Welcome back!

Good morning, Friends!

Welcome to worship at Springfield Friends Meeting! Today is the first day since March 15th that we’ve been able to come back inside and worship together.

I just want to say welcome, and welcome again! It’s been such a long time! This is a situation our meeting has never faced before. I know it’s been hard for everyone. It’s been scary. We’ve had to do new things that we’ve never done before.

But we’re blessed to be back. And I hope we’re all thankful to God for keeping us safe, throughout this long ordeal.

I wish we could sing a great hymn of thanksgiving, because that would be so appropriate. But we’ll just have to pray instead.

Opening prayer

Lord, thank you for keeping us safe throughout this time of fear and danger. Thank you for bringing us back, into our own place again. Thank you for all your mercies, and all your blessings.

We pray for all of our friends who are at home this morning. We pray for all who have suffered throughout this terrible time.

We pray for the full recovery of those who have been ill, and we pray this week for the safety and the recovery of all of our national leaders.

We ask that the children in our schools and our young people be safe and healthy. We pray that those who have lost jobs or homes will be helped quickly.

We pray for families who have lost loved ones during this time. Our hearts reach out to them. Bring them comfort and consolation and peace.

We pray in thanksgiving for all the people who have given their time, their resources, their skill, and even their lives to help bring this epidemic to an end. Bless them, and bless their families, and may we remember their love and their sacrifice forever.
We pray for all the people who kept us supplied with food, who kept our cities running, who have been on the front lines during times of civil unrest. We pray for peace and justice in our troubled country.

Help us all to listen to our neighbors, to hear their pain and see their condition. Give us hearts of compassion, and a hunger for your righteousness.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

All through this time of lockdown, I’ve been trying to bring messages of hope and faith. If you’ve been coming to the drive-in services, or watching the Sunday worship messages online, you know that we’ve been trying to stay together as a church, to encourage each other and lift each other up.

Today is no different. There’s an enormous wellspring of God’s love and care running all through the Bible, and that wellspring hasn’t run out yet.

Today I want to read you a passage which may not be familiar to you. It’s from the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament. Isaiah lived through disastrous times, when the country was falling to pieces all around him.

In the early parts of the book, Isaiah told it like it was. He didn’t pull any punches. He told both the leaders and the people that they’d fallen away from God.

But then Isaiah held out a promise of hope. He said that God would redeem his people. He said that they would return to their homes. He said that the nation would flourish again. He said that a savior was coming.

And even though Isaiah lived and wrote a long time ago, people held onto his words, to carry them through the hard times.

Let me read to you, from Isaiah chapter 35.

The desert and the dry ground will be glad.
The dry places will be full of joy.
Flowers will grow there like the first crocus in the spring,

The desert will bloom; it will be very glad and shout for joy.
The glorious beauty of the mountains and valleys will be given to it.
And everyone will see the glory and beauty of the Lord.

Strengthen the hands of those who are weak.
Help those whose knees give way.
Say to those whose hearts are afraid,
“Be strong and do not fear.
Your God will come.
He will pay back your enemies.
He will come to save you.”

Then the eyes of those who are blind will be opened.
The ears of those who can’t hear will be unplugged.
Those who can’t walk will leap like a deer.
And those who can’t speak will shout for joy.

Water will pour out in dry places.
Streams will flow in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool of water.
The thirsty ground will become bubbling springs.
In the places where wild dogs once lay down,
Tall grass will grow.

A wide road will go through the land.
It will be called the Way of Holiness.
Only those who lead a holy life can use it.
“Unclean” and foolish people can’t walk on it.
No lions will use it.

No hungry wild animals will be on that way.
None of them will be there.
Only people who have been set free will walk on it.

Those the Lord has saved will return to their land.
They will sing as they enter the holy city.
Joy that lasts forever will be like beautiful crowns on their heads.
They will be filled with gladness and joy.
Sorrow and sighing will be gone.

Isaiah 35

Isn’t that a powerful message? Isn’t that a message of hope?

“They will return to their land. . .they will sing as they enter the holy city. . .joy that lasts forever will be like beautiful crowns on their heads. . .they will be filled with gladness and joy. . .sorrow and sighing will be gone.”

That’s what I’m talking about. That’s what we’re celebrating.

For six months, we’ve been living a life we never even imagined. Back in January, had any of you ever even heard the words, “safe social distancing” before?

Nobody imagined that it would be six months before we could be back here in this room together.

It’s been lonely. It’s been terribly lonely. I know it’s been lonely for many of you, because you’ve told me about it, every time we’ve met, and every time we’ve talked on the phone.

But I want you to know it’s been terribly lonely for me, too. Week after week, month after month, I’d be here at Springfield, wondering how everybody was doing, afraid for everybody’s health and safety.

I said several times in my online messages and at the drive-ins, I would walk through the building and pray, “Lord, please bring the people back here again! Please, when can we meet safely?”

I have prayed and prayed till I’m tired. And I know that it’s been hard for everyone to be patient. It’s been hard for me, too.

During this time, we have stayed in touch with each other, in every way possible. We have used phone calls, and cards and letters, social media, and videos to stay in touch.

We’ve been particularly careful for the most lonely and isolated people in our meeting. We made a special effort to reach out to them.

Thanks to your generosity, there wasn’t a month that went by that we didn’t have food to donate to COAT. Rita and Chad have depended on us, and on all the churches that belong to COAT, to help them with the food and other things they needed.

We didn’t take out any loans. We didn’t have to use up any of our endowment. We didn’t have to lay off any of our staff. Everyone got paid, and they were paid on time.

That’s not the case in many churches. Thousands of churches across the country have closed for good during this epidemic. You helped keep us open!

We’ve used the time to prepare for our future. I know it’s felt sometimes like we were just hanging on.

But all through this time, the building has been kept clean. The lawns are cared for. The kitchen got painted, for the first time in many years. The old nursery, which we want to use for community ministry, got painted and all new lights.

I spent all my spare time for over a month, repairing all the lights in the Sunday School wing. That was a big job, and it was a lonely job. But all those burned-out and broken lights were just sending the wrong message, to our own classes and to new people.

And when you go in there now, it’s bright. It’s inviting. The lights don’t flicker and hum any more. It’s a whole new look.

The art class that meets here on Wednesdays is starting a new project. They’re putting up a new mural in the entry to the Sunday School. It shows Jesus, playing with the children. Holding them in his lap. Hugging them. It’s going to be beautiful, and it says what we want to say to all the kids who come to Springfield.

We couldn’t hold regular wedding showers, but we held drive-by showers instead. We couldn’t meet here for worship, but we reached out with video messages.

Do you know, more people watched those videos than we usually get here on a Sunday morning? It’s true! My wife said she never knew she’d married a televangelist.

One of the biggest surprises, is that during the worst epidemic our country has had in the last hundred years, we did something new. Something we’ve never done before. We started renting space to another congregation that needed a home.

They’re a group of Spanish-speaking people. They had a church down in Asheboro, that’s been established for over 10 years. But they had families here in High Point, that were commuting down to Asheboro, twice a week for church and Bible study.

They came to us, and asked if they could rent some space for the 10 or 12 families they want to serve. We asked some questions, talked it over, wrote up an agreement, and said yes.

They’ve been worshiping here for two months now. At first out back in the picnic shelter. Later today, they’ll start meeting in the chapel.

They’re polite. They’re considerate. They clean up diligently after themselves.

They all speak Spanish – only the pastor and his wife and one or two others speak English fluently. But they pray, and they love the Lord, and they want to be friends with us. We were the first church that reached out to them with a helping hand.

We did this, in the midst of a terrible epidemic. We made a decision to share what we have, with a group that has nothing. They are Christians, and we are Christians, and we aren’t letting our language and our differences make a wall between us.

They’ve been meeting at noon, and next week they’re going to move their service up to 1:00, so that our services won’t interfere with each other. We won’t be in each others’ way.

So many people have been saying how terrible the year 2020 has been. And it has been terrible. We are doing things and enduring things we literally couldn’t have imagined a year ago.

But thanks be to God, we are not just surviving, we are thriving here in this place at Springfield. We are reaching out, we are caring for each other, we are serving the Lord, we are building for our future, we are making new friends, we are sharing what we have.

It’s been a terrible year, but in another way it’s been a year of grace. And I hope we all can give thanks to God, not just for keeping us alive, but for increasing our faith, for letting us see his love, for giving us hope, for giving us opportunities to love and serve.

We still have a long way to recover. Things won’t be completely “normal” again for a while. We have many challenges yet to face. But God has been with us this far, and we believe God will always be here, if we will walk in faith, hope and love with him.

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