Stand Up!

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.

John 5.1-9

In the movie, Groundhog Day, weatherman Phil Connors is stuck in time – a particular day in time. He’s stuck on Groundhog Day. And he’s stuck in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you know where the groundhog is pulled out his hole and if he sees his shadow it’s six more weeks of winter (in Logan’s case, it’s six more months of winter). Only for Phil Connors in the movie, it is Groundhog Day over and over and over again. He is stuck in that movie, every time he wakes up it is Groundhog Day and he is seemingly cursed to relive what he views as a tedious day in his life that is profoundly unfulfilled.

There is one sequence in the movie where Phil begins to be resigned to his fate of repeating the same pattern day after day, where he notices an old homeless man. At the beginning of the movie Phil passes this man and as the man holds out his hand asking something from him, he kind of sarcastically searches his pockets and just walks passed with a smirk on his face. But a little later in this sequence, Phil walks up to the man as he staggers down an alley and he says, “Let’s get you to someplace warm.” And he takes the old man to a hospital to strengthen, except that the old-timer passes away.

“Sometimes people die,” the nurse says.

“Not today,” says Phil.

And in subsequent repeats of the day, Phil tries everything he can to keep the old-timer alive. If just for Groundhog Day, just the day he is repeating over and over again, if there’s just some why he can keep him from dying for that day. And so he feeds him, and he cares for him, but no matter what he does, the man dies every time. Come on, Pop, breathe! He implores, but to no avail. There are somethings that you just cannot change.

I think that the old-timer in the story from scripture (with a life expectancy in bible times about 40, 38 years – would you say that’s an old-timer?), I think this old-timer in our bible story could have sympathized with both Phil and the old-timer he tries to help. Year after year this old-timer sits by the pool, close to what he believes will bring him healing, but he just can’t seem to make it.
Now in John’s gospel, the miracles that the author gives us are carefully chosen. They’re not just a hodgepodge of stories thrown together to prove Jesus is this great guy. No, they are called “signs”, these miracle stories. And they point to something as signs do. They point to a truth or a discovery that is intended to nurture a faith. Faith in Jesus.

So this morning we ask, what truth, what discovery does this story hold for us?

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • After all this time…

    Well, this is it my fellow followers of Jesus, we are returning to in-person worship at First Presbyterian Church. It has been fourteen long months of us learning to be a worshiping community in the best ways we could figure out (thank you Jesus, even for things like YouTube and Zoom). It’s been challenging for me as your pastor (I imagine Pastor Meg would say the same). It’s been challenging for all of you in faith and life and with family and friends. 

    But we’re going back to church, praise the Lord.

    Many things seem to be happening in our world at this moment. How are you handling it all? We’re opening the church doors again. There was a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis. Many of you have your Covid-19 vaccinations. It’s Springtime and the tulips are starting to bloom. The Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds are back in the valley. So how are we doing as we process all of this? How are you doing?

    Relief? Sorrow? Joy? Sadness? 

    All of the above?

    I’ve heard several phrases of late, including ‘pandemic pain.’ I’ve felt fatigued myself. But having received the vaccination shots, I am ready to be back in our church building with you praising the Lord together. With high vaccination rates among our church members and several safety precautions, Session has voted for our return to in-person worship. Details are listed in another article inside this edition, but our first Sunday back will be Sunday, May 9th, with our regular service times of 9 & 11 a.m.

    This worldwide pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot as I watch the news from places like India and Brazil, or even Michigan. But many of us have received our vaccinations and we are implementing some practices that should allow us to worship the Lord together, safely. And to be clear (I cannot say this enough), if you do not feel safe coming to church in the near future, please continue to worship from home. I will do my absolute best to make sure our worship live-stream allows you to connect with God and connect with the rest of us from the safety of your own home. We have purchased a small and simple (yet high quality) camera that will live-stream Sunday morning worship directly to YouTube. You have the option to watch it ‘live’ as we are worshiping or watch it at a later time that is more convenient for you.

    So, what might we expect on Sunday mornings in May when we go back? First and foremost, we will be together singing, praying, and praising the Lord. Hallelujah! There will be a few changes, of course. We ask that everyone wear a mask while in the building. We will not have indoor fellowship to prevent ‘grouping’ around the food. Both services will be in Bruner Hall (this is to allow for social distancing). We will initially space chairs out in groups of one, two, three, four, etc. (please find a group of chairs that matches your household). Our air handling system will be on during the service. We won’t use hymnals so that multiple people aren’t touching them each morning (lyrics will be in the bulletin and projected onto the wall). And finally, if you are feeling under the weather, we ask that you please be extra-considerate of your fellow worshipers and remain home.

    Every day of life is a new endeavor. The same is true for us in this process of returning to worship. May we prayerfully and carefully take actions that promote good community health, along with our spiritual health. Thank you for your patience with us, and I look forward to seeing every one of you, whenever that might be.

    —Pastor Derek

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