Thanksgiving (Round Table by Media Console)
Pick a psalm that speaks to you. Take a copy of the psalm, a pen, and a clipboard to the table. Write your own psalm of thanksgiving to God. Remember, it doesn’t have to be all good things; we can thank God while also recognizing the hardships of life. You can use the format of the psalm you chose, even picking up on some of the words, or simply have it there as general inspiration.
Trust (Lounge Area)
We associate Psalm 23 with death because it is often read at funerals. But it is a psalm about comfort when we are afraid and trusting God when that fear overtakes us. We are sometimes reluctant to trust as the psalmist does, we recite, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” But do we live this way? Yet we live in a way that says, “The Lord is not my shepherd; I do want.”
Take a copy of psalm 23 provided. Spend a few minutes turning each positive into a negative and each negative into a positive. See how this changes the psalm. Notice what feelings arise in you with these changes. How does this change your view of the prayer? Then spend a few moments rereading the original psalm. Do you see it differently? What changes do you need to make in order to live the words of the original psalm?
Lament (Baptismal Font)
Psalm 6:3, “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?”
Psalm 1, “They are like trees, planted by streams of water.”
Water is a symbol of life in scripture; it represents the presence of God. Our bodies are made up of mostly water. Sometimes in the course of a lifetime, the pains and struggles in our lives build up. We shove down the pain or the injustice or grief and do not lament our struggles to God. Over time, this has an effect on our souls.
Take a piece of ice, hold it in your hand, and offer God a lament. Let God have it; God can take it. All the pain that is there, God can hold. As you do, the ice will dissolve into the hope that we, too, can be relieved of our pain through this offering. That what was once hardened can become life-giving again.
Praise (in front of the Praise Team)
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary!
Praise God in his fortress, the sky!
Praise God in his mighty acts!
Praise God as suits his incredible greatness! (Psalm 150)
What are 5 landmarks or seasons on your horizon for which you can praise God now in anticipation? Perhaps they are joyful or perhaps overwhelming. Write it out and post it to the horizon.
When the time for Prayer Stations is over, a video of Psalm 4 will play,
find your way back to your seat and as you watch it,
notice what words or images stick with you.
What questions arise for you?
What is God asking of you in this moment?
In 2020 the Ashland session was hoping to explore our future vision with outreach in our community. Because of the pandemic, this process stalled, but we are hoping to reengage this year. We know that our faith mandates us to care for our neighbor, but it is hard to do that when we don’t know who our neighbor is or what their needs might be. Ashland has long been a church that walks with people on their journey, and the community engagement process is no different.
What is Community Engagement?
The word mission is fraught. It conjures images of white churches going into other people’s countries or neighborhoods to “help” the residents and business owners who live and work there.
What if we started thinking of “mission” as community engagement? A more descriptive term, community engagement, is exactly what it says – engaging with your community.
For churches, this means shifting the theology and practice of mission away from how we have thought about and practiced it and toward a more engagement-focused model. Many churches organize their mission by designating a portion of the annual budget to be used to support mission endeavors. This budget falls under the purview of a mission committee, which meets regularly to decide how to spend the money.
A community engagement-focused culture of mission shifts away from budgets and committees to investing in building relationships in your community outside your building. It moves toward listening to neighbors, partners, local small businesses, other nearby faith communities, etc., to build trust and find out what they care about. Community engagement prioritizes relationships, and the church’s public witness and action flow naturally from there.
- If your congregation has invested in getting to know the ESAL teachers and the
- principal and guidance counselor at your local elementary school, if there were ICE raids in the local community or some other crisis related to undocumented families living in your local area, your church would be able to very naturally show up at the school and ask how you could support undocumented students.
- If your congregation has spent time meeting with your neighbors and getting to know the neighborhood association, when a family in the neighborhood loses a child to death by suicide, your congregation can show up to provide pastoral care, food, etc.
- If your congregation has spent time identifying that the common shared interest among neighbors, businesses, schools, etc., is a love of and concern for the environment, you may be able to gather all other disparate groups and people and together work for ecological justice in your neighborhood.
As of March 8, 2022 the Session of Ashland Presbyterian Church unanimously voted to lift the mandate for masks in the church. We wish to express that we trust our community. Most, if not all of our community has been vaccinated and boosted, we want to recognize the advancement of science and the realities of learning to “live with” this virus among us.
Some may choose to keep wearing masks as before and some will choose to unmask. We want to declare a “Judgement-Free Zone” as we know you will all be respectful of the other’s choices. We are asking you still keep your distance as we are all getting used to being around others again and close proximity is still a factor for many.
Worship leaders will have the same choices as the congregants. Pastor Shannon will, however, mask when off the chancel area during worship. She has the most exposure to the congregation as a whole and we want to be smart and respectful.
As always, if you are experiencing symptoms please stay home, test, and/or wear a mask. If you have a direct exposure or a positive test, we ask you to strictly follow the CDC guidelines.
As always, we will continue to monitor the situation and follow the recommendations of the CDC, as well as any government mandates.
Thank you for your patience and understanding. The Ashland Session, March 8, 2022
Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he himself believed, along with his whole household. Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.
5After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath. 10So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” 11But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” 12They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” 13Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. 14Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” 15The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath.
17But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” 18For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.
The Word of the Lord…Thanks be to God.
I grew up in a time when tv evangelism was at its height. From the rise of the evangelical church in the late 1970’s, the 1980’s seemed like a time of vast expansion into tv. Maybe it’s a stereotype, but I would watch these evangelists occasionally and all I remember was people swarming a big stage, like they were at a rock concert, and inevitably someone in a wheelchair would receive the spirit, and they would walk.
Even to my young eyes, this looked like a stunt.
I had friends in school with disabilities, one of my good friends was born with Spinal Bifida and used a wheelchair to get around. She and her family also went to church. It never sat right with me, the idea that she would be cured of her ailment if she would just believe more or better.
I had no confidence that those people preaching on tv were actually healing that person in that wheelchair. What I did have confidence in is that they were using these “healings” as a way of getting people at home to send in a check.
As I reflect on my feelings about these evangelists I remember considering them “false prophets,” which was a term I had recently learned in my Sunday School class.
I honestly don’t think we talk enough about false prophets these days, but that’s another sermon for another time. What is pertinent to our scripture today is why we are so likely to succumb to the stunt, to buy whatever a false prophet is selling.
Because even though the healing wasn’t real, the hope was.
In our scripture lesson this morning we get two different stories about healing. One a father pleading with Jesus to visit his son. Jesus has no need to visit, as the miracle comes through the father’s belief, Jesus declares him healed and he is.
The second is a man who has lived with his disability for 38 years. This is practically a lifetime in first-century Palestine. At least that is how we are to read it, he has spent his life sitting by this pool that is supposed to heal those who enter it when the water bubbles.
The pool at Bethesda is a real place in Jerusalem, that has been excavated. If one were to visit Jerusalem today, one could visit the site this story took place. The pool had been used for centuries as a place of healing by the Jewish people. In fact, before the Jewish people used it, there were pagan rituals of healing there.
However, like all promises of healing, the pool didn’t work very often. Thus the man waiting for 38 years.
Jesus asks a peculiar question to this man as he passes him, “Do you want to be healed?”
Now you may think this quite a rude question, and honestly, at first glance I do. (Possible comparison to judging someone for parking in a handicap spot that has a sticker but I don’t “see” as handicap).
Reading this question from a twenty first century lens I find it presumptuous that Jesus would assume that this man is less than whole just because he has a disability. But when you look closely at the question, it seems a little more reasonable.
This man has lived on this mat for 38 years. Just a stone’s throw away from the pool. If he really wanted to be healed, wouldn’t he have found an opportune time to get in, sometimes in those 38 years?
The man never actually answers the question but Jesus cures him anyway. The man doesn’t come to believe or become a disciple. In fact, the man takes up his mat and walks but goes directly to the religious authorities and tells them that the man Jesus healed him on the sabbath. And the religious authorities use this information to start building a case against Jesus.
These 2 stories are peculiar and not what we think of when we think of healing stories, perhaps because our modern way of thinking about healing by God looks a little more like the tv evangelists than these stories.
I think of the story of the 10 lepers, where after being healed and returned to society from being outcast, only one turns and praises God. Jesus praises THIS man and says that only he has received true healing.
See curing a physical ailment or disability is one thing, but does it bring healing? Healing takes time, it takes faith, it takes a community, and often has very little to do with one’s affliction.
These stories are not in our scripture to show what great disciples or believers the men became. They are in scripture so we might believe. So we might help each other heal from what ails us.
So we might bring real hope to people’s lives. The hope of community. Not hope that comes with titles of officials or hope that comes from the mythical stories of a healing pool, but a hope of true healing through true community.
The belief in Christ is the belief of relationship in community, of belonging, even when it looks like we have nothing in common.
I want to close with a video of Journalist Johan Hari. He wrote one of my favorite books called Lost Connections, and in it is a story of healing, the healing of a woman who’s community rallied around her in her darkest hour.
I do need to give one word of warning, there is a curse word near the end, my apologies.
We are all in need of healing, not simply to be cured, and that comes through connection and community. And that is where our hope lies.
May it be so for you and for me. And all God’s people said… Amen.
Our priority is to gather again in the safest capacity possible. Therefore, considering all these factors and with the understanding that each decision will be re-evaluated regularly, the Session has decided the following for re-opening worship:
- Masks will be required for vaccinated and unvaccinated alike
- Worship leaders who are vaccinated will be unmasked while singing and socially distanced from the congregation
- Congregants are encouraged to sing softly to decrease the chance of spread
- Maintain Social distancing; please sit together with family or pods
- Respect a no-touch policy (including hugs and handshakes).
- Please do not congregate in hallways or doorways to provide distancing
- The passing of the Peace will be suspended for the time being
- Fellowship Time will be suspended
- Offering plates will be available in the back but will not be passed
This year has been a difficult one for all of us. Session has taken measures to be as responsible as possible to all in our community. If you are uncomfortable with these measures, we invite you to watch the service online. If you choose to come to worship, we are under the assumption that you agree to abide by the measures above; we ask that you not put additional strain on volunteers to enforce these guidelines. We know Ashland to be a loving and respectful community and trust that we will all do what we can to respect one another.
Thank you for understanding.