Living As Loved Ones – Week Two of What’s Next

Last week, I proposed that the first “position” that Christians and communities of faith need to have as we move to a post-pandemic church is to be able to “be present in the moment”. In this week’s sermon, the challenge from God’s Word is to be people who are “living as ‘loved’ ones” – as those who know the transformative power of Jesus’ love in the way we show joy, in how we choose who to love, in the way we are known by Jesus, and in living into the identity of being “chosen”. Below are some clips of that sermon…

Living as Loved Ones – Excerpts from May 9, 2021, First UMC Huntington

After watching the clip, meditate or discuss the following:

In what areas of your life do you find yourself “looking for happiness or satisfaction” rather than bringing the joy that Christ gives to us?

The idea was not explained well in the sermon, however, Jesus’ words showing our love by laying down our lives for our friends can easily be understood as identifying who we think is worthy to be our friend by choosing whether or not we are willing to lay down our life for them. Do you struggle with loving certain groups of people or maybe some person in particular? How would “giving up your ‘self'” in their presence help to heal that relationship?

We can easily get caught up in the act of serving Jesus out of obligation rather than realizing that Jesus’ greatest desire for us is to be in a close relationship with us. How do you keep Jesus at arms length in your life?

How is it different to think that Jesus chose you rather than you having chose Jesus? You must certainly respond to Jesus’ choice, but how is it different knowing that Jesus is the initiator of your relationship with him?

Feel free to discuss any of these in the comments below as well…

Challenge for this week – find some way to remind yourself several times each day that you are loved by Christ.

Being Present in the Moment – Seeking the Seeking

The following can be used with the video clip below as personal reflection or as a discussion starter for a small group.

When you get to the “Challenge” for the week, feel free to leave your reflections about it in the comments sections so others can see.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

When was the last time you experienced a “God Moment” like Philip did in hearing the call to walk that deserted road? Do you think these things still happen?

Philip needed to be “in tune” with the Holy Spirit, what Pastor Scott referred to as being “present in the moment.” What helps you be in that state of mind?

Does grief over the past or anger about the present ever keep you from being in the moment? What can you do about this?

How could a new focus on being present in the moment help your marriage? How would it change your relationship with your children or other family members? How does being present in the moment help you relate differently to the people with whom you work?

Do your own ideas about what your future should be, or what the future of your group should be, or even what the future of the church should be, ever get in the way of you being “present in the moment” where God can speak to you clearly?

Challenge for the week:

Take thirty minutes out of your week this week and just go somewhere you do not normally go so and just be present in the moment. Live through the sights, sounds, smells. When you are home and have time, go back to that place in your mind and listen to what God may have said to you. How were you present in the moment of that new setting?

For the Children

Children can tune out of online worship very easily and this in turn can make worship difficult for the parents.

I am providing here an audio book that can be shared with children – a chapter by chapter reading of C. S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”.

You can use this during the time you are participating in online worship to occupy children with a book that is very Christian in the story that it tells. You can also feel free to use these audio clips at other times in your busy lives. (You can download by using the ‘hamburger’ or three dots on the right of each chapter.)

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11 – Aslan Draws Nearer
Chapter 12 – Peter’s First Battle
Chapter 13 – Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time
Chapter 14 – The Triumph of the Witch
Chapter 15 – Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time
Chapter 16 – What Happened about the Statues
Chapter 17 – The Hunting of the White Stag

You can download and use them on the device of your choice.

I will be posting four chapters a week on this page!!


Exile Worship

Yesterday, November 1, 2020, the congregation at First Church UMC, Huntington, WV returned to in-person worship for the first time since mid-March. Several people – some who were not there – have asked me, “How did it go?” or “What was it like?” or “Wasn’t it great?” Their queries are genuine and I hope my response is as well.

First of all, my expectations were pretty much met with the service, save one.

I expected the Spirit to be very present, and it was!! It was so apparent to me that I stopped using my sermon notes from the start of my sermon and went in a direction that was quite different than I had planned. There was something about seeing people in the pews…hearing the word read to those people…and having to proclaim Good News that overtook the preparations that I had made. (You can compare the two recordings on YouTube to see the difference. Our “pre-recorded Premiere” is here and the “In Person Worship” is here.)

I expected that our attendance would be right about where it was – almost a third of our pre-pandemic numbers. I also expected that there would be a “mix” of people who would be there – from children to older people, from the very healthy and hearty to those who were facing health problems that should possibly keep them home – and that was exactly the case. And it was a joy to see each one of them. The shining eyes of the kids looking around “their” sanctuary was priceless. The peace of seeing someone battling cancer sitting in a sanctuary pew. The laughter of a some…the grumbles of others. The true “gathering” of humanity was a blessing.

There was also the celebration of Baptism for a child who was born pre-pandemic in the worship service. She is a beautiful child of God, in a family of faith and surrounded by people of faith. There is little doubt in my mind and heart that the presence of the Holy Spirit was that much more powerful because of the celebration of this Sacrament – with this child and God making the promises that God never breaks! No. I didn’t get to hold her and walk her around her new family of faith. But she was before us all, reminding us of what God promised to us and we have promised to one another.

also expected that I would get caught up in some of the details and tried to make it so I wouldn’t, but on this, I failed. I got to close to watching over “safety” and “smoothness.” But alas, I am learning yet another new skill. I will give myself the grace to do so and pray that others will as well. For the record, I have learned a lot about video editing in the last six months that I never planned to do either…so, I think God will help me with this one new one as well.

I hoped all would know that this was a “New Service” but am not sure how well I communicated that idea beyond my own hearing. It was at a new time – 11:00 am, but I am afraid some people did not understand that change. It was with a new “order” and still I think some came expecting something else. It was actually in a new setting – no pew cushions, and we really noticed that one!

But the one thing about the “new service” that I thought I would miss the most, I didn’t. I did not miss the singing of hymns. There was music from the organ that was quite moving – thanks to Dr. Johan Botes for that – but there was another “music” in the air as well. I don’t know what to actually call it but a Billy Joel lyric came to mind: “Bill, can you play me a melody? I’m not really sure how it goes. It’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete, when I wore a younger man’s clothes.” That type of melody was floating through the air and somehow, someway, it completed the worship experience.

The last thing that met my expectations was how “forlorn” I would feel among the people who gathered. I wanted to be closer to them – physically closer – and we just can’t do that. I wanted to sit among a group of kids and have a conversation about Halloween. I wanted to give a hug to several people I knew were facing difficult and trying times. I just wanted to be closer and not being able to do so hurt in a way that I did foresee but did not count on being so palpable.

I’ve thought also about what we should call this “New Service” or ours and I’m open to suggestions. In my mind, I call it “Exile Worship” for it is the worship of a people who cannot “sing the songs of Zion in a foreign land”. For us, the captor is a pandemic. For us, the songs just ‘cannot’ be sung because it gives our captor more power. For us, we cannot practice hospitality as we used to because it plays once again into the hands of our captor. “Exile Worship” sounds about right to me.

But most of all, it was another experience of worship. My life has been blessed to see so many different types with two new ones blossoming in God’s Kingdom in the midst of this pandemic: “Online Worship” which is practiced at home and now the “Exile Worship” of those who gather in the midst of their captor.

Praise God that the Spirit is present in these new ways!

Scott Sears
November 2, 2020