Sermon 05/24/20: Fear and Grief and Faith (Eastertide V)

WORSHIP AT HOME for 5/24/20. If illness or travel prevented you from joining us for worship Sunday, or if you would like to experience the worship again, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just right click on the link to play each hymn or the sermon in a new tab, and close that tab when finished.)

CALL TO WORSHIP: Our call to worship is to pray the Wesley Covenant Prayer:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

HYMN Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) (Live At Studio C, Gaither Studios)

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Please recommit your life to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord with the words of the Centering Prayer: Lord Jesus, today I am far less than the person I want to be or can be with your help. I ask today that you would be more and more the center of my life. Guide me to all that is good, cleanse me from all that is not. Teach me Your ways and form in me Your nature. Help me to serve you in flow as I am gifted. Help me to notice my neighbor and work through me to redeem my neighborhood. I am a sinner; please be my Shepherd, my Savior and my Lord. Amen.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: 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.

HYMN Cynthia Clawson – Softly and Tenderly [Live]


MESSAGE: Fear and Grief and Faith
Matthew 5:1-5
Pastor David O. Kueker
Series: Worship In Place
Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon slides as a PDF file.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. – Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Inaugural Address, March 4,1933.

The definition of grief: adjusting to change beyond our control.

Matthew 5:1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying, 1969. (Focus: the terminally ill person.)
five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

Dr. William Worden, Grief Counseling & Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner: Four Tasks of Mourning (Focus: survivors of loss)
Accept the Reality of the loss … Adjust to the new environment …
(the ‘come aparts’)
Experience the pain of the loss … Reinvest in the new reality …

This sermon references the classic Easter sermon by S. M. Lockridge. Learn more here:


HYMN He Touched Me (Live At Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, SC/2018)

BENEDICTION: Let us dedicate ourselves to the service of Jesus by joining in the Prayer of Saint Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life

(If you wish, you can listen to this prayer being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis )

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!


It was Friday. That’s what I kept saying to myself. “It’s Friday. This is the kind of thing that happens on Friday.” It was Friday, April 9th, 2020. And I was there in the emergency room in Mount Vernon. And I was calming myself by reminding myself of one of my favorite sermons, “It’s Friday. It’s only Friday.” You see, it was Good Friday. Good Friday is cross day. Good Friday is when they put Jesus on the cross, and Friday is not going to be an easy day. Friday is a day to be endured and in fear and in grief. You need to hang on to your faith. So I hung on to my faith that day, and I kept saying to myself over and over and over again, “It’s Friday; Sunday’s coming. It’s Friday; Sunday’s coming. It’s Friday; Sunday’s coming.”

And with these words, I was able to calm myself as the doctors came in and told me I had a life-threatening pulmonary emboli in my chest. In fact, they couldn’t believe that I was breathing without effort. They couldn’t believe that I was not racked with horrible pain. But I just kept saying to myself, “It’s Friday,” because I knew whatever was going on that Friday, it would be better if I went through it calmly.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated on March 4th, 1933. That was the year when the Great Depression reached its lowest point. During 1933, 15 million Americans were unemployed; 25% of the population. And nearly half the country’s banks had failed. The consensus among the demand-driven theories, the demand-driven economists, was that a large scale loss of confidence, fear in other words– a large scale loss of confidence led to a sudden reduction in consumption. People cut back on investment. People stopped spending. You see, people were afraid, so they didn’t buy things. And because of that, the people who made those things lost their jobs. And of course, not having a job, they couldn’t buy things. And so other companies failed. And then the banks that loaned them money failed. And it all came from fear.

And Franklin Delano Roosevelt summed up the problem as simply this: “So, first of all,” Roosevelt said, “let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Well, when they put me on the helicopter and flew me from the hospital in Mount Vernon to the hospital in Evansville, the doctors and the nurses were focused on my health, my physical health. But I, I was focused on my fear and I kept saying to myself, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”

I’ve been reading up on the coronavirus, of course, trying to understand what happens with it and a lot of times they talk about a cytokine storm, which is the damage that happens not from the coronavirus, but the way your immune system tries to fight the coronavirus by going into basically, what might call, a panic mode. Knowing that an enemy, a life-threatening enemy, has invaded into the body, the immune system releases white blood cells. White blood cells go to work to fight the infection. They release chemicals called cytokines. The cytokines called in cause inflammation to increase throughout the body. That inflammation causes more white blood cells to be released, and all of a sudden, there’s a tornado, so to speak, of your own immune system causing harm to your body. And it all starts with a panic.

And so I kept saying to myself, “It’s Friday. This is just Friday. I’ve just got to get through Friday. I’m going to get through Friday and I’m going to get through Saturday because Sunday’s coming.” You see, there is a great benefit in calming yourself down.
William Glasser, a psychiatrist in California, once wrote, back in the 60s, that prisons– ironically, he said, “Prisons are full of people whose ability to be depressed is impaired. So that when these people are frightened or angry, they don’t settle down into a depression or just hide away until things get better. They don’t have that option.” Just like in the panic of a cytokine storm, their emotions begin to rise higher and higher in a panic. They can’t be sad. The only choice that’s left with them is to be angry, and as their anger mounts higher and higher, they begin to overreact violently to everything around them. And then anger escalates out of control and the crime happens, and that, Glasser said, is why they’re in prison. Instead of being sad and just staying home, instead of just calming down and moping, their minds went into a panic to a point where they wound up in prison. And, of course, it didn’t get better when they got there.

Grief is a healthy human reaction to a change. You see something has changed, and that change is beyond our control. Grief is a healthy adjusting to a change that is beyond our control. For example, a helicopter ride. You may not be able to relax and enjoy it, but you can get through it. There are other things that happen to us that are not our choice. That are not under our control. They are not would we whatever choose for ourselves or choose for anyone else. And so we grieve.

We grieve when someone we love dies; that change is beyond our control. But as we grieve, we adjust to that change in the life of a loved one.

I don’t know how long it’s been for you but you’ve probably had a car accident. That’s not anything that you would choose but you adjust to the change. You go on. You understand that accidents happen and you take the responsibility that’s yours but you go on.

Likewise, the coronavirus is something that’s beyond our control. A little bit like a tornado sweeping into our lives, bringing destruction. But all we can do is wait for this time to pass. It’s a little bit like being put on a cross. You don’t have control when you’re put on a cross. It’s a change that you didn’t ask for or desire. Grief is adjusting to a change that is beyond our control. And as we adjust, we feel pain, we feel helpless, we feel hopeless … and that’s normal.
Let’s apply some scripture to this. Matthew 5:1, “Seeing the crowds, he, Jesus, went up on the mountain. And when he sat down, his disciples came to him and he, Jesus opened his mouth and talked to him saying, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'”

Now if you’re poor in spirit, in that moment, you don’t feel very blessed. The blessing is later on. But right now, you feel rather poorly. In a time of crisis, it doesn’t help us to get louder. It doesn’t help us to get busy — it doesn’t help us to run from one thing to another in a panic of anxiety. When you’re poor in spirit, you tone it down. You settle it down. You turn it down. It’s not a time to be extravagant. It’s a time to be poor. It’s a time to just sit, just sit with your emotions. To be poor in spirit in a way, I would like to suggest is to shelter in place and just wait, wait, wait with your feelings. You see, it’s Friday. You have to get through that Friday but Sunday’s coming.
Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” One of the problems that we have when we’re going through hard times, is that we want to experience comfort without feeling anything. The problem is according to the scripture here, according to Jesus, is if you let yourself feel, you will heal. The help will come after you let yourself feel, if you will let yourself mourn, if you will let yourself grieve. If you will let yourself regret the change that you have to deal with, you will be comforted. As you sit, you can let your feelings flow. It’s okay on a bad day to let yourself be sad. It is okay on a bad day to shed a tear, to cry out loud. In this beatitude, Jesus says that those who feel what they’re feeling will find that they are comforted. Somebody once said there’s no way around it. The only way is to go through it. To go forward.
The next beatitude says, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth.” In the slides for today, I’m showing a sign where someone has put graffiti on the wall and the graffiti says this: “I’m meek and I’m here for my inheritance.” Well, you see, here’s the point: after a while, the people who can’t sit still move on. The people who can’t handle the emotions leave. The people who can’t deal with stress find the closest exit. The people who don’t want to deal with what’s going on will do anything to avoid any problem. And in fact, perhaps half the world occupies itself on a hard day with trying to avoid everything that’s hard. If you can wait this storm out, if you can wait the problem out, you will find that the meek will inherit the Earth because the meek have staying power. When times are hard and you find yourself grieving at change, it is not of your own choosing. It is not in any way under your control. If you wait it out, you will find that after the storm passes that you have inherited the Earth.
Let’s add some science to what Jesus said. This is a little technical but I think it’s worthwhile.

First of all, grief is our natural adjustment to change. Something has changed. And we didn’t want it to change. So the whole change is out of our control.

In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the five stages of grief. These stages of grief were based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness. And get this; it’s very important: the feelings of patients facing a change that they could not control, the fact that they were going to die. And Kübler-Ross identified five stages that people go through. Now, they don’t go through them one at a time. It’s not that neat. But they bounce all over the place, remember? A little bit like a panic.

The five stages of grief that she observed in people grieving their own death.

First one, denial. “This can’t be happening to me.”

Anger. “Why is this happening to me?” And quite often, “Who is to blame? Who can I lay all the fault of what I’m suffering and make it all their responsibility?”

Bargaining to God, the doctors, to other people, “What if I gave up doing this? What if I started doing that?” You try to make a bargain to get out of what’s coming to avoid the change. This is actually a wish, again, to escape the consequences.

Finally, a person feels hopeless and helpless. And they can sink into depression. “I’m too sad to really do anything at all.”

The final stage that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross observed was what she called acceptance. “I’m at peace with what is happening.”

These are the feelings that people go through as they move closer and closer to a change that is coming, that they can’t control, their own death.

Let me add some science to what Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said. There is a Christian psychologist by the name of William Worden. He taught at Biola. Now he’s on the faculty of Harvard University. And he took Kübler-Ross’s model of five stages and began to study people who are not facing their own death but instead, people who were surviving the loss of a loved one. And the astonishing thing he found is that people who were surviving grief did not go through these stages as Kübler-Ross described them. In fact, their experience was very different.

And William Worden called his model The Four Tasks of Mourning, M-O-U-R-N-I-N-G. The four tasks of active grief.

And the first task was this. To accept the reality of the loss. Something has changed. We can’t control it. We can’t make it go away. We can’t undo it. Something has changed. We need to accept that it’s real.

And I’ll tell you friends, if you want to find Kubler-Ross, here’s right where you’ll find it because before people are able to accept the reality that something is lost –  something is changed, and they’re never going to get it back … They go through all those things that Kubler-Ross said. They go through denial and anger and bargaining and depression because they’re unable as yet to accept the reality, the world is different.

But once you’re able to accept the reality that the world is different, once you’re able to name it, for example, they say in the 12 steps of AA, in the groups that help people that overcome addictions, there’s an incredible power in accepting the loss that you are not a person who can drink and live healthy. You have to give it up if you want to survive. There’s an incredible strength in accepting the reality to the point of being able to say, in a circle and a group of Alcoholics Anonymous, my name is ______, and then to confess, I am an alcoholic. They have accepted the reality of their loss. And that has started them up out of the hole, up out of the darkness of addiction, when they accept that the world has changed.
William Worden went on to identify three more stages. And again, just like Kubler-Ross, it’s not one after the other. People bounce back and forth. They have good days and move forward. They have bad days and slip backwards. But the four stages are basically this.

The first one’s to accept the reality of a loss.

The second one to experience the pain because this change is not something that anyone wanted. You will need to take time to experience that and feel those feelings.

The third stage is to adjust to the life that is afterward, the life that is without that person, the loss of who or what we just really loved so much. One of the things that we’re going to face life without in our church life is there are certain things that we can’t do like we used to do because of the coronavirus.
If you google the coronavirus along with the word singing, along with the word choir, you will begin to identify that singing just like we do on a typical Sunday when we open our hymnals, and we sing together. Singing is one of the most dangerous things that we can do. Because when people catch the coronavirus, they catch it from another person. They catch it from the breathing of that other person. Now, it is possible for you to get something on your hand, and for you to touch your face. It is possible for you to get it through touching something, but the coronavirus is something that we breathe in, and we commonly catch it from the breath of a person who has it.

Think about how you feel on a really cold wintry day. You breathe in; you breathe out. You notice that fog that is in front of you. And the cold air, it’s visible. That’s water vapor. And the coronavirus hitchhikes on little molecules of water vapor, and in fact, they say there’s a little sphere about up to three-feet wide in front of a person’s mouth when they’re singing. Anybody else who walks through that sphere or breathes that in – they say, it can hang in the air for as long as 14 minutes – anyone who breathes in that air can get the coronavirus. We are going to have to adjust to this reality, at least for a while, until there’s a vaccine, until there’s a cure, until we figure out how to do it. We’re going to need to accept the reality that we’ve lost the ability to sing in church together, to sing safely. We’re going to miss that. We’re going to experience the pain of missing it.
And we’re also going to need to go through the third adjustment in our church life: we will need to adjust to life without. This is why we will play recorded music for the worship service at Kinmundy this morning. This is why other people will sing for us. And of course, if you’re in your car, you can sing. At home, if you want to, you can sing in the shower. But it’s dangerous for us to sing in church, and we have to adjust to a life in church without the singing of hymns until we can figure out how to do it safely. It’s not going to be easy for us.

The fourth thing is that we invest. We reinvest in the new reality. Imagine what it’s like to be driving down the road, but looking in your rearview mirror. From time to time, you need to look in your rearview mirror. But if you’re going to move forward safely, it is a reality that you’re going to need to take your eyes off the past and what’s behind you. Take your eyes off what’s in the rearview mirror and look at what’s ahead of you, so that you can safely move in that direction. You need to give up what needs to be given up, but you can still move forward and have whatever is good and satisfying. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “What is needed, our efforts to convert retreat into advance.” We need to reinvest in what is possible in the future, and turn our attention toward it.
Twenty years ago, coming up very soon, everything changed. It was September 11. And I remember turning the television on at the precise moment that the second jet airliner crashed into the World Trade Center. The network news was showing the burning building. And then all of a sudden, to their vast surprise, here comes a second plane, and the horrific explosion.

If you’ve been alive since then, you know that everything changed. And it wasn’t a change that we liked. If you fly on an airline, you know everything changed. Now the TSA is searching everybody. You’ve got to take your belt off. You’ve got to take your shoes off. Everything changed. But we’ve been here before, and we survived. We’ve been here before, and we made it better. And we’ve even thrived. We adjusted to what we had to do to be safe. We adjusted after 9/11.
Today, it’s the same kind of thing. We need to adjust to what it means to live and to thrive and be alive in the wake of this coronavirus epidemic. I am truly hopeful that everyone who says that it’s no problem at all turns out to be right! Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

But I know that everything is not going to turn out well if we ignore what we need to do to be safe in this new reality. We need to convert retreat into advance. We need to adapt to the new reality. We need to stop looking in the rearview mirror and missing what used to be; we need to allow ourselves to sit and be poor in spirit, allow ourselves to mourn and to grieve, allow ourselves to be meek. And then, when it’s time, we need to rise up and walk in newness of life and create a new reality that will be, we hope, just as good, if not better. Let’s move forward. We’ve been here before. We didn’t let it stop us. Let’s move on forward.
Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, when you were put upon the cross, you knew that it would be a hard day. But you also knew that Sunday was coming. Lord, when they put me in the helicopter, I knew that it was a bad day. But I comforted myself and believed that where I could not control anything, you could watch over me. And so, Lord, I pray now in this new time when we are still adjusting, and as a part of that adjusting, still grieving and still hurting … help us, Lord, to move forward and to adjust to what the world is bringing us in this crisis, so that we can move into a new life and a new future. Help us, Lord, to grieve because grieving will set us free, because as you promised, those who mourn, will be comforted. And Lord, in this day, we need your comfort. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources
Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Raod, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.

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One Response to Sermon 05/24/20: Fear and Grief and Faith (Eastertide V)

  1. Gerri says:

    Enjoyed the sermon, I needed to hear that this week. Loved the hymns especially!

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