Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Ongoing Response to COVID-19

Weekday Email to Members and Friends – 2020-05-11

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Monday May 11th  2020
A Weekday Emailer from
Matt Matthews
To Members and Friends of 
First Presbyterian Church
Champaign, Illinois
Dear Friends,
Do you miss Ahmaud Arbery? 
I didn’t know about his terrible murder until the sickening, sickening account on the Thursday morning news. It happened six weeks ago. An athletic 25-year-old, he went out for a jog in his neighborhood and never came home. Brunswick, GA, is predominately white. Mr. Arbery was black. 
My black friends tell me—as they have told me before in countless other similar cases—that Mr. Arbery was simply “guilty of being black.”
What is my response to this? 
First, I’d like to think it’s not true. How can just having brown skin put one at greater risk of random violence. But I know better. Then, I benignly tell myself that Georgia isn’t Champaign-Urbana, I’m not a white supremacist, I didn’t shoot anyone, I like everybody, I’d never discriminate based on color. I tell myself that my “whiteness” is the good kind. I tell myself that the divisions suggested by different skin color, and gender, and country of origin, and, and, and, don’t affect me. My excuses go on and on, get thinner and thinner, more and more untrue.
When I finally admit that I’m part of the problem (and part of the answer), I ask myself how can I help build the world about which I routinely preach? How can I become the man I aspire to be? How can I admit the painful parts of my life, my family, my assumptions, my intricate ideologies? Do I dare examine my privilege—the drawer of silver spoons which I’ve been dealt? How do I marshal insight from my cushioned past and use it to fuel a better-for-all-us future? Am I brave enough? Who will help me? 
Discrimination is part of the world, and, certainly, part of the Coronavirus story, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I’m paying attention. I can’t look away. Ahmaud Arbery won’t let me.
So, I’m praying harder than ever.
Bill Stout reports thisA recent study showed that 40% of US households with a mother and children under 12 present are currently experiencing food insecurity, and that is not even factoring in race or woman being head of household, either of which will drive the % much higher. I was stunned. 
Me, too, Bill. Me, too.
Wednesday Vespers: Join your church friends, and our growing internet community, for a prayer Zoom prayer service at 7:00 on Wednesday. I look forward to seeing you. Please join us. It’ll be good for us to unite. Log on: FirstPres.Live
Good Word: (A difficult word.)
Amos 3:1, 2, 4, 9-12 
But I said:
Hear, leaders of Jacob, 
rulers of the house of Israel!
Isn’t it your job to know justice?—
  you who hate good and love evil,

who tear the skin off [my people],
and the flesh off their bones . . . 
Then they will cry out to the Lord,
 but he won’t answer them.
He will hide his face from them at that time,
because of their evil deeds.
Hear this, leaders of the house of Jacob,
 rulers of the house of Israel,
you who reject justice and make crooked all that is straight,
10  who build Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with injustice!

11 Her officials give justice for a bribe,
 and her priests teach for hire.
Her prophets offer divination for silver,
yet they rely on the Lord, saying,
 “Isn’t the Lord in our midst?
 Evil won’t come upon us!”
12 Therefore, because of you, 
Zion will be plowed like a field,
 Jerusalem will become piles of rubble,
and the temple mount will become an overgrown mound.
Let us pray:
Oh God our Creator and our Sustainer,
we’re here this morning coming 
with many forms and many fashions.
We ask that you’d remove all obstacles, 
all feelings, all attitudes, anything that 
may be getting in our way.
Anything that may be burdening our souls.
Strengthen us when we are weak,
and build us up when we are torn down.
But most of all God,
we pray that you’d show us the way.
Show us the way not to fortune nor fame,
nor to win morals or praise for our name,
but show us the way to tell the great story,
to live the great story.
And thine is the Kingdom and the Power and Glory.
(Katie G. Cannon) 
Much, much love to you all. 
Matt Matthews
Cell: 864.386.9138

Weekday Email to Members and Friends – 2020-05-08

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Friday 8 May 2020
Members and Friends of 
First Presbyterian Church
Champaign, Illinois 

Dear Friends,
Yesterday I posted a song from Godspell drawn from a psalm of lament, Psalm 137. That song touched a nerve. Many of you liked that tune. Jennifer Black shared this version of that Psalm by Linda Ronstadt. Give it a listen:
I’ll be preaching about lament on Sunday. JIP has a story to tell about his recent sadnesses; and a lesson to share. 
I’ve been channeling my friend John Williams, chaplain at Austin College, by thinking about sad song lyrics. I’ve shared my top eight below; coming up with ten would have bummed me out. Lament as a form of prayer gives us permission to grieve, weep, complain, holler, moan, sit on our pity pot. Lament is a way of sharing the darker parts of ourselves with God. Lament gets it off our chests into God’s able hands. 
While I’m on the subject of lament, I recently erased the dry-erase board in my office. Goodbye to notes for some of the events this spring to which I was mightily looking forward: Ebert Fest, sharing local art in Westminster Hall with you during the Boneyard Arts Festival, Cuba Sunday, and a Cuba Trip. None that that happened. We would have grown, had fun, laughed, cried. We have so many things to look forward to, but these opportunities are gone. 
Is it okay to be sorry? To feel bad? Lamentation has place in a spiritual life. 
I’ll ‘see’ you on Sunday.
Turn on your “device” and find us at:   FirstPres.Live
Pay attention to God’s activity in the world around you.
            Be amazed.
                       Tell somebody.
Matt Matthews
* * *
New fun photo challenge! Each Friday the Nurture Committee is challenging us to read an assigned scripture about Jesus and come up with a representation of the story using whatever you already have around the house and share it in photo form.
 MIRACLES-????? You choose! The Petersons chose John 2:1-11
Many people came to Jesus in need.
Some sick and some lame, and some broken indeed
And often Jesus would heal, touch or feed
News of Him spread around Israel with speed
There are many stories of Jesus’ miracles in the Bible
With your family, pick your favorite miracle story and read it together.
Take a photo that represents the miracle or write the verse and take a photo with it.
Post your photo to:
 For Instagram @fpcchampaign

Fathers and sons. A Fred Craddock story:
* * *
Your Pastor’s Favorite Songs of Lament:
1-Big River/Johnny Cash
Well I taught that weeping willow how to cry cry cry,
Taught the clouds how to cover up a clear blue sky.
Tears I cried for that woman are gonna flood you big river,
And I’m a gonna sit right here until I die.

2-Hank Williams, Sr./I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
Here that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whinning low
I’m so lonesome I could cry
I’ve never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry…

3-Sad/Yours Truly 
Sad is the suffering, name brands and diamond ring.
Sad is having everything and nothing at all.
Sad is a sunset sky. The pretty girl likes the other guy. 
Sad is the seagull’s cry, flying over the bay.
Lord, have mercy on my tired, sad, sad soul
By your mercy, make your broken people whole
4-Yesterday/The Beatles
All my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday
5-Mister Bojangles/The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
He said I dance now at every chance and honky tonks
For drinks and tips
But most the time I spend behind these county bars
Cause I drinks a bit

He shook his head and as he shook his head
I heard someone ask please

Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles

6-The River/Bruce Springsteen
I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well Mister they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don’t remember
Mary acts like she don’t care

But I remember us riding in my brother’s car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on them banks I’d lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she’d take
Now those memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse?

7-Daniel/Elton John
Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane
I can see the red tail lights heading for Spain
And I can see Daniel waving goodbye
Oh it looks like Daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes

8-Sultans of Swing/Dire Straits
And then the man he steps right up to the microphone
And says at last just as the time bell rings
“Goodnight, now it’s time to go home”
Then he makes it fast with one more thing

“We are the Sultans . . .
We are the Sultans of Swing”

Weekday Email to Members and Friends – 2020-05-07

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Thursday May 7th  2020
A Weekday Emailer from
Matt Matthews
To Members and Friends of 
First Presbyterian Church
Champaign, Illinois
Dear Friends,
It was great hearing Jean Rene Balekita sing last night on our Wednesday Night Concert. It felt normal and good. Next Wednesday we’re going to have a evening prayer service; join us then. 
* * *
I sit on the leadership team of the Illinois Conference of Churches. We drafted the statement below this week.  With the governor’s new guidelines about “re-opening” our state, your worship team will meet early next week to discuss what that means for us. We’ll be digesting a document from the PCUSA and picking the brain of Peter Yau, our Covid-19 advisor. I’m hearing that many of you over the age of sixty will be sheltering-in-place until we get closer to a vaccine. Share your thoughts with me.  
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE For more information: The Reverend Walter Carlson, [
May 5, 2020 
The Leadership Team of the Illinois Conference of Churches (ICC) believes sheltering-in-place guidelines save lives during the Covid-19 pandemic.  We support careful, evidence-based steps to re-open the economy.
We believe that the health and safety of our wider community rises above individual autonomy in this unprecedented global emergency. 
Limiting public excursions for anything but essential purposes and exercise and the wearing of masks in public while practicing social distancing are practical ways of showing respect for the communities where we live and serve. 
But we don’t like it.                        
Those we love and serve are hurting.
We grieve the myriad losses our communities are experiencing, not the least of which is the loss of life.  Even in the midst of this crisis, more have died in this country from the coronavirus than in the Vietnam War. Business owners, closed now for weeks, wonder how long and if they can hold on. Teachers and parents are struggling with teaching from home.  Our front-line workers have held the line steadily with grace and courage. While some families are enjoying down time and togetherness, economic and social stresses are tearing others apart.  Our state must rely on science-based directives so that we will properly protect the people who live here. 
While the CARES Act, unemployment benefits, and other programs are helping some, many people fall through the cracks. Small businesses, the homeless, the seriously disabled are struggling.  There is evidence that the fault lines of race and economic disparity that have always divided our communities may widen.  The pandemic has caused many problems for Black and Brown people because of employment as essential workers.  Many are not eligible for the stimulus money or unemployment.   Health care is not an option for part time workers while pre-existing medical conditions plague Hispanics and African Americans. 
While we do not know what science will indicate about coming back together for worship, movies, concerts, and even haircuts, we are hopeful that human kindness, not to mention the grace of God, will flourish just as wildly as springtime is blooming across our state.
We are in prayer for our beloved state and her people, particularly mindful of those whose lives and livelihoods are most endangered. 
The Leadership Team of the 
Illinois Conference of Churches, representing
approximately seven million Illinois 
Christians in 13 denominations.
Good Word:
A psalm of lament:
Psalm 137/Lament over the Destruction of Jerusalem
1 By the rivers of Babylon—
    there we sat down and there we wept
    when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there
    we hung up our harps.
3 For there our captors
    asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
Remember in Godspell Jesus and the disciples sang this song after the last supper. We return to the Psalms in life’s highs and lows. Let this break your heart. Again:–_c
Let us pray:
How long, O LORD?
Much, much love to you all.
Matt Matthews
Cell: 864.386.9138