24 January 2022

Read: Luke 4:14-21

When Jesus returned to his hometown the people were excited to learn from him because his reputation had preceded him; he was “the hometown boy made good.” As a sign of respect and honor he is asked to read the scroll of Isaiah during sabbath service in the synagogue. After reading Isaiah 61 he makes a statement that sends shock waves through the crowd. The Good News is not just the proclamation of Jesus’ mission, but Jesus himself. “Today this scripture is being fulfilled.” It is one thing to preach about what God will do in the future. Someday, God will act, move, and save one day, some day. It is another thing to say, God is acting, and moving, and saving right this moment, in your listening. You are witnessing God acting today because Jesus is here. This is the good news we can live by and have our being everyday of our life. Receive the good news!

Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

20 January 2022

Read: Psalm 19

Reflecting upon our reading today, Dr. Marilyn Pagan-Banks, reminds us that creation without words, declares the “handiwork of God.” In other words, creation did not happen by accident or randomly. Behind the beauty of the heavens and the earth is the loving hand of the creator. “Here creation reminds us that true worship does not happen in isolation and that there is no worship without accountability to the Creator. Creation reminds us of the laws of God and calls us back to our covenant with God and all of creation” (Upper Room. The Upper Room Disciplines 2022: A Book of Daily Devotions, Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2021, page 47. Kindle Edition). Creation has no words, but we do. Speak out, cry out, sing out in worship, and in defense of creation.

 
Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

18 January 2022

 

Read: Psalm 102

I identify with the psalmist sentiments as presented in Psalm 102. The psalm reads as if the Psalmist has had one of those weeks were the stress of family, work, and other pressures have left him exhausted and needing a few more hours in the day and another day in the week or another week in the month to get everything done. Ever felt that way? But, the affirmation of the psalmist, and the witness of scripture is, in response to our weariness, our challenges and seemingly hopeless problems, God offers life-giving miracles! Where we have fallen, God lifts us up to new highs! Where we are a pile of weary bones, God picks us up and fill us with the Spirit! God is good, all the time.
 
 
Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

13 January 2022

 

Read: John 2:1-12

Christianity has a bad reputation to nonbelievers as it is often pictured as joyless, judgmental and hypocritical by the media, and, sorry to say, many Christians themselves. Ray Waddle in Monday’s devotional reading in the Upper Room Disciplines proffers the thought that our scripture reading today counters that notion in a big way. “The wedding at Cana invites the reader to expect God’s activity even in the details of raucous human celebrations that aren’t strictly ‘religious,’ like a noisy wedding reception” (The Upper Room Disciplines 2022: A Book of Daily Devotions. Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2021, pg. 31). Here in the midst of revelry of a wedding feast God’s activity is present and Jesus’ power over all of nature is revealed. At the core of Christianity is joy, we need to show it in our life. Be joyful in the Lord today.

 
Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

11 January 2022

“So, continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already.”

I Thessalonians 5:11

 

Last Friday one of the best friends I have ever had passed away in his sleep after a three-year battle with cancer. Rev. Dick Ryley was my friend, mentor, counselor, and a brother whose kind words always encouraged and inspired me to greater things. Whenever I confronted a difficult moment in my life or ministry, I would say to myself, “What would Dick Ryley do in this situation?” Then I would call him, he would listen, and I would talk, then he would offer wise counsel. L discovered when I followed his guidance, I had the strength to work the problem I confronted to a satisfactory conclusion. Because of his encouragement I am a better man, pastor, husband, dad, granddad and Christian.

In 1985 the leading lay man in the church I served was murdered on the Wednesday after Easter thrusting me into the most challenging pastoral situation I have ever confronted. I called Dick and he listened to me but did not say much. He prayed with me. The next day I arrived at the church office about a half hour later than usual. When I went into my study there, sitting in a chair, was Dick Ryley. He said that he thought I could use a friendly hug and a friend, so he drove all the way from lower Duchess County, NY to Catskill to spend a good portion of the day with me.

We all need encouragement in our life, don’t we? Paul writing to the church in Thessalonica reminded the Christians there that their job is to encourage one another and to keep doing so throughout life. Be an encourager today.

 
Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

10 January 2022

Read: Mark 1:14-20

Believe I was called to ministry at young age. From my earliest memory the urge to be a pastor had been in my heart and mind. As I grew older certain challenges were placed on my path that made me wonder if my all that was just in my head. During my high school days, I was employed by Friendly Ice Cream and was encouraged to consider entering their management program after high school. I was strongly considering going that route when I had what I believe to be an epiphany. A week or so before starting my senior year I was waiting to begin my shift a strong voice spoke to me saying, “you are not to be a Friendly’s manager. You are to be a Methodist minister.” From that moment on any doubts about my calling I had went away and I knew I was called into ministry. I think about this experience every time I read Mark 1:16-20.

Sensing a calling to follow God’s way is one thing, the important thing is to say “YES” to God’s calling and nudging. The late United Methodist Bishop Reuben Job writes, “Hearing is an important step in saying yes to God’s call. But once we hear, we must still decide whether we will go where invited or sent. In other words, hearing may be the easy part of God’s call.” He further explains, “In my experience the right answer is always yes [to God’s invitational call]. The good news is that even when I was unable to give the right answer, God was patient and gave me opportunity to grow in faith until I was able to say yes and claim another part of my inheritance as a child of God.”

 
Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

05 January 2022

Read: Psalm 72

On December 26, a newscaster began a segment of the nightly news, “Now that Christmas is over…” I thought to myself, Christmas is not over until January 5th, today. So, for the last time for the 2021-22 Christmastide, I wish you a very Merry and Blessed Christmas!

While Christmas fades into our memory and leads us to the day of the Epiphany, the meaning of the event we remember continues to have significance for us throughout the year. By becoming a human being God reveals how much God loves us. There is nothing we can do that will ever destroy or stop that love. Not only are you loved but you are precious in God’s sight. That is the reason Jesus was born and reminds us that because we are loved we can have a personal intimate relationship with the Almighty. We need Christmas, especially at this time to remind us that we are loved, special, and precious to God. Merry Christmas.

 
Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

24 December 2021

As we prepare to worship and give thanks to God almighty for the glorious gift of Jesus Christ on this Christmas Eve, I want to wish you and your family a most blessed Christmas and New Year! I will be taking some time for rest between Sunday and January 4th, so the Daily Faith Builder will be in recess until the 4th.

As I reflect upon this evening and the event we celebrate, I am constantly singing one of my favorite Christmas carols:

1. In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

2. Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

3. Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss,
worshiped the beloved with a kiss.

4. What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him: give my heart.

 

Merry Christmas!

 
Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

23 December 2021

Read: Luke 2:14

I wonder if it weren’t for the angel would the world know about Jesus. Would Mary and Joseph have played a role in God’s salvation story? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I do know the angel plays a major role in the narrative as the messenger of God. In our scripture today the angel brings a chorus of angels to sing a hymn “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

Who does God favor? You and me and our neighbors. That’s why we have Christmas to celebrate. Despite the fact that we are prone to wander away from God, or at the very least, have our attention diverted from God by the way of the world, God’s love for us is made plain in that “while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8b). Christ was born for us. Christ lived for us. Christ died for us. And Christ lives again for us.

 
 
 
Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

22 December 2021

Read: Matthew 1:18-25

As we get closer to our destination this week we have to consider Joseph. In Matthew, Joseph is the focus of the birth narrative, where he is greeting with a punch in the gut. Mary, his fiancée is pregnant with a child that is not biologically his. He receives the news with shock and somber deliberation. An angel breaks into his discernment by speaking to the reality of his and Mary’s predicament. “Don’t be afraid…” With these words the angel acknowledged the reality of Joseph’s broken world. The angel was doing more than simply saying, “it’s okay things will be fine.” No, the message was, Joseph, do not let the traumatic external circumstances consume you with fear and disillusionment. Then, the news is broken to him, the child Mary is carrying is of the Holy Spirit and will be the Savior of the world.

The most amazing thing to me is the response of Joseph. The angel does not offer any scientific evidence that the baby is from the Holy Spirit, nor proof that what was told him is true. Joseph had to choose at that moment to believe or walk away. His faith allowed him to accept and believe what the angel told him and allowed him to accept the task God was placing on his shoulder, to be at the side of Mary as she gave birth to the Savior of the world, and to protect the family in the face of the danger to come. He did not give into his fear but carried on in spite of the trauma of his circumstance.

In our broken world the choice for us is similar to the one Joseph faced. Do we let the trauma of external circumstances paralyze us with fear, or do we trust and follow the way of Jesus through this troubled and broken world?

 
 
 
Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

21 December 2021

Read: Luke 1:39-55

While Mary reacted to the annunciation of Gabriel with openness and obedience to the word God sent to her through Gabriel, she still needed assurance.  So, she travels three days to Ein Keren to visit her relative, Elizabeth, who was pregnant at an advanced age. Before Mary’s pregnancy could be a blessing to the world, Elizabeth’s pregnancy was a blessing to Mary. When Elizabeth spoke to Mary it was the confirmation and assurance Mary needed to become steadfast in her commitment and trust. We all need assurance, don’t we?

Both pregnancies were miracles, and they help us understand that nature of Biblical miracles. Whenever something miraculous happens in scripture it is rarely for the benefit of the recipient alone. Whenever someone in the Bible is blessed, it is so that the recipient of that blessing can be a blessing to others. Blessed to be a blessing. Elizabeth was a blessing to Mary, and Mary was a blessing to the entire world. What was Mary’s response? “My soul magnifies the Lord…”  You are blessed to be a blessing!

 
 
 
Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

20 December 2021

Read: Luke 1:26-38

Our journey to Bethlehem this week begins with Mary and a courageous act of obedience of faith. As I re-read the account of the annunciation in Luke I am struck by a question, what does it take for one to be obedient to the will of God? The Gospel writer does not give us a biographical sketch of Mary, only that she was a virgin engaged to man named Joseph. We don’t know her background, nor do we know how “religious” she was in her early life. Yet, God chose her for a mission that would place her personal safety and social reputation at great risk, let alone her relationship with Joseph. Despite the personal risk she said yes. Such obedience!

Obedience to the will of God begins when one is able to step back from the details of self-interest and see the Big Picture. In Mary’s case what God was asking to accept was not just for herself, but for the whole world (talk about the big picture!). What does it take to be obedient to the will of God? “Mary’s ‘yes’ was said in the darkness of faith. She was not certain, nor assured by any Scripture quote or doctrine. She just heard what she heard, and did what God asked for to do, accepting the consequences” (Richard Rohr. Preparing for Christmas, Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2008, p. 55). It take faith to see the Bigger Picture and to trust the Voice of God who speaks to us at the deepest level of our being to give us the inner authority to follow the will of God. This is where the journey to Bethlehem begins.

 
 
Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

18 December 2021

Read: Isaiah 40:28-31

One week away from Christmas, I invite you to be part of the waiting. Come on the arduous journey from creation, through the prophets, to Nazareth then to Bethlehem with the people of Israel and especially Mary and Joseph. Share in the worry and weariness they must have felt, but also the assurance that a hope in God would carry them through. 

1Join us for a special service of Lessons and Carols tomorrow in the sanctuary or on line at 10 a.m. 

 
Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

17 December 2021

Read: Psalm 62:6-14

“The Gospel reveals that life is always a mixed bag, but a good mixed bag” (Richard Rohr. Almost Christmas. Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Press, 2008, pg. 46). When we are confronted with the mixed bag of life we have a choice: we can either be miserable, tolerate it, or thrive, it is our decision, and our decision alone. God’s desire is for us to thrive, that’s why God chose to become one of us. By becoming a human being God extends an invitation to all of us to be in a personal relationship with God and finding eternal life. Not pie in the sky when you die but real life that thrives here in real time despite the mixed bag life throws at us. This Advent, say yes to the invitation to be in a personal relationship with God. As the closing line in the carol, Good Christian Friends, Rejoice, states, “Christ was born for this.”

 
Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

16 December 2021

Read: Luke 17:20-22

Jesus spend a great deal of time preaching about the Kingdom of God and giving glimpses of what the Kingdom is about. “Giving glimpses” is the operative phrase because the Kingdom of God will never fully arrive in this life, however, we see the parts of the Kingdom every day. The key is to recognize it, affirm it and celebrate it. What are some of the glimpses of the Kingdom? Healing takes place in the life of someone fighting disease; the helpers who come forward when disasters occur; when forgiveness is offered to an offender; when justice rights a wrong, when an addict finds new life. Jesus told his listeners, “For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). Look for it today.

Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

15 December 2021

Read: 2 Timothy 2:8-10

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel.”

2 Timothy 2:8

Now eleven days until Christmas! Advent is a time we remember and reflect upon the mystery of that first Christ. Something happened that day that had never happened before. God slipped into the human story the same way you and I do, born from the womb of a woman, vulnerable and needy. Dependent upon another human being to survive. He needed to be fed, clothed, and cared for in order to survive. God becomes one of us so that we can learn the way, the truth, and the life of how things should and can be in our life and in the world. Our challenge is to remember and believe today and every day.

Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

14 December 2021

Read: Luke 1:39-45

I get irritated by the misinformation we received about Christmas. Yesterday (December 12th), one of the personalities on the radio station I was listening to in my car proclaimed, “Hey, the 12 days of Christmas have arrived. Today is day 12 of Christmas.” The sad fact is, we are not in the 12 days of Christmas, we are still in Advent. Christmas begins on December 25 and continues for 12 days until January 5th, the Twelfth Night! Today there are eleven days until Christmas, how’s your heart? Is it prepared to receive Emmanuel this year?

I’ve been rereading the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke this week. I am struck by the fact that Mary and Joseph lived in a world just as complicated and confusing as our world. God broke into their world with a simple greeting, “don’t be afraid.” What we see working out in the narrative is both of them acknowledging the broken world they were living in and not giving into their fear. Why, because right after the angel’s greeting comes the promise that a son would be born who is “Emmanuel, God with us.” God breaks into our story to show us how to cope and thrive in this complicated, broken and dark world. Mary and Joseph show us how; to live by faith. That’s what is required, have a little faith today, tomorrow and forever.

Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

13 December 2021

Read: Isaiah 61:1

Tom Hanks in an old movie, A League of Their Own, gives one of my all-time favorite lines. He’s a washed up major league baseball player managing a professional women's baseball team during World War 2. On the morning of the opening of the world series the star of the team has decided to quit because, “it just is too hard.” Hanks responds, “It’s (baseball) supposed to be hard. If it were easy everyone would play it.” So true about baseball but it can also be said about Christianity. “It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy everyone would be” a Christian.

The verse of scripture that is our reading today comes from the prophet Isaiah where he is describing the coming of the Servant of the Lord. Jesus begins his ministry by taking this verse and announcing the purpose of his ministry, to include rather than exclude by reaching beyond the polite and proper limits and boundaries to seek out those on the margins of society and to bring them into relationship with God and the community. His ministry is not about gathering the good people like us into a private country club but to reach out to those who are on the edge and at the bottom to say they are loved and embraced by the Lord God. His ministry was about inclusion and not exclusion.

Now consider the push back Jesus received from the good, upstanding, religious leaders of his day to this ministry. I dare suggest it was ultimately what led him to the cross. It is easy to exclude and extremely hard to include. It is the hard that makes Christianity so great IF – and this is a big IF – we follow the model of Jesus.

Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

10 December 2021

Read: Luke 1:26-38

Have you noticed how advertisers characterize this time of the year these days? It is now called the “season for giving.” The intent of this slogan is to plant in our heads the importance of our action of giving and to respond by buying as much stuff as we want to give away. The question for our spiritual life goes beyond our action of giving to ask how are we at receiving a gift? We may be really good at giving but are we a graceful receiver?

I am sure the advertisers who made us the slogan did not have God in mind the message gets at the heart of the meaning of Christmas. The Gospel writer sums it up, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” Jesus is the gift. Mary is the symbol for how the gift is received and treasured. Never as a reward for performance or a trophy for winning a race. The gift is received with humility, trust, and gratitude. We have done nothing to deserve the gift of Jesus. He comes to us simply by grace. How do you receive the gift today?

Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

09 December 2021

Read: Philippians 4:4-7

Every so often a scripture verse will call to my mind a song. Such is the case when I read Philippians 4:4 today. At summer camp we sang a round that proclaimed, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice…Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice!” Paul encourages his coworkers in the Lord to never cease rejoicing even when confronting exceedingly difficult challenges in their life. Being able to rejoice regardless of our circumstances in life is a mark of the Christian life and a sign that one is truly “in Christ.”

As Advent reaches the halfway point, remember, Christ came into the world for our sake and for the sake of everyone in the world. We can rejoice because Christ is the source of our strength and the solution to any trouble we may face in the world. This does not mean we can avoid the hard, troubling things in life, but Christ does give us the strength and ability to navigate through those times to a better day. So, I say to you today, REJOICE!

Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

08 December 2021

Read: Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” —Matthew 11:28

I’ve noticed something about myself and, I suspect is true for most other Americans, we don’t really understand the meaning of rest. To rest often feels like “nothing” because we have become, as Richard Rohr points out, “human doings” rather than “human beings.” In other words, the world demands of us constant performance and achievement. The world defines by our accomplishments, the trophies we have on the mantle, the awards we have received, as if they will make us happy and comfortable in our own skin. When Jesus invites us, “Come to me…” and promises “and I will give you rest.” He is inviting us to come away from the demands of the world, for a moment, and soak our lives and souls to catch the message God is sending to the world during Advent, “Don’t let the world define you. You are made in the image of God. You are a precious child of God who is loved.” Resting in the Lord during this busy season of Advent helps prepare us for the joys of Christmas.

Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

07 December 2021

Read: Isaiah 35:1-10

Today I want to share with you a quote from Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent by Richard Rohr.

“Our Christian wisdom is to name the darkness as darkness, and the Light as light, and to learn how to live and work in the Light so that the darkness does not overcome us. If we have a pie-in-the-sky, everything-is-beautiful attitude, we are in fact going to be trapped by the darkness because we are not seeing clearly enough to separate the wheat from the chaff (the more common “liberal” temptation). Conversely, if we can only see the darkness and forget the more foundational Light, we will be destroyed by our own negativity and fanaticism, or we will naively think we are apart from the darkness (the more common “conservative” temptations). Instead, we must wait and work with hope inside of the darkness—while never doubting the light that God always is—and that we are too (Matthew 5:14)” (Rohr, Richard. Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent. Cincinnati, OH: 2008, p. 24.).

Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

06 December 2021

Read: Isaiah 40:1-11

“The grass withers, and the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord endures forever” (Isiah 40:8). When I read these words from Isaiah this morning I was reminded of an article I read in the Huffington Post some years ago. The article reported that a large segment of the American public celebrated Christmas by embracing the secular aspect of the festival, which is the gift giving and the merry making, but ignored the reason for the season, the birth of Christ. Many viewed the narratives of Jesus’ birth and life as fiction, a myth or legend. The sad truth is if Christmas is viewed solely as a secular holiday the fruits of the holiday, the generosity, the good cheer, the excitement, and the joy, etc. will not last. They will wither and fade on December 26th. However, the good news is by taking the time in Advent to prepare our hearts to receive the living Lord of our life, Jesus Christ, then Christmas becomes more than just one day in the year, but something that lasts forever because, “the Word of the Lord endures forever.”

Peace and Love,
Pastor Bob

03 December 2021

Read: Isaiah 29:27-31

In a reflection for the first Friday of Advent, Richard Rohr, writes about the meaning of the Kingdom of God. Christians are often accused of thinking the Kingdom is “pie in the ski when you die” but, Rohr reminds us, that is not what Jesus said. Jesus said the “kingdom is at hand” or “the kingdom of God is near.” In other words, it is breaking into our lives whenever Jesus is near and lives are transformed, healing takes place, and peace and reconciliation happens. These are signs that the kingdom is breaking into our lives but not yet complete when the systems of this world will pass away, and God will reign with justice. The hope of Advent looks to that day when we cry “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel

West Hartford United Methodist Church

02 December 2021

Read: Psalm 31:23-24

“Come, Lord Jesus,” the Advent mantra, means what to you? This question was posed in an Advent devotional I read earlier this week. It has been the main question for me in my devotional time each morning. What does “Come, Lord Jesus” mean to me? The answer came to me this morning when I read the verses of Psalm 31 for our scripture reading this morning, “Love the Lord, all you his saints” (Psalm 31:23a). To repeat the Advent mantra, and really mean it, is to fall in love with the Lord by giving your heart to God. While our salvation is solely dependent upon the gracious actions of God, our part is to open our hearts to receive the Lord Jesus when he comes. That’s what God wants, to be in your heart today. “Come, Lord Jesus” come!

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel

West Hartford United Methodist Church

01 December 2021

Read: Revelation 21:4-5

Advent is not just a time to look back with nostalgia with a romantic interpretation of the prophetic word about Messiah. It is to look forward to another time when Christ will return, or, as it is referred to as “the second coming of Christ.” Yes, Advent acknowledges that there will come a time when God brings to completion life as we currently know it and usher in a new heaven and a new earth. On that day, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:4-5). So, our Advent cry is “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”

 

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel

West Hartford United Methodist Church

15 April 2020

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed.  Alleluia!

We continue to pray the Psalms during thei Easter Season

On the fourth day of Easter read Psalm 2.

Reflection:  God is all powerful.  God created the world, and knew about the empires of the earth long before they came into being.  Our world has many leaders who boast of their power and rant and rave against God, if not in words certainly by their deeds. But God laughs because any power any one has comes from God, and God also takes it from them.  We need not fear.    

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Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel
West Hartford United Methodist Church

14 April 2020

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed.  Alleluia!

For the next 50 days (actually it will be 48 for us), I invite you to use this time as a moment of prayer and pray a Psalm a day.  Start by asking God to open to you a truth as you read the Psalm.  Then, read it slowly and out loud, making each word a prayer to God for the day.  Then notice through the day where God is speaking to you, or where you recognize God.

On the third day of Easter read Psalm 1.

Reflection:  verses 2 and 3 present a very simple piece of wisdom—the more we delight in God’s presence, the more fruitful we are.  On the other hand, the more we allow those who ridicule God to affect our thoughts and attitudes, the more we separate ourselves from God, the source of our nourishment.  Paula D’Arcy reminds us “God comes to you disguised as your life.”

Noontime prayer today on Facebook live – West Hartford United Methodist Church page.

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Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel
West Hartford United Methodist Church

10 April 2020

Read: Isaiah 52:13-53:12

10 April 33 A.D. – Golgotha, after a night of trial, Jesus walks the via Delarosa, the way of sorrows. Spend a moment meditating on each of the stations of the via Delarosa

Jesus is condemned to die.
Jesus carries His cross.
Jesus falls for the first time.
Jesus meets his mother.
Simon is forced to carry His cross.
Veronica wipes His face.
Jesus falls for the second time.
Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
Jesus falls a third time.
Jesus is striped.
Jesus nailed to the cross.
Jesus dies on the cross.
Jesus is taken down from the cross.
Jesus is laid in the tomb.
 

"Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the LORD brought on me in the day of his fierce anger?”

Lamentations 1:12

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Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel
West Hartford United Methodist Church

9 April 2020

Read: Luke 22:1-7

9 April 33 A.D. – Bethany, Judea – The Passover will be here this evening.  The disciples receive assignments to prepare for the seder meal that evening.  Matthew reports they went off and followed the instructions to the letter.  The gospels are quiet about the rest of the day.  Jesus remains in Bethany; we believe preparing for what is a head of him  in the next 24 hours.

In the evening he gathers his disciples in the borrowed room we call the Upper Room and turns the seder meal into something very special.   As someone who loves food it fascinates me to think that the way God has us to remember to two events that define two of the three Abrahamic faiths is a meal.  For Jews the Passover that recounts the exodus of Israel from slavery in Egypt and for Christians the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I guess God knows that a way to our heart is through food, at least it is for me.  So, Jesus makes the seder meal into a meal to remember him every time we gather to celebrate the Last Supper.

The evening is where all the action of the day is focused and all four Gospels report on Thursday night.  The evening is laden with teaching (John 13–17), shocking with foot-washing by the greatest for the least (John 13:3–20), epoch-making with the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:20–30; Mark 14:17–26; Luke 22:14–20), and pivotal with the departure of Judas (John 13:30).  Jesus predicts Peter’s denial (Matthew 26:31-35).  Then they go off to Gethsemane where Jesus prays to the Father to remove this cup from his head (Matthew 26:36-56).  Then he is betrayed and arrested (Luke 22:47-23:56).

The passion of our Lord Jesus Christ begins.  The three days, Maundy Thursday to Easter is called The Paschal Triduum, a Latin term for three days.

Join us tonight for Maundy Thursday communion.  To participate at home, you will need a piece of bread and some juice or wine and view the service on YouTube.  

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Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel
West Hartford United Methodist Church

8 April 2020

Read: Luke 22:1-7

8 April 33 A.D. – Bethany, Judea – two days before the Passover and after three grueling days of teaching and defending himself, Jesus and his disciples take a day to rest.  Although the Prince of Peace and Life is resting, Satan is busy at work as Judas Iscariot runs off to the chief priests and officers of the temple to join the plot to kill Jesus.  He agrees to betray Jesus. And the plot thickens.

1. Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted!

2. Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.

3. Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered.
For our atonement, while we nothing heeded,
God interceded.

4. For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
thy mortal sorrow, and thy life's oblation;
thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
for my salvation.

5. Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
not my deserving.

The United Methodist Hymnal Number 289
Text: Johann Heermann, 1585-1647; trans. by Robert S. Bridges, 1844-1930

--

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel
West Hartford United Methodist Church

7 April 2020

Read: Mark 11:20-33

It is now Tuesday, April 7, 33 A.D. the disciples point to the withered fig tree that Jesus cursed on Monday.  Jesus explains the lesson from the tree;  have faith in God. Specifically, to have undoubting faith.  One must have faith to believe one’s prayers will be answered.

As they make their way into the city, the crowd gathers around Jesus anxious to hear him teach because he is a man of authority.  However, the chief priests and scribes challenge his authority, but Jesus refuses to answer.  Instead he reminds them that they had rejected John the Baptist and refused to heed his message.  Then Jesus tells three parables (about two sons, the wicked tenants, and the wedding guests) to drive home the point that the religious leaders are rejecting grace and truth to protect their hypocritical self-righteousness.

The Pharisees and Herodians now enter the scene and seek to trap Jesus a series of questions: 

Pharisee – Is it lawful to pay taxes?  Jesus: give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.

Pharisee – whose wife will she be in paradise?  Jesus: paradise isn’t like earth; God is God of the living not of the dead.

Pharisee – Which is the greatest commandment of all?  Jesus – You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul.  And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

He wasn’t finished teaching and prophesizing on Tuesday.  It was an exhausting day, and the Lord and his disciples retired to Bethany for the night. 

--
Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel
West Hartford United Methodist Church

4 April 2020

Read: Psalm 90

Join us tomorrow for live stream Palm Sunday worship service

https://westhartfordumc.us12.list manage.com/track/click?u=f0bcbf89023576b4217441c9a&id=089ca3d706&e=b948e71ed4

Isaac Watts great hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” is based on our reading today.

  1. O God, our help in ages past,
    our hope for years to come,
    our shelter from the stormy blast,
    and our eternal home.

    2. Under the shadow of thy throne,
    still may we dwell secure;
    sufficient is thine arm alone,
    and our defense is sure.

    3. Before the hills in order stood,
    or earth received her frame,
    from everlasting, thou art God,
    to endless years the same.

    4. A thousand ages, in thy sight,
    are like an evening gone;
    short as the watch that ends the night,
    before the rising sun.

    5. Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
    bears all who breathe away;
    they fly forgotten, as a dream
    dies at the opening day.

    6. O God, our help in ages past,
    our hope for years to come;
    be thou our guide while life shall last,
    and our eternal home.

                                   UM Hymnal #117

--

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel
West Hartford United Methodist Church

3 April 2020

Read: Psalm 22.

The daily field guide sent out by the Brentwood United Methodist Church shared the following a few days ago.  As I read it, it occurred to me that given our current shelter in place status this might be of help to you.

Marjorie Thompson, Presbyterian minister, author, and spiritual director, recently shared this four step process to feelings management during difficulties that I have found useful during this COVID19 pandemic.

  1. Name: What is this crisis making you feel? Is it panic, anxiety, fear, stupid, anger, shame? Identify it and name it.
  2. Notice: What is this feeling trying to teach you and is what it is saying actually true? Our feelings can be great teachers, pointing out things that our conscious mind hasn’t fully comprehended yet. But they can also tell stories which are not true (for example many of us are hearing: whatever happens just remember that the most important truth is that you do not run out of toilet paper!)
  3. Breathe: Take some deep breathes and try to locate this emotion in your body (headaches, clinched fists, tight shoulders, back pains, upset stomach). Breathe and begin to release some of the tension caused by this crisis.
  4. Befriend: The key to these “negative” emotions is to not get rid of them (they can be in the car, they just can’t be behind the wheel) but to befriend them.  Jesus tells us to befriend our enemies, and this can include the “enemies” within us as well.

--

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel
West Hartford United Methodist Church

1 April 2020

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Psalm 23 NKJV

I read these words yesterday as I officiated at graveside funeral for David Buyers who passed away last Saturday.  As I read these words to his immediate family, it occurred to me that we can take our comfort and gain courage during the coronavirus pandemic by trusting and having faith in Shepherd.  “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

A colleague of mine put it this way, during this crisis Christians must “Walk by faith and not by fear.”  We can do this only if we trust the Shepherd.

--

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel
West Hartford United Methodist Church

31 March 2020

I receive an email from an out of state UM Church with a reflection on scripture.  This morning the reflection was on lighting a candle.  From the beginning of the Christian movement, candles have been lit in homes and at church services to symbolize the presence of Christ.  As we are sheltered in place, light a candle to remind you that you are constantly in Christ’s presence and that Christ walks with us through this pandemic.   Here are some scriptures to reflect on today.

n the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and void and darkness covered the face of the deep. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light; and God saw that the light was good. (Genesis 1:1-4)
 
I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)

Anything exposed by the light will be illuminated and anything illuminated turns into the light. And that is why it is said: wake up sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. (Ephesians 5:13)
 
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a bowl; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before all humanity, so that seeing your good works, they may give praise to your God in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

Facebook live prayers today at 12 noon.  Today we will be led by Edyie Steimer.  Send your prayer concerns to us.

We understand the facility where our longtime member Betty Anderson (turning 100 years old in April) has been exposed to CORVID 19.  Please keep Betty and the other residents of Cherrybrook in Canton in your prayers.

--

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel

West Hartford United Methodist Church

30 March 2020

Read: Psalm 100

To the beginning of the work week I offer you this morning prayer from a short prayer service book I use every morning.

I offer all the prayers, works, joys and problems of this day to you Father, through the Son, my Lord and Savior, in union with the Holy Spirit.  I unite myself in spirit and in prayer with all who worship our Lord today throughout the world.  May the people of God witness the Good News of Christ in all places, at all times, today and forever.  Amen.

Join Mary Srinivasan today at noontime for a short time of prayer.  Go to the West Hartford United Methodist Church Facebook page at 12 noon and join in prayer.  You may email your prayer concerns to me or to the church.

--

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel

West Hartford United Methodist Church

28 March 2020

Read: Psalm 119:49-56

REMINDER:  Our worship service tomorrow will be live-streamed from the church at 10 a.m.  Here’s the link https://westhartfordumc.us12.list-manage.com/track/click?u=f0bcbf89023576b4217441c9a&id=089ca3d706&e=b948e71ed4

Or you can call in at 712-432-6121   Conf ID 332815

Every crisis brings to light the heroic efforts of a group of people we had, up to that point, taken for granted.  In the 1990’s when Dessert Storm took place our military became heroes.  When 9/11 happened we discovered just how brave and heroic fire fighters, police, paramedics are in serving the community.   Now, as the coronavirus CORVID 19 virus has become a pandemic the selfless service of our dedicated health care professionals and providers have come front and center.  The doctors, nurses, paramedics, hospital personnel are the new heroes in our nation. 

Yesterday, an email I receive each day contained a prayer I’d like to share with you.  It’s called a Blessing for Physicians

May you always heal and be healed.
May those who come to you find in you
One who cares deeply
Whose knowledge includes knowledge
Of the Spirit’s movements.

May you take joy in your gifts and use them humbly.
May the suffering and the vulnerable
Be your teachers.
May you see in others the goodness
Of a tender God.

May compassion encircle you
Carry you
Strengthen you
And give you insight.

May your presence be hope
To those in pain
May your skill ease the way
And instill trust.

May you know the Healer of all
May your own heart be held
In the compassion and tenderness
Of God.

--

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel

West Hartford United Methodist Church

27 March 2020

2 Corinthians 2:12-17 

12 When I came to Troas to proclaim the good news of Christ, a door was opened for me in the Lord; 13 but my mind could not rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So, I said farewell to them and went on to Macedonia. 14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.

Worry and anxiety are affecting all of us in someway or another in these days and weeks in the year 2020 Whenever I am filled with worry and anxiety, I find it helpful to seek out a “non-anxious presence” to help me calm down and gain courage for such a time like this. Christ is such a presence in my life.  I also reach out to one or two of my friends whose non-anxious demeanor is almost holy.

If you are not experiencing worry and anxiety today, I am sure someone in your sphere of family and friends is.  Try reaching out to them and be that holy presence for them to gain strength today or this week.  In this time of “sheltering in place” it is most important that we connect with one another.  Be the holy presence for someone today and connect with them by phone.

--

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel

West Hartford United Methodist Church

26 March 2020

Read: Psalm 85

I’ve been making between 20 to 30 calls a day to members and friends of our parish (if you haven’t received a call yet, don’t worry, I’ll get to you).  One question recurring question I have received from a number of people is, “Pastor, are you afraid?”   My answer is, no, I’m not afraid.  I am, however, concerned for each one of you and pray you will continue to observe prudence and common sense in your life, seek the Lord and trust that God will see us through.

One of the disciplines I have been practicing almost daily for a long time, is to read a psalm, and one chapter from the Old and New Testaments.   I am now on my third round of the psalms and each time I read them, something new captures my attention.  This time, for some reason, I have been fascinated by the number of times the psalmist calls out to the LORD to be delivered or rescued from some enemy or catastrophe.  Or, for the nation or individual to be restored; that is the theme of today’s reading.

 “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us” (vs. 4).  How can the psalmist say this with confidence?  Because God has restored to fortunes of Israel over and over and over again.  God continues to restore the fortunes of the creation, over and over again.  Since God is the same, scripture tells us, yesterday, today and tomorrow, we have no reason to doubt that God will restore our lives as well.  That’s where I take my comfort through this pandemic we are experiencing today.

Here’s how the psalm ends:

10Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
    for he will speak peace to his people,
    to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.[a]
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
    that his glory may dwell in our land.

10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
    righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
    and righteousness will look down from the sky.
12 The Lord will give what is good,
    and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him,
    and will make a path for his steps.

We continue our prayer journey today at 12 noon with my lovely wife, Shelly, leading the prayers.  If you haven’t experienced Shelly’s prayers, you won’t want to miss today as her prayers are truly spirit filled.  12 noon West Hartford United Methodi    
--

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel

West Hartford United Methodist Church

25 March 2020

Read: Luke 1:26-38

Grace and peace to you from God or Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton has invited and urged us to join in the world wide prayer experience today at 12 noon.   Join us today on Facebook Live (to wo the West Hartford UMC page) to prayer the Lord’s Prayer together and to raise intercessions for the world and each other.

President of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church,  Bishop Ken Carter writing to United Methodists around the world wrote:

“We join with Pope Francis in calling for prayer tomorrow, March 25, drawing strength from the Annunciation (Luke 1. 26-38), as we are approximately nine months from the celebration of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We invite all to pray to God to rid the world of the coronavirus pandemic. And all are urged to pray the Lord’s Prayer at noon in their own time zones. In the words of Pope Francis, “We wish to respond to the pandemic of the virus with the universality of prayer, of compassion and tenderness.” As we prepare to celebrate the resurrection at Easter, we have sure trust and confidence that God will hear the united prayers of the church across the world.”

--

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel

West Hartford United Methodist Church

24 March 2020

Read:  Matthew 7:12

Our scripture reading today comes from the Sermon on the Mount and maybe the most universally famous saying of Jesus known as the Golden Rule.   Commenting on this in his sermon “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount”, discourse 5,  Rev. John Wesley wrote: “The grand measure of justice, as well as of mercy, is, Do unto others as thou wouldst  they should do unto thee.  Do you walk by this rule? … Do you not make a gain of anyone’s ignorance or necessity? Neither in buying nor selling? If you do, why does not your heart condemn you?” 

Being “sheltered in place” does not exempt us from practicing the Golden Rule daily.  Reach out to a neighbor today; connect with a church friend you haven’t seen in a few weeks and let them know they’ve been prayed for and loved.

At 12 noon today, join me on Facebook live for a short moment of devotion and pray.  On Facebook go to the West Hartford United Methodist Church page, let’s all join in prayer.

--

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel

West Hartford United Methodist Church

21 March 2020

Read:  Psalm 27:1-5

The other day I read an article on the Christian response to pandemics in history.  The example of Martin Luther during the Bubonic Plague pandemic that was a watershed moment in the fourteenth century.  When the Plague came to the town he was living and ministering in at the time, Wittenberg, Germany people fled the town.  Luther and his wife, Katharina, choose to stay and minister to those who were healthy and afflicted with the Plague.  He cited Matthew 25:41-46 as his justification for staying.  He wrote:

“We must respect the word of Christ, ‘I was sick and you did not visit me.’ According to this passage we are bound to each other in such a way that no one may forsake the other in his distress but is obliged to assist and help him as he himself would like to be helped.

Luther spoke of the circumstances where fleeing is permitted and cautioned Christians to refrain from judging others for different decisions they must make in times of crisis. (www.thegospelcoaltion.org Glenn Scrivener. “Responding to Pandemics: 4 Lessons from Church History”, 3/16/2020. Accessed 3/20/2020).  And so we are in such a time in March, 2020.

My pastoral counsel to you is use common sense, follow the advice of health professionals, do not panic or fear.  Christ is stronger than this virus, and far more involved.  Christ is with us.

Christ, have mercy on me.

Lord, have mercy on me.

Christ, have mercy on me.

--

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel

West Hartford United Methodist Church

20 March 2020

Read:  Psalm 81

Psalm 81 is a song of God’s law and a command to worship God because of the special relationship God has with Israel.  In verses 5-10, the voice of the Lord proclaims God’s story of leading Israel out of servitude in Egypt.  The story is not just of God rescuing but a burning desire to sustain Israel, “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10b).

Scripture and history teach us that we will face challenging and dangerous times such as, wars, famines, pandemics, etc. are part of our story as a human race.  We are presently amid one of those times in our history and when facing the danger of our time we can lose sight of the big picture.

If we read history with the eye of faith, we can take courage in knowing that as God has seen humanity through crisis times in the past, God will see us through this current crisis as God saw humanity through the bubonic plague in the 14th century or the 1918 Spanish flue and the HIV/AIDS pandemic of the 1980’s, etc.  This is the promise of Psalm 81:5.

God works through the tools at our hands and minds, like common sense, medical knowledge, experience and technology, etc. to bring us through a time like now.  Yes, people will get sick and will die during this time.  Faith does not make us immune to viruses, diseases and even death.  But our faith should give us a sense of courage to face the current with an attitude of courage rather than fear.  “Open you mouth wide and I will fill it” says the Lord.

O God keep my strong in my faith today.  Help me be part of what you are blessing.  Keep me and my loved ones safe and healthy.  Through Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen.

--

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel

West Hartford United Methodist Church

19 March 2020

Read:  Psalm 80

“Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved” (Psalm 80:7, 19).

Our reading today is a prayer for the restoration of Israel after a national tragedy.  The psalmist recasts the exodus and conquest period of Israel’s history as God planting and flourishing of a vine.  The vine is deeply rooted and cannot be destroyed despite fire, famine, decease, virus, or sin. During those times the branches might be scorched, shriveled and withered, it will not die.  Why?  Because God planted the vine.  Thus, the psalmist proclaims with confidence (not once but twice), “Restore us, O God of hosts, let your face shine, that we may be saved.”

In the Gospel of John, on the night he was arrested, Jesus told his disciples,  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  God has planted that seed of the vine in each of our hearts, it’s called faith.  As we confront this time of uncertainty and crisis – an unprecedented time in our lifetime – let the vine root deeply in your heart, stand strong in the Lord and take courage to know God is with you.

PRAYER:

Be planted in my heart, dear Lord.  Give me the faith to fully trust in your love and care.  Keep me and my loved ones save in all we do today.  “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”  Amen.

Watch for a brief email announcement I’ll be sending out shortly to update you on a few matters related to the church’s ministry and worship.   Be part of what God is blessing today.  Pastor Bob

--

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel

West Hartford United Methodist Church

18 March 2020

21“You have heard that it was said to the ancient ones, ‘You shall not murder;’  and ‘Whoever shall murder shall be in danger of the judgment.’ 22But I tell you, that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool!’  shall be in danger of the fire of Gehenna” (Matthew 5:21-22).

You may be thinking to yourself that the pastor has lost his mind using this reading from the Sermon on the Mount for the crisis and disaster we are facing as a nation afflicted with the CORVID-19 pandemic.  On the surface, you would be right to be thinking that way.  However, I want you to look a little deeper and see that Jesus is saying to us something very profound to Christians and the world.

The Lord begins by reminding his listeners of the commandment, “You shall not murder.”   He contrasts that with his own teaching, “But I say to you.”    In our reading today Jesus extends the reach of the commandment beyond the act of murder to our thoughts, feelings and actions that cause people to commit murder.  He challenges us to deal with the problem of evil while it still resides as evil thoughts and feelings in our hearts before they find expression in actions that cause harm to another person.  He calls us to be reconciled with our brother and/or sister so that good feelings – Godly feelings – will overcome the harmful feelings in our hearts.  Once our hearts are right, we will no longer be tempted to commit evil acts, like murder, but instead be motivated by love, which is our proper response to neighbor and enemy (Matthew 5:44).

Today, reach out to an elderly neighbor or friend who lives alone and offer a loving voice.

Prayer:

Dear God, help me to be part of what You want to bless.  Help our church to be part of what it is that you are blessing.  Amen.

--

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel

West Hartford United Methodist Church

17 March 2020

Read:  Matthew 5:21-37

Grace and peace to you on this St. Patrick’s Day.  It seems strange not to be celebrating this day without parades and parities and corned beef and cabbage dinners.  We are in a new reality, for sure.  Keep strong.

My original plan was to spend 2020 walking through the Gospel of Matthew, chapter and verse by verse, but that was a plan.  During Lent I planned to walk through the Sermon on the Mount leading up to a joyous Easter celebration.   We will try to stay with that plan, but for this week, at least we will give a brief reflection on the various parts Matthew 5:21-37.  

Bishop William Willimon reflecting on the reading today wrote, “You have heard it said, ‘Christianity makes sense.  Your life will go better if you sign on with Jesus.’  But I say to you that if you listen to Jesus, if you try to take his demands seriously, then you may find that he complexifies and complicates your life” (Lectionary Sermon Resource, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2019, Kandle edition, location 1767).   The reading today is an example of what he means.

Jesus was not a conventional player.  He challenged conventional wisdom and actions of his day, particularly the thinking and actions of the religious leaders.   He challenged their interpretation of the law of Moses.  In Matthew 5:17, he said he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it,  “You have heard is said…but I say to you…”  In each instance, Jesus is not saying forget what the law tells you --“don’t murder…don’t commit adultery…don’t divorce your wife…don’t swear an oath” – committing such sins breaks relationship and destroys community.  No, in his words -- “but I say to you…if you are angry…if you lust in your heart…divorce has greater consequences…let your yes be yes and no be no” – raises the bar for us to follow.  Thus, our life becomes more complicated.

On St. Patrick’s Day, let close with the prayer of St. Patrick:

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

 

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.

Christ shield me today
Against wounding
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation
.

--

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel

West Hartford United Methodist Church

March 16, 2020

READ: Psalm 77

Our reading today is so appropriate for the times we are experiencing in the here and now.  The psalmist begins with a troubled heart crying out to God with a complaint about the suffering he is experiencing day and night. 

Verse 3, I believe captures what many of us experience in times of suffering and high anxiety; our thoughts about God during these times tends to be disturbing rather than comforting.   If God is supposed to be loving, we think, how can God allow something like the coronavirus (COVID-19) to ravish the world?  Why would God allow such suffering and anxiety to exist?  Why doesn’t God stop it?  Isn’t this the conundrum we all face?  The psalmist does not try to answer these questions he just exclaims, “You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (vs. 4).  After the psalmist goes quiet, his mind continues to contemplate the difficult situation he finds himself in and questions God’s faithfulness by reflecting that it seems God has not acted in the contemporary as God has acted in the past (vs. 5-10).  Then the psalmist recites God’s actions in the past for the nation and realizes that these actions guide the faithful to safety.

We forget that God works through the events of history, our history or the greater history of the world, to bring about resolution for the good.  While our present moment is dangerous, and it is natural for us to feel anxious and fearful, we must remember that God is working still.  God does not manipulate the events of our day to punish or reward us, rather, God guides the faithful through these times to a new day.  Hopefully, having learned from the experience to make us better people and the world a better place. 

We are nowhere near the end of the current pandemic.  The medical experts tell us that the worst is yet to come.  They key, I believe, is to take their advice and be sensible in your activities and interactions with other people.  Most of all, remember and trust that God is here, working as God has in the past.  As the psalmist concludes, “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (Psalm 77:20).

--

Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel

West Hartford United Methodist Church