Kuhn Memorial Presbyterian Church 955 Main Street PO Box 222 Barboursville, West Virginia 25504 Fourth Sunday in Lent March 14, 2021
Call to Worship St. Columba, 521-597
Kindle in our hearts, dear God,
the flame of love that never ceases,
that it may burn in us, giving light to others.
May we shine forever in your temple,
set on fire with your eternal light,
even your Son, Jesus Christ,
our Savior and Redeemer. Amen.
Hymn The King of Love My Shepherd Is (Psalm 23)
Text: Henry Williams Baker, 1868
Music: Irish Melody
1 The King of love my shepherd is, his goodness faileth never.
I nothing lack if I am his and he is mine forever.
2 Where streams of living water flow my ransomed soul he leadeth,
and where the verdant pastures grow, with food celestial feedeth.
3 In death’s dark vale I fear no ill with thee, dear Lord, beside me,
thy rod and staff my comfort still, thy cross before to guide me.
Prayer of the Day
Holy One, you know our hearts. You have knitted our inmost being and you know our deepest desires, fears, and worries. Help us to journey during this Lenten season into a new awareness of your presence in our lives. Save us from our own temptations, so that we may more freely follow you. Amen.
Ephesians 6:10-20 The Whole Armour of God
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
The Morning Message Lent 4
Friends, I am preparing this message on March 11, 2021, an important date the world over. It was a year ago today that the World Health Organization declared a pandemic of catastrophic proportions, the result of Covid 19, a deadly Coronavirus.
Unknown to me on March 11 of last year, I would be one of billions of people around the world who would line up to receive a coveted vaccine that promises to mitigate the effects of the virus should I contract it, maybe even preventing my death.
My instructions for receiving the vaccine were to report to the old Sears building at the Huntington Mall at 2:30. I don’t know which vaccine I will receive, and side effects may follow. The worship service for this week had not yet been recorded, so keep your fingers crossed that it’s available by Sunday morning.
This is the Sunday closest to St. Patrick’s Day. An old saying declares that “on St. Patrick’s Day, we’re all a little bit Irish.” Maybe your ancestors came to America from Ireland, like many of mine, and you’re more than a little bit Irish. I hope shepherd’s pie and soda bread are on your menu this week, regardless of your heritage.
And, maybe you will spend some time thinking about what is often called “the land of Saints and Scholars.” And in those moments, I hope you will give thanks for the arrival of the Christian faith upon Ireland’s shores, because we Presbyterians have our roots deep in the Celtic Christianity of Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales.
The story goes, that Patrick was a fifth century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. He was born in England to a wealthy Romano-British Christian family. At the age of 16, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland. It is believed that he spent six years there as a shepherd, Isolated and lonely. It was during this time that he “found God.” God told Patrick to flee to the coast, where a ship would be waiting to take him back to England. After returning to his homeland, he studied for the priesthood, a process that took fifteen years.
According to tradition, Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the Pagan Irish to Christianity. The primary belief system was based on observations in nature. Patrick incorporated existing symbols and rituals found in the Pagan faith to Christian symbols and practices. For example, Patrick used bonfires to celebrate Easter because the Irish honored their gods with fire. This practice still shows up in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil, the night before Easter. The sun, representing light in Irish tradition, was superimposed over the Christian cross. These symbols helped converts make the transition from the worship of many gods, to worshiping One God.
On our first trip to Ireland, Ed and I visited Croagh Patrick, Patrick’s mountain, a pilgrimage destination for believers the world over. Pilgrims flock to Croagh Patrick every year on Reek Sunday, in July, some climbing the mountain, 2507 feet in elevation, barefoot, as an act of devotion.
Patrick is Ireland’s patron saint. Following closely behind Patrick is St. Brigid of Kildare, Ireland’s most prominent female religious figure. Maybe we will lift up her ministry next year.
Some features of Celtic Christianity are these:
Listening for the heartbeat of God in all of life, not only in Scripture or the Church. The Gospel of John speaks of the light of God present in all creation. George MacDonald, who influenced the faith and work of C. S. Lewis, once wrote:
“Then God shone forth from all the lowly earth.
And men began to read there maker there.”
In Celtic Christianity, all of life is sacramental.
A second dimension of this faith is belief in the goodness of God in all people. We can simplify our understanding of this as thinking of Original Sin verses Original Goodness. Celtic Christianity celebrates the goodness of every child at his or her birth. My own faith is shaped by this belief.
The third distinctive is that Celtic Christians claim two Scriptures: Creation and the Bible. We study the world as a text of Scripture that reveals God to us, and we study the Word of God in the texts of the Old and New Testaments. It is a feature of the Presbyterian Church to lift up Creation and environmental concerns world-wide in our common life and in our purpose. Stewardship of Creation Sunday, celebrated on or near Earth Day, is celebrated every year in April by the PCUSA.
A fourth distinctive of Celtic Christianity is that we believe the Holy Spirit has a wildness to it. It is often represented as a Wild Goose, stirring in us as the winds blow our hair about, causing us to see the world through the eyes of God. In our Presbyterian hymnal we find “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy, like the wideness of the sea.” An adherent to Celtic Christianity, Rev. Dr. H. Stephen Shoemaker, has re-written it, “There’s a Wildness In God’s Mercy, Like the Wildness of the Sea.”
In this past year, every corner of our personal and common lives have been disrupted in efforts to contain the death-dealing virus. Like Patrick, we have also been taken captive, confined to homes with restricted movement and contact with the human family.
The consequences cannot all be explored in a single message, but I think isolation has been common to all of us, and its effects particularly damaging.
Like many of you, we have very young grandchildren. We know full-well that kids grow up too fast, and our little ones live in North Carolina, so we feel their absence intensely. In these many months of Covid, I have held images and videos of our grandsons, captured on my iphone, tightly to my chest. I pray for the day that is safe to travel and we can hold not just their pictures, but, wrap our arms around the real things- two wiggly little boys. You may have similar prayers.
This morning, the CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, was interviewed by NBC. He is the son of Holocaust survivors, victims of evil, personified in a man with hateful and deadly intentions. You could hear the tears in his voice as he explained that his parents never spoke about the Holocaust and its devastations. Instead, they celebrated the gifts of God that were present in their lives. And now, their son is a renowned veterinarian, scientist, and business executive. Their son has become an integral figure in bringing hope and life and survival to all of us, God’s beloved children, in all our versions and varieties, colors and languages, all faiths, and even to those who claim no faith. Out of the horror of genocide has come the miracle of life.
Yesterday, I caught a news clip of President Biden, leaving a press conference. At the end of the conference, a reporter shouted a question at the President about what would we, the US, do with leftover vaccine, should that happen. And he quickly responded, “We’re going to share it.”
It is not a perfect analogy, but it’s a close one. As Patrick was taken captive and forced into slavery, we have been held captive by the Coronavirus. Following the stirring of God’s Holy Spirit, Patrick was led out of slavery to bear the good news of Christ to his native land. That faith has influenced generations, including ours, to seek the goodness of God, present at our birth, in and for everyone. Likewise, it is our fervent desire to make this lifeline, born of a vaccine, available to all the people of the earth.
And finally, to be, as C.S. Lewis wrote upon his conversion from atheism to Christianity, of being Surprised by Joy. Joy in the truly remarkable ways the world has come together in a shared grief, for sure, but also in shared opportunities in creativity, science, humanitarianism, and myriad ways of reaching out to others.
To share a renewed and refreshed faith. To be found by God, as was Patrick.
As we near the end of Lent, may we prepare to celebrate release from our shared sentence and prepare to celebrate Christ bursting from his tomb, and his promise, that so, too, shall we.
Pastoral Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
God of mercy, grace, and love, the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ makes every day new.
Especially today we thank you for the beauty of creation,
the new creation in Christ and all gifts of healing and forgiveness,
the sustaining love of family and friends,
the fellowship of the faithful in your church.
Merciful God, renew this weary world. Where do we even start to innumerate our problems as the pandemic wears on, in the ravages of nature that turn lives to chaos, decisions about when to return to what was our normal routine?
Heal the hurts of all your children, stop any rude and judgmental comments from coming from our lips, and bring about your peace for all in Jesus Christ, the living Lord.
We continue to pray for those facing the fear of Covid and any other health condition.
We give you thanks and praise that you are restoring the health of many. We pray for an end to the suffering of our brothers and sisters here and everywhere. We pray for all who have died, that their “names will always be for a blessing.”
We pray for those who govern the nations of the world, the people who live in countries damaged by strife and warfare, for those who work for peace and international harmony, those who devote themselves to the care of your natural world. We pray for all who worship you, dear God, though we may call you by different holy names.
We pray for ourselves, that you might find us faithful today and on the day of your promised return.
We pray in Jesus’ name and as he taught us, saying, Our Father…Amen.”
Hymn The King of Love My Shepherd Is
4 Thou spread’st a table in my sight, thy unction grace bestoweth,
and, O, what transport of delight from thy pure chalice floweth!
5 And so through all the length of days thy goodness faileth never,
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise within thy house forever.
May the Three that are over you,
the Three that are below you,
the Three that are above you here,
the Three Who are above you yonder,
the Three Who are in the earth,
the Three Who are in the air,
the Three Who are in heaven,
the Three Who are in the great, pouring sea-
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Three in One and One in Three. Amen.