Weekly Services

July 18, 2021 

Let us pause to remember that in this region we live and work and worship on lands that are, by law, the unceded territories of the Wabanaki peoples—predominantly the lands of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy. May we live with respect on this land, and live in peace and friendship with its people.

We gather today from many places.

Some of us are home at the kitchen table or the computer desk. Some of us are on vacation. Some of us are at camps or cottages. Some of us are gathered in our hall.

Some of us are thinking about the week that has gone by or the week that is to come.

Wherever we are, God meets us as we come to this time of worship.

Christ’s light shines the way. ( light candle)

Let us begin with prayer:

As we gather for worship today, we look around and pay attention to where we are. We remember that you, our God, are with us when we worship in ones and twos, in groups and in crowds.

We think of friends who are gathering this day in other places.

We are thankful for this pause in our weekly doings to consciously be in your presence.

Open our hearts and minds as we listen for your word beneath the words, as we hear the rhythm and lyrics of music and as we keep silence.

Be with us, we pray. Amen.

Hymn: 691 VU Walls That Divide 

Building Without Walls

I guess it would be a bit of an understatement to say that during these COVID months we have been more than a little preoccupied with physical buildings of all kinds- schools, gyms, grocery stores, restaurants, doctors offices, hospitals, nursing homes, factories and churches, you name it. As a result, we have all been taking precautions as we enter these buildings- sanitizing our hands, maintaining 2 metre distances, disinfecting points of contact and wearing our masks.

Yet, even outside of COVID times, preparing and planning for the ongoing maintenance of buildings such as our homes, schools and churches can consume a lot of our time and resources. There is always something needing to be done around a building- painting, mowing, caulking, updating and, as in the case of our high school, an unforeseen roof repair after that vicious wind and rainstorm earlier this summer. Or, even more recently, we think of the people of that neighbourhood in Barrie and the work that is ahead of them in the aftermath of this week’s tornado. As we well know, when we build it, we have to look after it. Doing so takes time and often, much deliberation. As churches, we know all about that. We spend a lot of energy making sure our heating, our plumbing, and our electrical systems are in proper order and that things around the building that are broken get repaired. All very much necessary if we are to maintain our physical plant.

In our first reading this morning, David also is more than a little preoccupied with the idea of constructing a building to “house” God. After several successful military battles, David is feeling settled. Now that the Ark of the Covenant ( a portable chest containing the tablets of the law that had accompanied the Israelites through their wilderness journey) had been ceremoniously brought into Jerusalem, David wants God also to be settled in one place. God, however, has a different agenda and vision in mind. Let’s listen to what God thinks of David’s idea:

2 Samuel 7: 1-14aNow when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”

We might wonder here if David is feeling a twinge of conscience. He is surrounded with grandeur and perhaps he feels more than a little guilty when he looks at God residing in a tent. Something doesn’t seem right with this.  He wants to give God more of a sense of permanency with the people of Israel. He wants a place where God can be more present and evident to the people.  So he runs the idea by his advisor, Nathan. At first, Nathan too, thinks it is a great idea and backs him 100%.

Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

God, however, will have none of this. God does not want to be settled and domesticated. God desires to dwell and move among the people. Watch how God argues that a permanent dwelling violates God’s freedom. In essence, God says to David, thanks, but no thanks.

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders[a] of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

This is God saying to David you have got it all wrong. So let me set the record straight. You can’t control where I live. This is not about you. I refuse to be boxed in by any walls or building that you construct. I am a tent dweller- mobile, adaptable, changeable, always on the move. I refuse to be pigeon-holed in one place. David, it is not you that will do the housing of me. Rather, I will do the housing of you. I will make of your descendents a house, a dynasty, a lineage. I will live among you in the lives of the people. I will continue to move with you into the future as I have done in the past. You will experience my presence, not in a building, but in my promise and covenant with you. So put down your tools, and let me do the building! Life with me is all about the journey, not the settling down.

Still, though, we can’t help but sympathize with David, can we? How many times have we, like David, confused what God would have us do with what we would like God to do? How often we think we know what is best for our lives, our congregation and our neighbours before we even bother to think about what God might have in mind? Residential schools are a prime example. Our governments and our churches thought they knew what was best by assimilating young aboriginal children to white culture and “taking the Indian out of them”. In retrospect, we now know and apologize for how arrogant and damaging those policies were.

So often, in our planning and dreaming, we make presumptions about the way things should be. We confuse our agenda with God’s agenda. This is not to say that our church buildings are not important. Certainly God can meet us there. But God refuses to boxed in by them as if God’s main dwelling place is there and God only makes guest appearances elsewhere- like at home, at the office, at school, in the neighbourhood, over zoom, face book and the phone.  As our curriculum this week reminds us, as much as our church buildings preoccupy us with upkeep and management, we are challenged to see churches as more than walls, more than bricks and mortar, more than a place where we go. I like to think of church more so as a people being built by God’s hand. If nothing else, these months of Covid have helped us to discover anew the importance of community and how vital our connections between each other and with God are, even when we cannot be face to face. Sometimes I hear people say something like: I must get back to church when often what is implied is I must get back to God. It is easy to forget God. Yet, as God demonstrates to David, God does not forget us as a people. As God was travelling with the people through their wilderness time, so God has been travelling with us through this pandemic, beyond the walls and confines of our church buildings. How often we forget that God is always at work among us, building a home with us wherever we are, helping us to be a human community able to survive our differences and mutual weaknesses. That is exactly what we mean when we sing I am the church, you are the church we are the church together. We’re not talking bricks and mortar. We’re talking being a people of mutual acceptance and forgiveness built by the hands of God. A community under constant construction and modification.

Somewhere this week I came across a quote from Walt Disney-” you can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it requires people to make that dream a reality.”

This is God’s goal for us- to build a people, a dwelling place for God where walls of hatred are broken down and hostility is overcome. Wouldn’t it be great if we spent as much time on that kind of building as we do on our physical buildings? Paul illustrates this for us as he writes to a community of Jews and Gentiles from radically different backgrounds who were attempting to form a new church. We might think of it like an amalgamation. However, unlike the amalgamation we are familiar with here at Faith Memorial where we are joining together as folks with United Church backgrounds from a various places within Carleton county, this amalgamation was a lot more challenging. Jews and Gentiles previously had nothing to do with each other. Lines in the sand were firmly planted based on strongly held cultural roots.   For instance, if a Jewish son or daughter were to marry a Gentile, a funeral for the Jewish partner would be held. You get the picture! The first Christian Jews felt that they were still Jewish and reasoned that Gentiles who wanted to be part of them would have to become Jewish first by following Jewish rules like circumcision and eating ritually clean foods. Yet, Paul, in writing to them, challenges all this. He says something similar to what God said to David. Building is not something you do. It is God, through Christ, who does the building. It is Christ who unites us.

Ephesians 2: 11-22

 11 Don’t forget that you are Gentiles. In fact, you used to be called “uncircumcised” by those who take pride in being circumcised. 12 At that time you did not know about Christ. You were foreigners to the people of Israel, and you had no part in the promises that God had made to them. You were living in this world without hope and without God, 13 and you were far from God. But Christ offered his life’s blood as a sacrifice and brought you near God.

14 Christ has made peace between Jews and Gentiles, and he has united us by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us. Christ gave his own body 15 to destroy the Law of Moses with all its rules and commands. He even brought Jews and Gentiles together as though we were only one person, when he united us in peace. 16 On the cross Christ did away with our hatred for each other. He also made peace[a] between us and God by uniting Jews and Gentiles in one body. 17 Christ came and preached peace to you Gentiles, who were far from God, and peace to us Jews, who were near God. 18 And because of Christ, all of us can come to the Father by the same Spirit.

19 You Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens with everyone else who belongs to the family of God. 20 You are like a building with the apostles and prophets as the foundation and with Christ as the most important stone. 21 Christ is the one who holds the building together and makes it grow into a holy temple for the Lord. 22 And you are part of that building Christ has built as a place for God’s own Spirit to live.

Both of these passages this morning have relevance for us as we continue to work together in making the amalgamation of our former communities of faith a reality in our midst. Together we are being built by the hand of God into something new and unprecedented. As our quote from Sonya Renee Taylor said it best earlier this week- ” we are stitching together a new garment, one that fits all of humanity and nature”. We are part of God’s new building project as United Churches in our area- a building plan that has nothing to do with physical space and everything to do with becoming a people who are seeking to make space for God to dwell and to be made known to others.

This fall, when hopefully we can sit down together without covid restrictions, you will all be invited to a visioning day to help discern how God is calling us to live, work and serve together. Together, at tables, we will explore what it might mean to partner with God in tearing down walls and letting God take up residence within us. It will be a time for us to let go of our own plans and agendas to allow God the opportunity to build us anew into a community of grace. The process itself will bring us new energy and enthusiasm as we seek to carry forward Christ’s ministry of service and compassion to the world. Our Regional Minister, Rev. Kendall Harrison, has agreed to work with us to help facilitate our time together.

I look forward to exploring with you what God is building among us as we come together as different peoples held together by our chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ. In the meantime, as you take some time to rest, I invite you to do a little thinking about God’s great construction project for us, the people of Faith Memorial United Church, in this time and space in which we find ourselves. What is God hoping to build in our coming together? Where is the hand of God leading us? And most of all, how can we partner with what God is doing out there, in God’s world?  Amen.

Minute for Mission  

  As we share, we learn from the gifts that we have been given.”

Alf Dumont’s memoir bridges First Nations and non‒First Nations understandings.

Credit: The United Church of Canada

 

When Alf Dumont’s Roman Catholic father and Anishinaabe mother asked the priest serving the Shawanaga reserve to marry them, the priest rejected their request, advising them to “marry someone of their own kind.” Nearby, a United Church minister had a different response. He told the couple he had just two rules: “If you have differences, talk them out and just try to get along.”

“Dad and Mom said ‘I think we can do that.’ They brought together First Nations understanding and non-First Nations understanding. That’s how I came to the church,” Dumont recounts in a United in Learning webinar(opens in a new tab).

Dumont spent his life as a spiritual leader, serving the United Church as a minister while staying connected with his traditional Indigenous spirituality. His memoir The Other Side of the River: From Church Pew to Sweat Lodge(opens in a new tab) shares stories of how Dumont walks between the two worlds of Indigenous and settler, traditional spirituality and Christianity.

“Part of the struggle with me in life was to find out who I was as Anishinaabe and who I was as French, Irish, and English mix,” Dumont shares. With a foot in both sides of the river, Dumont’s words eloquently draw together spiritual threads.

“There are seven truths in some of the Anishinaabe teaching: love, courage, respect, humility, truth, wisdom, and honesty. But you can’t have one of those teachings or truths without having the other. So you can’t have respect without love. You can’t have truth without humility,” explains Dumont. “I took those underlying teachings and applied them to the four teachings on love: Love God. Love your neighbour. Love your enemy. Love yourself. You can’t have one teaching without the other. You can’t love God if you don’t truly love yourself. You cannot love your neighbour unless you truly love God.”

In an interview(opens in a new tab), Broadview magazine asked Dumont to weigh in on the future of reconciliation: “Part of the struggle has to do with learning to walk together again. It means being as open as we can,” he says. “You bring a gift that I don’t have; I bring a gift that you may not have. And as we share, we learn from the gifts that we have been given.”

Your gifts through Mission & Service help support the creation and publication of luminous, timely work like Dumont’s book as well as the webinar discussions and education events that follow. Through listening and learning, we take important steps forward on the journey toward reconciliation.

Let us pray:

Creator and creating God, in the stillness of these moments, we call to mind your generosity to us: for day and night, for summer and winter, for sun and rain, for seed time and harvest, for your bounty in supplying all our needs. Thank you for the gift of your renewing spirit in our weariness, for the power of Christ’s love that breaks down dividing walls and for peace we find in you that helps calm our stresses and fears. Help us as we join in partnership with you to build good relationships with one another that support healing and wholeness, caring and understanding. Show us how to reach across our differences. Help us in our life together as a community of faith to demonstrate to this hurting world that Jesus really makes possible the existence of a people who are able to live by their convictions. As we find time to rest and reflect on this year that has passed, difficult as it has been for us, may we also come to celebrate what we have learned about being church together, the relationships we have formed, the skills we have honed and a greater appreciation for the things in life that really matter.

Keep working on us God and through us as we look forward to opportunities this fall to grow together and to discern your vision for our future as your people. Remind us again and again that you are the builder of our lives together and it is with you that become the people you would have us. Ground us and root us in your sure foundation and give us strength for the journey, we pray.

We lift before you this day the thoughts and concerns of our hearts and our world- for the many places where vaccines still have not found their way, for communities where wildfires threaten, for the community of Barrie in the face of this week’s devastation from a tornado, for places and people where walls of hatred, hostility, race, religion and culture divide, where families are torn apart, for the many who are in need of the basics of life, for the many who suffer in body, mind or spirit this day. Bring healing and peace, O God. Help us to partner with you in tearing down walls and bringing about reconciliation.

Hear these our prayers as we pray as Jesus taught us saying… Our Father..

Hymn:  Come Build a Church   

Blessing:

As we go into this new week,

may we remember that God goes with us, in ones and twos, in groups and crowds.

Wherever you go, share Christ’s compassion.

Tear down walls that divide and build bridges of  hope.

Find rest and renewal through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Amen

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July 11, 2021

Welcome to worship at Faith Memorial United Church on this beautiful day.

We are happy that you have made this time in your day to worship God with us.

 

It is good to hear of your family and friend reunions that are starting to happen. It certainly has been a long haul for everyone. 

 

A reminder again that Bev will be in the church office on Wed. of this week from 9-11 am to receive your calls to confirm your attendance at next Sunday’s in person worship, 392-6107.  Email worship service and on website will be available as well.

 

 

 As we prepare for worship,

let us pause to remember that in this region we live and work and worship on lands that are, by law, the unceded territories of the Wabanaki peoples—predominantly the lands of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy. May we live with respect on this land, and live in peace and friendship with its people. 

 

On this ordinary Sunday in July, we remember Jesus Christ, the light of our world. ( light candle)

From the dawn of creation, God has called us by name.

From before we are born, we are loved as God’s own.

In seasons of joy and moments of struggle, God lavishes us with grace.

Now, in this time of worship, we are brought together as God’s people.

Let us lift our heads and open our hearts to God.

Let us pray:

Gracious God, quiet our hearts, give rest to our souls and refocus our spirits

as we come to this time of worship.

Open us to your direction amidst the many choices we face in our lives.

Awaken us to your presence and teach us to trust your ways.

In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Hymn: 229 VU God of the Sparrow 

Readings and Reflection:                              

When the Rubber Meets the Road

Warning- our first reading this morning is more than a little dense in its contents. In English it contains over 200 words!  In its original Greek it is all one sentence that goes on and on.  The topic is God’s lavish grace. It is almost like the writer, possibly Paul, cannot say enough about this gift God bestows on everyone, not simply as an individual blessing, but as a community blessing. This grace just comes to us- free, unmerited and unexpected. We don’t have to earn it. All we are called to do is respond to it. Our curriculum has given us a way to unpack this reading a bit and that is how you will see it presented here, a few verses at a time, followed by a brief summary:

Ephesians 1: 3-14

3 Bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing that comes from heaven. 4 God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world. 5 God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love.

We are God’s own.

 This was according to his goodwill and plan 6 and to honor his glorious grace that he has given to us freely through the Son whom he loves. 7 We have been ransomed through his Son’s blood, and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace, 8 which he poured over us with wisdom and understanding.

God’s grace is great.

 9 God revealed his hidden design to us, which is according to his goodwill and the plan that he intended to accomplish through his Son. 10 This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth.

Everything comes together in Jesus.

 11 We have also received an inheritance in Christ. We were destined by the plan of God, who accomplishes everything according to his design. 12 We are called to be an honor to God’s glory because we were the first to hope in Christ.

God has chosen us.

 13 You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ. 14 The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.

We have received the promises of the Spirit.

In summary then:

We are God’s own.

God’s grace is great.

Everything comes together in Jesus.

God has chosen us.

We have received the Spirit.

So there you have it- a lofty celebration of God’s presence and lavish grace in our lives,- a gift to all people, a blessing that we have done nothing to earn. God loving us and adopting us as God’s own. Recognizing this grace empowers us to live and act in a different way. It calls us to discern between good and evil and to be a blessing to one another.

This is something with which all the characters in our gospel reading wrestle- the acting part especially. Amongst preachers, our gospel is often labelled one of those “texts of terror”. Let’s face it the beheading of John the Baptist is hardly a stand out story from our Sunday School days!  As one commentary I was reading this week said it best ” The preacher of this text receives my congratulations for originality and guts.” It is one of those stories where it is very hard to find the good news. It is more than a little gruesome. Yet, on the other hand, maybe no less so than the stories we read or watch on television. As David Lose, a Biblical commentator, says of it,” Television evening soap operas have nothing on it. There’s political intrigue, seduction, religious zeal and enough behind the scenes plotting in the story of John’s death to satisfy the most avid mystery fan.” As always, its context is important. Mark sandwiches it just after the sending out of the apostles, which we read last week, and before their return. It is so that we don’t forget that the gospel is not all about success and glory and getting our own needs met. Faithfulness also can bring with it lots of rejection, and as we see in John’s case, even death, especially when we speak the truth to power.

Our story begins as King Herod gets whiff of Jesus and the things he has been saying and doing. Like others of his day, Herod is trying to figure out who Jesus is. Herod’s mind flashes back to an earlier decision where he found himself caught. It is a memory that still haunts him, especially as he sees similarities between John and Jesus.

Mark 6:14-29 

14 Herod the king heard about these things, because the name of Jesus had become well-known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and this is why miraculous powers are at work through him.” 15 Others were saying, “He is Elijah.” Still others were saying, “He is a prophet like one of the ancient prophets.” 16 But when Herod heard these rumors, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised to life.”

17 He said this because Herod himself had arranged to have John arrested and put in prison because of Herodias, the wife of Herod’s brother Philip. Herod had married her, 18 but John told Herod, “It’s against the law for you to marry your brother’s wife!” 19 So Herodias had it in for John. She wanted to kill him, but she couldn’t. 20 This was because Herod respected John. He regarded him as a righteous and holy person, so he protected him. John’s words greatly confused Herod, yet he enjoyed listening to him.

21 Finally, the time was right. It was on one of Herod’s birthdays, when he had prepared a feast for his high-ranking officials and military officers and Galilee’s leading residents. 22 Herod’s daughter Herodias] came in and danced, thrilling Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the young woman, “Ask me whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 Then he swore to her, “Whatever you ask I will give to you, even as much as half of my kingdom.”

24 She left the banquet hall and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?”

“John the Baptist’s head,” Herodias replied.

25 Hurrying back to the ruler, she made her request: “I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head on a plate, right this minute.” 26 Although the king was upset, because of his solemn pledge and his guests, he didn’t want to refuse her. 27 So he ordered a guard to bring John’s head. The guard went to the prison, cut off John’s head, 28 brought his head on a plate, and gave it to the young woman, and she gave it to her mother. 29 When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they came and took his dead body and laid it in a tomb.

There is no doubt about it, Herod was certainly in a pickle here, trying to appease his wife, his daughter as well as his friends and dignitaries at his birthday party. What thoughts must have been going through his head! For a few minutes, I thought we might try to get inside that head of his. Let’s imagine it is a week or so after this event. After a few sleepless nights of tossing and turning, Herod is just back from a trip to his therapist. He recounts their conversation as he rehashes what happened at his birthday party:

So, King Herod, how did you feel that night when your wife insisted on John the Baptist’s head?

Feel? I didn’t feel anything. I order killings all the time.

Are you sure about that? I understood you rather enjoyed listening to John the Baptist?

Ah, well, yes. I did sneak down to his prison cell a few times. John was always sputtering away about something or other. I put him there because I didn’t like his confronting me about my marriage to my brother’s wife Herodias. It wasn’t good for my public image, you know. To tell you the truth, I was kind of intrigued with what he was saying, even though I didn’t understand half of it. He just seemed to have this way about him that drew me in. I didn’t really mean him any harm. He kind of fascinated me more than anything- what with his odd choice of clothes and his challenge to decency and order. He certainly pulled no punches. Yet, at the same time, I knew he had to be locked up.

Was he holy?

Of course, he was holy, that’s why I was looking out for him.

So why did you kill him?

Because Herodias made me! I’m more afraid of her than any holy man. She can’t stand John and bears such a grudge because he told me that I couldn’t go around and take my brother’s wife. Besides, what else could I have done when she told my daughter to ask for his head? How could I have known that when I made my offer to my daughter that she would consult her mother who was back there stirring the pot, pulling the strings from offstage?  There I was in front of everyone when my daughter asked for John’s head.  I had to save face. I have an image to maintain around here, you know. I couldn’t back down. How could I have known she would ask for such a thing when I offered her anything? I thought she might say jewels or some piece of property somewhere. She could have even asked that all the poor in our city get fed. But no, all my wife wanted was revenge. Never in my wildest imaginings did I think she would get our daughter to ask for John the Baptist’s head! Still, I had made an oath in front of everyone. I got boxed into a corner. My integrity was on the line.

It was then though that my therapist hit me with a question that has left me even more unsettled. She said, “Herod, what if I told you that no one can make you do what you don’t want to do. You had a choice, Herod”.

After that, I left. My hour at her office was up. I still can’t sleep very well. What if John the Baptist really was a prophet? It still haunts me that I caved in trying to keep everyone happy and in protecting my own reputation and prestige in the community even when it meant the death of another.

Life is full of such hard choices, isn’t it? Do we go along to get along? Or do we rise above and do the right thing? As I searched for the good news in this gruesome story, I thought maybe that is it. Maybe Mark is sandwiching this story between the sending out of those first apostles and their return as a means of showing us just what is at stake when the good news is rejected. Perhaps this sad tale of Herod’s dilemma is there to show us what happens when we fall for neutrality, when we approach Jesus with curiosity and fascination but nothing more, when as Herod did with John the Baptist, we enjoy what he is saying but have trouble following through and committing to what his message might imply for our lives. We are told that Herod “enjoyed” listening to John, almost as if he was watching a spectacle or a play. Yet, when push came to shove, he couldn’t follow through. When the rubber meets the road, as we say, he couldn’t commit, choosing compromise over integrity.

While our webs have hopefully not been as tangled as Herod’s was, we still though all know what it is like to get drawn in and enticed by what Jesus may be saying but still unable to fully commit to his alternative way of being in the world. It is indeed much easier to just maintain the status quo than it is to act in the new ways that he points out to us. Sometimes it can feel like we have are feet in two different worlds, two different kingdoms at the same time- the ways of loyalty to empire values like power, prestige, influence, and status rather than the ways of love, inclusion, humility, justice and equality modelled by Jesus. Herod shows us it is easy to get caught.

We know what it is to worry about what some group or some individual might think about us. We know what it is to desire to be popular or to guard our own reputations rather than to do what is truthful. We know what it is to remain passive or to avoid conflict rather than to do what is right. These kinds of choices face us all the time and we wrestle with them.

It makes me wonder somehow if really deep down, Herod knew that John the Baptist was right. Yet the opinion of other people was more important to him than righteousness. The need to preserve his own image just seemed to overtake his better judgement. Herod couldn’t get beyond the surface of what John had been saying. He couldn’t let it penetrate to transform his heart.

And what about the others who stood around at that party that night? Couldn’t they have done something in the face of what was happening? Wasn’t there anyone there who could have put a stop to John’s murder? Was there no one who would speak up? As Herod’s therapist said to him, “It didn’t have to happen.” Sadly though it did. Herod had another choice.” So do we. Gruesome as this story is, maybe it is not so far-fetched and unbelievable after all. Watch the nightly news.  Amen.  

Minute for Mission

video version: please click: https://youtu.be/01bV5fYgFDQ

text version:

Hard work doesn’t always pay off. Around the world, many people work hard and still can’t feed their families. Your gifts through Mission & Service turn hard work into true hope for the future. Thanks to your support, resourceful people like Margaret Kagundu don’t just survive but thrive.

Margaret and her children live in challenging conditions in Nyeri, Kenya. In an area of widespread poverty, families live in makeshift homes without running water and have very little access to healthcare. Disease is so rampant that the average woman like Margaret can expect to live just 30 years.

Margaret struggled to meet her family’s basic needs before she received a micro-loan from a lending program called Jamii Imara (pronounced Jam-ee EE-mara), which your gifts support.

Wanting to improve her life, Margaret applied for a small, interest-free loan from Jamii Imara to lift herself out of poverty. She used it to purchase a home to rent out. With the rental income, she paid back the loan and then applied for another. She has received and paid back many loans to date. Margaret now owns two rental homes and is a proud landlord. The income is helping her feed and educate her family.

Your support teamed up with Margaret’s hard work means that Margaret’s son is in high school today. Considering 90 percent of children living in poverty in Kenya don’t finish grade 8, that’s a remarkable achievement.

“I was granted 10,000 shillings four times. I have even started keeping goats that reproduce. I have educated my children,” Margaret says.

The Jamii Imara project helps women like Margaret establish their businesses. Together, the businesswomen share best practices and help each other financially to survive difficult times.

“We help our fellow members. If one’s husband is ill, we continue to help her. If one’s child is ill, we contribute to help her,” says Margaret. “There are many women who want to join the group because they see that I have progressed a lot. I am no longer the way I was before.”

Supporting women like Margaret who are determined to change their lives is just one of the ways you are helping to turn hard work into hope every day. Make your Mission & Service gift today to help transform and save lives.

Let us pray:

Gracious and faithful God, we are thankful that you have chosen us as your children. Even when we fail to acknowledge that relationship and ignore your direction in our lives, even when self- interest and self-image get the better of us, you stay close to us, eagerly awaiting our repentance and always ready to offer us your grace. Thank you, God, for not abandoning us.

In these beautiful summer months, we marvel in your creation. You carve out the mountains and forests. You gather the storm clouds with rain and fill the rivers and oceans to the brim. You made the universe as an extension of your love and invited us to respond to it with praise to you. Yet, even with all its vastness, you still know the very hairs on our head and the concerns of our hearts. You know the places where, like Herodias, we hold grudges. You know the places where we carry joy and pain. You know where we are overwhelmed. You know where we wrestle with choices and worry about what others will think of us rather than doing what we know is right. Into all these places, you send prophetic voices to encourage us, to call us out of ourselves, and to challenge us to live differently. Open us to their wisdom and direction.

We lift before you this day the many concerns that rest on our hearts. We pray for those who are sick, in pain, searching for a diagnosis and those nearing death. We pray for those who are out of work, unable to earn enough to feed their families and those whose source of income is a source of anxiety or frustration. We pray for all who feel in deep valleys, all who are facing depression, mental illness, anxiety and all who are journeying through grief and loss. We remember all who are uncertain about their future and all who, for whatever reason, find themselves losing hope. We pray especially for all who are living in the devastation of intense heat in the western parts of our country, for the people of Haiti as they grieve the assassination of their leader and for the indigenous people of our nation as they continue to grieve and seek healing. Finally, God, we pray for ourselves, our families, our friends and our church. Hear these our prayers as we offer them in the name of Jesus, who came to show us your grace, and who taught us to pray as one, saying Our Father…

Hymn: 608 VU Dear God, Who Loves All Humankind 

Blessing

May you know that you are God’s beloved, sealed in the Spirit and claimed as God’s own so that you may serve God and your neighbour.

 

Go into this week in Christ’s peace and love. Amen.

***************************

 

 

July 4, 2021

Good morning everyone!

 

So good to hear that many of you have been finally able to cross provincial borders or to have family cross those borders and be reunited again! Lots of long-awaited reunions happening this weekend! Enjoy!

 

Others of you have made it to camps and cottages. I imagine you worshipping from porches and decks, maybe overlooking the water somewhere? I do hope you have a wood stove though as the temperature here is more than a little cool.

 

The rest of us are still in town… working or perhaps still awaiting those reunions yet to come.

 

Wherever you are, welcome! We are glad you have joined us for worship this day!

 

Some evening in the next couple of weeks ( when we can hopefully be assured of sunshine!) we will be celebrating Holy Communion in the outdoors at Faith Memorial United Church parking area. Just a brief service.  I will give you 24 hours notice of the evening.

Here is what you will need to bring with you- they will not be supplied as we cannot share food just yet.

a lawn chair

a small piece of bread or cracker in a baggie

a grape or a drinking box of grape juice ( tetra pak) 

 

You won’t need to call Bev to register as we will be outdoors for that service and we can spread out as much as needed.

 

 

In the meantime though, Bev will be at the office on Wed. from 9-11am to register you for July 11 service

 <<<>>>

God is great and worthy of our praise!

With thanksgiving to God, we open our hearts to worship.

Looking for guidance for our journeys, we seek Christ’s light ( light candle)

Let us pray:

O God, hear our prayers, receive our praise, equip us with your Word this day.

Then, as you sent out the Twelve,

send us out to share your message of hope, healing and redemption.

Guide our feet, we pray. Amen.

Hymn: 232 VU Joyful, Joyful   

Readings and Reflection                                                              

 Undeterred in the Face of Rejection

Did you know that after his first audition, Fred Astaire was described as balding, skinny and able to dance a little? Or that Walt Disney was once fired from a job because  he lacked creative ideas? Or that Beethoven was once rejected as a hopeless composer? Or that Albert Einstein was once called unteachable? Or that Babe Ruth, who later held the home run record in baseball, also held the record for strike-outs? Or that Nellie McClung, who led the way for women’s right to vote in Canada, was rejected and jeered by many opponents who felt her idea was ludicrous?

The Bible too is full of similar examples of people who faced rejection. We can think of Moses who, after leading the people through all kinds of obstacles in the wilderness, experienced the murmuring and resistance to his leadership.” Why have you brought us here to kill us with hunger and thirst?” the people ask.

Then there is poor Elijah who, after prophesying again the priest of Baal, flees for his life, bemoaning the day he ever agreed to be a prophet. The prophet Jeremiah had similar experiences. Being a prophet was anything but a walk in the park!

It is the rare person who has not experienced rejection somewhere in life. You apply for a job and you get one of those letters that says something like: “Thank you for your interest in our position but we regret to inform you that we will be proceeding with another candidate.” Or maybe you get up the courage to invite someone on a date, only to be turned down. Or you try out for a school team but don’t make the cut. Or maybe you look for an invitation to some event but you don’t receive it. Or, like me lately, you send some form in the mail only to have it returned saying some other piece of information is required. Or you present an idea to your boss or at a meeting, only to have someone say, “No, that won’t work. This is the way we have always done it.”

Such experiences can leave us feeling pretty frustrated. Often we withdraw or give up. Sometimes we become embittered or angry. Sometimes we retaliate or lash out. Sometimes we just say “What’s the use, there is no point trying anymore. Nothing will ever change. It has been that way for years. Why do I bother? ” Sadly, in my years in ministry, I have heard these kinds of sentiments, especially from newcomers. So often they feel blocked and unheard. Eventually, many of them simply drift away. Meanwhile those of us who remain in our churches commiserate about how we might be more welcoming. It is a bit of a vicious circle. I wonder to myself if we have forgot our grounding in Christ.

Our readings today give us some tools to help us in the face of our more vulnerable times when the message of love we seek to communicate is met with resistance and rejection. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul finds himself on the defensive against a group of what he earlier called “super apostles” who accuse Paul of being a false apostle. They boast in their powerful spiritual experiences of speaking in tongues, working miracles and moments of what we might call pentecostal ecstasy. At the same time, they sling mud at Paul by questioning his ministry that has been plagued by hardship and struggles which they see as signs of his “weak” faith. Listen as Paul wrestles with how to respond to the insults and negativism that comes his way. He begins by alluding to an experience he had but speaks about it in third person, in an attempt to centre not on his own ability but on God’s ability to use him.

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

  I know a man in Christ who was caught up into the third heaven fourteen years ago. I don’t know whether it was in the body or out of the body. God knows. 3-4 I know that this man was caught up into paradise and that he heard unspeakable words that were things no one is allowed to repeat. I don’t know whether it was in the body or apart from the body. God knows. I’ll brag about this man, but I won’t brag about myself, except to brag about my weaknesses.

If I did want to brag, I wouldn’t make a fool of myself because I’d tell the truth. I’m holding back from bragging so that no one will give me any more credit than what anyone sees or hears about me. I was given a thorn in my body because of the outstanding revelations I’ve received so that I wouldn’t be conceited. It’s a messenger from Satan sent to torment me so that I wouldn’t be conceited.

(This is where that expression ” thorn in my side” comes from. People have wrestled with what that thorn was for Paul- maybe a physical or mental ailment or some kind of perplexing problem, who knows.)

I pleaded with the Lord three times for it to leave me alone. He said to me, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me. 10 Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong.

Rather than retaliating and boasting in the face of his opponents who poke holes in the work he is doing, Paul, as you can see, chooses to meet the resistance by speaking of his reliance on the grace of God that has come to him in the midst of his weaknesses. In other words, he bears witness to what God is doing through him even in the midst of his vulnerability and afflictions. It is the thorn in his side, the valleys and deserts of his faith that serve to draw him closer to God. It is these things that ground him in Christ. This realization becomes the mark of mature spirituality. We know that from our own life experiences too. It is when we learn to let go that we realize God is in control, not us. It is then that we learn to trust that God’s grace is sufficient enough to ground us in our weaknesses. No amount of boasting in our own experiences or our pious actions ever comes close.

 

Resistance and rejection were also at the heart of Jesus’ ministry too. While he did make headway with many people through his teaching and healing ministry, he also faced much opposition along the way, including sadly enough, even those he was closest to in his own home town. This morning we find him returning there after his time out on the road. The people he went to school with, along with his neighbours were at first rather curious and anxious to see him. That curiosity, however, didn’t last long. Soon the mudslinging begins. They try to peg him by focussing on his family roots rather than the work he had been doing in sharing the good news of God at work in the world. Who does he think he is, anyway? Why, he is just one of us, a carpenter. How did he get to be so smart? Watch as they do what we so often see done in our world when we can’t deal with the truth- they discount the speaker. But watch too how Jesus handles the rejection:

Mark 6: 1-13 ( from The Message version)

 1-2 He left there and returned to his hometown. His disciples came along. On the Sabbath, he gave a lecture in the meeting place. He stole the show, impressing everyone. We had no idea he was this good!” they said. “How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?”

But in the next breath they were cutting him down: “He’s just a carpenter—Mary’s boy. We’ve known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?” They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further.

4-6 Jesus told them, “A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child.” Jesus wasn’t able to do much of anything there—he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them, that’s all. He couldn’t get over their stubbornness. He left and made a circuit of the other villages, teaching.

Notice that he didn’t make a scene in the face of the resistance and rejection he was receiving in his home town. It is almost like he realized that challenging their negativism and pettiness was a futile endeavour. They could not believe that this little kid who grew up amongst them could be anything other than ordinary. Besides that, there was something about what he was saying and teaching that disturbed them at their deepest core. He was challenging their preconceptions- pushing them out of their bubbles, calling them to see beyond to a new reality and urging them to expand their vision. It was all just a little too much for them. As we might say today, it was hard on their brains. And most of all, he just didn’t fit their bill of what they had in mind as a Messiah. Why he was as uncredentialed and from as humble of origins as they were. Now if he had been born to a well-connected family in Jerusalem for example, then things would have been different. But this was just Jesus from around here. How could God ever be at work in him? He simply was just too familiar to them. As a result it was like they had blinders on. They stay perfectly still, unchanged. As one commentator described it best, they turn into fossils. They miss the presence of God in their very midst.

So what does Jesus do? No snarky side comments from him. No personal pity party.  While their response may not have been what he had hoped for and he may very well have been disappointed in their inability to wake up to his power at work, he remains undeterred. He doesn’t appear bitter. It is like he knew that his mission was to share the good news. He was not in control of the way people responded. He knew that once they started finger pointing, there was nothing he could do to convince them otherwise.  He simply moves on with his mission, leaving them to shine his light elsewhere.

His next step in expanding his mission is to appoint and send out the twelve apostles. Now, I don’t know about you, but had I been one of the apostles who had just witnessed what had happened to him in his hometown, I might have wanted to run in the opposite direction had he appointed me. Yet as he calls them forth, he uses his own example as a reminder to them that the work will not always a piece of cake. It comes with many challenges. There will be a welcome mat with some people. At the same time however, just as they witnessed with him in his own hometown, there will also be vulnerable to people’s hostility. The news of love, healing and justice for all is not good news to some people, especially those who will recognize their positions of privilege will be overturned. Some will refuse to listen, but don’t fret. Rejection will be part of sharing the gospel. Expect it. Don’t be stopped by it. Resist seeking vengeance. Hang in there. Don’t be angered or embittered by it. Don’t take it personally or give up because something doesn’t go in the way you planned. Simply use your experiences as sparks for your next steps as you move forward.

7-8 Jesus called the Twelve to him, and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. He sent them off with these instructions:

8-9 “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple.

10 “And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave.

11 “If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”

12-13 Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.

In the face of rejection, then, our call to be resilient. Continue planting seeds. Continue being courageous. And, above all else, remember that you are not responsible for the outcomes. Following Jesus is not without its risks and failures. As Paul experienced, there will be lots of hurdles, insults, calamities, hardships and even shipwrecks along the way. Sometimes it may feel like your candle is snuffed out completely.  Eventually, though, we will realize that it is not about measureable results, popularity and successes as we so often understand and interpret them in society. Following Christ is about being faithful- getting out there, speaking up and working to make a difference, rather than casting our heads down and being complacent in the face of the evil that we see.

I leave you with a little question asked in our curriculum this week- when obstacles arise in your life, what has helped give you strength to keep going?

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years, people might have wondered how he would address his fellow citizens. Would he be defiant? Angry? Bitter? Seeking revenge? What was the strength that kept him going all those years?

When he addressed tens of thousands of his supporters at the Cape Town city hall, he began with these words:

“Comrades and fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom. I stand before you not as a prophet, but as a humble  servant of you, the people…”

Undeterred in the face of rejection. Resilient. The dust of his feet shaken off. The mission of God’s peace and justice ready to be pursued. So may it be for us as well. Amen.

Minute for Mission

On June 6, not far from the oldest mosque in London, Ontario, a family of five out for a walk were deliberately run over by a truck. Three adults and one teenager were killed. A nine-year-old boy is the sole survivor. Police say the family was targeted because they are Muslim.

In a statement The United Church of Canada condemned the horrific and hate-filled attack.

 

“Many people in the United Church are weeping alongside the extended families and friends of the family members who were killed and injured in this premeditated hate crime and are grieving the innocent lives lost in this abhorrent attack,” the statement reads, acknowledging the fearfulness that some people in the Muslim community feel as a result.

 

Did you know that 322 anti-Muslim hate crimes were reported in Canada between 2013 and 2019? And that’s just the crimes we know about.

 

Prejudice runs deep. A survey  published by the Angus Reid Institute states that almost half of all Canadians have an unfavourable view of Islam, a perception evident in attitudes toward religious clothing. While 88 percent of Canadians support a nun wearing a habit, just 32 percent approve of a person wearing the niqab.

 

Our United Church is deeply committed to working with Muslims and others for peace and justice. That’s why your Mission & Service gifts help us as a church to develop statements and educational resources to combat prejudice and discrimination.

 

In 2006, for example, the church released the statement “That We May Know Each Other: United Church-Muslim Relations Today.” It was preceded by an important study document with the same name designed to help church communities deepen loving relationships with our faith cousins. Similar study guides have been created to foster interfaith relationships, including Jewish and Hindu faiths (respectively, “Bearing Faithful Witness” and “Honouring the Divine in Each Other”).

 

Education begins with us. Your Mission & Service gifts help raise awareness and understanding that in turn contributes to a more peaceful world. One where no one is harmed by the hatred of another. Where no more children have to grow up without their family.

 

In the words of our current Moderator Richard Bott), “Let us use all that we have and all that we are to stand in the face of the evil that would allow and cause this crime of hatred. Even as one man has been arrested for his actions, let us uncover and work against the beliefs, the worldview, the racism and the hatred that supported his choice.”

Amen.

 

Your gifts through Mission & Service help raise awareness and understanding to a more peaceful world. Thank that in turn contributes you.

 

 

Let us pray:

 

It is good O God, to have this time in our week to collect our thoughts. Some of us have been busy in the fields. Others of us have been making plans for summer, thinking about visits with family and friends that we have not seen for a long time. We confess that too often, we take our relationships for granted, even when we know how important they are to us. As Jesus learned in returning to his hometown, it is so easy to criticize those closest to us and to be envious of another’s success. We are so quick to find ourselves stuck in an attitude of judgement rather than a posture of praise. Forgive us for thinking the worst of others, of ourselves and sometimes even of you.

God, travelling this road is not always easy. We admit that we’d rather play it safe than risk rejection as your disciples. Grant us the strength we need to be resilient, unfaltering and determined to become the people you have called us to be. Teach us how to walk into the future knowing that whatever hardships we bear for your sake, you promise to lead us. As Paul reminds us, when we admit our weakness, we discover your strength. May we learn to bury our egos, be guests of one another and show hospitality to all whom we encounter, especially those who are different from us in opinion, in background, in race or religion. Give wisdom and courage to the leaders of our nations that they might pursue justice and love rather than power and dominance.  Bring encouragement this day to all who are troubled, to all who are experiencing rejection, to all who are feeling unloved or unheard. We pray especially for communities in the western part of our nation who mourn the loss of loved ones due to intense heat conditions, the many who are working to control wildfires and the many who are displaced from their homes.  We continue to lift our prayers for the indigenous people of our nation as they mourn for a lost generation. We pray for settler people like us as we seek to join hands across the many divides, working for healing and reconciliation.

Help us, transform us, and hear us as we lift these prayers, together with the prayers of our hearts for encouragement, consolation and thanksgiving…..

We offer our prayers to the one rejected by his hometown, but welcomed by sinners like us, praying for mercy and grace as we pray the prayer he taught us saying… Our Father…

Hymn: 212 MV Sent Out in Jesus’ Name   

Blessing: ( from Seasons of the Spirit curriculum resources)

Strap on your sandals and hit the road, my friends.

Shake off the dust of your complacency.

Walk with a friend and travel light.

Go, proclaiming Christ’s message of healing and hope.

Go, declaring that hearts and lives can change!

Keep going, because Christ gives you authority.

Go in the name of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Just go.

 

Amen

**********************

 

June 27, 2021

Good morning everyone.

No need to water your gardens this morning!

Reminder: Official Board meets today at 11:30 am in the hall.

As we gather for this worship service, once again this week our hearts have been saddened by the discovery of 751 unmarked grave sites at a Residential School near Regina. We mourn for those lives lost and for their families. 

We need to keep reading and listening to the stories that are being told so that we can learn more about our involvement as a church and nation and the impact that continues to be felt in Indigenous communities today.

With Canada Day approaching, may our thoughts be directed toward healing and reconciliation.

Let us pause to remember that in this region we live and work and worship on lands that are, by law, the unceded territories of the Wabanaki peoples—predominantly the lands of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy. May we live with respect on this land, and live in peace and friendship with its people.

( from Psalm 130) Our souls wait for God, more than those who watch for the morning. More than those who watch for the morning, our souls wait. With hope in our hearts, we watch and wait.

We look to the light of Christ to guide us as we wait. ( light Christ Candle)

We come to God with all our hopes and longings.

We long to find healing and restoration.

We come to find rest for our souls.

Come let us worship God.

Let us pray:

God of all our longings, you are the fire that kindles our hearts with hope and possibility.

We trust in you and give thanks for your presence in all the stages of our lives.

In these moments of worship, may our hearts and souls be open to the movement of your Holy Spirit, that we might be strengthened to serve you. Amen.

Hymn: 144 MV Like a Healing Stream 

Readings and Reflection                                    

 God in the Interruptions

Our readings this morning are united in their overarching theme of reaching out to others with compassion and generosity of time and resources.  In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he encourages them to honour their identity as Christ’s followers by doing the right thing for the Christian community in Jerusalem that finds itself in financial need. Yet, this is not simply Paul preaching about money! What is at the heart of his appeal is compassion for others, especially those who find themselves vulnerable. What a great reminder this is when we think about the stewardship of our resources. Sharing generously with others in need is part of our identity as Christ’s followers. It flows from who we are and who God calls us to be. It is a sign of people who know the gospel and are determined to follow in the self- emptying spirit of Christ. In some ways, we might even think of these words from Paul as the first appeal for Mission and Service, a call to rise above regionalism and small world thinking to a generosity that knows no bounds.

2 Corinthians 8: 7-15

I am not ordering you to do this. I am simply testing how real your love is by comparing it with the concern that others have shown. You know that our Lord Jesus Christ was kind enough to give up all his riches and become poor, so that you could become rich.

10 A year ago you were the first ones to give, and you gave because you wanted to. So listen to my advice. 11 I think you should finish what you started. If you give according to what you have, you will prove that you are as eager to give as you were to think about giving. 12 It doesn’t matter how much you have. What matters is how much you are willing to give from what you have.

13 I am not trying to make life easier for others by making life harder for you. But it is only fair 14 for you to share with them when you have so much, and they have so little. Later, when they have more than enough, and you are in need, they can share with you. Then everyone will have a fair share, 15 just as the Scriptures say,

“Those who gathered
too much
    had nothing left.
Those who gathered
only a little
    had all they needed
.”

 

 

I think what Paul was advocating here was a both/and rather than an either/or approach to generosity and stewardship of our resources. The body as a whole cannot be healthy until all its parts are healthy. It applies to our world too. We see that amidst the vaccine roll out. While we here in Canada are blessed with adequate vaccines for all, we know this is not the case throughout the world. The healing of the comfortable middle class, for instance, cannot happen without the healing of those on the margins- the voiceless, the poor and the oppressed. It is all about mutuality. This is what Jesus demonstrates in our gospel lesson this morning. He is approached by two very different people, from very opposite sides of the social spectrum. Both of them seek healing. The first is Jairus, a prominent synagogue official. In coming to Jesus he breaks rank with the other religious leaders who viewed Jesus as a threat. Yet, Jairus is desperate. His little girl is ill, on death’s door. His approach to Jesus is very bold, very confident. He can do nothing but fall at the feet of Jesus asking for help in healing her. The other person is an unnamed woman. Having suffered from  hemorrhages for 12 years, she has spent all she had on potions and healers. She is marked as ritually unclean, leaving her isolated from her community, denied entry into the temple, invisible to others, as marginalized as she could be. Her approach is very different- less public, from the shadows, hoping to touch Jesus’ garment without being seen. Nonetheless, they have that one thing in common. They both are at wits’ end and they both come to Jesus with hope. Let’s listen and see how Jesus responds to both of their requests.

Mark 5: 21-43
21 Once again Jesus got into the boat and crossed Lake Galilee] Then as he stood on the shore, a large crowd gathered around him. 22 The person in charge of the Jewish meeting place was also there. His name was Jairus, and when he saw Jesus, he went over to him. He knelt at Jesus’ feet 23 and started begging him for help. He said, “My daughter is about to die! Please come and touch her, so she will get well and live.” 24 Jesus went with Jairus. Many people followed along and kept crowding around.

25 In the crowd was a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had gone to many doctors, and they had not done anything except cause her a lot of pain. She had paid them all the money she had. But instead of getting better, she only got worse.

27 The woman had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him in the crowd and barely touched his clothes. 28 She had said to herself, “If I can just touch his clothes, I will get well.” 29 As soon as she touched them, her bleeding stopped, and she knew she was well.

30 At that moment Jesus felt power go out from him. He turned to the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 His disciples said to him, “Look at all these people crowding around you! How can you ask who touched you?” 32 But Jesus turned to see who had touched him.

33 The woman knew what had happened to her. She came shaking with fear and knelt down in front of Jesus. Then she told him the whole story.

34 Jesus said to the woman, “You are now well because of your faith. May God give you peace! You are healed, and you will no longer be in pain.”

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from Jairus’ home and said, “Your daughter has died! Why bother the teacher anymore?”

36 Jesus heard[b] what they said, and he said to Jairus, “Don’t worry. Just have faith!”

37 Jesus did not let anyone go with him except Peter and the two brothers, James and John. 38 They went home with Jairus and saw the people crying and making a lot of noise.[c] 39 Then Jesus went inside and said to them, “Why are you crying and carrying on like this? The child isn’t dead. She is just asleep.” 40 But the people laughed at him.

After Jesus had sent them all out of the house, he took the girl’s father and mother and his three disciples and went to where she was. 41-42 He took the twelve-year-old girl by the hand and said, “Talitha, koum!”[d] which means, “Little girl, get up!” The girl got right up and started walking around.

Everyone was greatly surprised. 43 But Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened. Then he said, “Give her something to eat.”

Wow! I read that text and I think to myself what a busy day that must have been for Jesus! Such multi-tasking going on there! It made me think of parents and the many plates they have to keep spinning in the air. One minute they need to help a child get dressed. The next the child has skinned a knee and needs a bandaid. Then it is lunch time. Homework. A drive to soccer practice. On and on it goes.

I was thinking about my own mother on those days when we would come home for lunch from school and announce to her that we were having a party in class in the afternoon and we had promised we would bring some of her famous divinity fudge. Quickly, she would drop everything else she had been doing, perhaps it was getting the clothes in off the line, and then she would start cracking and boiling up the egg whites. While that was going on she would scoop us out plates of macaroni and get the beaters out. Sure enough, after sending us back to school for the afternoon, she would arrive over at the school with the promised fudge just before dashing home once again to put on her uniform for her 3pm shift at the hospital. As I look back on it now, I don’t know how she managed to get it all in there. Any plans she might have made earlier in the day were often interrupted.  I am sure you can all relate to similar scenarios in your own households!

In reading our gospel today, we might wonder what else Jesus might have planned for his day. I expect his agenda was already filled with stops at a number of places to do some teaching about the realm of God. Despite what may have been on his plate that day, everything soon shouted detour with these two requests for healing. The more you think about it though, so much of his ministry was in those interruptions. We can recall many times when the disciples tried to push him to the next thing, to what they deemed the more important thing. I think of when people like the blind beggar named Bartimaeus cried out for help from the side of the road and Jesus stopped. Or when the people brought children to Jesus and the disciples saw them only as an interruption in Jesus’ schedule. Remember how Jesus made time for those children? And what about Nicodemus when he visited Jesus at night, long after the crowds had gone home. Jesus was willing to hear his questions and ponderings even though Jesus might have wanted to call it a day. 

In so many of these “interruptions” to his day Jesus could have said, ” Sorry I am in a hurry.” Even when the woman in today’s gospel reached out to his touch the fringe of his cloak, he could have said, “Would you mind waiting a bit, I have a child of a prominent man here in the community who is at the point of death and I need to get over there quickly. I will get back to you later.” Surely, had he been working at a hospital emergency ward in triage, he would have been breaking all the protocols by not dealing with the girl at the point of death first.

Efficiency experts, I suppose, would have been left shaking their heads at Jesus. They would have wondered how in the world he would ever accomplish anything in his day if he just kept dropping whatever he was doing in order to meet the needs that presented.  And what about Jairus, that pillar of the religious community? How would he have felt  when Jesus allowed himself to be sidetracked from the need of his daughter who was on her deathbed in order to help this unnamed woman? Yet, in sandwiching these two stories together, we can’t help but realize that Mark is trying to tell us something about Jesus- that his ministry was of the both/and type, not the either/ or type. He was generous and compassionate to both requests. In so doing, Jesus showed that in God’s realm, those on the fringes of society have every bit as much access to healing and justice as those who proved to be celebrated and powerful in the eyes of their community. Jesus’ generosity and compassion knows no bounds. He has time for all. That is an important reminder to us as we come to Canada Day this week. We are called to look after the needs of all people, including the powerless, the marginalized, all who do not have access to clean drinking water, all who do not have adequate housing and all who are feeling forgotten or abandoned by our systems.

That story in Mark today reminds us that it is not always our most carefully planned days that renders us most useful. So often it is in being open to the interruptions where our real ministry happens- like that phone call we receive or that knock on the door. Sometimes, behind the request is something much deeper and needed. Much like a story I heard about a minister who was working at First United Church in Vancouver. The area around that church is probably one of the poorest ones in Canada. Lots of addictions. Lots of homelessness. As happens very frequently a fellow came in and the minister heard his request for groceries. The minister was ready to refer him to the area in the church where the food was handed out. This fellow though simply sat down and started talking. He told his story. A half hour later, she said to him, oh, you said you wanted groceries. No, he said. I don’t need groceries. I’ve been all over this city and you’re the first person who didn’t either tell me to go or treat me like a number. You listened to me. You’ve given me what I needed today. Thanks. And with that, he walked out the door.

It’s true, isn’t it? So often, it is in those kinds of interruptions, in our willingness to drop everything and truly listen to another that we best model the compassionate and generous ministry Jesus showed to others. Often, it is that  “something else” that crops up in our day when maybe we are on the way out the door to that appointment or that thing that we think is most pressing that ends up being every bit and more so as important as our original plan.  Henri Nouwen once said it this way ” when I tried to do ministry, I had so many interruptions. Then I realized that the interruptions were my ministry.” I think of something as simple as when a child comes in from outdoors to hand us a bouquet of dandelions. We might be busy preparing a meal but that little time spent in conversation with that child can be life changing.

Jesus seemed to have all kinds of patience with the interruptions in his days. I can’t think really that there were very many of his days that went as he might have planned them to go. He just seemed to take these interruptions all in stride, using them as opportunities to see God at work.

For many of us, this pandemic period has felt like one huge interruption in our lives. And it has been, as time and time again our plans have been thwarted. We have had to find our way around hurdles. We have been rerouted. We have had our schedules thrown off. We have been inconvenienced in not seeing family and friends, in not grieving the loss of loved ones in ways that felt “normal.” As a church community, we have experienced the same thing with so many restrictions on our gatherings. Many times all these interruptions have left us exasperated and frustrated.

I wonder though, with a little time, we might look back on these times and see the grace moments that they have presented to us- the opportunities we had to heal and build better relationships with family and friends, to change the pace of our living, our buying, our use of time and our resources and to really reflect on what truly is most meaningful in life. Hopefully we have all found some willingness to be open and redirected by God toward new ministries. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, ” The great thing is to stop regarding the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s real life. The truth is what one calls interruptions are precisely one’s real life- the life God is sending us one day at a time.”

So the next time you find yourself interrupted, pay close attention. Remember God is there. Your most compassionate and generous ministry may be about to take place. Amen.

Minute for Mission

A woman works among tall plants in a garden

Produce and community building flourish at Fred Victor.

Credit: Melanie Gordon Photo

Over the last year, the need for food has skyrocketed. Since the pandemic began, Fred Victor, a charity based in Toronto, Ontario, has served over 180,000 free and low-cost meals to people in need―a 40 percent increase over previous years.

Growing food security issues are just one of the reasons why Fred Victor’s community gardens are so necessary right now.

In addition to providing vital food services, shelter, counselling, and job training to support people living in poverty and experiencing homelessness, Fred Victor runs over 240 gardens where local community members garden together. It is an activity they can still enjoy amid lockdown restrictions.

“The pandemic has pushed more people into poverty. More people are experiencing food insecurity and hunger. That is why we see these gardens as more than just plots of land with plants growing in them. For every harvest that makes its way onto plates and into bellies, and for every resident who feels empowered by their surroundings, these gardens represent our vision for healthy and thriving communities,” says Keith Hambly, Fred Victor’s CEO.

Today, over 200 families, many of whom live in poverty, grow their own nutritious food through these gardens. But the food itself isn’t the only benefit of the gardening program. At Fred Victor, gardening isn’t just about growing food―it’s about growing community, too.

“What we grow reflects our community’s vibrant cultural diversity. In our gardens, kiwi and amaranth grow alongside strawberries, carrots, and garlic, which grow alongside Indigenous healing and ceremonial plants such as tobacco and sage,” says Mark Woodnutt, Fred Victor’s Senior Manager, Community Food Centre.

Gardening and nutritional education, healthy food choices, and strong relationships are cornerstones of the gardening initiative. And there are plans to expand. “We’re looking to expand the program over the next year, turning plots at one of our locations into a micro-farm that will supply fresh ingredients to the meals served out of our community hub,” Woodnutt explains.

Your gifts through Mission & Service not only help feed families but also support building healthy communities through organizations like Fred Victor. Thank you for helping your neighbours across our country flourish.

 

Let us pray:

Generous and loving God, as our country prepares to recognize a birthday this week, we come to you with thanksgiving for its richness of resources- oceans, lakes, rivers, mountains, prairies, forests, farmland and cities. We thank you for the rich diversity of our people who speak many different languages, who come from many different cultures and who worship in many different ways. We ask that you might help us to work for greater understanding and respect for one another . At the same time, however, we also lament  that as a nation we have made mistakes that have resulted in hurt and grief that is ongoing. We pray for indigenous people who have stewarded this land, who have shared their wisdom and respect for creation, and who are hurting amidst the  legacy of residential schools. Help us to listen to their stories that we might find ways of working toward healing and reconciliation.

We pray for leaders of our nation, our provinces and our communities that they might hear the concerns of those they govern and work for the health and welfare of all peoples. We pray for our church, that we might stand with all who are excluded and be advocates for all who cannot speak for themselves. May we be flexible and willing to be interrupted from what we deem to be our own pressing needs so that we can be open to serving the needs that call out to our attention. May we be a people willing to take risks, willing to listen and willing to be generous with our time, our money and our skills in order to serve others.

We pray today for all who suffer in mind, body or spirit; for all who mourn, and for those facing death, especially those who feel most alone and who suffer in silence without our knowledge…

We offer to you all the prayers of our hearts, O God, as we pray together in Christ’s name saying… Our Father…

 

 Hymn: 595 VU We are Pilgrims   

 

Blessing:

Let us go into this new week to serve the world God loves

with hearts full of tenderness and joy

and minds full of eagerness and hope.

And may the blessing of God who both goes with us and meets us on the way

 

surround each one of us, this day and always. Amen.

***********************

June 21, 2021

Let us pause to remember that in this region we live and work and worship on lands that are, by law, the unceded territories of the Wabanaki peoples—predominantly the lands of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy. May we live with respect on this land, and live in peace and friendship with its people.

With the light of Christ’s presence to guide us and to offer us courage in the midst of chaos, we come to this time of worship ( please light a candle)

Come, find rest from the trials that tire you.

Come, find strength to face the powers that frighten you.

Come, seek wisdom for the challenges that confound you.

Come, find your peace in the love of God that surrounds you.

Let us pray:

Holy God, we come to you today with open hearts, open minds and open spirits.

We know that with you, everything is a possibility as we ground ourselves in your Spirit.

You reassure us that no matter what stands in front of us, we are not alone.

Thank you that you are a God of all people, all time, in all places.

May we always remember your power within us to encourage us. Amen.

Hymn: 409 VU Morning Has Broken 

Reading and Reflection

We Need More Davids

David and Goliath. The story is a classic. An underdog confronts a bully and wins. It makes for great pictures in our old Children’s Story Bibles. Perhaps you are remembering a Sunday School teacher depicting it with the help of those old flannel graphs. It is the kind of story that captures the attention of young folks who hear it- a scrawny young boy goes up against an Arnold Swarzeneggar (or the Incredible Hulk?) Say the name Goliath and our minds conjure up an imposing figure. Frederick Buechner describes Goliath as standing 10 feet tall in his stocking feet, wearing a size 20 collar, a 9 and a half inch hat and a 52 inch belt. When he put on his full armor, he looked like a Sherman tank. We get the picture. An alpha male.

Let’s listen to the story as we find it in 1 Samuel and as we do so, let’s be open to how it might be speaking to us in our present day context. First though, let’s set the scene- the Philistines and the people of Israel, under the leadership of Saul were at a stalemate in the midst of a military battle. Each of them were positioned on a hill with a valley in between. The Philistine warrior Goliath has been taunting the Israelite army. Saul and the troops are paralyzed with fear. Into this scene comes young David bringing provision for the troops. Assessing the situation, he offers to help. This is where we pick up the story.

1 Samuel 17:32-49

 32 David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36 Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”

38 Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39 David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

41 The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42 When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43 The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” 45 But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

There are, of course, other gruesome details that follow. So what do we make of this story that has made its way into so much of our culture? As I was wrestling with this, quite ironically, I noticed an advertisement in the newspaper this week from News Media Canada. The headline read: We’re up against two Goliaths. And we need more Davids. It went on to explain how Google and Facebook newsfeeds are overpowering the work of local and hardworking journalists and publishers across Canada. It called upon governments to stand up against these web “giants” and to protect local news.

That line- “we need more Davids” caught my attention. As we look around at the issues in our world that stand before us like imposing Goliaths- things like the climate crisis, racism, hunger, homelessness, the aftermath of residential schools on our indigenous peoples, it is true- we need more Davids. People willing to stand up and speak up. People willing to take a stand. People willing to lobby, to protest, to write letters to governments and to use their gifts and abilities to make a difference. Yes, indeed there are many things that we can learn from David in this passage. And I want to talk about those further in a minute.

But before we get to this, I want to rethink for a moment how we look at this story. As I mentioned before, we often see it as a classic underdog story where the underdog, David, emerges the winner. Nonetheless, I think there is something much deeper going on here. If you really look at the story, I don’t think David sees himself as an underdog. Saul and the army of Israel certainly do. That’s why they are immobilized with fear. In contrast to them, David comes forward as a person of bold faith, seeing his prior experience as a shepherd fighting off lions and bears, as preparation for this moment. To the crisis at hand, David offers a new perspective. He responds with his authentic self, taking into account both his experience as a shepherd and his confidence in knowing that he is a child of God.

This, to me, changes the story from being simply one about a battle between David and Goliath. There is more to it. What I see contrasted is the bold faith of David verses the timid or we might say virtually nonexistent faith of Saul and the army of Israel. If you look at the passage, David is the only one who mentions God. In going up against the giant, faith in God becomes the tool that David relies on.

That’s why when Saul tries to suit David with his armour, David casts it off. It won’t work. It doesn’t fit. It weighs him down. David refuses to fall into Saul’s mold. He needs to be free to be himself and to use the tools he knows best- his shepherd’s staff, his slingshot and some stones. With these tools, together with his experience and his confidence in God, David is confident that he can go forward against Goliath. He refuses to be something or someone he is not.

Incidentally, that refusal to put on the armor of another made me think of the struggle of our Indigenous peoples at residential schools. As they were forbidden from speaking their native languages and learning about their own traditions, it was like they were being forced into armour that didn’t fit. It restricted them from being their authentic selves which, as we have seen in retrospect, has proved detrimental to generations that have followed.

David, in going forward, shows Saul and the army of Israel a different way. He allows God to work in him and through him. Goliath will be defeated and the whole earth will know that there is a God in Israel. In other words, they will know that there is a power greater than themselves- a power that comes from God.

As that advertisement in the newspaper said it best- We need more Davids! Not that his life was perfect. If you read further into his story, he had all kinds of foibles and messes in life. But in this moment, as he went up against Goliath by daring to be his true and authentic self, he demonstrates leadership in a different way.

Brene Brown writes, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

I can’t help but think how important this is for us as a congregation going into our annual meeting today. As we look toward the future, like David, we need to know our identity and our strength in being people of God. David knew he could not be Saul. He knew he was not Goliath. His confidence came in being okay with who he was. I think in that regard, as individuals and as a congregation, we can take a page from David’s book.

As we hopefully find ourselves in these next few months emerging from this pandemic and as we enter into the last stages of amalgamation, we need to lean into the challenges of being the church and “doing” church in different ways. Like David, we need to remember God’s faithfulness in the past when we have been up against other “bears” and “lions”. We need to trust our own experiences and the tools that are in our hands. We need to figure out our own present tense identity and to simply be who we are. We don’t need to be the church next door or up the road or some other place. We don’t need to do what they are doing. We don’t need to do what we have always done or what we used to do. We need to be the people of Faith Memorial United Church, to live into that identity and to know the God in whom we trust. Then, we need to discover what makes us unique, what resources and tools are in our hands and, like David, we need to work together to offer those unique gifts to our community and world, using them for what God wants us to do by being people of action. This might mean standing up to the giants that challenge us- things like poverty, violence, racial discrimination or what have you. In so doing, like David, we need to point beyond fear, to be a calming force and to point to God in the face of what we so often believe to be hopeless causes.

Unlike the army of Israel, we cannot stand immobilized by our fears or simply wait for fate to take its course. Now is an exciting time to look at our strengths rather than our deficits. Think again of David. He didn’t stand there looking at Goliath and saying oh, I wish I had taken that martial arts course! No, he reached to the tools in his hand and the power of God at work in his heart and he acted. He refused to let others, like Saul and like Goliath, dismiss him with remarks like, “Oh, you’re just a boy.” No way would he let what others said define him.

So much was in his attitude and his trust in God. As we said before, we need more Davids- people with that same confidence to boldly step into the future as a congregation. So what if we are not a big congregation? So what if we are an older congregation? That doesn’t mean we can’t be strong! We have every bit as much capacity to access the power of God already active in us. As Ken Callaghan in his book Small, Strong Congregations says, God invites us to grow stronger, not bigger. To be stronger we have to focus on spirit and inner strength, not size. This means focussing on present tense mission and vision, not survival. This, he says, is what will draw people to us- when we can know our identity and can name our mission. As we go into the fall, we will be looking at ways of developing and naming this through a visioning process to which all of you will be invited.

Certainly, David, in the face of a giant, models for us a different way. He calls us to remember God is present. God is faithful. God will equip us with the tools we need for the task at hand. Let’s keep that in mind as we go into this new chapter as a congregation. Let’s remember that we are blessed and beloved children of a living God, whose claim on us is stronger and deeper than any giant of our day that threatens to overwhelm us. Most of all, like David, let’s learn to be comfortable in our own skin as we dare to be whom God has created us to be as the people of Faith Memorial United Church in this time and place. Amen.

Minute for Mission:

Watch the video: https://youtu.be/FUGn8HlqDMs

or read:

We all have superpowers. Generosity is one of them. But did you know that the power of generosity through Mission & Service supports real-life superheroes?

Esbikenh was once a junior kindergarten teacher. While he grew up knowing his ancestral language, Anishinaabemowin (pronounced Ah-nish-nah-BEM-win), sadly the children he taught didn’t. “One day I turned on YouTube and saw superhero videos. I thought, ‘Why not make these videos and we will just have all the superheroes speak in Anishinaabemowin?’” says Esbikenh.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action include reclaiming, revitalizing, strengthening, and maintaining Indigenous languages. This is critical for cultural revitalization. It’s also important because when people are able to speak their ancestral language, self-understanding and self-esteem grows, health improves, and the sense of connection and relationships with others flourishes. Knowing how important learning Anishinaabemowin is to the children he once taught, Esbikenh applied for a project grant from the United Church. The Healing Fund, which is nearly entirely funded through Mission & Service, addresses the ongoing impacts of the residential school system.

Closeup of EsbikenhCredit: The United Church of Canada

With financial support secured, Esbikenh’s filming has begun. When the videos are finished, they will be used as an educational resource for teachers, parents, and anyone who wants to learn the Anishinaabemowin language.

Ashley Riley, the librarian and arts coordinator at Antler River Elementary School of Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, Ontario, plays a starring role in the films. She describes the systemic oppression of Indigenous peoples in Canada that results in the loss of language, among other things. Ashley’s mother is a residential school survivor, and because she wasn’t allowed to speak her language at school Ashley didn’t learn it growing up. “We weren’t allowed to speak our own languages. We weren’t allowed to be who we were. We weren’t allowed to practise our own ceremonies. My mother grew up thinking the language wasn’t that important. She’s slowly learning now. She says a prayer every morning in her own language. I’m hoping the community will get involved in creating more language videos,” Ashley says.

Why did Ashley decide to participate in the video project? She believes each one of us has the power to make a difference. “Every single person is a superhero. Every single person has a gift to share with the world. I think the most important thing is realizing the gift you can bring to your community,” she says.

Through Mission & Service, your generous gifts help repair harm and extend hope. Please support the vital, healing work we do together. We can do much more together than we ever could alone. Thank you!

Let us pray ( a prayer written by Read Sherman, Trinity United Church Montreal for  National Indigenous Peoples Day)

O God, we come together as a human family, blessed to be alive, blessed to be on this land, blessed to have neighbours as diverse as your creation. You surround us with air we breathe, water we drink, all manner of living plants and animals that delight us and sustain us. Thank you, Creator, for all you provide. We take a moment in silence to ponder the blessings you give usof family, friends, places to call home, the food we eat, the web of life in which we with all creatures live, move, and have our being. Hear us as we give thanks

O God, we thank you for Indigenous neighbours and friends this day. And yet we lament, too. We lament that historic and contemporary racism continues to mar our relations. We lament the church’s role as beneficiaries of an economic and governance system that privileges settler peoples at the expense of the First Peoples of this land. We lament apathy in the face of the need for change, change that recognizes the sovereignty of the First Peoples and recognizes at long last, in ways that make a difference, the sacredness of the land and the need for all of us to walk humbly upon it.

O God, for the witness of strength, caring, and love of Indigenous peoples, and for the struggle for what is just and right, open our hearts this day. Encourage us to listen more, speak less, participate in the movements for change that will bring us together in good and respectful ways. Encourage us to make friends, get to know someone’s story, and share our stories too, without fear, for in Christ we know we are all kin, relatives, with you and with each other and with all living and non-living things.

Hear us now as we pray for those hurting and in pain in all our communities:

·        For anyone worn down by systemic racism, including by government and by the church, that White people and those with power will change their thinking and how they live so justice will finally come.

·        For anyone suffering the injustice of racial profiling, ending up involved with the law and incarcerated in prisons at a higher rate than other populations, that policing will change so justice will finally come.

·        For survivors of residential schools, and their families that continue to live with that legacy, that justice will finally come.

·        For people living on reserves with shortages of funds for decent housing, water, water treatment, schools, and other community infrastructure, that justice will finally come.

·        For Indigenous neighbours living in urban areas, facing the challenges of prejudice and discrimination, for those living with PTSD and addiction, that justice will finally come.

·        For Indigenous women and girls, facing the two evils of racism and sexism, that their lives and bodies will be respected as sacred, that justice might finally come.

·        For those Indigenous women and girls who are among the thousands of murdered and missing, for them and their families, our lament at the shame of what has happened and our pledge to advocate for their safety, that justice will finally come.

·        For the air, that all might breathe it clean and free, that justice might finally come.

·        For the watersmarshlands, lakes, rivers, streams. For the great seas and oceans. That they might be protected for the benefit of seven generations hence, that justice will finally come.

·        For the lands, forests, grass, and farmlands. For the prairies, foothills, and mountains. For their beauty, for the life that teems within, upon, and over them, for the reprioritization of the health of ecosystems over profit, so justice will finally come.

·        For the animals, birds, fish, and life of all kinds whose viability is being threatened by unsustainable human activity, that their lives will begin to count so that justice will finally come.

All this, as well as the prayers of our hearts, O God, we lift up to you. Hear our celebrations as we claim anew our kinship with you and with all our relations. Hear our laments, and grow our hearts full of compassion for self and other as we leave this place to be a better friend and neighbour to all. We pray in the name of Creator, who is Mother and Father of us all. We pray as well in the Spirit of Christ, whose words continue to guide our lives today as we say… Our Father…   

Hymn686 VU   God of Grace and God of Glory  

Blessing

Go forth into this new week believing in the power of God

who, in Jesus, calls us to be our authentic selves,

who, in the Holy Spirit, inspires us with courage to do great things,

 

and who reassures us again and again that we are never alone. Thanks be to God. Amen. 

*******************************

 

June 13, 2021

Good morning and welcome to our worship service.

We are glad you are joining with us from wherever you are.

 

A note from our Pandemic Planning Committee   3 volunteers are still needed for next Sunday June 20 in person worship service to take place.

Please let Sonja know if you can help out sonja.wright@gmail.com no later than Tues.

 

Bev will be in the office on Wed. From 9 to 11am to register you for June 20 worship. Please note that you need to call each week. 392 6107

 

A separate list is also being made for those who plan to attend our Annual Meeting on June 20 at 11 30 am. Please call Bev from 9 to 11 am on Wed 392 6107 so we can adhere to our pandemic plan.

 

Here we are ready for worship- the last, the least secure, the first, the most likely to succeed; all of us, at home, in our church hall, confident that God is listening and that Christ is here to light our way (light candle)

God has taught us again and again to look at our world and at one another through different eyes.

Our human tendency is to trust the outward appearance.

But God looks and sees much deeper- to the heart of people and situations.

We celebrate how God so often surprises us by seeing potential in the smallest and most insignificant packages.

As we worship, let us be open to God’s astounding grace and presence.

Let us pray:

Seed planter and nurturer,

you place faith deep within us and call us to witness to your just and loving reign.

Open us this day to your unexpected ways.

Help us to see how even the smallest actions of love can transform our world and our lives.

Nudge us and peer into our hearts this day that we might grow into the people you intend us to be. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 Hymn: 703 VU In the Bulb There is a Flower 

Readings and Reflection:                       

God’s Surprising Ways

Big box stores. Jumbo packs of toilet paper. Super-sized fast food meals. Big screen televisions. We live in a world that seems to place value on bigness. Think about the growing size of barbeques as just one example. I look at them and try to imagine how much food I would need to cover those burners. My 2 little hamburger patties would look lonely on that grill. Whatever happened to the little Hibachi that you could pack in your car and take to a picnic site? Lately, it seems, our society feels like it is hard wired to a mentality that says something is more valuable if it is not only bigger, but also faster and more powerful. Often this spills over in terms of the way we regard others too. As the horrendous act of violence in London this week has shown us, sadly we judge people by their religion, culture, or the clothes they wear. We buy into cultural ideas about success based on appearances, salaries, status, athletic ability, talents, influence and popularity to name but a few.

Yet, over and over again, God points us to another way of seeing. Where our eyes might focus on the external, God calls us to look deeper, beyond the surface, beyond the superficial, beyond what we so often overlook. Over and over again, God challenges us to look around the edges to see the potential which we, at first glance, might have missed.

We see this happening in our reading from 1 Samuel this morning. If you recall from last week, despite his better judgement and his warning to the people of the downfalls in having a king, Samuel gave in and anointed Saul as king. Sure enough, it didn’t work out. Saul messed up. So God calls on Samuel to anoint a new king from among the sons of Jesse. Samuel does so with fear and trepidation, knowing that to anoint a king while one is still reigning amounts to an act of treason.

Nonetheless, he sets about the task, reasoning, much like us, that the bigger, the eldest, the most impressive, the most credentialed and the brawniest of Jesse’s sons will fill the bill. Watch though, as this way of choosing gets flipped on its head.

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

  34 Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 35 Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.

16 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.”] But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Surely Samuel must have been surprised at this different criteria that God had. Of all the sons of Jesse, David was the least likely to be chosen. He wasn’t even in the running. They had to go fetch him from the fields where he was shepherding. I was thinking about this in light of my work on the nominations committee for the region. So often we tend to look at names and skills that are known and familiar to us. As a result, we miss out on many others. We are constantly needing to ask ourselves, who is not in the room, whose voice have we not heard from, who have we overlooked.   Sometimes, just out of our field of vision, there are people with skills and qualities that are not as readily apparent who make excellent fits for the tasks needing to be done. I wonder if this is exactly what was happening when God helped Samuel to discern David as the next leader. Brawny warrior Saul had not worked out. Could it be that God recognized the need for a more shepherding kind of leader, someone with a whole different skill set. Someone who would help lead the people of Israel toward a new beginning . In David, the youngest, the least likely one, God saw the gifts that were needed. In David, God saw the potential for a new kind of leadership.

Our two parables in the gospel highlight the same themes. So often, the ways of God are subtle, rather than grandiose and splashy. The reign of God doesn’t come about all at once. Like a growing seed, it happens gradually, in fits and starts, through little steps and opportunities that are given to us to plant and scatter seed, often through what feels like the smallest of gestures and words.

Mark 4: 26-34

26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

As we so often say, it is the little things, and often the least likely things, that make all the difference. God has a way of surprising us. We can make great plans for projects that we feel might help nurture others. We can plant all kinds of seeds. We may even have a pretty good grasp of botany and know explicitly how a seed grows to produce a fruit or flower, but still, it is God who gives that growth in God’s own timetable, not ours. We can even micromanage that seed with all the best technology like fertilizer and drone surveillance. The mystery of its growth still remains a miracle.

So it is with the coming reign of God. More often than not, it is made known to us through the least likely of gestures and actions, and the least likely of people; in subtle, yet nonetheless, significant ways. Whether we know it or not, we plant seeds everyday through the way we speak of and to one another in our relationships, the way we cope with life’s struggles, the way we offer encouragement and affirmation to one another. Even the smallest acts of kindness can take root in unexpected and surprising ways. We all can look back over our lives and name people and experiences that have helped us to grow or that have helped us to shift choices we might have otherwise made.

Just this week I was reading a little story about a pediatrician named Dr. Gloria Wilder who works in one of Washington, DC’s poorest neighbourhoods. She, herself, was raised in the slums of Brooklyn, New York. She tells of one of the most powerful lessons she learned one day when she was a little girl:

 Her mother gave her 100 pennies, which was all they had and sent her to the local grocery store for some bologna and bread. Little Gloria, was embarrassed at the thought that some kids might see her hundred pennies and realize how poor she was. Her embarrassment turned to shock when the store owner whisked the pennies off the counter. He called out to one of the stock boys telling him to fill a big bag full of groceries, including a few precious peaches for her and her mom.
As she started to leave the store the owner said “Gloria, wait up a minute, you forgot your change” and he gave her back a quarter. And then he said to her, “Keep the faith, child. Keep the faith.”

That reminded me of the line from poet Maya Angelou ” People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maybe like David in relationship to his brothers, we might feel insignificant. Or maybe like that mustard seed, we might feel like we are small, without much to offer. Yet, in God’s surprising ways, God sees potential in all of us to make a difference. Even though we too may feel like we are leading quiet, relatively insignificant lives, that doesn’t lessen our impact on the world. All around us are people waiting for someone like us to come along, to offer them compassion and encouragement. As Dr. Gloria recounts, that small gesture of the shopkeeper that day made a big impact. Today, Dr. Gloria is saving countless lives and bringing hope to a new generation of kids trying to break out of poverty.

From the smallest and least likely of Jesse’s sons came David, the great leader of Israel. From the tiniest of seeds, the prolific mustard plant. From a handful of voters who worked for change, a new way. From a conversation among friends, a community kitchen project. From a gathering of unemployed people, a support group. From a few tenants gathering to protest rental increases, a fairer system. From a small group of physically challenged persons, a lobby for accessible buildings.  The world is full of such examples of the reign of God breaking in through such least expected and often small beginnings.

Last week I shared with you how in our Regional United Church meeting, we heard stories told by our commissioners to General Council and our President Elect, James Kennedy about their involvement in their faith communities. Today, I want to share with you James’story that is printed in our annual meeting proceedings. To me it illustrates just how important those little acts of encouragement are to others. James writes:

 . I guess I will start off when I was 7. I will start here because this was when I first went to church. Before this time I didn’t know anything about Jesus or God. I was never baptized. I didn’t pray before going to bed at night. We didn’t say grace at meal times. Christmas was all about gifts and Easter was all about chocolate. God and Jesus just weren’t mentioned in my home, at least not in any way that got communicated to a 7 year old. When I was 7 I remember phoning up a school chum and asking if he wanted to go play baseball. He said he couldn’t because he was going to his cub scout meeting at St. Paul’s United Church in Spryfield. I asked if I could come along. He said that I could. The leader of the Cub Scout pack also taught Sunday School and directed St. Paul’s Boys choir. I enjoyed Cubs and kept coming back. Eventually the Cub leader asked me if I wanted to come to Sunday School, and so I did. It was then the whole world seemed to open up for me. For a boy who was often lonely, felt unloved, and who had no structure, I entered a world where I heard that I was loved … that God loved me and that I was never alone. I also learned about prayer … how I could come to God with all my problems, concerns, fears and that when I was alone that God was only a prayer away. .. The church was a very caring place and I got positive affirmation. The Church introduced me to God and changed my life only for the better. As a layperson I did my very best to serve and support the local church. I sang in the choir, served as elder, trustee, worship committee, etc. Since the church had done so much to transform my life I always wanted to contribute and support it for the next person in need. I eventually became a United Church minister and have done my best to support the local church.

You might be thinking of your own lives of faith too. Maybe the people who influenced you and saw potential in you, who planted those seeds in subtle ways in your life. We are followers of Jesus today because of such ordinary words and gestures. Let’s remember too that Christianity began with such a small group of rag tag followers, disciples who, like us, were by times full of doubts and unable to understand what Jesus was saying or doing.  Yet, in seeking to be faithful, in picking up when they faltered and starting over again, we have been shown through them a way of life that continues to usher in a new way of being in the world- a way of love, of forgiveness and of respect for diversity in our world. Even today, God continues to use our efforts, however small and insignificant they may feel to us, to make a difference in bringing about God’s reign on earth- the email, the phone call, the words of affirmation and encouragement, the invitation for coffee, the time spent with a child, the welcome to a newcomer, the donation of time or money to a worthwhile cause, it all can prove significant in God’s good timing. We just never know how that tiny acorn might end up becoming a mighty oak.

Friends, it is not all about the big and splashy things. Every day opportunities come our way. Seeds are placed in our hands. God is at work, helping us to discern, helping us to scatter those seeds. Never underestimate God’s surprising ways and  never underestimate the difference you can make. Amen.

Minute for Mission

ORA helps people move through grief and loss

The word

People experiencing loss share what brings them hope on a wall at Ste-Geneviève United Church.

Credit: ORA

“Languishing.” That’s the latest popular word to describe how many of us feel as the pandemic rolls on. Some organizations, like the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), are flagging the potential for a mental health “echo pandemic,” explaining that even after the virus is brought under control it could be followed by a pandemic of mental health issues.

“Concerns about the mental health impacts of COVID-19 align with recent research on the mental health consequences of large-scale traumatic, natural, and environmental disasters. Disasters are frequently accompanied by increases in mental health problems…all of which can persist for prolonged periods,” says CMHA in a policy brief(opens in a new tab).

COVID-19 has amplified grief, which for some can contribute to mental health issues.

None of us is a stranger to grief these days. Losses are piling up: income and security, physical contact with loved ones, future plans, rituals like funerals and weddings, going to school in person, losing loved ones to the virus. To quote grief expert David Kessler(opens in a new tab), “This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

Blessedly, numerous organizations that your Mission & Service gifts support provide crucial mental health services. From chaplaincies, to shelters, to addiction treatment, to counselling services, your support is there.

ORA Loss & Living Program, a non-profit community outreach initiative developed by Ste-Geneviève United Church in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec, is one organization your gifts support. ORA, named after a Maori word meaning “life,” helps people move through grief and loss in order to lead full and fulfilling lives. So far, peer-support groups hosted by skilled facilitators have been held for family caregivers, refugees, seniors, widows, and churches in transition.

“We have offered online conversation during the pandemic. Many social workers and students participated to get a handle on coping mechanisms for grief in general and COVID grief in particular,” says Judy Coffin, ORA’s former program coordinator and ongoing volunteer. ORA is currently running an online widow support group, cooking program, and yoga/meditation group.

“Everyone in the world gets hit with loss and grief at some point in life, but most of us are totally unprepared to deal with it. Learning how to acknowledge, recognize—and even embrace—our grief allows us to start rebuilding our lives around our loss,” says Coffin.

Your gifts through Mission & Service help transform lives during life’s most stressful times. Thank you.

 

Let us pray;

Holy God, as we watch tiny seeds unfolding in the earth and grow into beautiful plants and flowers, we are reminded of your mysterious ways and your surprising grace. We are thankful that even in our most feeble attempts to be faithful, even when we doubt the gifts and abilities you give us, you have a way of reaching us into our deepest places to nurture and encourage us. We remember with gratitude all those who have sowed seeds of faith in our lives, by their simple words and gestures of affirmation. Help us to do the same for others.  Remind us that there is not one person you have created who is not worthy of your love and respect.

Hear our prayers this day, both spoken and unspoken, for your incredibly beautiful and fragile world; for our nation and all nations; for people of all faiths, especially we remember the Muslim community here in Canada and all of us as a nation who have been outraged by such a senseless act of hatred and violence in London. We need your help, O God, in working for greater understanding of one another, in seeing beyond our differences, beyond appearances to seeing as you see, looking to the heart and respecting our common humanity. We pray for your church as it changes, evolves and seeks to do your work in these times. Grant us wisdom and the flexibility we will need to make a difference and to model a new way of being in this world.

We pray this day for all who are in need in any way- for the ill, that they might know your healing and comfort; for those who are nearing life’s end, that they might know your peace;  for all who are enduring stress and struggle in their lives, whether it be with relationships, financial turmoil, their places of work, or their lack of purpose and meaning in life, grant them a sense of companionship and support; for leaders in our churches, communities and nation, that they might know your presence and direction; for our graduates, that they might find ways with your help to unleash the skills and potential within them to contribute all they can to make this world a better place.

God, we know that it is through those small acts that we each can do to show our love and care that we all can make a difference. May we do our part as we partner with you to share our talents, our resources and our very lives in making your reign a reality in our world. In the name of Jesus, we pray, saying.. Our Father..

Hymn: 361 VU Small Things Count  

Blessing

Go, as God sees, looking for what is hidden in the heart.

Go, as the Spirit moves, expecting the unexpected.

Go, as Jesus lives, leading by serving, transforming the world, working toward greater respect and understanding of all people.

 

Go, in peace, in love, and joy. Amen

****************************

 

 

June 6, 2021

Good morning everyone,

I am pretty well zoomed out ( and I am sure Cathy Howatt is as well!) after attending our Fundy St. Lawrence Dawning Waters Regional Annual meeting the past few days. It was both inspirational and informational. Murray Pruden ( who sent us that prayer after the news from Kamloops this week) gave us a great historical overview of the United Church’s involvement with indigenous communities across our nation since before union. He gave us his personal reflections in light of what has been uncovered.  Linnea Good was there to take us through an example of Ukulele Church that she, along with Catherine Stuart from our regional office, have developed for our children via zoom.  Lots of creative ideas of what United Churches across our region have been doing to reach out beyond their doors during this time of pandemic.

Later, this week I will send you out a link to our church wide worship service to celebrate the 96th anniversary of the United Church of Canada on June 10. Watch for it in your email.

From our pandemic planning committee: There are enough volunteers for next week’s in person worship ( June 13) but volunteers are still needed for June 20 and June 27. Please be in touch with Sonja Wright if you can help out.

Reminder if you plan to attend in person worship you need to phone 392-6107 and speak with Bev. at church office on Wed. from 9-11 am to register your name by phone. Please do not call her at home.

Our Annual Meeting at FMUC will take place on June 20 at 11:30 am. If you would like to attend, please register with Bev in office either this Wed or next Wed. from 9-11 am. We need to ensure safe physical distancing and will plan according to the numbers that confirm attendance with us.

  Stay safe and enjoy this beautiful day.

<<<<<<<>>>>>>>

The light of Christ is present around us and within us, to calm us and to guide us.

We welcome that light as we come to this time of worship. (light candle)

Let us pray:

O God, our vision, light our paths.

O God, our wisdom, guide our plans.

O God, our victory, be our peace.

As we worship you, may we recognize your presence and grace. Amen.

Hymn: 178 MV   Who is my Mother?                 

Readings and Reflection:           

 Why “Blending In” is Not an Option

White leather (or maybe it was leatherette!) North Star sneakers. The kind with the two blue stripes. Also a genuine Adidas track suit- it had to have 3 stripes, usually navy, but sometimes red. Oh, yes, there were knock offs you could buy. But when you were in Grade 7 or 8 in the 1970’s, only the genuine thing counted when it came to your attire for gym class. After all, you didn’t want to look out of place. You didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb. You just wanted to blend in, to be like everyone else in the class. Often this meant negotiated agreements with parents and teens resulting in partial payments from allowances or extra money needing to be earned from odd jobs around the neighbourhood in order to offset the cost of “the genuine apparel”.

Parents and teens today, I suspect, struggle with the same issues at some level or another. The desire to blend in, to be like the others, to keep up with the latest, to fit in with our peers is nothing new. There is always some price to be paid. Sometimes it is monetary. Sometimes it is popularity. Sometimes it is selfish ambition or pride.

It was no different for the people of Israel back in the day. I think of the golden calf episode. Remember that one? Moses is taking longer than expected up on the mountain talking with God and receiving the commandments. Meanwhile the people at the foot of the mountain grow impatient. They want a god they can see and touch. A god like other people have. They just want to blend in. So Aaron, who had been left in charge, gives in to their requests and fashions for them a golden calf much to the chagrin of Moses and God.

This idea of just wanting to blend in becomes a pattern for the people.  It is a theme that emerges in both of our readings this morning. With it comes a certain degree of tension.  In our first reading in Samuel, the people are at it again. They are looking at what they hope will be a quick fix for their problems. They fear for their security with encroaching threats from neighbouring peoples. The system of judges set up for the people of Israel after their journey through the wilderness and into the promised land is not working as well as it used to. With Samuel’s corrupt sons readying to take over as Samuel ages, the people are uneasy. They are fed up . They look around and see how other nations are being governed. The idea of having a king looks promising to them. There is pomp and pageantry in having a king. They would have a fine and powerful army that they would be proud of. They would look good in the eyes of other nations. Or at least so they thought. So they make their case before Samuel:

1 Samuel 8:1-20; 11:14-15

4 One day the nation’s leaders came to Samuel at Ramah 5 and said, “You are an old man. You set a good example for your sons, but they haven’t followed it. Now we want a king to be our leader,] just like all the other nations. Choose one for us!”

6 Samuel was upset to hear the leaders say they wanted a king, so he prayed about it.

Samuel is clearly disappointed in their request. After all, in bringing them to the promised land those many years ago, God had set up a system of judges who would pray, listen for God’s answer and offer a fair solution. This is what would help form them as a distinct people who put their trust in God, rather than in kings and armies. Samuel was one of those judges. Now it feels to Samuel that they are rebelling against him. He seeks God’s help.

 7 The Lord answered:

Samuel, do everything they want you to do. I am really the one they have rejected as their king. 8 Ever since the day I rescued my people from Egypt, they have turned from me to worship idols. Now they are turning away from you. 9 Do everything they ask, but warn them and tell them how a king will treat them.

This is God saying to Samuel, “No, Samuel, it is not you, it is me against whom they are rebelling . They want to blend in, to be like the others. They think they know what is best for them. They refuse to listen to me. This has been my struggle with this people forever. It is nothing new. It is simply more of the same. They are ruled by their own pride and ambition. They are bent on having their own way. They are so concerned in how they look to others that they will do anything to keep up appearances even if it means their downfall.

Just this week I became aware of a similar thing currently taking place in India in the midst of the pandemic that is sweeping through there in numbers that we here in Canada cannot begin to grasp- deaths totally over 4000 a day. Despite these staggering statistics however, 1.8 billion( US) dollars is being spent on rebuilding the Indian Parliament buildings including a lavish palace for the prime minister. The opposition leader in the government, Rahul Gandi has pleaded that this money would be better spent on vaccinations for 450 million Indian people or 10 million much needed oxygen cylinders. Yet, despite his efforts, his pleas to stop this senseless vanity project continue to go unheard while the pandemic death toll increases.

To Samuel, God says let them learn from their own choices and experiences but warn them first of the downside of having a king. Let them know the cost of their decision.  Then, they won’t be able to complain later when things turn sour. At least they will have been forewarned. So Samuel turns again to the people. He explains it in simple to understand language:    

10 Samuel told the people who were asking for a king what the Lord had said:

11 If you have a king, this is how he will treat you. He will force your sons to join his army. Some of them will ride in his chariots, some will serve in the cavalry, and others will run ahead of his own chariot] 12 Some of them will be officers in charge of a thousand soldiers, and others will be in charge of fifty. Still others will have to farm the king’s land and harvest his crops, or make weapons and parts for his chariots. 13 Your daughters will have to make perfume or do his cooking and baking.

14 The king will take your best fields, as well as your vineyards, and olive orchards and give them to his own officials. 15 He will also take a tenth of your grain and grapes and give it to his officers and officials.

16 The king will take your slaves and your best young men and your donkeys and make them do his work. 17 He will also take a tenth of your sheep and goats. You will become the king’s slaves, 18 and you will finally cry out for the Lord to save you from the king you wanted. But the Lord won’t answer your prayers.

19-20 The people would not listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want to be like other nations. We want a king to rule us and lead us in battle.”

As you can see, nothing can persuade them otherwise. They are headstrong. That desire to blend in, to be like the other nations will leave them enslaved rather than empowered.  But they can’t hear that. So, as we continue the story, the people get what they want- Saul is anointed as king:

14 “Come on!” Samuel said. “Let’s go to Gilgal and make an agreement that Saul will continue to be our king.”

15 Everyone went to the place of worship at Gilgal, where they agreed that Saul would be their king. Saul and the people sacrificed animals to ask for the Lord’s blessing] and they had a big celebration.

I think somehow though, much like a loving parent, God, in letting them have their way, recognizes what we all know- sometimes we just have to learn the hard way- through the school of hard knocks. Still, as we will see as we continue to follow the story of these people in our readings over the next few weeks, God has a way of working through the people’s choices, lamenting by times, while at the same time helping them to learn and discover things for themselves, often by the most round about ways. Quick fixes, like trying to blend in with what the others are doing, are not always what they are cracked up to be. In fact sometimes they open up a whole new set of problems.

Nonetheless, blending in seems to be the path of least resistance. That way we don’t make waves. We don’t find ourselves out on the proverbial limb. Life goes a lot smoother. We sleep well. Everything stays calm. We don’t upset anyone. There are no raised eyebrows. We don’t stand out as different.

I am sure that is what Jesus’ family wished he would do. It makes me wonder if they hadn’t, in exasperation, said more than once, “Why can’t we just be a normal family? Why can’t Jesus just settle down like all the other young men around here? Why is he always stirring the pot with that rag tag group of fishers who left their jobs to travel the countryside with him, hanging out with those dreaded tax collectors and healing those possessed by evil spirits? Why can’t he just blend in and stop embarrassing us so much? Some people are even saying he has gone mad. Listen carefully to this story as his family and the religious authorities seek to rein him in.

Mark 3: 20-35

20 Jesus went back home] and once again such a large crowd gathered that there was no chance even to eat. 21 When Jesus’ family heard what he was doing, they thought he was crazy and went to get him under control.

22 Some teachers of the Law of Moses came from Jerusalem and said, “This man is under the power of Beelzebul, the ruler of demons! He is even forcing out demons with the help of Beelzebul.”

23 Jesus told the people to gather around him. Then he spoke to them in riddles and said:

How can Satan force himself out? 24 A nation whose people fight each other won’t last very long. 25 And a family that fights won’t last long either. 26 So if Satan fights against himself, that will be the end of him.

27 How can anyone break into the house of a strong man and steal his things, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can take everything.

28 I promise you that any of the sinful things you say or do can be forgiven, no matter how terrible those things are. 29 But if you speak against the Holy Spirit, you can never be forgiven. That sin will be held against you forever.

30 Jesus said this because the people were saying that he had an evil spirit in him.

31 Jesus’ mother and brothers came and stood outside. Then they sent someone with a message for him to come out to them. 32 The crowd that was sitting around Jesus told him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside and want to see you.”

33 Jesus asked, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” 34 Then he looked at the people sitting around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 35 Anyone who obeys God is my brother or sister or mother.”

That last piece clinches it, doesn’t it? No wonder Jesus is being branded and misunderstood as an eccentric. No wonder they think he is gone off the deep end. No wonder his family is so concerned that he be reined in. They are worried about not only his reputation, but theirs as well. And now, here he goes off on another tangent by enlarging the circle of whom he considers to be family, saying it has nothing to do with blood and everything to do with doing the will of God. That certainly doesn’t “fit” now does it? They just don’t get him. In fact, I would venture to guess that like the religious authorities, his mothers and brothers are more than a little threatened by the words he is saying and the wider and inclusive circle of God’s Kingdom that he keeps sketching out for them.

Yet, the more you think about it, the more you realize that this is simply the whole teaching and ministry of Jesus. It has nothing to do with blending in to the power of the culture around him and everything to do with the struggle to remain committed to God’s alternative ways. To those who think they have an idea of what family means, Jesus expands their horizons to include all humanity in its great diversity and imperfection. Jesus’ life is all about struggling not simply to blend in, but to do God’s will, even if it means sticking out like a sore thumb and risking vulnerability and scorn in the eyes of others.

And that’s a hard thing to do especially when everyone around us is living a certain way and believing a certain set of principles. A biblical commentator named Nibs Stroupe describes what this was like for him when he, too, found himself in conflict with his own family. He grew up in the deep south in the 1950’s and 1960’s as part of a generation of white southerners who wrestled with the Civil Rights Movement.  He writes:

“I was resistant to that movement because I had been taught white supremacy and the racism that undergirds it. I had accepted the ideology and been taught it not by mean and terrible people but by loving and caring people, such as my mother and my church leaders. They were wonderful people in my life but because they were captive to racism I had come to accept that racism was the way to find and maintain life. I came to hear other voices though from God’s Spirit- voices that told me that racism was not God’s will and began to have internal conflict with my family and community.” He realized that he could no longer simply blend in. He had to choose and live another way.

When we follow Christ and live by his values of love, inclusion, justice and equality, the same thing happens to us. Care and concern for others, our personal stewardship of our resources such as our time, our money or our skills changes. But living with that kind of integrity is hard. Shifting our allegiance from just doing our own will and blending in to seeking to do God’s will by not buying in to the strong current around us that craves instant gratification, power, wealth and consumption is challenging to say the least. It is far easier just to drift along, to be like the others, to not go against the grain or ruffle feathers. Certainly it would have been for Jesus had he done that. It would have fit better with his family’s expectations of him.

Yet, over and over again, he taught us and showed us a whole upside down way of being in the world, one that was so much more than just keeping up appearances by being like the other nations or marching to the beat of the power of the culture around him. The pressure to blend in is not just something that marks our teenage years when we want those north star sneakers or that adidas track suit. Each and every day we face choices- what voice will you listen to? How can you discern God’s voice and God’s ways in the midst of it all? I don’t know about you but from our readings this morning, it is comforting to realize that living in a world where these spiritual tensions exist is nothing new. May God help us to discern faithfully and think critically as we struggle to do God’s will. Amen.

Minute for Mission

Aiming to follow Jesus’ example since 1925

A client receives medical treatment at Our Place, Victoria, BC.

A client receives medical treatment at Our Place, Victoria, BC.

Credit: Our Place

True or false: The United Church of Canada was formed in 1925 in part so the founding denominations―Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregational―could combine their finances to do more mission work in Canada and around the world?

If you guessed true, you are right.

From the very beginning, our United Church was formed out of a desire to come together and serve others like Jesus did. Through Mission & Service, we have been helping to save and transform lives, inspire meaning and purpose, and build a better world for 96 years.

Today, we are as committed as ever. Together, we turn compassion into action every day.

How?

To put it simply, we help.

In Canada, we help people in need by supporting homeless shelters, food banks, soup kitchens, and refugee programs. We reach out to young people on campuses and through camping. We care for people who are sick or at the end of life by supporting addiction, mental health, and counselling services and hospice care.

Globally, we help people access clean water, food, and medical care. We support skills training and economic development. We help with peace-making and sustainable agriculture efforts. We provide disaster relief and advocate for the rights of those who all too often don’t get a say, like children and migrant workers.

We also support opportunities for people to grow spiritually in all kinds of ways.

Locally, we subsidize theological schools and education/retreat centres. We support events that promote spiritual development and personal reflection. We inspire new and innovative ministries, and sustain communities of faith that are remote or in need. Globally, we support church organizations that work with theological schools, offering practical training in agriculture and health.

It’s a win-win. We trust that when people are in tune with their meaning and purpose, they will naturally want to help change lives and make the world a better place for all.

Thank you for your gifts through Mission & Service.

Your support makes a world of difference.

Let us pray:

Guiding God of all creation, you have gifted us with a wonderful world to explore and try to understand. The beauty of creation, the magnificent shades of green all around us at this time of the year remind us of your call to care and be responsible for all that you have made. We ask for your help in discerning our paths as we interact with all your creation. Make us ever mindful of the impact of our decisions today on its future tomorrow.  Where we may be tempted to grab for the quickest fix, the easiest solution, help us to consider and embrace choices that work for lasting change. Where we rebel against your plans, and in so doing, watch on as suffering and injustice are prolonged in the world, call us back, O God. Forgive us when we are selfish, when we feel that our ways are more important than yours, when we cling to our own agendas rather than letting your priorities prevail.  Grant us eyes to see where you are leading us, ears to hear your encouraging words and the courage to go where you send us. Save us from merely blending in to values that are contrary to the model and realm we see revealed through your reign among us- where the least are the greatest, where the meek inherit the earth, where pride, selfishness, and evil are defeated by love, inclusion and self giving sacrifice.

This week we have been reawakened  to injustices in our land with the discovery of graves of young children who attended native residential schools. While our hearts are broken, we also realize that our grief needs to be transformed into right action and right relationships. We need to learn more by listening more. Move us by your Spirit and lead us as individuals, as churches and as a nation to take the first steps toward healing and reconciliation that are needed.

We pray for our United Church of Canada as we celebrate our 96th anniversary this week. Bless all the ministries and the lives that are touched through our worship, our outreach and stewardship, our pastoral care and our striving for justice. Point us to those people and places that need our compassion and our commitment. Show us how to work in partnership, not only amongst ourselves, but with all people of good will. We remember in prayer this day all who are ill, all who are anxious about many things, all who are feeling unsettled or disturbed in their relationships with others, all who are struggling to cope with addiction, with issues of aging, with financial insecurities, with disruption of any kind in their lives… Hear these our prayers, O God, as we offer them in the name of the one who widened the concept of family to include all those who do your will… and we pray as he taught us saying.. Our Father..

Hymn: 567 VU  Will You Come and Follow Me?  

Blessing:

Go into this new week ready to listen for the new paths to which God is calling you.

Step out in love. Dare to risk standing out as different. Be prepared to march to the beat of a different drum- a drum that beats for compassion, for justice and for hope.

 

Most of all, learn to depend on God’s grace, the love of Jesus Christ and the strength of the Holy Spirit to send you to people and places where you need to be present. Amen.

**************************

 

Good morning everyone.

This week, our Fundy St. Lawrence Dawning Waters Regional Council ( all United Church of Canada communities of faith in Gaspe, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island) will be holding their annual meeting by zoom on Friday evening and all day Saturday. In addition, there are two webinars on Tuesday evening and Thursday evening to cover information pertaining to our regional budget as well as to introduce nominees for president and General Council commissioners.

Also, a reminder from Pandemic Planning Committee that Bev will be in the church office on Wed. am from 9:00 -11:00   392-6107 to pre-register all who wish to attend in- person worship next Sunday.  The same service will continue to be emailed and placed on FMUC website.

 

We come to this time of worship seeking to experience something of the mystery of God. Let us light a candle that we might remember that in Christ, we have light for our journeys. ( please light a candle)

We call God “Creator” and the colour, the vastness and the variety of creation leaves us breathless.

We know God in Jesus Christ as “Redeemer” and the depth of his grace and love humbles us.

We know God as Spirit or “Sustainer” and the gentle breath of the Spirit empowers us with wisdom and courage.

Come, let us worship God as Holy Mystery, beyond complete knowledge and above perfect description.

Let us pray:

There are no words, O God, to describe completely your mystery and presence in our lives.

Yet, you know us, understand us and love us.

We are drawn into the intimacy of your love, ready to be embraced, inspired and empowered.

In your unity, diversity, divinity and mystery, we praise you, O Triune God. Amen.

Hymn: 315 VU  Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty 

Readings and Reflection:                                        

Trinity- We Don’t Know Much

A recent conversation with my nephew, Alex, who will soon graduate from Mount A. with a Bachelor of Science in Aviation, was a gratifying one for me. As he was sharing with me a presentation he had made in an environmental class, something about the return of certain fish to the Petitcodiac River, he mentioned to me that the course had been an elective. In taking it, he really wasn’t all that interested in what the course outline had said, but given the difficulty during the pandemic to get the courses he might have preferred, he opted for this one. He didn’t think it had much to do with his goal of getting his commercial pilot’s licence. In hindsight though, he mentioned how it opened him to many things that he had never even thought about before, especially the role the indigenous peoples of New Brunswick have played with respect to that same river.

Together we shared a bit about how that really is the purpose of a university education- to help us to think more broadly. Then he said something that made me think gee, this nephew of mine has got it. He said, “Yes, that is what university has taught me. It has showed me how little I really know about so many things.” My mother often expressed this with something like “It is what we learn after we think we know everything that counts.” Alex and I went on to talk about that a bit more- then I remembered a quote that seemed to speak to this very idea that “education is the kindling of a flame, rather than the filling of a pail or jug.” Those words have been attributed to various thinkers over the years. Isn’t that exactly what we would hope for anyone who is graduating? That their hearts are sparked to remain open to new ideas and new learnings for the rest of their lives. Isn’t that also a helpful approach for all of our lives?

That’s much like the idea or concept of trinity. Theologians refer to it as the “doctrine” of trinity. It has been debated and bantered about since the early centuries of Christianity. We’re not going to do that today! What I do want to do, however, is to get you thinking about the usefulness this concept has in our everyday lives.  In truth, it still confounds us. How can God be three in one and one in three- Father, Son and Holy Spirit or if you like Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer? It seems that something in all the ways theologians and ordinary folks have tried to explain it always comes up short. Words, metaphors and images like St. Patrick’s idea of the shamrock with its three leaves, yet one leaf idea or the example of a three legged stool are somewhat helpful but they still are only human attempts to help us understand our God, who is by nature, incomprehensible. There is no perfect metaphor.  Yet, at the same time, it is not hard to experience God as our Creator, or Jesus, who was born, lived, died and resurrected or the Holy Spirit that blows around us and among us cleansing, empowering and renewing creation, even ourselves.

Still, although trinity is foundational idea in Christianity, it continues to stump us. Robert Capon, in his book Hunting the Divine Fox, speaks to the limits of language in discussing trinity. Our words cannot capture it. It is like trying to describe the indescribable, to explain the unexplainable. As he says we become “like a bunch of oysters trying to describe a ballerina. We don’t have the equipment to understand something so utterly beyond us, but that doesn’t keep us from trying.” It is a bit, like we often say, trying to nail Jell-O to the wall!

Nonetheless, I like how John Wesley put it- ” We don’t have to fully understand how something works in order to believe it exists.” And just because we can’t capture the essence of God as trinity and put it in a nice neat little box, doesn’t mean we can’t attempt to explain God with the help of our own tiny glimpses and experiences of God. Each story, each metaphor and each image helps to enhance our understandings, to stretch our imaginations and to challenge us to new dimensions of the mystery and wonder of God.  When we start putting them together, we get a more complete picture. That’s why we use a multiplicity of images in our hymns and prayers to reference God- like shepherd, rock, father, mother, teacher, comforter, foundation, etc. At the same time though, we never really get it completely. As my nephew discovered, we only discover how much more there is to know and experience.  What we have is only a tiny piece of the whole.

Watch how Isaiah tries to capture into words his experience of God in this passage. Faced with an awesome and overwhelming encounter of the holiness of God, he feels inadequate, unfit for the tasks to which he is being called. Still, this awesome, temple- filling God leans into Isaiah in a deeply personal way, helping him to overcome his fears, to see his own potential and to provide him with a fresh start:  

Isaiah 6: 1-8

1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the LORD, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5″Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” 6Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” 8Then I heard the voice of the LORD saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Nicodemus, much like Isaiah in the temple that day, also finds himself confounded by mystery as he comes to chat with Jesus one night. Curious about what Jesus had been doing and saying, he thought he understood more than he actually did. He thought he had Jesus pegged. After all, he had been studying the law and the prophets and as a Pharisee he held a pretty respectable place in the community. Nonetheless, what he failed to realize was that faith was not simply about “knowing more”. In fact, as my nephew realized with his university education, belief in what God was doing through Jesus had more to do with realizing how much more there was to learn, not just by studying, but by being open to the new way of being in the world that Jesus was demonstrating. Watch how this conversation leaves Nicodemus in a bit of a conundrum. His head is spinning as he is challenged to understand things that are beyond the tradition with which he had grown up and beyond his literal way of thinking. Watch as Jesus tries to engage him on a more spiritual and imaginative level. For a fellow used to definite and water tight answers, no wonder Nicodemus is left scratching his head in confusion.

John 3:1-17

There was a man named Nicodemus who was a Pharisee and a Jewish leader. One night he went to Jesus and said, “Sir, we know that God has sent you to teach us. You could not work these miracles, unless God were with you.”

Jesus replied, “I tell you for certain that you must be born from above] before you can see God’s kingdom!”

Nicodemus asked, “How can a grown man ever be born a second time?”

Jesus answered:

I tell you for certain that before you can get into God’s kingdom, you must be born not only by water, but by the Spirit. Humans give life to their children. Yet only God’s Spirit can change you into a child of God. Don’t be surprised when I say that you must be born from above. Only God’s Spirit gives new life. The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.

How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 Jesus replied:

How can you be a teacher of Israel and not know these things? 11 I tell you for certain that we know what we are talking about because we have seen it ourselves. But none of you will accept what we say. 12 If you don’t believe when I talk to you about things on earth, how can you possibly believe if I talk to you about things in heaven?

13 No one has gone up to heaven except the Son of Man, who came down from there. 14 And the Son of Man must be lifted up, just as that metal snake was lifted up by Moses in the desert. 15 Then everyone who has faith in the Son of Man will have eternal life.

16 God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. 17 God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them!

I especially like that line where Nicodemus asks ” How can this be?” I imagine Nicodemus to be standing there with his mouth open, at a loss for words. For such a learned man to be unable to follow the argument Jesus was sharing with him had to be humiliating. For once, Nicodemus was stumped by Jesus’ responses to his questions. Befuddled we might say. Jesus is offering him a new way of seeing but Nicodemus first has to let go of his own control, his own need to nail God down or, as we were saying, to glue his ideas of God to the wall. Yet Jesus says the Spirit blows wherever it wants to. You can’t control it. You can’t explain it. You can only stand back in awe at the many ways God chooses to relate to us. You can only experience unconditional love as you enter into relationship with God.

It is the same, I believe, with the concept of trinity or for that matter any image, metaphor or picture we use to describe it. Nothing can give us a complete grasp of who God is. Seeing God as anything other than mystery, as something that can be understood and known, always comes up short. I like how Richard Rohr says it-” Speaking of the Trinity is like speaking of mystery, not in the sense that you can’t understand it but more so in the sense that you can endlessly understand it. You don’t get it. It gets you. You don’t hold God in your pocket. God knows you and knows your deepest identity.”  God is more about a relationship, a flow if you like. It can only make sense when we see ourselves in relationship with God’s unconditional love. There is always that new way of seeing yet to be discovered about God who is everywhere and yet here, beyond us and yet within us. At the same time, however, it doesn’t mean we should give up in our pursuit. It should not stop our conversations, our questions and our explorations together. We need to share our experiences of God with one another- those things of beauty we see in nature, in our relationships with one another, in the inspirations we feel to act for good, to speak up on behalf of some person or group in need, in the challenge to change direction in our lives and so on.

As I see it, trinity is not just some dusty, ancient concept or relic that we dust off once a year on Trinity Sunday. It is a tool in our toolbox as Christians to help us connect with God who continues to astound us and be revealed to us in so many ways in our world. It reminds us that there is so much more to experience about God, more than any one single word or image can describe. Think of it like ourselves- we may say we are a son or daughter, a spouse, a sibling but  all those things only give another a partial glimpse of who we are. There is always more that is revealed as we enter into relationship with one another. The same with God- God is  so much beyond our defining and beyond our confining- immense, awesome, yet intensely personal and relatable.  It is what we don’t know that keeps us searching and growing.  I like how our United Church’s  Song of Faith says it so well:

 God is Holy Mystery,

beyond complete knowledge,

above perfect description.

Yet,

in love,

the one eternal God seeks relationship…

We witness to Holy Mystery that is Wholly Love.

 

 

We do that as we wrestle with the questions, especially the ones that have no pat answers, and as we seek God in truth and wonder. Amen.

 

Minute for Mission:

 

Thank you for supporting outdoor ministries through Mission & Service.

Trisha Elliott and her son Aidan are up in a tree.

Mission & Service lead the Rev. Trisha Elliott and her son Aidan climbing trees. Neither fell out.

Credit: Trisha Elliott/The United Church of Canada

No children have died falling out of a tree, at least not in the 17 years statistics have been gathered. In fact, the leading cause of death of children is car accidents. While some parents fear letting their children play outside, the same parents think nothing of strapping their children into a car.

Over the last 35 years, attitudes have shifted. Increased screen time, along with fears about playground injuries and child abduction, mean that only a third of Canadian school-aged children get the exercise they need. As a result, childhood obesity, anxiety, and depression have soared.

Getting outside is good for our kids.

That’s why the United Church runs camps across the country. Today, your Mission & Service donations support approximately 25 United Church camps in Canada.

Overall, approximately 20,000 children attend a United Church camp each year. In COVID times, many of these camps have pivoted to continue offering services and encourage kids to get outside.

On Environment Sunday, we often focus on what we can do to reduce our personal footprint and to advocate for changes to social policies, particularly ones that impact climate change. Without a doubt, we need to do more to care for the world God made.

But Environment Sunday is also a good time to stop and appreciate how the created world takes care of us. As Bill Darnell, one of the founders of Greenpeace says: “The environment doesn’t need us. It can get along without us. We need it.”

Let’s pause today and give thanks for all the ways the natural world sustains us, and especially our children. Specifically, we give thanks for the confidence, creativity, and imagination nature builds. For the sense of responsibility it creates. For the stimulation it provides. For the mental and physical health it promotes. For the wonder it inspires.

And we give thanks for all of our camps.

And for you.

Thank you for supporting outdoor ministries through Mission & Service. Your gifts help our children―and all of us―breathe more deeply

Let us pray:

Mysterious and awesome God, your holiness and glory are beyond our understanding.  You are revealed to us in more ways than we can count. Out of the chaos at creation you brought order. When creatures had been formed, you called us as humans to be caretakers of what you had made. We lift before you those places around our world where there are famines, deforestation, drought, wildfires and intense heat. God of creation, bring healing and restoration to your world. Make us faithful in our task to care for our world.

You told us that we would see you in the faces of the poor and marginalized, and so, we lift before you those who are struggling in our society and in our church community. We pray for all who are feeling the strains of social isolation in these times of pandemic. We pray for all who do not have enough to eat, those who are without shelter, all who have contracted Covid and find themselves hospitalized, all who struggle with other illnesses and treatments, all who this day are facing death. May we work with you to bring comfort and justice as we seek to provide for the needs of those around us.

You have called your church to be committed to following the way of Christ by serving in the world. We lift before you the challenges our churches face in these times. We ask for your guidance as our Fundy St. Lawrence Dawning Waters Region meets by zoom later this week. Keep us focussed on your mission even amidst the struggles. Send upon our communities of faith, including ours, a fresh flame of your Spirit so that we may proclaim your good news and embody your love in this world- a world that is desperately in need of your creative and renewing power to overcome the oppression, hatred, selfishness and exclusion that so often feels like the accepted way. Help us to be outposts of your realm, signs and examples of your saving light to all who wander in the wilderness. Teach us what it mean to be a community in your self-giving and sacrificial nature. Disturb our certainties and expand our horizons to the new things that you are ready to do among us as we allow ourselves to be touched by your grace that reaches out to us in so many different ways. In all that we do, may we give glory to you, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. In the name of Jesus we pray saying… Our Father…

Hymn: 313 VU God, Whose Almighty Word   

Blessing:

In our worship today, we have encountered a glimpse of God’s presence.

There is still more to know and to experience.

So we move into this new week,

cleansed by God’s grace, empowered by God’s call, and committed to being God’s agents of grace and love;

 

knowing that we do not work alone for we do it in Christ’s name and with the power of our awesome God- Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.

**********************************

 

 

May 23, 2021

Happy Pentecost everyone!

Hope you are all decked out in your red( yellow and orange good too!) wardrobe as we celebrate this day of renewal as the fresh winds of the Spirit touch us and empower us!

 

At 11 am this morning, I invite you to a Pentecost party via zoom. Watch for the link in the next email.

Haven’t tried zoom before? First of all, you need a computer or tablet with a camera. Then it is a matter of following the link I send you by clicking on it.  When zoom opens, you click on the audio and video icons and you should be able to join in.

 

I will be interested to learn about your gardens, mowing or not mowing down those dandelions and what is upcoming for you. 

If you have photos of red, orange or yellow around your house and yards, don’t forget to post them on facebook for all to see and celebrate today.

 

Things are looking a little better out there in the COVID world. Please remember to continue to follow safety precautions as we come into what hopefully will be the final leg of this journey. We have come too far to let our guard down now.

Keep up the good work! 

 

Today is Pentecost Sunday when we celebrate the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit who leads us in understanding and following Jesus today.

Let us pause for a moment to open ourselves to receive the inspiration of the Spirit and the light of Christ. (light candle)

The Holy Spirit came as fire and wind. Come, Holy Spirit, come!

People of all genders, all ages, all cultures witnessed it. Come, Holy Spirit, come!

They were bewildered, astonished, amazed!

They wondered: What are we to do?

Peter called them to dare to dream and to believe in the possibilities.

So we open our hearts today as we worship.

Let us pray:

Come, Holy Spirit, come among us this day. Startle us and unsettle us.

Renew us and breathe new life among us that we might be channels of new life for others. Amen.

Hymn: 381 VU Spirit of Life 

Readings and Reflection:                                                                                           

Holy Honking?

This morning we have two different stories from two different times yet they are united in many ways. Both of them highlight the power of God’s Holy Spirit to bring about what human efforts alone could never do. Both of them speak of the Spirit’s ability to help people put the pieces back together again and move forward in a new way. Both of them remind us that even in the midst of lifelessness, defeat and despair, God is still at work seeking to bring about new life, often in the most unexpected places.

Our first reading is a familiar one made so by that old song Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones. Linnea Good and company does a great drumming rendition of  the passage.  Here, the prophet Ezekiel writes to the people of Judah exiled in Babylon as well as to those who remain in Jerusalem. Their land, their homes and their temple have been plundered by an invading army. They feel defeated and hopeless- literally like a valley of dry bones. Hear Ezekiel’s self doubt in being able to do anything to help the situation. Watch how God calls upon Ezekiel to take some responsibility, to partner with God to take the necessary steps to bring about new life to these bones.

Ezekiel 37: 1-14

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LordThus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath[a] to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath] in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

Now fast forward to 50 days after the resurrection. The apostles had been told to gather back in Jerusalem. They are huddled inside a room. Perhaps they are wondering what is next for them now that Jesus is no longer physically present among them. They are overwhelmed and probably more than a little burned out. Yet, what happens next gets everyone’s attention both inside that little room and outside on the streets. Watch how the writer of Acts (Luke) struggles to find words to describe what we might expect to be a pretty indescribable series of events:

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved
.’

Tom Long, a minister and a writer, in his book Shepherds and Bathrobes, shares a great story about a time when he was leading a group of youth. He was discussing with them the seasons and festivals  of the church year. He asked them if anyone knew what Pentecost was. Hearing no answers, he proceeded to tell them the story we just read from Acts, describing how the believers were sitting in a group and the Holy Spirit landed on their heads like tongues of fire, touching and empowering them to understand one another, pushing them to spill out into the streets with the good news. 

Two of the girls in his class took all this information in stride but a third girl was truly astonished. “Gee Rev. Long,” she said with eyes as big as saucers, “we must have been absent that day.”

Rather than being disappointed with the class, Long chose to be rather excited that at least this one girl thought that it must have happened in her own congregation. I thought about that for a bit. So often we relegate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as the celebration of some past event in the life of the early church. We forget to recognize and acknowledge the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives today- in the here and now. We forget to be open to the wind that blows through us and among us, challenging us and wakening us up to new possibilities. I like how Richard Rohr describes Pentecost- as a time of awakening our momentum much like how it was for Pinocchio- moving us from wooden to real, sending us beyond our mechanical (predictable) thinking, calling us to launch in new directions.

To really grasp what this means I think it helps for us to think about the images that come to your mind when you think of the Holy Spirit… perhaps you are thinking of words like comforter, peaceful dove, teacher, truth-giver, guide, sustainer, guide on the side, strength-giver, companion, accompanier. All good words. But when the Spirit came to those people huddled together in that room, I kind of think it was anything but soothing and gentle. Somehow I envision it as downright chaotic in there, tongues as of fire touching them, wind sweeping around them, rattling the doors, a big racket of voices speaking in their own languages. The people both inside and outside in the streets were alarmed. What is this? What is happening? No wonder many accuse them of being drunk! This is hardly what we might call a sedate or serene event. As Elvis might describe it- they were all shook up!

What we have with the arrival of the Holy Spirit that day is chaos, pure bedlam! I think Celtic Christianity has one of the best symbols to describe the Holy Spirit. Rather than using a dove as we often do, they use a wild goose. Picture it for a minute. Doesn’t that really fit better? Because really, when the Spirit came among those first apostles pushing them out on the streets it was not what you would describe as a very tame affair. Like a honking, flapping goose let loose from a cage, it was all over the place. Not one person there that day was left unchanged.

Much like a story I read this week about a flock of wild geese that took up residence in a strip mall parking lot. One of the mother geese built a nest in one of the cement blocks amidst the traffic and noise. You can imagine what that was like as people went back and forth to their cars. The geese were there to stay. It was the people who had to modify their behaviour accordingly. That’s what it is like when the Spirit comes. It changes us and our behaviours as individuals and as a church, redirecting our paths. We often forget that and carry on trying to keep everything well managed and predictable.

What happened on that first Pentecost was anything but controllable! Applecarts were upset. Erratic wings were flapping all over the place. There was uncontrollable honking and feathers flying in all directions. People were disturbed out of their complacency. They were confused and disoriented, unsure of just what was happening, but knowing that things were now radically different. Something new was unfolding. Whatever it was, there was no going back, no resisting its force upon them.

If you think about it, this is not unlike the times we live in, is it? As we thought about it last week, we are on the cusp, on the verge of something completely new as a result of this global pandemic. David Lose, the writer of that video I sent out to you earlier in the week, describes it this way: When we pray “Come, O Holy Spirit”, we are not praying that we remain exactly the way we are, but sometimes, he says, that is how we act. We resist meaningful change in favour of the way things have always been done. He goes on to say, rather humorously I might add, that ” there is no way things have always been done,” only the way we’ve done them in recent memory , which of course means for us, “the way I’ve got used to them being done!” Yes, indeed, lots of things have worked for us, so we trust them. However, in our churches especially, the population for whom our tried and trusted practices are working is getting smaller while the population and generation for whom they are not working is only getting larger. That’s why doing the same things with even greater effort is not the answer. That is why we find ourselves in emerging times in the church. That is why we need to listen, to explore and experiment with where this wild goose Holy Spirit is leading us. What are we being called to do with those who are on the inside looking out as well as those who are on the outside looking in? Where do boundaries and walls need to come down?

Years ago, theologian Phyllis Tickle, described the time in which we now find ourselves as mainline churches as The Great Emergence.  She wrote that every 500 years in the history of the church we have had what she called a divine housecleaning or a huge garage sale. The first 500 years was the age of God the Father. Then with the Reformation we came into the next 500 years of the age of Jesus.  Now we are in what she and others have called the age of the Spirit, as we try to figure out what the good news means in our day, while at the same time honoring the contributions of those who have gone before us. This time is all about daring to dream dreams and to embrace new visions. We might say the goose is on the loose- reforming us, reigniting fires, helping us to get a new language that speaks to this context and this time.

We don’t know everything that is unfolding. Neither did those first apostles and curious passersby on the street on that first celebration of Pentecost. They learned to listen for the Spirit’s guidance and embrace new adventures. The rest of the book of Acts tells those stories of new life being unleashed, of barriers being opened between Jews and Gentiles and of reform taking place. Nothing was all clearly mapped out ahead of time. There was a lot of experimentation and conversation afoot. The Holy Spirit was out there ahead of them. They had the choice to remain huddled in that room or to spill out into the streets, listening for and finding ways to connect with what God was doing out there. Open to the Spirit, they were given the fuel they needed.

Friends, now as then, the Holy Spirit is still blowing, honking, cackling- calling us to new life, to step forth into whatever crazy, new and maybe even chaotic directions that are next for us. Look for the possibilities. Be prepared to be stirred from complacency. God is up to something. More than likely it will shatter all our carefully managed plans and expectations. I guarantee you we will all be surprised about where it will lead us. For sure, as on that first Pentecost, some will sneer and point fingers. Nonetheless, we are being lead to not only tell Jesus’ story but to live it. The goose is on the loose, even here, even now. Let’s not miss it as it touches us and sends us out in wild, untameable directions, calling us to embrace new visions and to dream new dreams together. Amen.

Minute for Mission

“Whenever you deprive a community of its language, you automatically deprive it of its culture.”

Two hands form a heart against a backdrop of a blue sky with white clouds.

Credit: Image by Oliver Peters from Pixabay

On Pentecost, diverse languages proclaimed the presence of God’s Spirit. So it’s the perfect day to celebrate the glorious variety of languages and cultures God blesses the world through, including Deaf culture.

Few churches welcome and include people who are Deaf. That’s why your gifts through Mission & Service support the Quinte Deaf Fellowship in Belleville, Ontario. Since its inception in 2007, the fellowship has provided a point of cultural and spiritual connection for people who are Deaf and a place to celebrate Deaf culture.

When Peter Skarp visits a friend or attends a club, every conversation begins and ends with a hug. That’s not unusual in his circles. “It’s just something we all do,” explains the Canadian Hearing Service staff member. He continues to share insights about Deaf culture, identity, norms, and rules of behaviour. “Deaf people value their eyes because they are their window on the world and their hands because they are extremely important tools,” he says.

History has not always recognized Deaf culture or considered sign language important. Did you know that in 1880, 164 deaf educators from eight countries gathered to make the landmark education decision that would ban sign language from classrooms around the world? Then it was decided that oral (lip-reading) education was better than manual (sign) education.

“Whenever you deprive a community of its language, you automatically deprive it of its culture,” says Phil Wilson, a United Church minister whose father wasn’t allowed to use sign language in residential school. Wilson, whose parents were Deaf, considers American Sign Language his mother tongue. “I consider myself bicultural,” he says.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially hard on Deaf communities. Isolation rules make it challenging to access health care, support programs, and basic information. Online learning is also an issue.

“While some provinces provide online learning opportunities, unless a qualified teacher who is proficient in sign language is available, these are often not accessible to Deaf children and youth,” says the Canadian Association of the Deaf in a statement(opens in a new tab).

Language matters. Especially now. Your generous support through Mission & Service means Quinte Deaf Fellowship continues to be a place of belonging, connection, advocacy, and care when it is needed most. Thank you.

 

Let us pray: ( based on ideas in Seasons of the Spirit curriculum)

 

Spirit of truth and life, we search for you in this aching world. Come, Holy Spirit, come. There are so many times when we are overcome by distractions, consumerism, selfishness and arrogance. There are so many times when we resist your honking and flapping Spirit leading us to unfamiliar places, people, ideas and solutions. We choose to rely on our own strength and wisdom rather than trusting in your Spirit. Too soon we find ourselves like dry bones, wondering if we can live. We long for the new life that only you can breathe into us. Remind us once again, O God, that we can do nothing apart from your guidance.

May our eyes see how you delight in your beautiful and diverse creation.  Grant us the capacity to respect the beliefs, opinions and traditions of others. Grant us the tools to build bonds of common understanding that will bridge the divide of hatred. Replace our lack of understanding with empathy. Infuse us with a sense of curiosity, instead of fear and resistance, when we are met with things we have not experienced ourselves. Heal the wounds that misunderstanding, discrimination and racism have created. Bless us with your breath of life to awaken our sleeping hearts. Disturb us when we grow complacent and uncaring of those beyond our inner circles… like the many who are hungry, who are ill, who are overwhelmed in their work, who experience heartache and loss, despair and anxiety . Hear the groans of all creation for healing and restoration. Help us to find our voice to speak up in the midst of the many injustices in our world… Most of all, God, may we be united in our common humanity, knowing that we are each made in your image. Renew us, revive us, reinvigorate us we pray that we might continue to spill into the streets of our world, sharing the good news of the love and peace of Jesus, who taught us to pray as one saying… Our Father…

Hymn: 375 Vu  Spirit of Gentleness  

Blessing:

Take a deep breath….

Let God’s Holy Spirit fill our whole being with hope.

 

May it set our hearts on fire as we go into this week with confidence and grace. Amen

*****************************

 

May 16, 2021

Welcome everyone to this beautiful morning and to our worship service at Faith Memorial United Church.

Hope you have been able to be outdoors and enjoy the spring weather. Several of you have reported to me your ‘sightings’ of hummingbirds. I saw one at my feeder yesterday.

Several of you have mentioned you have completed prayer shawls. Thank you. We will find a way in near future to do a blessing of them.

Watch your email for upcoming zoom coffee and conversation time. So nice to see each other without masks!

 

This is the day that God has made.

We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Let us worship the One who turns our sorrow into joy,

our despair into hope,

our doubt into faith.

Let us be guided by the light of Christ (light candle) and refreshed by the Spirit as we worship.

Opening Prayer:

God, our source of light and life,

you call us to be your people and to live in community with one another.

We take our place in the long succession of faithful witnesses who have come before us.

Help us to receive your love with open hearts

so that we might be attuned to your will and way.

Spirit of God, fall afresh on us this day. Amen.

Hymn: 291 VU All Things Bright and Beautiful 

Readings and Reflection:                                                        

On the Cusp

Several months ago I received one of those thoughtful emails that circulate fairly broadly. This one was something about aging gracefully. The gist of it was that when a parent introduces their preschooler they might say this is Jimmy or Sally and he or she is 5 yrs old. Often, though, the child will pipe up that they are “5 and a half” or “almost 6”. That kind of longing to be just that much older continues into our teen years. We can’t wait, for instance, to be 16 so we can get a driver’s license. As we get into our twenties, thirties and further, our eagerness for the next birthday milestone is not always quite as keen. The tone and verbs we use change. We speak about “pushing 40” or “about to turn” 80. Until we “reach” 100, and then we start all over again by saying, “I’m 100 and a half, or almost 101!” Kind of funny, isn’t it?

Nonetheless, approaching birthdays often have that effect on us. They are moments of pause and reflection. Especially if they begin a new decade, they might become markers of our “befores and afters”. They might signify points of transition for us. For instance, we might say something like “in my twenties and thirties, I used to run for exercise, but now, I prefer to walk.”

Somewhere in my thinking this week, the idea of being on the cusp kept creeping into my head. The day before our birthdays, for instance, we are on the cusp between the year that has past and the year that is to come, between what was and what will be. Earlier in this pandemic year we explored this by using the phrase “liminal space”. That’s how many have described our collective experience of journeying this time. We have a sense that something familiar has ended but we are still not certain about what new things are yet to begin.  I have a feeling that as history looks back on this time, it will more than likely describe the times as pre-pandemic and post-pandemic. It goes without saying that the experience of having come through these times will leave us all changed in ways that we probably still haven’t even yet imagined.

In both of our readings this morning from scripture, we find people very much on the cusp- something is about to shift. A new reality is about to emerge.

Let’s begin with the passage from Acts. It takes place just after Jesus’ ascension. The disciples find themselves at loose ends- in between times. The old era where Jesus was physically present with them has ended but still a new age has not yet arrived. They are awaiting the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (which we celebrate next week at Pentecost). In the meantime, as they stand at the cusp, the disciples, regroup under the leadership of Peter:

Acts 1:15-17,21-26

15 During this time, the family of believers was a company of about one hundred twenty persons. Peter stood among them and said, 16 “Brothers and sisters, the scripture that the Holy Spirit announced beforehand through David had to be fulfilled. This was the scripture concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 This happened even though he was one of us and received a share of this ministry.”

“Therefore, we must select one of those who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus lived among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when Jesus was taken from us. This person must become along with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 So they nominated two: Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.

24 They prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s deepest thoughts and desires. Show us clearly which one you have chosen from among these two 25 to take the place of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.” 26 When they cast lots, the lot fell on Matthias. He was added to the eleven apostles.

Don’t you just love it? As the disciples find themselves on the cusp, what do they do? They call a meeting! At this meeting, they name their wounds (the elephant in the room), pick up the pieces left from “the Judas scandal” that has happened within their company and brush themselves off. It is in this naming, that their healing begins and they start to move forward as a community. First on their agenda is the need to bring their number up to 12 again to reflect the 12 tribes of Israel. They agree that the qualifying candidate must be someone who was a witness to Jesus from the time of his baptism to his ascension. Then, they presumably spend some time in discussion- listening to the various opinions and experiences of one another. In the course of this discussion the names of two possible candidates emerge. Following this there is a time of prayer to seek discernment from God after which they “cast lots”, which might have simply meant they voted. The original Greek is a little vague here. Others have interpreted it as they put the two names on stones and shook them to see whose name rolled out first (suggesting to me something like throwing darts at a dartboard while blindfolded or flipping a coin!).  Whatever happened and however it played out in those times, the name of Matthias was discerned as the best candidate. I think what mattered most is that as they stood at the cusp of awaiting the arrival of the Holy Spirit, they both prayed and acted, readying themselves for what was to come next in light of Jesus’ physical absence from them. They worked together to find a way forward, taking the time needed to gather information, to assess their situation, to set guidelines, to share ideas, to support one another, to pray and to listen for God’s guidance. The important part was that in the midst of their uncertainty they found ways of facing the transformed reality that was on their doorsteps. Making a bridge between who they once were and who they were yet to become had to be their number one priority in the waiting period that was now upon them.

Our gospel lesson this morning takes us back to an earlier time after the last supper Jesus shared with his disciples. He knows that his arrest, trial and death await him. As in our reading from Acts, prayer is proven to be important. Jesus turns to pray for his disciples and ultimately for all his followers, like us, down through the ages. He acknowledges that the mission God had given him will continue through them. They are on the cusp of something new; a brand new way of being in the world. They will be his hands, his feet, his eyes and his voice after his absence from them. In this prayer, he asks that they be protected, empowered and active as he sends them out into the world. As you listen to his prayer, remember that he is praying for us, in our world today.

John 17:6-19

“I have revealed your name to the people you gave me from this world. They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. This is because I gave them the words that you gave me, and they received them. They truly understood that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.

“I’m praying for them. I’m not praying for the world but for those you gave me, because they are yours. 10 Everything that is mine is yours and everything that is yours is mine; I have been glorified in them. 11 I’m no longer in the world, but they are in the world, even as I’m coming to you. Holy Father, watch over them in your name, the name you gave me, that they will be one just as we are one. 12 When I was with them, I watched over them in your name, the name you gave to me, and I kept them safe. None of them were lost, except the one who was destined for destruction, so that scripture would be fulfilled. 13 Now I’m coming to you and I say these things while I’m in the world so that they can share completely in my joy. 14 I gave your word to them and the world hated them, because they don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world. 15 I’m not asking that you take them out of this world but that you keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world. 17 Make them holy in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 I made myself holy on their behalf so that they also would be made holy in the truth.

This is very much a transitional moment for the disciples and for Jesus himself. We might wonder about what the disciples are feeling just after that supper. Did they understand the symbols he was referring to, the bread and the cup, and his stooping down to wash the disciples feet as an act of servanthood? Now as he comes to the end of his earthly ministry with them, he asks God to help them to be present and active “in” the world, without being “of” the world. He asks that they not get caught up and encumbered by its systems of power and status. His desire is that they do not become entangled in the world’s values. He asks God to help them as they stand on the cusp of what will be a hugely transitional time for them in the aftermath of what awaits him. He prays that they might lean on God for support as they face the many struggles of being in the world. He knows it will not be a bed of roses out there. They will face bumps, bruises and scrapes. They will find themselves in conflict with the powers that be just as he had been. Other times they will find themselves discouraged at their inability to make a dent. In the face of all this, he prays that they might listen for and discern God’s ways. He recognizes that there are so many competing voices out there. Yet, at the same time, rather than retreating or cocooning, he calls them to go out to that same world and make a difference. Above all else, he prays that they might be grounded in unity with him and God as well as with one another.

Some have labelled this ” the other Lord’s Prayer” and rightly so! There is a lot in there to take in! After we get beyond all of its rather rambling sentences, we realize its power for us, even today, as we take our place in the fulfillment of God’s word for the world. It’s his prayer for you and me as we find ourselves coming through this past year and on the cusp of what will yet emerge in the year that is to come. Jesus is counting on us to carry the torch, to live out our faith by not being diverted from his mission that has been handed to us. We are being called to reach out to the marginalized, to work for unity with those beyond ourselves, to love as we have been loved and to be a blessing to others as we are blessed. In essence, by our spoken words, our generosity and our actions, we are to be living symbols of Jesus’ continuing presence even in the constantly changing times in which we live.  

Like the disciples after the ascension, and also just before Jesus is arrested and put to death, we too stand on the cusp of finding ways of connecting with our pasts while at the same time learning to be open to a future reality that is unfolding. Where do you find yourself at this moment?  What has this past year taught you about life, about the things that can and cannot be controlled and about the rearrangement of the things that really matter? What new priorities have surfaced for you? What new discoveries have emerged for you in the midst of so much experimentation and adjustment to different ways of doing everything- from how we shop to how we make appointments? What has been awakened within you as you have learned to adapt to the new realities?

It certainly has been “liminal space” hasn’t it? What is to come is still not yet revealed. One thing we do know is that it will not be the same as life as we knew it prior to this pandemic.  We can’t plan our way through it. All we can do is learn our way through it. Somewhere I heard it summarized so well- whatever emerges, we will all be newcomers in it. Like a jazz player making music, we will learn the art of improvisation as we adapt to new challenges, new ways of being community, new ways of interacting and new ways of reaching out. It will be our chance to begin all over again. And isn’t that exactly what the Easter message is really all about?

As we find ourselves on the cusp of what is yet to be, may we, like the early disciples, know ourselves to be bathed in the prayer of Jesus as we trust God and as we await the fresh winds of the Holy Spirit to carry us forth into our next steps together. Amen.

Minute for Mission

“I lived there for nine days, and there were three young kids. I think they lived in the cul-de-sac I moved into. They kicked in my door. They beat me with a baseball bat. They wrote “*** tranny” on my wall. They smashed most of what I own,” says Mikayla, a 47-year-old transgender woman. “My journey has been difficult. However, today those scars are symbols of my strength, not reminders of my pain. Those experiences have shaped the woman I have become, and are the inspiration for my trans rights advocacy and activism efforts.”

After the brutal assault, Mikayla turned to WISH, a Mission & Service partner, for support. Located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, WISH’s goal is to improve the health, safety, and well-being of women who are involved in Vancouver’s street-based sex trade.

The vast majority of women WISH supports participate in the sex industry by choice. But choice is relative. Extreme poverty, lack of housing, trauma, mental health issues, stigma, violence, and more can limit the ability to choose.

“Systemic barriers mean that most are resorting to street-based sex work as a means of survival,” says WISH.

Everyone has felt the impacts of COVID-19, but vulnerable residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside are hit especially hard.

“Every sex worker we support has experienced sudden, total income loss. More women are turning to street-based sex work for the first time. There’s increased violence. The closure of safe spaces and public facilities due to COVID-19 has left hundreds of people without the ability to social-distance, and without access to basic sanitation,” WISH reports.

To respond to rising needs, the WISHing Well Initiative was launched to provide access to basic sanitation, including showers. A five-toilet washroom trailer and an outdoor safe respite area was added to their backlot. The MAP Van, which provides outreach services to street-based sex workers, added a day shift. The Drop-In Centre expanded its hours.

“This is the first time in WISH’s history that we have been able to keep our doors open during the day, something we hope we can continue for years to come. You’ve made a tremendous difference during these dire times,” WISH thanks supporters.

Your gifts through Mission & Service provide non-judgmental support and safe spaces. Thank you for caring.

 

Let us pray:

What a comfort and an inspiration to us, O God, that even as Jesus prepares for his own suffering and death, he prays for his disciples then and now. We give thanks that in his own life and ministry he recognized how difficult it is to live with an alternative vision- one where love and care for others, justice, peace, concern for the least, the excluded, and the marginalized is first and foremost. We too know how difficult living by those values is for us even today. We turn on the news and we see continued violence in Israel and Palestine, school shootings in Russia, and people seeking healing from so much trauma. Our weekly minutes for mission open us to worlds outside our doors, to needs we might never have imagined. Even in our own lives, we know places where we have hurt others and experienced hurt ourselves. We know how quickly selfishness and lack of generosity can become the dominant forces in our lives. We know how easy it is to get wrapped up in our individual lives, without any thought of you or others beyond our small circles. Like those first disciples, we need your support and guidance, O God, as we too are sent out into the world. Show us how to listen to the needs that surround us. Teach us how we might work hand in hand, not simply with those we know, but with those we have yet to meet. Bolster us when we feel inadequate for the tasks to which you are calling us.

We pray for parts of your body who live daily with threats of persecution. We pray for our United Church in all its various regions across Canada as it prepares for regional meetings in this time of pandemic. Strengthen our outreach and our commitment to being your witnesses in the world. We remember in our prayers all those who are overwhelmed with this pandemic- our medical personnel, our school teachers and administrators, our health authorities and essential workers going above and beyond the call of duty to keep people safe, all who find the days long and all who find them not long enough to accomplish the tasks set before them. We lift before you our hurts, our disappointments, our dreams and our hopes…     We bring our concerns for our health and boldly speak the concerns we have for the health and well-being of others, whether it be spiritual, physical, emotional or mental…   We name the grief that we carry and the losses experienced ….

Hear these our prayers, O God, and remind us that in many ways our lives are always lived ” on the cusp” of that one more surprise that you continue to offer through the fresh winds of your Spirit. We pray in faith and hope, seeking to be channels of your peace and instruments of your love, wherever we are sent. In unity with Christ, we pray as he taught us saying… Our Father…

Hymn: 420 VU  Go to the World 

Blessing:

Go forth into the world, refreshed by the truth you have received from Christ 

and renewed by the knowledge that you belong to God.

As witnesses to the love and life of Christ,

may your lives be open to a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit this week. Amen

 

 

May 9th, 2021

“Kin to One Another”

Call to Worship: Creator, parent of the human family, we gather to worship you. In baptism, we are called beloved children of God, as such, we gather to worship you. Friends, neighbours, siblings in faith, we gather to worship in song, in prayer, in readings from your story/our story, in thoughts and reflections. Let us worship God.

Hymn: MV 1 Let Us Build a House

Gathering Prayer: God, creator of us all, we gather to worship you. We come as individuals, we come in family units, we come as neighbours and friends. We come here where we are known by name, welcomed with all our fragilities and strengths. We gather with kindred spirits who long to live faithful to your calling. Guide us, inspire us, challenge us, comfort us, and nurture us in this time of worship so that we might be enabled to return to our daily lives ready to engage fully with all of your creation. We pray. Amen.

Prayer of Confession: O God, you know how hard it is to live in relationships, and yet you call us to do so. At times it is hard to be fully present to our siblings and others in our nuclear family and within this Christian family. Our patience may be short, we sometimes don’t really listen, we may be tired, or angry, or hungry, or lonely, or … whatever it is that keeps us from loving and caring for one another, help us to know that you are always with us, loving us so that we may love others. (time of silence to offer personal thoughts and concerns)

Promise of Forgiveness: Through all the joys and all the struggles of living in relationship, one truth is offered to each and every one of us: God has loved us, is loving us and will always love us. Thanks be to God for this unending gift of love.

Prayer of Illumination: O God of story, in the beginning you created humankind. The Bible contains your story of love and encouragement and challenge, to your creation, to your children, and to us. Today, may our hearts and minds be open to hear what your Spirit is saying to us. We pray. Amen.

Scripture: 1 John 5: 1-6

Faith Conquers the World

1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Testimony concerning the Son of God

 6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

Reflection

 Why Christian Family Sunday?

 Christian Family Sunday is about celebrating relationships that enrich and challenge us to live our faith.  Published On: May 11, 2018

Our God is a God of relationship, who seeks us out and longs for us to live in relationship with others and all of creation. (You may be saying to yourself right about now, well duh!) I believe that on Christian Family Sunday we are called to celebrate these relationships. Relationships that enrich and challenge us to live our faith.

On this particular Sunday we may be challenged for not focusing primarily on Mothers. Often, we find ourselves engaging in either/ or conversations but what I’d like to suggest is that Christian Family Sunday can be a both/and kind of celebration. That is this Sunday we can celebrate Christian Family Sunday and celebrate the ways of mothering which have nurtured, empowered, and challenged us.

I have worshipped in a congregation that celebrated what it means to be siblings to one another in faith and also made intentional the recognition of gifts we have often aligned with mothers. Gifts of support, nurture, comfort, care, compassion, empathy, passion, challenge, etc… And I know that however Christian family Sunday is celebrated in worship I will be joining with my sisters in celebrating our mom.

So why focus on Christian Family Sunday, why not avoid the conflict that sometimes occurs in our congregations if we don’t give the mothers in the congregation some special recognition. The choosing to celebrate Christian Family Sunday is in no way intended to belittle or deny the richness of mothering many of us have received from biological mothers, adoptive mothers, and countless others in our lives who have loved us, nurtured us, cared for us and challenged us to be the best we can be. However, most of us would say that these gifts have been offered to us not only from those who are female, and those we would name as mom. Most of us can name others who have “mothered” us, and we want to celebrate them as well. And some of us have never known this love, nurture, care, support, or challenge from those who they would name as mother. At its best we want to celebrate those we would name as “mothering” whether biological, adoptive, chosen, or other.

The reason I choose to focus on Christian Family Sunday this day is about more than celebrating those who have “mothered” us. For me, it is about what it means to care for the “kin” of God, our siblings in the faith community, and “kin” of God in other faith traditions, and about our relationship to all of God’s created world not just the human members. For me, it’s not about idealizing family in a specific form. It’s about naming what makes this faith community family. At its best, no matter the particular gender or age make up, family is about a place where we are known by name, accepted with all of our warts and wrinkles, (though these can often be pretty annoying), encouraged to grow into the fullest version of ourselves. A place where we are safe but not a place to hide out from engaging in life. A place that grounds us in values and morality and faith, I hope! A place that empowers us to risk, to celebrate, to rejoice and to grieve. A place we can always come back to, to be fed, body, mind and spirit.

 You might wish to ask how do we measure up as a faith community to some of these descriptors of family? Is this a place where we are known by name, where we are accepted with all our warts and wrinkles, if so that’s wonderful and something to celebrate this Christian Family Sunday, if not is this something we long for in our faith communities and how might we make it so?

 What makes this particular family Christian? How do we share the faith story, share the good news? Encourage and help one another to discern God’s calling in this day and place? Celebrate and grieve with one another the precious moments of life and death? How do we help one another live our faith, witness to justice and compassion, and fullness of life for all God’s “kin”?

 Are there other descriptors you would want for your faith community as you seek to be Christian Family to one another?

 If you choose to celebrate this second Sunday of May, may it be a time to remember, to grieve and to rejoice! —Jackie Harper is a recently retired minister. She is enjoying quilting, swimming, writing and looking forward to gardening.

Hymn: 556VU Would You Bless Our Homes and Families

Invitation to the Offering: God has blessed our lives with relationships—joy inspiring and challenging. In response to God’s blessings in our lives, we are now invited to share our offerings.

Minute for Mission

Are you a mother who wants to make a difference? Is there a mother or someone like a mother you want to honour? Do you know people who have lost mothers or mothers who have lost a child? Does anyone you know find Mother’s Day hard? Are there people in your life whose untraditional family unit deserves recognition and celebration? This Mother’s Day, Mission & Service is providing a special opportunity to not only help families in need but also reach out to honour and support our loved ones. Make a special Mission & Service gift this Mother’s Day/Christian Family Sunday. Your gift will help families in need at home and abroad, supporting things like prenatal and parenting classes, respite care for families with children, medical clinics for babies and mothers, safe shelter, and education for children.

At the same time, when you make a gift online, you can do even more good by sending any number of free e-cards. The cards say things like “Mother’s Day can be so hard. I made a gift to support families in need as I thought about you today. I hope knowing you inspire me to make a difference is a comfort” and “The world needs all kinds of families! You are a blessing!” If you are giving offline, feel free to borrow the wording for print cards. Don’t forget to credit your congregation when you make a gift!

“Mother’s Day is a time when we celebrate mothers. Which is awesome, but not for everyone. For some, the holiday can be a sad or challenging time. We want to do more good by helping families in need and make the holiday itself more inclusive and compassionate,” says Sarah Charters, Acting Director of Philanthropy.

Charters is encouraging her family to make a gift instead of giving her the usual chocolate and flowers. And she’s honouring her mother by making a donation. “Imagine if the church came together to give life-changing gifts, pray, and provide pastoral care and encouragement at the same time,” she says. “What an amazing difference!” You can help make Mother’s Day more meaningful, inclusive, and compassionate. Make a gift and send a card today! Your support changes lives!

View our Mother’s Day video , prayer video(opens in a new tab), Q&A(opens in a new tab), and postcard, and consider sharing them with your community of faith.

Pastoral Prayer: Our faith blesses us with stories of others who have sought to live in life-giving relationships. As we remember these siblings in faith, remind us of your guidance and presence with us. Let us pray— God of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam; God of Mary, Martha, and Lazurus; God of siblings who cared for one another, offered support and challenge, celebrated together, worked together, argued together, and grieved together. We are thankful for their witness. As they have done may we also seek to live in life-giving relationships with those we would name as siblings. God of Eli, Hannah, and Samuel, cross-generational colleagues, mentors, and trusted leaders in faith, remind us of the opportunities we have to nurture and care, mentor and discern with one another in this faith community. May we embrace the trust that is offered and shared with respect, care, and humility. God of Ruth and Naomi, who embraced each other despite differences of race and cultural traditions and chose to be family for one another. For all who choose to be family, may your love and hope be sustained day by day. God of Simon and Andrew and James and John, who left the familiar to build new community with Jesus and his followers. Though faithful, they had moments of doubt, of fear, of denial. In our moments of doubt, fear, and denial, may we remember to trust and to take one step at a time. God of Hagar, Abraham, and Ishmael; God of Sarah, Abraham, and Isaac; God of the complicated, and the jealous, and the broken, remind us that this too is real and that you walk with us through these troubling times. God of Mary and John, called to relationships that stretch beyond blood, to care for one another. You invite us too to reach out in welcome, support, and care for one another. God of the past, God of the present, God of tomorrow, help us to live in relationships that seek justice, love kindness, and ground ourselves in your love for us. And we continue in prayer together, sharing in the prayer Jesus taught the disciples ….

The Lord’s Prayer

 Commissioning and Benediction

 In baptism you name us your beloved children, kin to one another. As we go from this place, May we know your love that found expression in the most vulnerable of human form: guide us, sustain us, and empower us to love.

Hymn: More Voices 27 Creator God You Gave Us Life

 

 —Jackie Harper is a recently retired minister. She is enjoying quilting, swimming, and writing, and looking forward to gardening.

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Reflection

May 2, 2021

 

Good morning and welcome to worship at Faith Memorial United Church.

 

Reminder to Official Board members of meeting on May 16 at 11. Please mark your calendars.

 

After today’s worship, I am beginning a study week. Looking forward to a change of pace ! More info at end of service.

Enjoy the day and have a good week.

 

 We light a candle to acknowledge Jesus, the true vine.

Connected to him, we can bear much fruit ( Light candle)

As we pause this day to worship, may our ears be opened to receive holy dialogue.

As we seek God’s wisdom, may we be eager to learn and grow.

Let us pray:

Divine Vine Grower,

we are a work in progress.

You offer us life, nourish us and create a space to thrive.

May our worship draw us closer to you.

Shape and form our hearts and minds as  we hear your word,

sing your praises and seek your guidance in our lives through prayer.

Bring us the light we need to bear good fruit today and in the days to come.

Remind us that without you we would wither. Amen.

Hymn: 138 MV My Love Colours Outside the Lines 

Connections

Writer Debie Thomas shares a story about a time when her two year old daughter was taken out for ice cream by her grandfather. He parked the car and took the little girl out of her toddler seat. Then he offered his thumb to her saying, “You have to hold tight until we are in the ice cream shop. This is a busy street.” The girl took a look at her grandfather’s outstretched hand, wrapped her left fist around her right thumb and said, “No thank you. I can hold my own.”

Thomas goes on to say, ” No thank you. I can hold my own” is a slogan for Western Christianity that celebrates the individual and distrusts the communal- “my” Jesus, “my” Saviour, “my” faith, etc. I suspect that much of this focus on the individual is a carryover from the culture around us. How often we hear people speak of themselves, for instance, as being “self-made” if they have achieved a certain success, particularly, it seems financially. Unfortunately, sometimes, in the past and even now, certain theologies and even certain hymns that interpret these theologies have emphasized a kind of works righteousness that seems to imply that we can “earn” our way to God’s grace and favour. Gennifer Benjamin Brooks says it so well, “The individualism admired by the world must take a back seat to the reality that all that we are and have are as a result of the abiding grace of God.” Both of our scriptures today speak to this idea of interdependence rather than independence. As much as we need one another, we also need to remember that apart from Christ and his Spirit that prods us, we, as individuals and as part of his body, flounder. To acknowledge the source of our strength in Christ, requires that we let go of our own “thumbs” to embrace the one that is offered to us.

I see this happening in our story from Acts of the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip who carry on what we might call a holy dialogue. Prompted by the Holy Spirit who pushes him out of his comfort zone, Philip catches up with this eunuch who is reading a piece of scripture while riding along in a chariot. The eunuch (a castrated male in service to the queen) is both powerful in his position as keeper of the queen’s treasury, but also powerless in his ability to learn more about the faith because of an ancient law forbidding eunuchs from entering the synagogue. He can only linger on the edges of the faith.  Yet, he hungers to know the truth of the text he is reading.  As you read over this story, please notice the mutuality in the conversation. Philip is sensitive to the situation, meeting the eunuch where he is in his search as opposed to barging in. Instead, he waits for the eunuch’s invitation to join him in the chariot. As you read their conversation, notice too that  neither Philip nor the eunuch has all the answers. They both ask questions of each other. As they listen and remain present to each other, they form a relationship. This holy dialogue allows the eunuch to make his own decision that leads to his commitment to the faith through baptism. Watch as it all unfolds:

Acts 8:26-40 ( click here to listen to Linnea share the story

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south[a] to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
    and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
        so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
    Who can describe his generation?
        For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?] 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip] baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

I especially like that this eunuch, in trying to understand the scripture he is reading, realizes his need for connection with another (see the line in bold). As somewhere I was reading this week summarizes it well- there is nothing worse than one person alone with the Bible! While that might catch us a little off guard and maybe even sound a bit caustic, it is true when you really think about it. Understanding and wrestling with scripture, with faith, and how we might live out the mission of our faith in the world is best done in conversation and  company with one another. That is exactly why we have book studies and discussions in church, so that we can hear perspectives different from our own. It is why we might pick up the phone to listen and share thoughts with one another about what might have challenged us about something we read, like even this reflection! It opens us to the possibility of having a holy dialogue. At the same time, it keeps us from holding our own thumbs! It brings us into true community. It acknowledges “the other” who journeys alongside us. Yet, even more importantly, it helps ground us deeply in the roots of Jesus Christ, our true vine. At the same time, it helps us to push open the boundaries we may have constructed so that, like Philip and the early church led by the Holy Spirit, we might be pushed beyond our comfort zones to people and places we might never have otherwise encountered.

Such interdependence and connectivity is also at the heart of our gospel reading this morning. Using the metaphor of himself as the vine and us as the branches, Jesus illustrates the same point. We can’t go it alone by trusting in our own strength. Certainly if this pandemic has taught us nothing else, it has shown us just how interdependent we are. We know that the actions of one person’s choices have exponential consequences for others. To wear or not wear a mask, to practice physical distancing or not , to isolate or fail to isolate all have implications. Mutual love and support are required from each of us now more than ever.

Jesus, in speaking these words just prior to his arrest, calls his disciples to this very same thing. He knows it won’t be easy out there. They will face many of the hurdles he has experienced. He wants them to keep learning and growing in his ways as they spread out like branches to carry on his work of teaching others about God’s love. They need to remain connected to the vine, while at the same time, being willing to be pruned so as to rid themselves of the things that inhibit growth. Each branch bears responsibility  for the health of the whole vine, while also allowing the other branches to flourish. Here is how he outlines it:

John 15:1-8

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become] my disciples.

That word “abide” is all over the place, isn’t it? We might translate it as remain, stay connected, stay joined, endure, hold out, be attached to, find yourself secure in, make yourself at home in me as my words are at home in you( that last one is from The Message Bible). In other words, “hold on to my thumb!” Trying to find your security in your thumb alone could prove dangerous.  Find your nurture and grounding in me, the true vine, he says. Be in open communication with me, in holy conversation, if you like. Stay focused. Remember whose you are and who is grounding your existence, longing to give your life meaning and purpose.

How we need to hold solidly to these words in the face of our fears these days! How we need to breathe in that connection and, at the same time, be channels of it to one another! Much like when we might prune our tomato plants or our bushes around our homes to let the light in and to release nutrients to foster new growth, so we need to work hard at those parts of our individual and collective lives to cut back those places that are preventing our growth. What needs to be reshaped? Most of us cringe at such questions, don’t we? We know that means change and that makes us fearful. We would rather just keep on going along as we always have. We might hope for resuscitation, the same old life back again, when what we really need is resurrection – a new life altogether. I can’t help but think this is partially what this pandemic time is trying to teach us.

Where is the Spirit in these times prodding us to “link thumbs” beyond our normal circles with people we may not know? Where are we being called to “branch out” and become intertwined with others who are working for good in our community and beyond? Jesus’ metaphor reminds us that we are not the vine, nor are we in charge of the vine. We are branches, called not to “make” the fruit, but to bear the fruit Christ makes- things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self control. We do that when we remember that Christ is the true vine, the one from whom we receive our nurture and who saves us from thinking that we are self made or that we can “earn” God’s favour. Connected to him in prayer, in silence, in the mutual listening, speaking and questioning of a holy dialogue, we build a relationship that is truly reciprocal, much like a really good friendship is. It goes beyond the superficial, to the deeper places of our lives. It helps us to be real and authentic together, to be honest with each other about both our dreams and disappointments, our failures and our accomplishments, our blessings and our sins and to know ourselves as forgiven, loved and accepted.

Branches of the one vine, tangled up together, interdependent, connected, reaching for Christ’s thumb, open to being pruned, open to  being reshaped, open to divine love and to the Spirit’s prodding, we’re in this together.  May God help us to bear fruit. Amen.  

Minute for Mission

Two Zambian women walk along a road carrying large metal tubs on their heads.Credit: Women for Change, Zambia

Heavy water drums. Scorching sun. Poor sanitation. Assault. Not being able to attend school. These are some of the issues faced by women and girls in charge of collecting water in Zambia and around the world.

And it’s one of many women’s issues that Mission & Service partner Women for Change is addressing in Zambia. Every day, your Mission & Service gifts are helping to empower women and girls in rural areas across the country.

Zambia has one of the highest levels of poverty and inequality globally. There, 16.6 million people earn less than $1.90 per day. Three-quarters of the poor live in rural areas, where women are the hardest hit. Gender discrimination prevents them from accessing land, education, healthcare, and jobs and puts them at higher risk of discrimination and violence.

“Women for Change works with local communities that determine their own needs. In one community, accessing safe water is a problem. So Women for Change is drilling wells and implementing clean-up processes. In another area, there is a lack of women’s leadership. So the organization is training women to become political leaders. Girls’ education is also a major concern,” says Japhet Ndhlovu, who heads the United Church’s Community In Mission Unit.

In Zambia, girls struggle to go to school. Traditional attitudes, poverty, early marriage, and priorities to educate boys means too many girls drop out. In 2018, the national United Church Women decided to do something about it. Through Women for Change, our church women are actively supporting an education program designed to motivate girls to stay in school. The project encourages girls, trains teachers, and impresses upon parents and leaders the importance of education.

Women for Change is just one of several life-changing organizations your special gifts to Mission & Service this Mother’s Day will support.

When you give a special Mother’s Day gift, you will directly help families in need at home and around the world through education, health clinics, respite care, and safe shelter. Give a gift offline or online at united-church.ca/donation. Don’t forget to credit your congregation! When you give online, you can send a free e-card to honour, support, remember, or recognize your loved one.

Your support changes lives! Thank you.

 

Let us pray:

Generous life giving God, thank you that we are sustained and rooted as branches of your true vine, Jesus Christ. When life gets messy and uncertain, may we remember that we abide in him as he abides in us. When we depend too much on ourselves and not enough on you, ground us and root us firmly in the strength and guidance you offer. Open us to the prompting of your Holy Spirit that we might be channels of your grace and peace to one another. Show us ways that we might produce fruits of the love you have offered to us. Prune away all that interferes with the growth of your vine- things like apathy, selfishness, narrow mindedness, fear, quick judgements, thoughtless words or actions, and all the many things, often of our own making, that cause us to live with guilt and regret. Remind us, even in our failings, that you continue to reach out to us, accepting us and helping us to start over and over again.

Teach us how to be open and inclusive of those who may be different from us. Like Philip, may we find ways of entering into holy dialogue with strangers, welcoming their questions and perspectives that we might work for mutual understanding and learning.

We pray this day for all among us who are struggling mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically in the face of so much uncertainty in our world and our lives. We remember all who are affected by the Covid 19 virus- all who are sick at home, in hospitals , in care homes; all who have lost their jobs and financial security, all who grieve the loss of loved ones;  our political leaders and health authorities, especially in places like Ontario, Nova Scotia and India who are faced with unforeseen challenges and difficult decisions;  for all whose work is particularly overwhelming as they strive to keep those in their care safe; for parents coping with the challenges of working at home all while tending to the many stresses of keeping their children active and engaged.

O God, we know that your love is ever-present in our times of deepest despair as well as in times of joy. Your invitation to abide in you has no qualifications, but promises to be ever-close and ever-present when life is at its best, at its worst, and at every time in-between. May we know ourselves to be held and nurtured that we, in response, might bear your fruit, and in so doing, come to glorify you. In the name of Jesus, we pray saying… Our Father…. 

 

Hymn: 579 VU  The Church is Wherever 

Blessing

” I am the true vine and you are the branches.”

Go into the world and bear the fruit of love.

Find the places of lifelessness and bring renewal.

Go where the Spirit prompts you.

Abide in Christ as Christ abides in you. Amen.

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Have a good week. I am taking one of my three annual study weeks this week so you won’t be hearing from me. The worship planning committee will be sending you a worship service for next week so watch for it in your email box. Keep safe!

 

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