This message was delivered to Bethel UMC – Seymour, Seymour TN, on June 14, 2020.
CALL TO WORSHIP & INVOCATION
On this new morning and in every moment of our lives, gracious God,
from generation to generation, we praise your holy name.
Like our ancestors before us, we proclaim your greatness to our children,
for we have seen your deeds of power and witnessed your goodness in our lives.
As you have opened your hand to all, satisfying the desire of every living thing,
open our hearts so that we might share the gifts we have received from you. Let us worship God
in gratitude and joy!
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God, we lift up to you now, those among us who are suffering and who are in the process of recovering from illnesses. We give you praise for a successful surgery and ask that you continue to comfort and heal her as she recovers. We give you praise for the recovery of another and ask, again, that you stay with, comfort, and continue to heal and strengthen her. Be also with our family, friends, and neighbors wherever they may be who have fallen prey to COVID-19. Comfort and heal them, Lord, if it be your will.
God, we lift up to you our sister and friend who continues to grieve the recent loss of her husband. Please hold her close in her grief, fill the void she may be feeling with your presence, and give her comfort and peace.
There is another we lift up to you today, Lord. Her family has been unable to see her for three months now because of the protocols. Time with her is so precious to her family, Lord. We know the separation is for her safety, but we beseech you, Lord. Make a way so that they may have as much time as possible for as long a time to come as possible.
I lift up to you Pastor Carmel Day, Lord, and give thanks for the blessing she is by providing worship for this church during the transition from old to new.
I lift Pastor Kimberly Cowell who will become the pastor here at Bethel beginning July 5th. Fill her with your Spirit that she may lead Bethel to accept your invitation to dance where I could not, and that she may lead them to follow Your will according to Your plan, Lord. Bless her ministry here and help her to grow this part of your body.
Open the ears and hearts of Your children here, God, that they may hear You through her. Open their hearts to her that they may know Your heart. Open their minds, that they may find new understanding of your plan. Help them to let Pastor Cowell lead them to Your will.
Help them to understand that the harvest is ripe and that they are the few laborers You seek.
Bless and protect the people here, God, for they really do love You and I them. Be with them always, even to the end of time. Be gentle with them, keep them safe as they begin to return to worshipping together again.
Thank you, God, for my time here, for the lessons learned and the blessings received.
Bless this community, God, and I give praise and thanks that so many in it have responded in this time where our building is a screen in front of us instead of walls surrounding us.
I ask these things in the name of your son, and now, with the confidence of Your children, we pray to you in the words he taught us to pray …
We ask these things in the name of your son, and now, with the confidence of Your children, we pray to you in the words he taught us to pray …
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; 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.
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.
But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’
Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.
Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.
Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave.
As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.
Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.
When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”
For we know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.
One: The word of God for the people of God.
Many: Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Last Dance
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and redeemer. Amen.
I’ve been pondering what to say to you in this last message since sometime this past February.
Not quite a year ago, I came here full of all the optimism, hopes, and dreams of any new pastor in her first-ever appointment. I knew there would be a learning curve for both you and me. I expected that. I don’t think any of us expected a global pandemic the likes of which hadn’t been seen in a hundred years. I’m certain none of us ever thought our local worship would be moved exclusively to cyberspace. And, while it has been a long time coming, I doubt any of us could have imagined that, in the middle of everything else, there would be a global outcry for a reformation of one of the most heinous of all social injustices … racism.
My message to you that first morning was an invitation to dance, with me but also and more importantly, with the Lord of the Dance. Do you remember?
My time on your dance card is now winding down and that’s a good thing. We weren’t the best dance partners, but that’s okay. I was only supposed to warm you up for the ultimate dance partner, anyway. It is my fervent prayer that you each have learned a few new steps to help bring you to that day.
Which brings me to this day … my last dance with you. Before we begin, though, I’d like to direct your attention to the other dancers present.
In today’s passage from Romans, Paul wrote: “… God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Spirit is so amazing to me and I truly believe poured fully into me. She comes to me in female form, tenacious yet gracious, loving, gentle, yet firm, playful at times, forceful when I’m failing to let her lead our turn on God’s dance floor, and, for me, definitely ever-present. I’m sure I give her many moments like this …
and like this …
but I have it on good authority she’s the forgiving type.
Also on the floor is the Lord of the Dance, Himself. My lord, my king, my savior, my all in all. He is wherever two or more gather in his name and I know he is there when we’re alone, too, just as I am certain it is he who has called some new faces into the dance here at Bethel.
I see you, new friends. I see you each day as you nod your head and tap your toes to God’s music and messages on our Facebook page. I have enjoyed taking turns around the dance floor with each of you, and I pray you will stay at the dance long after I’m gone.
And people of Bethel, I encourage you to invite these new friends to dance as well. Get to know them and make them feel welcome. It is your dance card they’re waiting to be added to.
All of that leads me to today’s passage from Matthew, especially verses 9:35-38:
“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
What you asked for when you told the District Superintendent: reaching more of the community, reaching out more in the community, growing this church … do you remember?
The harvest is ripe, Bethel! Right now!
Back in March when all this started, I told you that, while God didn’t send us the COVID-19 virus, He was clearly at work in the midst of it, and he was. By locking us out of our buildings, we were reminded that we are the church and that means the church is wherever we are. The message of Good News was suddenly available to the entire world.
Granted, this time has not been without its troubles above and beyond COVID-19. But … once again and as it says in Romans 8:28… God has worked all things together for the good of those who love Him.
Hope, faith, trust in God, and God’s protection became tangible. Timidity that a crucial message might be judged “political” disappeared. The Gospel was spoken more completely as church leaders all over this conference, this country, and the world began delivering messages that really spoke directly from the words of Christ to today’s issues.
While we might not have seen actual tongues of fire or felt the rushing wind this Pentecost, it was the fire was and is there in the dedication and commitment of millions around this world to confront a myriad of social injustices. The wind was and is there in the volume of voices that are calling for change … for peace, and for justice.
Now it is up to you, Bethel, to keep the fire stoked. It is up to you to face the wind and let it lift you into flight. And it is up to you to be the laborers that reap the very ripe harvest that is waiting outside that building. Waiting for you.
I chose today’s anthem because of the story behind the song. McCartney wrote it after witnessing segregation here in the US … something they didn’t have in his homeland of Great Britain, at least not in his lifetime.
The words are simple … “Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these sunken eyes and learn to see. All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free.
Blackbird fly, into the light of a dark black night.”
McCartney wrote those words as encouragement to the two women involved in the segregation incident he had witnessed. Words that said, “don’t let this hinder you … fly anyway.”
Fly anyway, Bethel. This is my last message to you and I say this sincerely and honestly with much more love than you can bring yourselves to imagine, fly anyway. Flying is how the birds dance. Fly.
You have been grieving the loss of a pastor you loved deeply for far too many years. You’ve waited and wondered and worried for someone just like him for far too many years … your grief for him is what is breaking your wings.
There will be no others like him, for we are each uniquely called and equipped … not to do for you, not to fly in your place, but to help you take your own broken wings and fly … to help you take to the dance floor and let the Lord of the Dance lead you instead of trying to lead Him.
The harvest is ripe, the refining fire of the Spirit is present, the wind of change is waiting to lift you into flight.
Leave your preconceived notions and expectations of how things “should” be in the past and let your new pastor lead you into a new, better normal … a new normal with doors flung wide open … a new normal where you actively go forth and make new disciples … a new normal where you reap the harvest.
Fly, Bethel, and be the light in the dark night. Leave the safety of those walls around the dance floor and dance! Dance like no one is watching.
Now hear this prayer:
It has been a long year, God, filled with many mountains to climb. I remember the words of that song, though … The God of the mountain is God in the valley, too, and I thank you, God for being with us as we walked this valley together.
Thank you, God for the blessing of all the lessons I have learned from the people here while serving as pastor of Bethel. Guide me to use them wisely from this day forward.
Bless this church, God, these children of yours who love you so very much. Help them to break free and become a light in the darkness.
Bless Pastor Cowell and her ministry to them. Guide them to let her lead. Encourage them to follow her lead. Comfort them when they find themselves led to an uncomfortable place and help them understand that discomfort is just you changing them to be what you need them to be.
In Jesus’ name I pray.
Well, that’s it, friends. I hope you’ll continue to worship online with Bethel and Pastor Carmel Day each Sunday at 10:30 a.m. through the month of June, and then join Pastor Kimberly Cowell in July as Bethel hopefully returns to in-person worship.
This video will be available on-demand through our website. I will also be posting a transcript there as well for those that don’t have the ability to watch videos.
As always, stay safe, love your neighbors, wear a mask, wash your hands, and fly and dance like no one is watching.
Now hear this benediction:
May the God who shakes heaven and earth, whose Spirit blows through the valleys and the hills; whom death could not contain and who lives to disturb and bring us life; bless us with the power to endure, to hope and to love. Give us strength to break free and fly and the courage to dance.
Go in peace, friends. You are loved. I will miss you.