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Ongoing Response to COVID-19

Weekday Email to Members and Friends – 2020-05-14

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Thursday May 14th 2020
A Weekday Emailer from
Matt Matthews
 
To Members and Friends of 
First Presbyterian Church
Champaign, Illinois
 
Dear Friends,
 
Thanks to all of you who participated in last night’s Online Prayer Meeting. Seeing your faces was great. Praying with you was water on the moon. I think these connections really matter. 
 
* * *
 
When my friend the Rev. Jim Shiflett retired from Chicago Presbytery, I got to be his pastor for several years when we lived in South Carolina. Jim was a biblical storyteller, and he and I led Bible studies together. One of the amazing gifts he brought to Bible study is he got us all thinking about where we were in this text, how this text pulled at our flesh and spirit. I had learned about exegeting the text, of course. And I exegeted the congregation to which I preached, carrying, like the dense theologian Karl Barth, the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other when I trudged up to the pulpit. 
 
But thinking more intently about how the text lifted me, hooked me, harpooned me was new. I hadn’t spent as much time thinking about this. It shook my bones.
 
Jim died this Christmas, and he keeps popping up in my life everywhere. Like on one of my last trips to Chicago, where Tom Ulen and I took a bunch of First Pres people to the Art Institute. 
 
 At an Italian dinner at a long table in front of warm ovens on a cold, January night, I leaned over the table and asked my friend Tom to please pass me the brussels sprouts the table was sharing. 
 
Simple question, I thought. 
 
But he paused, and smiled that smile of his.
 
“I’ll hand you the brussels sprouts,” he said, “but first, let me invite you to answer three questions.”
 
Another pause. 
 
“Question number one: How many teeth does a horse have?”
 
We laughed. 
 
Others at our end of the table leaned in as I badly failed the test. We listened to Tom explain that when his granddaughters ask for ice cream, or to stay up late, or to go to the park, he’ll always stop them and say, “First, let me invite you to answer three questions.” All parties are delighted with the conversations these questions ignite. 
 
The questions are his way of connecting with his grandkids. They step out of the moment to ponder what Grandpa has asked them. It’s a way that Tom grows a deeper relationship with these children he adores. They learn more about each other, of course, and, as importantly, they learn about themselves. They also learn other important things—like how many teeth a horse has.
 
My friends Jim and Tom are on the same theological wavelength. Slow down. Think more deeply. Is the question you’re asking really the question you want ask? What is the deep context of our questions, our traditions, our history, our ken, our appetites?
 
Now, when I study the scripture, like always, I pray and ask God to open the text to my dim understanding. And now, thanks to Tom and Jim, often times, an image of Jesus pops into my brain. He smiles that smile of his and says, “I’d be glad to illumine this text for you, Matt.”
 
Pause.
 
But first, let me invite you to answer three questions.” 
 
News:
 
How many teeth does a horse have? The horse will normally have 24 deciduous teeth, emerging in pairs, and eventually pushed out by the permanent teeth, which normally number between 36 and 40.) 
 
Humor (from Dave Hunter:) What kind of music do windmills like? They’re metal fans.
 
Good Word: (Notice the holy pause in second sentence of v. 6.)
 
John 8: 4-7   [T]hey said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
 
Let us pray:
 
Grant unto us, O God, the fullness of your promises. 
Where we have been weak,
grant us your strength;
where we have been confused,
grant us your guidance;
where we have been distraught,
grant us your comfort;
where we have been dead,
grant us your life.
Apart from you, O Lord,
we are nothing.
 
In and with you 
we can do all things.
 
AMEN.
 
(United Church of Canada, Service Book, 1969.)
 
 
Much, much love to you all.
 
PEACE,
 
Matt Matthews
Cell: 864.386.9138
Matt@FirstPres.Church
 



Weekday Email to Members and Friends – 2020-05-13

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Wednesday May 13th 2020
A Weekday Emailer from
Matt Matthews
 
To Members and Friends of 
First Presbyterian Church
Champaign, Illinois
 
Dear Friends,
 
Wednesday Zoom Prayer Service TONIGHT, 7:00. Let’s pray together. Email info@firstpres.church if you do not have the link. 
 
* * *
 
Many of you have read N.T. Wright’s biblical scholarship. He wrote a column that I’m borrowing today. I quoted much of it in my last sermon. His point, not to unfairly summarize, is that it’s necessary to lament. The Biblical precedent requires it. Our lament may not be as profound as somebody else’s, but it’s valid. And God laments with us.
 
Christianity Offers No Answers 
About the Coronavirus. 
It’s Not Supposed To
 
BY N.T. Wright
 
UPDATED: MARCH 29, 2020     N. T. Wright is the Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews, a Senior Research Fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University and the author of over 80 books, including The New Testament in Its World.  
 
For many Christians, the coronavirus-induced limitations on life have arrived at the same time as Lent, the traditional season of doing without. But the sharp new regulations—no theater, school shutting, virtual house arrest for us over-70s—make a mockery of our little Lenten disciplines. Doing without whiskey, or chocolate, is child’s play compared with not seeing friends or grandchildren, or going to the pub, the library or church.
 
There is a reason we normally try to meet in the flesh. There is a reason solitary confinement is such a severe punishment. And this Lent has no fixed Easter to look forward to. We can’t tick off the days. This is a stillness, not of rest, but of poised, anxious sorrow.
 
No doubt the usual silly suspects will tell us why God is doing this to us. A punishment? A warning? A sign? These are knee-jerk would-be Christian reactions in a culture which, generations back, embraced rationalism: everything must have an explanation. But supposing it doesn’t? Supposing real human wisdom doesn’t mean being able to string together some dodgy speculations and say, “So that’s all right then?” What if, after all, there are moments such as T. S. Eliot recognized in the early 1940s, when the only advice is to wait without hope, because we’d be hoping for the wrong thing?
 
Rationalists (including Christian rationalists) want explanations; Romantics (including Christian romantics) want to be given a sigh of relief. But perhaps what we need more than either is to recover the biblical tradition of lament. Lament is what happens when people ask, “Why?” and don’t get an answer. It’s where we get to when we move beyond our self-centered worry about our sins and failings and look more broadly at the suffering of the world. It’s bad enough facing a pandemic in New York City or London. What about a crowded refugee camp on a Greek island? What about Gaza? Or South Sudan?
 
At this point the Psalms, the Bible’s own hymnbook, come back into their own, just when some churches seem to have given them up. “Be gracious to me, Lord,” prays the sixth Psalm, “for I am languishing; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.” “Why do you stand far off, O Lord?” asks the 10th Psalm plaintively. “Why do you hide yourself in time of trouble?” And so it goes on: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?” (Psalm 13). And, all the more terrifying because Jesus himself quoted it in his agony on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22).
 
Yes, these poems often come out into the light by the end, with a fresh sense of God’s presence and hope, not to explain the trouble but to provide reassurance within it. But sometimes they go the other way. Psalm 89 starts off by celebrating God’s goodness and promises, and then suddenly switches and declares that it’s all gone horribly wrong. And Psalm 88 starts in misery and ends in darkness: “You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me; my companions are in darkness.” A word for our self-isolated times.
 
The point of lament, woven thus into the fabric of the biblical tradition, is not just that it’s an outlet for our frustration, sorrow, loneliness and sheer inability to understand what is happening or why. The mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments. Some Christians like to think of God as above all that, knowing everything, in charge of everything, calm and unaffected by the troubles in his world. That’s not the picture we get in the Bible.
 
God was grieved to his heart, Genesis declares, over the violent wickedness of his human creatures. He was devastated when his own bride, the people of Israel, turned away from him. And when God came back to his people in person—the story of Jesus is meaningless unless that’s what it’s about—he wept at the tomb of his friend. St. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit “groaning” within us, as we ourselves groan within the pain of the whole creation. The ancient doctrine of the Trinity teaches us to recognize the One God in the tears of Jesus and the anguish of the Spirit.
 
It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope. New wisdom for our leaders? Now there’s a thought.
  
News:
 
Wednesday Vespers: Join your church friends and our growing internet community for a prayer Zoom prayer service at 7:00 tonight. I look forward to seeing you. Please join us. It’ll be good for us to unite. 
 
Prayer concerns: (1) Carol Anne Hunter fell and broke an elbow in two places and her pelvis. She’s in the hospital, husband Dave reports. (2) Gloria Read will have cataract surgery tomorrow. (3) Let’s keep the saints at Rantoul Foods in our prayers. Some of our flock work there. 
 
Debra Miller sends a song: This is a beaut from John Gorka. She sent this in response to Monday’s mailer. Lyrics below. Click this link to hear the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vp_Yez3ZhJs 
 
Humor (laughter is a gift from God): These old chestnuts are from Claudia Kirby: (1) The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday. (2) Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM . Please use the back door. (3) The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy. (My favorite recent joke is from the Petersons: What do you call a joke you make up in the shower? A clean joke!)
And this original from Dave Hunter: What do you call a pack of hungry dogs? The Salivation Army. (Look closely at the spelling.)
 
 
Good Word:
 
Job 38:4-11, 42:1-6 (Common English Version)
 
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
    Tell me if you know.
5 Who set its measurements? Surely you know.
    Who stretched a measuring tape on it?
6 On what were its footings sunk;
    who laid its cornerstone,
7     while the morning stars sang in unison
        and all the divine beings shouted?
8 Who enclosed the Sea behind doors
    when it burst forth from the womb,
9     when I made the clouds its garment,
        the dense clouds its wrap,
10     when I imposed my limit for it,
        put on a bar and doors
11     and said, “You may come this far, no farther;
        here your proud waves stop”? 

 
42 Job answered the Lord: 
2 I know you can do anything;
    no plan of yours can be opposed successfully.
3 You said, “Who is this darkening counsel without knowledge?”
    I have indeed spoken about things I didn’t understand,
    wonders beyond my comprehension.
4 You said, “Listen and I will speak;
    I will question you and you will inform me.”
5 My ears had heard about you,
    but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore, I relent and find comfort
    on dust and ashes.
 
 
Let us pray:
 
Almighty God, we are weary and anxious. We are exhausted and overwhelmed. Our quarantine fatigue grows even though we want to do what is right for the sake of the most vulnerable among us. We wonder how long this season of social distancing will last.

While we are eager to be together, to get back to the routines and activities we once took for granted, we do not want to endanger any of your beloved children or risk an even higher death toll. Our sorrow over our losses persists despite our faith in your promise of a good future and abundant life. We lament missed milestones, jobs lost, loved ones sick, lives disrupted, resources stretched, essential workers heavily burdened and far too many people dead and buried without the rituals of grief that offer us comfort.

We pray, God of grace, for patience in the present moment. Give us the ability to abide in you when we feel as if we cannot abide this painful season one minute longer. We plead for wisdom. As leaders in every realm of our communal life face the complex decisions of when to ease our isolation and how to begin to return to work and school and travel and church, grant them discernment that takes into account the least of these, the priceless value of each person and our obligation to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Send your Spirit to witness to your truth, to remind us of all Jesus taught and to unite us inextricably to you and to each other. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
(Jill Duffield, editor of the Presbyterian Outlook.) 
 
Much, much love to you all. 
 
PEACE,
 
Matt Matthews
Cell: 864.386.9138
Matt@FirstPres.Church
 
John Gorka – Ignorance And Privilege 
 
 INTRO: C
                                          F
I was born to ignorance, yes, and lesser poverties 
              C                G
I was born to privilege that I did not see 
                Am                         F
Lack of pigment in my skin, won a free and easy in 
         C               G       F     C
I didn’t know it, but my way was paved 
 
 
                                     F
I grew up a Catholic boy, in a north-eastern State 
                     C                                     G
A place when asked, “Where you from?”, some people tend to hesitate 
        Am                               F
Reply a little bit late, as if maybe you didn’t rate 
C             G             F     C
I was born to ignorance and privilege 
 
 
                                             F
My dad ran a printing press, a tag and label factory 
                 C                         G
May have seen it as a child, now a distant memory 
           Am                           F
Almost too faint to see, dark red-brick factory 
         C               G       F     C
I didn’t know it, but my way was paved 
 
 
                                           F
We moved from a city street, shortly after I arrived 
                C                               G
To a house on a gravel road, where I learned to be alive 
              Am                                     F
Crawl, walk, run and ride, that’s where I learned to come alive 
         C               G       F     C
I didn’t know it, but my way was paved 
 
 
CHORUS:
F              G       C
If the wind is at your back
F             G     C
And you never turn around 
F             G        C       Am
You may never know the wind is there 
Dm7                    G
You may never hear the sound, no, no
 
 
                C                              F
Got to grow and go to school, work at home and dream at night 
          C                        G
Even be a college fool, like I had any right 
             Am                         F
Never went through a war, never Great Depression poor 
         C               G       F     C
I didn’t know it, but my way was paved 
 
 
BRIDGE:
Dm
Nose to the grindstone
G
Shoulder to the wheel 
Dm
Back against the wall
          G             C
Maybe you know how it feels 
 
 
INSTRUMENTAL:   F   C   G   Am G F   C   G   F C
 
 
CHORUS:
F              G       C
If the wind is at your back
F             G     C
And you never turn around 
F             G        C       Am
You may never know the wind is there 
Dm7                    G
You may never hear the sound, no, no
 
 
              C                          F
I was born to ignorance, yes, and lesser poverties 
              C                G
I was born to privilege that I did not see 
                Am                         F
Lack of pigment in my skin, won a free and easy in 
         C               G       F     C
I didn’t know it, but my way was paved 
       F             G             F     C    F C   F C
‘Cause I was born to ignorance and privilege



Weekday Email to Members and Friends – 2020-05-12

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To Members and Friends of 
First Presbyterian Church
Champaign, Illinois
 
Dear Friends,
 
Wednesday Zoom Prayer Service, 7:00. Email info@firstpres.church if you do not have the link.

Here is this week’s Heart of Missions… 

 
 
   


 
The Heart of Mission
May 12, 2020 
“God, from my youth you have taught me.” This verse from Psalm 71:17 collides in two areas of our mission this month: the Pentecost Offering and DREAAM. I encourage you to read the Psalm first in the New Revised Standard Version and then in The Message. It is a prayer of protection for our young people; it is a song for of praise to God who is our refuge; it is a statement of faith for those who have tried to live faithful lives. And, it is the theme of our PC(USA) Pentecost Offering on May 31.  
 
“I run for dear life to God, I’ll never live to regret it. Do what you do so well: get me out of this mess and up on my feet.” (Psalm 71:1, The Message) Have you ever considered how God creates safe places for our young people?  It starts with our willingness to allow God to use us. I am reminded every day that some of our young people cannot even run for fun around the neighborhood without risking their lives just because of the color of their skin. I refer you to two links for further exploration:
(https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/08/us/run-with-maud-ahmaud-arbery.html and (“We can’t …”)
 https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=we%20can%27t%20go%20jogging&epa=SEARCH_BOX
  
We do not need to look far to find a refuge for young men. DREAAM (Driven to Reach Excellence and Academic Achievement for Males) is more than a refuge for our young men. It helps make positive changes in their lives. Tutoring, food distribution and educational support have continued for our DREAAMers since the shelter in place orders. This has been challenging for everyone but especially for them. Try studying on a computer for school that four other people have to use at the same time! Try being tutored on a computer without headphones when a family member who works at night has to sleep. Try studying when you are hungry and have been inside all day and you are 10. Our DREAAMers overcome obstacles that many of us would not tolerate. Let’s help them “reach, teach and invest” in our young boys and men in Champaign-Urbana, Rantoul and Savoy. (https://www.dreaam.org/our-change-approach)
First Presbyterian Church Champaign supports DREAAM throughout the year in small ways and annually when we give to the PC(USA) Pentecost Offering, another one of our PC(USA) church special offerings that supports our local community! 
 
During this Pentecost season, we join together to build a life of faith and build the household of God with our children, youth and young adults.
  • 40% stays with our congregation which we have designated for DREAAM. 
  • 25% supports Young Adult Volunteers (YAV), serving in communities around the world, and growing as leaders through transformative Christian service. A friend of mine, Nathan Paul Bonham, is a YAV this year. From the time he was born I have prayed for him and watched him grow into a loving and faithful leader in our world. Please join me in praying for our young adults like Nathan.
  • 25% supports Ministries with Youth to help guide our youth by uniting them in Christ and lifting them up as leaders and messengers of God’s word. Our PC(USA) does this through Triennium. Our young people participated in Triennium last year, a national gathering of young people that happens every three years. I have shared some pictures of that wonderful time below. 
  • 10% is devoted to children at-risk to improve education and provide safe havens.

Our congregation is joining the whole church in building for our future, in building individual lives of faith. Won’t you join us? If we all do a little, it adds up to a lot. 

 
Pray for all our mission partners this week. (Find them at https://www.firstpres.church/mission-ministries/)
 
Peace, 
 
Rachel Matthews, Temporary Mission Coordinator
 
First Presbyterian Church Champaign
302 W. Church Street
Champaign, IL 61820
217-356-7238
info@firstpres.church



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

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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.
 
News:
 
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.
Amen.
 
(Katie G. Cannon) 
 
Much, much love to you all. 
 
PEACE,
 
Matt Matthews
Cell: 864.386.9138
Matt@FirstPres.Church