Virtual Worship: Light of the World

In this time when we cannot gather as a traditional worshipping community next to one another, I invite you to take a few minutes of personal worship time in front of your screen. Use the parts that contribute to your connection with God and move to the next section, skipping those things that do not. The entire service in video form is at the end of the blog. I also invite your feedback.

We Gather

Light of the world,
You stepped down into darkness;
Opened my eyes . . .
let me see, beauty that made this heart adore You;
Hope of a life spent with You.
Here I am to worship.
Here I am to bow down.
Here I am to say that You’re my God.
You’re altogether lovely, altogether worthy.
altogether wonderful to me.

Call to Worship (video includes anthem O Love.)

Perhaps it does not begin.
Perhaps it is always.

Perhaps it takes
a lifetime
to open our eyes,
to learn to see
what has forever
shimmered in front of us

the luminous line
of the map
in the dark

the vigil flame
in the house
of the heart,

the love
so searing
we cannot keep
from singing,

from crying out
in testimony
and praise.

Perhaps this day
will be the mountain
over which
the dawn breaks.

Perhaps we
will turn our face
toward it,
toward what has been

our eyes
will finally open
in ancient recognition,
willingly dazzled,
illuminated at last.

Perhaps this day
the light begins
in us.

– Jan Richardson, from Circle of Grace, Wanton Gospeller Press

Hymn: Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise

We Pray

Prayers of the People

(NOTE: The video prayer that accompanies this part of the service has been edited.)

Heavenly Father, we are not altogether convinced that darkness is a thing of the past. Many people in this world of ours feel their world is one of darkness and gloom. Pressures crowd in upon us and get us down.

The causes are varied: bereavement, illness, money, worries about family, trouble at work or not having work, drugs, drink, boredom, doubt, weariness, futility.

Then there are the world issues: war, poverty, climate change, disease, unfair trade and so on. It does not help when we feel that as Christians we should be doing so much better than we are. Gracious and loving God, we rejoice that you are with us in our troubles, you know us and you love us – always.

Even though we have made a mess of things personally and collectively you remain faithful. We rejoice that your Son came not to a perfect world, but to a broken world, our world. To bring light to the darkness, our darkness.

We pray for our dark and dreary world, a world in need – in need not just of a technical fix, but in need of love and grace, forgiveness and new life, hope, peace and fellowship, in need of renewal, in need of YOU.

We pray that you would come alongside us and all those for whom we pray, that you would show us Jesus, the light of the world, the one who came (and who comes) to rid us of sin, to give us life and health and peace, peace that passes all understanding – not a temporary respite from trouble but the strength to overcome it and ultimately to receive life eternal.

You don’t wave a magic wand for everything to sorted instantly – you require us to exercise our faith and to respond to your call to preach the gospel and to seek to live it out, to look to you for the strength that we need to share your love and grace. Help us to share the good news in word and action – the same good news that the fishermen were called to proclaim that there is a Saviour, a merciful king who loves us and whom we can love and adore.

We have been set free.  Enable us to use our freedom to share in bringing in the kingdom. In the light of this we have something to celebrate, something to shout about – for even in our trouble and pain, even in our loss, we know that Jesus is with us.

Hear us as in a moment of silence we pray for those in darkness (of whatever kind) – let us pray that they may see and know the light of Christ:


The Lord is my light and my salvation. Hear our prayers, Lord, spoken and unspoken and answer them for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

To see the source of this prayer, click HERE.

We Give


The Word Proclaimed

Children’s Sermon

Sermon: Light of the World

We Depart


Complete Video of Entire Service

Imagine What You’ll Know Tomorrow

If you know me you know that I love movies. In particular, I’m a fan of the super hero science fiction genre. As I was ramping up to work from home during this era of the super-virus, I saw a .gif that referenced a movie that I truly love. Looking through the lens of our current situation, I went back and reviewed the clip , which comes from the first Men in Black movie, stopping after the first 50 seconds of the scene . . .

In this scene, Tommy Lee Jones’s character, Agent J, is recruiting Will Smith’s character, a future agent K, to join him at MIB. K is questioning everything he has seen and everything that he thinks he knows about the world around him. J offers him a cold assessment of society and how society behaves when faced with things around them that they can’t comprehend or understand.

If we consider our current plight, I’d say that the movie is . . . well . . . art imitating life.

Only a short time ago, we knew that our medical community could stave off this virus half a world away. Only a short time ago, we knew that in times of crisis, our government leaders could put aside bickering to heroically lead us out of a situation. Only a short time ago, we knew that our economy could withstand pretty much anything because we had a medical community and government . . . well, you get the idea.

Now, understand, I’m not taking shots at either one or these entities. Brené Brown says that I should make an assumption of positive intent . . . that we should, “work from the assumption that people are doing the best they can.” And so, I believe that those entities are doing exactly that . . . the best that they can at the moment. I should pray for our leaders — all of them — carefully supporting them. I can be supportive and still discern their choices and work to better us all in this moment in time. I can do so without being reactive and destructive. When this is over, clearly there will be a time for assessment. Until then, I should live an informed existence, listening carefully to what our leaders are telling us . . . most especially giving support to the health care folks, first responders, and other essential personnel who are on the front lines of this corona virus epidemic, of which my wife is one.

I am saying that I hope is that we can keep panic and irrational things to a minimum. Oh, the things that I read online these days tell me that we are exactly as Agent K says in the clip, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals.”

What, then, do we do to ground us in our faith in a calm and informed way?

I start with the historic aspects of faith. The Shema ( literally translate as “hear”) is the Hebrew word that begins the most important prayer in Judaism. It is found in Deuteronomy 6:4. The whole Shema prayer, which includes verses 4-9, is spoken daily in the Jewish tradition.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (NRSV)

Mezuzah on the doorpost.

The Shema is taken literally by the Hebrew people. It is rolled up and inserted in a container on the front doors of many Jewish homes in something called a Mezuzah. A Mezuzah serves as a symbol to everyone else that this particular dwelling is constituted as a Jewish household, operating by a special set of rules, rituals, and beliefs. As a part of the practices in that household, the Shema is recited several times a day. It is said to make sure that they, as a people, never forget who is the focus of their lives and how they are to remind themselves to stay focused.

The Shema prayer was so influential and important that Jesus used it as the beginning of His answer to the “greatest commandment” question in Mark 12:28–30. When Jesus began His answer with the Shema prayer, Jesus acknowledged the Lord God as most important.

As we navigate this season of stress, I invite you to not step into the panic, even though it may be all around you. Rather, if you feel yourself giving in to the panic and street, insert your name into the first parts of the Shema and pray,

Hear, O ____________: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.”

As we all “imagine what we may know tomorrow,” may we all remember who is our focus — the Lord our God.

Here’s a prayer that I found online. that might help us be mindful of others and not focus on our own stresses. Let us pray . . .

May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake.

May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable.

May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health and making their rent.

May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options.

May we who have to cancel our trips remember those who have no safe place to go.

May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market remember those who have no margin at all.

May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home.

As fear grips our country, let us choose love.

And during this time when we may not be able to physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors. Amen.

– Submitted by Fr. Michael Graham, S.J.

To reference the websites that contributed to this blogpost, click HERE and HERE.
NOTE: I wrote this to be used as the devotion for our Zoom Chancel Choir gathering on Wednesday, March 25, 2020.


The Overcomers


I’ve only been at Kingwood United Methodist Church since May 1, 2019. During that time, we’ve had two different floods and, now, what would seem to be a plague of sorts. I’ve joked that I’m looking for the locusts and the frogs to show up next! While not trying to really make light of a very bad situation, I do think it’s good to keep a sense of levity, where appropriate.

One of the early anthems that we did with the KUMC Chancel Choir was the Rene Clausen It is Well with My Soul. The above video of the Wartburg Choir is where I first heard the piece and chose to lead the choir through the selection. It really stirred me. It’s quiet beginning, soaring lines and beautiful organ part helps the piece achieve an important connection — to truly reflect the intent of the text.

In the worship services at KUMC, I think it’s helpful for worshippers to know the history behind the hymns and their intent of usage for the service of the day, while not getting “preachy.” After all that’s the role of the clergy . . . LOL!

The hymn was composed by Horatio Spafford, a lawyer and Presbyterian elder. In 1871, Spafford lost his son to scarlet fever. To channel his grief, he dove into his work but the Great Chicago Fire caused him much financial strife. Within a couple of years, he wanted to take a European trip with his family. Seeking to recover financially, business obligations stopped him from leaving with them. So, he sent them ahead on a ship, the Ville du Havre, knowing he would join them after wrapping up his business requirements.

It would never happen. Tragedy would strike.

While at sea, the ship collided with another ship and sank. Spafford’s wife survived the ordeal but, horribly, his four daughters drowned. Word of the accident reached Spafford. His wife sent a telegram, “Saved alone. What shall I do?”

He wept.

Spafford quickly boarded a ship to travel and meet his wife. While en route, the captain of the ship ,upon which Spafford was aboard, came to his cabin and told him that they were passing very near where the accident that had taken the lives of his daughters had occurred. At that moment, as the ship went close to the spot, and on on the remains of his journey, he was inspired to pen these famous words . . .

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
A song in the night, oh my soul!

Philip Bliss, an associate of evangelist Dwight L. Moody, composed a tune and named it Ville du Havre, after the ill-fated ship. In a blogpost, David Brenneman writes . . .

“When the Spaffords returned to Chicago they were surrounded by friends and family. One of those friends who came by to help comfort the Spaffords was Phillip Bliss, a vocalist and songwriter. As Bliss listened to Spafford’s poem he was deeply moved. At his home Bliss composed music for the poem, creating a song he called It Is Well with My Soul. Within weeks he was singing the new hymn at Moody’s crusades.”

After the tragedy, the Spaffords hosted prayer meetings in their homes. They would continue to meet, even after losing another daughter to scarlet fever at the age of three. They would eventually call their group “The Overcomers.”

This hymn has been a part of countless services of struggle, strife and tragedy. Several years ago when the AIDS epidemic was in full swing, I remember attending a worship service that was a gathering place for large numbers of the gay community. You can imagine the emotion and the power when, in full voice, the entire congregation sang the first verse at the close of Holy Communion . . .

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

I’ve also read of others using the hymn — a Vietnamese congregation in 1981 who had fled after the fall of Saigon; at 9/11; the Queensland Flooding in Australia in  2010 recorded by Hillsong, just to name a few.

I can’t help but reflect on our current circumstances, using this famous hymn as a focus point. Each days tumbles into the next with more uncertainty. We see photos of the loss of life in Italy. We see staggering numbers of sick and dying. Our economic numbers look rather dim and we wonder what more could happen.

Trust is hard when our experiences aren’t of strife. I can say I’ve lived a good and safe life, not wanting for much. Most of us weren’t alive to remember dire circumstances similar to that of the 1930s when things were scarce and living was hard. We are told, too, that things will probably get worse before they get better. What do we do? This is all new territory for us.

I heard a great quote from Chuck Swindoll, “God is not somewhat sovereign.” We trust in our God, who hears our cries and comforts us. It’s hard to trust in challenging times. But, trust we do. Let us remember the life of Horatio Spafford and how he persevered . . . let us be “overcomers” . . . all the while knowing  and singing that . . .

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

Wikipedia contributed to this blog.

Virtual Worship: Shepherd

In this time when we cannot gather as a traditional worshipping community next to one another, I invite you to take a few minutes of personal worship time in front of your screen. Use the parts that contribute to your connection with God and move to the next section, skipping those things that do not. I also invite your feedback.

We Gather

PRELUDE: During the candle, light a candle as the music plays.


Pray: We gather together in the presence of our Shepherd God,
who calls us each by name,
who restores our souls,
who leads us in the way of righteousness,
and whose goodness and love never stops pursuing us.
This is the God we have come to worship!

(based on Psalm 23 and John 10)

We Praise

OPENING HYMN: Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us


SPEAK: I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;*
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.


We Listen

PSALM OF PRAISE: The Lord is My Shepherd (Goodall)

OLD TESTAMENT LESSON: Ezekiel 34:11-16 (NIV)

11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

The word of God for you and me, the people of God. (Thanks be to God.)

We Pray


(For a link to the source, click HERE.)

We Offer

OFFERING PRAYER: Good Shepherd, you generously give us all that we need. You guide us to safe places where you feed and heal us, giving rest and renewal. Thank you for taking care of us and restoring our spirits. In gratitude for your abundant blessings, we respond by sharing these tithes and offerings for the work of your church. May our ministries bring the new life that you intend for all people. We ask this in the name of Christ our Lord. Amen. (Psalm 23)

(For a link to the source, click HERE.)

(If you are looking to donate, you are invited to take a moment and give online to Kingwood United Methodist Church by clicking HERE.)

OFFERTORY SOLO: Loving Shepherd of Thy Sheep (K. Lee Scott)

We Hear the Word Proclaimed



Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

SERMON: Dr. Burt Palmer

We Depart


Such a Time As This . . .


I’ve spent many years in ministry working through many unique happenings. Some were a part of my personal life while others were either natural disasters or developments within the local church (my professional life). It goes without saying that corona virus is unprecedented. I’ve spent time talking with staff members, conferring with colleagues and friends, and studying anything can could give me an idea how to manage ministry in this time of quarantine and social separation.

See , that’s the issue right there . . . social separation. In all of the past occurrences, we’ve sat in the same rooms, prayed with one another, embraced, went to homes, broke bread at the same table and solved whatever was before us. We brought our ensembles together to worship, sing, pray and praise. It’s what we do!

With the CDC recommendations that we must, for safety, limit our gatherings to fewer and fewer people, suddenly things have changed. It’s clear that the old ways of standing shoulder to shoulder holding hands won’t work. In fact, it’s highly discouraged. Not gathering together is hard.

Such a time as this . . .

I’m not sure where we’re headed. I pray that we are able to limit the sickness and death caused by the corona virus. As artists and creatives who depend on the gathering of people to artfully worship God, what can we be sure of?

God is doing a new thing. No, the disease is not the new thing. Don’t even go there. Rather, I think we are being brought together to think and act in new ways. Perhaps, we are even healing some of the old wounds inflicted by our political leanings. If you look closely . . . very closely . . . one can see the beginnings of a thaw in relationships. How can we as artists of faith contribute and not hinder?

Is that the new thing? Perhaps. Let’s see

“See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.”  (Isaiah 43:19 NIV)

Such a time as this . . .

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