Updated: Apr 3, 2020
Calvary Baptist Church of Clifton – International
5th Sunday of Lent, March 29, 2020
CALL TO WORSHIP
Coming from places that have seen better days,
God bids us to celebrate this day, a day still full of new possibilities.
Coming with our breath taken away by grief,
by news of people infected by the Corona Virus here in the United States
and all over the world.
The Holy Spirit breathes new life within us,
renewing our connection with God and with one another.
Coming to worship seeking a hope that will endure,
Christ unbinds the fetters, the chains, the ailments,
the virus that hold us in death,
speaking in word and through your grace,
as you continue to build our community of faith for holy service.
Daffodils at Calvary (picture taken 03/21/2020)
God of life, present and promised, you are the One to whom we call:
for you are the One who hears, and you are the One who acts,
bringing us new life with your grace and love and power.
Lead us in our time of worship, that we may be prepared to follow your lead
at present here in our respective homes where we are home isolated or quarantined
to stop the Corona Virus from spreading.
In the midst of the Corona Virus global pandemic, help us live the teachings we proclaim in our homes which at present has also become our place of worship,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Daffodils at Calvary (picture taken 03/21/2020)
HYMN: 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)
Lord we come to you with humble hearts to give you our adoration and praise,
to acknowledge that you are our God who created the heavens and the earth,
to give you honor and to worship you in spirit and in truth.
Forgive us, O God, when we see the world not for what it really is -
where situations are not what you want them to be.
Forgive us, O Lord, when we forsake lively and inconvenient faith,
when you have called us to be agents of change in our world.
Renew us with your grace and ground us with your Spirit,
that we might be empowered to live, in word and deed,
as testimonies to the power of your love.
We thank you again for all the blessings you have given us
in spite of the serious challenges in our midst, in spite of the Corona Virus pandemic.
Thank you for the providing for our needs, for the security and protection that
you have provided for us.
We pray for those who have lost family members and loved ones in this pandemic. Comfort them in their time of grief.
We pray for the medical front-liners – the doctors, nurses and other medical personnel who risk their lives to help those who are sick and infected with the virus. Protect them Lord that they may continue in their work of service to the people who need help.
We pray for our church members and friends who are sick and homebound: We pray for Joy Negrin, Ellen (Judy Jonason’s niece), sister Florence Hofmann, sister Clyde Van Hook, Betty Van Hook, Evelyn Wescott, Arlene Nevin …
We pray O Lord for the mitigation and end to this Corona Virus pandemic. We pray that we learn from this and the people learn from this. May this crisis be an opportunity where people look up to you and you are revealed to them.
All these we pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Calvary's Stained Glass Window Above Choir Loft at evening time.
In this passage, the prophet Isaiah is correcting the people of God for their unbelief and distrust of God. They were captives in Babylon and in they were miserable under their affliction. The prophet is asking them why they seem desperate. The ill word they said was a word of despair concerning their present condition. They were ready to conclude that God would not give attention to them:
Isaiah 40 (NIV): Comfort for God’s People
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord[a]; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.[b] 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem,[c] lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? 13 Who can fathom the Spirit[d] of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? 14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?
15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. 16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. 17 Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.
18 With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? 19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. 20 A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.
21 Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? 22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. 23 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. 24 No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
27 Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? 28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
a. Isaiah 40:3 Or A voice of one calling in the wilderness: / “Prepare the way for the Lord
b. Isaiah 40:3 Hebrew; Septuagint make straight the paths of our God
c. Isaiah 40:9 Or Zion, bringer of good news, / go up on a high mountain. / Jerusalem, bringer of good news
d. Isaiah 40:13 Or mind
MESSAGE: Comfort in the Midst of the Pandemic
(contains excerpts from Matthew Henry's Commentary)
All human life is a warfare; the Christian life is the most so; but the struggle will not last always. Troubles are removed in love, when sin is pardoned. In the great atonement of the death of Christ, the mercy of God is exercised to the glory of his justice. In Christ, and his sufferings, true penitents receive of the Lord's hand double for all their sins; for the satisfaction Christ made by his death was of infinite value.
All created beings shrink to nothing in comparison with the Creator.
Our souls must have perished forever, if the only Son of the Father had not given himself for us.
To prove the greatness of God, the prophet appeals to all ages and nations. Those who are ignorant of this, are willingly ignorant. God has the command of all creatures, and of all created things. The prophet directs us to use our reason as well as our senses; to consider who created the hosts of heaven, and to pay our homage to Him. Not one fails to fulfill his will. And let us not forget, that He spoke all the promises, and engaged to perform them.
The people of God are corrected for their unbelief and distrust of God. Let them remember they took the names Jacob and Israel, from one who found God faithful to him in all his distress or times of affliction. And they bore these names as a people in covenant with Him. Many foolish frets, and foolish fears, would vanish before inquiry into the causes. It is bad to have evil thoughts rise in our minds, but worse to turn them into evil words. What they had known, and had heard, was sufficient to silence all these fears and distrusts. Where God had begun the work of grace, he will perfect it. He will help those who, in humble dependence on him, help themselves. As the day, so shall the strength be. In the strength of Divine grace their souls shall ascend above the world. They shall run the way of God's commandments cheerfully. Let us watch against unbelief, pride, and self-confidence. If we go forth in our own strength, we shall faint, and utterly fall; but having our hearts and our hopes in heaven, we shall be carried above all difficulties, and be enabled to lay hold of the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus.
HYMN:On Eagles Wings
It has been a week now since New Jersey declared a lock-down to fight the Coronavirus pandemic. Residents are to stay home and non-essential businesses are closed down. To date, there have been 11,124 infected with 140 deaths in our home state NJ. Globally, to date, there are 199 countries affected with 680,515 infected and 31,913 deaths.
It is quite a challenge to be home-bound and quarantined as a measure to stop the virus from spreading. People from all walks of life try to cope with this very new situation. Almost everything is in a standstill. People, regardless of social, economic and political status – have suddenly all been humbled to stay put and cooperate with the mandate to stay home and close down businesses. Even the church has not been spared of this and have to make adjustments to continue their ministry and mission amidst the present challenge. Many churches have shifted to online gatherings, telephone prayer meetings, virtual bible studies and video conference worship services. For us at Calvary, we still rely on mass email and may soon find ourselves joining the ranks of those who have gone online through a certain app or website. We do need some assistance of some of our tech-savvy church members and friends to do this and we pray it would be soon.
In the midst of physical distancing being asked of the citizens of this world, the virtual world of social media through the internet, the texts and phone calls, etc., have been the medium of socially connecting with family, loved ones, relatives, colleagues and others.
Some feel suffocated with the restricted movement. Some take to risking their lives going back to the former privileges and freedom in society. Some people cramped in buildings are scared of the possible mass infection. At present the situation in the United States is critical as the figures of infection are accelerating and this country has now the most number of infected people compared with other countries. The so called "leveling of the curve" and eventual decline is still nowhere in sight.
Some people cannot help but reflect upon the current serious situation and believe that there are positive things being learned or brought about by the pandemic. An anonymous writer using the name of somebody famous wrote that the COVID-19 pandemic is teaching or reminding us many things: That we are all equal; That we are all connected; That our health is precious; That life is short; That we live in a materialistic world (but in times like this the real valuable products are the essentials like food, water and medicine); We have learned how important family and home life is and how much we have neglected this; That our true work is NOT our job, that is what we do - not what we were created to do. Our true work is to look after each other, to protect each other and to be of benefit to one another. We have learned to keep our egos in check – a virus can bring our world to a standstill.; That difficulties bring out our true colors; That we can be patient or we can panic…; We have learned to pause and reflect; That our earth is sick …
Although this is a secular or philosophical reflection, indeed it is worth noting and reflecting upon.
For us Christians, for us believers, we are not spared from going through life’s adversities – as the bible teaches us that all human life is a warfare and so is the Christian life. But the struggle will not last always.
1st Point: The victory of his plan of salvation is guaranteed.
He has wisdom in planning our salvation, and that wisdom is never at a loss. Though we have no way of fathoming or understanding everything, his intentions are never defeated. He has power to bring about the salvation, and that power is never exhausted. The Lord does not faint, nor does he get tired or grow weary. The Lord upholds the whole creation, and governs all the creatures, and is neither tired nor weary; and therefore, no doubt, he has the power to relieve his church, his people.
2nd Point: The Lord gives strength and power to us his people.
The Lord helps us by enabling us to help ourselves. God is our strength. He helps the weak.
Many times he gives power to the faint; and to those of us who feel we are weak, he not
only gives us strength, but increases our strength.
Many out of bodily weakness are wonderfully recovered, and made strong, by the providence of God. Many that are weak in spirit, faint-hearted, those who feel unfit for service, are strengthened by the grace of God. Those who feel weak, and ready to acknowledge they have no might or power, God does in a special manner increase strength; for, when we are weak, then are we become strong in the Lord.
He will help the willing. He will help those who, in a humble dependence upon him, help themselves, and will do well for those who do their best.
Those who trust in their own sufficiency, and are so confident of it - that do not seek
God for his grace, shall faint and be weary, they shall fail in their services, in their conflicts, they shall soon be made to see the foolishness of trusting themselves.
But those of us who wait on the Lord, who are conscientious of our duty to him, and by faith rely upon him and commit ourselves to his guidance, shall find that God will not fail us. The Lord’s grace is sufficient for us: we shall renew our strength as our work is renewed.
If at any time we have been weakened we shall recover ourselves, and so renew our strength. We shall use his grace for the best purposes. Being strengthened, we shall soar upward, upward towards God: We shall mount up with wings like eagles, so strongly, so swiftly, so high and heaven-ward. In the strength of divine grace, our souls shall ascend or rise above the world. We shall walk, we shall run, the way of God’s commandments, cheerfully and with inspiration, constantly and with perseverance, and therefore in due season we shall reap.
3rd Point: In the midst of the present challenges let us continue waiting upon the Lord.
Although all creatures fail and fade, the word of God shall be established and accomplished. A joyful prospect is given to us – his people - of the happiness which his redemption brings along. Let the Lord correct us for our fears, distrust, and lack of faith. The words of comfort here are enough to silence our fears. May we find hope, patience and comfort in this scripture passage in Isaiah.
People are at a loss nowadays trying to find guidance in the current pandemic. The Lord our God continues to reveal himself that people may find him and enjoy that relationship forever.
May the current crisis prove to be a blessing to us all as we continue to seek his face and guidance.
CLOSING PRAYER AND BENEDICTION: Lord, we seek your guidance and strength in this time of challenge. Abide in us, give us your blessing and protection. The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and give you peace now and forevermore. Amen and amen.