The household gathers together. If you have a candle, light a candle to signify God’s presence. Ask the Holy Spirit to join you during this time of prayer.

GATHERING
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

HYMN – „Trust and Obey“ by John H. Sammis (1887)
(sing along on YouTube: https://youtu.be/KB4KcleYiWM)

1. When we walk with the Lord 
in the light of his word, 
what a glory he sheds on our way! 
While we do his good will, 
he abides with us still, 
and with all who will trust and obey. 

Refrain:
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way 
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. 

2. Not a burden we bear, 
not a sorrow we share, 
but our toil he doth richly repay; 
not a grief or a loss, 
not a frown or a cross, 
but is blest if we trust and obey. [Refrain]

3. But we never can prove 
the delights of his love 
until all on the altar we lay; 
for the favor he shows, 
for the joy he bestows, 
are for them who will trust and obey. [Refrain]

4. Then in fellowship sweet 
we will sit at his feet, 
or we’ll walk by his side in the way; 
what he says we will do, 
where he sends we will go; 
never fear, only trust and obey. [Refrain]

OPENING PRAYER
O Loving God, we turn our hearts and minds to you as we sing your praises, listen to your Word proclaimed, and offer our prayers. Come, Holy Spirit, to us this day in our homes that our living rooms and kitchens may become sanctuaries of the Triune God. Help us to keep your commands. May the Spirit of truth abide in us this day and forever. We pray in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

PSALM 139:1-16, 23-24

Moment for silent reflection

ACTS OF THE APOSTLE 17:22-31

SERMON by the Reverend Dorothee Büürma

Start be reading the poem „The Train of Life“ poem. Click here to read it.

Today (Sunday, May 17th), the annual Austria-wide UMC ladies’ meeting, that was scheduled to be held at Attersee this weekend, would habe come to its end. In the closing service this morning we would have reflected on our time together and on the Bible passage that would have been our topic for the weekend. 

We were planning to consider ways in which we could (and should!) live our lives on earth according to God’s purposes. We also wanted to think about the challenges of our world-climate. I will come back to this at the end of this sermon.

The reading we had chosen during our preparation for the women’s weekend is Psalm 139. This Psalm reminds us that God is our Creator as well as still in deep relationship with our world: „You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.“ (verse 3)

We wanted to reflect on our own ways in life…
What are our own journeys looking like at the moment?
In the past few weeks and months, our plans have changed completely. None of our Methodist women was able to make the journey to our weekend at Attersee in the end. Many other journeys and trips that we had planned personally were cancelled as well. The virus has restricted our freedom of movement significantly.
And yet – we continue our journeys through life. Differently than planned, but we are certainly on our ways.

The story about the train of life, describes our journey through life. I would like to invite you, to pause over the coming few days and to reflect on your your own train of life. Where were the striking parts of your journey that you found either particularly easy to travel or particularly difficult? Which moments of the journey are you missing? And what are you looking forward to on the journey ahead? Which fellow travelers do you remember in special ways? And whom would you like to invite along (again) for part of your journey? These thoughts have kept moving me personally in recent times. I have realized that this time of restrictions has helped me to think about my own priorities in life. I am thankful that the decrees in this country have also had a lasting impact on my perspective in life:

As a mother, who has attempted to make the most of the idea of working from home, I have found myself enjoying this time in which the children have been closer to me. It is a privilege to experience the children in their own home over a longer period of time. I could watch them grow and develop. We have taken more time for conversations and for playing games together. We had the opportunity to share our worries and fears with each other and to encourage each other more often.
A particular challenge for us was the 4th birthday of our youngest recently: if it is impossible to visit our favorite places (such as the zoo, the museum or a playground), and if we aren’t allowed to invite our friends or family members over, how could we possibly create a special birthday celebration? We managed to do so by giving our living room a major changeover and transforming it temporarily into Hot Wheels City (a city for toy car races). It turned into such an exciting adventure that the expectations have somewhat risen for future children’s birthday parties… Necessity is the mother of invention! I have been increasingly aware of this recently. My creativity is in full flow. Creating is also at the heart of our faith. We are thankful for everything God has created. This is a theme in Psalm 139 (Verse 14): „I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.“

God who brought the universe into life, who is creator of the heavens and the earth, our God „discern(s) my thoughts from far away“ (verse 2) and he is similarly close to us: „You hem me in, behind and before,     and lay your hand upon me.“ (verse 5)

The closeness of God in our lives is visible in many ways in the story of the life of Paul, the apostle.
In our 2nd reading today we have heard from the book of Acts about Paul’s journey through Greece. Paul was traveling on his second missionary journey from Israel to the countries we now know as Syria, Turkey, Macedonia and Greece. The journey was long and wasn’t always straightforward for Paul. He was accompanied on this trip by Silas and Timothy and also by Luke, the evangelist and author of the book of Acts.

The part which today’s reading focuses on, is the time Paul spends in Athens. He had preached in the Northern parts of the country and had been persecuted mainly by many of the Jewish believers there. They were keen to hold onto their own faith traditions and did not want to hear Paul’s explanations about Jesus.

The city of Athens, however, was a more open-minded place , where philosophy and new knowledge were highly valued. Paul was met by a certain degree of interest in his sermons and his teaching.  Naturally, Athens was influenced by the antique Greek religious rites – there were temples everywhere for worship of the numerous deities. And yet, particularly those philosophers who were following the school of Epicurus were initially open to listening about the existence of a single superior deity, whom they simply did not know yet. 

Luke describes Paul being taken to the Areopagus, which is a hill situated in front of the large Acropolis hill in Athens. According to Acts, this is where Paul made a speech, describing his faith in the God „who is Lord of heaven and earth“ (verse 24). Paul criticized the countless temples in Athens for the various deities, and wanted to explain to the people that God does not live in such shrines. Instead, „he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’“ (Acts 17, 27-28). The faith in a God who is never fully known to us, who is greater than we understand and who is also very close to us – this faith was something Paul wanted to be able to convey to the Greek philosophers. In Jesus, God was fully of our world. In his death and resurrection, however, he overcame the boundaries of our earthly understanding and reasoning.

Paul emphasized particularly God’s existence beyond all of life and all humanity: „he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live“ (verse 26). Everything is in God’s hands. 

We can find comfort in Paul’s words even in these times of living with restrictions and uncertainty. God has different boundaries than the peoples of this world. We feel confined or even locked in. We are missing our freedom with hardly any limits, which we have often taken for granted in life.

We have become aware of the perishability of our world and our earthly existence. Paul was more conscious of this and often reminds those who read his letters that our time is in God’s hands.

Humanity, and especially the people living in the richer nations of this world, lead lifestyles that assume the resources of our world are endless. 

We live lives of abundance and attempt to defy the odds of nature itself. The worldwide responses to the Covid-19 pandemic show that humanity does not prioritize thinking or reacting holistically. Borders are closed and national interests are at the forefront. Even on a smaller scale, this is visible: we stockpile food and toilet paper to avoid ending up in unpleasant or helpless situations – „survival of the fittest!“.

Our environment, on the other hand, is showing us a different phenomenon at this time: as people are restricting their activity and withdrawing into their homes, the world climate seems to recover. If we no longer hear the noise of the vehicles on our streets, we suddenly notice the amount of birds singing around us. We see surprising images of the clean water in Venice with swans and even dolphins swimming around the city. The pollution of our air has decreased with many factories lying dormant and the numbers of cars on our roads reducing.

When we started to prepare our women’s weekend at the beginning of this year, we wanted to focus on the topic of climate change – the newspaper Salzburger Nachrichten had inspired us with an article about Jesus as a climate activist.
Returning to the image of the train of life: what traces has our train left in this world?

The picture we designed for the weekend and for this service shows a variety of traces. Particularly the plastic problem of our world was a concern for us in our preparations. The current hygiene requirements during this pandemic are making it more difficult for us to reduce plastic in our daily lives. The health impact of micro plastics is painful for people who live in countries, which store our rubbish. 

I wonder: Would the current pandemic have existed at all, if humanity had lived more in tune with nature instead of exploiting its resources?

Paul called on the people of Athens to repent. He asked them to re-think their lives and to re-orient their views. God invites us to return to his ways and to re-evaluate our thinking. Jesus frequently showed this in his life and beyond. 

The God of heaven and earth gives life and can renew life. That is our hope – especially in this time of Eastertide and during the pandemic. 
God’s glory breaks through the unexpected situations in life.

For our own journeys through life, I would like to invite us all to pray, as the Psalmist does: „Search me, O God, and know my heart;     test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any hurtful way in me,     and lead me in the way everlasting.“ Amen

AFFIRMATION OF FAITHthe United Methodist Social Creed
We believe in God, Creator of the world; and in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of creation. We believe in the Holy Spirit, through whom we acknowledge God’s gifts, and we repent of our sin in misusing these gifts to idolatrous ends.

We affirm the natural world as God’s handiwork and dedicate ourselves to its preservation, enhancement, and faithful use by humankind.

We joyfully receive for ourselves and others the blessings of community, sexuality, marriage, and the family.

We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of all persons.

We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights to property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.

We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world, to the rule of justice and law among nations, and to individual freedom for all people of the world.

We believe in the present and final triumph of God’s Word in human affairs and gladly accept our commission to manifest the life of the gospel in the world. Amen.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Lord of love, you have asked us to keep your commandments. In Jesus Christ you demonstrated the power of love to bring about healing, redemption, and hope. Yet we are unsure of the gifts that you have given us for ministry and we wonder if we can do what you want us to do. Come to us, O Gentle Savior, and speak words of encouragement and comfort. Challenge us to keep your commandments to love you and to love our neighbors. May we know and feel your assuring presence in our lives especially during this season of pandemic and self-isolation.

Today, we pray

  • for the world as it seeks to respond and end the effects of the COVID-19 coronavirus that God guide us in our actions.
  • for those infected by the COVID-19 coronavirus that God heal their bodies.
  • for medical professionals and hospital workers who care for COVID-19 patients that God protect them from the virus.
  • for those in quarantine and unable to be with family and friends and for those who feel isolated and distressed that God wrap them in God’s love.
  • for ourselves that God grants us peace and ability to cope with the situation.
  • for those persons who lives are changed due to recent unemployment, that God provide for all their needs.
  • for our leaders in Austria—President Van der Bellen, Chancellor Kurz, government ministers, justices of the courts, members of parliament—and all the leaders of the world that God grant them wisdom, prudence, and foresight to make good decisions;
  • for asylum-seekers living along the Greek-Turkish border that God extend our political will to find just and durable solutions for these vulnerable people.
  • for those who suffer violence in their homes especially as we shelter-in-place that God bring them out of these horrible situations.

We also pray for (add your personal prayers)……

Gathering the prayers of our lips and the prayers of our hearts, we pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.

BLESSING
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
May the Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.
Amen.