April 11, 2021
Psalm 133 proclaims-
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”
In the name of the resurrected Christ, we come to this time of worship to share in the unity of the Spirit.
The abundance of God’s creation surrounds us everywhere!
Hallelujah! Christ is risen.
Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah! ( please light a candle)
Let us pray:
wherever we find ourselves this day, fill us with your abundant joy.
Meet us where we are.
When our faith is shaky, come to us with outstretched hands.
Draw us together in the unity of your perfect love, unwavering presence and abundant grace.
Help us to offer ourselves, that through us, others might learn of you. Amen.
Hymn: 396VUJesus, Stand Among Us
Readings and Reflection:
While out for my walk a week or so ago, I noticed a group of middle school students accompanied by their teacher who were also walking along the boardwalk. When they reached the covered bridge, they all bunched together as the teacher crossed the street with her camera in hand, preparing to take a group photo. I smiled to myself thinking about that photo being shared digitally among the classmates. I wondered how many would bother to save it as a souvenir of pandemic times, something they could describe to their children and grandchildren “when outdoor exercise was deemed the safest and teachers used to walk us all around town”. I imagined the stories that might get shared in years to come.
Many of you have shared with me how you have been using these “shelter at home” times to sort through old photos and memorabilia so that they might be a little more organized to pass on to generations to come. Nonetheless, sometimes in doing this, we discover more photos that have been handed on to us, presumably of our ancestors, but with no names attached. The people who would recognize those in the photos are long gone. Then the question becomes what do we do with these photos? If you are anything like me, you may also have in your collection photos of people that even you, yourself, no longer recognize! Unless you have been very diligent in labelling and dating such photos, you may very well be drawing a blank.
Snapshots, whether through the old film method or through our modern digital technology, are like that. For some reason, at the time, the moment was deemed to be memorable enough to warrant the need to take a photo. They represent a moment in time worth preserving.
I was thinking this week about how our scriptures for this Sunday are a little like snapshots. While not actual “photos”, they do present us with images of the followers of Jesus at a particular point in time after news of the resurrection started to spread.
We will begin with a scene that is set later in the day on that first Easter. This passage is often labelled the “Doubting Thomas” text. I always find that so unfair to poor Thomas. After all, unlike the other disciples, he was not present when Jesus first appeared to them. All Thomas was asking for was the same thing that the other disciples had already witnessed- an opportunity to see the Risen Christ for himself. This time, as you read through this familiar story, I encourage you to set your camera focus, so to speak, not only on Thomas, but on the whole of the disciples- the mood in the room, what the disciples might have been churning over in their minds about what had taken place and what they were now experiencing:
John 20: 19-31
( to hear Linnea tell this story, click here )
19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”
24 Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”
28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”
30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.
So what does your snapshot look like? I see a group of disciples huddled behind closed doors. By now, Mary Magdalene and Peter (according to John’s resurrection account) would have shared with them what they had experienced at the tomb earlier. No doubt, the others were fearful that they might get accused of stealing Jesus’ body. Maybe they wondered if the same fate that happened to Jesus would now happen to them as his followers. What else might have been going on in there? Guilt? Regret? Blame? Finger pointing? Grief- not only that this Jesus, whom they had followed, was dead, but also, so too were their dreams. We can be sure that no one in there had any idea what to do next, especially in the face of a missing body and now, rumours that were circulating.
Into the midst of all these fears and uncertainties, enters Jesus offering them the peace of the Holy Spirit and sending them out.
Yet, the very next week, finds them in the same place, huddled behind closed doors. The only difference is that this time Thomas is with them. Jesus once again stands among them, reaching out especially to Thomas, offering him his hands and his side so that he might touch and believe. Whether Thomas actually did touch Jesus, we cannot be certain. All we know is that at that moment, he experiences the resurrected Jesus for himself. No second hand information from the other disciples had been enough for him.
One moment in time. The struggle of Thomas to believe. The willingness of the other disciples to stay with Thomas in his wrestling; to not reject him or kick him out for not getting it, as they had. The importance of community in helping Thomas along, in demonstrating to him, he still belonged. The need for Thomas to work it all through, to discover it for himself. As I mentioned last week, it all takes time for the story to be unraveled in each person’s life and experience. Drawing from the spiritual experiences of others, while helpful to hear and frame our own stories, is never enough. For Thomas, it is the community of disciples that stand with him in his search.
Our second “snapshot” this morning of a community practicing resurrection is a much more confident looking group of believers than those we observed huddled behind closed doors on that first Easter evening. While the group in the upper room at least had in common the shared experience of being present as Jesus shared his mission of a different way of being in the world, I suspect this second snapshot was of a group that had very little in common. They were from different cultures and nationalities. Some were from Asia and Africa. Some were Jews. Some were non Jews. Some of them had different political persuasions. Still, though, despite all these differences, they created a community and what united them was their common identity as people of the Way, followers of Christ. As I read this glowing “snapshot” of the early church, I get the feeling like they could take on the world!
Acts 4: 32-35
32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Wow! That is quite the snapshot now, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you want to be a part of that community? Somehow it all sounds so idyllic! No wonder, like an eager photographer desiring to capture the perfect picture before it is too late, the writer of Acts wanted to get this down in words! No bickering. No jealousy. Everyone just caring for one another, sharing generously and risking everything all for the sake of love.
Well, I hate to burst this idyllic bubble but reading further in Acts will soon show us that it didn’t last. In fact, in the very next chapter, Ananias and Sapphira kept back for themselves some money they had promised the community from the sale of a property. Later, as many of the letters written to the various Christian communities attest, there were all kinds of squabbles that Paul continued to address over such issues as leadership in these communities and whom to exclude or include.
Nonetheless, although this snapshot is not a blueprint or a measuring stick for us as a church community, it does give us a picture, a glimpse if you like, of how God’s power was at work to produce a community enlivened and emboldened by the Holy Spirit and the Good News of the resurrection. It shows us what can happen when we choose to live in the new way Jesus showed us- when we choose the good of the larger community over our own selfish, individualistic ways. It presents us with a vision of how the Easter message makes all sorts of things possible, even in spite of our differences.
Being of “one heart and soul” does not mean everyone will always think the same way or have the same opinion about everything. How boring that would be! Nonetheless, when we remember our common identity as Christ’s followers, unity will happen. Even though experiences and perceptions may differ as did those of the disciples in the upper room when Jesus first appeared to them and Thomas who was absent, we still stand with one another, listening to and honouring each other’s wrestling and struggles. It is in those moments when “true community” happens and we model something different from the rest of the world, something that distinguishes us as people who practice resurrection. By speaking directly to one another and communicating openly, we demonstrate mutual respect and model our common purpose as a community of faith.
These “snapshots” of the early Christian community, taken at two different times have caused me to think about our own communities of faith in these pandemic times. If a writer were to describe us, right now, what would get included in the picture? Would we be shown to be fearful and anxious like the disciples huddled behind closed doors? Would we be pictured as open and caring for one another like the snapshot provided in Acts? More than likely we would be a bit of both, I suspect! I like to think that despite our diversity, we might be described as a motley group of people from all over Carleton County and beyond who worked at being community together, who showed mutual care and concern for one another by phone, by email, by zoom, who still committed themselves to worship God each Sunday (albeit in a new format), who witnessed to the Good News through their words, actions and outreach, who wrestled with faith and doubt, who studied scripture and their own lives, who tried new things and if these didn’t work, realized they could be changed, who shared opinions in meetings, not in parking lots, who knew what they stood for, who kept Christ’s vision at the forefront as they made plans for their future together, who breathed in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who dared to dream, to serve and to forgive one another, who engaged with the larger community and the world, who allowed their lives and vision to be reset, and most of all, who became living proof that beneath all that divides them from one another, is the living presence of the resurrected Jesus at work in the world. Was it perfect? Far from it. Did they agree all the time? Hardly. Was there conflict? Sometimes, but they came to understand that conflict was not a thing to be feared or suppressed- it simply meant that there were two or more opinions in the same room. They learned to listen respectfully to one another. They also learned to disagree without becoming disagreeable, keeping unity in Christ first and foremost in their hearts and souls. In time, as the story of the first Easter unraveled in their lives, it transformed them as they connected it with their own stories and experiences. With the commitment of each participant, this community was known as a real, authentic group of followers, united in its purpose of practicing discipleship in the manner shown to them by Jesus Christ.
Who knows, perhaps it took this pandemic to reveal their finest hour, helping them to figure out who they were, helping them to realize that they could be the church anywhere and giving them the reboot experience they needed to be, in the words of Richard Rohr, a Catholic theologian, “a community, a spiritual home that connects with their whole life, not just somewhere to go on Sunday mornings but a community that nurtures and supports individuals along their full journey toward the ultimate goal of a lived experience of the communion of saints, a shared life together as one family- the Reign of God, on earth as it is in heaven.”
A great snapshot for the album, don’t you think? Amen.
Minute for Mission
Rainbow Camp® provides campers with a safe space to be who they are without judgement.
Chris Southin was lounging in front of the television and Harry Stewart was in the kitchen when they got the call from the Governor General’s office. Over the phone, the couple learned they had won an award from the Governor General recognizing “great Canadians for exceptional deeds that bring honour to our country.” They received the honour for co-founding Rainbow Camp®, based in northern Ontario. Since 2012, the camp has welcomed young people of all sexual identities.
“It was unbelievable. We didn’t even know we were nominated,” says Stewart. “We will receive the award in person when the pandemic lifts. I guess I’ll need to buy a suit,” he laughs.
From the beginning, Mission & Service has supported Welcome Friend Association, which runs Rainbow Camp®.
“Initially, we wanted to bridge the local LGBTQ community with area churches. We started the association, and then we launched the camp. We had no idea what we were doing at the time. Only one person on the board had camp experience, but we knew that young people would benefit,” says Southin.
Originally a one-week camp with 14 youths, Rainbow Camp® now serves up to 50 youth each week for four weeks. Expansion plans are in the works; over the next couple of years, Rainbow Camp® will pilot on the east and west coasts. “We’ve had an invitation to duplicate the Rainbow Camp® experience in Australia and in the UK too. It’s exciting!” says Stewart.
Above all, Rainbow Camp® provides campers with a safe space to be who they are without judgment.
“I’ll never forget our first year of camp. It was the second full day. A camper told us his mom had found a dress in his closet. He lied to her and said that it belonged to his girlfriend. He had brought the dress to camp and said he would like to wear it. High heels and sand don’t mix!” Stewart explains, laughing: “But the warmth, love, and compassion that the camper received from everyone at camp was amazing. We tell all of our staff ‘Your job is to make sure that each and every camper has the best possible time at Rainbow Camp®.’”
Southin and Stewart say they want the camp experience to be memorable, fun, soul-searching, and supportive. “We don’t want any camper to feel afraid to be who they are. I think that’s why so many now call it their home.”
Your generosity through Mission & Service supports safe, welcoming spaces like Rainbow Camp®. Thank you!
Let us pray:
Ever-present God, thank you for meeting us where we are this day. Some of us are at kitchen tables. Others of us are in easy chairs. Some of us are reclining comfortably in our beds. Others of us are back from caring for loved ones at bedsides. Wherever we are, we know that we are surrounded by the warmth of your Holy Spirit. Your grace fills us and inspires us in much the same way as it did those first disciples huddled together in the midst of their fears and uncertainties. Like them, there is much that confounds and confuses us in our living. There are many whose way of life is destroyed by violence, greed and injustice. They have no access to the wealth and power of the world. There are those who have been driven from their homes, their farms, their countries as others fight for power and gains. There are those who have lost their way of life because of harm done to the environment. There are those who suffer in the aftermath of abuse or who suffer mental or physical illnesses. In these fearful days of virus variants, there are those who are separated from loved ones by restrictions on travel and visitation. We pray especially for the people of the Edmundston region as well as other areas of our country where the stories and statistics of this pandemic are staggering, where so many are weary, lonely and anxious about loved ones and patients.
Awaken us to these many needs, O God, that we might see those who are overlooked and respond to their cries for help. Teach us to work together in community to advocate for the voiceless, the homeless, the hungry and the disadvantaged. Help us to find ways of empowering them and granting them dignity.
Build us up in these times, O God, that we might be known as a community that risks being less of ourselves and more for you as we work together, sharing our resources generously, encouraging one another and wrestling with the challenges of being your faithful people in trying times. Most of all, help us to live as those who have encountered the resurrected Christ, in whose name we pray, saying Our Father…
Hymn: Deep in Our Hearts MV 154
Go into the world, aware of the unity we share in Christ,
Be alive to the possibilities open to us in the Spirit.
Be sensitive to the needs of God’s creation everywhere.
May our lives be snapshots to others,
revealing the power of the resurrection of Christ to the world,
and serving as a living testimony of his love, peace and presence. Amen.
Stay safe out there! Enjoy the spring days ahead!
Easter, April 4, 2021
Hallelujah! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
Easter joy is for all of us!
We are witnesses to these things!
May Christ’s love and renewed hope burn in us. (Please light a candle)
May our spirits swell and the borders of our compassion expand.
May our life together in community be deepened and empowered.
Hallelujah! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
Let us pray:
God of resurrection,
despair is not the end of the story, Hallelujah!
With the dawn of that first Easter comes a new creation.
Hope is alive and moves among us!
May the power of this message be made known to us today as we worship
that we might live as Easter people,
full of new life and joy, ready to share the Good News.
May Hallelujah be our song! In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Hymn: 155 VU Jesus Christ is Risen Today
A Story that Can’t be Rushed
Our first reading this morning is a reminder to us that the Good News of the resurrection is for all people. It tells how Peter came to the realization that God shows no partiality. Earlier in his life, Peter would never have gone to the home of a Gentile. However, after an experience he had in a vision, he now recognizes that God’s love and welcome is for all. In this speech, he outlines how his transformation in thinking came about. It wasn’t instantaneous. It took some questioning on his part, and most of all the power of the Holy Spirit at work within him to turn his previously held ideas upside down. Now he couldn’t help but wonder how the world could be different if everyone could see things in this new way:
34 Peter then said:
Now I am certain that God treats all people alike. 35 God is pleased with everyone who worships him and does right, no matter what nation they come from. 36 This is the same message that God gave to the people of Israel, when he sent Jesus Christ, the Lord of all, to offer peace to them.
37 You surely know what happened everywhere in Judea. It all began in Galilee after John had told everyone to be baptized. 38 God gave the Holy Spirit and power to Jesus from Nazareth. He was with Jesus, as he went around doing good and healing everyone who was under the power of the devil. 39 We all saw what Jesus did both in Israel and in the city of Jerusalem.
Jesus was put to death on a cross. 40 But three days later, God raised him to life and let him be seen. 41 Not everyone saw him. He was seen only by us, who ate and drank with him after he was raised from death. We were the ones God chose to tell others about him.
42 God told us to announce clearly to the people that Jesus is the one he has chosen to judge the living and the dead. 43 Every one of the prophets has said that all who have faith in Jesus will have their sins forgiven in his name.
Coming to this new understanding, I am sure, took some processing on Peter’s part. Over time, the pieces started to fit together for him as he looked back on the teachings and ministry of Jesus. Gradually, his experiences started to make sense.
I was thinking this week about how so much of life is like that. There are things in life need to be savoured- like a nice hot cup of tea or coffee, a good wine, a compelling novel or a spectacular scene in nature. We speak often of letting something like this “soak into our souls and spirits”.
I can’t help but think that the Easter story is a lot like that. It is a story that we hear every year from one gospel account or another, but one, nonetheless, that takes a lifetime to soak in. While the details are different in each of the renditions, the message is essentially the same: a woman or a group of women walk to the tomb full of fear, anger, grief and regret. They go out of respect for Jesus; as we might say today to find some “closure” for the dream that they had felt could be possible through this man Jesus. However, making those steps to the tomb of Jesus was a risky thing to be doing- it meant demonstrating solidarity with a known political protester. So they go early, just as the sun is about to rise, hoping not to be detected. Upon arrival though, things were not as they expected. In each of the accounts, they hear the good news-“He is not here. He is risen, just as he said.”
This year I offer you the account from the gospel of Mark. It just happens to be the one I like most. I think that’s because had I been present at that first Easter, my response would have been similar to how Mark tells it. See what you think:
Mark 16: 1-8
After the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James bought some spices to put on Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on Sunday morning, just as the sun was coming up, they went to the tomb. 3 On their way, they were asking one another, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” 4 But when they looked, they saw that the stone had already been rolled away. And it was a huge stone!
5 The women went into the tomb, and on the right side they saw a young man in a white robe sitting there. They were alarmed.
6 The man said, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus from Nazareth, who was nailed to a cross. God has raised him to life, and he isn’t here. You can see the place where they put his body. 7 Now go and tell his disciples, and especially Peter, that he will go ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.”
8 When the women ran from the tomb, they were confused and shaking all over. They were too afraid to tell anyone what had happened.
Don’t you like that phrase- “confused and shaking all over”? Some other versions render this as “trembling and bewildered” or “terror and amazement had seized them”. The Message scripture really captures it best though- saying that the women were “beside themselves, their heads swimming”.
The clincher, however, is really that last sentence: “They were too afraid to tell anyone what had happened.” They were afraid. Stunned, we might say. Scared into silence. We can’t blame them though, can we? While most of us have heard the story before, they were experiencing it for the first time. It had to have been jarring and terrifying to say the least. First, the stone is already rolled back. Second, to be greeted by a young man telling them not to be alarmed. He is not here. How could you not be alarmed? Nothing is as it was expected. It was all too much to take in. So they said nothing. Period. End of story. No more to tell.
It is a pretty abrupt ending, isn’t it? No resurrection appearances of Jesus as in the other gospels. We might ask, is that it? It doesn’t really help us to feel in the Easter mood, does it? Why aren’t they happy? We might liken it to something like a grandparent telling a grandchild they have a surprise waiting for them out in the garage- a new bike. But instead of leaping for joy and bounding out to the garage, the child runs in the opposite direction, fleeing from the grandparent. It is not a very satisfying outcome or response to what has just been said.
Afraid. As I think about all the beautiful Easter hymns, I can’t think of any that zone in on that emotion. Alleluias, yes. Glory and praise, yes. But fear? No. Scholars of Mark’s gospel have wrestled with this. Some said Mark had to have been interrupted in his writing. Others figure maybe he wrote more and it just got lost. Some have even proposed a longer ending to the story that is included in most Bibles- as a way of telling us that yes, indeed, the story did get told to others. Nonetheless, most agree that Mark was intentional in finishing his account almost in mid sentence, without a neat ending and that he knew exactly what he was doing. It’s because Easter is a lot to absorb. It’s a story that can’t be rushed. As much as we might want to conclude, ok, great now everything will be fine now that Jesus has been raised, it still takes a lifetime of wrestling with this new reality. We might think of it more so as a “slow cooker” kind of experience rather than “an instant pot or microwave” experience. We need to savour it and let it permeate and unfold into our lives.
I was thinking this week about the old story about a man who found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to squeeze its body through the tiny hole. Then it stopped, as if it couldn’t go further.
So the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bits of cocoon. The butterfly emerged easily but it had a swollen body and shriveled wings.
The man continued to watch it, expecting that any minute the wings would enlarge and expand enough to support the body. Neither happened! In fact the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around. It was never able to fly.
What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand: The restricting cocoon and the struggle required by the butterfly to get through the opening was a way of forcing the fluid from the body into the wings so that it would be ready for flight once that was achieved.
I think Mark’s account of the resurrection is a little like that. We might want to rush in there to bring it to a better conclusion, a more satisfying one when really, what might help us more is to just sit there with it for a bit, letting it unravel in our lives, without trying to fill in all the blanks. I can’t help but think that there is something significant being said in the stunned silence of the women in Mark’s telling of the story. We also heard how they were directed back to Galilee, the place where it all began, home turf, the location of their daily routines. The everyday world, not hanging around a tomb,- that is where Jesus, crucified and risen, is found. That is where we are called to complete the story as we encounter new people and situations along with familiar people, as we wrestle with the same things Jesus encountered on his journey- people who are ill and grieving, people who are wrestling with demons, unresolved issues from their past, people who are sitting on the sidelines of life and community, people who are shouldering heavy burdens, people who are feeling hopeless, weighed down by oppression, by poverty, by violence and who, like us, are in need of transformation.
I like it that Mark’s ending leaves us in an uncomfortable place, without everything all neatly closed and fixed. An open ending like that makes us wrestle with it and reminds us of our call to be transformed by the good news of Christ’s presence in our lives. It reminds us that our mission is to pick up the story and let it begin again in us, to make it our own as we start a new chapter. So, like the women, we are instructed to go back to Galilee where it all began, not simply to rehash the good old days, but to think over the whole story of Jesus from his baptism onwards and to write its continuing chapters in our world today. For it is there, in Galilee, where we are beckoned forward with those simple instructions- “Follow me.” He goes ahead of us into our futures and blazes us trail for us. Let that good news simmer in your hearts. Don’t rush it. Let it unfold, until, like the women at that tomb on the first Easter your silence gives way to speech and action- “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. Alleluia! ” The end is only the beginning. May this good news work in you and through you. Amen.
Minute for Mission ( Jesse’s story, part 2)
Meaningful work helps Jesse—and all of us—thrive.
Jesse in the hydroponic greenhouse at Stella’s Circle.
Credit: Stella’s Circle
After a brain injury and the death of his mother, Jesse found himself homeless and sleeping in a storage unit. Now, thanks to employment training and support programs run by Mission & Service partner Stella’s Circle combined with his hard work, Jesse is a trained greenhouse technician. He leads a new social enterprise that grows produce for sale. One day, Jesse hopes to supply restaurants with the produce he and others grow.
What does work mean for him? “It means maintaining my independence. It means building confidence. It means instilling purpose. It makes me feel functional,” says Jesse.
Supporting job training and employment programs has never been more important. Because of the pandemic, 114 million more jobs were lost in 2020 than in 2019. Four times more jobs were lost during the pandemic than during the global financial crisis in 2009.
All of us work at something, whether we are paid or unpaid. When our values match what we spend time working at, we find meaning in life. People who are unable to work not only struggle to pay the bills, but their sense of meaning and self worth suffers too.
That’s why your generosity through Mission & Service supports job training programs here at home and around the world.
Meaningful work helps us thrive. Maybe that’s why, in the Bible, “work” is mentioned more than 800 times. In the Easter story, the work of Passover preparations set the table for Jesus’ divine work order: “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
Mission & Service supports programs that help people find meaningful employment and renewed life. It’s one of the ways you and I participate in God’s holy, resurrecting work every day. Thank you for your generous support.
Let us pray:
God of grace and power, this is a day when the story speaks for itself. Everything has changed. Nothing is as it once was. A new way has been made for us. Not even in death did your love desert us. We are a new people, an Easter people, called to see you alive in the world, invited to see with new eyes and feel with greater compassion. The presence of the Risen Christ in the midst of this world’s brokenness empowers us with new possibilities and hope even in times of uncertainty and fear. Teach us, like the women at the tomb, to let this Good News soak into our souls and permeate both our thoughts and actions.
We pray this day for our world so in need of this message of Easter. We remember all who are locked in by hurt, anxiety, grief or loneliness… all who are struggling in the face of addiction, unemployment, hunger or poverty… all who are weary in the midst of the global pandemic… health care workers, essential workers, teachers, health authorities… all who are discouraged or disheartened with their personal lives and who don’t know where to turn for the support they need… all who face uncertainty about their health or the health of a loved one… all who encounter oppression or discrimination because of who they are… the colour of their skin, their beliefs, their sexual orientation or their ethnicity.
We bring before you all those places in our own lives and in our world where we need to wrestle with what your new life at Easter really means. Mend us, renew us and transform us we pray. Point us to actions, however small, which lead to a more hopeful future for ourselves and for others. Fill us with courage to be generous in our believing, joyful in our serving and ever mindful that you are walking with us each step of the way. In the name of the Risen Christ, we pray as he taught us saying… Our Father…
Hymn: Thine is the Glory 173 VU
Hallelujah! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
Now we are an Easter people,
sent out into the world
to live as changed people
called by Christ to follow him into our everyday lives
and to act for justice and peace in our world.
Go in the power of that love and proclaim it again:
Hallelujah! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah! Amen.
Happy Easter everyone! Stay safe! Don’t eat too much chocolate!
Palm/Passion Sunday March 28,2021
Welcome to Holy Week when we remember the final journey of Jesus to the cross.
This is a week filled with lots of drama and intense emotion.
During our Palm Passion service today and into the week, we will read through a large section of scripture that describes the events.
Normally, we would present it with many voices and some props to help us to experience it.
Obviously that is not possible.
I do invite you ,however, to read the story slowly and meditatively that you might hear how it is speaking to our world and our lives in these times in which we are living. I have provided some hymn links to help you in reflecting.
Later in the week, I will send you a Maundy Thursday service. On Good Friday we will join with our Moderator for a church wide worship service. I will send you the link when it becomes available on that day.
By walking through the story in this way, you will have a greater appreciation of the Good News that will follow.
Reminder to Sunday School and parents to please join Janice and myself for a conversation about the events of Holy Week via Zoom. 11 am TODAY!
Welcome to our Palm/Passion Worship Service.
This marks the beginning of Holy Week- a week of tension and mixed emotions, of highs and lows, of great hopes and intense despair and disappointment.
Up to now, Jesus had been cautioning the disciples to keep silent about what they had heard and seen. Now he is going public about who he is. Through the events of this week, Jesus is about to demonstrate a challenge to the powers that be.
As you read through the events, I invite you to notice how he does this, not so much through the words he speaks, but through the symbolic actions he takes. In each of these actions, Jesus is communicating something important to the people of his day, to the powers of Rome and to us. For many, it made no sense -at least not now. It is hard for us to put ourselves in the sandals of those who were watching it unfold, either up close or from a distance. We might think that had we been there, we would have responded differently. We might wonder how did it all go so wrong?
As we read through the story with all its contrasts, as we watch what happens, I invite you to try to experience it as if you do not know what comes next. Look at the choices Jesus made to trust in God’s way of love and presence despite what he was facing. Then think about the choices you are making, the ways you are taking, as you seek to be one of his followers in our day and age.
Let us pray:
Draw close to us, God, on this unusual day,
this day of confusion, of shouts of joy and cries of shame.
Remind us that you are with us always,
in all moods and seasons,
in darkness and light and in between.
Lead us through this day and this week,
to the cross, the tomb and beyond. Amen
We begin our journey with Psalm 118:1-2,19-29, a processional psalm, often sung by pilgrims as they came to worship on high holy days. It is a thanksgiving to God for liberation and steadfast love:
1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever!
2 Let Israel say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save us, we beseech you, O LORD!
O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!
26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD.
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27 The LORD is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God, I will extol you.
29 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem, some folks in the crowd who were attracted to Jesus and his teachings go on ahead. Many of these saw in him their hope and liberation from Roman oppression. While his entry into Jerusalem may have seemed to many to be a simple, quiet processional, it had deeper meaning.
In their book, The Last Week, Biblical scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan suggest that it was a protest parade involving those who were on the margins. At the same time Jesus was entering the city through one gate, another procession was happening on the opposite side of the city. This one was led by Pilate. Unlike the simple and humble entry of Jesus on a back of a donkey, Pilate’s entry involved a display of military power- war horses, weapons and soldiers marching in formation. Pilate was there to stop rebellion and to show who was in charge.
In contrast, Jesus’ entry was as one who turns imperial notions of power and rule on their head. He comes not as one who lords it over others with wealth, power and prestige, but as one who identifies with the poor and marginalized. Jesus enters in vulnerability. There is no glamour, no glitz, no display of imperial power; only the power of peace and love. It is little wonder that those in authority see him as a threat. As you read this passage, watch how every act and detail of this parade is communicating a different way to both those who follow him and to those powers of Rome who are threatened by his challenge to the status quo:
Mark 11: 1-11
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
“Hosanna! ( which means God save us now, we are desperate!)
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Hymn: 124 VU He Came Riding on a Donkey
The joy and anticipation of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem though is short-lived and bittersweet as the events of the next few days unfold. The mood of the story quickly changes to one of sadness and deep loneliness as Jesus faces the ultimate cost of being faithful to God’s call, despite the pressure to give up and turn away.
The Passion Story that follows comes from The Lectionary Story Bible: Year B by Ralph Milton, copyright 2008, Wood Lake Publishing Inc. and is reproduced by permission through our Seasons of the Spirit curriculum. May your reading of it bring new understanding:
A Kind Woman: Based on Mark 14:3–8
Jesus had many friends in Jerusalem. His friend Simon asked him to come for
dinner. Simon also invited many others.
While they were eating, a woman came into the house. She had heard about Jesus and wanted to do something to show how much she loved him. She bought some very expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus’ head. It smelled wonderful. It made the whole house smell nice.
But some of the people who were eating with Jesus got angry. “That perfume cost a lot of money. She shouldn’t waste money like that. She should give that money to poor people.”
“Leave her alone!” said Jesus. “She has done a beautiful thing. Yes, we should help poor people whenever we can. But this kind woman wanted to do something special. Think of it this way. I am probably going to die soon. This woman has made my body ready for when I am buried.”
Judas, one of Jesus’ best friends, had an angry look on his face. He was thinking to himself, “Jesus is doing such stupid things. Letting that woman pour expensive perfume on his head – well that’s it! I won’t be Jesus’ friend anymore.”
Hymn:148 VU “Jesus Remember Me” (Taizé).
The Last Supper: Based on Mark 14:12–25
There were many people in Jerusalem, because it was the time of year when they gathered to eat a very special meal together. It was called Passover. This meal helped the Jewish people remember how God rescued them from slavery in Egypt and led them through the desert to a new land.
Jesus and his friends found a place where they could all be together to eat their Passover meal.
They had just started eating when Jesus said to them, “One of you does not want to be my friend anymore. One of you will try to hurt me. One of you will betray me.”
“But who would do this?” Andrew asked.
For a long time, Jesus didn’t say anything. All the disciples waited. Jesus took some bread and dipped it into a bowl of wine.
Jesus looked around at his friends. There were tears in his eyes. He could hardly talk. “It is one of you,” he said. “One who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.”
Then Jesus took a loaf of bread. “This bread is like my body,” he said.
Then he tore the loaf into pieces and passed the bread to all his friends.
“Whenever you eat bread, remember that my body was broken, just like this loaf of bread.”
Jesus took a cup of wine. He passed the cup around to his friends, and all of them took a drink. “This wine will help you remember. When you drink it, remember that God has promised to love you forever.”
Hymn: 148 VU “Jesus Remember Me
Jesus Is Arrested: Based on Mark 14:32–51, 15:1–3, 16–37
Late that night, Jesus and his friends were in a garden. Jesus wanted a quiet place where he could pray. He knew something terrible was going to happen soon, and he was afraid.
“Please, Dad,” he prayed. Jesus felt that God was just like his own father, and so he sometimes called God “Dad.”
“Please, Dad. Do I have to do this awful thing? Do I really have to?” Jesus was quiet for a long time. He was listening to God. Finally, he whispered very quietly. “If that is what you want me to do, then I will do it.”
Hymn: “Stay with Me” (Taizé).
Later that night, some soldiers came. They tied Jesus’ hands with a rope. They put him in a dark prison and kept him there all night.
Hymn: 134 VU Shadows Gather, Deep and Cold
In the morning, they brought Jesus to Pilate. Pilate was the ruler of the whole country. Like a king, except they called him the governor.
Pilate said to Jesus, “They tell me you think you are the king of this whole country. Is that true?”
“If you say so,” said Jesus.
Then the soldiers took Jesus into the yard of Pilate’s house. They started to tease him and say mean things to him. They hit him hard, many times. Then they put a purple cloth around his shoulders and yelled, “There, now you look like a real king!” And they laughed and laughed. Jesus didn’t say anything. It was still early in the morning. The soldiers made Jesus carry a heavy wooden cross. They went to a place called Golgotha, which was the place people threw all their garbage.
There they nailed Jesus’ hands to the cross. They nailed his feet to the cross.
Then they lifted up the cross so Jesus hung there. It hurt terribly.
The soldiers and others standing around started to tease Jesus again. “If you are a king – if you really are God’s chosen one – then show us! Jump down off that cross!”
Jesus hung on that cross for hours. Finally, he lifted his head and yelled, “O God! O God! Why have you left me here all alone?”
Hymn: 144 VU Were You There?
Jesus Is Buried: Based on Mark 15:40–47
Most of Jesus’ friends had run away. They were afraid the soldiers would come and catch them, too.
But Mary of Magdala was there at the cross. So was Jesus’ mother, whose name was also Mary. James and Salome and several women were there. They were some of the friends who had helped Jesus in Galilee, when he was telling stories about God and helping people feel strong again. They were afraid, too, but they didn’t run away.
Later, a rich man named Joseph, who came from Arimathea, talked to Pilate. “Please let me take Jesus’ dead body. Let me put it in a grave. Jesus is dead, and we want to take care of his body in a kind and gentle way.”
Joseph took a nice white cloth to wrap Jesus’ dead body in. Then he and the two Marys put Jesus into the grave, which was a cave in the hillside. They did it slowly, and gently.
Then Joseph rolled a big, heavy stone across the opening, to close up the grave. The three of them stood there for a long time just looking at the place where Jesus lay dead.
Then slowly, the three of them walked away. “It’s so sad,” said Joseph. “Jesus was such a kind, gentle person. I really thought he was God’s chosen one.”
Mary of Magdala nodded. Tears filled her eyes. “I guess the story of Jesus is over. It’s all over!”
But Mary was wrong.
The story of Jesus was just beginning.
Indeed, the way has begun-
a different way,
an upside down way,
a way of love and peace.
As we watch and wait,
as we go about our daily lives this week,
our spirits unsettled and restless with tension,
may that way work in our hearts and bring with it the promise of new life. Amen.
March 21, 2021
Good morning! Spring has sprung!
Hope you can get some vitamin D.
Please find attached a worship service to centre your day.
Reminder too that today is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Be sure to listen for news stories that highlight the day and our call to take action.
Welcome to our time of worship. We are glad you have joined us on this 5th Sunday of Lent. I invite you light a candle to acknowledge that from wherever you are worshipping today, alone or in the company of your household, Christ’s light and guiding presence is with you.
Come and seek God with your whole heart:
meditate on Christ’s teachings,
fix yourself on the ways of Christ
and delight in God’s Holy Word.
Let us pray:
God of love, fill our hearts with your Spirit so that we may draw closer to you.
May we follow in Jesus’ way and be inspired by our encounters with Christ
to share your love in the world, in all that we are, all that we do, and all that we say. Amen.
Hymn: 12MV Come Touch our Hearts
Letting Go to Grow
It is hard to believe that our Lenten journey is nearing its completion. Both of our scripture texts today signify turning points. Something new, something monumental is about to happen. A new path is about to be outlined for both the returning exiles in the book of Jeremiah and for followers of Jesus in our gospel. Yet, what is about to begin will be unlike anything that has happened before. It will not simply be a repeat of the past. This new beginning and new future will mark a whole new way of relating with God, with Jesus, with one another and even with the deepest parts of ourselves.
We begin with the prophet Jeremiah. He is often called the “weeping prophet”. That’s because he spends so much of his time warning the people of Israel of coming disaster because of their inability to keep up their end of God’s covenant with them. Many times he feels the futility of his efforts as the people go on their merry ways that leads to their exile to Babylon . Yet, by about chapter 30 or 31, something shifts for Jeremiah. He starts to speak of the hope and promise of a new covenant, something totally different from anything they had experienced before. This time nothing will be required of them. They will no longer know “about God” based on teachings. They will know God internally, from the inside out. The covenant will be for everyone, not just a select few. It will involve transformation- a breaking with the past, a different approach, a rebirth that will begin on their very hearts. It would be a new beginning for them, something not tied to the good old days but based on a new future that God had in store for them. In essence, with this new covenant, their very heartbeats would be in sync with God. Listen then for the hope and reassurance Jeremiah gives:
31 The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 It won’t be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant with me even though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 They will no longer need to teach each other to say, “Know the Lord!” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord; for I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins.
This new covenant was a pivotal moment for the people of Israel and ultimately for us too. It meant letting go of the former ways of relating with God so that the new things to which God was calling them might be embraced and come to life within them.
We see something similar happening in our passage from John that is set in the context of the Festival of the Passover. Although somewhat out of sync with our marking of the palm parade next Sunday, in John’s gospel Jesus has already entered Jerusalem just after spending some time with Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Now, with the arrival of the Greeks, who symbolize the world’s curiosity, Jesus recognizes that his time is running short. The religious authorities would perceive the arrival of the Greeks from away as an indication that Jesus’ reputation was spreading. In their minds, something would need to be done and done soon to squash his alternative message. As Jesus says, his “hour” has come- the beginning of a new covenant. This is the hour, the time to which his whole life has been leading. Things are about to change. What follows marks his last public dialogue. From this moment on, his life would be marked by letting go, like a grain of wheat falling to the ground. Only then, would something new be brought to life. Let’s listen as Jesus prepares the disciples for what is about to come:
John 12:20-33 ( to hear Linnea tell this by heart, click here )
20 Some Greeks were among those who had come up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and made a request: “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” 22 Philip told Andrew, and Andrew and Philip told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. 24 I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me.
27 “Now I am deeply troubled.] What should I say? ‘Father, save me from this time’? No, for this is the reason I have come to this time. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
29 The crowd standing there heard and said, “It’s thunder.” Others said, “An angel spoke to him.”
30 Jesus replied, “This voice wasn’t for my benefit but for yours. 31 Now is the time for judgment of this world. Now this world’s ruler will be thrown out. 32 When I am lifted up] from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.” (33 He said this to show how he was going to die.)
As I reflected on these two passages this week, I noticed how both of them involved the task of letting go of one way of thinking and relating in order to embrace something new. I wondered how difficult it must have been for both the people of Israel and these followers of Jesus to get their minds around what was being proposed, especially when it all seemed so foreign to their expectations. The people of Israel were used to the law being written down, learned and, by times, debated by many. Now it was to be internalized, known innately by all. The followers of Jesus had images of a conquering Messiah. Now he was talking about one who would die. Both groups must have wrestled with what was being told to them.
Our Whole People of God curriculum presents the following story that pushed me along in my thinking this week. While perhaps intended for our younger folks, it proved useful in helping me to think of this whole idea of letting go and embracing something unfamiliar so that we too might grow and experience rebirth. I invite you to let your imaginations be open as you consider it with me. It is called The Seed Who Didn’t Want to Die
Imagine with me that we are part of a big, beautiful garden. In our garden there is a huge, gorgeous sunflower. It is seed planting time in the garden, and the sunflower mother has something important to say to her seeds. “My darling little ones. The time has come for you to leave me. You will fall into the ground and the soft earth will cover you over. You will be buried in the darkness for many days. You might feel like you are dying. However, you will not be dying – you will be changing and growing. It is the way of life for a seed.” One of the seeds named Carla said, “Oh, it sounds so mysterious and important.” Her sister Philomena said, “Ohhhhh no. It sounds like dying to me. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to change.” The sunflower mother smiled sadly. She knew there was no other way. The next day the sunflower mother leaned over, and all the little seeds fell into the soft ground. As she fell, Carla called out, “Goodbye Philomena.” But Philomena did not hear her. She was too busy hanging on for dear life! She clung to the mother sunflower for as long as she could, but eventually she too fell away. But instead of landing in the garden, Philomena landed on the garden pathway. “What a stroke of good luck,” she thought, “I’m safe! I’m not going to get buried and die after all!” She rolled to the side of the path and hoped for the best. Life on the pathway was not really that great, but she survived. In fact she was so busy surviving that she didn’t notice how her bright shiny coat was becoming dry and cracked. She was becoming all shriveled up. Early one misty morning, she was awakened by a voice calling her name. “Philomena!” the voice said. She did not know who it could be. She looked around but couldn’t figure it out.
“Philomena! Over here in the garden.” There, right beside her, was a tiny green shoot with little spring-green leaves. “It’s me. Carla.” “Carla! You’ve changed. You’re…you’re beautiful. What happened to you?” “It was just like our sunflower mother said. I can’t describe how wonderful it was. I feel so happy I want to sing.” Philomena began to cry. “I wish I could be like you. I wish I could have a second chance!” Just then a raindrop fell. Carla smiled, “Maybe you can!” It was the first rain in many days. First it drizzled. Then it pattered and then it poured. Little rivers of water began to flow. Philomena was caught up and washed into the garden. The wet ground opened to receive her, and she was suddenly surrounded by darkness. Philomena didn’t know how long she lay under the ground – all she remembered was that she began to feel like she was going to burst. And then she did. She could feel something inside of her push its way out and up towards the light of the sun. When little Philomena poked her first green shoot out of the earth, she was greeted with cheers and laughter. All the flowers in the garden were waiting for her to emerge. “Welcome, Philomena” they said. “Welcome to your new life!” Philomena couldn’t believe it.
Who did you imagine yourself to be- Carla or Philomena? Letting go of a familiar way of life and embracing transformation is never easy.
I was thinking this week about my internship experiences as a student minister years ago. This was a time in the church when persons with very specific portfolios in the General Council office would come and interview us in an effort to match our needs for learning with the needs of congregations seeking to have an intern. In effect, we were sent to a community that knew very little about. It was also the times when supervising ministers were present in the congregation to provide direct guidance and feedback. We also had what was then called a lay support committee who worked with us on learning goals and providing additional feedback. My first internship was in a two point charge in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. When I arrived everything was in place- the committee was all set up and ready to go. They had had other students before me so were acquainted with the process. It was a great summer of learning and exploring many aspects of ministry. The next summer, however, I had another placement here in the Maritimes where the folks were not quite as ready. I was their first student so they were not as familiar with the procedures.
At first, I remember feeling pretty frustrated and impatient, a little like Philomena, the seed in our story. I felt I was surviving all the confusion, but not really thriving. In fact, I was having real difficulty letting go of the summer before when everything had gone so well. So much so that I was failing to see the new growth and learning opportunities that my new setting was presenting to me. In time, however, with the help of my supervisor, I was able to work through the delays and frustrations in order to embrace new learnings that the first internship had not revealed to me. I realized that as long as I was clinging on for dear life to that former experience, I simply could not make room for what new things could yet bear fruit in the new experience.
Often it is like that, isn’t it? Much like the seed needing to be buried in the ground or the old covenant needing to be renewed, sometimes we just have to let go of the things that limit us and prevent our growth, whether those things are expectations of how things should be or preconceived ideas about people or experiences, before we can embrace new life. Sometimes we need to let certain things die in order that new life might break forth- things like our own self-preservation, like old grudges, old conflicts, old fears and old experiences that cripple our ability to live fully in the present. Often this letting go can take a lot of effort. It doesn’t mean the past is simply erased. It still is foundational for us. It is part of what makes us who we are, whether our experiences are good or bad. As happened to me, sometimes we almost idolize an old experience and get stuck there without giving a new experience any chance. We can get so fixated and comfortable with the familiar that like Philomena, we almost miss out on growing and becoming who God intends us to be. We become almost like someone learning how to become a trapeze artist- we cling tightly to the rung we are on even when a new one swings our way.
I like how The Message scripture interprets that part about the grain of wheat needing to die: “anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”
This goes for systems in our world too, like economic systems based on greed or consumerism. Some things simply need to die to bring about change in our world, the kind of change that Jesus understands his pending death to bring about. We need to die to the exploitation of the earth’s natural resources so that a new covenant might be made with the earth and its creatures. We need to die to our lack of compassion for the poor, the oppressed and the victims of systemic injustices like racism and inequality in order to work for a new way of being where love, respect and justice are the driving values. This calls for not just a “tweaking” of the old, but a total reorientation of agendas and perspectives.
As Philomena found out, there is a whole lot of vulnerability involved in letting go.
As Barbara Brown Taylor says it so well about Jesus’ last days- There were two choices laid out for his listeners, the same two available to him as the net drew in around him. The first way, the way of self-protection, was closed to suffering… he could stop walking around in the open and go underground or tone down his message. He could find more pleasant ways to phrase things. He could stop eating with outcasts and start showing more respect for organized religion. He could save his life. His second option was the way of self-offering. It contained the probability of suffering if he kept speaking and living his confrontational message and crossing lines of power. A grain of wheat cannot grow unless it dies. To do what it was meant to do, it has to be given up. It has to let go that new life might come forth. Because Jesus was willing to let go, his seed bore much fruit. A new community was formed in his name. He showed us what is possible.
He is counting on us to take our grain of wheat, to let it fall to the earth and nurture a new covenant in his name. As we prepare for the events of Holy Week next Sunday, may we learn what it means to really let go, that the new life he brings might blossom among us. Amen.
Minute for Mission ( This story reminds us that sometimes we need “to let go” of the idea that homelessness only happens in cities. Often, in rural areas like our own, needs for housing and food are not always as obvious but they are still there. As we read this, let’s think about how we might open our hearts and minds to new understandings about rural poverty)
Through your gifts, Mission & Service helps support those who struggle in rural areas, where poverty can be hard to spot.
In rural communities, homelessness can be even more hidden.
Credit: Trisha Elliott / The United Church of Canada
Gary* is a senior citizen living in Ingleside, Ontario, a village of 1,300 people. He lives alone, and is in poor health. He tries to keep warm by heating his house with wood. That’s fine – until he runs out. Gary doesn’t have a driver’s license so can’t access social services in the city. Thankfully, a few months ago, his doctor referred him to the House of Lazarus, a Mission & Service supported community outreach that offers food, clothing, and household goods to those in need.
“Gary would have starved or frozen to death without House of Lazarus intervening and getting him food and wood. But long-term solutions for people without cars are challenging because they have no way to access services in larger centres,” says Rev. Dan Hayward, the minister at Ingleside-Newington United Church where the House of Lazarus just opened a satellite location last August. “There’s a rural homelessness issue here that few people would think exists,” says Hayward.
In rural communities, poverty can be hard to spot. There, people rarely ask for money on the street. There are no downtown cores to gather in and few, if any shelters, to turn to. Lack of public transit and nearby resources means that, too often, people suffer alone.
“We first saw the problem when we began delivering firewood. One person put a wood stove into an old camper to stay warm. It was definitely not safe,” says Cathy Ashby, the House of Lazarus Executive Director. Women are particularly impacted. “We know they stay in abusive situations because there is no affordable housing or emergency shelters in the area. We found a single mother and her two teenage daughters sleeping in a tent well into November. It’s challenging. Politicians are not going to put money into an issue that they don’t see.”
Increasingly, the House of Lazarus is reaching out into the community rather than waiting for people to come to them. Mission & Service support helps provide community meals and breakfast programs off-site. Through Operation Backpack, highlighted in this year’s Gifts With Vision catalogue, 170 students receive food in their backpack every Friday to help them through the weekend.
“The United Church is definitely a strong supporter. We have had Seeds of Hope grant funding, been highlighted in Gifts with Vision, and receive regular Mission & Service support. We are grateful,” says Ashby.
Your gifts through Mission and Service help transform lives in rural and urban centers across our country. Thank you.
*Gary’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.
Let us pray:
Loving God, your law of love is written on our hearts and is there for us as a song for our journeys. It is a song with words that comfort when hardships on the road burden us, when weakness overwhelms us, when uncertainty paralyses us with fear, and when temptation beckons us. It is a tune that buoys our spirits and strengthens our resolve to see the journey through. Thank you, God, for that steadfast presence.
As we experience all the joys and pains of living, the brokenness of the world that separates us from you, creation and one another, assure us of your forgiveness and ability to bring about transformation. Like a tiny seed in the ground, nurture us and renew us that we might grow in your ways of wisdom. Where we need to let go of old habits, old understandings, preconceived ideas or familiar ways of thinking and doing, open us to the stirring of your Spirit.
We pray for all who this day are struggling in the midst of broken relationships, poverty, lack of clean drinking water, adequate food, or shelter, illness, or the ongoing care of loved ones. Hold them in your light and concern, we pray….
Restore to all of us a sense of hope as vaccines start to roll out across our nation. Give us patience in the midst of frustrations. Open us to the needs of others and help us to work for a new world where there is no longer least and greatest, rich and poor, where there is enough for all, and all are treated as your beloved children. May the work of our church and its ministries all across our nation and world help to grow this kind of world that you envision. In the spirit of Jesus, may we never tone down the message of all that can be possible when we live in your ways of love, justice and peace. Hear these our prayers, O God, as we offer them in the name of the One who, through his words and actions, continues to remind us that new life is possible as we learn to let go and allow ourselves to be drawn to you. From deep in our hearts, we pray, as he taught us saying… Our Father…
Hymn: 79 MV Spirit, Open My Heart
Go into this week, knowing that God speaks in every heartbeat and promises us that only a heartbeat away is the promise of resurrection.
Dwell in that love and embody it to the world.
May it be our song for the journey. Amen
March 14, 2021
Welcome everyone to our worship time at Faith Memorial.
Let us light a candle in thanksgiving for Christ’s light and presence on our journeys.
We begin our service with an adaptation of words from Psalm 107:
Give thanks to God for God is good all the time,
and God’s steadfast love endures forever.
For we cried out to God in our troubles,
and God saved us in our distress.
The Word came to heal and deliver us from destruction.
Let all of humankind offer thanksgiving and sing of God’s deeds through worship.
Let us pray:
Healing and ever-present God,
You are rich in mercy and generous in love.
As we worship you this day,
grace us with signs of your presence
and call us toward the new way of life you show us in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hymn : 266 VU Amazing Grace
Not Your Own Doing
Some of you might remember the Dennis the Menace comic strip. I am not sure if it is still around. One of these depicts Dennis and his little friend Joey leaving Mrs. Wilson’s house with their hands full of cookies. Joey says to Dennis,” I wonder what we did to deserve this?”
Dennis replies,” Look, Joey, Mrs. Wilson gives us cookies not because we are nice but because she is nice.”
In essence, that is a pretty good picture of what God’s grace is like too, isn’t it? It is God’s initiative that is the key component of grace. God is the primary actor. We are the recipients.
Both of our readings today suggest this very principle. God reaches out with love and grace. All we are called to do is respond.
Yet, that is not how we always see it. It is easy to fall into what has often been called The Protestant Work Ethic. It is the idea that we need to work hard or do good deeds and with those efforts , we will be successful and that will be a sign that we are “saved.” When it doesn’t work like that we get offended, don’t we? Remember the elder brother who stayed home and worked hard while his brother sowed his wild oats? Remember how the Dad responded when the younger one came home? Remember how upset and resentful that elder brother was?
In other words, a little like Dennis’ friend Joey, we fall into the trap of thinking that God will reward us with ‘success’ because we deserve it, or because our efforts at being nice have paid off. This way of thinking places the onus on us and the things we do as a means of earning grace. It pictures God as one who hands out merit points, something like PC points that reward us at the Superstore for customer loyalty! It also has a number of loopholes. What about the working poor? Then, again, how do we define success? The truth be told, obviously, grace is not about us, and our efforts. It is pure gift- a gift from God that is unmerited. Nonetheless, it does call for our response.
Let’s look at our first reading, a letter to the Ephesians that reminds the church that God’s grace was always present, even before they were even aware of it.
Ephesians 2: 1-10
At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. 2 You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God’s will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. 3 At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.
4-5 However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace! 6 And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus. 7 God did this to show future generations the greatness of his grace by the goodness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus.
8 You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. 9 It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. 10 Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.
In other words, grace is all gift. As Dennis explained to Joey, it has nothing to do with our deserving it or earning it by our virtues, our accomplishments or our hard work. It all begins with God, not us. It can’t be bought through our efforts or our behavior. As Richard Rohr, a Catholic theologian writes, “You can’t make God love you any more than God loves you right now. You can go to church every day for the rest of your life and God isn’t going to love you any more than God loves you right now. You can do a terrible thing and God won’t love you less. The only thing you can do is trust that love and grace and know that God is on our side more than we are on our own.”
This is a similar message that Nicodemus is trying to get his head around as we come to the midpoint of his conversation with Jesus. Jesus had earlier been talking to him about having to be born anew, about letting his life be transformed by letting go of his need to be in control and acknowledging something greater than himself at work in his life- God’s love for us even in spite of ourselves.
John 3:14-21 – to hear Linnea share this, click here:
4 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! 18 No one who has faith in God’s Son will be condemned. But everyone who doesn’t have faith in him has already been condemned for not having faith in God’s only Son.
19 The light has come into the world, and people who do evil things are judged guilty because they love the dark more than the light. 20 People who do evil hate the light and won’t come to the light, because it clearly shows what they have done. 21 But everyone who lives by the truth will come to the light, because they want others to know that God is really the one doing what they do.
Once again, this love (or grace) is initiated by God. It is pure gift- to the whole world. Not just the insiders. Not simply to the morally upright. Not only to the deserving. Not to the ones who look like us, think like us or believe like us. But to all the world. It is not a limited love that is in short supply. It is a love beyond our understanding. A love that just keeps showing up.
Many of you read the little devotionals in These Days. This week one of those messages used the old story about a reporter from the northeast who was travelling in the southern part of the states and stopped for breakfast at a cafe. He ordered two eggs, bacon, toast, hash browns, coffee and orange juice. When the server brought the meal, it included all that plus some white stuff in a bowl on the side. ” What is that?” he asked the server. She replied, “Grits”. The reporter said, “But, I didn’t order that.” The server said, “That’s all right. You don’t have to order it, it just comes.” So, we conclude, that’s also the way with grace. We don’t have to do anything to merit it. We don’t have to order it. It just comes.
Nonetheless, it is still hard to get our heads around ,isn’t it? I wonder if that is because it is so opposite to the way that we humans are used to? We all can relate with the confusion poor Nicodemus must have felt after that conversation with Jesus. His journey back home that night must have been a bewildering one to say the least.
On our Lenten journeys too, we wrestle with many different things, including God’s grace. We are all carrying something- for me, it is recent grief. For many of you it is personal illness or the illness of a loved one. For others it is anxiety, impatience and frustration with this pandemic and its restrictions that weigh us down. For others it is concern for the environment or some global issue that is plaguing so many. It is easy to feel that we alone are responsible for so many things. It is also easy to forget that we have One who shoulders our burdens- that it doesn’t need to fall only on us. This is not to say that we shouldn’t carry the hurts and needs of the world in our hearts at all, but how we carry them matters. As Vicki Kemper writes, “Do we lift them with our backs or do we bend our knees? Do we put our burdens down when we get tired or do we insist on taking them all the way? Do we carry the load alone or do we ask for help? Do we keep inviting people to lean on us or do we set healthy boundaries? ” We are not called to life sapping labour but are invited to find rest for our souls by embracing the new life God is offering us in grace.
Think about it. If grace depended on what we do, we would never make it! On the other hand , even though it doesn’t require our efforts or our perfection in virtue or behavior to receive it, the shape of God’s grace in our lives is conditioned by our responses. It bubbles up into our lives through our generosity and acts of love toward our neighbours, both near and far. It is a gift that inspires us to live into the light and do good things in response to Christ being alive in us. It compels us to work for reconciliation in the midst of the brokenness present in our lives and in our world. Yet, all the while, even when we fail miserably at loving others, even when we count out any number of reasons why we can’t love particular people, even when we become hopelessly self-absorbed, God shelters us in our failures and continues to show up again and again, embracing us with grace beyond our understanding and beyond our deserving.
It is a little like a story I heard about a minister who became quite ill early one Sunday morning. Although he could have handed his already prepared service over to a lay leader to do, he made his way to the church. Half way through the sermon, the room started spinning and a lay leader stepped in to finish the service. So much for being indispensible! Later in the day, a doctor in the congregation came by to see how he was doing. He gave the minister some counsel about what to take to settle his stomach. But what he said next to the minister stuck better than any medical advice- “next time,” he said, “stay home. God will show up, even if you’re not there. It is not all up to us!”
God is always showing up, always gifting us with love and grace. Wherever our journeys meander, God is there taking the initiative in our lives. Just as it was in the nature of Mrs. Wilson to be nice in giving Dennis and Joey handfuls of cookies, so it is in God’s nature to offer love and grace. God, of course, encourages us to respond to this by making that love evident in our lives by the way we speak and act toward one another, by the way we reach out beyond ourselves, by the way we live with respect toward others and toward all God’s creation. Sometimes we do that well. Sometimes we fail miserably. Regardless, God keeps on loving, keeps on heaping grace and mercy upon us. I like this poem by Denise Levertou called
The Avowal which, to me, summarizes it so well:
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them
so would I learn to attain
free fall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace
knowing no effort earns
that all- surrounding grace.
Thanks be to God that we don’t do this on our own- that grace accompanies us each winding step of our way. Amen.
Minute for Mission
Through Mission & Service, your gifts help community ministries respond to growing homelessness and poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brenda was close to nine months pregnant and living in a tent. She and her partner Gail couldn’t find housing they could afford. In Hamilton, Ontario, the waiting list for subsidized housing is long – for some, over 10 years. With no other options, Brenda and Gail moved into a homeless encampment. They started to go to Wesley Urban Ministries, an outreach ministry of The United Church of Canada. There, they accessed meals, showers, and housing support. Wesley staff found a place for them to live temporarily. During this time, Brenda gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.
Tragically, because Brenda and Gail don’t have stable housing, their baby was put in temporary custody. Housing workers at Wesley are working hard to help them get settled and reunite their family. “Despite all their hardships, they remain motivated. They show up for appointments and keep a positive outlook. We will not give up on them,” says a housing worker.
Your Mission & Service gifts support Wesley’s Day Centre where 100 homeless people find help each day. When the city deemed it an essential service, Wesley expanded its hours.
“Only 13 people are allowed inside at any given time during lockdown. Everyone is really good about coming in, getting warm, having a meal, and leaving so others can come in,” says Andrea Buttars, the director of resource development and social enterprise. Buttars says that during the pandemic, clients have had difficulty meeting practical needs. “Our clients have had a hard time finding bathrooms or having a shower because malls and libraries are closed. We are renting a trailer that has showers and washrooms in it,” she says.
Now that so many work from home, people are moving into the area from bigger centres. “That has a trickle down effect. We used to say that we had a housing quality problem. Now, we have a housing shortage problem, too,” she says.
As the pandemic strains social support networks, Wesley continues to step up. “We are committed to keep essential programs open and to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Research has found that the homeless are five times more likely to die of COVID-19,” says Buttars. “Through Mission & Service, the United Church helps us serve people who are very much at risk right now.”
Your generosity through Mission and Service helps support Wesley Urban Ministries and other community ministries as they respond to growing homelessness and economic stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you.
One way we respond to God’s love and grace in our lives is through the offering of our monetary gifts. In making an offering, you express your gratitude to God and your commitment to building the kind of world that makes that love and grace visible to others. Thank you for your faithful stewardship.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, thank you for your unconditional love for each and every one of us. From the moment we wake in the morning to the hours of our deepest slumber, you are there for us. May we never doubt that love, but live in it always. You break into the brokenness of our lives and our world, helping to restore focus when we wander. Your grace is not a matter of our deserving. It is heaped upon us over and over again, not because of who we are or what we have done, but because of who you are. There are no words that can express our gratitude. All we can do is seek to faithfully respond by letting you transform us from the inside out. May our lives be open to that rearranging that by the words we speak and the actions we take, we might reveal your divine spark to others.
Inspire us, we pray, to act justly in the world, to look beyond our own needs and wants to the needs of others. We pray for all who working for our safety in these times, all who are working in the field of research, all who are tending to the care of vulnerable persons in communal settings, in refugee camps, in shelters, at food banks and in hospitals. Give them stamina on their most difficult days and help them to see the big picture of their most mundane actions.
Remind us all that in every fear, you are there holding hope; in every sadness you are holding comfort; in every frustration and moment of impatience, you are bringing us encouragement. Help us to see you- ahead of us, leading us; behind us, nudging us; beside us, accompanying us.
Teach us to rest our weary souls in the healing balm of your grace and love that we might find the renewal we all need to carry on, following your lead over each winding path we tread on our journeys.
Hear these and all our prayers this day, as we offer them in the name of Jesus, using the words that he taught us saying… Our Father…
Hymn: 635 VU All the Way My Saviour Leads Me
May our path from this time of worship and into this new week
be guided by love- loving each other and serving God in the world.
May God’s grace, Jesus’ love and the Holy Spirit’s guiding presence go with us all. Amen.
Have a good week, everyone!
March 7, 2021
Good morning everyone. What a bright looking day out there!
A couple of announcements:
For those who are working your way through the United Church’s Lenten Study, Faith on the Move, please join in the zoom study group on Thurs. @ 6:30pm. Watch for details of how to do this in your email. We have had two lively and fun sessions so far!
For Official Board members: Reminder of next meeting, Sunday, March 14 @ 11:00 am in the church hall. Don’t forget mask and pandemic protocols. Sonja will be sending out agenda this week in your email so watch for it.
Enjoy this day- there is no other like it!
The heavens are telling the glory of God.
With the whole firmament, let us proclaim God’s handiwork.
The law of the LORD revives the soul.
May God’s teaching bring us wisdom in our worship.
Let the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O LORD,
For you are our rock and redeemer, and so we praise you! ( from Psalm 19)
Welcome to our worship service this morning. We are glad you have made time in your day to worship God with us. Please light a candle and know that you are in the presence of Christ and in the company of his followers in our community and around the world.
Let us pray:
God, you have set the whirling cosmos in motion
and called all creatures into being.
All that exists speaks of your majesty,
yet no detail misses your care and attention.
You know each of us by name,
and make yourself known to those who seek you.
Your wisdom delights the human heart and purifies the soul.
In our world where there is so much to distract us from your presence,
so many things that compete for our attention,
we give thanks for these moments when we can bring life into focus
and listen for your Word for our times and our lives.
Draw us into deeper relationship with you, we pray. Amen.
Hymn: 117 VU Jesus Christ is Waiting
No More “Business as Usual”
As vaccines start to roll out, most of us are holding out hope for some semblance of a “return to normal” in the not too distant future. Nonetheless, as we are also discovering, whatever sector of society we choose to look at, nothing will be exactly the same as it once was. Just this week, I was talking with one of the staff members at my mom’s nursing home. As much as they were excited to celebrate the arrival of the vaccine with a party and balloons, they also are cautioning families that this will not mean a return to pre-Covid visitation practices when everyone could just come and go freely through the front doors. There will still be a need for screening and masking for the foreseeable future. There are still a lot of unknowns about how long the vaccine will be effective. As she said to me, this will not simply be “business as usual.” The experience of living with the virus and now, its variants, has reshaped and called into question almost every aspect of our day to day living- our school and work lives, the way we shop, the way we socialize, the way we receive medical treatment and the ways we worship. As historians look back on these months, I am certain that they will interpret and mark them as a pivotal time of both upheaval and new learning for all of us.
It struck me that both of our readings from scripture this morning represent similar kinds of defining moments in the people’s understanding of who they were as God’s people and how God was calling them to live. In both readings, the people are called and challenged to look at the world differently and to grow deeper in their relationships with God and with one another.
Our first reading is the ten commandments. They were given as gifts to a formerly enslaved people after their time in the wilderness. Rather than as “heavies” and obligations to weigh us down or as a check list to determine whether or not we are “good” persons, they were offered as an invitation to the people of Israel to structure and shape their common lives together with the hope that they might flourish as they entered the Promised Land. These commandments were given as a means of imagining and working toward a whole new world- one filled with respect for God and for each other. They describe a way of life that would no longer be “business as usual”. This new way would be an alternative to the forced labour, the oppression, and the 24-7 work lives that the people had known back in Egypt. As Tom Long summarizes, ” The ten commandments are not weights, but wings that enable hearts to catch God’s Spirit and to soar.” As we read them, let us listen for reminders of what it means to live together faithfully:
Exodus 20: 1-17
Then God spoke all these words:
2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me.
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 You shall not murder.
14 You shall not commit adultery.
15 You shall not steal.
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.
Our gospel reading is the story of Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the temple. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, this is the event that leads directly to Jesus’ arrest, the straw that breaks the camel’s back if you like. In those gospel accounts, it comes at the end. The writer of John, however, has a different take on it. He places it at the very beginning, just after the story of the Wedding at Cana where Jesus turns the water into wine. This suggests that John uses it as a defining moment for Jesus- making clear from the very start that with Jesus, change is on the way. The status quo is on its way out. Systems that oppress are about to be toppled. With Jesus, it will no longer be “business as usual”.
As we prepare to read this story, you might like to imagine yourself as a bystander in the temple courtyard that day. Think about what you might see and hear- mooing cows, bleating sheep, cooing doves, yelling voices, clanging coins. It is a virtual hubbub of activity as pilgrims scramble to get their Roman coins exchanged for temple coins so they can purchase unblemished animals to offer for the temple sacrifice. This was a system that was in place for hundreds of years. All of it was part and parcel of the worship experience. The moneychangers were doing what needed to be done in order to make the system work. As a practicing Jew, Jesus would have been most familiar with it. This time though, as Jesus entered, everything comes to a screeching halt. From this moment on, it will no longer be “business as usual.”
John 2:13-22 ( to hear Linnea tell this story, click here: )
13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 He found in the temple those who were selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as those involved in exchanging currency sitting there. 15 He made a whip from ropes and chased them all out of the temple, including the cattle and the sheep. He scattered the coins and overturned the tables of those who exchanged currency. 16 He said to the dove sellers, “Get these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written, Passion for your house consumes me.
18 Then the Jewish leaders asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things? What miraculous sign will you show us?”
19 Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.”
20 The Jewish leaders replied, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?” 21 But the temple Jesus was talking about was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered what he had said, and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
So what caused Jesus to lose his cool that day? Obviously one traditional line of thought is that the moneychangers were exploiting the pilgrims by skimming off a portion for themselves as they exchanged the Roman currency with the emperor’s head on it for the temple currency that did not have any graven image on it. Unlike the other gospels though, John does not have Jesus saying anything about the temple being a “den of thieves”. Yes, that may be part of his anger but there is something more at play here I think. In speaking of his body as the temple, Jesus is pushing them to imagine a whole new system that will no longer require animal sacrifices. The new temple, his body, is where people will meet God. God’s presence will no longer be confined to a building. Like the prophets before him, Jesus calls for a dismantling of unjust systems that exploit the weak and the poor and invites people into a whole new way of faithful living. In over toppling the tables of the moneychangers, Jesus announces a whole new value system of worship- one that replaced the sacrificial system for worship of God in Spirit. This serves as a reminder to us that church buildings, customs, traditions or other features of church life cannot become a substitution for worship and devotion to God. They cannot be our idols. What Jesus is more concerned about is how we live together faithfully, how we care for and respect one another by challenging unjust systems and structures at work in our world -things like racism, bullying, the exploitation of the earth and its many vulnerable people.
Jesus, in describing himself as the new temple, is inviting us to a new way to be church, his body in the world. Certainly this time of pandemic has given us lots of time to think about what it means to be church. As we have discovered and lived out this past year, it means more than just “showing up” Sunday after Sunday and going through the motions of sliding into the pew, singing hymns, listening and greeting one another and then going back out to our Monday to Saturday lives. When Jesus enters the temple that day, he interrupts “business as usual” for the sake of justice. Biblical commentator Debie Thomas writes, ” if we are temples or sanctuaries, holy places where heaven and earth meet, it is more than simply being ‘nice’.” It is about asking the hard questions , doing the hard things and challenging complacency.” Being the Body of Christ in the world means being open to having our comfortable and safe faith challenged beyond “business as usual.”
I liken it to what happened to the people of Gander, Newfoundland on Sept. 11, 2001 when planes from all over the world started to land at their airport. The people of Gander were not long in recognizing that this particular day would not be business as usual for them. Within a span of 12 hours, 38 international aircraft and almost 7000 people landed in Gander, nearly doubling the size of its population. As Rev. Cameron Trimble writes in a blog I was reading this week,
“When it became clear that the “plane people” were going to be stranded for a few days, the community sprang into action. They housed people in their own homes, cooked every meal, turned the local hockey rink into a freezer for food storage, set up additional phone towers so that people could call home, and cared for the 19 animals stranded on the planes for those days. The people of Gander showed extraordinary hospitality on one of the hardest days in our shared history.
Recently I was talking with the pastor who was in Gander during that experience. She told me about how the community leaders issued a call for citizens to bring any blankets they could spare to the overflow shelters to keep people warm. All most people had in their homes were handmade quilts, heirlooms they had inherited over generations or created for future ones. Without hesitation, the citizens of Gander brought those quilts to keep the “plane people” warm.
Five days later, as the passengers packed up and prepared to re-board the planes, the people of Gander who had donated the quilts told the “plane people” to keep them, to take them with them as a remembrance of their meeting and sign of their care. Cameron continues:
Here is what I love most about this story: Today, throughout the world, quilts beautifully stitched and lovingly gifted are all over the world still keeping people warm. They remind us all that in the end, we are held together, stitch by stitch, through sacred and sacrificial love.”
I can’t help but think of this when I envision what Jesus had in mind when he walked into the temple that day and through his actions, demonstrated the toppling of old systems of people just going through the motions of doing as the law required. He was talking about a whole new way of living in relationship with one another and of reaching out .
As we continue our Lenten journeys, Jesus challenges us to examine what it means to live together faithfully, to relate to God and to others in a new way by turning things around, by making things better for others and by responding to his call to be his body throughout the world. Sometimes it is as simple as the offering of a quilt. In doing so, we point to another holy place, a place where God is found, a place not limited by bricks and mortar, a place where the human and the divine lovingly connect.
At the very least, this pandemic has helped us to discover one big learning as we, the church, have left our buildings. As Debie Thomas expresses it so well,
” When the pandemic winds down, our communities open up and we find ourselves free to return to “business as usual” on Sunday mornings, I hope we won’t. I hope we remember Jesus who upended the temple when it forgot how to be the Father’s house. I hope we will burn with the passion that animated the whip-wielding, coin scattering Christ. I hope we will settle for nothing less than churches that are truly houses for prayer, welcome, freedom and hope for all nations.” Then, hopefully, unlike those in the temple that day, we will not miss out on God’s glory standing right in front of us- in the person of Jesus Christ. Amen
Minute for Mission:
“Roofs…are every bit as important as ensuring that there are enough marshmallows for the s’mores.”
Two West Haven Camp buildings have new roofs thanks to Mission & Service support.
Credit: Sharon Bell
When is a roof more than a roof? This isn’t a trick question. Buying a roof isn’t exciting. It isn’t particularly inspiring, either. But it is necessary, and it is what allows exciting, inspiring things to take place safely beneath it.
Thanks to your gifts through Mission & Service, West Haven United Church Camp in the Humber Valley region of Newfoundland and Labrador was able to repair the roofs of its registration building and cookhouse.
Picture what happens under these roofs: Staff gather to plan activities for young campers; families line up to register little ones who will learn skills and make friendships that last a lifetime; faith deepens through prayers and camp songs; hungry campers chat excitedly over healthy meals and, best of all, snacks.
A roof is more than a roof when it facilitates sharing food, friendship, and faith.
Your generosity through Mission & Service is often directed to “core funding.” Sometimes our church supports trendy projects, but often we support trusted organizations that decide themselves which projects most need to be completed or which organizational infrastructure needs to be funded.
That’s a good thing for two reasons. First, it means that partners can direct the support to projects that aren’t as easy to get funding for―seemingly mundane things like roofs, for example. Second, it means that when emergencies happen, like a global pandemic, the funds aren’t earmarked for a particular project and can be quickly redirected where they are needed most.
“With West Haven’s emphasis on expanding campers’ physical, mental, and spiritual health, roofs might be the farthest thing from most campers’ minds, but they are every bit as important as ensuring that there are enough marshmallows for the s’mores,” says Josephine Belbin, director of grants at West Haven.
Mission & Service doesn’t always support exciting projects, but we always support necessary, meaningful ones.
Thank you for being the kind of informed supporter who knows that a roof isn’t really a roof: It’s safety. It’s community. It’s love.
As Jesus showed us in the temple, living a life of faith calls us to question practices, customs, laws and traditions that are not in line with God’s teachings and covenant. God calls us to overturn abuse, oppression and brokenness in the world- to work to bring about justice and healing by not being afraid to speak up and to act. Love for God and love for our neighbours must be central. May this prayer / blessing from Saint Francis help channel our thoughts and actions as we go into this new week:
May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths,
And superficial relationships
So that you may live
Deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression,
And exploitation of people,
So that you may work for
Justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears,
To shed for those who suffer pain,
Rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand
To comfort them and
To turn their pain to joy
And may God bless you
With enough foolishness
To believe that you can
Make a difference in the world,
So that you can do
What others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness
To all our children and the poor.
Hymn: 601 VU The Church of Christ in Every Age
Go with God’s grace. Live with kindness and love toward one another. Have a good week everyone!
February 28, 2021
“As the sun with longer journey melts the winter’s snow and ice… may the sun of Christ’s uprising gently bring our hearts to life” ( from VU 111 As the Sun with Longer Journey)
Please light a candle.
Welcome everyone to our time of worship.
Today we are invited to walk with Jesus who does not hide from the suffering of our world.
We come seeking God in the face of our uncertainty, our fears and our doubts.
From generation to generation we come to celebrate our Creator who seeks goodness for all creation.
Let us pray:
We praise you God of all generations, all time and all space.
When we wonder if you will respond to our prayers, remind us that you answer.
Strengthen our faith so that we might trust in your promises and walk in your ways.
Open us to your impossible possibilities as we seek to be your people in our time and place. Amen.
Hymn: 120 VU O Jesus I have Promised
Readings and Reflection:
Faith on the Move
Several of us in the congregation are working through the United Church’s Lenten study book entitled Faith on the Move. In the foreword to this book, the editor, Julie McGonegal, writes about how the editorial team wrestled with that theme of movement and change. They wondered whether or not readers could relate and resonate with it in the midst of living through a pandemic. Perhaps as people sheltered at home, it would appear to be tone-deaf. Yet, the more they pondered, the more they realized that although the pandemic has prevented us from physical journeys, we have all been on spiritual journeys unlike any we have ever experienced before. At the same time the editorial team also acknowledges that for migrants, refugees and those without shelter, their journeys have been more than metaphorical. They have involved risk and vulnerability that those of us who have had the security and safety of our homes in this pandemic have never experienced.
This idea of ” journey” though is a common one used to describe faith. Many of our psalms are “journeying psalms” sung by pilgrims as they made their way to Jerusalem. Think of some of the hymns we like to sing that have themes of journey- One More Step Along the World I Go, We are Pilgrims on a Journey, the line from O Jesus I have Promised: I shall not fear the journey if you are by my side, All the Way my Saviour Leads Me, Jesus Saviour Pilot Me, We are Marching in the Light of God, Walk with Me, O God of Bethel, Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah. There are lots more! They all suggest movement, a constant forging ahead with the trust that God accompanies us into our futures.
The Season of Lent is big on the idea of journey. Jesus journeys to the cross. We focus on our own journeys of discovery as we try to figure out for ourselves what it means to be faithful disciples of Jesus in our day and age. We never know where our journeys will end up. We never know what people we will encounter or the experiences we will have along the way. There is always risk in stepping forth. Faith is certainly never static.
That’s how it was for Abraham and Sarah and later, for the disciples too. There were no maps with clear destination points. So much simply involved trust- trust that God would be with them, trust that God would give them the resources they needed and that God would keep God’s promises to them. Yet, that trust was not always easy. It meant a willingness to let God take the driver’s seat and steer them toward unknown and unexpected destinations.
Let’s begin with Abram and Sarai. They were old. A physical move was not on their agenda. They were more than what we might call “settled in for retirement” when God first spoke to them. About 2 decades prior to our reading this morning, God had showed up to Abram calling him to leave his familiar home country to go to a land that God would show him. So he and Sarai gathered up their livestock and portable belongings and off they went. Seemingly there were no questions asked. A little while later, God showed Abram all the stars in the night sky and promised him that they would have descendents as many as the stars. It was like God was saying to them “you are never too old to be part of my plan.” Over time fear and panic though got in the way. Patience was wearing thin. There was no child forthcoming. Abram and Sarai decided to take things into their own hands by getting Abram to father a son, Ishmael, through their slave Hagar. Still though, God kept renewing the covenant promise, this time adding a name change for both of them:
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty, walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
I like that line- ” walk before me and be blameless.” In other words, keep moving forward with me. Keep on the journey. Don’t give up on the promises. Keep walking even when you don’t have all the answers. Keep walking even when there is risk involved. Such is the journey of faith, isn’t it? Take those small steps but keep moving. Be open to the possibilities that present even when things seem impossible or against all odds. Put your whole self out there. Live faithfully. Live with possibility, even if you are 99 years old!Jonathan Sacks provides an eloquent summation: “Faith is the ability to live with delay without losing trust in the promise; to experience disappointment without losing hope, to know that the road between the real and the ideal is long and yet be willing to undertake the journey. That was Abraham’s and Sarah’s faith.”
As I was thinking about Abraham this week, I was remembering another 99 year old who has inspired and captured the hearts of many this past year. His name is Sir Captain Tom Moore. You probably remember hearing of his death recently. He is the British war vet who raised millions of dollars for health care workers during the Covid-19 outbreak in England last year by walking with his walker 100 laps of his garden, 10 each day in time for his 100th birthday. He proved to the nation and to the world that you are never too old to set out on a new path. He could have given up and rested, deciding he had nothing else left to give. Yet, he chose to move forward by finding a new possibility for his life in a cause greater than himself. Despite his age, much like Abraham and Sarah, his thoughts were still on the future. He put his heart and soul into making a difference, on forging ahead.
The disciples, however, were having more of a struggle with the new path Jesus was suggesting to them. We might say that they were comfortable, thank you very much, with where Jesus’ movement was heading so far. If they could have, they would have tossed an anchor overboard and grounded themselves firmly in place. They had witnessed Jesus’ teachings and healings. As far as they were concerned, they had backed a winner. Jesus was the one who would save them from the oppression of the Roman government. At least that is what they thought until now. Suddenly, though, Jesus changes the water on the beans. He drops a bombshell on the disciples as he shares with them where the journey will lead. Listen to their response:
Mark 8:31-38 ( to hear Linnea share this passage, click here )
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
It is Peter who speaks up. No way, Jesus. Say it isn’t so. This is not the way it is supposed to play out. We signed on for a crown, not a cross. A suffering and dying Messiah just didn’t go together for the disciples. Jesus was to be their champion, their hero. What Jesus is talking about was the last thing on their minds. Their idea of the journey did not involve anything but a smooth road ahead. They wanted comfort, not struggle.
Nonetheless, they had missed the point. As Jesus outlines the route ahead with talk about his rejection, suffering and death, we can imagine all of the disciples standing there with their jaws dropping. This was not on any of their radars. It was not where they saw the whole movement leading. All this talk about saving their lives resulting in loss of life and losing their lives resulting in saving their lives left them scratching their heads.
Yet Jesus says such is the life of faith and walking the road with him. The alternative is to stay put- to avoid risk all together and to play it safe. For Abraham and Sarah, it would probably have meant setting their feet on a footstool and sitting in their rocking chair and only being worried and concerned about themselves. For Captain Tom, it might have meant a little exercise to stretch that new hip, but no thought at all for the risks that health care providers were taking to care for others in the time of this pandemic.
That’s not the kind of journey Jesus was envisioning. Discipleship would mean forging ahead, embracing what felt like impossible possibilities by giving our lives sacrificially to acts of love, service, justice and peace. It could very well involve removing ourselves from the centre of our concerns in order to assist others. It was a journey, a call to a new way of living and being in the world.
Our Lenten book, Faith on the Move asks the same questions of us as individuals and as a congregation as we journey through this season. To what is God inviting us as we move through Lent this year? Are we up for the challenges? Are we bold enough to embrace the new discoveries and surprises along the way? Can we trust in God’s promises and God’s guidance as we move forward one step at a time?
What consoles me is that through all our foibles, our attempts to take things into our own hands, to charter our own courses, God keeps stepping in there, as God did with Abraham and Sarah and with the bumbling disciples, continually renewing the covenant, setting us back on the path and calling us to walk on with hope and trust that we do not journey alone. For this we say- thanks be to God. Amen.
Minute for Mission
Your gifts to Mission & Service help the church advocate for refugees, migrant workers, those who are homeless, and other marginalized groups.
Credit: The United Church of Canada
Mission and Service is often described as the “lifeblood” of our church. That’s because it runs through the veins of everything we do together as a church. If you have ever sung out of a United Church hymnbook, your life has been touched through Mission & Service. If you have been cared for by a United Church minister, Mission & Service has had an impact on you. No matter which region your church is in, there is an organization near you doing life-changing work that is supported through Mission & Service.
If your church matters to you, then Mission & Service should matter too.
Through Mission & Service, we help transform lives and inspire purpose. In other words, we connect action and faith.
For example, right now, our United Church is exploring what it means to be on the move. You may have purchased the Lenten devotional book Faith on the Move or are taking part in the webinar study series which is in full swing. (By the way, you can still join in). The development of resources like these are partially subsidized through Mission & Service so that they can be offered at a reasonable cost and in many cases, no cost.
It’s no coincidence that we are studying being “on the move.” Not only is our faith always in transition, but our United Church literally reaches out to people on the move. We advocate for refugees, migrant workers, those who are homeless, and many other marginalized groups.
Did you know that over 272 million people in the world today do not live in the country in which they were born? While most people leave their home countries for work, millions of others are forced to leave because of conflict, persecution, and terrorism.
The United Nations reports that for the first time in the history, the number of people forced to leave their home has topped 70 million. Think about that. It’s one thing to be “on the move” because we’ve made a choice. It’s another to be forced out.
As Christians, we are called to help build a better world. To do that, our faith needs to connect with our action. Mission & Service supports us as a church to both learn and advocate.
Thank you for generously helping our church deepen faith and live out the compassion of Jesus in all that we think and do.
Let us pray:
Loving God, through the gift of your covenant, you reached into Abraham and Sarah’s lives and asked them to dream the impossible dream. You promised that you would transform their barren situation into one overflowing with hope and new life. You invited the disciples too to risk their security, their comfort and their reputations for the sake of following your Son, Jesus and called them to witness to your alternative kingdom through their lives. That call and covenant continues to be made even to us in our day, and to all who come after us, all humanity, all living creatures. As we move through this Lenten Season, may we boldly embrace your promises as we walk into our futures. When we stumble, set us back on our feet that we might serve you and others. Teach us to trust, even in moments when we feel most fearful and uncertain. May we give thanks for those moments in this pandemic that make us laugh or smile, that restore our courage along the way. Thank you for those times when you help us to overcome the temptation to choose the easy or smooth way when we know that the road you are asking us to take requires something deeper.
We pray this day for healing and restoration in this world, for people, places and situations in need of your grace…
We remember all who struggle to clothe, feed or shelter their families or themselves, for all who worry about their future.
We pray for the earth and its creatures and ask that you might help us to live with respect for all living things.
We pray for peace and justice in the face of upheaval.
We pray for our leaders and health care workers as they work to co-ordinate vaccines for our nations.
We pray for those whose names, faces and needs are resting on our hearts this day…
Hear these our prayers, O God, as we join with our brothers and sisters in faith, from generation to generation, in praying the prayer Jesus taught… Our Father….
Hymn: 639 VU One More Step
May the God of Abraham and Sarah walk with us and bless us.
May we go with courage into this new week,
knowing that God’s hand is leading us
and God’s love is supporting us wherever we go. Amen
Have a good week everyone!
February 21, 2021
Vignettes of Canadian Black History
A Service for Black History Month
“Hush! Hush!” (MV 167) https://youtu.be/S20TTam_Nm4
Welcome and Announcements
Acknowledgment of Traditional Territory
We acknowledge this sacred land we gather on
As the traditional territory of the Mi’kmaq First Nations.
As Treaty members, we commit to Reconciliation.
We honour the heritage and gifts of Mi’kmaq people.
We Light the Christ Candle
Friends, the Light of Christ!
Over My Head” (MV 88) https://youtu.be/gOaEa4DHhis
Vignettes of Canadian Black History
Black people have been present in the land we call Canada since long before confederation. Multilinguist Mathieu da Costa, of partial African ancestry, is the first known Black person to arrive on this land. Da Costa is understood to have spoken Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, Mi’kmaq, and pidgin Basque, and because of his ability to learn new languages traveled with João Fernandes Lavrador, exploring Greenland and the north Atlantic coast of Canada as early as 1499. Additionally da Costa would voyage with Pierre Dugua de Mons and Samuel de Champlain.
We Confess Our Common Faith: A New Creed
Please join me as we share the story of our hearts (VU p. 918).
A New Creed https://youtu.be/j0JWQ-e8CRQ
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” (African-American spiritual): https://youtu.be/FPCO-Cbn5qQ
Gracious God, Jesus our Anointed,
We pray for your mercy today, knowing that anything short
Of just living is not the kingdom of heaven,
The living arrangement we live and long for.
At the heart of your renewed creation
Is a quest for healthy relationships
And the building up of marginalized individuals and communities.
We ask for the courage to hear and support
The stories of racialized individuals and communities
That we might meet Jesus in the story
And be transformed.
We Pass the Peace
The Peace of Christ be with you!
And also with your spirit.
Vignettes of Canadian Black History
The story that is dawning on the minds of more and more Canadians in recent years is that slavery connected to European colonialism existed in Canada for about 205 years. It began with the arrival of Olivier Le Jeune, an African boy from Madagascar, about 7 years old, in New France (modern-day Quebec). There is little known about Le Jeune, but he was educated by a Jesuit priest, Father Le Jeune, and upon baptism took the name Olivier after the colony’s head clerk Olivier Letardif. He would later take the priest’s surname. By the time Le Jeune died in May 1654, it is thought that his status had changed from slave to free domestic servant.
We, the United Church of Canada, have made a commitment to becoming an anti-racist denomination. Another way of saying this is that we are committed to developing healthy relationships with individuals and communities, especially those experiencing marginalization, because this was a focus of Jesus’ redemptive work.
Thank you for being invested in this transformative work, and thank-you for being dedicated to living out this incredible vision for our community and the world. Your time, talents, and gifts make a huge difference, and we are forever grateful to see what God is doing in you and in our community.
I’m Gonna Live So God Can Use Me” (VU 575, 2X) https://youtu.be/G8ls2jxBqVk
God, bless these gifts
May they be put to good use
Here at Faith Memorial United Church
And around the world.
Vignettes of Canadian Black History
Marie-Joseph Angélique was an enslaved woman living in what is now called “Old Montreal” in New France (modern-day Quebec). She was convicted of setting fire to her slaveholder’s house and causing much of Old Montreal to burn in a chain reaction of events.
It has long been assumed that Angélique was guilty of the crime, but in more recent years historians have questioned her trial, suggesting that her conviction was based more on her reputation than on credible evidence. Angélique seems to have been viewed at the time as a rebellious “runaway slave”. Her story exposes the challenges that Blacks who longed to be free faced in the early days of Canada.
Jesus Heals Many at Simon’s House
29 As soon as they[a] left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
A Preaching Tour in Galilee
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
“Wade in the Water” (African-American Spiritual): https://youtu.be/7_euSS86dvE
Friends, we are on an exciting adventure as we explore what it means to be human together. Humans are complex beings, which means that human relationships are challenging and have the capacity to be highly volatile. The joy for us, however, who are in Jesus, is that we get to look upon every challenge as an opportunity for the birthing of a new world.
I always keep the book The Magician’s Nephew by CS Lewis in the back of my mind. As Digory and Polly find their way into the unborn world of what is to become Narnia, they are there when the Creator, the mighty lion Aslan, begins to sing creation’s song.
The Coldplay song, “A Head Full of Dreams” reminds me of the Chronicles of Narnia with its opening line, “Oh I think I’ve landed in a world I hadn’t seen…”
These works of art remind me that being a follower of Jesus is being a people caught up in the imagination of God—if you can imagine it, then it can happen.
Revelation 7:9 says this:
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
This is to say that we are dealing with a God who has a big imagination.
And I know that this could come across as, perhaps, a one-size-fits-all colonial scripture, I also think of that text from Amos 7:9, which says:
Are you not like the Ethiopians to me,
O people of Israel? says the Lord.
Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt,
and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?
The idea here being presented to us is that other nations and peoples have experienced liberation in the same way that our ancestors in faith did, and we can attribute it to the same source of our own liberation. This isn’t to cast our God on anyone else, but rather to name to our own community; that whatever this source of liberation be that we speak of, we do not own it, nor do we have any control over it.
As the scripture says,
The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. (John 3:8)
The Spirit, which is of Jesus, isn’t held captive to our religious beliefs, but invites us to, as one song says, “colour outside the lines”.
When we think of today’s story one line sticks out to me
and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
Is the Spirit that speaks to you giving you the courage to stand up to the demon of racism and inviting you and your community to speak truth to power in such a way as it causes others to have no response?
I’m not talking about shutting down deep conversations (for there are many who really have no idea), but rather allowing others to see the world inside of suffering, leading them to respond with empathy, saying to themselves, “I didn’t know…”. End of conversation.
Anti-racism work is really life-affirming work. Demons seek to destroy life, but we, the people of God, seek to bear witness to the life we have in Jesus, the Christ.
We continue to peer into what should be our Narnia—the world we hadn’t seen—the world as God sees it, where people of every nation, tribe, language, and more are able to bear witness to their own liberation and autonomy, for the demon of racism has been stood up to, opposed, and vanquished.
As the prophet declared,
If you do not stand firm in faith,
You shall not stand at all (Isaiah 7:9b)
“Spirit, Open My Heart” (MV 79) https://youtu.be/nnU09HqzJvs
Minute for Mission https://united-church.ca/stories/young-adults-lead-church-become-anti-racist
Prayers of the People
To you, O God, we pray.
In you, O God, we trust.
For you, O God, we wait.
Lead us, so that we may always follow in your way.
Teach us so that we may remain steadfast and faithful.
Remind us of our covenant,
so that we may be a covenantal people,
striving to care for all of creation as you care for us.
Where there is brokenness and discord in your creation…
(name parts of creation that are in unrest – environmental and social.)
Where there is death and dying…
(name people, places and species that have died or are dying, including endangered species.)
Where there is isolation, exile, and forced migration…
(name people, places, and species being displaced.)
Please send reminders of your love and, where possible, help us to be your messengers.
Blessing and Sending Out
The amazing grace of our teacher, Jesus Christ
The extravagant love of God
And the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit
Be with you.
―The Rev. Adam Kilner is minister at Dunlop United Church in Sarnia, Ontario.