2020 certainly feels like a dark year. What do we have to be thankful for? Common grace and saving grace are two places to begin. Revelation 16 gives us a glimpse of what losing the first would look like, and 16:17 gives us a glimpse of how to find the second. The Lord bless and keep you in the face of Armageddon - which is actually a word of GOOD news for the Christian!
Music Today: "Land of the Living" by Matthew Perryman Jones.One of the most beautifully evocative songs I know calling someone to leave the false hopes of Babylon for the city of our true love and true home. 'You cannot love in moderation/dancing with a dead man's bones/lay your soul on the threshing floor.'
'You Want it Darker' by Leonard CohenNeither of these songs are hymns or praise songs, necessarily, but it's hard to define this as anything other than a Christian confession, written only weeks before Cohen's death in 2016. Cohen was famously decadent in the '60s, '70s, and '80s at least, but, like Bob Dylan, had biblical and Christ haunted lyrics occasionally peeking out of even his earliest music. His last three recordings show this spiritual wanderer moving more and more directly to the cross of Jesus Christ. The key word 'Hineni' here is Jewish for 'Here I Am.' Many of his late songs describe a despair that a life without God can lead to.
It's been a tough year by American standards, but that 'tough' doesn't mean that much compared to what hundreds of millions of Christ followers deal with in all years, not just 2020. Revelation, including chapter 15, is quite realistic about this, despite all the symbolism. Yet stay with me for a few minutes to share in the remarkable gift the persecuted church sings about here. A reminder for gratitude this Thanksgiving!
Music Today: U2, 'Walk On'. One of the ironies here is Bono wrote and dedicated this song to Aung San Suu Kyi, who at the time was a political prisoner in Myanmar/Burma. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and now Prime MInister, she nows appears to be turning a blind eye to the Myanmar military's current atrocities. A symbol, perhaps, of the difficult, twisted road toward justice on this planet that will only be perfected when Christ's return finally rights every wrong. One of my favorite worship services involved preaching on the coming justice of God at a contemporary worship service where a a gifted dancer (who had been in my youth group in a previous church) gave a stunning interpretation of this song for the offertory. Thank you Teresa VanDenend Sorge!
'You Bring the Morning' - Andy Squyres A newly recorded song on the tension of trusting in God's way of doing things while we live in a very different place. You bring the comfort I'll bring my thinking You bring the new wine, Lord I'll bring the drinking You bring Your spirit I'll bring my weeping I have nothing else But the promises You're keeping
'The Grapes of Wrath' a referred to in one of the most famous songs in American history as well as one of our best-loved novels. and indirectly, in the finest U.S. Presidential address ever given. The phrase comes from Revelation 14. Join me for a few minutes, especially if you wonder about 'the mark of the beast!'
Music Today: 'Finding Gabriel' by Brad Mehldau. The title track to last year's Grammy-winning Jazz album. Angels fill Revelation 14, and are messengers of God's hope as well as his just wrath. Mehldau quotes from the Book of Daniel, but it would be very fitting if he drew from these angels as well.
Sho Baraka: 'Maybe Both, 1865' from 'The Narrative' (Video marked 'Maybe Both, 1968')Baraka offers up a bracing rap on his attempt to find true friends for the African-American among Democrats or Republicans and not finding much success anywhere - except in God. "Is it a ballot or a bullet? Let me knowShould I fight or should I pray? Who's my foe?Are they killing with a pistol or a vote?Or, maybe, it is both?"Baraka finishes with a verse on Jesus - God bringing peace? Or the sword? Or both? If nothing else, this gives us a LOT to think about (as does the whole album, 'The Narrative')
As we near the climax of the Advent season in 2020 with the celebration of Christmas and the
coming of Jesus, we are also living with the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic have
brought to us in Western Pennsylvania. Your Session and I, your Pastor have prayed, conferred,
debated, and finally arrived at a decision for our worship life together during the next few
weeks that we believe will provide the appropriate balance of physical, spiritual, and emotional
support, understanding that the Lord continues to be in control of our world and our lives as He
always has been.
Here’s our plan for each of our services from December 13 through January 3:
DECEMBER 13: 10:30 worship in the sanctuary, with masks worn through the service.
The service will be streamed online via YouTube at www.cupepc.org.
DECEMBER 20: 10:30 worship in the sanctuary with masks worn through the service.
We will be offering our traditional Christmas Eve LESSONS AND CAROLS service at this time, in a
shortened format, and Communion will NOT be included as a part of the service this year.
The service will also be streamed online via YouTube at www.cupepc.org.
We will have some very special guests reading our Scripture Lessons ‘virtually’, so please join us
one way or the other!
DECEMBER 24: WE WILL BE OFFERING A PARKING LOT WORSHIP SERVICE at 4 PM.
The format of the service is to be determined, but we will broadcast through a radio transmitter
so everyone can keep their windows up! We plan on providing a variation on our candlelight
conclusion that will be meaningful as we celebrate Jesus’ birth and look with joy to his return.
Come ready to sing! Visitors, as always, are welcome!
DECEMBER 27 AND JANUARY 3: We will be streaming the worship service at 10:30, but worship
will be ONLINE ONLY. (www.cupepc.org) Only those directly involved in leading worship will be
allowed in the building.
We pray that the current wave of virus cases will wane, and we look forward to being together
in an easier way as soon as it is prudent to do so. Our final decision in how to conduct these
services wasn’t unanimous, but all of us as Ruling and Teaching Elders are able to support it,
and believe the Lord has good plans and purposes for us as we reach out in His name in these
days. God bless you all, and we look forward to worshipping our Lord with you now and
throughout the New Year.