Good Morning and Happy Memorial Day Weekend!, May 24, 2020

Happy Memorial Day

Good Morning and Happy Memorial Day Weekend! Typically we associate this weekend with the kick-off to our summer. Swimming, vacations, family picnics, and reunions are common events during a normal summer. However, this year is anything but normal. We hope you will still find joy in the new season and make the most of the situation we are in. We do have exciting news for our church family, as an interim pastor has been hired! You should have received a letter in the mail or an email with the details. Soon, we will be able to welcome Pastor Linda Schmidt. We look forward to having her join our church family for in person worship, whenever that is possible.

Today we are nearing the end of our “Easter season.” We are on the 7th Sunday of Easter and next week we will observe Pentecost Sunday, or the “birthday” of the church. If you still want to give to our Pentecost Offering, gifts can be mailed to the church office. Our church gets to keep 40% of this offering and use it to make an impact in the lives of young people in our own community. For today, however, we continue on our Easter journey with a lesson from the Gospel of John, Chapter 17, verses 1-11. Read God’s word for us today.

1After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. 6I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

Let’s be honest: when a pastor prays in church, do you listen wholeheartedly, or do you tend to tune out a bit? Are you more likely to pay attention if someone prays for you individually? Or should prayer be a completely private practice to begin with? The Gospel in this lesson has a lot of elements to consider. Perhaps the key component is the beautiful comfort that Jesus has prayed on our behalf. Often,we love to share with someone when we are excited or worried. Jesus is showing us today in this story from John, that prayer can be like that: if we are excited, nervous or worried about something, God wants us to talk to him about it! We don’t have to use fancy words and it doesn’t have to be a special time. We can talk to God anytime, anywhere, and about anything! God hears and understands our prayers no matter what every single time. What’s important to us is what is important for God to hear. Talking to God about everything helps to connect us to God and to know that God is with us always. Prayer also connects us to each other as the people of God. We can pray for each other as Jesus prays for his disciples and we can pray for all people to love each other.

In addition to observing this 7th Sunday of Easter, we pause on this Memorial Day weekend to remember those men and women who died while serving in our United States military. We are thankful for their service and their ultimate sacrifice protecting and preserving the freedoms that we often take for granted. In April 1863, in Columbus, Mississippi, after decorating graves of her two sons who died representing their beloved south-land, an elderly woman walked to two mounds of dirt at the corner of the cemetery to place memorial flowers there also. “What are you doing?” friends shouted, “Those are the graves of two union soldiers.” Softly that compassionate mother said, “I know. I also know that somewhere in the North, a mother or a young wife mourns for them as we do for ours.”

That loving deed set in motion our celebration which has become known as Memorial Day. We honor the war dead once a year, but their sacrifice is evident every single day of the year! Today, we want to honor the memory of all those who have sacrificed their lives on the altar of freedom. Those thousands of sacrificed lives were not given in vain! Because of their sacrifice, we are free today and have the right to assemble ourselves together and worship our God.
Let us end today’s message with a Memorial Day prayer.

“Lord of the nations, on this day when we remember the struggles through which our country has gone in its efforts to preserve our liberties, we thank You for having made our country great and our people free. Above all do we thank You for the blessings of religious liberty to preach Your Word without hindrance and to worship You according to the dictates of Your holy and infallible Word.
We pray You hold Your gracious protecting hand over us and over all the people of our country. Guide those in authority and grant them wisdom so to rule, that peace and prosperity may be ours according to Your will.
You have told us that “a nation is blessed whose God is the Lord” and therefore we pray most of all that the Gospel, which alone can make us truly free, may be preached in all its truth and purity throughout our land. You have granted us religious liberty.
Help us to use this freedom to the fullest extent, so that through the length and breadth of our nation we may hear from the people the good news of their salvation in Christ. Bring to us and to those all over the world that peace which passes all understanding and which is to be found in the knowledge that Jesus loves us and has redeemed us from all our sin. Amen”

For those who have gone on before us fighting for our freedoms, we remember them. For the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, carried out on a cross for all of us, we are forever grateful. Thanks be to God. Enjoy the weekend church family!

Good morning from the Presbyterian Church of West Salem! May 17, 2020

Good morning from the Presbyterian Church of West Salem! We are glad you are reading this message and thank God for the blessing of another week. Typically today, on this Sunday before Memorial Day, we would be honoring our graduating seniors during our worship service. While we can’t yet be together at church, we can still recognize these awesome students on a job well done–until we get to do so in person. This year our church family has five graduating seniors. They are Alanna Wuensch, Autumn Schuster, Dylan Noel, Grant Bohnsack, and Sydney Fitzpatrick. Today we offer you our congratulations for not only making it to the end of your high school career, but also for being such wonderful members of our church family. We are proud of your accomplishments and excited for your future!

This morning, we’d like to offer you a few “lessons” to think about as you end your high school career and begin the next phase of your lives. These lessons, as told by various people, are also a good reminder for all of us–no matter our ages.

Lesson 1 – Most Important Lesson
“During my second month of nursing school, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions, until I read the last one:
“What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?”
Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50’s, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade. “Absolutely,” said the professor.
“In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say ‘hello’.”
“I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.”

Lesson 2 – Second Important Lesson – Pickup in the Rain
One night, at 11:30 PM, an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rain storm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car. A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict-filled 1960s. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxi cab. She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him. Seven days went by and a knock came on the man’s door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached. It read:
“Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband’s bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others.”
Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole.

Lesson 3 – Third Important Lesson – Always remember those who serve
“In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10-year-old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him.
“How much is an ice cream sundae?” he asked.
“Fifty cents,” replied the waitress.
The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it. “Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?” he inquired.
By now more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing impatient. “Thirty cents,” she brusquely replied.”
The little boy again counted his coins. “I’ll have the plain ice cream,” he said. The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away.
The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and left. When the waitress came back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies – You see, he couldn’t have the sundae, because he had to have enough left to leave her a tip.”

Lesson 4 – Fourth Important Lesson – The Obstacle in Our Path
“In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king’s wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, But none did anything about getting the stone out of the way.
Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand. Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.”

Lesson 5 – Fifth Important Lesson – Giving When it Counts
“Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, “Yes, I’ll do it if it will save her..” As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, “Will I start to die right away?” Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her.”

Our hope for the Class of 2020 is that as you continue on life’s path, you will remember these five lessons. Always be willing to give, always be willing to go the extra mile, always be willing to help others, always be willing to serve others, and always know that you aren’t better than anyone else and they aren’t better than you. Even more importantly, we hope that you never forget that God loves you and so do we. We pray that you will live your life as “JOY” kinds of people–Putting Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself third. Each of you has been a JOY to us as we’ve watched you grow in your faith during your years in Sunday school and confirmation. We know you are loving, caring, and thoughtful young adults who will succeed wherever life takes you. We thank you for the many ways you helped your church family–including your help in the sound room, at community dinners, at VBS, providing special music, and for being positive role models for our “younger generation.”

Today’s scripture reading on this 6th Sunday of Easter, comes from the Gospel of John, Chapter 14, Verses 15-21. The unmistakable meaning of the passage is that obedience to Christ’s commandments is both a sign and a test of our love for Him. Read God’s word for us today.
15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

While you were growing up or even as an adult, have you ever spent time away from someone you love? Maybe as a child you had a sleepover, or as an adult a business trip where you were away from your home. You likely missed the people that you were separated from in those circumstances. Did you ever take something with you to remind you of those loved ones? Perhaps as a child you had a special blanket or stuffed animal or as an adult some other meaningful object or picture that did the job of comforting you and reminding you of things and people you love. Sometimes having a little something with you helps, because it makes you think of what has been left behind, and it lets you rest assured that you’ll be together again. So even though you might not see your family or home for a little while, these items give you a little part of them, and bring you peace because you know they still care for you. For our graduates leaving home in the fall for college or those of you getting your own apartment, you may feel a little like this once again.

The good news for us today is that Jesus did something similar for us. Before He died, He told His disciples that He was going to send them, in a sense, “a special helper.” He said that He would be physically gone, and they wouldn’t see Him, but that He wasn’t leaving them forever. Jesus said He would give His spirit to comfort. That message was not just for the disciples, but it’s for us, too! We don’t see God with our eyes, but we know that His Spirit lives in us, and we can feel that. The Holy Spirit helps us to pray, guides us, and comforts us. We know that God is present always. We also know that we can experience God when we continue to pray, read our Bibles, and participate in worship services. He is always at work in our lives, and one day He will come back! For now, we will accept the gentle reminder that He never leaves us. We can’t always hear or see Jesus in our midst, but He has given us the Holy Spirit, who helps and comforts us. We can rejoice in that, and we can also demonstrate Christ’s work in us by loving one another.

We leave you this morning with one last story…

“It was the day before Thanksgiving and the first grade teacher gave her class a fun assignment — to draw a picture of something for which they were thankful. Most of the class was considered economically disadvantaged, but still many would celebrate the holiday with turkey and other traditional goodies of the season. These, the teacher thought, would be the subjects of most of her student’s art. And they were. But Douglas made a different kind of picture. Douglas was a different kind of boy. He was a frail and unhappy child. As other children played at recess, Douglas was likely to stand close by her side. One could only guess at the pain Douglas felt behind those sad eyes. Yes, his picture was different. When asked to draw a picture of something for which he was thankful, he drew a hand. Nothing else. Just an empty hand.
His abstract image captured the imagination of his peers. Whose hand could it be? One child guessed it was the hand of a farmer, because farmers raise turkeys. Another suggested a police officer, because the police protect and care for people. Still others guessed it was the hand of God, for God feeds us. And so the discussion went — until the teacher almost forgot the young artist himself. When the children had gone on to other assignments, she paused at Douglas’ desk, bent down, and asked him whose hand it was. The little boy looked away and muttered, it’s yours, teacher. She recalled the times she had taken his hand and walked with him here or there, as she had the other students. How often had she said, Take my hand, Douglas, we’ll go outside. Or, let me show you how to hold your pencil. Or, let’s do this together. Douglas was most thankful for his teacher’s hand.”

On this 6th Sunday of Easter and “virtual” graduation recognition Sunday, our prayer for each of you is that the Holy Spirit guides you as you go out into the world. May the hands of Jesus keep you safe, comfort you, and show you an unending love that only the Savior can give. Go live your life as those JOY kinds of people–Jesus, Others, Yourself, and know that God loves you and so do we! Best wishes Class of 2020! Have a great week church family!