Sunday Worship Service ~ March 19, 2023

The image above is the cover of a wonderful children’s book!

Call to Worship: Isaiah 35:1-2, NIV
The desert and the parched land will be glad;
The wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
It will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.

Unison Prayer
Lord of all seasons,
Bring us out of our spiritual winters
And lead us with joy into a spiritual spring.
May your Holy Spirit blossom in our hearts
Like the flowers springing from the soil.  

Words of Assurance: Hosea 6:3
The LORD will come to us like the spring rains that water the earth.

The Lord’s Prayer
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 trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil;
for thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory forever.

Opening Song: Chris Renzema, “Springtime”

Scripture Lesson: Isaiah 61:1-11, Good News Bible

The Sovereign Lord has filled me with his Spirit.
He has chosen me and sent me
To bring good news to the poor,
To heal the broken-hearted,
To announce release to captives
And freedom to those in prison.
He has sent me to proclaim
That the time has come
When the Lord will save his people
And defeat their enemies.
He has sent me to comfort all who mourn,
To give to those who mourn in Zion
Joy and gladness instead of grief,
A song of praise instead of sorrow.
They will be like trees
That the Lord himself has planted.
They will all do what is right,
And God will be praised for what he has done.
 They will rebuild cities that have long been in ruins.
As surely as seeds sprout and grow,
The Sovereign Lord will save his people,
And all the nations will praise him.

Sunday Sermon

Today is the last day of winter. Usually by now we’re eager for spring because we’ve been cooped up inside, but thanks to climate change, January was warmer than March, and more snow fell in California this year than on Long Island. We can expect the weather to get weirder in years to come. Just like last year, we can expect March showers to bring April flowers, the leaves to stay on the trees well past Halloween and an equal chance of snow or warmth at our Easter sunrise service.

When I was younger ~ last week ~ I didn’t like spring. Spring has always been really frustrating to me, because it’s warm enough to go into the ocean, but the ocean is too cold. (Today’s ocean temperature is 42 degrees.) It’s warm enough to play volleyball everywhere but the south shore, because of those same ocean beaches. In early spring, it can be 70 degrees here and 45 degrees there.

So you may be wondering, “What happened last week?” A few things happened. First, I started to listen to spring music, because I’m writing an article about spring music. Spring music is anything that is written about spring or sounds like spring, including references to butterflies, birds, lambs, flowers, gardens, melting snow, flowing streams and spring storms. Musically, it means pianos, violins and glockenspiels, maybe a little brass. And I needed to know the name of a flower on an album cover, so I asked Robin, who told me it was a hellebore, which Joan added is also called a Lenten rose, and the same morning Robin happened to be bringing the exact same flower to Garden Club.

Last week I started to notice spring differently because I’m in a new home. In January I shared that with the leaves down, I could see things a lot clearer from my house, including a wide-angle view of the water and bridge. In spring, everything goes in the opposite direction: it’s like a puzzle being filled in, color by color, leaf by leaf. I can see the tops of trees starting to turn red. Every branch is just a bit thicker, the buds ready to burst. I’ve never lived here in spring, so I don’t know what to expect, and it’s been fun to watch the changes. Down in Sayville, I already knew where every crocus would be, how long they would bloom and how long the landscapers would wait before running them over.

All of this started to remind me that there are other things in spring besides the things we can’t do yet. I had always understood spring as a season of anticipation, which it is, but it’s more than anticipation. Anticipation isn’t always as great as people say. Heinz ketchup used the song “Anticipation” to get people used to the idea that their ketchup would come out slow, but I still stuck a butter knife in the bottle. If you’re at a restaurant and someone says your food will take an hour to arrive, you’re probably not going to say, “Take your time.”

People in the Bible have to wait a long time for everything. Jesus has to wait 40 days for food, the Israelites have to wait 40 years to get to the Promised Land, Abraham and Sarah have to wait almost a hundred years to have a baby, the whole nation has to wait hundreds of years for the Messiah to appear, we’ve spent thousands of years waiting for him to come back and we’ve been waiting forever for peace on earth. So what are we all supposed to do in the meantime?

This week in Bible study, I changed the words of a popular song. The song goes, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” I added a Missions angle: “If you can’t help the ones you love, help the ones you’re with” – meaning people in our own community. Today there’s another dimension I’d like to add: “If you can’t be in the time you love, love the time you’re in.”

One of my favorite Bible verses is Ecclesiastes 7:10. The New Living Translation is “Don’t long for the good old days. This is not wise.” The Good News Translation is “Don’t ask, ‘Oh, why were things so much better in the old days?’ It’s not an intelligent question.” It’s dangerous to be stuck in the past. But it’s also sad to be so fixed on the future that we can’t enjoy the present.

One of my favorite things about this church is our band, and the new songs I’ve been learning here. One of the best songs is called “God, Turn It Around.” The part I like the best is a call and response. It goes like this:

He is up to something, He is up to something, God is doing something – right now!
He is healing someone, He is saving someone, God is doing something – right now!
He is moving mountains, making a way for someone, God is doing something – right now!

God isn’t waiting for summer. God isn’t waiting for Easter. God isn’t even waiting for spring. God is interested in today. God isn’t waiting for the United Methodist Church to get its act together, or for a worldwide revival, or for the Second Coming. Here come the flowers, here come the leaves, and here comes God.

Spring is not only about anticipation; spring is an invitation. God is inviting us to participate in spring by participating in his kingdom. Feeding people – right now. Helping people – right now. Loving people – right now. “As surely as seeds sprout and grow,” writes Isaiah, “the Sovereign God will save his people.” But a seed is still beautiful when it is a seed. We don’t have to wait until it’s a flower to appreciate it, just like we don’t have to wait for children to grow up to appreciate them. And if we are not quite grown up yet, or we are not spiritually mature yet, or if we don’t understand all things yet, or if we’re still flawed or sinful or fallen, or if we’re still a work in progress, we are still beautiful to God. We still have value to God. Not only because of our potential, but because of who we are today, still in winter, hovering on the cusp of spring. We are trees that the Lord himself has planted, growing near streams of life-giving water, sending out our roots so that in all seasons we will be nourished, and strengthened, and blessed.

Spring is an invitation to be renewed: to burst into spiritual bloom as the world bursts into bloom around us. It is an invitation to come out of our spiritual winters, out of our tombs and cocoons, and to embrace the promise that is already ours: “joy and gladness instead of grief, a song of praise instead of sorrow … the good news of comfort, healing, freedom, release and salvation” – all of these things available to us – right now.

So summer is still my favorite season. And I still love winter. But this year, I’m looking forward to spring. And even though it’s not spring yet, I’m already feeling it, and hope you are too. Happy spring and Amen!

Closing Song: Kari Jobe, “The Garden”

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back. 
May the sun shine warm upon your face; 
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, 
may God hold you in the palm of His hand. Amen.

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