This worship service premiered on YouTube at 10:30 a.m., Sunday, May 107, 2020. A transcript of the service is provided below for those who are unable to watch the video.  

CALL TO WORSHIP

Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!

Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you. All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.”

Let’s pray:

One: Even in these difficult and uncertain times, God’s compassion, justice, and peace are still at work.

Many: Even now, O Lord, your love still walks with us.

 One: The healthcare workers who selflessly care for their patients and the teachers who creatively inspire their students are God’s compassion at work.

Many: Even now, O Lord, your love still walks with us.

One: Ordinary people who find extraordinary ways to care for the elderly, feed the hungry, and help the poor are God’s justice at work.

Many: Even now, O Lord, your love still walks with us.

Those of you who reach out to others with phone calls, emails, snail mail, text messages, and outdoor visits are God’s peace at work.

Many: Even now, O Lord, your love still walks with us.

One: We are witnessing in each other, even in these difficult and uncertain times, the truth Jesus proclaimed, the life Jesus lived, and the way Jesus walked. God is still at work.

Many: Even now, O Lord, your love still walks with us.

We thank you, Lord, for your undying endless love as we come to you in praise and worship.

We pray this in the name of Jesus, who loves us, Amen.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

O God, your Son remained with his disciples after his resurrection, teaching them to love all people as neighbors.

As his disciples in this age, we offer our prayers on behalf of the universe in which we are privileged to live and our neighbors with whom we share it.

God, we continue to lift up those members of our congregation, community, and world who are sick and hurting, and ask that you be with them, their loved ones, and their caregivers.

We ask that you be with all throughout your creation who are suffering loss at this time, often in isolation and through no fault of their own. Strengthen them, lift their burdens, and give them your rest and peace. I especially ask that you comfort our own church family as we grieve the loss of one of our own.

Be also with us, God. We confess our brokenness. We confess our selfishness, our arrogance, and our sins. We give you thanks for our unearned forgiveness and ask you to strengthen us and guide us in carrying out your will in this world.

Bless all those on the front lines of this pandemic, especially those who are so very essential but often overlooked.

Bless and guide our leaders to make wise decisions that put people over profits.

Bless our families, our friends, and our enemies alike. May they know your love as we do.  

Open our hearts to your power moving around us and between us and within us, until your glory is revealed in our love of both friend and enemy, in communities transformed by justice and compassion, and in the healing of all that is broken.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God, perfect in every way.

We ask these things in the name of your son, and now, with the confidence of the children of God, we pray to you in the words he taught us to pray …

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom comes; 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, the power, and the glory forever.

Amen.

SCRIPTURE READINGS

John 14:15-21

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while, the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.

On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

1 Peter 3:13-22

Now, who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you – not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Psalm 66: 8-20

Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.

For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.

You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows, those that my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.

I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me.

I cried aloud to him, and he was extolled with my tongue.

If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.

But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer.

Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.

One: The word of God for the people of God.

Many: Thanks be to God.

MESSAGE – TESTING POSITIVE

Life is very bittersweet right now, isn’t it? For every good thing, every blessing, there seems to be a bad or sad or scary thing. Lives are being lost and yet new lives are being gained.

We are struggling with doing church in new ways and wanting desperately to return to the comfort of what we knew before, and yet … in doing church in new ways … we are reaching … and hopefully making … new disciples. Bitter with the sweet, for certain.

Bittersweet is not something new, not something we didn’t experience until this global pandemic came along.  We are constantly bombarded with bittersweet. The “life tests” we’ve encountered and that we remember best usually fall into the bitter side of things. Death, strife, illness, natural and economic disaster, job loss, relationship issues … we recognize these tests of our faith easily and usually even quickly. Sometimes, we get the source of the test right, but often we assume God is the source when, truthfully, God isn’t the source, but He’s there in the middle of the test with us and using it to our benefit and good. Although it may not seem like it at the time. Or even for quite sometime after.

It’s not so much the tests during the bitter times, though, that we should dwell on.  It’s the sweet tests that we should be most concerned with.

The sweet is all the blessings … the pay raises and promotions, the opportunities to advance, the second chances … it’s how we handle these sweet tests that are most telling in God’s eyes.

It’s easy to cry out to God in times of trouble … in the bitter times … in the negative times. Our lamentations, our frustration, our anger about what we’re suffering … Those are all forgivable during the bad times.

We all have a litany of negative tests that we’ve passed, as well as a lengthy list of negative tests we’re still facing. We’re here … watching this video. We woke up this morning. We have passed negative tests and we’re working on yet more.

But … and be honest here … how do we react when we’re given a positive test?  When life is going well or takes a positive turn … when life is sweet.

For example, take a pay raise. Do we thank God because now we have enough extra to afford that new sofa or car or gym membership or upgrade to our cable subscriptions?

Do we even stop to consider how God would have us spend it?

Now, think … this is important … how many times have you headed into Wal-Mart having to turn down the folks outside raising money for this church or that camp because you “just don’t have any extra right now…”?

God hears everything we say, knows everything we think, knows what’s in our hearts.

If our excuse is that we “just don’t have any extra right now…” and then suddenly that pay raise gives us “extra” … you can be assured God’s hand was in it and He’s waiting to see whether we test positive on what we do with it.

The psalmist tells us how we can turn even the negative tests into positive tests. “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what He has done for me.”  He’s saying God hears us if our heart is pure and honest, heeds our prayer and helps us through the test, and then he tells us to tell others about our experience.

If we were to do as the psalmist says when God gives us a positive test … if we were to gather all those who fear God, and tell them what God has done for us, would our message be, “See how blessed I am? God blessed me and I got this new car and look at this watch and hey, now I can afford to join that private club …  Just pray with me and you, too, can receive the bounty of God’s blessings!” … Would we be passing or failing that positive test?

Or how about the second chances in life? Let’s say the second chance is surviving a major heart attack or cancer.  Let’s say we’re handed a second lease on life … the sweet test comes with what we do with the new life we’ve been given.

How easy it is to slip right back into all the old habits we had before that miraculous recovery, forgetting the blessing … and source … of the recovery itself, not really considering why God chose to and wants to keep us around.

We hear people who’ve been given this chance tell us they’re never going to take life for granted again. They’re going to focus less on get, get, get, and more on live, live, live. They’re never going to miss the opportunity to say, “I love you …”, to spend time with people.  But …

If you were given that second lease on life and told to write a bucket list, what would your list say?  Would things like improving your faith life, going out and making disciples, giving more time to your church family, setting aside X hours per week to serve the least of these even be on your bucket list?

The psalmist tells us about praising God even knowing the test was a negative test. Peter tells us that even if we suffer while doing the right thing, we are blessed for doing the right thing.

John reminds us that, if we really love Jesus, we’ll keep his commandments, and, because we do so, he’ll send us an advocate, a helper. And Jesus had a relatively short list of commandments.  Love God. Love one another. Not rocket science. Not always easy, especially that “love one another part,” but nothing tricky.

God remains faithful at all times … through the negative tests and in the blessings we receive. 

The question becomes then, do we give praise, honor God, and share our negative test results as the psalmist instructs, and do we also give equal thought and sacrifice and honor and thanksgiving and testimony when we test positive?

Let’s pray…

 God, we thank you again for your faithfulness to us in times of trouble and tribulation. We know that things have changed because of this pandemic and, more importantly, we know things must change when this pandemic is over. We have not been faithful in telling our stories to others, in witnessing about your love and faithfulness to us. Help us do better, God.  Help us find the courage to go forth and share the Good News.

We thank you also for our many blessings … for the bounty and for second chances. We admit we have not been good at testing positive. Help us again, God. Show us what you would have us do. Guide us in your will, not our own. In Jesus’ name.

Amen.

BENEDICTION

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger: at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears, to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort and To turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, o that you can do what others claim cannot be done to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

Go in peace.  AMEN.

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Additional Credits & Thank Yous:

Opening prayer by Rev. Ed Stallworth.

Prelude and Postlude piano pieces performed by Dean McIntyre. Used with permission. 

Hymns in today’s video are Public Domain. Performances are courtesy of Nathan Drake of Reawakenhymns.com and used by permission.

Rev. Ohle’s words are her own.