PASTORAL LETTERS

Pastoral Letter 7 from Bill Lentz and Covid-19 Devotion 6

Grace, mercy, peace, and good health to us all!

I’m writing yet again to alert you of recent directives’ changes that influence our church. The Federal Government’s directive for the nation and the Commonwealth’s directive for all 67 counties is to Stay-in-Place until Thursday, April 30, 2020. Though religious institutions deemed “essential” have guidelines that say a maximum of only 10 people may gather while practicing social distancing protocols. Therefore, we’ve suspended all church-related and non-church-related activities until after April 30, at the least. One directive’s exception is broadcasting weekly Sunday services at 9:00 a.m. and, next week, a Good Friday Tenebrae Service at 7:00 p.m.

Several people are working diligently to keep the church’s ministry on track. Their commitment is inspiring to me. Gratefully, two Zoom Meetings this week have resulted in a plan for Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Details will reach you in an e-mail tomorrow, April 2. Please be in prayer for the exceptional people who put themselves at some health risk to produce live stream services to keep our connection secure in this uncertain time.

One way you could express your gratitude for provisions and blessings is to keep your contributions and donations flowing to meet expenses. I sympathize with those who are currently laid off, furloughed, unemployed or underemployed and are not able to meet pledges or intentions to give. Reach me if you need assistance! We have limited resources to share on a case by case basis. Otherwise, please help your church. Giving at https://www.lansdaleumc.org/tithe/ is quick and efficient! Thank you!

If you’ve accessed news sources recently, you’ve found stories of two pastors arrested for violating their states’ virus mitigation regulation to limit groups to 10 people by defiantly holding worship services. They each cite dubious understandings of constitutional law (neither pastor is a lawyer) as well as dangerous theologies (I could find no credentials for either pastor to suggest divinity or seminary training). People with influence must be held accountable for long-established norms, customs, laws, and traditions. The pastors’ actions will be judged by the law and the community–and by God. And so it is for all of us!

I bring this up to reaffirm God’s preference for health in this life. The biblical witness on this point is vibrant and unequivocal. Let’s look at one vital text:

     “That thy way may be known upon earth,
          thy saving health among all nations.”
               –(Psalm 67:1-2 KJV)

The King James Version (1611) made a radical choice to assign the English word “health” to translate the Hebrew word “Yeshuah” (yeshu-ah), which is ordinarily rendered “salvation.” Some protestants use the word “salvation” to describe “winning souls.” Some Christians press people ardently, asking, “Are you saved?” “Have you found salvation?” But notice carefully that the KJV Bible–the preferred translation of many traditionalist and conservative Christians–opted to render the Hebrew word “health” and not “salvation” more than 500 years ago. 

That’s fascinating, at least to me.

Even more fascinating is that the Hebrew word “Yeshuah” has the same root as “Yehoshuah” (yehoshu-ah), which is the Hebrew word for the name “Joshua,” which is usually rendered as “rescue,” as in “God rescues.” The Aramaic form of the name “Joshua” is “Yeshua” (yeshu-a, “which in Greek is “Iesous,” which is rendered into Latin as “Jesus.” 

 

Christians could more accurately inquire into the status of someone’s soul by asking, “Are you healthy?” “Are you healed?” “Have you found health?” There is no single Hebrew or Christian conceptualization of “health.” The reason is that there’s no unique concept of health in the Scriptures. The Bible does not reveal prescriptions on how to live a healthy life in ways we might recognize in today’s “health market.” But if we take Psalm 67:2 seriously, then God’s way upon the earth is health! Health is the way! Perhaps in that sense, the entire collection of books we call the Bible is a book about health. The Bible, then, prefers health. The two defiant pastors could have preferred health over preening for admiration. They could have valued the health and lives of their flock before valuing their “rights.” 

 

LUMC is following the directives. We are keeping to a maximum of seven people. We value health at LUMC. We value the community. We value our witness to the community to be exemplars of healthy living. To do so, pleases God. And it pleases God when we seek to please God. Be healthy! It’s the way!

 

Prayers continue,

Pastor Bill.       

 

 

Pastoral Letter 6 from Bill Lentz and Covid-19 Devotion 5

Grace, mercy, peace, and good health to us all!

Today, I’m combining my Pastoral Letter and Covid-19 Devotion 5. So, first things first. My hopes and thoughts, as well as prayers, are with the people of LUMC. I pray for you every day as news of the virus’ rapid spread and stories of people who succumb to it confront us. Feelings of uncertainty, unfamiliarity, and even doubt, may be prevalent in your life. I, too, feel their effect. They’re all quite normal feelings to experience during this crisis. One less thing overall to doubt is God’s presence among us and the world. Before the universe came into being, God was present. God’s presence was there at the moment of creation. God’s presence was with us every past moment and will be with us forever and always. 

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence,

 there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are 

          pleasures forevermore.–Psalm 16:11

Here is the latest: The Commonwealth’s directive to Montgomery County (among others) is to Stay-in-Place until April 6, 2020. LUMC will continue to produce online Sunday worship services at 9:00 a.m. through the official Facebook Page and website (www.lansdaleumc.org) until further notice. We should prepare ourselves for the cancelation of gathering for the Easter Sunday service at the church on April 12th. Easter Sunday will likely be an online celebration too. But then, on the first Sunday that we’re able to gather together again in our Sanctuary, we will celebrate Easter! 

I’ll be leading the staff today in a Zoom Meeting. We will discuss Holy Week opportunities for worship and inform you when a plan is clear. It’s wise to be prepared in the current fluidity of the novel coronavirus crisis and to alter our usual practices. Whether this “new normal” is temporary or not is yet to be seen. The day will come when we will worship together! Let that be our constant hope and our abiding prayer.

I want you to know I’ve been in contact with the leaders of the four “Anonymous” Groups that have regularly met in the church for some years. I’m glad to report their groups are meeting remotely and are well. They’re eager to return to the church. They were delighted to know we care!

If you would like to volunteer temporarily in a Comfort Call Ministry, please text or call me at 484-767-2352 or email at pastorbill@lansdaleumc.org

If you would like to volunteer temporarily in a Grocery Shop Ministry for staple items to deliver to church families who need help, please text or call me at 484-767-2352 or email at pastorbill@lansdaleumc.org

Devotionally, let me address ways to cope during the pandemic physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This moment in time, called Covid-19 Pandemic, is merely one scene from the whole of your life. Your life is more abundant and fuller than this one moment. This moment will end, and new scenes will come. We have to act out this scene and ready yourself for future scenes. Your future may be different than you expected, but you will get through this moment.

Grieving is most likely the cause of any physical pain, fatigue, discomfort, or stress you’re feeling. Grief is God’s tool for healing your deepest hurts. It’s like this: Life takes a turn for the worse when a loved one dies, or a job is lost, or safety and security evaporate. It would help if you worked through the feeling of loss. As you do, your heart will open for new encounters, relationships, and dreams. When grief is unplanned, it makes you more vulnerable and uncomfortable. You must acknowledge it, honor it, work with it, and choose to resolve it with prayer, conversation, and activities that produce hope. 

Connecting is the fuel of your life. You thrive when connections are safe and healthy. You build life’s foundations on your connections. I implore you to practice physical distancing during the crisis but allow social connections to thrive. Reach out to family and friends. Call vulnerable people, you know. Have conversations with people who have fallen off your radar. Call the people you hurt or misunderstood and apologize. Be in contact with all the people who give life and meaning to you.

Structuring links your brain to your physical systems and your surroundings. You need structure and order. Establish routines to ward off any sense you have of struggling. Your brain, heart, and soul find their balance in patterns. Pray without ceasing. Breathe without stressing. Think without anticipating. Rise early. Get dressed. Eat well. Take walks. Be kind to yourself. God made you for health and long life. Reflect on the ways you’re cooperating with that gracious gift.      

Jesus said, I am the vine; you are the branches. 

     Whoever abides in me and I in him is the one that bears much fruit, 

          for apart from me you can do nothing.–John 15:5

Prayers continue,

Pastor Bill.

 

Pastoral Letter 5 from Bill Lentz on Covid-19

Peace, mercy, and good health be with us all!

My prayers continue as we enter day 6 of the 15 days of the shuttering of our beloved church. News and directives come swiftly, daily, which adds to the anxiety and uncertainty we feel. One certainty to hold onto for dear life: God is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The Morningstar rises and sets. The tides ebb and flow. Spring has arrived, bringing longer light, warmer winds, and primary colors. Birds sing out in the early morning to praise their Creator. And we are alive to praise God too!

I’m pleased to announce that the “live streaming” of a worship service at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow, March 22nd, will happen if everything comes together well. If “live streaming” proves unworkable, we will attempt to record the service and post it for use later in the day. As a backup plan, I’ve already recorded my sermon and prayers for you to use, which you’ll find on the Sermons Page on the church’s website homepage: www.lansdaleumc.org.

You’ve two choices to access the “live streaming” from your computer: (1) Access your Facebook Page and then access the church’s official page called Lansdale United Methodist Church. (Note: You will not be able to access the service from the church’s prayer page!) If you’ve not previously “Liked” the official church page, do so, but it’s not necessary for viewing the public live stream. (2) If you do not have a Facebook page, you can access the church’s website at www.lansdaleumc.org. Scroll down on the homepage, and you will see the live stream at the bottom. If you attend the live stream service, please comment or click an emoji that suits your mood! 

Once we test the live streaming possibilities, we have other opportunities for connecting that could be available to us. Keep watching for updates. I’m grateful for the responses to the Covid-19 devotions I’ve written. I will keep writing to connect in at least this electronic way.

Please do call me for prayers or pastoral care needs at 484-767-2352. It’s okay! Call. You might be saving me from cleaning the garage if you do! Kathy and I wish you all wellness and joy.

Prayers continue,

Pastor Bill.    

 

Pastoral Letter 4 from Bill Lentz on Covid-19 and LUMC

Greetings, dear friends in Christ,

This email is the fourth I’ve written to respond to further directives from governments and the bishop on Covid-19.

  By now, you’ve no doubt heard that Montgomery County continues as the epicenter of the virus in the Commonwealth with 30 confirmed cases. Moreover, Commonwealth and Federal officials have now restricted groups of more than ten people from meeting to promote “social distancing” to mitigate the spread of the virus by limiting physical contact. These are commonsense measures that should be respected and followed. I do not believe these actions are overreactions. The virus is novel; no one knows the ending or what to expect. Safety and preparedness are smart and moral choices.  

To that end, and at the bishop’s directive, LUMC will remain closed for the next 15 days, which takes us through March 31, 2020.

While it’s a necessary and prudent step, it’s also a body blow to the Body of Christ that gathers at 300 N. Broad Street in Lansdale. There are a few ways that may soften the blow: The Tech Team is meeting tonight to set up live streaming a worship service this Sunday from the Sanctuary. More details will follow. Please pray for their efforts. If we do perfect live streaming, I’m already dreaming about meeting with groups of nine people for a Pastor’s Bible Study at the church that would be video recorded and made available for you to watch. It’s just a dream now, but cross your fingers, I will continue writing devotionals to connect with you.

Let’s adjust our perspective for a minute. Yes, this is a significant disruption in our congregation’s life. We’re still in the early stages. Difficult times are ahead. This current reality could last for months. Think of the disruption among health-care workers, employed people, those who’ve been searching for jobs, on small businesses, eateries, retailers, families with pre-school and school-aged children, families with frail loved ones, the chronically ill, the mentally ill, and those in the throes of treatment of severe illnesses Let your hopes be with them all. Call people and share your concerns.

Kathy and I miss you. To do something to connect, we sent in our offering yesterday by text. It was easy! If you’re looking for something helpful to do, keep us afloat with your regular pledges and contributions. 

Set up e-giving (https://www.lansdaleumc.org/tithe/.) Text a donation by texting the words LansdaleFirstUMC to 73256. Easy peasy! Mail your check. Make an online donation to Manna on Main Street at (https://mannaonmain.org/give-money/donate-now/) since we won’t be gathering for the Lenten Series until perhaps April 1, if then! 

Please watch for another follow-up email from me with plans for Sunday worship and my hopes for Holy Week and Easter.

Keep your spirits and minds at ease with Jesus’ words: And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.–Matthew 28:20 (NRSV)

My hopes and prayers continue,

Pastor Bill. 

 

Pastoral Letter 3 from Bill Lentz on Covid-19

 

Greetings, dear friends in Christ,

 

Grace, peace, and health to us all! Let our spirits sing with gratitude to God for the promise of abundant life! Let our prays flow for the peoples of the 129 nations around the planet involved with Covid-19. Let our hearts grieve with those who mourn the death of loved ones. Let our hopes for healing be with those fighting the disease. As presumptive cases on Covid-19 rise in Montgomery County, I am more and more comfortable with the decision to shutter our church through March 27th. An “abundance of caution” is a reasonable standard to observe. Please follow the protocols of the CDC to protect others and yourself.

 

Here are several items for your information:

 

Concerning tomorrowSunday, Match 15: I’m attempting to record a brief service and a sermon for you on the church’s website at www.lansdaleumc.org. If I’m successful, you’ll be able to access it whenever you have time tomorrow, but how wonderful it would be for as many of us as possible to be together, connected, in internet worship at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow. Check the website for an announcement about the recording.

 

Concerning Wednesdays, March 18th and 25th: The Lenten Services are suspended through March 25th. We’ll meet next on April 1st at First Baptist Church at 7:00 p.m. 

 

Concerning Sunday, March 22nd: The Brunch at Manna on Main will reschedule to a later date. The Tech Team is working on the means to Livestream the March 22nd service if we suspend that service too. Again, we will use the standard of “an abundance of caution” when making decisions.

 

My prayers for you continue. Be calm. Be not afraid. Stay well.

 

Peace and all goodness,

Pastor Bill.  

 
 
Pastoral Letter 2 from Bill Lentz on Covid-19
 
Grace and peace to you all,
 

Please read my follow-up Covid-19 e-mail carefully.

My prayers have been with you, our community, nation, and the world as we face a pandemic caused by the Novel Coronavirus Covid-19. The Commonwealth announced this morning there are two confirmed and 20 presumptive cases of the virus in Montgomery County. We are currently the epicenter of the virus. Directives specific to our county given yesterday include closing public schools and licensed child care centers. Though Bright Beginnings is a non-licensed program, it has followed North Penn SD’s lead in the past and will do so today: Bright Beginnings is closing from March 13-27, 2020.

The directives further place a ban on gatherings larger than 250 people. While our weekly worship attendance falls well below that number, after consulting with my administrative cabinet, we have made the following decisions: Sunday’s Worship Service, Sunday School, and youth group activities are suspended on March 15, 2020. Furthermore, to protect our building’s users, all other church-related and non-church activities are suspended through March 27, 2020

These decisions have not been made to foment panic or anxiety; they have been made to cooperate with the Commonwealth’s government official directives, to set an excellent example for the community, and to protect each other from unnecessary exposure to the virus. A follow-up e-mail will be sent about the Wednesday Lenten Service at First Baptist Church and the worship service on March 22, 2020, including the brunch to be served at Manna on Main

In the meantime, be calm and filled with courage. I ask you to offer this prayer:

O God of all hope, we pray for all living in anxiety and fear today.

For all fearing illness, isolation, economic turmoil, and people’s reactions to the unknown, we pray you will pour out your Holy Spirt’s peace and calm. We pray for your church in these uncertain times. We pray you will strengthen decision-makers and uphold the resolve of the church’s faithful witnesses to our community. We pray for the grace of your wisdom and insight. Help us turn our eyes, minds, and hearts to you, O giver of every perfect promise. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.  

Be assured that my prayers continue for you all.

 

Peace and goodness,

Pastor Bill.

 

Pastoral Letter 1 from Bill Lentz on Covid-19

Grace and peace to you all,

Here are important decisions for you to know concerning our church. Please read this follow-up to last Saturday’s Covid-19 e-mail carefully.

My prayers have been with you, our community, nation, and the world as we face a pandemic caused by the Novel Coronavirus Covid-19. My hopes are with all of us in this time of disruption, but especially with those caring for the sick, the elderly, and children, and those facing severe economic challenges.

As of 8:00 a.m. this morning, the Commonwealth announced there are two confirmed and 20 presumptive cases of the virus in Pennsylvania, 13 of those are in Montgomery County. We are currently the epicenter of the virus. Directives specific to our county given yesterday include closing public schools and licensed child care centers. Though Bright Beginnings is a non-licensed program, it has followed North Penn School District’s lead in the past and will do so today: Bright Beginnings is closed from March 13-27, 2020.

The directives further place a restriction on gatherings larger than 250 people. While we fall below that number, the administrative cabinet and I have made the following decisions: All church-related and non-church-related activities are suspended through at least March 27, 2020. We do this to protect our congregation and other users of the building. Sunday’s Worship Service, Sunday School, and youth group activities are suspended on March 15, 2020.

These decisions have not been made to foment panic or anxiety; they have been made to cooperate with the Commonwealth’s official directives, to set an excellent example for the community, and to protect each other from unnecessary exposure to the virus. A follow-up e-mail will be sent about the Wednesday Lenten Service at First Baptist Church and the worship service on March 22, 2020, including the brunch to be served at Manna on Main. 

In the meantime, be calm and filled with courage. If you have a pastoral care need during this time, call my cell at 484-767-2352. Let’s connect by calls, texts, and e-mails. Please check on our more vulnerable church members. Use the Facebook Prayer Page to communicate needs. Becky and I will deal with matters as they arise, so be patient with us, especially if I’m in Bethlehem. Assuming the current directives hold, I will be in Lansdale on Tuesday, March 17, for two off-site meetings. If you need to see me, let me know.    

I ask you to offer this prayer:

O God of all hope, we pray for all living in anxiety and fear today.

For all fearing illness, isolation, economic turmoil, and people’s reactions to the unknown, we pray you will pour out your Holy Spirt’s peace and calm. We pray for your church in these uncertain times. We pray you will strengthen decision-makers and uphold the resolve of the church’s faithful witnesses to our community. We pray for the grace of your wisdom and insight. Help us turn our eyes, minds, and hearts to you, O giver of every perfect promise. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.  

Be assured that my prayers continue for you all. Stay safe and healthy!

Peace and goodness,

Pastor Bill.

Following is a link to our Bishop Peggy Johnson’s Pastoral Letter concerning Covid-19:

https://myemail.constantcontact.com/Abundance-of-Caution—Words-from-Bishop-Peggy-Johnson.html?soid=1115113910561&aid=1PVTB6aogsI

 
COVID-19 DEVOTIONS
 
Covid-19 Devotion 7 from Pastor Bill
 
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein…”– Psalm 24:1
 
“My message is simple: keep looking up!”–David Lindo, famed British Ornithologist, from his building’s rooftop in Spain where he’s in quarantine. (1)
 
A pair of cardinals is making a racket just outside the window where I’m typing this devotion at 5:38 a.m. this morning. Perhaps they’re bickering about where all the humans have gone and why it’s so quiet.
 
Recent monitoring of ambient sound around the planet has shown the same conditions as on a typical Christmas Day. Planes, trains, and automobiles are so still, and with it–the earth. Animals are wandering around the streets of the world’s cities–wild turkeys in Oakland, pumas in Chile, even highly prized species of orchids are coming back with fewer people to pick them by riverbanks. And let’s not forget the spotted salamanders!
 
Cooped up indoors as we are, people are beginning to miss nature, and nature is glad we’ve been indoors. Nature is having a field day.
David Lindo is recommending birdwatching as a Covid-19 treatment. “Keep looking up,” he urges. That’s an interesting bit of advice, both literally and idiomatically. “Keep looking up” to see the birds of the air reminds us that the losses we’ve experienced in this experience are not all bad ones. While unable to pursue our ordinary pursuits, we have time on our hands to begin new routines and to fulfill longed-for desires to start new pastimes. Psalm 24:1 is a calling to take notice of all that God offers in nature. Fewer of us currently occupying the space outdoors has prompted animals and birds to reclaim land once their habitats. Don’t wait for Earth Day on April 24th! Let your everyday habits shift a little to take in the fullness of God’s good earth!
 
“Keep looking up” is also a calling to practice “bounded optimism.” Professor Albert Mehrabian of UCLA coined the phrase as part of his teaching on the importance of verbal and nonverbal messaging. Bounded optimism is like hope attached to realism. Pollyanna’s optimism is harmful in a crisis like the one we’re all enduring. Magical thinking and romantic platitudes about God are unhelpful. The disruption is severe. The suffering is real and tragic. People may feel that God is absent while we’re in our greatest need. Keep looking up!
 
… And to my listening ears
All nature sings and round me rings
The music of the spheres
This is my Father’s world…
 
Realism promotes fruitful optimism, one that acknowledges we’re in a season of unfamiliar disruption, which requires us to behave and perform in healthy ways. Keep washing those hands! Start wearing a mask! Practice spiritual disciplines, the means of grace, which fortify the body, heart, and soul. Be an exemplar of the bounded optimism, which says, “Not everything may go well, but everything will be okay in the end.” Keep looking up!
 
Isaiah 40:26 (CEB)–
“Look up at the sky and consider:
Who created these?
God! The one who brings out the people one by one,
summoning each of them by name.
Because of God’s great strength
and mighty power, not one is missing.”
 
Isaiah 40 is a chapter of comfort to all people in exile–in all kinds of exile. We, too, are an exilic people for awhile–exiled from people, from work, from school, (from baseball!), and from the church itself. It’s normal to feel discouraged, despondent, and even a bit defeated. But then Isaiah 40 comes blaring its trumpet: “Comfort! Comfort, my People!” Read the chapter! God’s voice rings out from the absence and into the world, promising hope! The exile will end!
Keep looking up!
 
Prayers continue,
Pastor Bill.
 
(1) Daily Monitor, April 3, 2020
 
Pastoral Letter 7 from Bill Lentz and Covid-19 Devotion 6

Grace, mercy, peace, and good health to us all!
 
I’m writing yet again to alert you of recent directives’ changes that influence our church. The Federal Government’s directive for the nation and the Commonwealth’s directive for all 67 counties is to Stay-in-Place until Thursday, April 30, 2020. Though religious institutions deemed “essential” have guidelines that say a maximum of only 10 people may gather while practicing social distancing protocols. Therefore, we’ve suspended all church-related and non-church-related activities until after April 30, at the least. One directive’s exception is broadcasting weekly Sunday services at 9:00 a.m. and, next week, a Good Friday Tenebrae Service at 7:00 p.m.
 
Several people are working diligently to keep the church’s ministry on track. Their commitment is inspiring to me. Gratefully, two Zoom Meetings this week have resulted in a plan for Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Details will reach you in an e-mail tomorrow, April 2. Please be in prayer for the exceptional people who put themselves at some health risk to produce live stream services to keep our connection secure in this uncertain time.
 
One way you could express your gratitude for provisions and blessings is to keep your contributions and donations flowing to meet expenses. I sympathize with those who are currently laid off, furloughed, unemployed or underemployed and are not able to meet pledges or intentions to give. Reach me if you need assistance! We have limited resources to share on a case by case basis. Otherwise, please help your church. Giving at https://www.lansdaleumc.org/tithe/ is quick and efficient! Thank you!
 
If you’ve accessed news sources recently, you’ve found stories of two pastors arrested for violating their states’ virus mitigation regulation to limit groups to 10 people by defiantly holding worship services. They each cite dubious understandings of constitutional law (neither pastor is a lawyer) as well as dangerous theologies (I could find no credentials for either pastor to suggest divinity or seminary training). People with influence must be held accountable for long-established norms, customs, laws, and traditions. The pastors’ actions will be judged by the law and the community–and by God. And so it is for all of us!
 
I bring this up to reaffirm God’s preference for health in this life. The biblical witness on this point is vibrant and unequivocal. Let’s look at one vital text:
“That thy way may be known upon earth,
thy saving health among all nations.”
–(Psalm 67:1-2 KJV)
 
The King James Version (1611) made a radical choice to assign the English word “health” to translate the Hebrew word “Yeshuah” (yeshu-ah), which is ordinarily rendered “salvation.” Some protestants use the word “salvation” to describe “winning souls.” Some Christians press people ardently, asking, “Are you saved?” “Have you found salvation?” But notice carefully that the KJV Bible–the preferred translation of many traditionalist and conservative Christians–opted to render the Hebrew word “health” and not “salvation” more than 500 years ago.
That’s fascinating, at least to me.
 
Even more fascinating is that the Hebrew word “Yeshuah” has the same root as “Yehoshuah” (yehoshu-ah), which is the Hebrew word for the name “Joshua,” which is usually rendered as “rescue,” as in “God rescues.” The Aramaic form of the name “Joshua” is “Yeshua” (yeshu-a, “which in Greek is “Iesous,” which is rendered into Latin as “Jesus.”

Christians could more accurately inquire into the status of someone’s soul by asking, “Are you healthy?” “Are you healed?” “Have you found health?” There is no single Hebrew or Christian conceptualization of “health.” The reason is that there’s no unique concept of health in the Scriptures. The Bible does not reveal prescriptions on how to live a healthy life in ways we might recognize in today’s “health market.” But if we take Psalm 67:2 seriously, then God’s way upon the earth is health! Health is the way! Perhaps in that sense, the entire collection of books we call the Bible is a book about health. The Bible, then, prefers health. The two defiant pastors could have preferred health over preening for admiration. They could have valued the health and lives of their flock before valuing their “rights.”

LUMC is following the directives. We are keeping to a maximum of seven people. We value health at LUMC. We value the community. We value our witness to the community to be exemplars of healthy living. To do so, pleases God. And it pleases God when we seek to please God. Be healthy! It’s the way!

Prayers continue,
Pastor Bill.
Pastoral Letter 6 from Bill Lentz and Covid-19 Devotion 5

Grace, mercy, peace, and good health to us all!

Today, I’m combining my Pastoral Letter and Covid-19 Devotion 5. So, first things first. My hopes and thoughts, as well as prayers, are with the people of LUMC. I pray for you every day as news of the virus’ rapid spread and stories of people who succumb to it confront us. Feelings of uncertainty, unfamiliarity, and even doubt, may be prevalent in your life. I, too, feel their effect. They’re all quite normal feelings to experience during this crisis. One less thing overall to doubt is God’s presence among us and the world. Before the universe came into being, God was present. God’s presence was there at the moment of creation. God’s presence was with us every past moment and will be with us forever and always.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence,
there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are
pleasures forevermore.–Psalm 16:11

Here is the latest: The Commonwealth’s directive to Montgomery County (among others) is to Stay-in-Place until April 6, 2020. LUMC will continue to produce online Sunday worship services at 9:00 a.m. through the official Facebook Page and website (www.lansdaleumc.org) until further notice. We should prepare ourselves for the cancelation of gathering for the Easter Sunday service at the church on April 12th. Easter Sunday will likely be an online celebration too. But then, on the first Sunday that we’re able to gather together again in our Sanctuary, we will celebrate Easter!

I’ll be leading the staff today in a Zoom Meeting. We will discuss Holy Week opportunities for worship and inform you when a plan is clear. It’s wise to be prepared in the current fluidity of the novel coronavirus crisis and to alter our usual practices. Whether this “new normal” is temporary or not is yet to be seen. The day will come when we will worship together! Let that be our constant hope and our abiding prayer.
I want you to know I’ve been in contact with the leaders of the four “Anonymous” Groups that have regularly met in the church for some years. I’m glad to report their groups are meeting remotely and are well. They’re eager to return to the church. They were delighted to know we care!
If you would like to volunteer temporarily in a Comfort Call Ministry, please text or call me at 484-767-2352 or email at pastorbill@lansdaleumc.org.

If you would like to volunteer temporarily in a Grocery Shop Ministry for staple items to deliver to church families who need help, please text or call me at 484-767-2352 or email at pastorbill@lansdaleumc.org.

Devotionally, let me address ways to cope during the pandemic physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This moment in time, called Covid-19 Pandemic, is merely one scene from the whole of your life. Your life is more abundant and fuller than this one moment. This moment will end, and new scenes will come. We have to act out this scene and ready yourself for future scenes. Your future may be different than you expected, but you will get through this moment.

Grieving is most likely the cause of any physical pain, fatigue, discomfort, or stress you’re feeling. Grief is God’s tool for healing your deepest hurts. It’s like this: Life takes a turn for the worse when a loved one dies, or a job is lost, or safety and security evaporate. It would help if you worked through the feeling of loss. As you do, your heart will open for new encounters, relationships, and dreams. When grief is unplanned, it makes you more vulnerable and uncomfortable. You must acknowledge it, honor it, work with it, and choose to resolve it with prayer, conversation, and activities that produce hope.

Connecting is the fuel of your life. You thrive when connections are safe and healthy. You build life’s foundations on your connections. I implore you to practice physical distancing during the crisis but allow social connections to thrive. Reach out to family and friends. Call vulnerable people, you know. Have conversations with people who have fallen off your radar. Call the people you hurt or misunderstood and apologize. Be in contact with all the people who give life and meaning to you.

Structuring links your brain to your physical systems and your surroundings. You need structure and order. Establish routines to ward off any sense you have of struggling. Your brain, heart, and soul find their balance in patterns. Pray without ceasing. Breathe without stressing. Think without anticipating. Rise early. Get dressed. Eat well. Take walks. Be kind to yourself. God made you for health and long life. Reflect on the ways you’re cooperating with that gracious gift.
 
Jesus said, I am the vine; you are the branches.
Whoever abides in me and I in him is the one that bears much fruit,
for apart from me you can do nothing.–John 15:5

Prayers continue,
Pastor Bill.
 
Covid-19 Devotion 4 from Pastor Bill
 
Grace, peace, joy, and good health to us all!
 
Let me first express gratitude to everyone who attended the online broadcast of the weekly worship service. We built a virtual community of faith that had worshipers joining us from Texas and Iowa, and perhaps points even further away. My gratitude, of course, extends to Rays, Ruth, Wayne, Bob, Kris, and Bill S. They’ve all signed on to produce a service on the 29th! We have a great team!
You know we’re taking a financial hit as a church as we all are because of the economic impact of Covid-19. Here’s what Kathy and I are doing. You may decide to join us. If you have the resources, calculate your pledge or giving intention through May 31st and offer that amount over the next few weeks by mail or e-giving at https://www.lansdaleumc.org/tithe/. That would be key to keeping us on track with critical expenses. Remember, Jesus told his disciples as he ascended to the right hand of God that troubled times were ahead, but his voice was the cure. Jesus said, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
 
I saw it on a Facebook post–a photograph of a passage of Scripture highlighted in yellow. The text was 2 Chronicles 7:13-14:
If I shut up the sky, so that there is no rain; or if I order locusts to devour the land; or if I send an epidemic [deb-er, pestilence] of sickness among my people; then, if my people, who bear my name, will humble themselves, pray, seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land.
 
The yellow highlighting is the implication: the nation and the world are sin-sick, and novel coronavirus Covid-19 is God’s strategy for bringing them back to faith. It’s not wise to ridicule what others believe. It is wise to comment on how Scripture is used or misused to support what one believes. Now read the next two verses from 2 Chronicles 7:15-16:
 
Now my eyes will be open, and my ears will pay attention to the prayer made in this place. For now, I have chosen and sanctified this house [bah’-yith, Temple] so that my name can be there forever; my eyes and heart will always be there.
The first passage makes sense to religious people. There’s a sort of religious logic in it. God is love and justice. When we violate God’s laws, we are punished as we punish criminals for violations of law. Gov. Wolf said last week that violators of today’s mandatory closure of “non-essential businesses” will be subjected to various levels of punishment. Makes sense, right? And how does one punish an entire nation or planet? Plague! God plagued Egypt and Israel. In 1918, influenza plagued the world. This strategy was the subject of my first devotion; please refer to it. I want to address a different issue.
 
The second passage, which was visible in the Facebook post but not highlighted in yellow (!), has to be read carefully. God announced the strategy in the first passage and the remedy in the second passage, when the people return to God, make their prayers, and God’s name is praised forever–in the Temple–God will be with them. And there it is–the Temple! Solomon’s Temple was destroyed. 2 Chronicles dates to the time after that destruction and the anticipated rebuilding of the Temple, the Herod Temple. That Temple, too, was destroyed in the year 70. There is no Temple in which God’s name is praised, nor God’s eyes and heart dwell. So much for religious logic! Avoid cherry-picking texts. Always examine the context.
 
See the character of God in Jesus Christ (Devotion 1!) and balance texts with broad readings of the Scriptures. God’s comfort far outweighs God’s anger. Look at Deuteronomy 31:8-9:
 
The Lord will lead you into the land [and] will always be with you and help you, so don’t ever be afraid of your enemies. Moses wrote down all of these laws and teachings and gave them to the priests and the leaders of Israel. The priests were from the Levi tribe, and they carried the sacred chest [ark] that belonged to the Lord.
 
Comfort! Seek God’s comfort: Psalm 9:9, 23:4, 27:1, 46:1, 116:1-2, 119:48-52, 76, Lamentations 3:31-32, and John 14:16-17. These are the comforting passages I’ve highlighted in yellow in my copy of the Scriptures! They strengthen me. Find your strength, comfort, and encouragement in the Eternal Word, in Jesus the Anointed, and his Church.
 
Call me at 484-767-2352 for prayer or encouragement.
 
Prayers continue,
Pastor Bill.
 
Covid-19 Devotion 3 from Pastor Bill
 
Grace, mercy, and good health to us all!
 
My thoughts are always with you as we face the realities of Covid-19. I trust you’re observing good health practices in diet, exercise, and anti-viral hygiene. I trust you’re all well and practicing good spiritual practices in prayer, studying the Scriptures, and serving God and neighbor in safe ways.
 
As we enter the second week of the pandemic, we’re hearing news that shocks and disturbs. Confirmed cases and deaths are on the rise as expected as the virus runs its new course. Experience is always a better teacher. We’ve only to look at the virus’ spread pattern from Asia to Europe to North America and beyond to grasp the full scope.
 
As news updates spread too, my thoughts turn to ways to uphold our trust in God and one another. My devotion today is on science and hope.
 
After the March 4th Lenten Series service at First Baptist Church, I greeted worshipers on their way to fellowship. I was bumping elbows with people to be mutually safe. A person mildly chastised me when I offered my elbow. They said, “No need for that. This is what we have God for!” I smiled while nodding my head–and biting my tongue.
 
Social distance, physical distance, shelter-in-place, and quarantine are terms bandied back and forth in the news every day now. Is their practice somehow an act of dishonoring God’s protecting love or a sign of our lacking trust in God’s protecting love? Let’s look at that.
 
When we say, “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth” as an affirmation of our faith, we are asserting that God is the creator of life, health, and well-being, as well as science itself. God created everything and called it “good” and then created humanity and called us “very good.” Goodness is inherent in creation. And so is health. Health in the Scriptures touches on the whole person–body, mind, soul, and spirit, The Hebrew word shalom (shaw-lome) has the thrust of peace, health, soundness, and wholeness in a person, in the congregation, in the nation, and in creation, appearing 269 times in the Hebrew Bible.
 
Health aspects in the Hebrew Bible are layered and complex: heath’s roots are in a complete wholeness of creation. Health is rooted in longevity, the environment, the land, Sabbath, diet, ethical behavior, worship, and forgiveness. God created all things with a preference for health. In contrast, the biblical view of disease is a layered and complex subject too. Primarily, disease (distinct from sickness) was viewed by our ancients as a matter of the community, and not merely a diseased person. Ancient Israel recognized disease resulting from environmental factors and poor personal and ethical habits.
 
Would it surprise you to learn that one method to “mitigate” disease in Israel was to quarantine! The Torah instructs diseased people to separate from the community and for the community to care for those separated (Leviticus and Numbers). People with skin ailments, for example, were to separate for one-week intervals until a cure was certified. Enveloping all the rules was a desire for cleanliness. Wash your hands!
 
Devotionally speaking, many biblical rules concerning health and disease arose from a sort of natural science. Clean food, clean bodies, and clean dwellings promoted health, shalom! Similarly, social or physical distancing, sheltering-in-place, and quarantining are consistent practices when compared to biblical traditions. Magical thinking among the faithful is not faith or trust, but expressions of denial and anxiety. Recall Job! Struck with open sores, he was disgusting to his family and friends. His friends pointed to Job’s sin as the cause. Then, Job gets well and finds shalom! The lesson: Good people and not good people suffer, get sick, get relief, get well, live, and die.
 
Covid-19 is a severe illness striking people without regard to their religion, race, IQ, income, status, geography, language, or personality. Jesus never harmed. Christians do not harm (ideally!) Reluctance to observe community norms to mitigate this novel coronavirus is risking harm! Jesus said, “Render to Caesar!” Paul himself advises respecting governmental authority. Believe in God. Hope in God. Believe in science. Wash your hands! Stop touching your face! Stay connected! Be cheerful! Phone a friend!
 
Stay well. Kathy and I are well. We miss you!
Pastor Bill.

Covid-19 Devotion 2 from Pastor Bill
 
Grace, peace, and wellness to us all!

My mind was wandering as I wrote last Sunday’s sermon. You may recall if you heard the recording that Matthew 26 places Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed there with his three closest disciples a total of three times, mainly the same prayer, asking God the Father to remove the cup of passion and death from him. Jesus resolved himself to follow the Father’s lead and stick to the mission.
As I wrote the sermon, the mind-wandering began to other occasions in the Gospels where Jesus prayed. We find quite a few references to Jesus at prayer in the Gospels, especially in Luke. The texts include Jesus at prayer privately or with the disciples alone or with large groups. But, how many examples of Jesus’ quoted prayers are there? I couldn’t recall. So I tested myself. Right off the bat (sorry, I’m mourning for baseball), I listed The Lord’s Prayer (in Matthew 6 and Luke 11 only, which Jesus offered as an example of prayer, while perhaps actually praying it with the disciples,) Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer (John 17), three lament prayers from his cross (Matthew 27, Mark 15, and Luke 23), and Jesus’ prayer before The Raising of Lazarus. Then, I did some research.

Here’s what I learned: I missed two prayers: Jesus’ Prayer for Glory (John 12:28) and his Exhuberant Prayer to the Father (Matthew 11 and Luke 10). Jesus prayed out loud six times in total, recorded three times in Matthew, twice in Mark, four times in Luke, and three times in John. Moreover, there are 13 references to Jesus praying or having prayed recorded in 19 passages from among all four Gospels. Jesus valued prayer!
Then, my mind wandered to a question: How many times did Jesus pray for the sick? I could not think of nor find a single example! That shook me a little, to be honest with you. I pray for the sick every day. Did Jesus? I did the research, using a Greek lexicon to study the word proseuche (pros-yoo-khay), which is used 50 times in the Gospels. The thrust of the word is action-oriented in making prayers, offering prayers, and merely praying. None of these are coupled with praying for the sick. Hmm!

Try to keep up! My mind wandered again! This time to an example when Jesus prayed: the raising of Lazarus in John 11. We learn there that Lazarus is ill. The Greek word used is astheneo (a-sthe-ne-o) with the thrust of being weak, feeble, and sick. In Lazarus’ case, he was sick unto death. Lazarus’ sisters informed Jesus of his friend’s plight. Jesus did not visit him or pray for him because he said the illness would not lead to his death but the glory of God and the Son. On the way to Bethany, Jesus announced that Lazarus had died. By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus was quite dead. We all know where the story goes. Jesus spoke to God, although the text doesn’t refer to the speech as a prayer. His words sound like a prayer. He calls out to Lazarus, who comes out of the tomb alive.

Why didn’t Jesus pray for the sick? The Gospels themselves suggest that Jesus healed the sick and entrusted the disciples to heal the sick. He did not ask his disciples to pray for the sick. What’s the implication for us, especially during this virus when there seems little to do but pray?
The thought moves my heart that as I pray for the nation’s healing, the world’s, for those with confirmed cases of Covid-19, and others with many illnesses, I am free and commanded to heal as well as pray. I can lay on hands, I can anoint, and I can witness to God’s desire to heal. Let me share a witness: During a Maundy Thursday service years ago, I washed the feet of twelve church members. I washed their feet from ankles to toes with my hands. I recall the eyes of one person vividly. After the service, she told me when I washed her right ankle that she felt a power healing her chronic pain. For years and years, she expressed her gratitude to God and me for her complete healing. God healed her; I just washed her feet.

Isolated as we are from each other because of Covid-19, acts of touching, anointing, and washing are unwise. But you may recall Jesus healed the centurion’s servant from far away. We can connect with the sick in body and soul, with people who are afraid, and offer prayers for healing and courage. Use your church directory. Cold call the people you know. Ask how they’re doing. Offer prayers for healing. Encourage people to anoint themselves with oil or wash their feet. Be a healer with hope and words. Pray and act as you can.
If you’d like to pray, anoint, or wash with me–call! 484-767-2352.

Prayers continue,
Pastor Bill.

Covid- 19 Devotion 1 from Pastor Bill
 
Greetings, people of LUMC,

I have a desire to keep connected to you pastorally. I’ve decided to write some Covid-19 devotions. Here’s the first one.

To keep up my spirits, I often write. I write prayers. I write sermons. I write an occasional poem. I don’t journal or diary though; I’m not that interesting. Sometimes, I pick a subject I don’t know much about, that I’m curious about, I research it, then, I write an essay or short paper. Weird, I know. When I was in high school, my junior class took an aptitude test. My results suggested careers in sales, car mechanics, microbiology, and…wait for it…epidemiology! Though I pursued none of those career options, I suppose a remnant of aptitude is still in me. So, I thought I’d explore the biblical words for Pestilence given that I, apparently, have an aptitude for epidemiology, and, we all have “virus” on our minds.

Our ancients knew nothing about viruses or how viruses led to diseases. When a massive spread of disease appeared in ancient times, it was always, always thought to have been brought on by divine visitation. Not surprising at all is the use of pestilence prominently in prophetic writings, especially by the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel (25 times!). It’s accurate to assert that the use of the word pestilence has a judicial character in the Old Testament. Judgment by plague!

There are 51 uses of the Hebrew and Greek words for pestilence. The Hebrew word is deber (deh-ber), which is used 49 times. The Greek word is loimos (loy-mos), which is used twice. The thrust of the Hebrew deber is a pestilence as a visitation of punishment, usually accompanied by famine, war, or “sword.” Ancient people were not ignorant; they were clever. They used their senses and ritual to understand natural phenomena. With an inherent natural religion, the ancients ascribed cosmological, meteorological, and epidemiological disasters as the work of angry deities. The same was true of our Hebrew ancestors. Diseases afflicted upon individuals were ascribed to punishment for sin. Wholesale mass pestilence was ascribed as a punishment upon Israel itself. The thrust of the Greek word loimos is more apocalyptical, as in watching for events that signal the Second Coming of Christ.

Did and does God employ disease and pestilence to punish God people, God’s Church, and God’s creation? To answer that question, we have only to look to Jesus. To see and know God’s true character is to look to Jesus. Throughout his ministry, Jesus displayed compassion, understanding, and caring for sick and injured people. Jesus never once condemned the sick. For Jesus, G-o-d was not a three-letter word for a-n-g-r-y! His occasional pronouncements of forgiveness in some healing stories pointed to easing people’s pains in their minds, spirits, as well as their bodies, about a perceived sin. Overall, Jesus revealed and displayed with consistency God’s divine love for God’s beloved people.

Hear a word from the Book of Psalms:

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
For God will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence. (91:1-3a)

Every word of those three verses floods my mind with memories of holding congregants’ hands when I prayed with them in their hospital rooms before tests and surgeries. Those words are a vaccine against fear and dread. They are a treatment for uneasy souls. They are words of hope. Read and reread them as we face Covid-19 as a church community, as fellow citizens of our nation and the world, and as those who look to God almighty for refuge and strength.

Prayers continue,
Pastor Bill.