Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 57 – From Pastor Joyce

1 Samuel 1 New Living Translation (NLT)
1 There was a man named Elkanah who lived in Ramah in the region of Zuph in the hill country of Ephraim. He was the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, of Ephraim. 2 Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah did not.
3 Each year Elkanah would travel to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Heaven’s Armies at the Tabernacle. The priests of the Lord at that time were the two sons of Eli—Hophni and Phinehas. 4 On the days Elkanah presented his sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to Peninnah and each of her children. 5 And though he loved Hannah, he would give her only one choice portion because the Lord had given her no children. 6 So Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children. 7 Year after year it was the same—Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle. Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat.
8 “Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?”
9 Once after a sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli the priest was sitting at his customary place beside the entrance of the Tabernacle. 10 Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. 11 And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.”
12 As she was praying to the Lord, Eli watched her. 13 Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. 14 “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!”
15 “Oh no, sir!” she replied. “I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. 16 Don’t think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.”
17 “In that case,” Eli said, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”
18 “Oh, thank you, sir!” she exclaimed. Then she went back and began to eat again, and she was no longer sad.
19 The entire family got up early the next morning and went to worship the Lord once more. Then they returned home to Ramah. When Elkanah slept with Hannah, the Lord remembered her plea, 20 and in due time she gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I asked the Lord for him.”
21 The next year Elkanah and his family went on their annual trip to offer a sacrifice to the Lord and to keep his vow. 22 But Hannah did not go. She told her husband, “Wait until the boy is weaned. Then I will take him to the Tabernacle and leave him there with the Lord permanently.”
23 “Whatever you think is best,” Elkanah agreed. “Stay here for now, and may the Lord help you keep your promise.” So she stayed home and nursed the boy until he was weaned.
24 When the child was weaned, Hannah took him to the Tabernacle in Shiloh. They brought along a three-year-old bull for the sacrifice and a basket of flour and some wine. 25 After sacrificing the bull, they brought the boy to Eli. 26 “Sir, do you remember me?” Hannah asked. “I am the very woman who stood here several years ago praying to the Lord. 27 I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and he has granted my request. 28 Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life.” And they worshiped the Lord there.

This story of Hannah’s faithfulness is inspiring to us – what confidence she must have had in God’s power! Many believe that her situation, and her solution, inspired Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary’s prayer, also known as the Magnificat, recorded in Luke 1:46-55, shares many of the same elements as Hannah’s prayer of praise that follows the above scripture (1 Samuel 2:1-10). It is the prayer Hannah prayed after she left her son Samuel with Eli the priest at the Tabernacle in Shiloh.

So we know that Hannah’s prayer was answered and we also know that Hannah kept her vow to the Lord. That is the rest of the story – knowing the outcome. But at the beginning of this episode, Hannah had no such confidence that her anguish would be relieved through answered prayer. I think we can all relate to being in situations where we can see no good way out and finally accept that whatever our problem or circumstance, we must give over control to God through prayer.

And this is exactly what Hannah did. In her culture a woman needed to have children; that was her goal in life. In order to be accepted as a true wife, a woman needed to produce children, especially sons. Here was Hannah, the favored wife of her husband, but childless. It was a sad situation – the less-favored wife Peninnah could give their husband children, but that did not gain her favored status. Elkanah’s heart belonged to Hannah. Neither woman was happy. Peninnah worked out her frustration by taunting Hannah, ridiculing her because she was not able to give their husband children like she could. Perhaps this was why she was so unsympathetic to Hannah’s situation. Hannah did not respond in kind; instead she went to God in prayer – a very specific prayer – Please give me a child, a son.

There was a time when we experienced a somewhat similar situation. Two of the members of a Bible study group we attended were a husband and wife, he was a research doctor and she was a graduate student in public health. She had a medical condition that made pregnancy unlikely, and there was a real possibility that she would not survive a pregnancy. Yet they asked our group to pray that she could conceive a child. Other members of the group, several of whom were doctors or nurses, shared with us that they could not pray for this outcome. They felt that if the couple were successful in becoming pregnant that the wife’s health was so fragile that either she would die or suffer severe medical consequences. They felt they just could not pray such a prayer. I was conflicted about how to pray, but I chose to pray for their success. Several months later they announced that they would be having a child. Everyone in the Bible study was cautiously optimistic, but that happiness was tinged with apprehension. We all continued to pray for a safe outcome. The rest of the story is that they were able to have a full-term, healthy baby girl. And interestingly, her pregnancy improved her medical condition. God answered their prayers in a powerful way.

Hannah did not have access to the many medical treatments of infertility that are available today. There were no medical journals for her to look at; her only source of help was prayer. And that is where she finally turned in sorrow and desperation. She was not timid in her prayer. She asked God for a son, and in that asking, she also gave a vow – if God granted her prayer for a son, she would give that son into God’s service. What faith that prayer must have taken!

After praying, she left the Tabernacle, and she was no longer depressed. She must have been confident that her prayers would be answered and that she would bear a son. How often we have prayed to God and made vows to serve God if only God would answer our prayers! We have heard examples such as: “If the test results come back negative, I will change my lifestyle to a healthier one.” Or “If I avoid an accident on the icy highway, I will go to church every Sunday.” We have all heard (and perhaps made ourselves) similar promises to God if only God will rescue us from some situation that is beyond our control.

But how often we have forgotten those vows made once our prayers have been answered. Such was not the case with Hannah. She willingly gave her son into God’s service as soon as he was weaned. Even though her giving up her son was done willingly, it was not done without heartache and pain. That took great strength of character as well as faith. There was no question in her heart or mind that because God had honored her prayer that she would honor God by keeping her vow. She was obedient and faithful to her word. That meant that she needed to tell her husband of her plan to give his son into God’s service. That must have been difficult for her to do and for her husband to accept. His son conceived with this favorite wife would not have favored status growing up in his household. Giving up a child to be raised by another is a heart-wrenching decision.

Hannah’s response to leaving her son at the Tabernacle shows again just how deep her faith was. Instead of asking God to help her grieve this loss of her son, she gives God praise (2:1-2). Again, how selfless her act was, just as was Mary, the mother of Jesus. Both women accepted God’s words and actions with faith. Their sons would impact people and nations, both while they were living on earth and throughout the ages. Hannah’s son, Samuel became a prophet, counselor, and Israel’s greatest judge. He was the one who would anoint David as king, David who was in the direct lineage of Jesus.

In today’s world we are called to give up and let go of those we love, not as completely as Hannah, but we all have had feelings of loss or worry or concern when we have had to let go of some influence over another. I remember Pastor Doug commenting when we registered our first child for kindergarten that this was the beginning of the end, the end of our almost complete responsibility for our son. We were giving over some control to teachers and others involved with the school system. We needed to trust that those new caregivers would treat him well.

Teachers also may have misgivings at the end of the school year for some of their students, hoping that they have adequately prepared each student to move on to the next level of instruction. When a couple marries, their families give over some control of their child to the love and care of the chosen mate. Implicit in all of this “giving over to another” is the faith that those others will love, cherish, and care for a the loved one. Even when a child chooses to go out on their own, faith to let go carries with it the hope that the child will remember lessons taught to them in earlier days by parents and others. There is also the hope that they will continue to trust in God’s leadership so that healthy decisions can be made. Giving up and letting go is hard, but if we can have confidence that God is still a big part of the decisions that are made, we can feel less worried about how well a child will react to all of the difficulties that are sure to come.

God has called each of us to be nurtured for a time, to learn and grow in faith, and finally then to become secure in our own faith and confidence in God’s leading that we can nurture others and help them to learn and grow in their faith so that they can, in time, nurture others. God has entrusted the work needed to be done in our world to us – God’s family. God lets us go so that we can do the things God desires for us to do. What faith and confidence and trust God has given to us in this “letting go.” At the same time, although we are given the freedom to prayerfully make our own decisions, God is ever beside us in the form of the Holy Spirit. We can know with certainty that God is always with us; we never have to make decisions alone. Thanks be to God!

-Pastor Joyce Donigian


Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 56 – From Pastor Doug

Wednesday June 3, 2020

1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 2 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, 3 remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, 4 knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.

5 For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. 6 And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,

7 so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. 8 For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. 9 For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

In this letter to Christians in the city of Thessalonica, Paul is complementing them for their visible faith. I’ve divided his words into three sections, each adding an important thought. Much of what he tells them can encourage us as well.

In the first section, Paul begins by saying that good behavior like theirs leads him to give thanks and prayer support for them. We are encouraged by this to give thanks for one another and to pray for one another. The other side of this coin is for us to do something which will encourage others to give thanks and prayer support for us. This is not so we can be puffed up. It is for God’s use and glory. Every prayer that gives thanks to someone for being an example of Jesus is a bit of glory for God.

Paul then affirms that their saving relationship with God was not shallow. They weren’t just agreeing with words and promises. Good behavior was visible to others. Paul especially complimented their patience. I think he meant they did not get frustrated and stop when they hit roadblocks.

In the second section Paul describes the origin and nature of their faithful behavior. They were empowered to act with the help of the Holy Spirit. There was power in their actions, beyond what they could have done alone. For some of us, shelter in place is giving us time to ask the Holy Spirit to enter us and assure us and empower us more completely. Moreover, their expression of faith was not casual. They were joyous about their new faith. And they did not take the easy path. They faced opposition and did Christian work regardless.

In the third section, Paul describes the fruit of their faithful behavior. Others saw or heard about them and they became examples that encouraged others. Paul explained that their reputation spoke so clearly that he did not have to do all the work of convincing others. This is really true at First UCC. Our mission work, our music, and our community meals show faith that we pastors could never convey with words.

The point is that what we are seen doing has a huge effect of what others think. Good behavior convinces other of the truth of our faith. Bad behavior does the opposite.

Here is an example. In the 1960s there was growing opposition to the war in Viet Nam. However, some of the anti-war group expressed themselves in ways that alienated those who they hoped to influence. I was in college at the time and a debate was scheduled on campus between anti-war and pro-war supporters. I went into the auditorium to hear the debate. There were news media in attendance. As a group, both the debaters and the audience were dressed neatly. The debate began with both sides stating their positions.

Then, 5 minutes into the debate, 4 people dressed as hippies came in. They walked down the center aisle and sat in the front. Two young men and two young women. The men were dressed in torn, dirty, and flapping clothes. They had long hair and tattoos, not usual at the time. The women were also disheveled and tattooed and their clothes were equally torn and dirty. They were obviously braless. I was on the aisle but could not tell which smelled most unwashed as they passed; I’m guessing they all were competing.

Immediately the newsmen sprang into action. Cameras began flashing and others with camcorders followed and proceeded them down the aisle. The debate was mentioned on the evening TV news. There were hundreds of neatly dressed people in the auditorium. All the video coverage was on these four. They made the issue a debate over cultural norms of appearance rather than about the war. This kind of confrontation simply hardened the positions of both sides. During the democratic convention of 1968, the sides came into more and more extreme conflict.

Behavior has a huge effect on the opinions of others. I hope escalation does not take over in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. I pray the legitimate issues don’t get lost in divisive behaviors. I pray we do not harden into irreconcilable positions on this as well.

In the Roman empire there was a great deal of suspicion and hostility about the growing Christian faith. Good behavior by the Thessalonian Christians, according to Paul, changed minds and gained converts throughout the region. Nero’s violent persecution of Christians did not have its intended effect. It hardened the view of Christians that Rome and the Roman system was wrong. By patiently continuing to act non-violently, Christians won over others until the Roman Empire converted.

For all of us today, how we respond to the Coronavirus pandemic will influence what others think of us and our faith. May our love for one another continue to show.


Pastor Doug.

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Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 55 – From Pastor Doug

Tuesday June 2, 2020

John 3:1-21

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

We read John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” This wonderful sentence tells us so much about life. We exist. There is a world here – and it is loved by God. That alone is amazing beyond understanding.

Due to our aches and pains and disappointments, we may take ‘existence’ for granted. At low points we may condemn existence and agree with discouraged prophets who said they wished they could just die or had never been born (Job 3:3, 1 Kings 19:4, Jonah 4:8). Better not to exist at all, they felt. If we feel discouraged, we are in good company. God was sympathetic with their distress and their lives went on. So also God is sympathetic with us. We have been born. Existence is real and it is amazing.

Even better, existence is not accidental or neutral. It is designed as an act of love. How do we know this? To begin, Jesus said so, for example in John 3:16.

On the positive side there is additional evidence. There is joy and fun and companionship and good food and beauty in this world that we experience throughout our lives. There is also mission. We are equipped for mission, for doing things, and there are mountains of things to do. We have a lot of choice about what part of the mountain we take on. We fit our space here. What we see and what we feel and what we do are all part of God’s plan of love.

On the negative side, how does pain, disappointment, sickness, and trouble fit into God’s loving plan? It teaches us. It equips us. It prepares us. Paul declared (Romans 5:3-4), “3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” And, mercifully, troubles in this world are temporary. They do not last forever. When we die, we do not just perish. We are offered eternal life in a wonderful place with God.

“Offered” eternal life does not describe how hard God worked to convince us to accept it. Jesus entered this world as a human being and went through many struggles ending in crucifixion to make this offer known and possible. He has motivated believers for two millennia since then to spread that offer among non-believers. Such effort shows so much love.

This is verse 16. What about the rest of the chapter? Verse 16 is part of a surprising conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Pharisees taught that God’s will for people was fully expressed in the Jewish law. Anything beyond the Jewish law was forbidden. Because Jesus’ teaching went far beyond this law, the Pharisees opposed him at every turn. But Nicodemus was so impressed by his miracles that he came to listen to Jesus without condemning him, a brave, as well as surprising, act.

At the beginning of their conversation, (John 3:3–10), Jesus’ main explanation to Nicodemus was that following the law was not enough to build a saving relationship with God. A change of heart, a rebirth ‘from above’ was necessary (John 3:3). ‘From above’ is sometimes translated ‘again’, as the Greek word, ‘ανωθεν’, carries the same meaning. Nicodemus thought Jesus meant literally ‘again’. Jesus’ explanation seems more like ‘from above’.

Much more can be written about what being “born from above” entails. I believe this is what it says about God’s wonderful offer of eternal life. This offer is automatic when we believe Jesus is God’s son. Believing Jesus is God’s son isn’t just an abstract belief about Jesus, however. It must include the belief that, if he is God’s son, Jesus’ teachings are authoritative. Humility, compassion, and forgiveness are not optional. They must take over our hearts. Belief that saves is belief that joins us with God, with his person, with his love, with his plan, and with his goals.

At the end of the conversation (John 3:17-21), Jesus tells Nicodemus something we know all too well. It is not easy to accept Jesus and Jesus’ teachings. They run counter to what many grow to love. They run counter to selfish behavior that seeks personal gain at the expense of others. Jesus does not mince words. Exploitive, oppressive behavior is sin and darkness.

Although Jesus did not mince his words or message to Nicodemus, he spoke to him from his heart. And later accounts show Nicodemus defending Jesus (John 7:50) and place Nicodemus along with Joseph of Arimathea helping with Jesus’ burial (John 19:39). It appears that his heart was changed, reborn from above, and he accepted Jesus’ offer of eternal life. I hope so.

God’s wonderful, loving creation and plan for us includes us becoming more like Him. Becoming more loving people. For us, who are still sheltering in place and waiting for Bucks County to go yellow, let us think about what living in God’s love means. Covid-19 is a dangerous disease. Loving as God loves is doing our best not to give others this disease. Let us be comforted by God’s love. Let us continue to be safe.


-Pastor Douglas Donigian

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Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 54 – From Jon Bauman

Monday June 1, 2020

It is the same with my word.
I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
You will live in joy and peace.
The mountains and hills will burst into song,
and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;
they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.”

Isaiah 55:11-13 (NLT)

Every week in many churches around the world, The Lord’s Prayer is said by Christians of every race, gender, and age. The prayer is structured to acknowledge the sovereignty of God – that God is ruler over all, and it starts with a pleading for the Kingdom of God to come “on earth as it is in heaven”. Then, the prayer includes asking God to provide us with what we may need, to forgive us of our wrongs, as we forgive others of their wrongs, to keep us far from temptation, and to deliver us from evil. Why? Because the Kingdom, the power, and the glory is God’s. Amen.

But the Lord’s prayer is not meant to be simply mere words that we have to say on a Sunday morning, or when we may say these words in our prayers during the week; the Lord’s Prayer is meant to be personally, and culturally, transformative in pointing us toward the truth that God has, does, and can intervene in our world, and that we are meant to be a part of that intervention.

The passage from Isaiah for today’s devotional speaks to the power of God’s intervention in our world by proclaiming that even the seemingly impossible things can be done by our God. For what mountains sing? What trees clap their hands? What vegetation can grow and thrive amidst thorns and weeds?

God has and will continue to work within our world to restore it, to heal it, and to redeem it – Especially where it seems impossible to do so.

But if we, as God’s followers do nothing for that mission besides saying a prayer and not letting it transform us…we miss the point of the Lord’s Prayer, and we miss the mark on being a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6, Isaiah 49:6).

On May 25, 2020, an African-American man, George Floyd, was restrained by a white police officer who put his knee and some of his weight on the neck of Floyd for over 8 minutes, which caused Floyd to die at the scene. While Floyd was on the ground struggling to get the words out “I Can’t Breathe!”, the officer kept his knee in place, and the three officers who were with him stood by and did not seek to aid Floyd.

The aftermath of Floyd’s death resulted in protests that called for the officer’s arrest for what is clearly brutality, excessive force, and murder, and justice for the officers who stood by.

Some of these protests have turned into violent riots – including the damage of government and private property and businesses, and violence against police forces, as well as against the protestors.

Riots are, by nature, chaotic, and they are seldom seen as positive by the broader public. But we have to ask, even when we don’t understand – what are the riots in response to?

Our nation has seen many instances of unarmed people of color being beaten or killed by police. Also in May 2020, 25-year old African-American Ahmaud Arbery was out for a jog, and he was killed in cold blood by white civilians in the street.

In the outbreak of Covid-19, Asian-Americans have received racial slurs, looks of fear, and have been genuinely afraid for their lives, simply because of the color of their skin.

Our nation has seen peaceful protests against these kinds of instances, and many have ignored the weight and truth behind the statement of #BlackLivesMatter and replaced it with #AllLivesMatter. All lives do matter, but that is precisely what Black Lives Matter is getting at; some people do not seem to believe that Black Lives Matter.

In 2017, some people from my hometown Alma Mater of Quakertown, called an opposing football team’s cheerleaders racial slurs, told them that black lives don’t matter, and then when the team loaded onto their school buses, some Quakertown students threw rocks at the buses while they continued using racial slurs.

Racism is still alive and well in 2020 America. Racism is still alive in my hometown. And racism is anti-Christ. There is no way to reconcile praying for God’s Kingdom of hope and peace to come, with people who pray these words continuing to act on, or support, racism.

In addition, I do not think that it is right to say these words in our prayers, and to remain silent on issues of prejudice; to not speak up against it when we know of it.

If we cannot strive against prejudice, we cannot, truly, be a light to ALL nations and ALL people.

If we do not listen to the cries of the oppressed, we ignore the calling of God upon us to work towards bringing the Kingdom of God to earth through our compassion, through our words, and through our actions.

If our faith has as bright of a Hope as we claim, the kind of Hope that believes that God can do the seemingly impossible, then we need to be people who live that Hope by striving against injustice and racism that is a part of our fallen world.

Black Lives Matter to God, and God is continually seeking to aid the oppressed. How can we do our part as followers of God now?

-Jon Bauman

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 53 – From Jon Bauman

Friday May 29, 2020

10 I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

15 You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. 16 For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. 18 I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 5:10-19 (NRSV)

Philippians 4:13 is a bible verse that has been used as motivation for athletes, students, musicians, and many others. It is sometimes written on shoes, cleats, jerseys, banners, and anywhere that can be easily seen.

But the verse is used by Paul here in a deeper way than a lot of people have viewed this verse. Paul was in prison, and he had been sent a financial gift from those who he had ministered to, so that his time in prison wasn’t as bad as it could have been without their help.

He’s not sure whether he would be set free from this prison, or if he would remain in prison until he would be executed.

He’s already processed in chapter 1 that if he were to die, that wouldn’t be the worse thing; in fact, if he would die, he would go to be with our God in paradise. If he lived, and was released, he would be able to continue to minister to others so that they continue to grow in faith.

And so, when Paul writes “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, he is saying that whether he lives, or dies, whether he is in prison for a day longer, or until his death, that Paul was content with whatever the Lord decided for his life. He was recognizing that no matter what happens, he can get through it through the help and strength of Christ.

It is hard to get to the point where we are as content as Paul was.

The littlest of things that happen can wreck our day, and cause us to only focus on the negative.

Drastic and real challenges will face us, and we will seldom see any good that could come out of it.

To get to the point where we accept what has happened, and are content with the outcome, usually takes us a long time, and it generally only comes after whatever it was that happened has already sealed our fate.

But Paul was content WITHIN his trial, within prison, and within the uncertainty of whether he would be released or whether he would be executed.

But he was ONLY content because of his faith in Christ, who gives him the strength to keep going, no matter what might happen.

We can learn from Paul when we face things that cause us stress, fear, and anxiety, when we turn to God in prayer.

We can join Paul’s hope when we realize that Christ understands whatever we may face, and offers us empathy, and the hope of paradise.

We can find comfort in the midst of trials and hardships when we acknowledge that no matter what, we are still a child of God that is cared for and loved.

We can do all things, we can get through anything, through Christ who strengthens us. Amen.

-Jon Bauman

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 52 – From Pastor Joyce

May 28, 2020

Romans 5:1-11 New Living Translation (NLT)

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

In this time of sheltering in place, dealing with a virus that none of us, not scientists, doctors, politicians or you or me can fully understand, not knowing when or how things will get back to “normal” can make us feel worried, anxious, and nervous. We have never dealt with anything like this before.

We, as human beings, like to feel that we are in control of our lives. We like making our own decisions even if they may be the wrong ones sometimes. When aspects of our lives feel out of our control, we respond. Sometimes we feel anger – life isn’t fair! Other times we may be more philosophical – this too will pass. But most often as we keep our emotions in check, we internalize our feelings, negative feelings like resentment, rage, helplessness, hopelessness, anxiety, fear and so many more. This only fuels our sense that things are out of control and we need to do something about it.

In a recent email, Bill Worley, the conference minister of our Pennsylvania Southeast Conference, suggested that we as Christians have an important job to do. That job is to be a non-anxious presence during this difficult time, a time filled with so many negative feelings, especially those feelings that come from not knowing what is coming next.

This brought back to me memories of the summer between my second and third years of seminary training. During the summer we were required to take eleven weeks of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). This was a requirement for us and all of our Moravian fellow students who were pursuing a Master of Divinity (M.Div.). Moravian Seminary, along with many other seminaries, required this experience as part of our education as pastors so that we could be more knowledgeable and skilled for ministering to our congregation members in the hospital or nursing home. Each of us chose where we wanted to complete this part of our education. Pastor Doug chose Phoebe Home in Allentown, and I chose St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem.

I was a member of a group of seven other M.Div. students from other seminaries. We were interns while other students who were seeking additional training in CPE were classed as residents. We were supervised three certified chaplains. We interns were shepherded through our CPE training by these dedicated chaplains and residents. While the residents were assigned to the more serious or chronic units, like the NICU and infusion units, we all spent time in the emergency room and the shock trauma bays.

The training was rigorous with morning meetings to catch up on happenings during the night followed by class time. After lunch we were to visit those floors and units that had been assigned to each of us. Each afternoon we had to document who we saw and what our visit was like. Before we left for home at the end of the day, we again met together to discuss what had happened during the day. Sometimes we were assigned additional hours (3:00-7:00) on some evenings and overnight duty (7:00pm-7:00am) several times as well. During the overnights, the intern assigned was the only chaplain available, a time that always brought me some feelings of worry and concern. No one knew what the night might bring.

Although this experience was one of the most effective and affecting times in my seminary training, I remember one class most vividly. It was one of our first classes where we were being given rules and regulations for being a chaplain in a hospital. We were asked, “If you get an emergency call on your pager, do you run to where the emergency is happening?” Scenes from TV medical shows passed through my mind – doctors, nurses, and other staff running to the emergency room or patient room. Time was of the essence. Get there fast.

So, the obvious answer was, “Yes.” The chaplain needed to be there to assist in whatever way was needed as soon as possible. Right? Wrong! Our instructor reminded us that we had a unique role to play in the hospital environment. We needed to be a non-anxious presence in crisis situations. And if people saw a chaplain running down the hallway, that was a sure sign that things were out of control – a true emergency. This behavior would only add to the anxiety and concern felt by those around us. In such times especially when I was the sole chaplain overnight, I was called to the trauma bays or the emergency rooms, or even to a patient’s room during a crisis. I never forgot this good instruction – Walk, don’t run. Be a non-anxious presence.

I think Rev. Worley’s reminder that we as Christians need to be a non-anxious presence is an equally good teaching. The words of Paul in today’s scripture gives us the reasons we can fully embrace this behavior. Verses 3-5 tell us: 3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

We can know, without doubt, that God dearly loves us because God has gifted us with the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with God’s love. Even though Paul knew he was loved by God in this way, he did not feel that adversity should weaken or undermine faith. Instead he looked at such “problems and trials” as an opportunity to develop good qualities, things like endurance, strength of character, confident hope of salvation, and no disappointment. Paul’s words also show us that these excellent character traits do not happen all at once; they develop over time; one good quality builds on the previous one. Such qualities can lead us to be a non-anxious presence in such difficult times as these. No one knows what the next day, week, or month may bring.

More of Paul’s words bring comfort: Verse 2: 2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. And verse 11: 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

I am in no way saying this is easy. We all succumb to feelings that things are out of our control, out of everyone’s control. In such times it is natural for us to worry, fret, and become anxious and frightened. We hear of others who are taking matters into their own hands – not wearing masks, congregating in large groups, demonstrating in front of state capitols wearing body armor and carrying assault weapons. These are all behaviors of people who do not know what to do as this crisis continues on and so many people are sick or have died, so many plans have been interrupted or cancelled, so many families have lost income, so many children are experiencing inadequate instruction via computer. So many things that are foreign to our ways of living just a few months ago. So many changes, without an end in sight. So many unknowns.

Just as we were instructed in our first days of CPE training – be a non-anxious presence – let us now as believers in Christ and Christ’s love for all of us also be a non-anxious witness to those around us. For we can know without doubt that God has provided for all of our spiritual and emotional needs by gifting us with the Holy Spirit. Let us walk, not run, as we endure this current medical, social, and economic crisis. Let us rely on God’s love for us. Let us walk and not run. Let us be a non-anxious presence.

-Pastor Joyce Donigian

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 51 – From Pastor Doug

Wednesday May 27, 2020

1 Corinthians 9:20-23 20 When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. 21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.

22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. 23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.

Galatians 3:26-29 26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.  28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. 

Archeologists digging up early human relics have found a progression that seems universal. Before people learned how to plant food crops, human tribes migrated. They left no permanent living places. Diggers find campfire sites, refuse pits, animal bones, and stone tools. They do not find house foundations.

After grain cultivation began, settlements with permanent structures were built. Early settlements all over the world shared a common pattern. There was no sign of social hierarchy. All the dwellings were similar in size. Graves held similar artifacts, beads or pottery, for example.

But as time passed, social hierarchy emerged. More recent settlements have larger houses in more central locations and graves in these areas contain more costly artifacts. Archeologists call these ‘signs of elites’. Graves associated with smaller houses have bones showing clear arthritis, bone wear due to heavy labor. There seems to be an inevitable rise of the haves and the have-nots. Have-nots do the work and haves get the benefits.

This progression is evident in the Bible. When the Israelites first drove out the tribes living in Canaan, they tried to avoid social hierarchy. God was to be their leader and there was no need for human elites to control them. Their first political act was to divide the land so everyone had a portion. That way there would not be rich and poor classes. Every tribe and family would have a relatively similar place to call their own.

This did not last. By 700 BC, Israel was ruled by hereditary kings with standing armies, a wealthy elite was living lavishly, and most of the population were living as tenant farmers on large estates.

There is something in human nature that strives for power and wealth and status. Something that is willing to bribe, bully, and oppress others to get more power, wealth, and status. This is a fertile field for Satan and has been for a long time.

And then Jesus Christ entered this world. Jesus revealed what people needed to do to be ready for the eternal life that follows this life. Becoming elite was not helpful preparation. In fact, being elite works against proper preparation.

Here is what Jesus faced. Elitism was rampant. In fact, it was widely seen to be a virtue. The Roman system was built entirely on elitism. It is called ‘patronage’. Economic, political, and legal power was distributed from the top down. The Roman emperor owns everything. He becomes the ‘patron’ of underlings to whom he grants power, wealth, and authority in exchange for their obedience and loyalty. They in turn become patrons of the next level down who receive power, wealth, and authority in exchange for obedience and loyalty. This repeats down to the lowest serf.

Israel reflected this system. The Sadducees were at the top of the social ladder. Excavations show that their houses were a dozen times as large as those of commoners. They were also on top of the religious ladder and were in control of the high priest and the temple establishment. Their religious rivals, the Pharisees, also sought social status. Jesus criticized their love of showy apparel and desire for respectful treatment.

I’ve spent a lot of time here to emphasize how radical Jesus’ teaching was about social hierarchy. What a mountain elitism was (and is) to move. Equality among people was nowhere; Jesus taught that it should be everywhere. Yes, there would always be poor. But the poor were not to be despised. They were to be honored and helped by others who had greater means. They were not to be relegated to a low rung on a social ladder. In heaven, they may well be first.

In the meditation scriptures above, Paul makes clear that differences in wealth, status, nationality, and culture are not measures of value to God. He was willing to live by whatever customs and culture enabled people to listen to him. He knew everyone is loved by God and is offered a place in heaven. Individual belief and behavior and relationship, not social position, is valued by God.

Here are examples. The 9/11 attacks highlighted the heroism and value of firefighters. Firemen were not at the top of the social hierarchy, but it made no difference in our respect and admiration for them. Now the Covid epidemic has highlighted the heroism and value of healthcare workers. This group ranges from high status doctors to minimum wage orderlies. It makes no difference in our appreciation for them. All of them are heroes. This is how God values all people. This is how we should see all people. Not according to social status but according to faith and behavior and character.

Let us pray for our healthcare workers. Let us apply this insight to all people. Let us love all people as God loves them. Let us pray for all people. Let us relate to all people as equal in value before God. In this way, we will be most able to spread the good news. In this way we will be following the ‘law of Christ’ and able ‘to be heirs and receive God’s promises’. Amen.

-Pastor Douglas Donigian

Stay in touch. Share your needs. Let us help.

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 50 – From Pastor Joyce

Tuesday May 26, 2020

2 Samuel 7:18-29 New Living Translation (NLT)

18 Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and prayed,

“Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? 19 And now, Sovereign Lord, in addition to everything else, you speak of giving your servant a lasting dynasty! Do you deal with everyone this way, O Sovereign Lord? 

20 “What more can I say to you? You know what your servant is really like, Sovereign Lord. 21 Because of your promise and according to your will, you have done all these great things and have made them known to your servant.

22 “How great you are, O Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you. We have never even heard of another God like you! 23 What other nation on earth is like your people Israel? What other nation, O God, have you redeemed from slavery to be your own people? You made a great name for yourself when you redeemed your people from Egypt. You performed awesome miracles and drove out the nations and gods that stood in their way.  24 You made Israel your very own people forever, and you, O Lord, became their God.

25 “And now, O Lord God, I am your servant; do as you have promised concerning me and my family. Confirm it as a promise that will last forever. 26 And may your name be honored forever so that everyone will say, ‘The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is God over Israel!’ And may the house of your servant David continue before you forever.

27 “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, God of Israel, I have been bold enough to pray this prayer to you because you have revealed all this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you—a dynasty of kings!’ 28 For you are God, O Sovereign Lord. Your words are truth, and you have promised these good things to your servant. 29 And now, may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you have spoken, and when you grant a blessing to your servant, O Sovereign Lord, it is an eternal blessing!”

There is no doubt that David had a special relationship with God – God called him “a man after my own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14).  No other human being has ever been so particularly called out to be  in God’s care.  David cherished that unique relationship.  Just read a few of the psalms that he wrote, and you can see how he communicated with God.  He could pour out his heart to God; he could complain to God; he could grumble at God; he could thank God; he could compliment God; he could praise God.

Even though David had this unique relationship with God, he never forgot that he was dependent on God. He saw God as sovereign, and he saw himself as God’s servant. He could have a conversation, prayer, with God that had many different facets – complaint, thanks, and praise.  David also accepted as fact what God said to him.  One of those facts was that God would bless him and his descendants with a dynasty – to rule over Israel for many years (verse 27).  David accepted this statement from God as truth and never questioned why God would grant such power to him and his descendants.  It was enough to know that he had a special place in God’s heart.

We know that the reign of the house of David did not last long at all.  While David was king, the northern and southern parts of this part of Palestine were united, and they remained so for David’s son Solomon.  Two kings and two kings only and the kingdoms broke apart, never to be reunited again.  Still, the Israelites continued to see themselves as God’s special people, chosen early in their relationship with God.  In the book of Deuteronomy 7:6 we read “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the people who are on the face of the earth.”  

God’s later declaration that David was a man after God’s own heart only strengthened the conviction that the Jews were, are, and continue to be chosen by God.  Many have seen this statement as a blessing for an entire nation.  This was true in biblical times when the Jewish nation was led by kings, but the religious leaders were also quite powerful.  The belief developed that God’s blessing was not just on individual people; instead, that blessing covered a whole nation.

This idea has carried over to our nation as well.  Our country has been richly blessed in so many ways, and we have become the most powerful nation in the world.  We have indeed been blessed.  We also feel that we have been chosen, and implicitly, chosen by God.  This is biblical. In Luke 12:48 we read: “To whom much is given, much will be required.”  So, this suggests that biblically we are being held responsible for what we have.  Since we have been blessed with talents, wealth, knowledge, time, and the like, it is expected that we benefit others.

This gets at the heart of what it means to be chosen.  One way to see being chosen is to expect good things to come to.  Chosen as the winner means receiving a reward.  Chosen as best means receiving praise.  In this sense, chosen means getting something, receiving good things, feeling like a winner.

But this is not the sense of chosen that God used when choosing the Israelites. Here God’s use of chosen carries with it the responsibility of giving back, sharing resources, thinking about others rather than themselves.  When a country or a nation or a state or a community or a church or an individual has been blessed with much, each is chosen by God to give back, in whatever way they can.

David’s words suggest that he is talking about a political entity – “a dynasty of kings.”  Another way for us to interpret this passage is to see the “house” (verse 27) God will build as the church instead of being political or governmental.  To see the church as the house blessed and chosen by God gives us a greater responsibility to share what we have with others.  

One of the only things the church has that other groups do not is our faith in God through Jesus Christ.  We can certainly share our time, talent, and treasure with those in need – that is part of the obligation of being both blessed and chosen.  Many groups and organizations, local, national, and international, are carrying out many, many humanitarian operations, and we do the same.  But the one thing that God’s church can do best is to share the Good News with others.

In this difficult time, with so many dealing with the fallout from the current pandemic, there are fewer ways we can share God’s Good News, at least in ways that are most familiar to us.  Yet there are still many things we can do.  One of the most important is to stay in touch with our friends, neighbors, and fellow church members, especially those who live alone.  Each time we call, text, send an email or card, we can let others know that God is helping us through this difficult time.  Each time we make a connection, we can give thanks to God that those we are contacting are staying safe.  Each time we contact another we can let them know we are praying for them. 

 And certainly, for us individually, we can recognize how important those relationships are to us.  We may once have seen connections to family or neighbors or other church members as less important to maintain than job duties or other more immediate tugs on our time. One of the positive outcomes of this pandemic may very well be that now we cherish those relationships and see them as blessings from God.

Call someone today.  Email a greeting to someone today.  Write a card.  Text.  Pray for them.  Share your blessings because you are chosen, chosen by God, to do just that.  Thanks be to God!

-Pastor Joyce Donigian

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 49 – From Pastor Doug

Friday May 22, 2020

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 9  Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. 10  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.
11  Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? 12  A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and
conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 9  For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. 10  Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. 11  So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

On Wednesday , I spoke about Jesus’ amazing prediction that his followers would do works ‘even greater’ than those Jesus did.  This sounds impossible.  But if we understand that ‘even greater’ refers to even more humble, even less self-centered, and even more caring about others, we have a direction to pursue. 

About fifteen years ago, I attended a Saturday retreat during which we discussed the power of faith in God.  The retreat was at the Forks UCC church in Stockertown, up Route 30 from Bethlehem.  This church had a very large cemetery that was well tended and had a gazebo at its center.  On a break between sessions, we attendees fanned out among the gravestones to meditate silently on the scripture about faithful prayers.  It was a beautiful day and I made my way to the gazebo.  As I stood, looking at it, I thought about Jesus saying that faith in God could move a mountain and throw it into the sea. 

I then thought I would try a smaller task.  Rather than move a mountain, I would try to move the gazebo.  Just a little.  Just enough to expand my faith so I could serve God better.  I looked at the peaked roof of the gazebo, outlined by the blue sky, and asked God to move it.  And then it moved!  Not much.  Just a smidgeon relative to the trees in the background.  The foundation and grass around the gazebo appeared undisturbed.  Had even the ground moved?  Was I just seeing things?  I wanted to be sure it had moved, so I changed my position and asked God to move the gazebo again. After a few moments it began to move again!  The peak of the roof began to move slowly against the trees and clouds.  It continued to move until suddenly I almost fell down.

In my concentration on the gazebo roof, I had begun to lean to my left without realizing it.  Yes, the gazebo roof appeared to move relative to the trees and clouds because my vantage point moved as I leaned.  I was so engrossed in the moment, I didn’t realize I was losing my balance.

I straightened up, hoping no one had seen me stumble, and laughed at my mistake.  But then the Holy Spirit sent this insight.  You can ‘move’ a gazebo or a house or a mountain just by moving where you look at it.  Your eyes will make it seem to move as your position relative to it moves.  In fact, how big something seems depends on how close we are to it.

Isn’t this true of our problems?  Of our spiritual mountains?  Of our attitudes?

Here is an application.  At a recent 8X8 virtual bible study, a topic was how to love one’s enemies.  This led to a discussion of what makes someone an enemy.  At least some of making an enemy is inside our own heads.  I’m not saying that, if we are being chased by someone with a knife, we should stop running and turn around and open our arms to give them a hug.  But if someone is a competitor at work or just different from us, the jump to calling them an enemy is our own doing.  Things of our own doing are things that faith and prayer can change.  We may not be able to make them less competitive, but we can take the mountain of our ill will toward them and throw it into the sea.

Our first scripture from Ecclesiastes expands the truth about moving mountains.  If we can move past a mountain of ill will, imagine if two people move past that mountain.  They can encourage each other.  They can double the number of prayers repenting and asking for forgiveness.  Two people will see the same mountain move.  And they can join forces to make the world better.  Imagine three people joining together.   

The second scripture from 1 Thessalonians encourages us by saying that God has not come with anger that we certainly deserve.  Rather God has come to restore and save us.  This is where the idea of throwing a mountain of ill will comes from.  God throws ill will against us into the sea.  With His help, so can we.  In the space and time that sheltering in place gives us, let’s all move a mountain.

-Pastor Douglas Donigian

 Stay in touch.  Share your needs.  Let us help.  Amen.

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 48 – From Pastor Joyce

Thursday May 21, 2020

1 Corinthians 12:14-26 New Living Translation (NLT)
14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 23 And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, 24 while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

Many people in our country are obsessed with status – they have to live in the “right” neighborhood, drive the “right” car, have their kids go to the “right” school, belong to the “right” clubs and organizations. You get the picture. In many peoples’ minds, there is a hierarchy of more and less “right” things to do.

Some people feel that way about church work – that there are some positions within the church that are more honorable or more admirable than others. For example, if a new person comes to one of our worship services and one of our members strikes up a conversation with them, one of the things that could be offered is – “Let me introduce you to our pastors” or “Let me introduce you to one of our council members.” These are important positions within the church, no question about it, but there is other, vital work being done by those whose names do not immediately come to mind in such a situation.

Some positions are looked at as being more special, more important, more honorable than others. But there is something else going on also. People are mostly reluctant to pat themselves on the back, to take credit when they have done something good. We experienced an example of this several years ago.

First, a little background: Our church in Baltimore began a significant fund-raising campaign for a figure that ran to thousands of dollars to put in an elevator. In a couple of years that goal was reached, and then our pastor challenged us with a second campaign – to match each dollar raised with an hour of volunteer work done either at the church or in the community. The only way to keep track of those hours was for people to fill out forms listing the number of hours they were contributing and turn them in to the church. It was exciting to see how those hours added up. It felt good to see that church members could contribute more than money – they could contribute their time as well.

Fast forward to here at First Church. I thought a similar campaign might work here to keep track of just how many hours our members volunteered both at church and within the community. We keep track of the many areas in which our members have contributed their time; we just didn’t know how many hours in total. I thought this would be encouraging to those already volunteering and act as an incentive to those who might be considering this option for service.

The idea did not go far. The reason given was that our members would be reluctant to fill out those forms because it could be seen as bragging about what they were accomplishing. And no one wanted to brag. Just to be clear – there are many, many jobs done around the church, there are many, many kind acts done by our members that only a few know about, there are contributions of time, talent, and treasure that are known only to the person doing such actions or only one or two others. Many people like to remain anonymous.

That doesn’t mean that those actions, those jobs, those kindnesses are less important than council meetings or sermon preparation. That doesn’t mean that keeping the floors shining or the bathrooms spotless or the office well-run or the children being led in music, or the choir singing or the First Fellowship goodies or the community dinners, or Sunday school or … the list could go on and on – are less important. So many people do so many tasks. It’s just that most people don’t want recognition for all they do.

This desire to serve in confidential ways is understandable and commendable. The motivation for volunteering to do anything or to go above and beyond the minimum should not be praise and admiration. Doing for others, giving more than the minimum are ways that we can bring honor to God, especially if someone notices and we can tell them why we volunteer.

However, there is one way of thinking that might be less than positive here. And that is to think that what is done is unimportant. To diminish the contribution each person makes. Thoughts like: “I only teach small children.” Or “I only count the offering.” Or “I only empty the trash.” It is important to remember that all of the work of the church needs to be done by all of the parts of the church – its members and staff.

Here’s just one example, when we are able to be back in our building, someone needs to turn on all the lights, unlock all the doors, gather any mail that came the previous day, check that all mechanicals are working properly, and turn on the fountain just to get the church ready for us. In their way all these are small things, but they need to be done. None of the work of the church, whether front and center or behind the scenes is optional. If some of the work is not done, then the church, like our bodies, cannot work at its highest and most efficient level.

We do need to keep in mind that all jobs are important, whether they are high-profile or otherwise. It is sometimes easy to overlook the importance of some of the lower profile jobs. This carries over to our current situation. I am thinking specifically now of all the attention focused on our hospitals, especially on the doctors and nurses and other therapy professionals. They deserve every bit of recognition we can give them and more. But I am also thinking of another part of the team, the cleaning staff, those who wipe down doorknobs, mop floors, dispose of used PPE. When it comes right down to it, the cleaning staff is vitally important for keeping COVID-19 contained. Doctors and nurses can diagnose, but it is the cleanliness of the surroundings that allow them to best care for patients. Each job is necessary and important. Each person doing each job is important. It is the working together for a common goal that makes for good teamwork, for the best outcomes.

This is true in our churches as well. No job is less important than any other. All jobs are important. Each person, whether paid staff or volunteer is important. As a church we are working together to spread the Gospel, deepen our faith, and serve our God, even in times like these when we are serving apart from one another. Let us give thanks today for all of the jobs that are being done by people who too seldom get praise and thanks.

-Pastor Joyce Donigian