Liturgy Lesson: March 8, 2020
Call to Worship: from Psalms 84, 27, and 65
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Adoration: Jesus, Where’er Your People Meet (#377)
Confession of Sin
Assurance of Pardon: 2 Cor. 5:14-15, 17, 21
Hymn of Assurance: God of Grace
Reading of the Word: John 14:1-6 and 1 Cor. 2:14
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
Ordination of New Elders and Deacons
The Lord’s Supper: How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place; Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (#529)
Closing Hymn: Christ is Made the Sure Foundation (#342)
Lord Jesus Christ,
Sin is my malady, my monster, my foe, my viper,
born in my birth, alive in my life,
strong in my character, dominating my faculties,
following me as a shadow, intermingling with my every thought,
my chain that holds me captive.
Yet your compassions yearn over me,
your heart hastens to my rescue,
your love endured my curse,
your mercy bore my justice.
Let me walk in humility,
bathed in your blood,
tender of conscience,
living in triumph as an heir of salvation
through your blessed name. Amen.
All the talk these days is about the Coronavirus, especially out here in the greater Seattle area, which has become ground zero for the impending national outbreak of this novel strain of the flu. The first recorded deaths from this virus happened just up the road from our church in the neighboring suburb of Kirkland. We have several congregants who live in that area. The governor of Washington has declared a state of emergency, Big Tech employees have been told to work from home, and countless community gatherings have been cancelled. Some schools have even closed for the next week or two. Our very own church has cancelled all events this week except for Sunday worship. This virus is most threatening for those with weakened immune systems (the elderly, the young, and those with underlying health conditions), and so drastic measures have been put in place to safeguard the most vulnerable among us.
For the last week there has been repeated runs on the stores for household items and supplies. You know it’s bad when Costco is out of toilet paper! Is this all unwarranted paranoia? Mass hysteria? Is this truly a global pandemic that necessitates locking our doors and staying home for two weeks? Or has the media just escalated our fears? Our pastor has some very helpful thoughts on all of this in his weekly note. You can find that here.
I am amazed at the measures we have taken to protect ourselves from this threat. And I marvel at the impact this virus can have on our modern world and global economy. It is so humbling that the most technologically and medically advanced civilization in the history of the world is brought to its knees by a microscopic organism.
I also wonder what our lives and our culture would be like if we all took the same drastic measures to deal with the one disease that is common to all humanity: sin. What if we were just as vigilant in safeguarding ourselves against that pandemic? Purifying our hands and our homes and praying regularly for the one and only spiritual vaccine: The cleansing blood of Jesus imputed to us through the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. The sickness that sin brings is universal and infects our whole being.
“There is no soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.”
– Psalm 38:3
For those who are not inoculated against sin it carries a 100% mortality rate. But there is a cure, and that is found at the cross. There is, in fact, a balm in Gilead that heals the sin-sick soul. The blood of Christ brings remedy in the form of redemption, and a healing that reaches far beyond the physical and temporal. This is THE major theme in hymnody: the grateful response of a resuscitated soul that now gives glory to the Great Physician. Here are some written prescriptions from doctors of the faith.
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear!
It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds, and drives away our fear.
It makes the wounded spirit whole and calms the troubled breast;
’tis manna to the hungry soul, and to the weary, rest.
Jesus! the name that charms our fears, that bids our sorrows cease,
’tis music in the sinner’s ears, ’tis life and health and peace.
He breaks the power of cancelled sin, he sets the prisoner free;
his blood can make the foulest clean; his blood availed for me.
And Wesley again:
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings.
Several of these doctors seem to be working together. Consider these two Williams:
Open now the crystal fountain, whence the healing stream doth flow!
There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
E’er since by faith I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.
If we take all the letters that spell out C-O-R-O-N-A-V-I-R-U-S and reconfigure them, we get a slightly misspelled message that points us to a cure-all for the contagion we all carry.
COVAR OUR SINS
No matter what happens to our physical bodies, we know that our sins are covered, and we will one day be resurrected, made new, our mortal flesh will put on immortality, and the song of praise will echo into eternity. Oh death, where is your sting?
One final thought. I am currently traveling for a gig with the symphonies of Omaha and Nashville. The concert is called Celtic Journey, and I get to sing some beautiful Irish tunes. So, allow me to close with the words of an Irish Roman Catholic songwriter and poet who was called “the voice of Ireland” back in the 19th century. Thomas Moore was mostly known for his ballads and secular poems, but he occasionally had the gospel leak out of his pen. His words are a perfect summary of all I have written today.
Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish;
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel;
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish,
Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.
Joy of the comfortless, light of the straying,
Hope of the penitent, fadeless and pure;
Here speaks the Comforter, in mercy saying,
“Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot cure.”
Jesus, Where’er Your People Meet
Text: William Cowper, 1769
Tune: WARRINGTON, Ralph Harrison, 1784
“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” (Matt. 18:20)
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
– Heb. 10:23-25
One of the greatest hymnals ever created was a collaboration between two good friends in the small village of Olney, England. Published in 1779, the Olney Hymns contain many classic hymns that are still being sung across the world today. The hymnbook consists of 280 hymns by John Newton (of “Amazing Grace” fame) and 68 by William Cowper (“God Moves in Mysterious Ways,” “There is a Fountain,” “Sometimes a Light Surprises”).
Many of the Olney Hymns were written for prayer meetings that were led by John Newton. Pastor Newton had about a thousand people in his wider parish, so he held two or three prayer meetings a week to minister to the whole flock and unite them in prayer. It is said that William Cowper attended every one of these. As the numbers attending these meetings grew, it became clear that the small village homes couldn’t contain all the people who wanted to attend. Newton decided to move the meetings to a large space known as “The Great House,” which could apparently hold over one hundred people at a time. When the date was set for prayer meetings to begin there, pastor Newton requested a new hymn from his friend William Cowper to honor the occasion. And so, Cowper penned some timeless words that are powerfully relevant to us, especially this week when many are struggling with anxiety or may not be able to physically attend church.
Jesus, where’er your people meet,
there they behold your mercy seat;
where’er they seek you, you are found,
and ev’ry place is hallowed ground.
For you, within no walls confined,
are dwelling in the humble mind;
such ever bring you where they come,
and going, take you to their home.
Dear Shepherd of your chosen few,
your former mercies here renew;
here to our waiting hearts proclaim
the sweetness of your saving name.
Here may we prove the pow’r of pray’r
to strengthen faith and sweeten care,
to teach our faint desires to rise,
and bring all heav’n before our eyes.
Lord, we are few, but you are near;
nor short your arm, nor deaf your ear;
O rend the heav’ns, come quickly down,
and make a thousand hearts your own.
CPC doesn’t quite contain a thousand souls yet. But no matter how many of us gather at church this Sunday, may our united voices be heard far beyond the four walls. May the Lord’s song go out, and may the thousands of ears around us hear, and may the Lord make them, and us, His own.