September 25, 2022

Good afternoon on this day of Hurricane Fiona.

In our in person worship this morning, we lifted up our prayers and concerns for all whose lives have been turned upside down by this horrendous weather event. We think too of those who are working in the clean up today and in the many days to come.

 

Reminder that this Friday is the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. It is also the day when we wear orange t shirts to remember all those who attended aboriginal residential schools, the many who died and the many who bear the pain of horrific memories.

 

Next Sunday is Worldwide Communion Sunday. Remember to bring a cracker/piece of bread and a grape or grape drinking box of juice.

Also, it is Food Bank Sunday so if you are able, bring along some non perishable food to help fill our box in the entry way.

 

Have a good week. 

 

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

We light this candle to remember that it is Christ who brings us a light to show us the way. (Light candle)

Call to Worship:

We gather in the name of God, the source of our security.

In the midst of our troubles, we trust God to be with us.

We gather in the name of God, the source of our strength.

When uncertainty and weakness grip us, God will build us up.

We gather in the name of God, the source of our faith.

In giving us Jesus, God has shared with us the Sign we have to believe in.

We gather in the name of our Living God, the source of all our time.

God is with us now and God’s love lasts through all eternity.

Let us praise God together!

Let us pray:

Creator God, you have called us to take hold of the life that really is life.

You have blessed us with this opportunity to worship and serve you.

May our hearts and minds be open to messages of challenge and comfort.

May our worship this day inspire us to close the gap between all that separates us from you and from the cries of all who are in need in this world.

In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.

Hymn: 371 VU Open My Eyes that I May See  

Prayer of Confession:

God of all humanity and all creatures,

you have given us Moses and the prophets,

and Jesus Christ to teach us your ways,

to instruct us how you would like us to live our lives.

And yet, we are confused, resistant, fearful.

You call us to be faithful with our money, God,

And yet, we confess the hold it has on us.

It is so easy to get caught up in wanting more and more.

We forget to be content with what we have.

We forget to be generous with what we have.

You call us to notice our neighbours in need and to care for them.

Sometimes we ignore them instead.

We forget what really matters in life.

Forgive us, God.

Help us in our struggle to trust you and to not lose hope in the future.

Hear us as we pray… (silent personal confessions)

Words of Affirmation

Friends we have called to God and confessed the struggles of our hearts.

God promises to be with us in our troubles and to help us begin again.

When we trust in God and turn to God for help,

it is amazing how life’s difficulties sort themselves out.

God is there for us, offering us grace and hope. Thanks be to God!

 

The Challenge to See

A report from Oxfam dated January 2022 provides some rather cringe worthy statistics: The world’s 26 richest people control greater than $3.8 billion of the world’s poorest people. 1% of the accumulated wealth of one of the richest people in the world, Jeff Bezos founder of Amazon, is equivalent to the entire health budget of Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people. 20% of the world’s people have 87% of the world’s wealth.

The report goes on to say that the wealth of the world’s ten richest people has doubled since the pandemic began. This inequality contributes to the death of at least one person every 4 seconds in the world.

I won’t go on because I know that such statistics are overwhelming for us to hear. They give us a picture of the ever-widening economic inequalities between not only individuals, but also countries, in our world. They contribute to building and maintaining categories of “us” and “them”, of “haves” and “have nots”. What’s more, we need to remember that despite our complaining about the rising costs of everything, we rank among the “haves” of this world. Take me, for instance. A quick look at the annual report and you will note that my salary figure is right there in the budget. If I were to go to the internet and plug in that figure on a site called the global rich list calculator, it will reveal that something like 85% of the world’s population subsists on a figure lower than that. How humbling is that? You could do the same thing with your monthly income and I know you will get a similar result. The reason the result might seem rather shocking is that when we compare our income with another’s, we generally compare it with someone whose salary is higher, not lower. It certainly sets things in perspective.

So why all this money talk, you ask. We’re at worship. Well, it’s because, like it or not, our decisions related to money, how we spend it, whether or not we have “enough”, are the source of a great deal of concern and emotion for us. Advertisements we see in the media urging us to buy certain items can lead us to feeling of guilt or inadequacy, shame or even fear.  Sometimes in relationships with loved ones our attitudes and decisions about money are the source of conflicts. In marriages, differing attitudes toward money and its use rank just behind communication difficulties as a cause of break ups.

Yet, scripture does not shy away from speaking about money or possessions. Neither does Jesus. A good portion of his parables, somewhere between one third and two thirds of them revolve around this subject. Jesus recognized the grip that money has on us and the fears often associated with it. Our scripture passages this morning help set these issues in perspective. They offer us an alternate world view about how we might see the role that money plays in our lives in light of our faith.

The letter of Paul to young Timothy alludes to the dangers of the seduction of money and wealth. This is not to say that money, in and of itself, is evil. Timothy, however, is encouraged to not make money the primary goal of life to the point where it blocks out his relationship and grounding in God and his willingness to live generously. Timothy is called to base his contentment not on the uncertainty of money but on the certainty of God. This will provide more genuine security than building up money in the bank. Let’s listen to the advice Timothy receives:

1 Timothy 6: 6-19

 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, so that] we can take nothing out of it, but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches but rather on God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

In other words, it is not that money is the problem. It is the idolatry of money that causes us difficulty. As the old saying goes: Hold a penny (well I guess in today’s world where the penny no longer is in circulation, that means a nickel!) at arms length and it will appear as a dot against the sun. Hold it next to the eye and it will cover the sun. It is all about perspective and priorities. I think Timothy is being encouraged here to keep money, along with his wants and needs, in check. If not, he will be tricked into thinking that he is self-sufficient and has no need for God or no responsibility toward others for that matter.

It seems like that is exactly what happened to the rich man in this parable that Jesus shares with the scribes and Pharisees. Theologian Ched Myers describes this one as “a political cartoon”. I invite you to see what you think as we read it:

Luke 16: 19-31

19 “There was a certain rich man who clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted luxuriously every day. 20 At his gate lay a certain poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. 21 Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Instead, dogs would come and lick his sores.

22 “The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 While being tormented in the place of the dead, he looked up and saw Abraham at a distance with Lazarus at his side. 24 He shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I’m suffering in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received good things, whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain. 26 Moreover, a great crevasse has been fixed between us and you. Those who wish to cross over from here to you cannot. Neither can anyone cross from there to us.’

27 “The rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, send Lazarus to my father’s house. 28 I have five brothers. He needs to warn them so that they don’t come to this place of agony.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. They must listen to them.’ 30 The rich man said, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will change their hearts and lives.’ 31 Abraham said, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”

First of all, let me say that this is not a story about heaven or hell, nor is it a story about the evils of being rich. It is based on a familiar folktale that had circulated widely in Jesus’ day. In fact, in some ways, it kind of reminds us even today of the story of Ebenezer Scrooge in the Dickens tale called A Christmas Carol where the ghost of Christmas past, present and future leads Scrooge to reflect on his life.

It is important to remember that Jesus is telling it to the scribes and Pharisees who were firmly anchored in something that is known to us today as “the prosperity gospel”. This meant that they saw wealth, happiness and success in business and in the harvest as signs of God’s favour. In a similar manner, they understood illness, poverty and hardship as the consequences of sinful behaviour.

In sharing this parable, Jesus tries to put an end to such self-righteous thoughts and behaviour. Let’s consider first the rich man. He has it all- fine dress, lots to eat, a life of plenty. In our world today we might imagine him to be living in an estate with a huge wall around it, driving a fancy car perhaps, and owning a large art collection. You get the picture. Then there is Lazarus (and let’s note that of the two, he is given a name- that’s to tip us off that something out of the ordinary is going on here). Our picture of him is not that pretty. He is covered in sores. Begging. Hungry. Between these two men is a huge crevasse, a gap.

Oh, it is not that the rich man does anything cruel to Lazarus. If Lazarus is there day in and day out, the rich man would have to know it. The problem, however, is that the rich man just kind of ignores him. He sees no need to take any responsibility.

In the afterlife, it is a completely reversed scene. Now it is the rich man grovelling for water. Yet, even then, he still sees Lazarus as Abraham’s errand boy, asking that he might fetch him some water to eliminate his suffering. But Abraham refuses his request reminding him how he treated Lazarus during his lifetime. He missed his opportunity to see him, to really see him and offer him help. Now, Abraham says, it is too late. The gap cannot be crossed.

It all sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it? But what’s worse is that the rich man asks that his 5 brothers might be warned of the impending plight that awaits them. To this request, Abraham replies, no, if they would not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not listen even if someone rises from the dead.

So, if this is not a story about heaven and hell or about the evils of wealth, what is it saying to us? Well, getting back to what we were talking about earlier with all those statistics, I see it as a warning about the ways that issues concerning money- whether it be our lack of it or our concerns about what to do with it can preoccupy us to the degree that we become blinded and inhibited from seeing the needs of the people and issues that cry out to us on our doorsteps. We become complacent.

Tony Campolo describes how this very thing happened to him once in Africa. He had seen village after village of children with swollen bellies and yet he found himself trying to accept the unacceptable in order to survive emotionally. He recalls watching a child die as his mother tried to comfort him by singing to him. Suddenly, this child just stopped breathing and it all happened while Campola watched.

The rich man in our story was beyond the point of even noticing Lazarus.

Sometimes I wonder if that is what happens to us too. We hear those statistics. Deep down, we know that we are among the rich of this world even if our bank accounts don’t always show it. We have roofs over our heads and most of us can scrounge around our cupboards and put something on the table for lunch. We have the word of the prophets. We have the gospel. We have the unconditional grace and love of God that gives us life and identity, contentment and meaning and hope for our living. We have the witness of the crucified and resurrected Christ. We have a faith community. Like the rich man and like his brothers, we have so much to convince us of our need to really notice the needs of others who suffer. What will it take to bridge the gaps? We have heard the cries of environmentalists, of young people. What will it take for us to care for our planet- to reduce, to recycle, to reuse? What will it take for us, in the words to young Timothy once again, to take hold of the life that really is life?

I think the answers to these questions, while often feeling daunting, are really not all that difficult. It involves simply paying attention, noticing the people who cross our paths during our day-to-day encounters, maybe a child, maybe a shut in, maybe a neighbour, maybe a newcomer to the community. Or maybe a person or issue we never considered before that is calling to us. The next part is about asking how can I bridge that gap? How can I respond now?

Staggering statistics, words to young Timothy, and a challenging parable- they are our wake-up calls. There is still opportunity. It is never too late to see as God sees and to respond as God calls us to respond- by building bridges of care and compassion that help to narrow the gaps. Amen.  

Minute for Mission

  Women bear the brunt of effects of climate change in Zambia

Collage of 4 photos of people attending talks or workshops outdoors in Zambia beside the words Engendered climate resilience

An educational slide prepared by Women for Change shows their community-based work to develop climate resiliency.

Credit: Women for Change

In areas where historically there has been little rain, now there are floods, and where there were floods, now there are droughts. That’s how Shadrick Chembe, the Monitoring and Evaluation Manager at Women for Change—an organization in Zambia that strives to improve conditions in rural communities by empowering women and girls—describes the changing climate in Zambia. Women bear the brunt.

“In Zambia, women are still responsible for collecting firewood and charcoal and making food. Now, because of climate change, they have to walk a longer distance to gather firewood. Charcoal is harder to get. That means it’s harder to make food. At the same time, women aren’t involved in the decision-making processes that impact this work,” explains Chembe.

Women for Change was established in 1992, and its long-standing partnership with the United Church stretches back to1995. From the beginning, mobilizing communities to share ideas and best practices has been key to the work. Since its inception, 1,500 community groups have been established, with 25-40 people in each group and representatives from each forming associations. The groups discuss a variety of justice-related topics. Building climate resiliency by preparing for, recovering from, and adapting to drastically changing weather patterns is a priority.

Weather extremes due to climate change coupled with companies promoting seeds that only produce a single crop increasingly put people at risk.

“The majority of farmers are poor. They can’t buy seeds, but companies have created seeds that force farmers to have to purchase them each year,” says Chembe. “Groups discuss how they can save and share seeds, what they can plant with longer or shorter rains, and if there are traditional methods that can increase food production,” he says, adding, “We are grateful for the United Church’s support. The church has really been there for many years, helping us build awareness and resiliency. It’s been a real partnership.”

Your gifts through Mission & Service support long-term, life-changing work through committed partners like Women for Change. Thank you.

Let us pray:

God our shelter and our strength, we come to you in these moments of prayer. We give thanks for these fall days, for the gift of fresh produce from fields and gardens, for the crisp mornings and warm afternoon sunshine, for the pleasure of a walk or a drive in the countryside and for the shelter of our homes as the evenings close in. We are a people who are richly blessed. And with those many blessings come great responsibilities to care for one another and for creation. Help us to offer what we have been given- our lives, our talents and the fruits of our labour. Empower us to be a faithful community and to trust in your goodness, love and protection. Free us from all that separates us from you and from one another. Strengthen us to live boldly and to focus on the life that really is life.

Open us to the cries of all who, like Lazarus, suffer at the gates of our communities. Help us to hear the pleas of prophetic voices of our day who call to us to change our ways, to pay attention to our practices that are destroying our planet and to play our part in making this world a place where all can experience equality and justice. We pray this day for all who are feeling hopeless or uncertain, for all who are anxious, for all who are burdened by painful memories that won’t go away, for all who are grieving a loss of any kind, for all who are waiting for surgery or other medical treatments, for all are feeling left out, for individuals and families who are struggling to cope with financial worries that are causing them to make hard choices, and for the many who are working to meet their needs. Help us all to know that whatever our concerns may be this day, that you are there with us and that we do not need to face them alone.

We offer these prayers, O God, together with the prayers of each of our hearts, for our loved ones, for our community and our world, through the name of Jesus Christ, who offers us the strength and guidance we need to walk in your way. With this assurance, we pray boldly as one, saying… Our Father…

Hymn: 681 VU Where Cross the Crowded the Ways of Life     

Blessing:

As we leave this place, may our eyes be opened to those who lie at our gates. With the love of Christ within us, may we see the hungry and the hurting, the abused and the forgotten. And may we seek to share the blessings we have been given.

May God, who gives life to all things and richly provides us with everything we need, grant us godliness combined with contentment.

Through the love of Christ, may we be rich in good works, generous and ready to share.

And by the power of the Holy Spirit, may we take hold of the life that really is life- the life to which God calls each one of us, this day and always.

Amen

 ****************************

 

 

 

September 18, 2022

Welcome to all those who are worshipping with us.

Reminder to Session members of meeting next Sunday.

 

Thanks to Barb O. and Marlene S. for your thorough and informative pandemic guidance in our in person worship this am. We are fortunate to have such informed folks!

Don’t forget to check out our flag out front when you drive by church. Thanks to Gary D. for putting it up for us!

 

Have a blessed week!

 

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

Let us light a candle as a sign for us that Jesus’ love is the source of our blessings.

 

The world is often filled with many things that distress us. Christ came that we might have abundance of life and peace. May this light remind us of the peace Christ brings to our lives and to our world. (Light candle)

Call to Worship: (Cheryl Henry, Sheridan United, Mississauga, in Gathering)

Come, let us praise our wondrous God!

The God who gives us hope when all seems hopeless.

The God who brings us peace when our souls are restless.

The God who brings us joy when all seems lost.

The God who brings us love when we feel most alone.

The God who brings us Jesus when we need God’s presence.

Come, let us worship our wondrous God!

Let us pray:

Loving God, our world aches,

groaning with the pains of injustice, of destruction, and dishonesty. 

We worry about what is going on and what the future holds.

Yet gathered in this community

we are reminded of your promise never to abandon us,

and always to be with us.

Reassure us, in this time of worship,

of your never-ending love and forgiveness.

We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen

 

Hymn: 79 MV Spirit, Open my Heart    

Prayer of Lament and Confession for Creation: (written byAllyson Sawtell)

 Oh God of time and space, we confess we are running out of both.

 Species whirling into extinction faster than ever before.

Habitat created over millennia destroyed in the blink of an eye

Sea levels rising, threatening, moving closer, and the poor and the brown and the voiceless

taste the bitter salt.

Oh God of time and space, we confess we are running out of both.

Oh God of hope and Resurrection,

We confess to despair that creates denial in this Good Friday world.

 We tremble on the brink of the temptation to simply give up.

Oh God of transformation, we confess to choosing Business as Usual because it is easier,

 because it hurts too much to care

 because we don’t want to give up what we have.

 because we are afraid.

Oh God of deep sighing, these are our prayers.

And we know it is not only from you we need to ask forgiveness, but from all your creation

 You polar bears: Forgive us, we pray

 You coral reefs: Forgive us, we pray

 You Black Rhino and Green Turtle: Forgive us, we pray

 You Monarch butterfly, Ivory-Billed woodpecker, Gray Wolf: Forgive us, we pray

 Oh, air that we breathe, oceans that give us life, mountaintops of Appalachia:

 Forgive us, we pray

 

Remake us, oh Creator. Transform us into a new being.

Open us to your love which can open our eyes and our hearts.

Give us courage to walk in your path with all creation.

Forgive us and make us free, for healing and for hope. Amen

 

Words of Affirmation:

In our Jeremiah reading that we will hear later in our worship,

Jeremiah asks, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” That’s like asking, “Is there no doctor in the house?”

Even in the midst of despair and oppression, communities of African-American slaves proclaimed that there was indeed a healing balm in Gilead.

It was their way of reminding us that God’s healing and forgiving nature is always present, even when we as humans mess up.

Asking the question, as Jeremiah did, is the beginning of hope for restoration for ourselves and God’s creation. Amen

Readings and Reflection

Giving Voice to our Laments

 

As I have caught glimpses of the news reports that have followed the procession of the body of Queen Elizabeth from Balmoral to Westminster Abbey in preparation for her funeral tomorrow, I have been especially interested to hear the comments from those who have lined the streets. No doubt the last time we saw such a similar expression of public mourning was probably when Diana, Princess of Wales died. More than once in these past 10 days, I have heard reporters remark about how so many people were saying that they were surprised by their emotional response to the Queen’s death. Even people who carry very little respect or regard for the institution of the monarchy have felt the significance of this moment in history. There is a collective acknowledgement that her passing marks the end of an era and the dawning of something new.

I think it is a good thing that we are seeing such a public expression of loss. Our culture normally is not well-known for giving voice to our grief and lament. The open wailing that we see present amongst many peoples and cultures of our world generally makes us “stiff-upper lip” people uncomfortable. We are not used to communal lament. Think for a minute how often we commend loved ones for being so strong at the time of deaths and funerals, sometimes even treating tears as some sort of mechanical failure! We rush to soothe or to gloss over hard and heavy feelings. We tend to prefer stoic behaviours rather than wearing our hearts on our sleeves. Expressions of anguish, frustration or lament are often discouraged. We say things like come on now, put on your big girl/big boy pants and suck it up. It is almost like we secretly believe that if we suppress such feelings and don’t talk about them, they will just go away if we just put on a happy face. Even in the expression of our faith, we prefer everything to be painted in Easter pastels. Let’s just keep everything upbeat, okay. God wants our praise not our complaints, right? Yet, in reality, we know that this is not always the way of this world or of our individual lives. Sometimes we need to find the words and sing the hymns that express our lament that all is not well in our world. Giving voice to our lament in community and speaking our dissatisfaction with the ways things are often becomes the means by which we bring about changes in our world and find a new way forward.

Biblical commentator Garrett Galvin states, “Too often as Christians we edit our prayers to God. We speak frankly to friends, advisors and paid professionals but we don’t speak frankly to God.” However, Galvin, goes on to say, “Jeremiah holds nothing back from God and models a prayer life of both praise and lament.”

It is to Jeremiah that we turn for our first reading this morning. Here we find him under great stress and strain, feeling hopeless and helpless. All he can see is pending doom for the people of Israel. He’s ready to throw in the towel. The people have cheated the poor while the religious folks closed their eyes. Greed is flourishing. Self-interest has blinded them. They have rejected God’s word and gone their own way. So, Jeremiah lays it all out there- his anguish, his anger, his vulnerability and his disappointment:

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

My joy is gone; grief is upon me;
my heart is sick.
19 Listen! The cry of the daughter of my people
from far and wide in the land:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
Is her King not in her?”
(“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
with their foreign idols?”)
20 “The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
and we are not saved.”
21 For the brokenness of the daughter of my people I am broken,
I mourn, and horror has seized me.

22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people
not been restored?

9O that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
for the slain of the daughter of my people!

That passage certainly leaves us no reason to doubt why they call Jeremiah “the Weeping Prophet”! Yet, you have to give it to him. He doesn’t beat around the bush by soft-pedalling his feelings beginning with that first line, “My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick”. You can’t get more honest than that. He then goes on to say it is too late for these people. They missed their opportunity. Now there is no balm in Gilead, no ointment to cure their disease of the soul, will and spirit.

This is not the only example we have in scripture of such lament. If you remember, there is a whole book in the Bible called Lamentations, generally credited to Jeremiah as well. Remember too the story of Job that man who suffered much and aired his feelings to God. Then there are the Psalms too. Clearly at least one third of them are laments but unfortunately, we prefer to use the more joyful and praise filled Psalms. That’s not surprising is it given our human nature to want to leap to the quick fixes rather than stay in the pain. Yet, such Psalms in their honesty help us to give voice to the loss, disappointment, despair and disorientation we often feel in life. They speak frankly to God- not in an edited format. As Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann says of such psalms, “They express pain, grief, dismay and anger that life is not good. They also refuse to settle for things as they are and they assert hope.” In this regard lament is without a doubt the most honest form of prayer. I invite you to share with me one such psalm assigned to our lectionary today and as we join in it think of it as a helpful tool in giving expression to our laments:

Psalm 79: 1-9 (p.793 VU)

 O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple;
they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
They have given the bodies of your servants
to the birds of the air for food,
the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth.
They have poured out their blood like water
all around Jerusalem,
and there was no one to bury them.
We have become a taunt to our neighbors,
mocked and derided by those around us.

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?
Will your jealous wrath burn like fire?
Pour out your anger on the nations
that do not know you
and on the kingdoms
that do not call on your name.
For they have devoured Jacob
and laid waste his habitation.

Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors;
let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
for we are brought very low.
Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us and forgive our sins,
for your name’s sake.

How long, O Lord? Help us. Deliver us. There is nothing in this Psalm that skirts over the anguish or the pain. Much like Jeremiah, the Psalmist airs it all. There is no attempt to make it all better. It is just an honest expression of feelings, an acknowledgement that all is not right. Things are not as they should be. Something has to give. Something has to change. And here is the kicker, in airing these laments, there is the recognition that that change cannot come without God’s help, without a reorientation to God’s ways. Lament spurs us to take action, to do something.

Jesus knew that too. Along with the prophets before him, he too brought his laments before God. The one that stands out for me is when he entered Jerusalem and was so distressed for the people. In it, you can hear his anguish.

Luke 13: 34-35

34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you.] And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes whenyou say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

Later, he cries in lament from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Bringing these laments before God rather than glossing over them is an important part of our faith. In doing so, we declare that we need God’s help and that God has power to work with us to mend the world’s pain and brokenness. Lament also forces us to slow down and to engage the pain rather than being numbed by it. It wakes us up. As someone once said, “tears are prayers we can’t speak.” They often go along with lament. They wake us up to the hurt of our neighbours and the pain of the world. Expressing lament says we still care and that we haven’t given up on our relationship with God. In airing our lament, we are acknowledging that God is weeping with us, even when we bring destruction on ourselves by trying to go our own ways. God is standing in the rubble and ruins, in the brokenness of this planet and its people, taking our pain seriously and working with us for the possibility of renewal. Lament trusts God to hear us. It keeps our dialogue with God alive. It helps us to process loss which in turn helps us to process change.

Even in our churches in these changing times, there is need for us to put our laments into words, to name openly the way things were but are no more. We need to remind ourselves that the era of new churches and church halls being built and dedicated almost on a weekly basis across this country ended with the 1960’s. The era of the majority of folk seeing Sunday worship as being as natural as a morning cup of coffee or tea is no more. We now know that to attend a church and to be a part of a church community is counter-cultural. And until we can express our lament for a time that was but is no more, we cannot move forward into carving out a present tense identity and vision as the people of God in this time and place. It is important to name those feelings, those frustrations, the anguish before God and before one another. Only then, can we find a way into our new reality.

Such an honest airing of our laments helps us to find our way forward. It keeps us from being paralyzed by our fears. It is the antidote to despair- or as John Indermark a minister of the United Church of Christ in the USA says, “Lament is not a denial of faith, but a faith willing to struggle with unanswered questions and as yet unresolved crisis by holding on to God in the heart of the storm.” It says, this isn’t right God and we need your help. Hear us and stir us to action that we, your people, might be part of the solution, the balm that brings healing to this world’s brokenness. Amen.

Minute for Mission

Each one of us needs to do what we can.

Four hands in different skin colours are clasped at the wrists to form an interlocking square.

Credit: Photo: Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

It seems there’s a day set aside for everything under the sun: World Nerd Day, Pistachio Day, and Squirrel Appreciation Day to name a few. There are so many special days that we can become immune to them. But when September 21 rolls around every year, it’s important to tune in.

The International Day of Peace was initiated by the United Nations over 40 years ago and is observed around the world on September 21. The theme this year is “End Racism. Build Peace.”

Why?

“Racism continues to poison institutions, social structures, and everyday life in every society. It continues to be a driver of persistent inequality. And it continues to deny people their fundamental human rights. It destabilizes societies, undermines democracies and erodes the legitimacy of governments,” says António Guterres, United Nations Secretary General.

News emerging from Ukraine and fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic perfectly illustrate Guterres’ point.

As people fled Ukraine, social media feeds became flooded with a deluge of reports outing the mistreatment and abuse of people of colour at the borders. Countless reports told the ugly tale of people of colour prevented from crossing borders while White Ukrainians were ushered to safety. Similarly, racism reared its ugly head during the pandemic. Anti-Asian rhetoric surged alongside COVID-19, and statistics emerged revealing that people of colour were more likely to be hospitalized and die from the virus.

There can be no peace without justice. Each one of us needs to do what we can.

“We all have a role to play in fostering peace. And tackling racism is a crucial way to contribute,” reads the United Nation’s website. “We can work to dismantle the structures that entrench racism in our midst. We can support movements for equality and human rights everywhere. We can speak out against hate speech―both offline and online. We can promote anti-racism through education and reparatory justice.”

Your support through Mission & Service helps us as a whole United Church work toward a world free of racism and racial discrimination by supporting educational initiatives, programs, and partners working hard to dismantle racism.

Thank you for helping build a better world―a world where we are eager to honour the Divine spirit in everyone.

Let us pray: (please repeat the line, how long, O God, how long)

God of lamentation and celebration, give us the wisdom and the faith to know that you who created the universe and brought order out of chaos, can create in us new hearts and reshape our world. You welcome not only our praise and thanksgiving but also our anger and doubt, our pain and brokenness. Receive now our laments for this world.

How long, O God, how long….

How long will this war in Ukraine and other wars rage on this earth? How long will refugees wander? How long will stabbings and mass shootings be the headlines on our daily newscasts? How long will human rights continue to be violated?

How long, O God, how long…

How long will people ignore the reality of climate change?  How long will the earth continue to groan? How long will so many have so little, while so few have so much? How long will children remain hungry and families go without shelter? How long will people continue to suffer from addictions and abuse? How long will people be kept waiting for medical care?

How long, O God, how long…

How long will racial and sexist comments go unchallenged? How long will the cries of our aboriginal peoples for reconciliation go unheard? How long will the needs of vulnerable children and seniors be neglected?

How long, O God, how long…

How long will religions divide and cultures clash? How long will governments oppress and institutions exclude? How long must people wait for peace with justice in this world?

How long, O God, how long…

Hear these our laments that we have given voice to, O God, together with the laments that rest deep within us, for individuals, for communities, for peoples, for countries and for ourselves… as we gather them in the name of Jesus, praying as he taught us saying… Our Father…

Hymn: 612 VU There is a Balm in Gilead   

Blessing:

As we go into this new week, may our hearts be open to the joy and pain of living.

May we love as we have been loved, in receiving and in giving.

And may our Creator God and the creative Spirit, accompany and inspire us,

 

as we go forth in the name and way of Christ.  Amen

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

 

September 11, 2022

In our in person worship service this morning, we lit a candle as a symbol of remembrance and support for the James Smith Cree Nation and the people of Weldon, Saskatchewan as they mourn the deaths and violence experienced there this week.

We also had a moment of silence to honour Queen Elizabeth  and to remember the royal family as they mourn her death.

Have a good week.

 

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

We light the Christ Candle as a reminder that even in the chaos of this world, we carry within us hope and peace for the journey.

Call to Worship:

As a shepherd seeks a lost sheep and as a woman searches for a lost coin,

so our God pursues us wherever we go and searches for us when we are lost.

When we are uncertain or unsure about a way forward,

God assures us that this is not the end.

We come to this time of worship

ready to rejoice and celebrate in God’s love that is never far away.

Let us pray:

Gracious God, you search for us and never give up on us.

You value each of us as if you had no other concern.

We are here, not because we are good or holy or found.

We are here at your invitation.

May our hearts be open to your wisdom.

May our certainties be unsettled and startled.

May our time together prepare us to be witnesses to your amazing love and grace. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Hymn: 312 VU Praise with Joy the World’s Creator 

Prayer of Confession:

Gracious and loving God,
we find it difficult at times
to place our trust in you.
Too often we look at the world,
and see only violence, pain, destruction,
and signs of hopelessness and despair.
Too often we rely on our own strength,
our own plans, our own devices,
rather than trusting in your hand to hold us,
your love to sustain us,
and your wisdom to see us through.
Forgive us, Holy One.
Help us turn to you when we are lost,
that we might find our way home.
Help us navigate the treacherous waters of this world,
that we might experience your abundant grace,
mercy, and love.
Help us put our trust in you,
that the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus
may shine in our lives for all to see. Amen.

Words of Affirmation:

We have all been lost but God does not leave us in that state.

God continues to pursue us and restore us to healing and wholeness.

Even now, even in these moments, God is welcoming us back,

rejoicing in having found us.

Thanks be to God!

 

Readings and Reflection:

God, the Seeker of the Lost

At some point or other in our lives, we have all had the experience of losing something- a wallet or a purse, a bank card, a credit card, a glove or mitten, a pet, a ring, an earring, our glasses, our car keys. It is not a very pleasant experience. We panic. We feel extremely vulnerable, especially if it is something like a wallet with all our identity cards. We turn the house upside down. We alert family members and perhaps even neighbours. We retrace our steps. My most recent example of this is a time a few months ago when I thought I had somehow lost the original of my mother’s will. I was sure it was in a certain folder amidst all the other papers I needed. But it wasn’t there. I sifted through everything. I even called the lawyer as I thought I had sent it to him. But he said no, he would have no reason to have anything except for a copy on file. As I talked to him, I kept ruffling through the files only to discover it had been misplaced with some other documents. What a relief! I felt like jumping up in down in celebration! I felt like throwing a party! There have been other occasions too, thankfully only once or twice, when after of hours of working on a sermon, somehow, I forgot to press “save” and my computer gobbled up my work and I had to start all over again. Thankfully, I now have a feature called auto save!

Imagine how much more so the relief is felt by a search party when days after an earthquake a survivor is found amongst the rubble! I was thinking back to that story a few years ago when the young boys and their leader, in Thailand I think it was, ended up lost in that cave. Imagine the joy of the parents when their children were brought out alive.

As I was reflecting on such experiences, it also reminded me that in addition to losing objects and people, there are other ways that we can experience lostness. We can lose trust. We can lose patience. We can lose our ability to discern right from wrong. We can lose confidence. We can lose perspective or focus. We can lose hope. We can lose a relationship. We can lose our way.

Our scripture readings today call us to think about our own sense of lostness and how God never gives up on us, continuing to love us unconditionally and doing whatever it takes to restore us to the wholeness God intends for us.

Our first reading, from the prophet Jeremiah, describes a time when the people of Judah had lost their way. Instead of worshipping God, they put their trust in themselves. They had become addicted to greed, domination, wealth and power. The call of God to care for one another, to build community and live with justice had gone unheard. The people had squandered the opportunity to be the people they were meant to be. Now, the Babylonian army was encroaching upon them.

It is into this context that Jeremiah speaks. And it is not good news. He warns them of pending destruction and devastation of the earth if they do not let go of their self-centred ways and complacency. They were unable to see just how “lost” they were, forgetting that their actions, how they live, have consequences.

While these words are certainly not easy words to listen to, I couldn’t help noticing just how contemporary they are, especially in light of the climate crisis in which we find ourselves. What Jeremiah describes sounds very much like the creation story, with which we are familiar from the book of Genesis, being unravelled or undone. Similar, in many ways, to what we are experiencing today as we lose endangered species, rainforests, and polar ice caps. How many times it seems as we look at things like the monsoon in Pakistan, we hear it said that this is the worst ever seen. It is the same with wildfires in our own country, with heat waves and with days of drought. We hear it said that these extremes are the worst we have ever experienced. Once in 100-year storms are becoming once in a decade storms. Next generations are in peril. Yet, the foolishness that Jeremiah speaks of prevails as people are focussed on profits and power. In addition, we hear voices saying you can’t interfere with me, this is my choice or this is my property and I can do as I please. The individual reigns over the greater good and health of our planet. We can only wonder what God is thinking.

Let’s brace ourselves as we listen to Jeremiah’s words:

Jeremiah 4: 11-12,22-28

11 At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights] in the desert toward the daughter of my people, not to winnow or cleanse, 12 a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.

22 “For my people are foolish;
they do not know me;
they are stupid children;
they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil
but do not know how to do good.”

23 I looked on the earth, and it was complete chaos,
and to the heavens, and they had no light.
24 I looked on the mountains, and they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.
25 I looked, and there was no one at all,
and all the birds of the air had fled.
26 I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

27 For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation, yet I will not make a full end.

28 Because of this the earth shall mourn
and the heavens above grow black,
for I have spoken; I have purposed;
I have not relented, nor will I turn back.

It is indeed a picture of loss and devastation. It has similar overtones to what scientists and environmentalists have been warning us about for many years now. Our actions today have consequences for not only ourselves, but for the generations that follow us. We are being called to change our course, to turn around and to reorient our lives in a new direction- one that calls us to pay attention to what is being lost. Our aboriginal communities are reminding us of one of their teachings that says that in every decision, be it personal, governmental or corporate, we must consider how it will affect our descendants seven generations into the future.

The difficulty here though is that first, we must realize just how lost we are. Until we are prepared to do that, very little will change. Gus Speth, the dean of forestry at Yale University, speaking recently to a group of religious leaders noted the following:

I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation and eco-system collapse, and that we scientists could fix those problems with enough science. But I was wrong. The real problem is not those three items, but greed, selfishness and apathy. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that. We need your help.

It begins with realizing just how lost we are, doesn’t it? We can’t change course until we recognize where we have taken wrong turns and where we have grown complacent by treating creation as a commodity for our own use and abuse rather than as a sacred trust from God that calls for our care and respect.

Yet, just as in Jeremiah’s time, there is still a glimmer of hope. In verse 27 of this passage, we heard it, “yet, I will not make a full end.” God is still seeking us, in the same way as God sought the people of Judah, urging us, to work toward renewing the relationship and restoring the earth to healing and wholeness. Despite our waywardness, God does not give up on the world or on each one of us even when we lose perspective on who we are in relationship to the gift of this planet that has been entrusted to us.

It is the same message we hear in the familiar story of the lost coin and the lost sheep:

Luke 15: 1-10  

All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.

“Or what woman, if she owns ten silver coins and loses one of them, won’t light a lamp and sweep the house, searching her home carefully until she finds it? When she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, joy breaks out in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who changes both heart and life.”

Again, so much of this parable’s meaning is found in its context. The scribes and the Pharisees are grumbling about who Jesus is associating with, the people they would probably deem the riff raff, the lost. Yet, unfortunately, these religious elite could not see themselves as lost too. Just because they worshipped regularly and followed all the rules did not let them off the hook. Living a life of faith does not mean they will no longer lose their way.

Whereas we might expect a shepherd to cut his losses after a single sheep veers off the path, that is not what this shepherd does. Instead, the shepherd leaves the other 99 in order to search for that one lost one. The same with the woman and her lost coin. Why would she do such a thing as frantically turn her house upside down to search for it? And even worse, why would both this shepherd and this woman throw parties for the neighbours when the lost things are found?

In sharing these stories, Jesus is telling us something of the nature of God with us too. Even in our lostness, even when we fail to care for this planet, God refuses to give up on us. God comes looking for us, longing to restore us to the fold and to set us on a new course. It is God who takes the initiative and persists in the search, working and calling us over and over again to live as transformed people. And, like us when we recover something that we may have lost, God rejoices and celebrates when we are awakened to our lostness. Like the shepherd finding the sheep or the woman finding the coin, God throws a party to celebrate our restoration to the vision God intends for us and for our world.

Just as it is never too late for us, it is never too late for this earth to be restored. We can respond to that grace that seeks us out and calls us to begin again. God continues to be relentless with us no matter how far we have wandered from God’s vision for this earth. God will not stop until wholeness is restored. There is still hope that even in our reckless attitudes and the many consequences we now bear because of our failed stewardship towards God’s creation, God is still searching for us, calling us to the spiritual and cultural awareness and transformation we need to care for this earth in the way God intends. There is still time.  For with God, there is no such thing as lost causes. It is never too late to awaken to our responsibilities in caring for creation, in doing the things we can do to make a difference, in shaking from our complacency and working to steer government and businesses toward policies and measures that will result in transformation. As faith communities, we are custodians of hope and new life. Yet, it is only as we know ourselves as lost and in need of a new direction can we find our way forward. With God’s help, we can turn this tide. Thanks be to God who never gives up on us. Amen.

Minute for Mission

Your generosity supports leaders to transform their communities.

Two young women dressed in Indigenous Guatemalan clothing stand in front of a building in Japan.

Marita and Ester are two of the 32 participants studying at the Asian Rural Institute supported through your Mission & Service gifts.

In 2019, 135 million people faced acute food insecurity. In 2022, the number of people who don’t have enough food to meet their basic needs has soared to 345 million. The United Nations calls 2022 a “year of unprecedented hunger.”

One of the ways your Mission & Service gifts are working to address hunger is by supporting agricultural training centres like the Asian Rural Institute based in Japan.

Earlier this summer, 32 community leaders from around the world arrived to study.

“Some enroll to solve problems like raising livestock, others to cope with climate change, and still others to find a market for organic produce. For many, it is their first time travelling outside their countries or even communities. For them, simply sharing life with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences is filled with immense learning,” reports ARI in a recent newsletter.

Marita and Ester are two of the participants. Both women work for a global organization called CIEDEG (Conference of Evangelical Churches of Guatemala), where they teach agriculture and support children’s education in church and schools.

Shortly after United Church staff referred CIEDEG to ARI, the women signed up. In their own words, they describe what motivated them to apply:

We decided to apply for the program [at ARI] because we wanted to learn more and improve our work. Just as we are learning at ARI, we would like to work together with everyone, physically growing vegetables and caring for animals while sharing our knowledge.

In our hometowns, vegetables are usually grown in monocultures. However, at ARI, we are growing multiple varieties of vegetables, taking advantage of each vegetable’s characteristics, and we look forward to learning more about this during the training. We can improve nutrition in the local market by growing vegetables in multiple varieties.

There are many difficulties that the Indigenous Mayan people, especially women, face. Poverty is still a significant issue in Guatemala, and there are also problems such as alcoholism and discrimination among ethnic groups. These problems leave many people, especially families with single mothers, in difficult financial and nutritional situations. There are organizations in each region that support these women and their children, and we want to work with such organizations to empower women.

Your generosity helps provide education and training and supports leaders to transform their communities so that no one goes hungry. Each and every gift matters. Thank you.

Let us pray:

God of relentless love and patience, you are the one who cannot rest until all the sheep are gathered. You continue to sweep and sweep until all that is lost is found. And then, you throw the biggest of parties, inviting unlimited numbers of people to attend and celebrate. Your love and grace are so amazing that we can hardly imagine it. The doors just keep opening wider and wider as more people keep pouring in and finding a place in your embrace. Even when we lose our way, when we forget the beauty of your creation and its people, when we wander into paths of greed and selfishness, over and over again, you welcome us back, calling us back into relationship with you and with creation.

As the green abundance of summer forests begin to transform into the glorious colours of fall, as birds prepare for southern migration and as our gardens spill forth their bounty, we praise you, O God. We ask for your help in working to appreciate and be good stewards of each gift so that generations that follow us might benefit from all earth’s many blessings. Be with our governments and policy makers as they consider issues related to the long-term sustainability of this earth.  Grant them wisdom in their work as they follow both the science and your call to live with respect for all creation. May they be a voice for justice in the face of so much selfishness and indifference in our world.

Give us comfort and the reassurance that you abide with us in the chaos of the world around us. We pray especially today for the people of the James Smith Cree Nation in the aftermath of horrific violence and murders. Help them as they reach out to one another and seek to heal. We lift before you the many places in our country and world where people are suffering from drought, where lives have been overturned by flooding and storms. We pray for others whom we know and love who need a sense of your peace and presence this day- all who are ill, all who are unsettled or uncertain, all who are worried about loved ones, all who find themselves in times of transition, in places of loneliness or fear… Thank you God, that you do not rest until all are found and accounted for. Dwell within us this day and every day, renewing us for the life you have imagined for us. In the name of Jesus we gather these prayers, saying in one voice the prayer he taught us… Our Father…

Hymn: 135 MV Called by Earth and Sky  

Blessing:

Rejoice! God seeks us when we are lost, offering us grace and mercy overflowing.

God isn’t finished with us yet. Each day is a new beginning with God.

We go now to witness to this unwavering love and we carry within us the Source and grace of Jesus and the friendship of this community.

Amen and Amen!

 *************************

 

 

 

 

September 4, 2022

Good afternoon, 

Reminder that next week is Official Board Meeting ( all Session Members, all Stewards and 1 rep the other teams please plan to attend).

Sonja sent out the minutes last week so check your emails!

 Congratulations to Bob and Alta Saunders on their 64th anniversary yesterday.

 

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

 

With the lighting of the Christ Candle, we remember that we have a light that beckons us to fresh beginnings as we ready ourselves for the fall season.

Call to Worship:

Like clay, we arrive at this time of worship:
Shapeless and full of potential, we arrive.

Like clay, we prepare for this time of worship:
Stretched and twisted into formation, we prepare.
Like clay, we enter this time of worship:
Ready to be shaped and reshaped, we place ourselves in God’s hands.

Let us pray:

Boundless Shaper of people and nations,
you are beyond our knowing,
yet closer to us than our every breath.
You are before us and behind us,
surrounding us with your love,
and fashioning all of creation
in the secret depths of your heart.
With every thought, with every song,
and with every prayer,
turn these fragile, earthen vessels of our lives,
into the Spirit-filled body of Christ, held and transformed by your embrace. Amen

Hymn: 376 VU Spirit of the Living God  

Prayer of Confession:

Creator God, you know us better than we know ourselves.

Forgive us for those times when we have fallen short of your design for us.

Often, when you have called us to follow, we have been quick to say yes, but then when the going gets tough, we have been just as quick to back away.

Sometimes, what you ask of us seems overwhelming.

Set us back on course, O God.

Grant us the grace we need to clarify our priorities and our loyalties,

and to embrace the challenges and joys of following where you lead us.

In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Words of Affirmation

As a potter continues to commit to a vessel in their hand, turning and shaping it, lifting and stretching it until it becomes what they imagine it to become,

So, it is that our God lovingly renews and transforms us, helping us to become who we are meant to be.

This day and every day is a new beginning.

Thanks be to God!

Readings and reflection:

All In

This is the time of year when traditionally things are starting up again. Families with children are gearing up for the beginning of school and all the extra-curricular activities like sports, music lessons and so on. As adults too, many things that took a bit of a break over the summer months resume once again. We make decisions about volunteer opportunities, clubs and activities. We ask ourselves where we are willing to commit our time, our energy and our resources. Very often it is the time of year when we decide to try a new hobby or learn a new skill. In many ways, even though for most of us our school days may be long over, September always has a feeling of freshness about it.

In our first reading this morning, the prophet Jeremiah is summoned by God to go down to the local potter’s studio to observe how the potter shapes and reshapes the clay. It makes me ask how willing are we, as this fresh year approaches, to place ourselves in the hands of the Divine Potter to become what God imagines?

Let’s listen to see what Jeremiah observes:

Jeremiah 18:1-11

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you, from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

I have never set my hand to the potter’s wheel before. However, I do recall being in a seminar once, where, while the presenter was speaking, a potter was over in a corner turning a piece of clay. It struck me that the potter’s work is rather a messy affair, with little shards of clay coming off the wheel and thrown into a nearby receptacle. Sometimes, the clay is resistant to the potter’s gentle, yet firm pressure. Sometimes, if the vessel becomes lop-sided or maybe too thick or too thin, the potter has to stop the wheel, pound the clay back down again and start over. I am sure that as Jeremiah watched this process, he realized what God was getting at. Like the potter, God was all in with the people of Israel. Even when the desired things God had in mind for them did not go as planned, or when the people resisted God’s shaping of them, God did not give up on them. Like the potter, God held out hope for them. Back they would go on the potter’s wheel, to be reworked and reshaped until the flaws were smoothed out and the weak parts made strong.

One of the other interesting things I noted in watching a potter at work was just how much they used their whole body, not just their hands. Their feet were grounded firmly and their elbows were tucked in close to their bodies. Then, they leaned into the wheel. They were, so to speak, “all in” as they did their work. Every turn of the wheel mattered. I am sure that if something outside of that wheel distracted them, things would go awry. What was required was a complete co-ordination of their eyes, mind, spirit and entire body- a total commitment.

That’s the link I noticed between this Jeremiah reading and our gospel reading this week- total commitment. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He knows what awaits him there. It will not be an easy road. He is pretty certain that they are expecting a winning Messiah who will beat down the Romans. Meanwhile, however, he fears that the crowds following him have no idea what they are getting themselves into. He wants them to know that this is no walk in the park. This is no parade. He doesn’t want them to get caught up in the moment, making impulsive decisions that they will not be able to follow through on. So, he gives them a way out by calling them to think it over, to look before they leap, if you like. The demands of discipleship will be costly to their relationships and to their reputations. They must be prepared to be all in. Much like Jeremiah observes at the potter’s studio, they must be ready to be reworked and remolded, ready to be shaped and totally committed to the demands that will be placed on them. Jesus is no huckster here. He lays it out for his would-be followers in what has often been described as one of the toughest passages in the New Testament:

Luke 14: 25-33

25 Now large crowds were traveling with him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Before we go any further, I want to explain the use of the word “hate” here. It is used differently than we might use it today.  In Greek, it means more like to love less. it implies a willingness to detach from home, family and all that one holds dear in order to be fully committed to following in God’s ways. In this context, it means a willingness to let go, to detach from anything that might hold them back. This might include family yes, but it might also include possessions or even our attitudes. What Jesus is asking for is followers, not admirers. He doesn’t want them to get part way along the road and then turn back. He doesn’t want them to be like a builder who fails to count the cost and then has to abort the project part way through or a military official who wages war without realizing that he is outnumbered by an opposing army.

Jesus’ illustrations remind me of a time when I was visiting in British Columbia and was taken to a building deep in the woods near Sooke. Actually, it was only a half-built resort on the edge of cliff overlooking a stream. Apparently, it had been started by some developers several years before but never completed. The foundation was there, along with several beams and a fireplace but there were no walls. So, there it stood as a proverbial white elephant, basically an eyesore in the middle of the wilderness.

In commenting on this passage, Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor notes that Jesus would not make a good parish minister. That’s because, especially in our day and age with declining numbers in our mainline churches, we are so afraid of asking anything of the people who come to our churches. We tend to make church involvement as easy as possible lest we interfere with anybody’s lives. As we hear over and over again, “We don’t want to drive people away, now do we?” So, as Taylor says, we give people what they want, what pleases them and we try to make being a part of the church appealing, not too demanding. Yet, that hasn’t worked so well for us, has it? Soccer practice requires more of us. When Jesus outlines what is required, Taylor says we end up with the gut feeling that we should all turn our resignations in now. She goes on, “If Jesus were in charge of the average congregation, I figure we would have about 4 people left there on Sunday mornings and chances are those 4 would be fooling themselves!” She has a point, doesn’t she? Too often in churches we pitch to the lowest common denominator and we water down the message so as not to offend. In so doing, we run the danger of reducing the validity and meaning of the message we hope to proclaim.

Yet, at the same time, Jesus doesn’t want to mislead his would-be followers. He knows that at least, for now, they are enthusiastic and energetic. Still, he says, you better think it over. I don’t want anyone to be fooled. It is not for everyone. It won’t answer all your questions. In fact, it will very well cause you to ask even more.  Discipleship will mean a reorienting of your life, a shift of priorities and loyalties. It is not a weekend hobby, something you do and think about if you have nothing else on your agenda or when it is convenient. There is no safety net. It’s an all-in thing- full mind, full soul, full body.

As biblical commentator Debie Thomas writes- it is a terrible marketing campaign that Jesus has come up with here. Not a very positive message. What kind of people would respond to such words like love your enemies, reach out to those on the margins, dare to challenge oppression even if it means risk to your comfortable ways of living or even your very lives.

Yet, despite all these tough and demanding words, the ironic thing is that these crowds still followed Jesus. As much as we think they might have been put off, they weren’t. As much as we might think they had cause to turn on their heels, they didn’t. Instead, they were all in. Something meaningful was being asked of them and they chose to commit, not as admirers but as followers.

It reminded me of a story that a well-known preacher and educator William Willimon once told about a phone call a minister received from a parishioner who was upset because his graduate school bound daughter was going to chuck it all away, to go and do mission work for the Presbyterian Church in Haiti.

“I hold you personally responsible for this,” he said.

“Me?” the minister replied.

“Yes, because it is so absurd. A Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering and she’s going to dig ditches in Haiti.”

“Well, I doubt that she’s received much training in the Engineering Department for that kind of work, but she’s a fast learner and will get the hang of ditch digging in a few months,” replied the minister.

“Look, said the father, “this is no laughing matter. You are completely irresponsible to have encouraged her to do this.”

“Me, what have I done?” the minister protested.

“You, you ingratiated yourself to her, filled her head with all that religion stuff. She likes you, and that is why she’s doing this foolishness.’

The minister had had enough. He struggled to keep his composure as he spoke. “Now, look, buster. Weren’t you the one who had her baptized?”

“Why, yes.” he said.

“And then, didn’t you read her Bible stories, take her to church and Sunday School and let her go skiing with the youth group?”

“Well…yes, but”

“Don’t but me, it’s your fault that she believed all that stuff and she’s gone and thrown it all away on Jesus, not mine! You’re the one who introduced her to Jesus, not me.’

“But all we ever wanted her to be was a good church-going Bible believing Presbyterian,” he said meekly.

“Sorry, you messed up and made her a disciple.”

That young woman thought it over. She saw herself as clay in God’s hands. She was willing to be summoned and shaped, worked and reworked into what God had imagined for her. She was willing to follow as a disciple, to be all in.

Down through the ages so too have countless others. Even today, even us.  Sunday by Sunday we show up, despite our fears, our doubts and our disillusionments with the world, we come ready to listen for the word, ready to see how it intersects with our everyday choices and relationships.

Yes, the costs of following Jesus are great. Tensions will always be present. The question remains for us to answer for ourselves- are we prepared for what it means to say that we all in, ready to be shaped and reworked in the Potter’s hands, fashioned into the kind of people God is imagining us to be? With the encouragement of each other as a faith community, let’s do the work needed to answer that question with honesty, integrity and renewed commitment as we recovenant for this new year together. Amen.  

Minute for Mission

  “In this place you can sense God’s presence immediately.”

 

Exterior shot of a church seen against a mountain with a sign in front saying Waterton United Church

The mountains are reflected in the window of Waterton United Church.

Credit: Ruth Richardson

Canadian churches grace unique places: restaurants, storefronts, even movie theatres. Perhaps the most serene of all settings, though, is a national park.

Waterton United Church is situated in the heart of Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. Although the United Church has had a presence in the park since 1955, the current building was dedicated in 1961. The cathedral window in the sanctuary, designed to frame the mountains, offers a breathtaking view.

“Architect George Watson framed Mount Vimy,” explains Carol Watt, chair of the Board of Trustees. “People who aren’t involved in the church but just stop to visit look out captivated by the view of the mountain over the lake. It’s a special thing that happens. It touches something deep within.”

Your gifts through Mission & Service help the church remain open year-round. In the summertime, Sunday services take place from late June through September with support from guest ministers. Other services are offered during high holy times throughout the year. Youth groups use the building as retreat space, and the chapel is a popular space for weddings. With a small room and kitchenette behind the sanctuary, the church also draws leaders who want to retreat.

“Providing space for spiritual reflection and retreat is an important aspect of the ministry we provide,” says Watt.

The Rev. Grant Dillenbeck and Ruth Richardson, now living in Ottawa, have been travelling to Waterton United Church for two decades, leading services and retreats. “The Spirit is in all places, but in this place, you can sense God’s presence immediately. The actual building is built like a landscape. The flat roof is reminiscent of the prairies, and the peak is like the mountains. It is peaceful. Guest preachers offer experiences for the village and park guests in addition to members. We have led services and done theme discussion nights and forest church,” Richardson says.

“Waterton United offers a unique ministry to the wealth of summer visitors who flock happily into the national park and then find this gem of a United Church of Canada,” a recent newsletter reads. Richardson agrees: “It is totally unique to other church experiences in Canada.”

Thank you for supporting churches in remote places that witness in a unique way to the majesty and grace of God.

Let us pray:

Gracious and loving God, like a potter at the wheel, you have created this beautiful world and called us into being. Day by day, you continue to work and rework us, lovingly asking that we remain soft and malleable in your hands. Your unconditional and unwavering love for each and every one of us inspires our living, calling us to follow your leading. Even as we acknowledge the challenges of discipleship in this complex world in which we find ourselves, we also celebrate the joys and the freedoms it brings to our spirits. We thank you for the encouragement you bring us as we seek to be part of your faithful community.

On this Labour Day weekend, we stand on the cusp of new beginnings as children, parents, teachers and support staff prepare for the first day of school and all the hopes and concerns that this will bring. We pray for workers the world over- those who labour in unsafe or unjust environments, those who are worn out or burnt out by their work, with little sense of satisfaction or feeling that they are making a difference. We give thanks for places of work where people truly care for one another and for those they serve.

As we look around our communities and our world, we know that there are many needs- many who are waiting for medical treatment, many who wondering about their ability to support their families as we go in to this fall season, the many in Pakistan whose lives have been turned upside down by monsoon flooding, the people of Ukraine who experience the terror of war on a daily basis, the many refugees in this world who long for safety and settlement, the many who suffer mental illnesses, addiction, hunger or abuse.

God, you call us to follow and we know that that means hard work and sacrifice. With the help of your Spirit, may we find ways of being your people of grace and peace in this world so in need of the generous support and assistance we can offer. In the name of Jesus, we offer these prayers, along with the prayers of our individual hearts for people and situations we know, saying in one voice… Our Father…

Hymn: 567 VU Will You Come and Follow Me 

 

Blessing: 275 VU ( the prayer of Irenaeus, 2nd Century)

It is not you who shape God;

     it is God that shapes you.

If then you are the work of God,

    await the hand of the Artist who does all things in due season.

Offer the Potter your heart, 

    soft and tractable,

    and keep the form in which the Artist has fashioned you. 

Let your clay be moist, 

    lest you grow hard and lose

    the imprint of the Potter’s fingers.

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

 

August 28, 2022

Good afternoon everyone. Hope that you are soaking up this beautiful day!

Reminder- next week Food Bank Sunday. Please remember to pick up a few extras when you are at the grocery store. We know the need is great!

 

Speaking of needs, did you know that last year, each week 70 backpacks of weekend food for children and youth in our area schools went out through the We’ve got your back program? 

These backpacks were put together on Wednesday evenings by various groups in our area. While we have provided monetary donations to this from FMUC in the past, this year we are hoping to have a group from FMUC to take a turn one Wed a month. It would involve one hour of your time, once a month. Lorena Green is taking names from our congregation of those who would like to help out in this worthwhile and much needed effort. Please contact her at lgreen@xplornet.ca

 

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

Let us light a candle as a sign for us that Jesus’ love is the source of our blessings.

As a reminder that all of us are invited and welcomed in the love of Christ, we light this candle.

Call to Worship:

We have risen to embrace this day.

Some of us come weary in body and spirit.

All are welcome in this sacred place.

Some of us know the abundance of life this day.

Some of us are feeling drained by harsh realities.

All of us receive a sustaining measure of God’s love.

Some of us are feeling strong in mind and soul.

Some of us are challenged by illnesses of many kinds.

All of us are whole in the Spirit of God.

We who have a voice and the strength to use it,

We who whisper prayers in our hearts.

All of us are invited to worship the God we love.

All of us have a place at the table.

Let us pray:

Gracious and welcoming God,

we thank you that you invite us and all your people into your presence,

to feast at your table,

to share together as equals

and to welcome one another.

Keep us mindful that it is by your grace that we worship you.

Help us to make sure that no one is excluded from dining with you. Amen

Hymn: 395 VU Come in, and Sit Down  

Prayer of Confession

Sacred Spirit, you gather us in your love.

We are quick to accept your gift of grace in our lives.

Sometimes we are not so quick to extend that grace beyond our institutional walls.

Forgive us, O God.

When we want to be first in line, the top of the heap,

Forgive us, O God.

When we are quick to pin labels on others who are different from us.

Forgive us, O God.

When we think only of self-maintenance,

Forgive us, O God.

When we insist on being host all the time and in control of the proceedings rather than gracious guests,

Forgive us, O God.

Words of Affirmation;

In the soul of God, we each have a place of honour

where the Spirit nourishes us.

Then filled with the abundant love of God,

we can extend ourselves in new and life-giving ways.

Receive forgiveness and live the love of God. Amen

 

Readings and reflection

It All Takes Practice

 I subscribe to a publication called The Christian Century. In one of its recent editions, editor Peter Marty wrote, “Living a life aligned with Jesus is extremely difficult. We practice and practice, trying to get even a few basics right. It’s mostly unglamorous work, as unglamorous as brushing teeth at the bookends of the day, or playing scales and arpeggios in endless fashion while learning the piano. I’m thoroughly convinced that nothing resembling expertise exists in the Christian life. How can you become an expert at receiving the totally undeserved mercy of God on a daily basis? There’s a reason we speak meaningfully of practicing the faith. It’s all practice.”

I can resonate with that. Faithful living as a Christian is not easy. So much of what is required of us is counter-cultural. It does not come naturally. It is a life long learning process and we never quite “arrive”. Sometimes we get it so right. Sometimes we fail miserably and have to pick ourselves up and start over. And always, as Marty says, it takes practice. Thankfully, we do this practicing in the context of a faith community, and not alone. We rely on one another for support and encouragement to persevere, especially in those times when we may wonder if our practicing is getting us anywhere!

Both our readings today offer us some insight and some practice skills as we seek to make the reign of God evident to others through our every day behaviours. What we find in the book of Hebrews is some practical wisdom and advice for living in true community and relationship with one another:

Hebrews 13: 1-8,15-16

 Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honour by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence,

‘The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?’

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.

15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

In our gospel reading, we find Jesus as an invited guest at a meal table of a prominent Pharisee. Luke is fond of using the meal table as an opportunity for some teachable moment to take place so we can be pretty sure something significant is about to happen. The leaders are eyeing Jesus pretty closely to see if he would conform to their way of doing things which they considered to be the right way.  Little do they know, however, that he is also closely observing their practices too!

Luke 14: 1, 7-14 

On one occasion when Jesus] was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

Obviously, from all this clamouring for the best seats, it is not hard for us to figure out that where you sat and who else was at these banquets mattered immensely in Jesus’ culture. It reminds me a bit of how, when I was growing up between two brothers, where one sat in the family car was so very important. When we were headed out for a family trip, there was much clamouring for the front seat. My mother thought it best that one of us would sit between them in the front (back in the days of bench front seats, of course!) That’s because if all three of us were in the back, there was bound to be a squabble about who was sitting in whose space. The scramble for seating at the meal tables in Jesus’ day had more to do with prestige and honour. Individuals would make calculated moves to increase their honour and decrease their shame. Jesus, as you might imagine, challenges this whole system of patronage and status seeking. In so doing, he reminds them of a different set of manners in God’s reign. He calls them to a different practice and to walk a different path that did not involve ending up at the top of the heap or first in line. When invited, he says, seek the lower seat. It is a lot less embarrassing than seeking a spot next to the host only to be bumped by someone more prominent than yourself. What matters, he implies, is not what others think about us, but what God notices about how we care for others.

It is the same when one is the host of such a gathering. Don’t just do the accepted thing of inviting those who will invite you back like your friends and family, the people you consider to be your equals.  Instead, open the doors wider. Invite those you know who would never ever be able to reciprocate the invitation- like the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. In our world today we might say the single parent, the person in the line up at the food bank, the person camping out on the park bench, the person who has no family in town, the newcomer, the recently grieved person, the woman at the shelter and so on. And don’t just dole out the food to them and sit somewhere else. Sit down beside them. Get to know them.  Extend your reach beyond the accustomed idea of I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. Stop calculating what’s in it for yourself and your reputation. Be motivated by kingdom values of reversal, much like the ones Mary sang about in the Magnificat-

 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

This is not simply Jesus calling them out for bad table manners. He is introducing here something much bigger, using their table practices as a means of describing how God’s realm involves a radical restructuring of what they had grown accustomed to. It is not about measuring up in the eyes of one’s peers. It is about being a guest at God’s table. It is about accepting a place of humility, remembering that God’s grace and generosity toward us is such that we can never begin to repay it. We can only begin to practice responding to it.

We can only wonder how Jesus’ comments at the table that day must have gone over. I kind of imagine both the guests and the host doing their fair share of squirming. Another meal time scandal for Jesus, I am sure, as Jesus once again disrupts their systems of patronage calling them to embrace a whole new way of being.

Instead of calling them to build the pyramid higher, he was dismantling it all together by calling out their privilege and power-seeking, and overturning the world’s pecking orders.

That kind of living means realigned priorities. In Jesus’ world and even more so in our celebrity obsessed world where the quest for self worth, fame, wealth and so on creates layers and layers of winners and losers, this new way of living takes lots and lots of practice. It is so counter-cultural we might wonder how we ever could live it. A world where all these assumptions are turned upside down, where invitations have nothing to do with who you are, the colour of your skin, the gender identity you claim, whether you are from Florenceville-Bristol, Bath, Centreville, Johnville, Wicklow, Stickney, Carlow, Connell, Perth-Andover, Summerfield or Timbuktu for that matter, who your parents were, where you were born, your education, your knowledge of social graces like whether you know a dessert fork from a salad fork, whether you have a three-piece suit or a pair of jeans, it matters not. We all have a seat at the table.

The invitation is there for us. It is an entirely different kind of dinner party. The old rules and customs of getting ahead, of schmoozing with the mucky mucks, of making sure we are at the top of the heap are no longer required. Our entry pass is simply God’s grace, something given to us all freely. All that is left for us to do is to respond with practice, practice, practice. Amen

Minute for Mission

The oldest Methodist building―and one of the oldest churches―in Canada

 

A small church covered in weathered grey clapboard is surrounded by trees, with a historic plaque and the Canadian and Union Jack flags to one side.

Credit: Old Hay Bay Church

 

Since Jesus first walked on this earth, Christians have been spiritually drawn to make pilgrimages to places connected to his birth, life, crucifixion, resurrection, and legacy. Today, pilgrimage hot spots include Oberammergau in Germany, Lourdes and Taizé in France, and of course the Holy Land.

Here in Canada, thousands of Christian pilgrims make their way to the small town of Napanee, ON, to visit Old Hay Bay Church each year. The last Sunday in August is the highlight of the season, when the church hosts its annual pilgrimage service.

What’s the attraction? It’s a mix of the history, scenery, spiritual connection, and community.

An unassuming building clad with greyed wood siding and wide doors that open to a plain but sturdy sanctuary, Old Hay Bay Church was originally built on the shoreline of Hay Bay, which connects to the Bay of Quinte, in 1792. It is the oldest Methodist building―and one of the oldest churches―in Canada. Now, it belongs to The United Church of Canada, and your generosity through Mission & Service helps ensure that it will continue to be a place of pilgrimage for years to come.

Elaine Farley, chair of the Board of Trustees and one of the church’s custodians, explains that the building, originally referred to as the “meeting house,” was the centre of the rapid growth of Methodism and hosted the first camp meeting in 1805. “Methodism grew into the largest Protestant group in Canada and was the largest communion that became the United Church in 1925,” she says. “The Founders reflect any United Church congregation today. They came from various countries of origin and had a wide variety of skills and knowledge, but together they made a strong voice, speaking of God, their community, and their future.”

Farley warns that she could enthusiastically “go on and on” about why the small church in rural Ontario is so important, but she sums it up with three short sentences: “Old Hay Bay Church has earned its place in the history of Methodism and The United Church of Canada. It is not just a building but also a sacred place of our ancestors, as well as a pilgrimage place for us and our descendants. It has a special place in peoples’ hearts.”

Thank you for helping to preserve important historical, theological, and pilgrimage sites through your Mission & Service gifts.

Let us pray

Welcoming and inviting God, each of us is part of a larger whole, members of an extended family, residents of various communities that comprise our faith community, citizens of this vast country we call Canada and beings in your good creation. By your Spirit we are linked together and through spirited compassion we share a common joy and suffering. May we be mindful of the fullness of life’s experience- that which is ours and, especially in this time of prayer, that which makes up the day-to-day existence of others. Remind us that you invite each and every one of us to a banquet, one where the last may be first, one where the humble and the powerful switch seats.

We ask, O God, that you might help us to nurture our relationships with one another, to be as welcoming and inclusive of one another as you are of us. We pray for the suffering that comes from inhospitality- the hurt we see in our world manifested in prejudice, racism, misunderstanding and fear. We are aware of the painful realities resulting from an imbalance of power and wealth in our nation and world- the small voices that go unheard, the ways of greed that drown out the voices of need, the need for control that leads to abuse and war such as we are witnessing in the Ukraine. We thank you for the witness of Jesus who challenges our systems, who offers us a vision of a world turned upside down, who calls us to reach out to those from whom we can expect nothing in return.

We open our hearts this day as we lift before you the many who need our prayers and our actions, the many awaiting medical procedures or test results, the many who are feeling discouraged, the many who are struggling with the pressures of providing for their families, the many who linger in prisons, the many who are feeling unloved, the many who are overworked or in search of meaningful work, the many who yearn for a sense of belonging and an invitation to be part of the circle. Show us ways, O God, that we might practice a down to earth faith as we reach out with words and generous actions of love and support. We offer these prayers in the name of Jesus who by his life, death and resurrection continues to paint a picture for us of what it means to be invited to live in your reign as your sons and daughters. And we pray as he taught us, saying together… Our Father…

Hymn: 28MV God of the Bible   

Blessing;

We heard it in the book of Hebrews: Let mutual love continue, show unbounded hospitality to strangers. Share what you have with others.

Through such practices, we are reminded that everyone is a child of God.

Everyone is invited. Everyone has a seat at God’s table.

As we know ourselves as blessed and welcomed, so we become a blessing to others.

 

So, let’s go into this week to practice, practice, practice!  Amen and Amen!

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

 

August 21, 2022

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

We gather in the name of Jesus Christ who sets us free, calling us to live life in all its fullness in community with one another. (light candle)

Call to Worship:

God calls us. Whether we are young or old,

bent over or standing tall, or somewhere in-between;

in dry deserts and beside springs of water;

when we feel strong and safe,

and when we feel scared or abandoned.

God calls all of us and offers to set us free

from whatever keeps us bound.

Let us come, then, and offer worship and praise to this wondrous God.

Let us pray:

O sacred Word of Life,

we rejoice in your call in our lives.

Open us, this day, to new dimensions of faith.

May we draw courage to break the rules that bind and burden us and others,

so that we may move confidently into new life with you. Amen.

Hymn: 245 VU Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet  

 Prayer of Confession (litany)

Healing God, when we shoulder burdens not our ours to carry,

unfold us with your grace.

When we clench our fists and our hearts with rage and anger,

unfold us with your grace.

When we let ourselves become overwhelmed with rules, traditions and customs and ignore or leave out people,

unfold us with your grace.

When we make unwise choices, or ones that we know are unfaithful to you,

unfold us with your grace.

When we allow our doubts to shut us down rather than open us up to new wondering and new possibilities,

unfold us with your grace. Amen.

Words of Affirmation:

God, who is our rock, our refuge, the one who rescues, heals and loves us, – also forgives us and sets us free to new and everlasting life.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

 

Readings and Reflection:

The Best Sabbath Ever!

Because I have lived in several different communities over the years, I try to make it a point on a weekly basis or so to read the obituaries online from the various funeral homes in those communities. Not too long ago, I was rather amused to read the following line in one of those obituaries: “Growing up, one’s work on the farm was never done but Sundays were observed as a day of rest. Her children remember not being allowed to use scissors on Sundays as that would be considered work.” I remember laughing to myself when I first read it. It is not like I hadn’t heard such stories before. No doubt, many of you can remember all the restrictions and prohibitions that came with Sundays as you were growing up, or if not, you recall your parents or grandparents telling you about them- things like no card playing, no running, no playing outside, no cooking- meal preparation was to be completed the day before. It seems that individual homes enforced different rules often to cries of protest from children in their homes, especially when the kids next door were permitted to do certain things while they were not! Even cities and towns had by-laws in place restricting movement. Just this week, I was reading about one such law in Toronto. It was illegal to toboggan in Toronto’s High Park on the Sabbath. Police were reportedly posted at the hills to enforce the ban. Law officials felt limiting entertainment, business, and activities would encourage church going. There was a public outcry when the tobogganing ban was first enforced, but Torontonians quickly adjusted and took up skating!

Obviously, in our day and age, the question about what is or is not appropriate to do on the Sabbath is rarely heard. Yet, the concept of Sabbath time as a time for rest and restoration is still important.

In Scripture, we find two main understandings of Sabbath. The first comes from the story of creation when, on the seventh day, God rested. The second, however, is probably a little less familiar. It comes as part of a gift to the people of Israel after their escape from Egypt. It is grounded in remembering their liberation from captivity. We hear about it in this passage from Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 5: 12-15

12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

It is this second interpretation, especially that part about what constitutes “work”, that seems to have tripped everyone up since the time when God first gave it to the people of Israel. It’s what has erupted the debate ever since. For example, is feeding your livestock and mucking out their stalls “work”? Is making a meal? Is drawing water from a well? Is plucking grain from a field and eating it work? Is using scissors work? You get the idea.

Jesus, in our gospel reading this morning, is confronted by this very debate. Listen and observe the accusations that come his way as he heals a bent over woman in the midst of his sermon in the synagogue:

Luke 13: 10-17

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it to water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame, and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things being done by him.

To that woman and to the crowds, this was the best Sabbath ever. Imagine what life must have been like for her. Day in and day out for 18 long years, she had strained to see the sun, stars and sky. Day in and day out she had been unable to look directly into anyone’s eyes, seeing nothing but their feet and sandals. Perhaps she was a regular at the synagogue. Maybe she felt safe there, off in a corner maybe, away from the stares of others out on the streets. Like the others, maybe this day she was curious about this new rabbi, Jesus. Yet, just as the crowd hushed and he began to teach, he put his sermon on hold. Something, someone had caught his attention. He looked over her way. Imagine how it might have felt for her to have been noticed by Jesus, and not just noticed, but called over. She hadn’t asked for healing. We might imagine her hesitation in getting up ever so slowly and shuffling over to where he was. Suddenly, from the margins of her existence, she found herself right in the middle of things. As Jesus spoke those words, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment’ and as he touched her shoulder, she found herself standing tall and praising God. I can only think that she would have wanted to jump up and down.  It was indeed the best Sabbath ever! Imagine the relief she must have felt after all those years. And not only was she healed, but in the words that followed, she was restored to community, something she had not experienced for a good portion of her adult life.

Then comes the big “but”. It comes from the leader of the synagogue, who, rightly so, is concerned about respecting the Sabbath as commanded. He cries out, “Hey, you can’t do that today. It’s against the rules. Things must be done decently and in order. Healing is work. Don’t you know that this is the Sabbath and there is no healing allowed. Tell her to come back tomorrow between 2 and 4 pm, then she can be healed.”

What do you mean? Jesus asks. Give me a break. It doesn’t matter what time or day it is. This woman needs healing now. Think about it. If you untie your animal on the Sabbath to feed and water it, for crying out loud, why would you not do the same on the Sabbath for this daughter of Abraham in need of release and restoration? Why would you wait one more day? Why would rules, or customs or traditions, or the way you have always done it hold you back? Waiting to offer her help is not an option here.

In other words, Jesus is reiterating the understanding of the Sabbath as a gift rather than a burden. It is like he is saying to this synagogue leader what if the Sabbath rules were less about what not to do and more about what to do – like offering compassion and healing, like welcoming the stranger, like liberating a neighbour from loneliness, or the bondage of grief or fear.

Sort of like a little anecdote I came across from an online colleague, Rev. Elise Feltrin, who tells of going to a beach on Lake Huron and seeing a sign that reads:

No vehicles.

No dogs.

No camping.

No campfires.

No smoking or vaping.

No alcohol.

No barbeques.

No lifeguards. Watch your own children.

Then a little further down, she sees a note saying welcome to the beach.

She wonders what would happen if that sign began with Welcome to the Beach and then spoke about all the possibilities the day at the beach could hold- Come swim. Come fly a kite. Come throw a frisbee. Come have a picnic. Have fun.

Is this not the frame of mind about the Sabbath that Jesus was trying to get across to that synagogue leader that day? It was not that Jesus was downplaying the law of the Sabbath. He was expanding its interpretation. Jesus maintained that Sabbath was about liberation. That it was a gift of freedom, an opportunity to refocus, to recentre and a time to be more concerned about how we can do what is right, what is just and what is liberating for others rather than to be so worried about doing things the “right” or the proper way or about making sure things were permissible.

In defending his action on the Sabbath, Jesus, once again, proves himself to be an agitator, a disturber of the status quo, reminding the people that wider justice for people like this woman is more important than getting bogged down in a kind of legalism that leaves people on the sidelines or in pain one more day than is necessary. The healing he carried out that day in the synagogue reflects that bigger mission statement that he outlined earlier as he stood before his hometown crowd and proclaimed in Luke 4: 18-19:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In other words, any day, any time is the right time to set another free. Anytime is appropriate time for compassion. Anytime is the right time to restore another to their rightful place as a child of God in community with others. Anytime is the right time to reach out to someone who is bent over by life, weighed down by suffering or held in captivity by powers that oppress.

To that woman in the synagogue that day it was the best Sabbath ever. Just as it was intended for the Israelite people after their time of slavery, this particular Sabbath was for her a day of liberation and release, a gift of restoration and renewal.  A day I am sure she and those who witnessed and celebrated it would never forget. We can only wonder if, after that day, the synagogue leader left scratching his head with a new perspective on the Sabbath too as he realized that God’s compassion for humans in need is not bound by date or time. Who knows, maybe he too went away to share with others his discovery that it was the best sabbath ever. Maybe his circle of understanding widened just a bit. Let’s hope so. Amen.

Minute for Mission

Learning the gospel in a safe and supportive environment

A teenager sitting on grass eats potato chips and smiles at the camera.

Lindsay in 2009 enjoying Tuck Time (evening snack) at camp

Credit: Cave Springs Camp

Lindsay Vautour, the United Church’s Engagement and Stewardship Associate, started attending a United Church camp at the tender age of five. There, she not only met lifelong friends and gained job skills as a counsellor, but it also helped chart her course to eventually work for the United Church of Canada.

“Coming from a financially tight background, I’m extremely grateful for the assistance available that let my brother and me attend camp every summer. I met so many different people from different cultures and regions, and got to learn their journeys in faith. I still keep in contact with some camp friends over 20 years later,” she says.

“One of my most prominent memories was with a fellow 13-year-old camper who told me that she loved camp because she could be herself without any expectations. She said, ‘I’m not the weird kid or the foster kid here, I’m just me,’” she recounts. “That’s something I resonate with, because I wasn’t particularly popular in school, but popularity never mattered at camp, and it’s beautiful to know that that’s a widely shared perception.”

Children come together at United Church camps across Canada to learn the gospel in a safe and supportive environment. Through campfire stories, hiking, music, canoeing, and so much more, campers gain confidence while enjoying unique activities and exploring their curiosity. At camp kids learn soft skills like self-confidence, patience, and organization as well as hard skills in sports, crafting, and music.

Without the generosity of supporters, children who attend camp wouldn’t be able to continue having such affirming, defining experiences. Your gifts through Mission & Service are deeply appreciated.

Let us pray:

God of freedom and new life, once again, in these brief moments of prayer, we pause in the midst of our busy lives to offer you our praise. For the blessing of this summertime, for fresh fruits and vegetables from our gardens, for sun and rain, for the splendour of clear night skies, for enjoyable time spent with family and friends in the outdoors and for the many gifts of life, we thank you. For opportunities to rest and renew, we praise you.

As our thoughts move toward the coming fall months, we pray for parents and students, and teachers as they gather supplies for school and as they consider schedules. Help them when they feel overwhelmed or anxious in the midst of all that need to be done. We remember this day all who are bound or bent over by physical, mental or spiritual illnesses, by grief, by war, by the expectations of others, by social isolation, by estrangement from family members. We remember the many who are feeling pushed aside or labelled by society, undervalued or unloved. Help them to know themselves as your beloved sons and daughters, O God. We bring before you our concerns for people, for issues, for situations that have come to our attention through conversations or chance encounters this week… for caregivers, for the many workers in our health care systems who are feeling bent over and worn out by increasing demands being placed upon them, for the many who find themselves up against systems and powers that worry more about maintaining the rules than showing compassion.  We pray for things in the news that concern us deeply- inflation rates, the stresses on our environment, the abuse that many have received in religious institutions and sports, the continuing wars and oppression of many, the ongoing discrimination and injustice faced by many in their places of work.  Help us, O God, to see things from another’s perspective, that we might gain insight about what it means to truly welcome and include one another. May we never underestimate the potential of a touch, a smile, a kind word or a small act of compassion in turning a life around, in setting another free. We offer these prayers, O God, as we pledge our commitment to you once again, to be signs of your love and ministers of your justice in a world so in need of the gifts we can offer. And we gather them in the strong name of Jesus, whose mission centred on setting free those who were held captive and bringing forth your reign on earth. In his we pray with all boldness, saying together… Our Father…    

Hymn: 699 VU Live into Hope    

Blessing:

Touched by the presence of God, we go to be a healing presence in the world.

Uplifted by the Spirit of Christ, we stand firm for all that is just and true.

Go to proclaim and celebrate God’s message of love and freedom for all people and may the peace of Christ go with us all. Amen.

 

 **********************

August 7, 2022 

Greetings to all of you who are joining with us from hopefully a shady place this afternoon!

Thanks to all who added their thoughts to our easel question under our canopy after in person worship… by faith ( see reflection for more details!) For those who would still like to add thoughts, the flip charts will be in the foyer next week to browse and write more.

 

Remembering The Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne as she is installed today as the new moderator of the United Church of Canada. Watch for some biographical information in next email. She is the first indigenous woman to hold this position. Blessings to her in the challenges ahead.



Thanks for your generosity in bringing in food items for food bank. We have resumed our monthly offerings of these so make sure when you see some of the everyday items at the grocery store, to pick up a few extras to add to the bin.

 

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

 

As we gather, we centre ourselves on the light of Christ, a light that serves as a beacon for our journeys of faith. (light candle)

Call to Worship: (adapted from Thom Shuman’s Lectionary Liturgies)

We are people who have been called
to follow where God leads us.
By faith we can obey,
even when asked to walk into
an unknown future.
We are people who have been challenged
to tell God’s story to others.
By faith we have the ability
to share the good news.
We are God’s children who are invited
to feast at the Table of grace.
By faith we will embrace
our sisters and brothers in Christ.

Come, let us worship God together!

Let us pray:

Eternal God, open us this day to your life-giving grace.

Empower us with the faith that supports us when we feel unsure,

that dares to challenge things that need to change,

and that reminds us that you are never far away.

May we be ready and alert to hear your call to us

and to trust in your promises for us. Amen.

Hymn: 176 MV Three Things I Promise  

Prayer of Confession:

God of our past, present and future,

we plant our faith in hope for a future yet to be seen.

When we want it all now,

may we find the realm of love growing

piece by piece, word by word, act by act.

Forgive our impatience, O God.

When we want immediate results

remind us of the slow unfolding of faith

day by day, prayer by prayer, generation to generation.

Forgive our impatience, O God.

Words of Affirmation:

Like an oak, faith grows purposefully and firmly.

As roots stretch down,

So faith grounds itself in our living.

As branches and leaves provide life, so our faith produces

the fruit of love and justice.

Through God’s forgiveness, we continue to grow in faith.

Secure in the love of God, we endure. Thanks be to God!

Readings and Reflection:

By Faith…

“Faith”- that’s a word we as Christians banty about all the time. When we come to worship, it is used frequently. We speak of it often. We say things like how important it is that we have faith, that we learn the faith, that we connect with the faith and our faith community. We talk about growing in our faith or journeying in the faith, often through various life experiences like raising a family, celebrating milestones, sharing in deep conversations with one another, enduring a particular hardship or crisis. We may even be able to describe the changes that our faith has undergone through any one of these sorts of experiences. We may say something like I used to think of God this way, but now I tend to see God this way. All this is good.

But what really is faith? Does it have to do with some kind of intellectual assent to certain creeds or doctrines or theological statements about God or Jesus or the resurrection? Is it about that phrase we often hear on the streets- “accepting Jesus into our heart”? Is faith something we possess? Or is it something we experience? Is it a noun or is it a verb? As you might have guessed from some of my mailings to you this week, these are the kinds of thoughts and questions that have been rolling around in my head.

Dictionaries define faith as “the firm belief in something for which there is no proof”. Sometimes we might think of it as complete trust or confidence in something or someone. Yet, in our readings today, I think we are being challenged to see faith as more than belief. Rather, as our curriculum says, faith is about trust and loyalty and where we dare to invest ourselves. To have faith means to live a radically different way, trusting that tomorrow is taken care of in the providence of God. So then, faith involves orienting our lives in a different way today.

In our first reading this morning from Hebrews we find a letter addressed to a community facing persecution. Much like our world today, the news was full of trials and tribulations. The people had grown weary in the challenges. They were tired of worshipping, of serving, of walking the walk of faith. Many were leaving and falling away from faith. The writer begins by trying to define faith for them, but perhaps even more importantly, reminding them of examples of people, like Abraham and Sarah, who lived lives of faith despite all evidence to the contrary.

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’

13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

The rest of chapter 11 continues on a similar note. It points out others of our faith ancestors who, by faith, journeyed forward into their futures, trusting in God to care for them and to direct them. It was faith that led them to take decisive actions even when there was no tangible or visible support for that action. Abraham and Sarah, for example, despite their initial doubts and disbeliefs about the promise of many descendants even in the old age, began their journey. They were willing to go forward, not because they knew their destinations, but because they heard God calling them forward. They were willing to stretch their imaginations toward new possibilities even when as Hebrews expresses it “they were as good as dead.”

That, in and of itself, is probably one of the best definitions of faith- a willingness to set out, to leave the settled, secure life for something more unsettled and insecure, something totally unfamiliar, yet living in confidence of a future not yet fully revealed. Sounds a lot like where we sit as faith communities in this year 2022. We know that unease. We know what it means to be part of something in the present, to be journeying along without the certainty of a known or fixed outcome. We know something of the restlessness and the wandering as we attempt to find our way. Yet, as Abraham and Sarah modelled for us, faith involves being open to the potential, anchoring ourselves in the promises, even when the promises appear almost laughable or unimaginable.

Our gospel this morning describes faith in much that same way- active, engaged alertness for what is coming, for what is next, a patient waiting and looking forward as we live on tiptoes, living with expectation and trust that God’s reign is at hand, that what is seen is not all there is.

Luke 12: 32-40

32 ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35 ‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

39 ‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he] would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’

I like the first part of this passage too- the piece about not being afraid. So often it has been said that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear. I see doubt as part of faith. It is generally what gets us going, what keeps us searching, the ants in the pants of faith as it has often been described. It is what keeps us yearning and leaning into God. When we think about Abraham and Sarah setting out on their journey, we know they had doubts. They laughed at the thought of having descendants as many as the stars. Over and over again they tried to take things into their own hands. You might recall how when Sarah continued to be barren, Abraham made an arrangement to have a child through his servant Hagar. Yet, in time, God proved faithful and gave Abraham and Sarah a son, Isaac. Still, despite their doubts, Abraham and Sarah kept moving forward. Fear did not hold them back. Never did they resist God’s call by saying something like “We are too old to travel. We are comfortable right here. We don’t want to move. We don’t want to change our ways.” They went anyway even when the way was uncertain. They trusted God’s leading.

I wonder if that really is the best definition of faith- anticipating, looking forward and leaning into the unseen future knowing that we never do that alone. God is always with us as we take those steps from familiarity to unfamiliarity, risking the unknown, yet living expectantly in anticipation of God’s fresh graces, moving forward in response to God’s call.

Many years ago, when I was in my first pastoral charge in Louisbourg, I remember visiting with a woman in her 90’s, Mrs. Covey, who spent her days bedridden in an upstairs bedroom that overlooked the Louisbourg harbour. She and her family had once lived in the lighthouse where her father had been the lighthouse keeper. I remember marvelling at her faith, thinking to myself, if I had even a tiny portion of her faith, I could move mountains. To me, she represented one of those who stood in continuity with the heroes of faith that the writer of Hebrews speaks about, one who was willing to go forward, not knowing the destination but fully embracing the promise that she was accompanied all the way. Always, in the course of our conversations, she would say God is good. Simple words. Not religious platitudes but an expression of her solid faith founded on a lifetime of commitment to God’s direction in her life.

We might look around and recognize similar snippets of faith that stand in continuity with those named in the book of Hebrews-

By faith, Harriet Tubman saved the lives of hundreds of slaves, bringing them to freedom.

By faith, Martin Luther King Jr, at great risk to his own security, spoke to crowds and said, “I have a dream.”

By faith, Malala Yousafzai, a teenager in Pakistan, spoke out against the restrictions placed on the education of girls in her country by the Taliban.

By faith, thousands of indigenous peoples have told their experiences of residential schools in Canada.

By faith, people are opening their homes to Ukrainians fleeing their homeland.

By faith, in 1925, representatives of various denominations worked together to unite as the United Church of Canada.

By faith, our United Church apologized for the harm done in residential schools and to this day continues to work toward reconciliation.

By faith, our United Church has stood at the forefront of controversial issues related to human rights and social justice in our own country and around the world.

By faith, even in the midst of the pandemic’s uncertainty, our congregation learned to adapt to new ways of worshipping and reaching out.

By faith, 20 years ago, Faith Memorial United agreed to build a new community of faith.

By faith, in 2022, we continue the work of merging together to build a thriving community of faith as we worship together, as we challenge the status quo, as we pool our resources for Mission and Service and as we support and encourage one another on our journeys.

By faith, we continue to discern our future together as we listen for where God is calling us to leave behind the familiar, to take bold action and to journey into the unknown.

By faith, we continue to plant seeds no matter how bleak the problems of the world may appear, knowing that that just like those who have gone before us we are carriers of the hope and promises of God to those who will come after us.

By faith, we continue to be generous and to live in confidence that God continues to shape our future through our present actions.

By faith, we rise each morning and orient ourselves to a sense of possibility even in the face of fear, uncertainty or despair- believing that God will take care of the rest.

By faith, we put one foot in front of the other and take the long view, trusting that the ground will be there.

By faith… we all could fill in the names of people we know, of experiences we have had ourselves that we would name as examples of faithful living. (And after worship today, I invite you to do just that. There will be a marker and paper available for you outside for you to add your examples to the simple words, by faith…)

So, then, what is faith? What is faithful living all about? It is active, doing, being- trusting God for the yet unseen future. It is acts of justice for people oppressed, ignored or excluded both in our wider community and in our church community. Something perhaps that is better shown than summarized in a neat definition. Perhaps this statement of faith published in our curriculum this week says it best- I offer it to you to ponder:

Faith is…

acting for good when we’d rather do nothing;

siding with life when we’d rather play dead;

speaking the truth when we’d rather be silent.

Faith is…

noiselessly listening when we’d rather shout out;

paying attention when we’d prefer not to notice;

standing for right when we’d rather keep walking.

Faith is…

trusting that after the darkness there will be light;

seeing the rainbow as the sign of the sun

hearing the rooster crow as hope for the dawn.

Faith is…

upsetting the comfortable status quo;

unreasonable, irrational, a foretaste of heaven;

the step at the edge to all that is good. Amen.

 

Minute for Mission:

What would Jesus do?

An open Bible with three crosses made of twigs lying across it.

Credit: Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

The question “What would Jesus do?”often shortened to the acronym“W.W.J.D.” has graced wrist bands, T-shirts, and bumper stickers since the 1990s. And while it might sound like an overused cliché, it’s a question that can lead our spirit and, by extension, our lives to profound transformation.

What did Jesus do? He crossed a lot of boundaries. In fact, when we think about the boundaries that separate people―things like money, gender, education, culture, religion, and class―Jesus crossed them all.

He struck up a conversation with a Samaritan woman in a culture where it wasn’t socially acceptable for men and women, much less Jews and Samaritans, to speak to one another. He healed the bodies and souls of people suffering from a variety of diseases when it was sinful to have anything to do with them. He visited the homes of tax collectors and sex trade workers and advocated for the rights of widows, orphans, and those living in poverty. He not only valued children in a time when they were considered such drains on society that they were abandoned on roadsides, but he also told his followers that unless they were more like children, they wouldn’t enter the kingdom of heaven.

In the same way, our generosity through Mission & Service breaks down walls that divide and builds bridges that draw us together.

Your generosity supports organizations like hospitals, counselling centres, drop-in circles, and homeless shelters that are there when people need them most. Your gifts sustain education programs that teach farming skills, provide job training, and help remove obstacles so children can remain in school. Your generosity stands up for victims of human trafficking, ensures workers and children know their rights, and advocates for those persecuted because of their sexual orientation, gender, or beliefs. It fosters anti-racism, supports healing and reconciliation, and deepens spiritual practice.

Through Mission & Service, the arms of your generosity stretch wide, reaching into schools, camps, hospitals, shelters, prisons, and churches with three main goals: to help transform lives, deepen meaning and purpose and build a better world.

Here is a link to Scribblerstory , a young musical group supported by your donations to Mission and Service.

Mission & Service is one of our church’s best answers to the question “What would Jesus do?”

Thank you for your support.

Let us pray:

God of Abraham and Sarah, God of all our forebearers in the faith, we thank you that just as you have been their God, so you are our God today. You continue to guide us. You continue to offer us your love and grace. We thank you for the gift of faith that gives us courage when things are difficult. We thank you for the encouragement we find in the faith of one another. Thank you for showing us a way through all the challenges of life, when we cannot find a solution on our own. Help us to renew our trust in you in the midst of so much uncertainty in our world. Make us examples of faithful living for those who follow us as the people before us were examples to us.

Help us to be alert and ready to seek and to discover your presence in those we love, in the faces of strangers and in the people who cry out to us in need. We pray for the many who live in fear, wondering about their future and the future of their families and loved ones. We pray especially for all who are trapped in the midst of violence or war, in abusive relationships, or in mental anguish and distress. Grant them the encouragement they need to find a way forward. We pray for all who suffer illness or disease and for those working in our hospitals and clinics often amidst staffing challenges. Give them courage to persist. We pray for our churches in these days when it feels like so much is changing. Give us wisdom to discern ways to reach out to our community and faithfulness as we continue to follow Jesus into the future. Keep us alert and watchful for opportunities to serve and renew us with the energy and zeal we need to make a positive impact. In these summer months, teach us to take the time we need to recharge and to reflect on where you are calling us next.

Hear these our prayers, O God, as we offer them in the name of Jesus, who models for us, through his words and actions, a way of faithfulness and love, and who taught us as his followers to pray in unity saying together… Our Father…

Hymn: 580 VU  Faith of our Fathers 

Blessing:

By faith, let us go out as God’s people.
We will gather others around us and work together for justice.
By faith, let us go to follow Jesus, to serve with compassion and grace.
We will have hope for the future.
By faith, let us go to join the Holy Spirit in welcoming all of God’s children.
We will add as many chairs as are needed, so all may feast on God’s love.

By faith, may we go out to embrace one another, as God, in Christ, embraces us.

We will move together into the world, trusting God to accompany us each step of the way. Amen.

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July 31, 2022

Good Morning and Welcome

Announcements

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

We light our candle today to remind us that although we are ordinary people, Jesus shines his light on us, calling us to do extra ordinary things. (light candle)

Jesus says to his friends here today, to US here today, “Love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind”.  This is the greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

Let us read responsively the Call to Worship:

Greeting to our brothers and sisters in the faith.

We come to celebrate God’s presence,

and God’s love expressed through Jesus Christ.

We come remembering Christ’s life and ministry,

and the life we are called to live.

We come as a pilgrim people searching for ways to live out our faith.

We come seeking the strength to carry on our journey.

Let us rejoice in God’s faith to us!

 

Please join together in the Opening Prayer

O God, you turn the ways of the world upside down

and present us with a whole new way of seeing.

You invite us to commit our whole selves

to follow your paths of righteousness.

We come with expectant hearts and minds,

praying that we might be open to hearing

what it is that you require of us.

to make your dream a reality.

in the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

 

Hymn: Love Divine All Loves Excelling VU 333

 

Prayer of Confession (unison)

Gracious God,

you have called us into being

and equipped us with communication and knowledge,

and with ever spiritual gift we need.

Sometimes we fail to use our gifts or to proclaim our mission.

Forgive us for our insecurities.

Forgive us for to easily tapping into excuses like

“someone else can do it better.”

We forget that our calling is to be faithful, not successful

in the eyes of the world.

Turn our hearts and minds back to you, God.

Offer us strength where we are weak.

Join our hearts and minds so that we may

seek your mission for our community of faith. Amen.

 

Words of Affirmation (responsive)

God loves us and showers us with grace unending,

no matter what we have done or failed to do.

God Gives us new hope and new vigor to be faithful

followers of Jesus.

We are a forgiven people called to a new purpose.

Thanks be to God.

 

Readings and Reflection:

In our reading this morning from Psalm we see the theme of God’s abundant love.  The Hebrew word hesed, in this Psalm implys a kinship relationship, the loyal and loving behaviour that those in a close family relationship owe and show to one another.  God rescues the wonderers, frees the prisoners, heals the sick, rises up the needy.  God’s love is reliable.  God’s love is eternal.

Bible reading – Psalm 107: 1-9 & 43

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
    those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those he gathered from the lands,
    from east and west, from north and south.[
a]

Some wandered in desert wastelands,
    finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
    and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
    to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things.

43 Let the one who is wise heed these things
    and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.

 

When God looks at each of us what does he see – ordinary human beings or extra ordinary ones with unrealized potential?  We have all the character traits of ordinary humanity.  We can be self-centered, weak, afraid and full of petty acts.  However, we can also be noble and heroic, filled with faith and good deeds.  God does not look on the ordinary exterior of humanity, but at the extra ordinary heart of each one.

 

In our Gospel Reading from Matthew, Jesus walked along with shores of Galilee.  He saw the fishers  Peter, James, John and Andrew working hard to earn a living.  They were ignored by most, as people with little to offer the world beyond a few fish for a meal.  But Jesus called them to him, because in these ordinary fishermen, Jesus saw leaders of the coming kingdom of God.

 

Gospel Reading: Matthew 4: 18-22

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Reflection

 In 1997, Apple developed an ad campaign titled “Think different.” The ads included the words “Here’s to the unusual ones…the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square hole, the ones who see things differently…. The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do.” The images in the ad campaign included Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Nelson Mandela, Amelia Earhart, and Jim Henson, to name a few.

The scriptures for today are about the calling of unlikely, ordinary people who, in the end, accomplish extraordinary things that change our world forever. We all know someone in the “ordinary heroes” category, someone like Mary Dickson from Amherst, N.S., who, through the encouragement of her UCW unit, has handed out over 80 prayer shawls to people in need. The gift of a prayer shawl can seem like a simple thing until you are the recipient—it is as if you can feel and are wrapped by all of the prayers that have been poured out during the creation of the shawl. I have seen people who are agitated from pain or fear calm down when a prayer shawl is wrapped around them. An ordinary act that creates extraordinary healing!

This is an example of what it means to be a disciple—to live or act out your faith. In the biblical world, there was a tradition of teachers called rabbis who would choose the best of the best from among young boys who attended school in the temple. The boys would be around the age of 13 and they would be chosen to be apprentices, to learn the ways of the rabbi. All other boys would return to their families and work in the family businesses. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read about Jesus calling fishermen to become his disciples, his apprentices. In this situation, they were not necessarily the best of the best; they would be ordinary; and yet they were being called to the extraordinary life of a disciple. The meaning of the word “disciple” is a person who tries to live and preach the ways of their leader. So the disciples were taking on the extraordinary life of being like Jesus, healing and preaching the Word. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus calls Peter and Andrew to come and follow him and be fishers of people, to preach to people the words of Jesus; then Jesus calls them to also heal people. These ordinary people who, at times, seem to be clueless are chosen, chosen to speak and heal, and chosen to change the world.

When you think about it, if these ordinary people could be called to follow the life of Jesus, that gives us hope as well. I don’t know about you, but I rarely feel like the best of the best. Often I feel less than; even accomplishing one ordinary task would seem like a herculean effort. Reading about the disciples and their times of cluelessness encourages me to move forward, to make a difference no matter how small.

We are all called to live in faith, offering compassion and hope to those we encounter. We are also called to share our gifts with our partners and ministries of Mission & Service, those whom we have not met in person, but know through the stories of Mission & Service found in Minutes for Mission and Mandate magazine. Following in the way of Jesus is two-fold—giving both locally and beyond our community. Following the teachings of Jesus to love one another and to love our neighbour is at the very core of our faith. Love is the one constant; when we love one another, it fills our heart and the heart of the person whom we love. We may not like what that person is doing, but we can still love them. Loving one another is one of the most profound ways we can offer compassion and hope to those we encounter, because through that love, others can be encouraged to take a chance on accomplishing extraordinary tasks.

Let me tell you a story. In Hamilton, Ont., there lived a man named Roger. He had spent the majority of his life homeless, addicted to drugs and alcohol, one of “the lost and least” whom we all encounter on city streets. Roger believed he was headed toward an early death until he encountered Wesley Urban Ministries; the people there loved him back to life. He is now clean and sober and lives in a one-bedroom apartment above Wesley Urban Ministries in downtown Hamilton. Roger will tell you that without Wesley, he would be dead.

This story illustrates the result of an extraordinary act. Ordinary people called to the extraordinary, called to change people’s lives. So here’s to those who change things, those who push the human race forward in love. Here’s to us, called in faith, to mend the world!

May we life our lives in the extraordinary realm of God’s love.

I wish to leave you with a little poem that I found in my Grandmother’s journal.  It is titled “Influence” by R.V. Dyer.

        Each life must touch so many lives

        From morn till set of sun _

        Leave many marks for right or wrong

        By things that we have done.

        Each new day we should make a wish,

        And then in earnest pray:

        “Lord let my life help other lives

        That I shall meet today”.     Amen.

 

Minute for Mission

“We are grateful for any kind of help.”

Aid workers load boxes of relief supplies onto pallets outdoors.

Hungarian Interchurch Aid distributes relief supplies in Ukraine.

Credit: ACT Alliance/HIA

During peaceful times Kharkiv has a population of 1.5 million people—larger than Calgary and just a bit smaller than Montreal. But since the Russian invasion in February, half of those people have fled the city for safer places. Those who are still in Kharkiv are the people who can’t leave: because they have nowhere to go, because they’re unable to travel, or because they’re taking care of others who must stay.

 

Grocery stores in Kharkiv are closed, public transit has stopped running, there is no electricity or running water, and many roads and buildings are unsafe. Although the daily Russian air raids have ended there are still intermittent rocket attacks and people still spend time in shelters. Add to this the fact that most people who are still there live in poverty or are disabled, and it’s clear that those who are left in Kharkiv are the ones least able to survive without help.

 

ACT Alliance member Hungarian Interchurch Aid has recently been able to bring relief shipments to volunteers in Kharkiv, like Sergei Babin. Babin and his team are providing those who are unable to leave the city with food and other items they need.

 

“We are grateful for any kind of help, as the people of Kharkiv have been suffering from this serious humanitarian crisis for many weeks now,” he says.

 

Providing emergency food and hygiene kits is one way your generous support of Mission & Service partners is helping support Ukrainian refugees.

 

Thank you for your compassion.

Let us Pray

Almighty God, your son, Jesus Christ, has taught us that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters, we do also for him.  Give us the will to be the servant of others as he was the servant of all.

 

We ask, O God, that you be present in all our doing and in all our being.  Give meaning and purpose to the common routines of each day.  Give hope and promise to the events that shape us and shape our world.  Give each of us an ordinary task and extraordinary love to carry it out in your name.  We ask this in the name of the one who taught us to pray together, saying  Our Father…

 

Hymn – Will You Come and Follow Me — VU 567

Blessing and Sending Forth  (responsive)

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the love of God,

and the communion the Holy Spirit

be ours this day, and always.

Let us go out into the world, living in the light of Christ!

By the power of the Spirit doing all the good we can,

by all the means we can, in all the ways we can,

In all the places we can, at all the times we can.

to all the people we can, as long as ever we can. Amen.

 

Parts of today’s service are of a worship service available through Called to Be the Church: A Congregational Giving Program, 2019. Melody Duncanson Hales is a Mission & Service Animator in northern Ontario. Ruth Noble is the Mission & Service Engagement Coordinator for The United Church of Canada.  Used with permission.

 

 ************************

 

July 24, 2022

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

Lighting of the Christ Candle.  

O, Lord, as light comes from this candle, may the blessing  of Jesus Christ come to us and guide us in our paths. Amen. 

CELEBRATING 60 YEARS of UCW 

Welcome and Announcements 

Call to Worship

We are the church, the body of Christ.  And Christ is the sure foundation of our faith. Come let us worship. 

Opening Prayer

O God, we are called to be the church and we offer ourselves to you. Use our hands and feet to do your work and carry your message to our hurting world. Amen. 

Hymn VU #412 This Is The Day   

UCW: Past and Present 

This is an introduction to today’s service. The United Church of Canada came into being in 1925. As the years passed, the women of the congregation were a very important part of the progress of the church.

 

There was the Women’s Missionary Society which focused on the outreach missions of the church, learned about the various missionaries throughout the world, and supported them with personal donations. At the same time, there was the Ladies’ Aid, also called the Women’s Auxiliary. Their main purpose was to support the church in many ways such as holding fundraisers, maintaining the manse, cleaning the church, and doing whatever was needed. They cooked, they quilted, they taught Sunday School, they held thousands of suppers and food sales, they sang in the choir; the list was endless. Some women belonged to one or the other of these organizations; some belonged to both. They were a vital part of the  United Church. 

 

The world kept changing, and so did the women’s groups over the years. In 1960, the United Church General Council approved the formation of a new organization for the women of the church. This organization would combine the Women’s Missionary Society and the Ladies’ Aid or Women’s Auxiliary to form one group which would be known as United Church Women. Thus, The United Church Women was created on January 1, 1962. With any new organization, there would have been some resistance, anger, and grief about the former groups, but the women moved on. And here we are sixty years later. Our numbers have decreased and our ages have increased, but the United Church Women have continued to exist, changing as needed and still supporting the United Church. On this 60thanniversary, United Church Women have much to look back on and celebrate.  As we look to the future, we pray that God will guide us to find new ways to serve. 

 

When UCW was formed in 1962, there were groups in almost every congregation and  some even had more than one group or unit. In this pastoral charge, there were groups in Centreville, Summerfield, Williamstown, Lakeville, Florenceville, Bristol, and Bath.  As you are aware, we have only one group left and it is in Bristol and down to six members. Gone are the days of catering to weddings and holding food sales. However, this small group is still able to support various outreach ministries and abound in fellowship and our love for one another. It is interesting to note that Elaine White joined UCW when it began and has been a member ever since.  

 

And so to the purpose of UCW: 

To unite the women of the congregation for the total mission of the church and to provide a medium through which we may express our loyalty and devotion to Jesus  Christ in Christian witness, study, fellowship and service.

What does this mean? 

 

Witness We witness through our actions and what we do on a day to day basis–  through our work, our financial donations and support of the church and the community, all done in God’s name. 

Study of missions and devotions are an important part of most meetings. 

 

Fellowship There is fellowship in attending meetings, from being a part of events which take place in the church. Working at events such as holding suppers, catering to weddings or cleaning the church might have been hard work, but the fellowship of  working together for a common purpose created lasting friendships. 

 

Service Events under fellowship fall here. UCW groups have provided hospitality, informal pastoral care, food for the hungry, organized yard sales, organized church services, and the list goes on.  

 

Every UCW within their community of faith have stories to tell of their work– some funny, some serious, but all showing their commitment to the life and work of their congregation and to the world beyond their walls. We are thankful for all these UCW members and for the others who have come forward to assist them along the way. 

 

Happy 60thanniversary United Church Women. We look forward to a future where all work together to meet the needs of our faith community. May God bless you! 

 

Let us pray: 

We gather this day in gratitude and thanksgiving for the thousands of women across Canada who gave over 60 years of Christian witness, study, fellowship and service to their churches, their pastoral charges, their communities, and beyond. We give thanks to the families who supported them in their endeavours while eyeing the goodies on the counter– that were going to the church. For their energy, vision, outreach, and pastoral  care, we give thanks. in gratitude. Amen 

 

Let us now join in singing the UCW song. 

 

UCW Song   (Tune: Clementine)

 

1. UCW, UCW

Helped to make the church survive

Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday

Now we’re 60, still alive!

 

 

Chorus, after verses 1, 3, and 5 only

O, the casseroles and the turkeys

Bread and pies and carrot cake,

Feed the hungry, clothe the needy,

Serving all for Jesus’ sake.

 

2. Christian witness, study, service,

Fellowship and so much more.

All are part of our purpose,

Loyal to Jesus at the core.

 

3. In the 60’s, dress was formal,

Gloves and hats and high-heeled shoes

Now we’ve changed and much more casual,

Comfort footwear, denim blues.

 

Chorus:

O, the casseroles and the turkeys

Bread and pies and carrot cake,

Feed the hungry, clothe the needy,

Serving all for Jesus’ sake.

 

4. Play the organ, choir practice,

Study missions, meditate,

Hold a food sale, clean the kitchen,

Keep the manse in shining shape!

 

5. All the fun and all the laughter,

Fellowship and friends we made.

Joining, singing, helping, praying.

Memories that never fade!

 

Chorus:

O, the casseroles and the turkeys

Bread and pies and carrot cake,

Feed the hungry, clothe the needy,

Serving all for Jesus’ sake.

 

 

Responsive Psalm #95 Part 1 Page 814 VU 

Reading 1– Isaiah 41:10

So do not fear.  I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you;

I will uphold you with my righteous right  hand.  

 

Reading 2 — Hebrews 6:19 NIV

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and strong. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.  

 

Minute For Mission 

 

Women For Change, Zambia

Never accept poverty. Unite and fight it.

 

Women for Change, Zambia “Never accept poverty. Unite and fight it.” – Pacific Mountain Region

 

The Republic of Zambia is a landlocked country in the central part of South Africa.  Women For Change is a non-governmental organization that works in rural communities in Zambia, focusing on social and economic changes that empower women and children. It has been a partner of the United Church of Canada since 1992 and receives support from your donations to Mission and Service.

 

For the 60th anniversary, many UCW groups decided to focus on support to this important ministry.  Access to education for everyone, regardless of income, is an essential part of securing greater justice, broad-based participation in society and the eradication of poverty. The United Church, working with Mission and Service global partners, understands that education is a basic human right and a critical solution to end poverty.

 

While education is key to development, many children face significant barriers to education and in many countries, girls face multiple challenges.

While the Zambian government has made education a key priority and much work has been done, more remains to be accomplished to create a stable education system for children, especially girls. One challenge is to win widespread acceptance of education not only as a right, but also as a component to address the issues of poverty. This is a particular problem in rural areas.

 

Women for Change is working to address the numbers of girls dropping out of school in rural areas in Zambia. Social norms there have led to the belief that the appropriate role for a girl is to be a good wife and mother and that education is not necessary for that role. Many don’t understand that a lack of education for girls and women decreases family income, increases health risks and places girls at higher risk of participating in trafficking and exploitation. In many communities, the girls are prepared for marriage, often arranged by the parents, while the boys remain in school.

 

Women for Change works with addressing the numbers of girls dropping out of schools and offers incentives to re-enrol in school. Teachers are trained to give them and their parents the support they need to build awareness of the importance of education and the benefits it will bring in reducing poverty and improving day to day lives for women and children.

 

This is only one of the ways in which your Mission and Service givings are well-spent.  Thank you for your support.

 

Hymn VU # 371 Open My Eyes That I May See 

 

Meditation — Will Your Anchor Hold? 

“We have this hope as an anchor”.

These are familiar words from the Bible and the basis for an old hymn, Will Your Anchor Hold? written in 1882. God is depicted in both places as an anchor.

 

Now, we all know what an anchor is…..the captain of the boat uses a huge anchor to keep the vessel from going adrift. People use small anchors to keep their pleasure crafts moored. Cottagers use whatever heavy objects they have:  giant rocks, old car motors, anything heavy, to keep their docks from floating away from shore.

 

Over the past 60 years and for the millenia before that, God’s people have kept God in their lives. We have faith in the teachings of Jesus about hope and steadfastness.

 

“We have an anchor that keeps the soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll”……

Steadfast and sure!

United Church Women have been steadfast, sure, and in many instances, the anchors of the communities of faith in the United Church, from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, from the Arctic to our neighbour to the south and even further to the shores of Bermuda.

 

However, our United Church Women could not have done it alone. It took the support of the whole congregation to carry out the work of the church: not only the UCW members, but also the women in the congregation who may not have belonged to UCW but chose to support the mission of the church, the children and youth who participated in many activities and the many men always willing to do their part and all guided by our heavenly father. We are all anchors who with God’s help, can keep our church from

drifting off course.

 

Perhaps you remember the song from Sunday School which had its basis again from the Bible …. the wise man built his house upon the rock…..the rains came down and the floods came up, and the house on the rock stood firm. At camp we sang Jesus is the rock and he rolls my blues away.

 

Faith communities have all been challenged over the past few years: by dwindling membership and low numbers of young people in our pews, a pandemic that just won’t quit, the horrors of war and the effects of global warning. Most of us have experienced in ways, most, if not all, of these challenges. But we as a congregation, as a people guided by God, must continue into the future, remaining steadfast and anchored in our faith. We can all work together within the restrictions and challenges which come to us. Let us strive to find new ways to gather, new ways to fellowship, new ways to worship but also in doing so, we must not throw away all that was good. Let us build upon our solid rock, the basis of our faith.

 

The United Church of Canada has seen its changes and challenges throughout the years beginning with its formation in 1925. Then there was the combining of three groups into United Church Women in 1962. More recently, it was the formation of the regional councils. Many people lamented these changes and may have wanted to close up shop and call it a day, but we chose to remember our anchor and move on to a new day.

 

In our scripture today, we are told that remaining true to our anchor, remaining steadfast and sure, leads to our hope of entering the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, the curtain meaning heaven. Will your anchor hold? Can we remain steadfast and sure to our community of faith and our God? Continuing in hope gives us the strength to move forward through the floods, the fires, the hurricanes, through the heartache and disruption

of the pandemic, through the atrocities of war, through the challenges of our community of faith. We must continue in hope. We are the anchors, steadfast and sure, fulfilling Jesus’ promise. With our anchor, we have hope for our future, we have strength to continue in hope.

 

As per the words in today’s reading from Isaiah, So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

What a blessing! Amen.

 

Pastoral Prayer 

Let us pray. Your generosity, O God, is overwhelming. We look to the good earth around us, to the spirit within us, and we are grateful. Thank you and may we care for your gifts and show our gratitude in caring and giving.

Today, we gather to renew our vision as your faithful people. May we not look beyond the needs of others, but may we meet those needs. May we not run from the demands placed upon our lives, but may we serve with a caring heart and willing spirit.

We pray for ourselves: that we may continue to love one another and abound in love for you. We pray for patience and understanding and the strength to do your will.

We pray for our congregation and ask your guidance as we move through these difficult times.

We pray for others: those who mourn, those who are ill, those throughout the world who suffer many ills and injustices, those unable to be among us in fellowship.

We pray for those able to do ministry through the Ministry and Service fund. We pray for those who live out their commitment to the well-being of others day by day: in public service, health care, education, social work, community work and environmental concern.

Bolster all of them with your love.

Send your spirit upon us, living God, so that we may be a blessing to all we meet.

Arouse in us the truth of Jesus Christ as we seek to live lives of service and compassion.

Help us to make our lives complete as we obey your call to us. We pray now the prayer that Jesus taught us….. Our Father…

 

Hymn VU # 675 Will Your Anchor Hold? 

 

Benediction 

Go now in peace, never be afraid. God will go with you each hour of every day. Go now in faith; knowing God will guide you all the way. Go now in love and show you believe. Reach out to others, so all the world can see. Let us depart in peace, in faith and in love. Amen.  

 

(Service is based on excerpts of UCW 60thAnniversary services written by  women from the Maritimes: Marliyn Bubar, Ruth Kennedy, and Elaine  Burrows. Used with permission.)

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

 

 

July 17, 2022

Hope you have a glass of ice tea handy and are sitting under your lawn umbrella or in the shade somewhere as you join in worship with us today!

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

In the name of the One who invites us both go and do and sit and listen, we light this candle. May it shine light as we discern what is needful this day.

Call to Worship:

From a week filled with needs and demands,

we come to regroup and to regather.

With many anxieties and distractions,

we come to listen for God’s call in our lives.

God meets us where we are and inspires us with new ways of understanding and new opportunities to serve.

Learning, being and doing- it is all important.

May our worship today help us to focus and choose what really matters.

In the presence of the faithful, let us praise God’s holy name.

Let us pray:

God of stillness, God of action,

help us, as we worship you this day, to be faithful listeners of your word.

Help us to be faithful servants.

In all that we do, may we welcome you

and serve you as Christ’s disciples. Amen.

Hymn:  374 VU Come and Find the Quiet Centre 

Prayer of Confession:

Patient and loving God, we take this moment to pause, and confess those times when we are too busy for you, for one another and for ourselves… (silence)

Forgive us when we crowd in as much activity as possible and then wonder why we are so stressed and tired.

Forgive us when we are too busy to spend time in prayer and listen in our hearts for your word in our lives.

Forgive us when we are too busy to notice the needs of others.

Forgive us when we are too busy to stop what we are doing and help one another, or laugh with one another, or simply even notice one another.

Forgive us when we trample on the needs of others by our greed.

Forgive us when life becomes overwhelming, and we do not take even the time for our own needs.

Help us to listen for your voice within our hearts, calling us back to centre our lives with you. Amen.

Words of Affirmation

On the seventh day of creation, God rested, creating a Sabbath, a time set apart for rest, to learn, to listen, to be quiet and at peace.

May Sabbath take root in our hearts and in our lives.

Be at peace in God’s love for you. AMEN

Readings and Reflection:

Worried and Distracted by Many Things

Last week it was a plumb line by which God would measure the crookedness of the people of Israel. This week God’s object lesson with Amos is a bowl of summer fruit, fruit that has reached the end of its best before date, fruit that is past its prime. One of my favourite commentators, Barbara Brown Taylor, suggests that if we were channel surfing and came across this message of Amos to the people of Israel we would probably forward quickly to the next channel. His message to the people of Israel is pretty harsh. The people have not chosen well. Their priorities are all askew. God has had it with the people. God is tired with the way they were going through the motions of worship, yet hardly being able to wait until the Sabbath was over so that they could go back to business as usual, trampling the poor and the oppressed, fleecing them, all for the sake of making a profit. God is not impressed one bit. And it falls to Amos to speak the harsh message of coming destruction. As I read it this week, it sounded so contemporary in so many ways. A brief glance at the nightly news and it could very well be addressed to any number of issues- the oppression of the Ukrainian people by the Russians, the exploitation by big business and industry, corruption, abuse- any place where people have lost focus, where the economy and the systems of this world have become more important than the rights and just responsibility toward human beings. In this context then, let us hear how it might be speaking to us in our times:

Amos 8: 1-12

The Lord God showed me a basket of ripe fruit and asked, “Amos, what do you see?”

“A basket of ripe fruit,” I replied.

Then he said,

“This is the end
for my people Israel.
I won’t forgive them again.
Instead of singing
in the temple,
they will cry and weep.
Dead bodies will be everywhere.
So keep silent!
I, the Lord, have spoken!”

The Lord said:

You people crush those in need
and wipe out the poor.
You say to yourselves,
“How much longer before the end
of the New Moon Festival?
When will the Sabbath] be over?
Our wheat is ready,
and we want to sell it now.
We can’t wait to cheat
and charge high prices
for the grain we sell.
We will use dishonest scales
    and mix dust in the grain.
Those who are needy and poor
don’t have any money.
We will make them our slaves
for the price
of a pair of sandals.”

I, the Lord, won’t forget
any of this,
though you take great pride
in your ancestor Jacob. [
Your country will tremble,
and you will mourn.
It will be like the Nile River
that rises and overflows,
then sinks back down.

On that day, I, the Lord God,
will make the sun
go down at noon,
and I will turn daylight
into darkness.
10 Your festivals and joyful singing
will turn into sorrow.
You will wear sackcloth
and shave your heads,
as you would at the death
of your only son.
It will be a horrible day.

11 I, the Lord, also promise you
a terrible shortage,
    but not of food and water.
You will hunger and thirst
    to hear my message.
12 You will search everywhere—
from north to south,
    from east to west.
You will go all over the earth,
    seeking a message
from me, the Lord.
    But you won’t find one.

In essence, then, in an effort to get ahead, to make a profit, to be successful, the people of Israel had lost focus on what was truly most important- honouring human dignity by working for righteousness and justice for all. Yes, they showed personal piety by worshipping in their beautiful temples but somehow, the rituals they participated in there and the words they heard spoken fell on deaf ears in the midst of life’s many distractions.

It is not hard to identify, is it? We, like them, know what it is to live a distracted life. Deadlines and billboards. Glossy magazines and colourful websites that lure us. The beep of an incoming message. A long ‘to do’ list. Appointments. Requests being made of us. Projects. Repairs around the house. Financial worries. Parents. Children. Grandchildren needing our attention.

Several years ago, Tom Friedman had a column in the New York times called “The Taxi Driver”. He told of being driven by cab from the Charles de Gaulle airport to Paris. During the one-hour trip, he and the driver had done six things: the driver had driven the cab, talked on his cell phone, and watched a video (which was a little nerve racking!) whereas he had been riding, working on a column on his laptop and listening to his iPod. “There was only one thing we never did: talk to each other.” He then went on to speak about the disease of our age as being “continuous partial attention.”

But maybe that disease has always been there- an inability to stay focused because there is so much to distract us. I can’t help but think this is what happened to Martha in our gospel this morning. Let’s listen to this familiar story and try to see it from a new perspective:

Luke 10: 38-42

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at Jesus’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her, then, to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, 42 but few things are needed—indeed only one. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Traditionally, as we have heard this story read, poor Martha has often got a bum rap and Mary has been praised, as if sitting at the feet of Jesus is preferable to being active out in the kitchen. Yet, in all fairness to Martha, I don’t think this little snippet is meant to pit Martha and Mary against one another. I question the idea that Jesus is actually scolding Martha here. I prefer to think that he is simply responding to her pastorally. After all, Jesus was human and I am sure he would appreciate and sympathize with how Martha might have been feeling. We all know what it is like when we sense that someone else is not pulling their weight when it comes to the workload. It can be pretty frustrating. Is it any wonder that Martha kind of loses it in front of Jesus? Besides, if everyone just sat in there at the foot of Jesus like Mary, who would get the supper on for him and his followers? Someone has to set the table and put the potatoes on. The dinner cannot cook itself! I can’t think that Jesus disagrees with her. Besides, didn’t we just hear the story of the Good Samaritan last week where Jesus commended the Samaritan for “going and doing”? Isn’t that exactly what Martha was about? Surely there is a reason that Luke places these stories side by side, don’t you think?

I don’t think it has anything to do with valuing one aspect of discipleship over another. Both the going and doing and the sitting and listening are equally important. It is not a matter of either/or but both/ and. As the hymn I sent out earlier this week said it so well- Worship and work must be one. For this reason, I don’t believe Jesus is forcing a choice between these two. Both are necessary. Both are important parts of our ministry together. The key, however, is in knowing where and when to choose each.

It reminds me somewhat of a cartoon I used to have on my office door in a congregation I once served. It was a picture of a minister pouring over the Biblical commentaries on her desk thinking to herself “I should be calling one of our shut ins.” Then the next frame pictured the minister on the phone with one of those shut ins thinking to herself, “I should be preparing for Sunday worship.” We all live with these dichotomies with respect to family, work, worship, prayer time and other responsibilities.

Like Martha, it is so easy to get worried and distracted by many things to the point where we lose focus or become cranky. I fully suspect Martha’s intentions were good as she looked forward to welcoming Jesus and his followers to her house and to being hospitable toward them. Yet those noblest of intentions turned to frantic expectations and a feeling of being overwhelmed. As a result, she could not be fully present to Jesus. If we are at all honest with ourselves, we have all been there with her. Sometimes it happens in our homes or at work. Sometimes it happens in our church life. As one commentator I heard this week expressed it, “We are not called to die upon the altar of the church or the spaghetti supper or whatever fund raiser we might have. This only leads to over functioning which is not of God.” How true that is. Then like Martha our focus moves from being hospitable to resenting what others, like her sister Mary, are not doing. We forget the ministry of simply being present to another. It is all about being in the moment and discerning as Jesus says, ‘the one thing that is needed’.

That’s a great question for us to reflect upon in these summer months. When we look at our lives right now in our homes, in our community, in our church, what is the one thing that is needed? Where do you need to put your focus? Where are you being called to be fully present? I wonder if Jesus’ remark caused Martha to examine her attitude a bit- maybe from fussing so much and saying “I am so busy, I have all this work to do” to a sense of delight, gratitude and honor that perhaps might have caused her to say, “wow, I get to cook for Jesus”.

Biblical commentator Elizabeth Myer Boulton summarizes our story this way:

The story is not a celebration of study or inaction or even of sitting still. It’s a celebration of savoring, of delighting in God, of creating the possibility of sabbath even on the busiest of days.

By the same token, this story is not a critique of kitchen duty or the active life or just plain old getting things done. It’s a critique of worry and distraction. It’s a critique of being fragmented, of chasing after many things when there is only one thing.

So, I think, it is not a matter of Mary being praised for her peaceful attentiveness to Jesus or a condemnation of Martha’s banging on those pots and franticly sourcing all her cookbooks out in the kitchen. Both are necessary. The key is in remembering our focus- remembering that we are beloved children of God, called to both go and do and to sit and listen. It is all a matter of timing and not losing the joy and delight in both. It means paying attention to Jesus’ presence, attuning our ear to his voice, and continuing to discern what matters most, right here, right now. That’s the sweet point. It is there that we will connect with the Source that brings both peace and energy to all our undertakings. Amen.

Minute for Mission

Many attempt to cross the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco to Europe.

 

Several people, many women holding babies, are lined up outdoors and have the same bag of food in front of each of them.

Food baskets are distributed in Agadir, Morocco.

Credit: Église Évangélique Au Morocco

In the last two years, the number of refugees and asylum seekers in Morocco has more than doubled. Today, the country is both a transit and a host country with 19,620 refugees and asylum seekers. *

Each person arrives in Morocco hoping for a better life for themselves and their family. Many attempt to cross the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco to Europe. Some make the 14-km trip; others don’t because it proves too costly and dangerous.

“To give you an idea of what this ‘trip’ looks like, they get on an inflated boat normally made for 10‒20 people and they are more than 40 people on it hoping that the wind, their manual maneuvers, and God will get them to Europe. And they pay thousands of euros to get on that boat!” write Fritz Joseph and Emmanuela Loccident, who served four years in Morocco with the United Church in partnership with Global Ministries of the Disciples of Christ.

“Every day we hear of people who die trying to cross over. A lot don’t even know how to swim. Many of those wishing to cross the sea and ultimately go to Europe were, and still are, living in scarcity and poverty because they have used all their money to get to Morocco. Every country they must cross requires fees for passage. So, when arriving in Morocco, they must find a way to pay for their next and final trip to Europe.”

In Morocco, your Mission & Service gifts support refugees and migrants by providing life-saving medication as well as blankets, food, clothes, and professional training.

“Without the help of partners, none of this tremendous help that is offered to migrating people in Morocco would be possible. None,” explain Fritz and Emmanuela. “Helping migrants is one of the biggest ministries of the church. We are there for people who have nowhere else to go.”

This is one story of how your generosity through Mission & Service helps change lives. Thank you for your gifts!

 

Let us pray:

God, from the busyness of our days, from going to and fro, from being worried and distracted by many things, we are thankful for these moments of worship, when we can simply catch our breath and celebrate your presence in our lives. We thank you for the gift of these summer months, for fresh fruit and vegetables that grow in our gardens, for sunshine and rain and for all the beauty of creation that is a gift for us to enjoy.

Thank you for the joy of reunions with family and friends that these summer months make possible.

May these summer months offer us a time to reflect on both our being and our doing as individuals and as a community of faith. Give us wisdom to discern when to sit still and listen and when to rise up and be active. Help us to appreciate the varied gifts that are present among us in this community of faith.

In the quietness of these moments, we bring before you our concerns. For places of war and unrest, for the many who are frightened and in need of our support, for the many families struggling with rising living costs and wondering how they will make ends meet, for our churches in these times of uncertainty and change, that we might be communities of refuge, silence and peace where people might find both solace and empowerment in the midst of life’s challenges. O God, make us generous in our hospitality and focused and attentive in responding to the many needs that surround us. Guide us to choose the things that really matter. Show us ways that we might work for justice and compassion for the least and forgotten ones.

In the silence of our hearts, we name before you those we know who need our prayers this day… for health, for companionship, for guidance, for wisdom in making decisions, or simply for a sense of your presence and our care…

In the name of Jesus, we pray as one… saying together… Our Father…

Hymn: 506 VU Take My Life and Let it Be  

Blessing:

In our being and in our doing,

in our learning and in our growing,

in our praying and in our serving,

may we remain focused,

open and ready to discern God’s peace and guidance.

And may the blessings of God,

our host and our guest,

bless each one of us in all the tasks that are ours this week. Amen

 

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