This past Sunday, we had a little bit of a technological snafu, and I thought it might be helpful to explain what was going on. Somehow, the responsive reading that appeared on our screen was the reading from the previous Sunday, not the psalm that was intended for this Sunday’s service. When we discovered the mix-up, Heather offered to lead the reading as it appeared on the screen – from Psalm 34:15-22. But I knew that Psalm 146 was the correct reading for the day, and that it was printed out (like normal) for Heather to read from the pulpit. So I asked her to read the entire psalm aloud by herself, thus nullifying the “responsive” part of this week’s responsive reading.

When we worship together, content is more important than form. What we sing, read, pray, and communicate is more important than the way in which we do it. I would much rather change a responsive reading into reading done by one person, rather than have everybody involved in reading something that doesn’t quite fit into the flow of the service.

You see, our services at Mt. Haley are carefully designed to move from one item to the next, always with a central theme in mind. Each week, when I plan the service, I sit down with the scripture texts for the day. Those usually (but not always) come from the “lectionary,” a structured way of working through the whole Bible, which is used by many different Christian groups around the world. I sit with those passages and consider what they have in common, what kind of theme they suggest for us to experience together in worship. With that theme in mind, I then select songs and the “between-song” scripture verses, so that the entire service is, more or less, about that particular theme.

For example, this past Sunday was all about “Jesus the healer.” The sermon text, Mark 7:24-37, tells two stories of Jesus healing different people. The reading from Isaiah 35:3-7 is an ancient prophecy of the Messiah who would come and bring healing to the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the mute. The songs we sang reminded us of Jesus’s ability to bring healing in all areas of life: physical, spiritual, emotional, and so on. Through his sacrificial death and resurrection, Jesus gives us abundant life even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

So our responsive reading, which came very early in the service, needed to set the tone for the rest of the service. We needed to hear Psalm 146 proclaim its ancient truth:

God “upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” (Psalm 146:7-9 NIV)

All of this is to remind you that our worship services are not cobbled together by accident. Each service has a theme, a guiding principle, something that draws together every piece of what we do. That theme is printed in the bulletin at the beginning of the service. Just this morning, Stacy (our wonderful secretary) had the idea to include the theme on the electronic presentations that run before the service, both in the sanctuary and in the narthex. That way, you will have more opportunities to see the theme of the day and to begin thinking and praying about it, even as you get settled in your seat in the sanctuary.

I hope this helps you to worship at Mt. Haley. Worship is one of the most important things we do as a community of faith! Thanks for being part of this experience with us.

Pastor David

Friends, I know the past season in our church life has been very difficult, very stressful.

Since the end of May, we have had three ambulance visits to Mt. Haley, for three different church members. You all remember, of course, that R.H. passed away while working on our church property earlier this summer. Then two Sundays ago, D.S. had a non-epileptic seizure during church, and this past Sunday, D.O. had a small stroke during church. (I’m using their initials rather than their full names because we try to be sensitive when sharing this kind of information online.)

It’s enough to make anyone a little leery of coming back to church next week.

I am reminded of the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, which Jesus himself quoted at the beginning of his ministry:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 NIV)

Interestingly, Jesus quoted Isaiah a little differently than Isaiah appears in our English translations today. In particular, one phrase from Isaiah 61:1-2 is missing from Jesus’s words – not because Jesus didn’t believe this or was somehow twisting scripture, but because translations are sometimes complicated and tricky after hundreds and hundreds of years. The noteworthy phrase for us in Isaiah 61 is this:

“He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted.” (Isaiah 61:1 NIV)

We usually think of “brokenhearted” as describing someone who has lost a loved one or who has gone through a painful breakup or divorce. Most often, “brokenhearted” describes something relational, a state of being overcome by grief or despair. The closer the relationship, the deeper the brokenheartedness.

And you know what? If you are feeling a bit brokenhearted by the recent stressful situations at church, that’s a good thing – because it means that your relationships with other people at church are important to you. I would be concerned if you weren’t feeling kind of desperate at this point in time.

I know I am! After this past Sunday’s incident, I was reminded of Rosemary Gifford, who passed away just a year and a half ago. Rosemary always said that bad things always happen in sets of three. If two people close to her died, then she was unsettled until a third person died, and then she could relax a bit. Oddly, that pattern seemed to hold true for a long time.

So now we have had our set of three visits by paramedics to Mt. Haley. That’s it, right? We’re finished with this medical emergency business, right?

I sure hope so.

It’s time for God to bind up the brokenhearted around here. It’s time for us to draw closer to each other, reaffirm our faith in Jesus Christ together, and be strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit. In reality, God has already begun doing that work, and God will continue doing that work for as long as it takes.

There is no guarantee that we won’t have another medical emergency at church in the near future. We could have another this coming Sunday.

But the good news is that Jesus has entered into this world to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

One thing is for certain: Jesus is still in our midst. His presence joins us each time we gather together. And in a special way, we will recognize his presence this coming Sunday when we share Communion together.

So come. Don’t be afraid. Rest in the presence of Jesus. Remember to pray for D.S. and D.O. and all the others. Read Ephesians out loud once again. And allow God to begin binding up your broken heart, to ease your grief and despair, by drawing you close to him and close to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

I’ll see you Sunday.

Pastor David