Worship ~ April 26, 2020

Hello members and friends of 1st Presbyterian Church of Janesville!

Below you will find the worship service for April 26th, the third Sunday of Easter. For those of you who have a computer our hope is that you will be able to view the service on YouTube. We recorded last week’s service and it made it to YouTube but the link didn’t work as it should. On Thursday we will record the service again and get the link worked out so that you can see it any time. I will keep you informed of this.

Be safe, be well, and hopefully we will be able to gather as a community of faith soon.

Blessings always,
Pastor Lee

THE INVOCATION
Holy God, in the silence of this moment, call us by name, lift our weary spirits, deepen our questioning faith and give us new eyes to see your blessing all around us. For you are the giver of peace, the source of joy and a whisper of love in the stillness. Amen

HYMN                                                                     “Standing on the Promises”

                                                                    Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
                                                                      Through eternal ages let his praises ring,
                                                                      Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
                                                                              standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call,
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.

Refrain
Standing, standing, standing on the promises of God my Savior,
Standing, standing, I’m standing on the promises of God.

THE CALL TO CONFESSION
God judges all people impartially according to their deeds. Trusting in God’s love in Jesus Christ, let us confess our sins before God and one another.

THE PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Almighty God, our world is filled with corruption: power disguises itself as truth; convenience masquerades as goodness; selfish pleasure imitates love. We confess to you, O God, that we have been caught in the web of the world’s sin. By the power of the Holy Spirit, save us from these deceptions and free us for glad obedience, that we may see the joy of Jesus’ resurrection and receive the promise of everlasting life. Amen.

THE WORDS OF ASSURANCE
Followers of Jesus: God has promised salvation to us, to our children, and to all who are near and far. In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Amen.

THE SCRIPTURE TEXT
                                                              Old Testament Reading – Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!” What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I
will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants. “Truly I am your servant, Lord; I serve you just as my mother did; you have freed me from my chains. I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord— in your midst, Jerusalem. Praise the Lord.

                                                              New Testament Reading – Luke 24:13-35
                                                                              On the Road to Emmaus
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther.  But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.”  So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.  They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”  They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.  There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying,
“It is true!  The Lord has risen and 
has appeared to Simon.”  Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

THE THIRD MAN
Third Sunday of Easter

People have been misled by idle rumors since human beings first populated the earth.  Today we have given it a name.  We call it false news.  

In the decades after President Abraham Lincoln’s death, rumors spread around the U.S. that his coffin was empty.  Some said that he hadn’t actually died.  Or perhaps robbers stole his body.  The rumors became so persistent and intense that in 1887, officials exhumed his coffin to ensure that Lincoln’s body was actually in it.  Afterwards, they sealed the casket with a lead lining to defend against future crazy rumors.

But even that wasn’t enough to put the rumor mill out of business.  After all grave robbers tried to take the body.  Fourteen years later, officials had to dig up Lincoln’s coffin one more time to fight off rumors that he was alive.  Afterwards, the coffin was sealed inside a crypt under many feet of concrete, in Springfield, Illinois, where it remains undisturbed to this day. 

Such rumors usually turn out to be fake news.  Only one such rumor has ever turned out to be fantastic good news.  Imagine the rumors that got passed around Jerusalem in the days following Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and resurrection.  Our story from Luke’s Gospel takes place on the evening of Christ’s resurrection.  Two of Jesus’ followers are heading to the village of Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.  They were probably glad to be getting out of town.

Jerusalem was a threatening place right then. The Roman authorities and the Jewish religious leaders were on the lookout for Jesus’ followers.  They were prepared to quash a possible rebellion.  They had no explanation for how Jesus’ body disappeared from a sealed and guarded tomb, so they spread the fake news that his body had been stolen by his disciples.

 

Fortunately these two followers on the road to Emmaus had heard another rumor.  This one turned out to be wondrously true.  This rumor was that an angel had appeared at Jesus’ tomb and told the women who followed him that Jesus was still alive.  The two disciples didn’t know which rumor to believe—the one spread by the religious authorities or the more fantastic rumor which originated with the women.

Nevertheless this seemed to be a good time to get out of town.  They were grieving, in shock, confused by Jesus’ death and the strange rumors about his resurrection.  Some of you know what it’s like to suffer a loss and be overwhelmed by so many questions and emotions.  How do you clear your head and think straight?

These two disciples were working on that as they walked the seven miles to Emmaus. And our Bible passage reads, “As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.”  What a reassuring statement: “Jesus himself came up and walked along with them.”

Jesus knew nothing about drones.  But he was like a drone in that he seemed to drop in from nowhere to work a miracle or heal somebody.  Many people might associate drones with clandestine operations against ISIS and other terrorist operations. But, in fact, drones can be, and are, utilized in many other ways, some of which are strictly humanitarian.  That’s why Jesus would support what certain drones are doing today. They’re dropping in out of nowhere performing miracles and healing people.  Or, at least they make this possible.

In Rwanda, rural medical clinics are so isolated that deliveries cannot be made by trucks or motorcycles.  Storage facilities are inadequate for the blood that is required for emergency transfusions, especially during childbirth.  Zipline International, based in San Francisco, has developed this innovative system of blood distribution.  Zipline is creating a set of hubs that can reach every health clinic in Rwanda by a drone delivery flight of 45 minutes or less.  Like Zipline, Jesus is totally focused on serving people in need.  And after being raised from the dead, he travels the country and pops up in surprising places, with the range of an airplane-style drone.
 

On Easter morning, Jesus appears to Mary in the garden and says, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  (John 20:15).

On Easter afternoon, Jesus swoops in on two disciples who are walking the road to Emmaus, and interprets the Scriptures to them (v. 27).

On Easter evening, he appears to his disciples and shows them his hands and his feet (v. 39).

A week later, Jesus drops in on Thomas and the other disciples, appears to the disciples again on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias and cooks a fish breakfast for them (John 20, 21). The apostle Paul tells us that Jesus appears to more than 500 of his followers, then to James, then to all the apostles and finally to Paul himself -- on the road to Damascus.

Here’s something you may not know: People in situations of extreme stress, such as mountain climbers, explorers, even survivors of the World Trade Center bombings, have reported experiencing what is today being called the “Third Man” syndrome.  This is the sense that in your time of greatest danger and distress, an unseen presence or voice comes alongside you and guides you to safety or motivates you to keep going when you’re ready to give up.  It happens so often that it is being taken seriously by some in the scientific community.  Of course, we have an explanation for that. Sometimes that “third man” is real.  The poet wrote “Just when I need him, “Jesus  is near .”

These two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who were wrestling with questions and fears, experienced the ultimate “Third Man” event.  What a reassuring statement: “Jesus himself came up and walked along with them.”

Jesus knows the disappointment and pain and fear in our hearts.  He knows that we wrestle with understanding God’s ways.  So why didn’t Jesus just reveal himself as the risen Messiah and take away all their pain?  Here’s the answer, It’s because the greatest blessing God can give us is not an easy life. The greatest blessing God can give us is the knowledge that He is with us in all our challenges and struggles.  In the midst of this COVID-19 situation God is here.  God’s presence in the form of the Holy Spirit gives us hope.

Russell Okung, an offensive tackle with the Los Angeles Chargers, lost his father at a young age.  Russell became the man of the household, taking care of his mother and sister.  He became accustomed to taking care of others and not asking for help.  When he was in college in Oklahoma, a hurricane swept through his home city of Houston, Texas.  Russell felt such fear and helplessness knowing that he was 500 miles away from his family and he couldn’t take care of them.  He sat in the college chapel and prayed. He said that most of his prayers centered around the question, “Why?”  Why was his family going through this crisis without him?  Why had his father died young?  Why couldn’t God stop the storms and the floods hitting his family’s home?  And as he sat there feeling helpless, he sensed a voice inside of him saying, “You don’t have to do this alone.  You’re not by yourself.”

At that moment, Okung reports that he realized he had never been alone.  As he said about that night in the chapel, “I knew only God could be my present hope.”  The peace he experienced that night convinced him to trust God with every aspect of his life.  And his life has never been the same since.

 

We see this theme over and over again in the Bible.  Let me say it again: The greatest blessing God can give us is not an easy life.  The greatest blessing God can give us is the knowledge that He is with us in all our challenges and struggles.

A lot of people justify their disbelief in God by citing the miracles in the Bible.  Impossible!  Unrealistic!  Unscientific! They say.  But it’s amazing to me how often God could have used a miracle to get His point across, but He didn’t.  He chose to work through average people and average circumstances instead.  He chose to restrain His overwhelming and awesome power to invite us into the mystery of faith.

In the same way God has given wisdom and knowledge to those in the medical and scientific community to develop cures for this virus.  Jesus has given human beings common sense that guides them to stay away from situations that could lead to contracting the virus.  But we don’t always understand that.  We don’t always see what we should see.

Pastor and author Leith Anderson, as a boy, grew up outside of New York City.  During those years he was an avid fan of the old Brooklyn Dodgers.  One day his father took him to a World Series game between the Dodgers and the Yankees.  Anderson was so excited, and he just knew the Dodgers would trounce the Yankees.  Unfortunately, the Dodgers never got on base, and his excitement was shattered.

Years later he was talking with a man whom he describes as “a walking sports almanac.”  Leith told this man about attending this World Series game and added, “It was such a disappointment.  I was a Dodger’s fan and the Dodgers never got on base.”  The man said, “You were there?  You were at the game when Don Larsen pitched the first perfect game in all of World Series history?”  “Yeah,” Anderson replied, “but uh, we lost.” He then realized that he had been so caught up in his team’s defeat that he missed out on the fact that he was a witness to a far greater event the first perfect game in World Series history.

Leith Anderson writes, “I wonder how often the same thing happens to us.  We get so caught up in the ‘defeats’ in our lives, the times when things don’t turn out the way we want them to.  So we’re depressed because an illness continues to linger, or when people don’t treat us the way we think they ought to, or when we face financial difficulties.  But we are often so blinded by the pain and disappointment of our ‘defeat’ that we fail to appreciate the fact that we might be witness to something far greater that God is doing in our lives.”

If God answered our every prayer in the way we wanted and in our time, if God acted in ways that were perfectly reasonable and accommodating to our wants and wishes, we would never need to exercise faith.  We would never
need to be still and know that God is there.  We would seek His blessings and gifts, but never seek Him and never feel His presence.

 

Country singer Johnny Cash lost his big brother, Jack, in an accident when Johnny was twelve.  The grief and loneliness drove Johnny to alcohol and drugs and throwing himself into his work.  At age thirty-five, he drove himself to Nickajack Cave on the Tennessee River with the intent of ending his life.  Instead, as he walked farther into the cave, he had his own “third man” experience.  Johnny Cash experienced the presence and comfort and peace of God.  He walked back out of the cave with a renewed faith in God.

Johnny wasn’t healed of all his grief.  He didn’t receive some supernatural answer about his brother’s death.  Instead, he received the presence and comfort of God, and it allowed him to go on living with renewed hope and determination.  This isn’t fake news.  This is fantastic good news.  God has placed us in a world where we sometimes must struggle mightily against forces we don’t understand, such as COVID-19, but God doesn’t leave us alone.  God is with us and, if we will let Him, God will use those times of struggle to grow into persons who are fit to share eternity with Him.

When we meet Jesus in our struggles and understand the hope he offers, we find the motivation to share the good news with others.

When James Ryle was six years old, his father went to prison for armed robbery and his mother abandoned him at a Dallas orphanage.  Although it was supposed to be a Christian place, this orphanage was a very abusive environment.  When James left there at the age of 17, he was angry and lost, and he wandered into a wild lifestyle.  One night, he
fell asleep while driving and crashed his car.  James’ best friend died in the crash.  James was charged with
negligent homicide.

To finance a lawyer, James began selling drugs.  He was soon arrested for that too, and faced a twenty-year prison sentence.  It was while he was sitting in jail waiting for his sentencing hearing that James recalled a Bible verse he had learned when he was a child.  It was Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  James’ prayer that day was, “here’s what’s left of my life, You can have it.”

A few days later, James’ court-appointed lawyer told him that the judge had sentenced him to two years in the Texas State Penitentiary.  Amazing!  From a possible twenty-year sentence to a two-year sentence!  This allowed James to enter prison with the firm conviction that God would use his time there for good purposes.  After a year behind bars, James began praying for early release.  As he read his Bible, he came across the story in Mark 5 of the demon-possessed man who was healed by Jesus.  The man begs to go with Jesus, but Jesus answers, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”  At that moment, James knew he would get early release so he, too, could tell his story.  One week later, the judge commuted his sentence and sent him home.

James began sharing his faith with friends and family.  He eventually became a pastor, and then the Chaplain for the University of Colorado football team.  He and Bill McCartney, former coach of the UC football team, went on to found the Christian men’s ministry, Promise Keepers, which has inspired millions of men to be better husbands, fathers and leaders in their community.  Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, James Ryle’s encounter with Jesus changed his life.  He returned home to share the joy of that experience with others.  And millions of lives have been changed because of his witness.

There is an old Celtic prayer that reminds us that Jesus knows our hearts.  He knows our disappointments and our heartaches.  And that may be why he chose to return to his disciples in such an ordinary state.  In the upper room, he showed the disciples his wounds.  On the road to Emmaus, he appeared as an average traveler.  But each of the disciples experienced overwhelming joy and peace in his presence.  And he still promises his presence to us today, wherever our journey takes us.  So I’d like to close with this prayer as a reminder that as Jesus sends us out to do his work, he is always with us, equipping us for the work.

May the Christ who walks on wounded feet walk with you on the road.
May the Christ who serves with wounded hands stretch out your hands to serve.
May the Christ who loves with a wounded heart open your hearts to love.
May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet,
and may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you.
Amen.