our shelter in place, however, God is always our shelter in place. Can I hear an amen? As I read those words, a song I learned years ago came to mind. A song that goes something like this,
You who dwell in the shelter of our God, who abide in this shadow for life, say to the Lord: 'My refuge, my Rock in whom I trust!'
'And I will raise you up on eagle's wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of my hand.'
The song, “On Eagles Wings” rephrases words from Psalm 91. I invite you to listen as I read verses 1 – 6 and 11-12:
You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday… 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
As we continue to shelter in grace, I pray you will experience God’s grace in new and unexpected ways. I pray that you will find new ways to extend grace to others and I pray your spirits will be lifted by the knowledge that you are under God’s constant care, that God’s grace is available her and now. We are living sheltered in God’s grace. Amen.
(Wednesday March 18, 2020) FEASTING AND LEFT WANTING FOR MORE Interim Pastor Linda Bergeon
(SUMMARY TEXT OF MESSAGE) As we have begun navigating what is being called our new normal the phrase “for such a time as this” keeps running through my mind. I think it is at least in part because of the way our sermon plan unfolded.
You see, the decision to preach about spiritual disciplines during the Lenten season was made months ago. Meditation, Fasting, Solitude…could anyone other than God have planned so perfectly? Two weeks ago, Karen preached about Meditation. Today I am offering a meditation about Fasting which would have been the sermon this past Sunday (lucky you! You’re getting the short version!) This Sunday, Tony is speaking about Solitude and next week the midweek meditation will be about Simplicity. Only God could have put all this in place ahead of time knowing exactly when we would need it. In this chaotic and uncertain time, it is reassuring to know that God went before us, God is with us now, and God will be with us every step of the way. Can I hear an Amen?
Now, about fasting. If you are at all like me when you heard the word fasting you said something like “yuck!” or “you have to be kidding!” Or maybe your first thought was to equate fasting with some kind of weight loss program. If so, I am hopeful that you will set those thoughts aside and consider what fasting in the biblical sense looks like.
Fasting, like meditation, is not exclusive to Christians. All major religions of the world recognize its merits. Fasting, for Christians, is abstaining from food and/or water for spiritual purposes. There are a number of fasts described in scripture. Believe it or not, I found 29 passages and suspect there are more. So, what does fasting in the Bible look like?
Fasts are described as being anywhere from 1 to 40 days long. In (1 Sam: 7) the Israelites fast for a day. In Esther there is a 3 day fast recorded. (1 Sam: 31) reports on a 7 day fast. The book of Daniel records that at different times Daniel fasted often. Sometimes for a day, sometimes for 3 days, and at least one time for 21 days. Moses, Joshua and Jesus all fasted for 40 days. There don’t seem to be any hard and fast rules about how long a person should fast. That is a decision between the person fasting and God.
The biblical record of fasting also provides reasons why people fast. As an act of repentance, of mourning, of gratitude. For courage, for the ability to resist temptation, as an act of confession. To express gratitude and as an act of worship. The purpose of fasting is not to manipulate God. It must center on God. To think about God maybe more than we have before. I have discovered that if a fast is not about God it is, at least for me, almost impossible to maintain. When I feel God’s call to fast and do so, while it may not be easy, it is possible. Instead of eating, I pray, read the bible or meditate and the next thing I know I’m at the end of the day praising the Lord. A successful fast reminds me that I am not sustained by food alone. I can in fact feast on the Word of God and be filled.
I encourage you to give fasting a try, however it is always a good idea to learn to walk before you run so I recommend you start with a partial fast, a 24-hour food fast which would mean not eating two meals. Many people find going from lunch one day to lunch the next works well. Fresh fruit juices are excellent to drink during the fast as is water.
While you are fasting use the time you would normally eat to pray and/or read scripture. Pay attention to what is happening internally, what is the attitude of your heart? Outwardly you will carry on as usual. Break your fast with a light meal of fresh fruits and vegetables and a good deal of inner rejoicing. Try this for a couple of weeks and then attempt a normal fast of 24-hours. A normal fast is to have no food and drink only water. However, be sure to drink a healthy amount. You will probably feel some hunger pains or discomfort before the time is up. The good news is that this is not real hunger, your stomach is simply reacting to years of training and letting you know that it is time to eat. I can assure you that you will survive 24-hours without food.
Once again, use the time you would normally use for eating to pray and read scripture. Also, continue to pay attention to your inner attitude. You may want to write down your thoughts and feelings. And remember, don’t call attention to the fact that you are fasting. Jesus was pretty clear about the consequences of trying to impress others with your fast.
After achieving several fasts with a degree of spiritual success, move on to a 36-hour fast: three meals. With that accomplished it is time to seek the Lord as to whether God wants you to go on a longer fast. Three to seven days is a good time period and will probably have a substantial impact on the course of your life. If you feel called to do a longer fast, please do some research about what to expect. Fasting can become feasting as we fast from food and feast on the Word of God and once we taste and see that the Lord is good, we will hunger for more.
Suggested Scriptures: Luke 4.1-13 Isaiah 58.1-7 Daniel 10.1-14 Nehemiah 1.4-11 Esther 4.12-17 Acts 13.1-3 Acts 14.19-23