The following Bright Sunday service was presented in a Zoom internet worship meeting April 19, 2020. For those who have internet access, the Michigan Conference presents an Easter morning worship message which can be found at michiganumc.org
Chuck Williams, Pastor
Houghton Grace and William Paine UMCs
* Thank you for continuing to financially support Grace or Painesdale churches during this unique time, through online banking, the mail, or Grace, through the website. These options remain available.
* The Camp Michigamme Trustees have decided that the 2020 camping season has been canceled until August 1. Adult activities for August and September are anticipated to continue.
* The May-June daily devotional, The Upper Room has arrived at Grace. We’ll be happy to mail it to you if you simply email the church office with your desire to receive it and if you use the small or large print book.
* Finally, this is a reminder that this is Bright Sunday, which is an observation of Easter Monday -- the day that the news and joy of Christ’s resurrection began to spread -- and it is usually observed with much laughter and joke-telling and celebrations… I’m not sure how well we will accomplish that through this medium, but we can worship in celebration of all Christ has done and is doing in our life…
Opening Prayer Let’s begin with prayer… Our heavenly Father, by raising your Son Jesus from the dead you have put your stamp of verification and approval on the whole of Jesus’ claims and work in life and death and life again. He came to seek us out -- that we could experience the full joy of life, and we have gathered online today to get a taste of your everlasting joy. Amen.
Children The joy of a full life is something we grow into and isn’t always easy to see. Comedian Drew Allen talked about how at one time he worked as a secretary in a very small office, and because of that, they had tasks that went beyond their specific job. One of his tasks was to water the plants every day. There were five of them. Over time, 4 of them were doing pretty well, but one of them was so vibrant and green and it was his favorite plant the whole time he worked there. So his last day working there he told his boss, “Whoever comes in after me, make sure they take care of that plant. I always gave it extra water because it is my favorite.” And his boss looked at him strangely and said, “Drew, that plant is made of plastic.” He watered that plant every day for 4 months -- he was convinced it was growing. He thought it was different than all the other plants. Which, in a sense, it was, because it wasn’t actually a plant. And he never did figure out where all the water went.
Well sometimes it is hard to see exactly how we or others are impacted by Christ’s resurrection in our lives or in the lives of others. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t watering and aren’t cherished. So let’s be gracious to ourselves and each other. We can’t always tell how much even we ourselves have grown, much less how far others have come and are coming along too. Jesus pursues all of us, and saves us and brings us to freedom and life more than we can understand. Let’s listen to this first song
Music Through the Saviors Love
Lord your grace is unending
never fails never changing
Lord you’re always pursuing
chasing me chasing me
and you fight through the darkness
bringing life when I’m hopeless
through your love I have been set free
You’ve conquered you’ve risen
I’m living in freedom
you’ve conquered you’ve risen
my life is made new
through the Savior’s love (2x)
Nothing can stand against you
Lord your power will break through
all my shame and my failures
through your blood by your love
Chains are broken (3x)
through the Savior’s love
Chains are broken (3x)
in his love
There is hope in (3x)
in the Savior’s love
There is hope in (3x)
in his love
There is freedom (3x)
through the Savior’s love
There is freedom (3x)
through the Savior’s love (4x)
Message A New Day
I love the watery imagery of that song because it, as well as the lyrics tie directly into today’s message…
When the ancient Israelites were primarily desert dwelling nomads whose stereotypical environment contained sand dunes and rocky hillsides, with water supplied by seasonal shallow streams and deep wells, for many, the wide-open sea was a scary place, filled with life threatening dangers. I wonder what they would have thought if they could have witnessed crab fishing on the Bering Sea as in TV’s “The Deadliest Catch”. But even in the lesser extremes, you still may have to deal with waves, wind, tides, currents, rocky shorelines and ever-changing weather conditions. Even in Peter’s day, the Sea of Galilee was known for its no warning dangerous storms. It could make anyone nervous. You know what lies at the bottom of the ocean and twitches, don’t you? A nervous wreck.
A tourist was sport fishing off the Florida coast and capsized his boat. He could swim, but his fear of alligators kept him clinging to the overturned craft. Spotting someone on the distant shore, he shouted, “Are there any gators around here?”
“Naw,” the man hollered back. “They ain’t been around for years!” Feeling safe, the tourist started swimming leisurely toward the shore. About halfway there, he asked, “How’d you get rid of the gators?”
“We didn’t do nothin’,” he answerd, “the sharks got ’em.”
Their fear wasn’t that big of an issue since they were so far from the sea -- but they did live in fear, for they lived in a time and place and circumstances when life was fragile and survival could not be taken for granted… In Isaiah, the prophet speaks to these sea-fearers:
- Now this is what the Lord who created and formed you says: Don't be afraid. I've redeemed you, I've called you by name. You are mine. When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you're in over your head, I'll be there with you. When you are in rough waters, you will not go down. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, the flames will not set you ablaze. When you are between a rock and a hard place, it will not be a dead end. For I am your personal God, you are precious and honored in my sight. Because I love you so much, I will trade people in exchange for you. I'll sell the whole world to get you back, I’ll trade creation for you. So do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will gather you from the all the ends of the earth. I will gather all who are called by my name, whom I formed and made for my glory. (Isaiah 43:1-7 (blended paraphrase of key verses))
We are precious, honored, and loved; formed to serve and designed to bring God glory. We are his artwork. People may admire the picture, but the glory doesn’t go to the paint, canvas, or frame. It goes to the Craftsman who painted and placed the work in its setting. We have an opportunity, by God’s grace, to live in a way that brings glory to Him -- by worshiping him, by loving one another and by using our energy and talents to serve the world around us.
I say “opportunity”, because our Designer frees us to choose to follow where and how he has brushed us into his world, becoming a part of the positive beauty of His creation. Or, we can choose to get off the brush, to get thin, to run and splatter and stain his world in very unpleasant ways. The Bible says we have all chosen the latter, which is why we live in a broken creation, sinning against God and each other, indulging our selfish desires being chained to our evil and falling victim to the evil of others.
Humanity needs redemption, to be bought back from this sin stained world. God says, “Don’t be a nervous wreck -- I [sent my Son] and he has brought you back from the ocean floor, I bought you back from debt of sin, I called you to me, and you are mine.” Grace returns us to the bristles of God’s great brush, restoring the repainting and creating a new piece of God’s work.
And this redeeming thing is still going on -- because even though the essential work of the Artist has been completed in Jesus, people remain free to run, splatter and stain. This is, at least in part, why God does not promise that the waters will always be smooth and shallow. Christians can still get seasick from our world’s distorted canvas. I know we’d much rather hear, “As God’s children, we can live at the Oasis” -- where there is never a stormy sea, a barren wilderness, a challenge or a setback, we can remain untouched by flawed splotches on the canvas, but as long as we live in this world, we can still be hit by an enormous wave of illness, a cold wind of betrayal, a tidal change in the economy or a strong current of temptation.
What God does promise is that he, the Painter will always be with us, cleaning up the errant splatters that hit our lives, that no matter how rough the seas become, the Lord will protect us from being completely, eternally, destroyed, we don’t have to be nervous wrecks, we don’t have to be overwhelmed. Leo Tolstoy said, “If you are not happy with your life, you can either improve the conditions in which you live or improve your inner spiritual state. The first is not always possible, but the second is.”
We may have no control over job loss, illness, accidents, rejection by loved ones; but we can pray for those who persecute us, love both God and neighbor, and work to improve the world around us. Best of all, the Lord and Creator of the Seas will help us in these efforts, because we are precious, honored, loved, and he remains with us.
The love and assurance people sought in Isaiah’s and Jesus’ day is still sought today. More than ever, people are hurting. They are looking for some movement, some cause, Someone bigger than themselves that can return creation to its intended purpose. Hopefully, people will realize that if it is ever going to get better for them and theirs, it was going to have to get better for all everywhere.
Some think they can create that world by themselves, but it doesn’t work that way. A 4- year-old girl was making her first trip to Disneyland. She couldn’t wait to get on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. She and her mother got into their “car” which moved forward by rail, but it had a mock steering wheel in front of the little child. They were whisked through the crazy rooms, into the path of a speeding train, and through walls that fell away at the last second. The little girl clutched the little steering wheel in front of her. When the ride was over, she turned to her mother and said, a little shakily, “Next time, you drive. I didn’t know where I was going.” As someone said “Problems are like a mattress, when you're on top of them, you rest comfortably. When you're underneath them, you feel smothered.
We need to get to the realization that we can’t do it on our own, that we need Someone who can steer us through the curves of our life, and really has more control of the journey -- even more than mom. The one who is re-shaping the track and creating the life of “the driver” needs to have control, and we need each other as well.
Reaching and Retaining
Jesus comes to those who are looking for the Someone who can transform the world by transforming them. People who can have the peace and confidence to know that he will never let go of us in even the wildest of storms.
Years ago, on a hot summer day in South Florida, a little boy decided to go to the swimming hole behind his house. He flew into the water, not realizing that as he swam toward the middle of the lake, an alligator was swimming toward him. The boy’s father was working in the yard and saw the two moving toward each other. He ran to the water screaming as loud as he could. The boy heard his father and made a u-turn. The son was reaching his father just as the alligator was catching him from behind, leading to a terrible tug-of-war. The alligator was much stronger, but the father was more passionate. A farmer driving by heard the screams, grabbed his rifle, raced from his truck, and shot the alligator. The boy spent weeks in the hospital. A reporter came and asked to see his scars. The boy lifted his pant legs to reveal scars from the alligator’s vicious teeth marks.
Then, with obvious pride, he said “But look, I have great scars on my arms, too.” And he lifted his shirt, where his father’s fingernails had dug into his flesh, refusing to let go.
God says, I created you, I bought you back, I called you by name. You are mine, and I will never let go of you whom I so deeply love. When you go through the waters, you will not drown, when you go through the fire, you will not be scorched... When you immerse yourself in Jesus, you become a beautiful part of His redeemed creation, and the canvas of our world becomes a better place. Allow God to paint our lives with his great artistry, let his love fill our hearts; delivering us and being with us, completing the good work he has begun in all of us.
Our final song speaks of how when we realize we can’t do alone and we are in this together, God’s forgiveness and recreating love works in our lives and in his world, repairing and restoring his creation.
Music Psalm 51 https://open.life.church/items/140726-lyric-video-mp4
Favor freely given
what kindness can forgive
the darkness of my sin
your love like many waters
wipe my record clean
you’re infinite in goodness
renew the good in me
Every time I fall I fall into your grace
I can see your strength clearer now than ever
You pick me up with love and rid me of my sin
Jesus I am yours You are mine forever.
Shatter my pride
break through these walls
repair my broken life
restore my weary soul
There’s no limit to your love (2x)
You make me new (2x)
Restore my soul and lead me home
fix my eyes on you alone
Let’s pray… Lord, when things feel beyond our control, when our routines are not running according to plan, when predictability escapes us, remind us to hold on to your loving hands all the more tightly and look for ways to grow into the working our way through new challenges.
We praise you, receiving your love each morning and your faithfulness through the night. Your deeds make us sing for joy, for there is no fickleness or wickedness in you. You are our rock. You created the Universe in beauty, and you restore all things through the victory of Jesus Christ, who taught us to love all as neighbors in need of each other. Amen.
Blessing Now may God’s bless you so that you may never be overwhelmed, drowning as a nervous wreck, but allowing the living water of Christ’s Spirit flow like a river within you so that you never need thirst again and that you may refresh others as you journey through this life -- Amen.