This year we have a unique lent experience because we have had to cancel worshiping together to protect ourselves and the community from the spread of the coronavirus. Here are the sermons from that times starting March 15, 2020 for your inspiration.

Mar. 29  Fifth Sunday in Lent   Death and Life in the Wilderness by Rev.June Fothergill

Ezek. 37: 1-14  Dry Bones
John 11: 1-45  Raising of Lazarus

    I grew up in Idaho so am very used to the desert.  Some people thing that the desert is without life. When they drive through it in their cars all they see is rocks and a few scrubby plants. But those of us who live in the desert know that here are a wide variety of plants, animals and other life forms that populate what looks like wasteland.  We see the vole and the coyote, the sage brush and the sycamore, the snakes and the lizards.

    But the wasteland that Ezekiel saw was not like the desert of my childhood. It was a valley of dry bones!  The bones of people who had not been properly buried!  A shameful and depressing place. A place where all life had left long ago.  Hopeless.

   One of the struggles many of us have with our current situation of physical distancing is that we cannot see the end.  No one really knows how long this strange quarantine will be needed or last. Our bishop who lives in one of the nearby hot spots as told us for all of April. But other events have been put off till summer or fall.  Not knowing when this will be over can lead to a sense of discomfort and even hopelessness.   The other struggle with this time is that although the numbers are still going up of those who we know have the virus, we don’t yet see the impact of the illness itself all around us, only the impact of our quarantine.  There is an unreality about the whole experience.  Of course that could change, as more people get really sick. BUT this time of physical distancing is for the purpose of reducing the numbers of people who get really sick.  We shall see.   Meanwhile, we live in a strange new world.  Many of the ways we are used to receiving and giving spiritual nourishment are dried up.  It may not be a dry bones valley but it has its own strange dryness.

   So into the dry bones valley of the people, the prophet Ezekiel was called by God to speak.  He was called to speak a word of life to the dead.  Can these bones live God asks him.  He answers sensibly, “Lord you know!”   Prophesy is the Lord’s answer, “say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord to these bones- I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.  I will lay sinews on you and will cause flesh to come upon you and cover you with skin and put breath into you and you shall live and you shall know that I am the Lord.” (3:4-6)   what can a prophet say to that!   Ezekiel took a deep breath and cried out to the bones like God had said. And the bones started to come together and be covered in flesh and skin again! “Dem bones, Dem Bones dem dry bones,” as the song said.   What a sight that must have been! 

  But I notice that it happened in stages.  Those bones didn’t transform into living beings immediately.  Ezekiel had to work at it a bit.   God directed him to call to the four winds to fill those inert bodies with life!   It was the mighty work of the Spirit Ezekiel called upon to bring new life to the community!

  One of the strange things about this time in our lives, it that our usual sense of community, our routine for keeping in touch and connecting with one another is disrupted.   I know that we are phoning each other more and I hope to initiate a phone tree for the church this week- watch your mail.  But the truth is that Zoom worship and take out meals keeping 6 feet apart is not the same as worship in our lovely sanctuary with coffee time afterward or sitting down with folks on Wednesday night.  So where is the Spirit of Life in these strange, dry bones like times?

     Well, OK, for me, I sense the Spirit inviting me, challenging me to learn new things!   How to do a Zoom meeting (hey we are here together!) for example or finding ways to put video on the website (still to be learned)   I am trying to learn from the Spirit how to be gracious even in pain and disappointment.  Other needs and crisis are more urgent and important than mine- my back surgery was cancelled.   So for me, the work of the Spirit is humbling.  Learning to trust that there really is life in these old bones!   

   Also, I have been inspired by the ministry of folks in this congregation. Marge Cochran sending out an inspiring email to her prayer group, Judy Brown persevering in finding ways to share and prepare food and keep the safe distances.   Tom Wilson, trying to quarantine himself but stopping by the church on his walk.  Travis Carroll advocating for the needs of homeless folks from his quarantine, other folks calling or posted on facebook to check in on how people are.   Frank Foster giving us those wonderful prayers to see us through this time.   The generosity of the congregation even when we cannot meet. We are so blessed with people open to the Spirit of Life. 

  So despite my own struggles, Ezekiel encourages me.   I know that the work of caring for one another and this world is never stopped! It is the Spirit of God working continuously among us.  Viruses, injustices, all sorts of troubles can leave us dry and dispirited, BUT the prophet  reminds us that  God is mighty and able to bring new life out of dead bones, new possibilities out of dried up communities, love out of a  terrible cross.  

   The story of Lazarus that John tells is another vision of life coming out of death.  In it we see the faithfulness of Jesus friends and his love for them.  We see the amazing act of raising Lazarus from his tomb as a symbolic act of life in the wilderness of death.  We also notice that this amazing feat is double edged. Some people come to believe but others turn against Jesus and Lazarus and begin to plot their deaths.  Once again life coming in to the death places of our lives, is not just joyous but also disrupting, not just second chances but new challenges. 

    One day when I was waiting for people to come take a lunch, I looked again at our display on the window from last fall.  We asked people to write down what they were thankful for about Ebbert.  I noticed something interesting that many times people wrote using the phrase, “opportunity for growth.”  One of the things that we appreciate about our life together as a church is that we are not static, but rather we are open to growth, to learning together.  I think that is why we were able to respond so quickly to the current crisis, we had the flexibility to do things in a new different way. It wasn’t necessarily easy, but we were open to opportunities for growth!     This is the Spirit of life in our midst! Helping us see beyond the desert times, to the opportunities for growth, to the life we cannot see at first.  Helping us to like Martha welcome Christ into our midst as the one who brings new life and hope.  Helping us to be renewed in faith and life, even on a ZOOM worship! 

Mar. 22  Fourth Sun. in Lent   Healing in the Wilderness

PSALM 23  – A SOLDIERS PRAYER

JOHN 9: 1-8, 32-41   As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.  His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 

They brought him to the Pharisees.  Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” 38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said,[a “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” 40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” 41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

Sermon:  Healing in the Wilderness…

The wilderness can be a beautiful place, full of wonder and exciting things to see.  But when you are lost in the wilderness, it can be frightening and disheartening.  If you let the fear take hold of you, it will rob you of your will to live.

Today’s Scripture from John tells us of a man born blind.  The wisdom of that day said that if you were born crippled in any way, it was because you, or your parents, were sinful, and the Jewish people shunned them.  Definitely a life lived lost in the wilderness.  But Jesus, the Lamb of God, healed him, and brought him out of his life in the wilderness.   The reading from the Old Testament is the 23rd Psalm, one of my favorites from my youth.  A scripture on healing; and the 23rd Psalm…  I began to love the 23rd Psalm when I was a soldier stationed overseas, and began to realize that this Psalm is a soldier’s prayer.  It is a Psalm written by David.  Not only did David kill the giant Goliath, and play the harp to calm King Saul’s mental illness, he was also a very good soldier.  He spent part of those soldier years hiding, in the wilderness, from his own king and his army.

A soldier’s prayer; and scriptures of healing…  healing in the wilderness.  A strange combination…  a scripture on healing, and a soldier’s prayer.

My mind was thinking…

My mind wandered to my good friend, I’ll call him… John.  John served our country in Viet Nam.  Many of you know how our Viet Nam veterans were treated when they returned from their wilderness experience, and came back to the “world.”  It was not a pleasant experience for our veterans, nor was it for John.  Going though the airports back here in the “world,” he was yelled at, cussed at, spit on.  As soon as he could, he got out of his uniform.  Then John decided to use the GI bill and go to college.  When his fellow students, and professors, discovered that he was a Viet Nam vet, it started again – he was yelled at, and fellow students spilled their food and drinks on him.  They called him “baby killer.”  Baby killer…  While serving in Viet Nam, John rarely carried a weapon.  John was a Navy Seabee; CB stands for Construction Battalion.  John was a heavy equipment operator, and occasionally, if they were building roads where combat was a bit more active, he would have a shotgun beside him on the bulldozer.  Baby killer…   I think not.

John quit school and went into that wilderness area, that wilderness of the mind… he wanted nothing to do with other people.  John had already been drinking; sometimes it was the only way he could get to sleep for remembering the stressful experiences of Viet Nam.  He began drinking more.  Rather than go to work for someone else, remember – he didn’t like other people very much – John bought a bulldozer and a dump truck, and went to work.  Working for himself, he only had to deal with the contractor who hired him.  John worked 12-hour days, six-day weeks; then he would go drink for a few hours, get a few troubled hours of sleep, and back to work.  This was his life for about 10 years. 

Then God intervened.   One of his boyhood friends asked John to join a recreation softball team.  John joined the team – they were allowed to drink during the games.  During one of the games John dislocated his shoulder and couldn’t get it back into the socket.  The father-in-law of one of players had been a medic when he was in the service, and came over to help John.  John said, “I’m OK, just pass me another beer.”  John couldn’t play for a couple weeks so would sit in the stands to support his team.  The father-in-law, Bob (not me) would come and sit with him.  Over the next few months, Bob would bump into John, frequently, perhaps intentionally.  They became friends.  John was comfortable with this older veteran.  John began to share his experiences with Bob, about his time in Viet Nam, and how it had been to come home.  Bob listened, and began to counsel John.  Then John discovered that this very caring man was a pastor.  Yes, God did intervene in John’s life.  Bob, and God, gradually brought John out of the wilderness.  John and Bob spent a lot of time talking.  John joined Bob’s church.  John turned his life around.  John met Bob’s younger daughter, the one not married to John’s teammate.  She is a beautiful blond with a warn smile.  They married.   John went back to college and became a very successful high school teacher.  They have three children, and one granddaughter.   I’m very proud of John, you see, he is my little brother, and tomorrow is his birthday.

Now it is Lent, and we are experiencing a worldwide health crisis.  For many of us, the concerns for the health crisis could drive us into a wilderness place.  But Lent is a time for us to contemplate what it means to follow Jesus.  It is a time to consider the sacrifice of Good Friday and the gift of Easter.  It is a time to think about what it means, and to consider what that gift means to me personally.  Do I hold onto it as a warm fuzzy feeling, or do I share the love that it displays.  With the health crisis I have chosen to shelter at home, which gives me an excellent opportunity to study and pray, as well as catch up on projects.  It is a time to read and consider the Lenten prayer booklet put together by Frank and June.  But even more, it is a time to share God’s love, to reach out in prayer and to phone friends, neighbors and relatives.  It is a time to phone members of our congregation to check on them and to see if they have any needs.  It is a time to share the heart and hands of Jesus.  It is a time to avoid the fearful wilderness and help others avoid it as well.

The wilderness and healing…  God can bring us back from that far country, from the wilderness where we are lost.  But remember Pastor Bob, God needs us, you and me, to help do His work.  Some of our meals guests are lost in the wilderness; who will be that friend to sit with them, to listen to them?  At times, some of us are lost in that wilderness.  A dear friend, or a member of our family, may have passed away.  It may be a lingering illness.  We may be dealing with some other kind of crisis, a crisis that has driven us into that wilderness place.  It may be the fear of the current health crisis.  Who will be our friend?  Who will listen to us?  Who will comfort us?  Who will lead us out of the wilderness place and back to God?

Will it be you?

Mar. 15  Third Sun. in Lent   Refreshment in the Wilderness

I invite you to join me in prayer this morning or whenever you read this sermon.  – Pastor June Fothergill

Gracious God, we come to you this morning seeking your living water for our lives. In the midst of our thirsty and wilderness times, we need your refreshing spirit. Thank you for your gifts of water and renewal as we open our hearts to you this Lenten season. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

I invite you to read aloud the scriptures: Exodus 17: 1-7  and John 4: 5-42.  Enjoy the dialogue in each passage.

Sermon:

    This is a new kind of sermon for me.  One that I expect people to read rather than hear.  Of course this is because we are suspending public worship for a couple weeks to try to slow down the Coronavirus which is infecting our community.  Most of us who get the virus will only have a mild case but it is very contagious so we want help reduce its spread especially to more vulnerable people .   So we are staying home this  Sunday and worshipping God at home. This sermon is a way we can stay connected  during this strange time.   I also invite people to stay in contact through phone and email ,etc.   If you have prayer concerns please feel free to call me 541 603 806 or send an email at juneafothergill@gmail.com.

    My theme this week is how God brings us refreshment in the wilderness times of our lives.  As we deal with this infectious disease emergency, we are challenged to find refreshment from God.  If we are used to receiving this refreshment through weekly worship and fellowship, what other ways can we discover or renew?

    A travelor to a remote island remarked on how healthy the locals looked. “ Yes, it’s the island,” said an attractive resident. “ When I first arrive I was bald and toothless. I was so weak I couldn’t even walk . And look at me now!”

“ That’s amazing ,” said the traveler. “ so where are you from?”

“ I was born here.” Said the man.   ( AARP Bulletin March 2016 p. 54)

      One thing that renews me is laughter.   I invited you to read the two stories aloud. Did you find some humor in them?  Certainly the story about Moses and the people in the wilderness has this element.  Poor Moses.  He finds a place for the people to camp but it doesn’t have ready water.  They complain and threaten to head back to Egypt instead to looking for water!   Moses turns to God in exasperation!  “Help God. These folks are about to stone me! “   

    God is not so worried about the situation and tells Moses to settle down.  “ All will be well. I can show you where the water is located. “   Then God gives Moses some good political advice, “ and bring along all the elders.”   Get others involved, Moses.  So he does and God tells him to strike a certain rock and the water flows.   Yeah! God!  All is well again.

      I have always wondered whether Moses, having spent much time in the wilderness might have known that the rocks could hold moisture.   He just needed to be reassured by God.   What God ‘s presence often does is to help us settle down and remember or rediscover our resources and abilities.   To settle down so we can focus and problem solve.   The story is rather funny because the people get in a panic and blame Moses. They have just received the manna, food from heaven but they don’t think to ask God for help with the water problem!  The desert wilderness has overwhelmed them. Moses on the other hand knows to take the problem to God.

    So one of the ways we find refreshment in the desert times is to take the problem to God.    Like Moses, we may at first pray in a whiny, complaining, desperate mode. But that‘s the thing about prayer. We can tell God what’s on our hearts and minds. God understands. And the process of doing this often helps us settle down and wonder- now what?  Then God can show us the way to the water or whatever else we need.   

  For example, in this season of social distancing because of the cornonavirus some of us may get lonely.  We will miss the connection with others we are used to enjoying.  Perhaps in prayer we can take this concern and feeling to God and God will help us remember other ways we can connect and who might enjoy a phone call or card or other kind of connection with us.

   So the first source of refreshment we can discover in the wilderness is honest prayer, talking to God about whatever troubles us.

    The story of the woman at the well also gives us some ideas for finding refreshment in the wilderness.  If you would like to read a story I wrote about this woman at the well, check out the sermon for Lent 2017 one of the website posts.  

      Her story says to me that Jesus knows us and loves us. Christ wants to refresh our thirsty, dirty lives.  Imagine this woman.  There she was in the heat of the day, alone.    At least that is what she expected. She didn’t feel welcome anymore in the community of women who usually went to the well in the morning for the daily water supply. She waited because she was ashamed of her life and her reputation.  So she expected to be alone, but a surprise awaited her.  Jesus, a stranger and a Jew was there waiting. And even more surprising he asked her to help him, to give him a drink of water.   This was very unexpected because Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along and had few interactions. In addition, it was not proper for a man to address a woman he did not know.  We can imagine her shock.

   I noticed that we never hear whether she gave him a drink. What she did give him was a spiritual conversation. He tells her that she can ask him for living water, water that will give eternal life.  She is eager to receive this water and thinks that it will make it so she is never again thirst.   Jesus then gently asks her about her life-“ Go call your husband and come back”  When she says she doesn’t have a husband her, he reveals that he knows all about her history and present situation.   She realizes that he is a prophet and perhaps to change the subject, asks him about the controversy of their day.  Where must one worship?   Jesus honors her question and tells her about true worship.  She shares her hope for the Messiah to come and give them the truth.  Jesus then declares himself to her.  “ I am he, the one who is speaking to you!”   Wow!

    So, imagine her ( and Jesus’) disappointment when the disciples return and interrupt this remarkable encounter!  Imagine all the questions she wanted to ask Jesus- the messiah! 

      What she did do was to leave her water jar, her old life behind and start a new one. She went back to her village and told them about her encounter.  She suggested that he just could be the messiah because he knew all about her!  He knew all about her, yet he still had a conversation with her, still revealed himself to her.  The relationship with her community changed. Based upon her story the Samaritans invited Jesus and his disciples to stay in their village and many believed.   Thus through Jesus willingness to reach out to a disgraced, Samaritan women woman the mission with the Samaritans began. Clearly Jesus didn’t worry about the history of animosity between them.    Into the wilderness of social differences and social shame, Jesus brought the living water of the Spirit and new connections across the social divides.        

     Sometimes all the divisions in our society today may seem insurmountable.  More and more we are associating only with “ people like us”.   Yet, Jesus invites us to a different kind of community.  In the wilderness of division and animosity, Jesus shows us the water of respectful conversation, of giving and receiving hospitality across divides.   Simply by asking a Samaritan woman for a drink of water,  he and his disciples start a whole new relationship with the Samaritan community. 

      Jesus shows us to look first for the gifts of other- the woman could supply him with water.  And also to accept people even when society has shamed them or treated them as outcast or worthless.  By accepting this woman in all her shame, he gained opportunity for meaningful conversation and an expanded ministry.   What a difference it makes in our lives when someone treats us with respect as whole persons rather than judge us for our sins and foibles.   Have you ever had someone see your potential when you couldn’t see it?   It is truly water in the wilderness when we listen to and treat one another with respect.

    Is there someone that you can reach out to with a listening ear and respect for their ideas even if they differ from yours?  Is there some you can encourage to know their worth and potential through your attentive listening?   Is there someone who is different from you that God is nudging you to take the time to get to know and have a meaningful conversation?  These kind of interactions can open up the flow of Christ’s living water in our world.

    So as we live through this time of social distancing to hold back the spread of a disease, maybe we can find some refreshment in this wilderness.

  Like Moses we can take our concerns, fears, frustrations to God and let God’s presence settle us down and see ways to meet our needs.  And like Jesus showed the Samaritan woman we can trust that God loves us no matter what and invites us to reach out to someone different from ourselves in respect.  When we do we just may receive the refreshment of a living water conversation.

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