This service was delivered through online worship on March 29, 2020. Transcript:

Joys & Concerns (Pastoral Prayer):

For those of you who are not familiar with Bethel’s worship service and are new to our online worship, this is the time that we lift up our joys and praises as well as our prayers and petitions. Because this video will be publicly available through social media, YouTube, and our website, no individual’s name will be spoken during the prayer. If you have specific prayer requests, you can send them to me through our website or by email. That information will be available in the closing credits of today’s worship video.

Now, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer …

Father, as I come to you now with the praises, prayers, and petitions of your People, I am reminded of the words in Ecclesiastes 3 inspired by your Holy Spirit …

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
time for war, and a time for peace.

Father, we pray to you now for your world. Lord, in your mercy, let this be a time for peace, not war; for love, not hate; for healing, not killing. Let this be a time for both breaking down the barriers between nations, between religions, between beliefs, between races, between lifestyles and a time for building up of trust, of friendship, of respect for one another, of unity.

We pray for our nation, God. Lord, in your mercy, let this be a time for throwing away the stones of partisanship and division. Let this be a time for tearing away any cloaks of bravado, any mantles of arrogance, ego, or self-righteousness. Let this be a time for sewing new cloaks of humility, mercy, and forgiveness toward our fellow nations, and of compassion and kindness.

We pray for our community, Lord, and for the communities that neighbor us. Lord, in your mercy, let this be a time that we understand and accept we cannot embrace and must refrain from embracing to protect one another from the spread of this disease. Let this be a time when we work to keep silent about where the blame should fall and about what we believe to be the sins of others. Let this be a time that we use our words and our voices to sow mercy, sow grace, sow kindness and sow faith.

We pray for ourselves, Lord. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. Let this be a time when we weep and mourn with and for those who are grieving and when we laugh and dance with joy at the blessings you continue to bring us moment by moment. Let this be a time when we celebrate birth and rebirth. Let this be a time when we acknowledge that death in life is not death in Christ, but simply the passage from this earthly life into your loving embrace and heavenly home.

Lord, in your mercy, let this be a time when we take long hard looks at what we have, keep only what is good and true and worthy of you, and throw away all else. Let this be a time when we lose our fears, our frustrations, any grudges or hard feelings we hold, and seek you, Lord, with all our hearts and all our minds and all our strength.

For we ask these things in Jesus’ name, and we pray to you in the words he taught us to pray …

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. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

1-2 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever! Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

19-29 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.

The Lord is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”

This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Message – Be Still

Lord, speak through me and, if necessary, in spite of me that your word may be heard this day. Amen.

Today marks the last Sunday of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week for we Western Christians. I’ve struggled to find words that would convey what we are used to doing and hearing and celebrating on this day.

My mind has worked overtime recalling and trying to devise a way to create for you the Palm Sundays celebrated year after year at my home church where the majority of the congregation would enter the sanctuary singing and shouting “Hosanna!” and waving palm branches, circling round the front and eventually settling into the pews.

But that still small voice nudging at my heart says, “Not this year, child. This year, just be still and know that I am God.”

“Be still.” If you read the four accounts of Jesus’ triumphant ride into Jerusalem, you’ll find that he, too, was largely still. Before the ride, he told his disciples to go into the city ahead and bring back a donkey and its colt. Not one of the gospels mentions anything he said during the ride itself.

The people made noise. They shouted the greeting, “Hosanna” … a word that originally meant “save us” … not even realizing what they were saying was a foreshadowing of things to come.

But Jesus was almost uncharacteristically still.

Mark tells how, after the ride that day, Jesus went into the Temple, looked around at everything, and then went with the disciples back out of the city to Bethany. But again, according to Mark’s account of the story, Jesus is relatively still.

Luke mentions that, during the procession into town, “the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen” and it upset some of the Pharisees who were present to a point they ordered Jesus to rebuke his followers, but Jesus only said, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

According to Luke, it was only later after Jesus saw the city and had wept over it that Jesus spoke again, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

Even John, the disciple he loved, remembers him strangely still.

Be still. Let go.

He knew long before the day he arrived at Bethphage what was coming. He knew when he woke up that morning what was coming. He knew as he told the two disciples to go into the city and fetch the donkey and its colt what was coming. He knew all along the road, crowds cheering and praising him, what was coming.

I think he was still because he did know what was coming, and because he trusted his Father, our Father, so completely, that he was able to be still; to let go; to let God. He was able to accept what he knew was coming because he knew it was God’s will.

We need to be still; to let go; to let God. And it’s hard. Our minds are racing, trying to figure out what to do and worrying over what’s to come. Like the crowds that day, we’re grasping at every opportunity to return to the normal we knew. Any little piece of news or speech by some pundit or politician or global leader that puts an end date on or downplays the severity of this mess we’re in becomes a false hope we cling to and begin to celebrate with shouts praising the author of that news as the savior du’ jour to a point that we then become recklessly defiant and fail to take the precautions we are supposed to be taking in order to survive this thing and, at some point, we’ll be like the crowds on that first Palm Sunday … shouting Hosanna … save us … only to turn around and shout “Crucify him!” days later.

We need to be still. We need to purposefully seek the stillness that is utter surrender to and faith in God. We need to let go of our palm fronds waved at false hopes and put our hope in the only one who can see us through this. We need to let God be God … let Him out of the tiny box we tend to keep Him in … let Him be bigger than we can ever imagine.

I know it’s hard to do that. I know it’s our nature to try to control what is happening to us at any given time. I know it’s our nature to worry and fret and try to plan ahead.

We’re human. We’re a broken lot. We’re frail. We’re afraid. And, when it comes to God, we’re often fickle. But none of that stops what’s coming. Nothing will stop what’s coming, and what’s coming is what happened because Jesus was still. Jesus let go. Jesus let God.

Tomorrow is the day when Jesus cleansed the temple. When he chased out the money changers and profiteers who exploited and corrupted his Father’s house. We could all stand to follow his example tomorrow, but … for today … we need to be still.

We need to go outside and hang a green branch on our door to tell our neighbors and the world that we know who is riding into Jerusalem for us, that we celebrate him as our King.

And then we need to come back inside and be still, study the gospels, reflect on what is coming, then let go … spend time in silent prayer … and let God.

Because Easter is, folks. It doesn’t matter that there will be no church services. It doesn’t matter that families won’t be able to gather this year as we have in the past. It doesn’t matter that the world is upside down right now.

Easter is and ever will be. Jesus already interceded … for us! Jesus already died … for us! Jesus already defeated death … for us! The tomb is already empty … for us! He has already risen … for us!

That will never ever change and there is no “thing” and no one on earth who can undo it or redo it or do it better or bigger or faster or first. Easter is and ever will be.

So be still now. Let go of your worries, your woes, your fears. Let God do God, and let’s do what He and Jesus have been trying to get us to do since before time began. Let’s just trust and love and praise and worship Him with all our hearts and all our minds and all our strength. And let’s love one another the way Jesus loves us.

Closing Prayer & Benediction

Please join me in our closing prayer:

God, help us now to be still, to let go, and to let You. Help us to focus our attention and our thoughts and our time on your son and all he has done for us. Help us to know him. Help us to follow him. Help us to be the church he teaches us to be.

In the name of Christ, amen.

Benediction:

May you know the deep peace of the God who knows and perfectly loves you.

May you take the yoke of Jesus upon you, knowing that he bears your load with you.

May you know the indwelling Spirit bringing you wisdom and peace.

Amen

Click on the “offertory” image to access the online giving app at holston.org. The app will open in a new tab/window.

Credits:

Hymns and worship components: Nathan Drake, www.reawakenhymns.com

Video compiled and edited with Animotica, www.animotica.com.

A special thank you to Rev. Eric Doolittle, Chaplain at North Central College, and to Kathy Boyd Rochedieu. Your friendships and wise words continue to inspire me despite the distances.   

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