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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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    
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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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
.

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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).

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Rev. Dr. Robert A. Knebel

West Hartford United Methodist Church