The Greatest Is Love

Meditation on 1 Cor. 13 and Hebrews 12:1-2

In Memory of Johnalee Hebron

5/18/34-5/1/2020

Pastor Karen Crawford

Coshocton, Ohio

His eye is on the sparrow

     

You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl. That’s what people said about Johnalee when she and Lewis moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1964. A unique person with a unique name, she was the kind of girl who knocked on neighbor’s doors, said hello and introduced herself. The kind of girl who never met a stranger. Everyone was her friend. She was the kind of girl who wasn’t afraid to stand up in a restaurant in Grand Rapids and ask if anyone knew of a good pediatrician. She and Lewis moved to Michigan because of his employer, Edmont. Lewis was opening up a regional sales office for the Coshocton manufacturer that had become the world’s largest producer of coated gloves.

     Lewis and Johnalee had met at the Mayflower restaurant after a basketball game. Lewis saw her first. She was a senior at Fresno High, in a graduating class of 16. He was from Warsaw High, one of 26 in his graduating class. He was too shy to ask her out directly, so his friend asked her for him. He was the only one she ever dated. They were married in 1953 at Fresno Methodist Church. She was ready to be a wife and mother and didn’t pursue college or working outside the home.

     She was good at everything. She was a gourmet cook and hosted elegant dinner parties with 14 different hors d’oeuvre; she sewed all her own clothing, including winter coats, and sewed for others. Growing up with a florist father and spending her childhood in a greenhouse, she had a knack for growing, floral arranging and making corsages, wedding decorations, and interior design. She could take a room that was just blah and with a few small touches, turn it into amazing. She was the kind of woman who painted oil landscapes on canvas and trees and fountains on interior walls.

     She made everything beautiful. Everything she touched was beautiful. When her granddaughter, Bethany, remarked that a neighbor’s yard looked like the game Candyland, Johnalee turned the garden into a real Candyland for her, planting lollipops and hanging candies from trees and shrubs, much to the little girls’ delight. She turned children’s tea parties into magical Mary Poppins-like experiences, making them outfits with matching hats, serving up tiny petits fours and laughter.

      She and Lewis had suffered through the loss of a child, Kip’s younger brother, who was born with spina bifida. His death at only 18 months brought them closer together and broke them apart. After Kyle died, Johnalee wasn’t the kind of woman who sat around and felt sorry for herself. Her grief stirred her to bring joy to sick children as a volunteer play lady at a hospital in Grand Rapids. She engaged the children so well that when it was time for them to go home, they wanted to stay with Johnalee.

    She was a model of the kind of love the Apostle Paul talks about in the Love Chapter, 1 Cor. 13, often read at weddings. She was the kind of person who knew love was an action, not just a feeling or a string of pretty words. Love meant patience, kindness, forgiveness—not keeping score. She lived love for 67 years with her husband, Lewis. She loved human beings, she loved God, and she loved His Creation, including birds and squirrels that she fed right out of her hand. She was a woman of faith, who sang in the choir at John Knox Presbyterian Church and sang at weddings.  

     She was a gift from the Lord.

     In her last days, her family sang hymns to her at her bedside and experienced Christ’s peace. They sang songs such as Great Is Thy Faithfulness and A Mighty Fortress Is Our God until she entered into the fullness of the joy of the Lord.

     In my mind’s eyes, I imagine her now in God’s beautiful garden, with Jesus and all God’s creatures, feeding birds and squirrels from her hand. I imagine she is making paradise even more lovely and beautiful, perhaps painting rainbows in the sky, sewing clothes for the lilies of the field, and making hors d’oeuvre for the banquet feast.  No doubt, she is singing God’s praise for all of her days. She has joined her son, Kyle, in the Great Cloud of Witnesses. She is with the faithful from every time and place, who ran the race before us, endured and persevered till the end—and is now watching over us and cheering us on.

    Do not grow weary of doing well, my friends. Do not grow tired!

    She knew what was important in life and in death—that we belong to God. And that love never ends. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. But the life that we live in the everlasting remains a mystery to us, someday to be revealed, as Paul explains at the end of the Love Chapter. We see a glimpse of the holy in this world through the goodness of human beings like Johnalee and when we gather at the Lord’s Table in church, where Christ comes to us, feeds, and transforms us, welcoming those from east and west, north and south. From the country and the city. And those who left the country for the city, but the country never left them.

     “ For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

Amen.

Free from Want

Meditation on Psalm 23

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, Ohio

Pastor Karen Crawford

May 3, 2020

Audio of my message

Jim bought me a lawnmower last week because I wanted to mow grass. I actually missed mowing grass! I haven’t mowed grass since I accepted my first call to ministry in Minnesota in 2011. We lived in a manse right next to the church, back then. We didn’t bring our lawnmower because the church, which had a large piece of property that included a cemetery on a big hill, paid someone to maintain the grounds, including the yard of the manse. That was great! Especially when I read in the old Session minute books that some of the pastors before me were required to mow the grass, not just around the manse, but also around the church and cemetery on the hill. It was in their job description! I figured I got off pretty easy not having to mow grass OR shovel snow. This was Minnesota, after all. Then we moved to Florida in 2015 and bought a house with a postage-stamp sized yard. WE didn’t have any snow to shovel and didn’t have a lawnmower. Since it didn’t cost much to pay someone to tend our tiny lawn, we decided not to mow the grass ourselves.

    Now, being home these 6 or 7 weeks, I have had plenty of time to watch the grass, dandelions, and clover grow—and my neighbors mowing their lawns. So I decided, I should do it, too. No excuses.

    Before I was allowed to begin mowing, Jim brought me the manual and put it in my hands. He did the same thing when he bought me a hedge trimmer a couple of years ago. I expected a test on the manual, so I studied accordingly. But when the time came to mow the grass in between the raindrops this week, I asked Jim for a tutorial, a demonstration, before I began, just to make sure I knew what I was doing. He showed me how to adjust the blade height and the speed of the wheels. How to take out the battery and plug it in for charging, how to remove the grass catcher and empty it when it got full. How to turn it on with the safety switch and, just as importantly, how to turn it off by letting go of the handle. I was ready.

     Then I started mowing, with Jim watching, until he was sure I wasn’t going to get into too much trouble.

     As I mowed, I hummed joyfully to myself. With the birds singing all around me in the trees, I thought of the Great Cloud of Witnesses in Hebrews who have already run the race before me and are cheering me on. I took to heart what I had read in the manual—how you shouldn’t mow up and down hills and how you should plan out your mowing around obstacles. And how you shouldn’t back up with this self-propelled mower, lest you injure yourself.

     Nowhere in the manual does it tell you how to mow without backing up or how to turn the mower around when you get to an end of a sweep. That took some practice! And it sounds great to not mow up and down a hill, but if you have ever seen our yard, you can imagine how hard it is to avoid mowing up and down a hill, no matter what direction you go. The thing is, you have to keep adjusting the speed of the mower or you end up running behind the machine while it lunges down a hill, without you. And nothing told me how to mow under low hanging tree branches without poking my eye out. I had to figure that one out on my own. I was just glad that I was wearing my glasses that day.

     Throughout my adventure, I only had a few minor mishaps, including mowing over a large decorative rock near our driveway that had no business being there, anyway! Well, it didn’t!

      Afterward, I was tired and sweaty, but the yard looked a whole lot better. I felt like I had accomplished something. Best of all, for that hour or two, I didn’t think about any problems or worry about anything. I just concentrated on mowing the lawn, doing the one job I had to do that day, with some help from Jim and the Good Shepherd and His angels that were surely with me.

      Later on, as I looked out at the fruits of my labor and felt peace and contentment, I thought of how the Lord provides for all our needs—not just food, water, clothing and shelter, but encouragement, worthy work and opportunities for service. We need these to feed the heart, mind and soul.

     With the Lord, my Shepherd, I lack nothing. I am free from want, including that destructive desire that keeps us dissatisfied and accumulating more and more. Aren’t we finding out through this pandemic that we really don’t need as much as we thought we needed to be happy?

      My cup runneth over with blessings. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all of my days, dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.

***

      Psalm 23, attributed to David, is often read at funerals, but don’t mistake it for being about death. It is about the abundant life that God has given us, the Shepherd who is always with us. This beautiful song of ancient Israel is in stark contrast to the psalm that immediately precedes it—22, which begins with the lament, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

    This is the rhythm of the life of believers—sometimes lament, crying out to our Shepherd for help, comfort and protection during trials and pain. But then lament turns to praise in Psalm 22 and 23 for God’s faithfulness, because God is always faithful. He hears our cries and responds with steadfast love.

      I have seen posts on Facebook from people longing for the simple life that we had before coronavirus. I agree that I, too, long for the good old days, especially because we were together all the time without worrying about spreading a deadly illness. But I remember that we didn’t think our lives were simple then! We worried all the time, when life was GOOD. We tried to do too much and made it complicated. Then, we fretted about all our commitments and responsibilities.

     Do you want a simpler life? It’s not far from our grasp. For an example, we may consider the life of sheep during the time of David, thousands of years before Jesus would say, “I am the Good Shepherd” and “My sheep hear my voice, I call them by name and lead them out and they follow me.” David knew all about tending sheep; before he was king, he was a shepherd in his youth. Young women and girls, such as Rachel in the time of the patriarchs, also worked as shepherds.

     So what are the needs of sheep in biblical times? They need food, water and rest, just like we do. The shepherd has to go ahead of them and lead them to green pastures and beside still waters, so that they may eat and drink. The shepherd has to make the sheep lie down to rest, because like us, they don’t always know what’s good for them and that they need sleep.

    The sheep also need to know to whom they belong and whom they can trust. The Shepherd gave each one a name and called them by it. Our Shepherd knows us by name, too, and assures us that we will hear his voice and follow him. That’s a promise!

     Another need that we share with sheep are the many dangers in our world. Sheep need protection, direction, and tender care when they are hurt, sick or afraid. Shepherds used a slingshot, rod and staff to keep the sheep from falling into pits, getting caught in branches or fences, going over cliffs, wandering off and getting lost, being stolen by thieves or eaten by wild animals. A sheep that was too tired or sick to walk would be carried on the Shepherd’s strong shoulders, like in the poem Footprints, when we are too weary to go on and our Lord carries us.

     Finally, the sheep have another important need—they need each other. They need affection and companionship, like we do. They are social creatures. They instinctively flock together. When one begins to walk off, others will follow.

    The Lord knows that we need our Shepherd and that we need our fellow sheep, particularly now, while we are separated in our homes. The Spirit continues to draw us together for comfort, help and healing, encouragement and friendship, and for worship. Our Shepherd uses His Word and Spirit to direct, protect, discipline and empower us.

God wants us to flourish, and offers us abundant life through His Son. But abundance doesn’t mean more. It may mean a more simple, less hectic life than we were living before we ever heard of COVID-19. Have you thought about some things you might want to change in your life when things are more “normal” again? This would be a good time to think and pray about it and talk about it with loved ones. I hope I will spend more time at home with my family than I did before. And I hope I will have more time to work in the yard, something I have always enjoyed—planting flowers, spreading mulch, weeding and watering. And yes, mowing grass.

    Our Shepherd will continue to provide opportunities for worthy work, loving service, and spiritual growth, if we open ourselves to them. God knows we need work, service and spiritual nourishment for our well-being. I have seen some of your good deeds, so I know you are already loving and serving your neighbors.

     We don’t have to wonder what we should be doing right now. I hear people say how bored they are! Well, if you feel bored, it isn’t because there isn’t work we can be doing for others or simply taking time for self-care and rest with God. For there’s so much to do when you are following the lead of the Good Shepherd. The Lord requires the same thing of us every day, whether we are retired or going to a job, school, or church or staying close to home. As Micah 6:8 says, the Lord requires us “to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.”

    Our Shepherd will supply all our need-emotional, physical and spiritual. We truly lack nothing. Free from want, our cups runneth over with blessing.

    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.

Let us pray.

Thank you, Good Shepherd, for your call to us to follow your lead and do your will. Thank you that we are your sheep and you know our names—and more about us than we understand about ourselves.  Teach us to trust in you and listen only for your voice. Help us to obey your commands to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with you each day, embracing the worthy work and opportunities for spiritual growth and service that you present to us. Give us courage, strength, wisdom, patience, gentleness, endurance, creativity, joy and peace for these times, without longing for the “good old days” when we made things more complicated and stressful than they needed to be and didn’t always recognize your presence with us. Open our eyes to the changes you want us to make so that your goodness and mercy will surely follow us all the day of our lives. Make us to be more like you and dwell in your house, forever. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Virtual Worship for May 3, 2020

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, Ohio

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Pastor Karen Crawford

Musicians: Caroline Heading and Mark Wagner

Liturgists: Erin Jobes, Helen Wright and Matt Downing

Prelude: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring Caroline Heading, Piano

Greeting/Announcements: Pastor Karen

Opening Sentences and Gathering Prayer: Matt Downing and Helen Wright

The Shepherd calls us by name and leads us to abundant life.

We hear your voice and hasten to follow.  

The Shepherd prepares a table and lavishly pours out grace.

We hear your invitation and take our place at the feast.

The Shepherd gathers us in and welcomes us to the house of the Lord.

We hear your call and give you praise. 

Hymn: The King of Love My Shepherd Is

The King of Love my Shepherd is whose goodness faileth never. I nothing lack if I am His and He is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow My ransomed soul He leadeth, And, where the verdant pastures grow, With food celestial feedeth.

And so through all the length of day Thy goodness faileth never; Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise Within Thy house forever.

Confession and Pardon: Pastor Karen

We have gone astray, O Shepherd. You call us to follow, and we hear your voice. Yet, we choose to heed other voices—voices that promise status and comfort and a carefree life. But such promises are empty, and that life does not satisfy. Call to us again, O Shepherd. Summon us onto right paths to pursue justice in your name, to seek after the well-being of all. Lead us to the table you prepare for us—where rivals share both bread and blessings and discover there is enough for all. Amen.

Hymn: Heal Our Land by Jamie Rivera

If my people will humble themselves
Humble themselves and pray
If they seek my face and humble themselves
And turn from their wicked ways
I will hear from heaven and forgive their sins
I will hear from heaven and heal their land

Lord, heal our land
Father, heal our land
Hear our cry and turn our nation back to You
Lord, heal our land
Hear us oh, Lord, and heal our land
Forgive our sin and heal our broken land

Lord, we bow our knee, we humble ourselves
Humble ourselves and pray
Lord, we seek your face and humble ourselves
And turn from my wicked ways

Father in Your mercy, forgive our sins
Father in Your mercy, come heal our land

Lord, heal our land
Father, heal our land
Hear our cry and turn our nation back to You
Lord, heal our land
Hear us oh,…

Time with Children

Prayer for Illumination and 1 Peter 2:19-25: Erin Jobes

This is the good news which we have received, in which we stand, and by which we are saved. Thanks be to God. 

Scripture: John 10:1-10: Matt Downing

This is the gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Hymn: Psalm 23: The Lord Is My Shepherd by Keith Green

The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside the still waters. He restore’th my soul. And guides my path in righteousness For His name’s sake.

Surely goodness and loving kindness Shall follow me all the days of my life.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever and ever and ever.

Though I walk through the valley Of the shadow of death,
I will not fear, Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Thou prepar’est a table Before me in the presence of my enemies.

Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup’s overflowing. Surely goodness and lovingkindness Shall follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever and ever and ever.

The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.

Message: Free from Want Pastor Karen

Hymn: Shepherd Me, O God by Marty Haugen

Refrain:
Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

God is my shepherd, so nothing shall I want, I rest in the meadows of faithfulness and love,
I walk by the quiet waters of peace. [Refrain]

Gently you raise me and heal my weary soul, you lead me by pathways of righteousness and truth, my spirit shall sing the music of your name. [Refrain]

Though I should wander the valley of death, I fear no evil, for you are at my side,
your rod and your staff, my comfort and my hope. [Refrain]

You have set me a banquet of love in the face of hatred, crowning me with love beyond my power to hold. [Refrain]

Surely your kindness and mercy follow me all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of my God forevermore. [Refrain]

Affirmation of Faith Adapted from the Confession of 1967: Helen Wright

Let us say what we believe.

New life in Christ takes shape in a community in which people know that God loves and accepts them in spite of what they are. They therefore accept themselves and love others, knowing that no one has any ground on which to stand, except God’s grace.

Invitation to the Table and Great Thanksgiving Prayer

The Lord be with you. And also with you.

Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Blessed are you, O Lord our God: You are our shepherd, O Lord, and in you there is nothing we lack. ….. And we continue our prayer as Jesus taught us…

Lord’s Prayer

Our Father who art from 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 debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Breaking the Bread

Communion of the People

Prayer after Communion

Charge and Benediction

Postlude: Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us Mark Wagner, Piano

Children’s Message for May 3, 2020

Jesus is our Good Shepherd

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” John 10:3-5


Jesus is the Good Shepherd.

For puzzles, coloring pages, and other activities for this week’s children’s message, click on the links below:

https://sermons4kids.com/shepherd_colorpg.htm

https://sermons4kids.com/shepherds_voice_crossword.htm

https://sermons4kids.com/shepherds_voice_wordsearch.htm

Hi Kids! How are you all doing? Hope you have been able to find some time to play outside, in between the raindrops. I used to play outside when I was a kid and I still enjoy being outside. I used to play outside with the neighborhood kids in summer sometimes until it was almost dark. We played badminton, kickball, freeze tag, and hide and seek. I played until I could hear my mother’s voice, calling me to come home. She has a unique way of saying my name and drawing it out. And she doesn’t have a soft voice like me. She is able to project. She would stick her head out the window or door of our house and say, “Ka-ren! KA-REN!” And I would come home right away. I didn’t hesitate cause it was my mom calling me. I know her and love her. I trusted her that if she was calling me, it was time to come inside and get ready for bed. If it was a stranger calling me when I was a child, I wouldn’t respond to them like I answer my mom. I might even be a little afraid of them and run away if they tried to follow me.

     In our gospel reading today in John, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, and we are his sheep. You have probably heard that before! And maybe you’ve heard Psalm 23 read in church. It begins, “The Lord is My Shepherd.” In John 10, Jesus tells a story about his followers, saying, “The sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 

     I want you to know that Jesus isn’t a stranger to us. We can trust him. If you are very still and quiet and listen for his voice, you will hear it in your heart and know that it isn’t anyone else’s. It will give you a happy feeling inside. He loves us and calls us by name. He invites us to follow him, just like a Shepherd leads his sheep, guiding and protecting them from harm every day.

Will you pray with me?

Good Shepherd, thank you for calling us your sheep and calling us by name. Guide and protect us every day so we always walk in your loving ways. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

On the Walk to Emmaus

Meditation on Luke 24:13-35

Here is an audio file of Pastor Karen’s meditation:

I hope you all are well and staying safe, and staying home as much as possible, except when you are outside gardening, birdwatching, or walking in the nice weather we are having. I look forward to more walks as the weather warms up.

This week, I learned of a good friend and sister in Christ testing positive for COVID-19. She was a longtime youth leader who introduced me to the wonderful Montreat Youth Conference in Montreat, NC. She is near my age, a little younger perhaps. She is still staying positive and has been self-isolating for weeks at home. So far, she doesn’t have any symptoms. We pray that her health will remain strong and that she and her family would feel Christ’s comforting presence throughout this anxious time.

The other news that brought the seriousness of the virus home to me and inspired me to even greater passion for serving the Lord was learning of the death of a female pastor in Louisiana from COVID-19. She was 56.

    Robbin Hardy ran the Faith, Hope and Love Worship Center in East Baton Rouge and West Feliciana parishes, along with her husband and children. She touched countless lives inside and outside the church through the many ministries to which she devoted her life. Friday, March 27 was the last time her husband, Ronald Sr., was able to speak with her. She was rushed to the hospital and put on a ventilator after experiencing coronavirus-like symptoms for about a week. It was a grueling 11 days of waiting and praying for her family, not being able to visit her and relying on only 3 reports from the hospital each day. She died on April 6, without her family having the opportunity to say goodbye.

In addition to serving as a pastor at the church, Robbin founded an organization to mentor young girls through faith called Girls Enrichment Mentorship Services or GEMS.

“She had over one thousand girls in the GEMS program and she was having such an impact,” Ronald says. “When she saw struggles or anxiety … with young women, her goal was to lift them.”  

    Her family say that the legacy of life, leadership and love will be carried on through the work she started and her words of encouragement. Her family recalls her last sermon to her church just before it closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. She told her congregation, “Do not be afraid.”

    Ronald says, “And I think those words still need to ring out.”

The two disciples leaving Jerusalem on the day of Christ’s Resurrection are in for a big surprise as they take a 7-mile walk with the Risen Lord, without knowing his identity. Their destination is a village called Emmaus, only mentioned in the gospel of Luke, it’s exact location unknown. But it could be any town; the point is that it is not far from Jerusalem and they are walking AWAY from the place where their faith was tried and tested.

      These two aren’t part of the original 12. One is Cleopas, a Greek name meaning, “glory of the father.” This is the only time we run into Cleopas in the Bible. The other disciple doesn’t have a name—and could be male or female, possibly even his wife as they go to the same home. Naming one and not the other helps us to imagine ourselves walking this journey with another brother or sister in the Lord.

     What do they talk about as they walk? Verse 14, “All these things that had happened.” The crucifixion and the discovery of the empty tomb that morning. During this serious conversation, Jesus comes near to them—kind of sneaks up on them—and then goes with them. I can’t help but think of Jesus saying in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I among them.” Here he is an uninvited guest, perhaps unwanted, at first, for Cleopas shows some attitude when Jesus asks, “What things?” Cleopas answers, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”

   He and the other follower are struggling to make sense of the report of the women in their group who said that the body was gone and saw what Cleopas interprets as a vision of angels, proclaiming that Jesus had been raised from the dead. He reveals his belief that Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah, since he was crucified, when he tells the Risen Lord, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

     Jesus doesn’t take offense or leave them in ignorance and confusion. He begins to teach them about himself from the writings of Moses and the prophets and show them how the Messiah’s suffering, dying, and entering into God’s glory had always been part of God’s plan.

    Somewhere along that 7-mile walk, understanding dawns for the disciples—Cleopas and the unnamed one, for you and me. The cloud of grief and unbelief begins to lift. It’s evening when they arrive at Emmaus. Those who still don’t know the identity of their wise teacher beg him to stay. And our Lord, who just that morning rose from the grave and who has been walking with them all day, grants them more time and the gift of illumination. Joining them for a meal, their eyes are opened and they recognize him, recalling their last meal together, when he “took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

     Then our Lord disappears, and the two disciples realize that their hearts had been “burning” when he was opening the Scriptures to them. For he truly is the Living Word. They eagerly return to Jerusalem that same night—another 7 miles– and are greeted by the other disciples who say, “He is risen, indeed!” They can’t wait to tell them what happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Friends, let us continue to share the gospel of peace, encouraging one another to hope in the Lord and to not be afraid, as Robbin Hardy preached in her last sermon to her church in Louisiana.

    The Hardy family says hers is not a story of defeat; it’s a story of victory. Their faith assures them that Robbin, who has died in Christ, is healed and raised to new and eternal life with her Redeemer. Her story serves to underscore the importance of our ministry, especially now. We have the words of life to share with our community and world. And whether or not we are gathering in a building, the words of life will go out through the stories we tell to as few as one or two people at a time.

     You and I can expect to see more glimpses of our Risen Savior as we persevere in prayer, hope, and faith. He comes to us when we seek Him and offers us his joy that is our strength. He also pursues us when may have tried to walk away in despair, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

     Christ our Lord is risen, indeed! He is with us now. He will be with us again when we join together for virtual worship and celebrate Communion next week. As we come to the Lord’s Table in faith, Christ will make himself known to us in the breaking of the bread.

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for your great love and mercy, that you answer when we call and reveal yourself to us when we seek you. Draw us nearer to you now and help us to be obedient to your will. Thank you for forgiving us when we wander away and for pursuing us and guiding us back to you. Thank you for making it possible for ministry to continue to touch hearts and lives, though we are not able to safely gather in one place right now. We pray for peace and healing for our world, dear Lord. Make yourself known to those who are fighting the virus and other serious illnesses. Protect those on the front lines, caring for the sick. Lord, give us hearts that “burn” with your joy that is our strength and remind us of your loving presence with us always. May we see glimpses of you that encourage us every day. In the name of the Risen Christ we pray. Amen.

For more about Pastor Robbin’s story:

https://www.wbrz.com/news/family-church-community-remember-beloved-pastor-who-died-from-covid-19/

    

   

    

    

Virtual Worship for April 26, 2020

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, Ohio

Pastor Karen Crawford

Liturgists: Kiera McPeck, Lydia Black and Ashley Bryant

Musicians: Mark Wagner, Caroline Heading, and Matt Downing

Prelude: Blessed Assurance  (Arr. by Victor Labenske)

Mark Wagner, Piano

Greeting/Announcements: Pastor Karen

Opening Sentences: Kiera McPeck and Lydia Black

As the sun set over the village of Emmaus, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to his friends.

Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

Today we gather around table, font, and pulpit—hoping, trusting to behold the risen Lord.

May our eyes be open to recognize Jesus in our midst.

Hymn:  I Am The Bread of Life

University of Notre Dame Folk Choir

And I will raise you up, and I will raise you up, and I will raise you up on the last day.

I am the Bread of Life, you who comes to Me shall not hunger, and you who believe in Me shall not thirst. No one can come to Me, unless the Father beckons. And I will raise you up, and I will raise you up, and I will raise you up on the last day.

Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of His blood, and drink of His blood, you shall not have life within you. And I will raise you up, and I will raise you up, and I will raise you up on the last day.

Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, The Son of God who hath come into the world. And I will raise you up, and I will raise you up, and I will raise you up on the last day. And I will raise you up, and I will raise you up, and I will raise you up on the last day.

Call to Confession/Prayer of Confession/Assurance

Living Lord, by the power of your Spirit, you are present among us. Yet, like the first disciples, we fail to see you in our midst. We do not realize you are walking beside us, for we are rushing to meet the demands of hectic schedules and overcrowded lives.  We do not notice you in everyday encounters,  for we are distracted by daily labors and consumed by our own concerns. We do not recognize you on our streets or at our tables, for our expectations are too limited to imagine all the ways you dwell among us. Open our eyes to perceive you in our midst, so that—seeing you clearly— we might follow you faithfully. Amen

Time with Children and Youth

Prayer for Illumination & 1 Peter 1:17-23:

Kiera McPeck and Lydia Black

Scripture: Luke 24:13-35 

Message         On the Walk to Emmaus

Hymn   Day of Arising

Apostles’ Creed: Ashley Bryant

Anthem: Crown Him (Arr. by Cindy Berry) Matt Downing, Piano

Invitation to Offering/Prayer of Thanksgiving/Lord’s Prayer 

Friends, thank you for joining us for worship today. We invite you to give to the ministries of The Presbyterian Church as the Spirit leads you. Thank you for your faithfulness, especially during this very difficult time, when we don’t have in-person worship because of coronavirus restrictions. Let us pray together our Prayer of Thanksgiving and Lord’s Prayer.

Great God, to you we give our thanks; your steadfast love endures forever. With gratitude we bring our gifts to you. Bless us and our gifts, that our lives and our resources may be a source of healing and hope, of joy and justice in our world. 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 debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Charge/Benediction: 

Postlude:  Just A Closer Walk With Thee

Caroline Heading, Pianist

Devotion for April 22, 2020

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH

Pastor Karen Crawford

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Audio file of this devotion:

Hello, friends!

I went to visit our worship home yesterday, The Presbyterian Church in Coshocton, Ohio.

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While I was at the church, I wandered into the sanctuary and was moved, once again, by the beauty of our stained glass windows. Just as they did long ago in the early years of the Church, they help to tell the story of Jesus and his love. I began taking pictures as an aching filled my heart.

Separated from one another, we have a longing to be with the people of God. When we are together, we are encouraged in the faith. When we worship, it helps us to “see” and know Jesus.  I am reminded of the promise, as he tells us in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

I hope that the pictures of our stained glass windows will encourage you today about the promise of Matthew 18:20, which includes our virtual worship when we approach in faith. We must anticipate that we will see God and have our hearts and minds renewed. For the Lord knows our situation and is wherever we are. He comes down to us and meets us here. He welcomes us to come to Him, just as we are.

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My prayer for you today is from 1 Peter 1:8: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,”

Let us pray.

Lord, we thank you for the gift of faith and the promise that you are with us as we gather in your name in small groups of 2 or 3. Fill us with your inexpressible and glorious joy as we turn to you and seek to see and know you more. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen. 

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Music by The Church Sisters, In the Garden:

Known by the Scars

Meditation on John 20:19–31

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH

Pastor Karen Crawford

April 19, 2020

 

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       19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

       24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

      26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

       30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe  that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

I am grateful for the technology that allows us to continue to worship together on the first day of every week. The first day is the day of the discovery of the empty tomb—and the miracle of the resurrection, when those who loved Jesus and had closely followed him rejoiced that they were able to see and hear him, touch and worship him.

I have talked to many of our members by phone over these past few weeks, and I agree. Virtual worship isn’t the same as when we are together in our sanctuary, seeing and smiling at one another, shaking hands or giving hugs, singing and praying together and talking, face to face. But it still feels good to worship with you now and reveal our faith in the God who is always with us. As Psalm 46:1 assures us, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

We will get through this together, as we have always gotten through difficult times as a church of more than 200 years. This will someday be a story we will tell, as our grandchildren or great grandchildren listen with great interest or boredom, perhaps, when they have heard the stories over and over. “Do you remember the days of COVID-19?” we will ask friends and family, “when we had to shelter in our homes, practice social distancing and wear a mask and gloves to the grocery store? And we couldn’t go to school or gather for worship or any other gathering, for fear that the virus would spread?” We will ask, “Who were you with those weeks? Did you work from home? Did you have to go to work? What did you do while you were waiting for the world to go back to normal again? What memories did you make together?”

This is one of those good memories we will have—that on the first day of every week, we continued to gather around our computers or smartphones to sing, pray, and hear a Word from our Lord, when we couldn’t all gather physically in one place.

This is one thing that will never change by God’s grace—our faith and worship of our unchanging Lord.

And I feel so blessed to be your pastor!

***

The Jewish disciples, the first followers of Jesus, have lived through an unbelievable trauma, seeing the one they love suffer and die on a cross. The loss is almost too much to bear, too painful to talk about. They fear for their lives, so, on the evening of the day of the discovery of the empty tomb, they are hiding behind locked doors for “fear of the Jews,” meaning those of their own faith community who reject Jesus as the Messiah and condemn him to death.

Having revealed himself to Mary in the garden in John’s gospel, this is the Risen Savior’s second appearance when he comes to the disciples that night. Unlike Matthew’s gospel, Mary bears no message to the disciples to meet the Risen Savior in Galilee, as we read last Sunday. Mary’s message is, “I have seen the Lord! He is ascending to His Father and our Father, to His God and our God.”

Now the Risen One enters through locked doors, surprises the unsuspecting disciples like an apparition, and, standing among them, says, “Peace be with you.” Of course, they are terrified! Jesus doesn’t want them to mistake him for a ghost, so he shows them the scars on his body—his hands and his side! This revelation is important, for here our Risen and glorified Lord still carries the marks from his crucifixion. This leads to the question, “Why wasn’t he healed of these scars when he was raised from the dead?” The answer is because the scars serve God’s purposes. They prove Christ’s identity! He is the One who conquered death, the Messiah, the Son of God, through whom we have life in His name.

Jesus is known, then, by his scars! The disciples, in their own wounded and broken state, rejoice when they see the scars, for they are marks of healing and new life. Christ has been made whole. Afterward, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit that will bring them healing and wholeness, too, and empower them to minister in His name. What shape will their ministry take? We have a hint of it here, when Christ says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” This is a ministry that the apostle Paul describes as a “ministry of reconciliation.”

In 2 Cor. 5:14-20, Paul says, “ For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”

***

Friends, do you have days when sadness just washes over you? You aren’t alone, if you do. I do, too. I know that I am grieving the scattering of our families and faith community and the loss of our identities, which are formed and lived out in community. As one friend put it so well, “I miss the person I used to be.”

When this is over, we will heal and live a more ordinary life, once again. We will!But we will have scars—not physical ones, like Jesus revealed to his disciples—but emotional ones that we will carry for a while. We will remember the isolation, the fear of our loved ones catching the virus, our concern for the large numbers of people suddenly unemployed for an undefined period of time, and our grief for friends and family separated from loved ones who are hospitalized or in longterm care centers. We will remember postponed weddings and not because no able to be together for birthdays, anniversaries, even funerals. We will mourn the loss of tens of thousands of Americans and more than one hundred sixty thousand people worldwide, so far, who have lost their lives to the virus. We will mourn.

This experience will change and form and possibly reform us. I hope so! I hope this trial will lead us to slow down, be more grateful for and demonstrative to the ones we love. I hope we will be less ambitious and materialistic as a society and learn to live more simply. As a people of grace. As a people of hope. This experience won’t destroy or define us or hold us back from becoming the people God has ordained for us to be. The scars will make us stronger, persevere in the faith, and give us more compassion to join Christ in his ministry of reconciliation.

Thomas, somehow, ends up with an unfair nickname in Church history because of John’s gospel. Doubting Thomas! He had the unfortunate experience of not being there when the Risen Christ made his first appearance to the disciples. That wasn’t his fault!

Thomas, to me, represents all of us who came after the first disciples who saw the Risen Christ. When we first believed, we came to Jesus with our doubts and questions. Did we not? And some of those doubts didn’t go away for good, just as Christ’s original disciples continued to wrestle with doubt, in spite of the resurrection appearances. Have you ever wondered how anyone could love this world—everyone in this world—so much that he would lay down his very life? That’s doubt. Have you ever had trouble forgiving someone as our Heavenly Father has forgives us? That’s doubt. Have you ever wondered how God could love you so much that He gave His only Son so you would live eternally with him? That’s doubt. God does love you that much!

What should we do with our doubts? Should we try to hide them or pretend we don’t have them? Or should we be like Thomas, who boldly declares them? “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands,” he says, “and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hands in his side, I will not believe.”

The Risen Christ graciously answers Thomas’ request. A week later, he visits the disciples again and this time, Thomas is there. Jesus calls him by name and invites him personally, to see and touch. This is a God who never forces his will upon us. “Do not doubt,” he says, and it’s an invitation, “but believe.” Thomas responds in faith, saying, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus is talking about you and me and the generations of Christ’s followers who have been given the gift of the Spirit to hear God’s Word, but have not seen the Lord—and yet we still believe. We who have suffered trials and still believe in the One who is known by his scars, the Wounded Healer. Only He can make us whole! He is the One who conquered death, the Messiah, the Son of God, through whom we have life in His name.

With the Spirit’s help, we will not let hardship, disappointment, or grief destroy or define us or hold us back from becoming the people God can use and will use for His glory.

This is one thing that will never change by God’s grace—our faith and worship of our unchanging God! We are the ones whom Jesus says are BLESSED!

Let us pray.

Blessed is Your Holy Name, O Lord! You are the Most High God, who sent your Only Son, the Anointed One to be our Messiah. Help us, Lord, to respond faithfully to the call of being sent out, to experience new life in your name and continue in your ministry of compassion and reconciliation, forgiving others as you have so graciously forgiven us. Heal our wounded hearts, Lord. Bring us your peace during these frightening times. Give us freedom from worry or want. Make us strong and brave, yet gentle and kind. Watch over and guide us. Keep us in your tender care. Amen.

 

 

 

 

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