First Congregational Church of Hartland, United Church of Christ
An Open and Affirming Congregation in Hartland, Vermont
Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.
Welcome! We are glad that you chose to worship with us today.
The Seventh Sunday of Eastertide May 24th, 2020
Gathering time –
You are welcome to start gathering at 9:30 to talk and check in.
At 10:00 we will mute for worship.
Welcome and Announcements
Thank you for joining us, we serve a God of resurrection and we claim that promise of resurrection even now, especially now.
I have a few announcements.
*Everyone will be muted for the worship service, however I can NOT unmute you, so please un-mute yourselves for the Lord’s Prayer only!
*You will find a “chat” function on your screen –- we will use it for the time of prayer concerns.
*get the bulletin from the website and music suggestion – play the music on your own device. Try some of those links after worship!
*A few things this week: NO Bible study on Monday
Drive Through Office Hours on Tuesday 9 to 11
Book Discussion of “Holy Envy” starting on Thursday
Mental Health Sunday from the UCC Conference Ministers
Gathering Music “My Life Flows on in Endless Song” NYC Virtual Choir and Orchestra
Lighting our Candles
If you have a candle, let us light our candles together to remind ourselves that there is light in the darkness and that we can share that light with one another in our own times of darkness and we can share that light of love with the world. Please light your candles if you have one as we enter into our time of worship.
Let us pray: We come to this place to be fed by God’s word, to be nurtured by God’s grace, and to be strengthened by the power of God’s Spirit.
Speak to us in this time of Worship, O God, that we might recognize the abundance of your goodness, and find in your presence things that sustain us. Amen.
Call to Worship
Our God is Alpha and Omega
We are a people of many beginnings and endings.
God is great, and greatly to be praised!
We thank you God, for families and friends, for the warmth of spring days,
for good meals around the kitchen table and helpful neighbors.
God, how great is your name throughout the earth!
We thank you, God, for the sound of laughter and the touch of love,
for brand new mornings and for dreams held close.
Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise with songs of praise.
Come! Let us worship God.
Prayer of Invocation Rev. Martha Peck
Show us God, a new heaven and a new earth.
Show us the blessed wideness of your mercy.
Show us the stunning beauty of your creation.
Show us how to live in your light, today and forevermore.
For you alone have the power to remake us and our world. Amen.
A Song of Praise “Let There Be Peace On Earth” Lyrics by Sy Miller & Jill Jackson
Honoring Memorial Day
Remembering Memorial Day
(From the USMemorialday.org website) Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Over two dozen cities and towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day.
Regardless of the exact date or location of its origins, one thing is clear – Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. It was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.
On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
. . . After World War I the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.”
I find it fascinating and important to note that in 1868, just 3 years after the end of the American Civil War, when this country was still devastated from the loss of life and economic impact of war, when people were still grieving in every village and town, that on the first Decoration day – all soldiers were remembered at Arlington National Cemetery – union and confederate alike. And that there are both Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery – former enemies buried side by side.
Other early stories from Memorial Day – or Decoration Day – are of women – mothers, wives and daughters of the soldiers who had fought and died in the Civil War – going to honor the dead – all of them – in places where there were battles. Where men are buried in unmarked graves. And again, all of the graves were decorated, all the lives were honored. At its very heart and inception, Memorial Day is a day of memory and honor and of forgiveness. Let us remember that as we gather this Memorial Day Sunday in 2020.
MEMORIAL DAY PRAYER
We lift our hearts in thanksgiving to you, O God, for the lives of our veterans and their families; for all who have given their lives for liberty and justice, for all who returned from the horrors of war, and all who served on our own shores; for all who stayed behind, and waited, wrote letters, and prayed, and all who worked to heal physical, mental, and spiritual wounds. We lift our hearts in thanksgiving to you, O God, for the lives of our veterans and their families. Help us to remember, lest we forget. Grant us your peace, Amen.
*Hymn “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies”
Listening for and Responding to the Word
Today’s scripture is the story of the “Ascension” which took place 40 days after the resurrection. Remember that the book of Acts is a continuation of the gospel of Luke. We are at the midpoint of the Luke-Acts text. Lets think for a moment what the disciples have experienced to get them to this point in today’s story:
All of the disciples hopes and dreams for themselves as well as for their country and for their faith community were dashed with the crucifixion. Jesus’ followers huddled together after his crucifixion – confused, aimless, frightened, hiding behind locked doors, not sure which way to turn, not sure what comes next. The poor disciples went from sharing Jesus ministry – with a welcoming parade into Jerusalem to seeing him betrayed, arrested, taunted, crucified, dead and buried in less than a week.
But, they had hardly begun to accept the fact that he was dead, when they began encountering him resurrected. Mary in the garden, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Thomas and the others in locked upper room, Peter and his gang on the beach, Jesus visited his followers, ate and spoke with them for 40 days to help them wrap their minds around what had happened – and what they were asked to do now.
Yes – he had died.
Yes, he had risen from the dead, bodily – and because of this he was able to meet with the disciples and to encourage them and to teach them more about God’s kingdom and the Spirit.
The fact that he met with them for 40 days is not random. In the bible, God uses 40 days to change and empower and bless and transform people. Noah’s life was transformed by 40 days of rain. Moses was transformed by 40 days on Mount Sinai. Jesus was empowered by 40 days in the wilderness, and the disciples were transformed by these 40 days spent with Jesus AFTER the resurrection.
It had all happened so fast that the disciples needed time to take it all in. They needed time to process that Jesus had been killed, but that even death could not stop him. The forty days between Easter and the encounter we are about to read from the book of Acts were a learning time and a readying time.
Listen for the word as inspired by God:
A Scripture Reading from the Book of Acts 1:6-14
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
A Reflection “A Paradox”
You may be surprised to hear, that in my senior year at a rather large public high school – with a class of 450 students – I was voted “Class optimist”. Or maybe you are not surprised. I have an optimistic outlook on life, born I’m sure of having a pretty happy childhood and simply having the privilege to be optimistic. My optimism has served me well over the years, I have optimistically persevered through life’s challenges. And I’m sure that my “the glass is half full” attitude has been an irritant to some – well many – people in my life.
But here’s the thing, optimism isn’t working these days. And I’m finding myself realizing that I need something deeper. Maybe it is a question of personal maturity. . . .
But, what’s needed in these days is hope and reality held together with truth. (repeat)
On her blog, The Corners, The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber recently shared this story: An Admiral in the US Navy, James Stockdale survived 8 years as a POW in a North Vietnamese prison camp. When asked who of his fellow prisoners struggled to make it out alive he replied,
“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart….”
So the “Stockdale Paradox” is the ability to hold two opposing but equally true things at once:
You must have faith that you will prevail in the end
And at the same time you must confront the brutal facts of your current reality. (repeat)
In this in-between time, I have had to shift from my easy optimism “surely we will be worshipping together by Easter . . .. okay by Memorial Day . . . by summertime . . . “ to reality. To confronting the brutal facts of the current reality. We need to settle in for the long haul here. I’ve had to let go of my easy optimism because each time I set myself up for disappointment and grief. What’s needed in these days is hope and reality held together with truth. Turns out that honest hope is much stronger than easy optimism.
The “Stockdale Paradox” is the ability to hold two opposing but equally true things at once:
You must have faith that you will prevail in the end
And at the same time you must confront the brutal facts of your current reality.
AND I believe that we will prevail. Why? because I do believe in humanity, in the fundamental goodness of most – not all – but most people, who laugh and love, who have faced this time with creativity and resilience, who are generously taking care of neighbors and finding ways to be connected. AND I do believe that God – the Holy one – the ground of our being – is the source of our love and creativity and resilience and generosity. [Bolz Weber:] “Which means there is an eternal supply on which to draw when we just don’t have what it takes.”
We are living in an in between time. Just like the disciples on Ascension day. We are experiencing an ending and looking toward a new beginning. There is tension in wanting to hold on and needing to let go. Life is full – FULL – of endings and beginnings. Of wanting to hold on and needing to let go. And isn’t life always full of tension? Of sorrow and joy? Of weeping and laughter? of hope and fear? The disciple are on the cusp of something, the next thing, their story does go on and it is the story of the gift of the Holy Spirit, but in this moment, they are in between.
Reflecting on this inbetween time, Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber writes: “We will not get through this by setting our hearts on any events in the future. And we will not get through this by setting our minds on any fears about the future. To be sure, today has troubles of it’s own. Plenty of them. So its a waste of energy to import our imagined troubles of tomorrow that aren’t even true or real yet. It’s maybe not the healthiest thing for my happiness to be contingent on the future having to look a certain way.
So, here’s the thing – we can turn resolutely to these brutal facts and even so, we will prevail.
There is a global pandemic, and we will prevail.
There is death, and we will prevail.
There are long hoped-for events in the future that will not happen and we will prevail.
There will be lost things and people and income and dreams and still, we will prevail.
And all we really have is this day. And it is enough.”
Our life is full of endings and beginnings. And as we live – LIVE – in this in between time – if you hear nothing else today hear this: you are God’s beloved. If you ever feel as if God has abandoned you – be held in love knowing that God’s promise is to be with us in our endings and beginnings and in our times in-between.
And may we all be open to whatever and wherever God calls us next.
In the greatest of hope, thanks be to God. Amen.
Source: Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, The Corners https://nadiabolzweber.substack.com
A Musical Reflection “How Great Thou Art” sung by Celtic Worship
The Prayers of the People
Sharing our Joys and Concerns (please share via the “Chat” Feature on Zoom)
Pastoral Prayer & The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom and power and glory forever and ever Amen.
Closing Hymn: “Great is Thy Faithfulness”
Go to live under God’s gracious care. See simple joys. Love one another. Share kindness.
Follow the way of Jesus. And take with you the quiet assurance that God’s spirit will be always with you. Amen.
Sung Benediction “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” arranged by John Rutter
Pastor: The Rev. Lucia Anne Jackson Telephone: 802-436-2224 (church)
Church Facebook page: www.facebook.com/HartlandCongregationalChurch
Organist: Virginia Dow Director of Christian Education: MaryJo Ramsey
Choir Director: Rebecca Wood Church Members: Ministers to the World