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Good Morning Sinners and Saints. I am so very happy to have this opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all of you who are tuning in this morning. For those of you who are wondering. Yes. At the start of our third week of livestreaming worship services I have started to preach in shorts and tennis shoes!
I have just a couple of announcements for you this morning.
Community Outreach: Food Bag Distribution
Your church, Central United Methodist of Denton, NC is trying to offer food to people in need. Given the Governor’s stay at home order we hope to be able to move forward with this outreach because we will be distributing food. There will be more information to come, but here’s the plan. We hope to offer a food bag distribution this Thursday, April 2nd from 5-7 out at the Hut. The address for Central UMC is
276 W. 1st Street
Denton, North Carolina 27239
People will need to enter the church parking lot from Bingham Street. They will drive behind the church and in front of the Fellowship Hut. There they will find a table and a member of our Community Dinner Committee who will ask how many are in their family. Families of four will receive one bag of food and families of more than four will receive two bags of food. This will be a first come first served basis and we will not start handing out bags until 5 pm. Once the bags are gone, the bags are gone.
A Need To Be Met
Many of you have seen the school busses working their way through town during the day. Those busses have been taking lunch and breakfast to the homes of children in Denton who need the food. That food WILL NOT be delivered during the week of the kids Spring Break; April 10-17. Central wants to provide another food bag distribution that week. We cannot hope to feed all of those kids, but we can feed some of them. However, because of the hoarding we need help finding the food. If you think it is important to get these kids fed, or to provide food to families in need then contact the church office and let us know where we can find the food. Please Help!
Looking for Creative Ideas
Central is currently sending out post cards to all of our members. We hope to start calling all of our members once ever other week. I am going to start making personal calls this week in addition to learning to use Zoom chat and Facebook livestream to help us all keep in touch and maybe not go as crazy during all of our social distancing. Your church is looking for creative ways to keep connected. This is not the work of one person or one group. Keeping in touch, praying for one another and passing praises and concerns to the pastor is the work of all of us. We are looking for ways for the people watching worship on the internet can participate more in our virtual worship services. If you have ideas about how we can improve the connection, or ways to help y’all improve participation in worship please, please contact the church office 336-859-3502 or e-mail the church at email@example.com, or message our Facebook page with your ideas.
Now; with the business of the church set aside let us begin our time of worship.
Opening prayer: For our opening prayer we are going to pray through the 23 Psalm. Please grab your Bibles. Yup. Go to your shelf or pull up your computers and look up Psalm 23. (pause) I’ll give you just a moment or two more. (pause) Okay. Great. Here we go.
23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.[a]
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness[b]
for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,[c]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely[d] goodness and mercy[e] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell[f] in the house of the Lord
Folks, I had such a good response to our closing hymn from Wednesday we are going to open up with it today. Please look to the post above this one for the words. We’ll sing the first and last verse to Hymn #377 “Standing on the Promises of God.”
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 of God my Savior;
I’m standing on the promises of God.
Standing on the promises I shall not fall,
List’ning every moment to the Spirit’s call.
Resting in my Savior as my All in all,
Standing on the promises of God.
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
I’m standing on the promises of God.
This morning I would like to tell you a story. It is a story about Jesus and his friends in Bethany, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. This is kind of a long passage, but I think it is really important that you hear the whole story because in some ways it is about social distancing, the longing to be together, and the ways we want to get out of the house and get back to normal life. I hope you did not put your Bible’s away. Please open your Bible’s back up again and follow along with me. I’ll be reading from the Gospel according to John. The Gospel according to John, chapter 11, verses 1-44: chapter 11 verses 1-44. Yes, verses 1-44.
John 11:1-44 English Standard Version (ESV)
11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus[a] was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin,[b] said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
I Am the Resurrection and the Life
17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles[c] off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[d] Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved[e] in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus Raises Lazarus
38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
“Quarantine and Resurrection”
Given the way so many of us are shut up in our homes this story seems very appropriate today. Jesus received the news Lazarus was sick, and his family feared Lazarus was going to die. How many of us have heard that news in just the last three weeks? Think about it. The nursing homes were quarantined three weeks ago. Our loved ones there in the nursing homes have been shut in for three weeks without visitors out of fear the Covid-19 virus could kill them. In the following weeks the entire states of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin have issued quarantine orders to keep non-essential workers from contracting Covid-19. For the extroverts among us all of this social distancing may feel like we are the ones in Lazarus’ tomb. For those who are forced to stay home from a job it may well feel like an economic death to see the bills keep coming in while the money to pay them does not.
There are others who have been in a different kind of tomb – a tomb that is more like a prison; a prison of fear; a prison of doubt; a prison of anger and rage; a prison of depression. Maybe even a prison of mourning. At first this tomb looks and feels like a reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the more we look at ourselves I think we will realize these issues have been with us all along. We have simply busied ourselves with so much other stuff we haven’t taken the time to clean the dust and cob webs out of our own spiritual and emotional closets. Maybe we are even afraid of the stink. All of this social distancing has offered us the chance to look in the mirror at the parts of ourselves we may need to change. Lord knows we suddenly have the time.
Martha and Mary were in a tomb of their own. They were grieving the death of their brother Lazarus. They were each of them dealing with Lazarus’ death differently. Martha had always been the one who processed things with her mind. She wanted to know why Jesus hadn’t come sooner. She believes Jesus could have stopped her brother from dying. While Martha was correct that Jesus could have prevented her brother from dieing, she missed the point. Jesus is not just a miracle worker who can heal diseases and cure the lame and give the blind back their sight. Jesus is God – fully God. Jesus is all at once the creator, redeemer and sustainer of life. Jesus is not the little “g” god of the dead. Jesus is God. Jesus is not the little “g” god of resurrection. Jesus is the resurrection. Jesus had not come to the town of Bethany to heal a sick friend. Jesus came to raise a man from the dead.
When Mary came to Jesus she came with a broken heart. Look at verses 28-36 closely my sisters and brothers. I am not at all so sure God is interested in our clever arguments or nifty ideas. I think God is interested in our hearts – our frail human hearts, broken for the sake of love -love of God and love for one another. When Jesus saw Mary crying and she uses the same words Martha used, it is her broken heart that moves Jesus to compassion. Jesus asks her where they have laid Lazarus. Upon reaching the tomb, Jesus wept. Our God is not some mere idol which will take all we give and cannot offer us anything in return. Our God loves us. Our God genuinely loves us. And there outside Lazarus’ tomb Jesus wept (v. 35).
Jesus weeps for us as well. Jesus weeps for all of us locked in our tombs of fear, anger, addiction, and despair. Jesus weeps for all of us locked in the chains of sin and unable to free ourselves from the stains and regrets we carry. Jesus weeps for all of us locked in our self-isolating tombs from which we push others away and are too afraid to risk allowing love to come in. Some of us are terrified of what would happen if we allowed love to flow out from us. I am not talking about social distancing for the sake of not spreading Covid-19. I am talking about the tombs created by selfishness and sin. Let us not be white-washed tombs which look nice on the outside and are filled with death and decay on the inside. Rather, let us become homes of generosity, love and grace. Let us commit ourselves today to give the full tithe. Let us commit ourselves today to call our neighbors, call our brothers and sisters in Christ – to send cards and prayerfully consider how we might provide food the needy during this time of social distancing.
We are called to love God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18). We are called to love one another as Jesus loves us (John 15:12). Love cannot be bound behind locked doors, and quarantined homes. We must allow ourselves to be freed by the truth. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36). My sisters and brothers, now is the time to pray. Now is the time to pray to God that we would be freed from our tombs, and that we would use our freedom share the good news of God’s love and grace with those who need to hear it most. Who does not need to hear God’s truth during this time of isolation and social distancing? Let us pray.
(pray) Father God, we believe Jesus will not leave us in our tombs. Jesus sheds the light of grace on each of us that we may turn from the darkness. Through prevenient grace Jesus helps us to see the darkness for what it truly is; our own selfishness; sins; fears and doubts. Jesus reaches out to us with the light of grace. While we are still in our tombs we find that we cannot help but look up to the light of God’s goodness and grace. We find the nail scared hand of Your Son, Jesus Christ reaching out to pull us up and out of the darkness the same way Jesus called Lazarus out of his tomb. Father, Do not leave us to death and ruin. Do not allow us to rot in self isolation. Please put within us a spirit to listen, to answer, and to respond to your grace that we might accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Please allow justifying grace to have it’s work that we might be saved. That we might leave the cave of our shame and sin and walk in the free air – not having completed the journey, but setting out along the road that we might grow closer to You, Your goodness and grace.
In the name of Jesus Christ,
Old Number 57 “O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing”
O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace.
|My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad,
The honors of Thy name.
|3||Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.
|4||His love my heart has captive made,
His captive would I be,
For He was bound, and scourged and died,
My captive soul to free.
|5||He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me.
|6||So now Thy blessed Name I love,
Thy will would e’er be mine.
Had I a thousand hearts to give,
My Lord, they all were Thine!
In Christ, your head, you then shall know,