Weekly Services

Reflection

May 2, 2021

 

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

 

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

 

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

Enjoy the day and have a good week.

 

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

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

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

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

Let us pray:

Divine Vine Grower,

we are a work in progress.

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

May our worship draw us closer to you.

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

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

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

Remind us that without you we would wither. Amen.

Hymn: 138 MV My Love Colours Outside the Lines 

Connections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 15:1-8

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

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

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

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

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

Minute for Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your support changes lives! Thank you.

 

Let us pray:

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

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

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

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

 

Hymn: 579 VU  The Church is Wherever 

Blessing

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

Go into the world and bear the fruit of love.

Find the places of lifelessness and bring renewal.

Go where the Spirit prompts you.

Abide in Christ as Christ abides in you. Amen.

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

 

April 25, 2021

Easter 4 – Good Shepherd Sunday

Good morning on this sunny, fresh looking day.

 

Thank you to all who helped out with the highway cleanup yesterday and earlier in the week. 

A few of you also found other areas to clean up some other roads and streets, the earth thanks you too!

 

Reminder to all to get your appointments for vaccine as your age group comes up. Good to hear many of you have received yours. Keep up the good work of following precautions from public health. While the virus is still out there, the light at the end of the tunnel beckons. We can do this!

 

98th birthday wishes today to Annie Green! Have a great day.

 

Following is our worship service for this 4th Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday.

 

In this time of worship and throughout our lives, we call on God.

At times when we feel lost and need to find the power to follow,

at times when it is easier to hate and to point fingers,

at times when we doubt and turn to false securities, hopes and promises,

we desperately need the power to love.

So we turn to the shepherd of our souls,

the one who has created us

who redeems us

who walks beside us  through life’s deepest valleys

and who both comforts and challenges us.

We gather in the name of Jesus Christ.   (please light a candle)

Let us pray:

God of love, we gather today, guided by you, our Shepherd.

You are our inspiration and model for the sacrificial love

for one another to which we are called.

You protect us and care for us.

You lead us as we journey through life.

As we worship, may our ears be open to hear your word,

our eyes open to see your light,

and our hearts open to feel your love.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Hymn: 273 VU The King of Love 

Love is a Verb

Today is the 4th Sunday of Easter- Good Shepherd Sunday. While sheep and shepherds were common, everyday images in Jesus’ day, for us they are a little less common. Yes, there is the Blackie farm and in the old days when you could sit in Tim Horton’s, it was not unusual to see a flock of sheep climbing the hill just behind the drive thru. If you recall your Sunday School days and still, in many churches today, ours included, there is often a picture or a stained-glass window of Jesus holding a lamb. It all looks so pristine, so cuddly and comfortable, sanitized, we might say. Yet, from what I have read and understood, I don’t think shepherds look that cleaned up. I imagine them as more rough and tumble, ready to go to whatever measures are necessary to ensure the safety of those in their flock. In Jesus’ day, shepherds were far from the pinnacle of society. In fact, they were among the more marginalized. Their work was demanding and relentless:  replenishing and distributing resources, keeping the sheep away from dangerous ravines and thorny bushes, fighting off wolves, tigers or lions, depending on the locale, and assuring the sheep of a safe place to rest. In essence it was, and still is even today, a relationship defined by intimate knowledge and  bold dedication to those very sheep in their care- a model, we might say, of love in action.

Our scriptures today pick up this idea of sacrificial love. Before we turn to them though, let’s think about that word “love”. We use it frequently. We say things like “I love my children/grandchildren or I love pizza.” Yet, to equate our love for both these things is a bit strange. Where we would sacrifice anything for the well being of our loved ones, we would probably not, or at least I hope not, go near as far for a piece of pizza! That is partially what makes love so hard to define. A marriage counsellor, for example, in her/his discussion with a couple might ask, “Do you still love one another?” The couple might answer yes and then a conversation might ensue about a romantic or emotional notion of love. What would happen though if the counsellor suggests the idea of love as a “verb”? The couple might look a little puzzled at first until the counsellor draws out the idea that love is expressed in practical, concrete actions, like the ability to put the welfare, happiness, comfort and safety of the other on par with one’s own. Loving up close like that is a little harder. I think this is where our readings today try to zero in- on our call to love and to exercise our power as Easter people in acts of love toward one another.

If you happened to have watched the one year memorial service for the victims of the Nova Scotia mass shooting, perhaps you heard Rev. Valerie Kingsbury’s closing statement. While I don’t have it word for word, the essence of her remarks was that in the room that day and amongst the many who had gathered over live streaming, there were many different belief systems. Yet, she said, at the core of all that is love. Over the past year, we have felt that love and she added, that love will continue to be with us. The hallmark of community is love. Hold on to that.

I think what she was talking about was love that has shown itself in countless actions, big and small, to these grieving families. This is the love to which the first letter of John witnesses:

1 John 3:16-24

16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us

What the writer is talking about here is a love that demands something from us by putting the needs of others before ourselves, setting aside our own agendas and preferences to provide for the safety of another. If you think about it, that is why we are wearing masks during this pandemic. That is why we are practicing physical distancing. We may not like it. We may wish it were different. Don’t we all? Nonetheless, it is an action in which we are demonstrating that the well-being of others is as important as our own well-being. It shows that we are in loving relationship with our fellow human beings in community and not just individuals with “rights”. It is what we mean when we talk about being selfless. This kind of love, much like the relationship of a shepherd to their sheep, certainly does demand something from us in terms of commitment, dedication, sacrifice and most of all, action.

I was reading this week about a live television interview a woman named Susan Orfanos had with a reporter. Her son, Telemachus was killed in a mass shooting in the United States. She remarked, “I hope to God nobody sends me any more prayers. I don’t want prayers, I want gun control.” Who could blame her with so many mass shootings and so little action? We can hear her frustration, can’t we? As much as we believe in the power of prayers, if that is all that prayer is, it is little wonder she does not want our prayers anymore. Prayer needs to inspire us to actions, not only of charity, but of justice.  That is why our United Church of Canada stands strongly in favour of a guaranteed liveable income. Charitable acts of giving to those in need and keeping the food bank stocked are fine, and much needed, but they only go so far. They meet the needs that present and it is obvious we need to feed people who otherwise would go hungry. At the same time, however, we also need to keep asking what can be done in the long term to assure greater equity for all people. We need to look at the systems that prevent people from having enough income for the basics like food.  As Frederick Douglass says,” I prayed for 20 years but received no answer till I prayed with my legs.” As somewhere else I saw it- Do not tell me that you have a friend in Jesus until you show me what I friend I have in you. Love is a verb.

As our curriculum this week says so clearly “a good shepherd’s love for the sheep bears the same qualities as those described in 1 John 3: sacrificial, bold, power-filled. Furthermore, this shepherd is not the shepherd only of these sheep. One flock, one shepherd: other sheep, ultimately all sheep belong to this shepherd.”

As you read our gospel passage, listen for the contrast between this shepherd and the hired worker. Whereas the hired worker runs at the first sign of danger, the shepherd is invested for the long haul, accompanying those in the fold and overseeing their journey even when the going gets tough. For the good shepherd, it is not about a paycheque or personal needs, it is about intimate care for the most vulnerable in the flock, taking costly action for the well-being of those entrusted to them.

John 10:11-18

11 I am the good shepherd, and the good shepherd gives up his life for his sheep. 12 Hired workers are not like the shepherd. They don’t own the sheep, and when they see a wolf coming, they run off and leave the sheep. Then the wolf attacks and scatters the flock. 13 Hired workers run away because they don’t care about the sheep.

14 I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and they know me. 15 Just as the Father knows me, I know the Father, and I give up my life for my sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not in this sheep pen. I must bring them together too, when they hear my voice. Then there will be one flock of sheep and one shepherd.

17 The Father loves me, because I give up my life, so that I may receive it back again. 18 No one takes my life from me. I give it up willingly! I have the power to give it up and the power to receive it back again, just as my Father commanded me to do.

 I can’t help but think of our essential workers in this time of pandemic, with all the precautions they are taking to insure that people have the goods and services they need, with all the long hours they are putting in and all the sacrifices they are making in their own families and households, in being models to us of this kind of shepherding care that Jesus shows to us. Their personal needs and own self-interest are the furthest things from their concerns. Once again, a good shepherd embodying love as a verb, not a noun.

One of the most refreshing and inspiring stories I have read recently of such shepherding care is the story of the Hadhad family’s journey from Syria to Antigonish, NS. I would commend the book Peace by Chocolate by Jon Tattrie to you. It tells of how violence and warfare exploded in their city, killing several of their loved ones and forcing them to flee to Lebanon where, with the help of informants, they found a safe place to stay. Tareq, the eldest son, who back in Syria was a promising medical student, heard about Canada and made application through the Canadian embassy and the UN High Commission on Refugees to go there. When his application finally came through, he was promised that his family would soon follow. Long story short, he ended up in Antigonish where he was welcomed and given housing by a local refugee support committee that saw to his needs. In a short while, his family also arrived. The people of Antigonish were open and welcoming to them all, helping them to settle into a completely new country in the middle of winter. In time, they were able to help Tareq’s father, Isam, rebuild his livelihood as a chocolate maker by fixing up a place in the house for production from which they sold the chocolate to people who knocked on their door. The business soon grew as folks flocked to their table at the local market. All through the journey, the community offered shepherding care to this family, helping them to buy new equipment and so. Each time, Isam kept track of the costs involved, vowing to himself to repay his lenders, which he has now done. Eventually their production outgrew the family home and an alternate location was needed. Less than 2 months after their arrival, their business was officially registered as Hadhad Chocolate. The community continued to follow their journey. With the help of marketing folks, it is now known as Peace by Chocolate and has expanded to become a well known employer of  50 local people.  As Tareq himself says, “when his family arrived in Canada, they just wanted a warm house, a warm community that opened its heart to them. And in Antigonish, we didn’t find one person. We found a whole community that has been standing with us since we came here.” Their story is one of hope and possibility that shows us what the power of love in action, love as a verb, can do. Yet, in helping this family, the community also learned how to step back so as not to create a dependency. They knew when to let go and to let this family find their own way and take the lead. The community knew the importance of boundaries. The Hadhad’s story has become a source of inspiration to new Canadian Syrians and all Canadians alike. It’s an example of what can happen when a community works together, setting aside their personal needs for the safety and good of others. By this, as our letter of John says, “we know love” and are challenged to look beyond our intimate community of family, friends and next door neighbours to see the needs of brothers and sisters beyond the fold and to reach out to help. By this we know that the resurrected Christ is present and active in our midst. Alleluia! Praise be to God. Amen.

Minute for Mission (what better examples of ways you can make love a verb!!)

.When Ikponwosa Ero was five years old, she couldn’t walk down the street without being taunted for having albinism, a genetic condition that results in lack of pigmentation in skin, eyes, and hair. Children would taunt her with rude songs and pull her hair. When she told teachers she couldn’t see well (a condition common for people with albinism), they accused her of lying.

Today, Ero, a lawyer, advocates for people with albinism. In 2015, the United Nations appointed her as the first Independent Expert on the subject. Ero’s priority is to end brutal attacks against people with albinism. More than 600 attacks have taken place in 26 African countries since 2007; two-thirds of the victims are children.

Being born with light skin is particularly dangerous in Tanzania, where 1 in 1,400 people have albinism. Few of these people live beyond the age of 40, not only because of high rates of cancer but also because of belief systems.

Some belief systems portray people with albinism as magical. As a result, there is a lucrative trade in their body parts, which are believed to hold special power.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation even worse because people can’t get to medical appointments or purchase sunscreen. In some communities, people with albinism are blamed for the outbreak of the pandemic.

That’s why your generosity through Mission & Service is supporting the Morogoro Women’s Training Centre to host seminars for young Tanzanian women with albinism. Topics like disability rights, legal protection, and entrepreneurship will be covered.

“The seminars are really important because they will not only provide training and give women a greater sense of their rights but also an opportunity to share experiences and talk about how their condition and the stigma around it affects them,” says Wendy Gichuru, the United Church’s program coordinator for Africa and the Middle East.

Your Mission & Service gifts support a variety of critical seminars like the Morogoro ones around the world. Thank you so much! Through Mission & Service, your generosity addresses prejudice and violence―and helps change lives.

 

Let us pray:

 

Good Shepherd, the scriptures today have proclaimed it to us- you are a God of love. This love is powerful and transformative. It sacrifices everything, even one’s life. It boldly cries for justice. It beckons us to leave behind jealousy, hatred, and grudges. It compels us to act courageously, generously and selflessly even at the risk of judgment, loss and disappointment. It calls us to be love in the world through our attitudes, our spoken words of forgiveness and encouragement and our prayers with legs.

As we consider our lives this day and as we look around at our world, weave our struggling parts into a community of faith. Stand with all of us as we struggle in the midst of this pandemic that feels like it is going on forever. Remind us that we are not alone.  Help us to listen for your voice of strength and hope. Open us to the needs of this world, especially in these times as we remember the tension facing so many in their places of work as they strive to care for others while keeping themselves safe. Be among all who walk through the deepest of valleys, all who grieve without the physical presence of friends and family nearby, all who are physically or mentally ill,  left exhausted by treatments or feeling lonely and isolated. We pray for all whose choices and behaviours have limited their futures, and those who are victims of others’ poor choices and behaviours. We hold before you these and many more and pray that all might know they are cherished members of your flock. Bring them to rest in green pastures and still waters as you offer them the comfort, protection and welcome they need in the face of chaos. We offer these our prayers in the name of Jesus whose life, death and resurrection is a testimony to us that love is stronger than doubt, fear or death, and who taught us to pray boldly as his followers saying… Our Father…

Hymn:  595 VU We are Pilgrims   

Blessing:

 

Go forth into this new week, knowing that the one who is love profoundly loves you.

Take this love and share it with family and friends, as well as with stranger and foe,

gift it to the hurting and sick, the lonely and troubled.

Be bold, be humble and be love.

May God be at your side.

May Jesus lead you

and may the Holy Spirit be your guide.

 

Peace be with you. Amen.

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

 

April 18, 2021

-Easter 3-

Welcome everyone to worship at Faith Memorial United Church.

Not exactly the kind of weather today that inspires us to get outside. Nonetheless, the green sprouts are coming forth!

As we gather today, our hearts are mindful of the families of the 22 persons who were killed one year ago today in Nova Scotia. 

I hope that you find some way, by watching the memorial service on television or online, or by simply taking a moment of silence to remember the tragedy of that horrific day, asking God to offer continued support to their loved ones.

Adopt a Highway Cleanup will be held next Saturday April 24. All those who are able & willing can meet at the church at 9:00. If you prefer you can clean a section & let Charlie McIntosh know which area has been done. Let us do our part to keep our part of the earth beautiful in celebration of Earth Day.

At 1 pm today, I invite all of you to a Zoom coffee time, just a simple touching base with one another and an opportunity to “see” each other without masks and get to know each other better. I will send out the link in next email. Look forward to “seeing” you in two dimensions at least!

 

We  are witnesses of God’s glory, steadfast love and faithfulness.

The risen Christ stands among us and says “Peace be with you.”  ( light a candle)

Today, we awaken to the call to abide in God’s love and  to keep God’s commandments.

May our time of worship bring us transformation and a renewed sense of purpose as a faith community.

Let us pray:

God of life and love,

like the disciples in the days after the resurrection,

fears and doubts, anxiety and confusion fill our lives.

Come among us, we pray.

Show us your hands and your feet.

Turn our alarm to joy and wonder.

Open our minds to understand your word.

Meet us where we are, as we are.

Encourage us amidst our daily living to become stewards of your love and grace,

witnesses here and now. Amen.

Hymn:179 VU Hallelujah Hallelujah Give Thanks to the Risen Christ

Readings and Reflection:

We Are Witnesses

Confusion. Rumours. Disbelief. Doubt. Fear. Misunderstanding. Attempts to “connect the dots”. Shock. In all of the gospel accounts of the days after the resurrection nowhere do we find people, even his closest disciples, saying “I wonder when Jesus is going to show up.” Despite his earlier attempts to speak of his resurrection, news of his presence still catches everyone off guard and causes quite a stir. It takes a lot of unpacking to get their heads around all that has happened.

We can understand that, can’t we? When something startling or unexpected happens in our world, disrupting our normal way of being, we respond similarly. Think of the first moon landing. Or 9-11. Or even this global pandemic. Such events cause us to reorient our minds to understand the new realities. We are called to listen and to reflect in order to wrestle with the significance of what has happened. Sometimes it means taking a new perspective all together.

Our first reading this morning comes from Acts. It takes place just after Peter and John healed a lame man. The people who witness this stand back in awe and wonder. Watch how Peter chooses this moment to do some teaching to his own Jewish people, insisting that that both he and John had very little to do with the healing. It is not about us, he says.  Instead, it was the power of the risen Christ working through them:

Acts 3:12-19

 12 Seeing this, Peter addressed the people: “You Israelites, why are you amazed at this? Why are you staring at us as if we made him walk by our own power or piety? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of our ancestors—has glorified his servant Jesus. This is the one you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence, even though he had already decided to release him. 14 You rejected the holy and righteous one, and asked that a murderer be released to you instead. 15 You killed the author of life, the very one whom God raised from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 His name itself has made this man strong. That is, because of faith in Jesus’ name, God has strengthened this man whom you see and know. The faith that comes through Jesus gave him complete health right before your eyes.

17 “Brothers and sisters, I know you acted in ignorance. So did your rulers. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he foretold through all the prophets: that his Christ would suffer. 19 Change your hearts and lives! Turn back to God so that your sins may be wiped away.

By casting that broader view that points back to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Peter connects the dots for them, showing how God has been at work and continues to be at work in them as they, in turn, witness in Jesus’ name.

In essence, Jesus invites the disciples to that same task of being witnesses to what is unfolding. Nonetheless, convincing them that he is alive is no easy task. Not one of them in this passage comes out looking fully confident in their beliefs. They are all wavering – bewildered and distraught, trying to figure out what has happened, trying to sort out all the stories that are circulating about Jesus being alive. As I have mentioned before, resurrection news is a slow dawning. While he does ask them the reason for their fears and doubts, nowhere does Jesus scold them for their disbelief. Instead, he meets them where they are, offering them peace and presence:

Luke 24: 36B- 48

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah] is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

Like Peter in our Acts passage, Jesus then helps them connect the dots, opening their minds to the scriptures and showing all that has happened to him as a fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, that his death and resurrection were God’s way of bringing healing and reconciliation to the earth and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed.  Then he calls on them, and ultimately us, to be his witnesses.

I especially like that line ” while in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.” Isn’t that exactly how we all feel about the Good News of the resurrection at Easter? It has that tension of emotions. Jesus doesn’t say, okay folks, when you get your act together, when you root out all doubts and are 100% certain of your faith, then go and do something in the world. He sends them, even in their doubts and disbelief. I like that. It is a great reminder that struggling with the resurrection news is something that comes in “fits and starts”. Sometimes we sense those moments when hope stirs deep within us and the evidence of Christ’s presence among us is so real- like in the midst of a deep conversation with a friend, at the bedside of a loved one who is dying, in the eyes of a stranger or some brief, perhaps fleeting, moment in our day to day activities. Other times we struggle to see that presence. I like that for even those closest disciples of Jesus, faith was so much like a roller coaster. Jesus got that.

I think following and being witnesses of Jesus actually should involve some element of fear because then, there is transformation involved. It means a shift in our thoughts and actions. It can shake us out of our comfort zones, out of old aspects of power and privilege and point us to an alternate vision, and to entirely new understandings of what we are being called to do. Think about it for a minute.  The disciples had the facts about the crucifixion and now, the resurrection. They got the idea of it. Yet, struggling with the reality of it meant bearing witness to it in their words and actions, despite their disbelief. It meant rediscovering a new sense of meaning and purpose for their living.

So what does being a witness of these things mean for us?

I was thinking this week about an old story about a life saving station that had been built on the seacoast where shipwrecks were frequent. The building was just a hut with one boat but a few members kept constant watch over the sea and with little thought for themselves went out and searched for the lost at sea. Many lives were saved and people in the area gave of their time and money to support its efforts. The money went to buy more boats and to train new crews.

Over time the members of this life saving station felt that the building was crude and poorly equipped. They felt they should build something more comfortable as a first refuge for those who came in from the sea. So they replaced the cots with beds and enlarged the building. They decorated it nicely. Over time though fewer members were interested in going out to sea so they hired crews to do it. They kept the life saving motifs. About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast and the hired crew brought boatloads of cold, wet and nearly drowned people. They were dirty and sick. The club was in chaos. Soon they built a shower house outside of the club where the victims could be cleaned up before coming in.

At the next meeting, there was a split in the membership. Most felt that the life saving activities were unpleasant and a hindrance to the club. Some members though felt that they should keep to their original purpose of life saving. But this group was voted down and told that if they wanted to save lives, they could start their own life saving station further down the coast. So they did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred with the old. It too developed into a club and another life saving station was founded. And on and on it went.

So what had happened? The life saving stations had lost their sense of purpose. They forgot what business they were in. Other things took over.

In the time after the resurrection, I see Jesus and others trying to remind people of the business they were in- of taking their place in the long line of witnesses to the Good News- of offering comfort and assistance to the distressed of the world, of providing encouragement, of sharing forgiveness, of offering peace in the midst of fear, calm in the midst of life’s storms and so on. It is about putting our faith and even our doubts into action through service and generosity.

Because, frankly, when all is said and done, when the world looks around for evidence of the risen Christ, it is to us, the church, the Body of Christ, they will look. That’s how the message gets out there. That is how it is proclaimed- when we show them, with the help of our hands, our feet and our voices, his physical presence in the world and when we become not merely observers of an amazing story, but participants in its ongoing fulfillment in our world today.

Friends, we have a story to share. We don’t have to wait until all our doubts are gone to share it. God’s resurrection power is flowing through us even amidst our fears and struggles. It is real and ongoing.  We are witnesses of these things as we live in ways that defy explanation to others- other than that Christ’s risen presence is within us.  Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Minute for Mission: Today is Earth Sunday. Here is a great story to show how our gifts to Mission and Service influenced a person for a life time of environmental action.

 video version: https://youtu.be/Cs-JTMFt5TE

None of us can go a single day without having an impact on someone’s life. And we can’t always predict how what we do to help change a life might wind up changing ours, too.

Take Bill Darnell. Bill’s love affair with nature began at camp, but it didn’t end there. Far from it. Bill’s childhood experience of camp wound up inspiring one of the world’s most influential environmental movements.

“Camping had a big effect on me. I grew up in suburbia and didn’t have much access to the natural world. Camping was an opportunity to go out and be in nature. It was amazing. Being at camp solidified my strong connection with the natural world,” he says.

Bill’s early camp experience instilled such a love of nature that when he became an adult, he became an environmental activist. “When I was 25 years old, not far removed from my years in camp, I saw that they were testing nuclear weapons. That was so obviously wrong that I felt I had to do something to stop it,” he says.

So Bill and a small group of friends anxiously climbed on board an 85-foot fishing boat later dubbed Greenpeace. Together, they set sail for Alaska to stop the testing of a nuclear bomb. Greenpeace as a movement was born.

Bill’s story proves that camping experiences in childhood can lead to a lifelong commitment to care for God’s creation.

As scientists and activists sound the alarm around climate change and experts report that not spending enough time outside is having an impact on our children’s health and well-being, outdoor ministry has never been more crucial. It’s just one of the many reasons why Mission & Service really matters.

Your Mission & Service gifts support over two dozen United Church-run camps across the country. Every year, your generosity gives thousands of children an opportunity to go to camp. There, they learn life skills, meet other campers, explore faith, and spend time outside.

Like Bill, some young people may leave camp so impressed by the natural environment that they get on board a movement to take care of it. “Camping made an incredible difference in my life. I know it will make an incredible difference to young people across Canada. I give thanks to those who support it,” Bill says.

Please make a gift to Mission & Service today. Your support not only makes a difference right now but also has an impact on the future for all of us who are blessed to live in the beautiful world God created.

 

Let us pray:

Renewing God, in these springtime days, we give thanks for the ways you enrich our lives with a world filled with welcoming sounds of returning birds, with sights of green sprouts coming forth from winter- hardened soil and tiny buds on trees preparing to burst. Thank you for the wonder of creation and its creatures great and small. May we never take its many gifts for granted. In the midst of the many threats to its ongoing sustainability, may we live in the awareness of your magnificent and ongoing creation. May we live in ways that witness and honour your work.

As we look around our world, as we listen to our newscasts, there is much that confuses and frightens us. We worry about the many in our world whose hopes for a vaccine are not even on the radars of their country’s government. We worry for hospitals in our own country that are filled to capacity and overflowing with Covid patients, while at the same time many find that surgeries and procedures have been postponed. We pray for all who work in the midst of tremendous stress trying to keep everyone safe. Grant your wisdom to all who are making decisions in the face of so much uncertainty and all who working diligently in the field of scientific research. We pray for your comfort to surround all who mourn, all who are unable to be with their loved ones, all who need your presence as they walk unknown roads…   We pray for those who hunger for food, encouragement and relationship, whose spirits are diminished.

Bless us as a congregation as we seek to bear witness to your presence in our lives as we reach out, not only to those we know, but to those we may never know personally, but who need our prayers, our generosity and our actions to help restore them to hope.

Teach us to live this day and every day as a gift that calls us to respond with love and care. May the spirit of the risen Christ at work within us remind us of our purpose as members of his body in the world today that we might be empowered to serve in his name. We pray in his name, as witnesses of these things, saying together… Our Father…

Hymn: 603 In Loving Partnership We Come                               

Blessing:

May the witness of our lives confirm the testimony of our lips:

Hallelujah! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 

Peace be with you. Amen.

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

April 11, 2021

Psalm 133 proclaims-

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”

In the name of the resurrected Christ, we come to this time of worship to share in the unity of the Spirit.

The abundance of God’s creation surrounds us everywhere!

Hallelujah! Christ is risen.

Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah!   ( please light a candle)

Let us pray:       

Resurrected Christ,

wherever we find ourselves this day, fill us with your abundant joy.

Meet us where we are.

When our faith is shaky, come to us with outstretched hands.

Draw us together in the unity of your perfect love, unwavering presence and abundant grace.

Help us to offer ourselves, that through us, others might learn of you. Amen.

Hymn: 396VUJesus, Stand Among Us  

Readings and Reflection:                          

                                                Snapshots

While out for my walk a week or so ago, I noticed a group of middle school students accompanied by their teacher who were also walking along the boardwalk.  When they reached the covered bridge, they all bunched together as the teacher crossed the street with her camera in hand, preparing to take a group photo. I smiled to myself thinking about that photo being shared digitally among the classmates. I wondered how many would bother to save it as a souvenir of pandemic times, something they could describe to their children and grandchildren  “when outdoor exercise was deemed the safest and teachers used to walk us all around town”. I imagined the stories that might get shared in years to come.

Many of you have shared with me how you have been using these “shelter at home” times to sort through old photos and memorabilia so that they might be a little more organized to pass on to generations to come. Nonetheless, sometimes in doing this, we discover more photos that have been handed on to us, presumably of our ancestors, but with no names attached. The people who would recognize those in the photos are long gone. Then the question becomes what do we do with these photos? If you are anything like me, you may also have in your collection photos of people that even you, yourself, no longer recognize! Unless you have been very diligent in labelling and dating such photos, you may very well be drawing a blank.

Snapshots, whether through the old film method or through our modern digital technology, are like that. For some reason, at the time, the moment was deemed to be memorable enough to warrant the need to take a photo. They represent a moment in time worth preserving.

I was thinking this week about how our scriptures for this Sunday are a little like snapshots. While not actual “photos”, they do present us with images of the followers of Jesus at a particular point in time after news of the resurrection started to spread.

We will begin with a scene that is set later in the day on that first Easter. This passage is often labelled the “Doubting Thomas” text. I always find that so unfair to poor Thomas. After all, unlike the other disciples, he was not present when Jesus first appeared to them. All Thomas was asking for was the same thing that the other disciples had already witnessed- an opportunity to see the Risen Christ for himself. This time, as you read through this familiar story, I encourage you to set your camera focus, so to speak, not only on Thomas, but on the whole of the disciples- the mood in the room, what the disciples might have been churning over in their minds about what had taken place and what they were now experiencing:

John 20: 19-31

( to hear Linnea tell this story, click here  )

 19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

24 Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”

26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”

28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.

So what does your snapshot look like? I see a group of disciples huddled behind closed doors. By now, Mary Magdalene and Peter (according to John’s resurrection account) would have shared with them what they had experienced at the tomb earlier. No doubt, the others were fearful that they might get accused of stealing Jesus’ body. Maybe they wondered if the same fate that happened to Jesus would now happen to them as his followers. What else might have been going on in there? Guilt? Regret? Blame? Finger pointing? Grief- not only that this Jesus, whom they had followed, was dead, but also, so too were their dreams.  We can be sure that no one in there had any idea what to do next, especially in the face of a missing body and now, rumours that were circulating.

Into the midst of all these fears and uncertainties, enters Jesus offering them the peace of the Holy Spirit and sending them out.

Yet, the very next week, finds them in the same place, huddled behind closed doors. The only difference is that this time Thomas is with them. Jesus once again stands among them, reaching out especially to Thomas, offering him his hands and his side so that he might touch and believe. Whether Thomas actually did touch Jesus, we cannot be certain. All we know is that at that moment, he experiences the resurrected Jesus for himself. No second hand information from the other disciples had been enough for him.

One moment in time. The struggle of Thomas to believe. The willingness of the other disciples to stay with Thomas in his wrestling; to not reject him or kick him out for not getting it, as they had. The importance of community in helping Thomas along, in demonstrating to him, he still belonged. The need for Thomas to work it all through, to discover it for himself. As I mentioned last week, it all takes time for the story to be unraveled in each person’s life and experience. Drawing from the spiritual experiences of others, while helpful to hear and frame our own stories, is never enough. For Thomas, it is the community of disciples that stand with him in his search.

Our second “snapshot” this morning of a community practicing resurrection is a much more confident looking group of believers than those we observed huddled behind closed doors on that first Easter evening. While the group in the upper room at least had in common the shared experience of being present as Jesus shared his mission of a different way of being in the world, I suspect this second snapshot was of a group that had very little in common. They were from different cultures and nationalities. Some were from Asia and Africa. Some were Jews. Some were non Jews. Some of them had different political persuasions.  Still, though, despite all these differences, they created a community and what united them was their common identity as people of the Way, followers of Christ. As I read this glowing “snapshot” of the early church, I get the feeling like they could take on the world!

Acts 4: 32-35

32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Wow! That is quite the snapshot now, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you want to be a part of that community? Somehow it all sounds so idyllic! No wonder, like an eager photographer desiring to capture the perfect picture before it is too late, the writer of Acts wanted to get this down in words! No bickering. No jealousy. Everyone just caring for one another, sharing generously and risking everything all for the sake of love.

Well, I hate to burst this idyllic bubble but reading further in Acts will soon show us that it didn’t last. In fact, in the very next chapter, Ananias and Sapphira kept back for themselves some money they had promised the community from the sale of a property. Later, as many of the letters written to the various Christian communities attest, there were all kinds of squabbles that Paul continued to address over such issues as leadership in these communities and whom to exclude or include.

Nonetheless, although this snapshot is not a blueprint or a measuring stick for us as a church community, it does give us a picture, a glimpse if you like, of how God’s power was at work to produce a community enlivened and emboldened by the Holy Spirit and the Good News of the resurrection. It shows us what can happen when we choose to live in the new way Jesus showed us- when we choose the good of the larger community over our own selfish, individualistic ways. It presents us with a vision of how the Easter message makes all sorts of things possible, even in spite of our differences.

Being of “one heart and soul” does not mean everyone will always think the same way or have the same opinion about everything. How boring that would be! Nonetheless, when we remember our common identity as Christ’s followers, unity will happen.  Even though experiences and perceptions may differ as did those of the disciples in the upper room when Jesus first appeared to them and Thomas who was absent, we still stand with one another, listening to and honouring each other’s wrestling and struggles. It is in those moments when “true community” happens and we model something different from the rest of the world, something that distinguishes us as people who practice resurrection. By speaking directly to one another and communicating openly, we demonstrate mutual respect and model our common purpose as a community of faith.

These “snapshots” of the early Christian community, taken at two different times have caused me to think about our own communities of faith in these pandemic times. If  a writer were to describe us, right now, what would get included in the picture?  Would we be shown to be fearful and anxious like the disciples huddled behind closed doors? Would we be pictured as open and caring for one another like the snapshot provided in Acts? More than likely we would be a bit of both, I suspect! I like to think that despite our diversity, we might be described as a motley group of people from all over Carleton County and beyond who worked at being community together, who showed mutual care and concern for one another by phone, by email, by zoom, who still committed themselves to worship God each Sunday (albeit in a new format), who witnessed to the Good News through their words, actions and outreach, who wrestled with faith and doubt, who studied scripture and their own lives, who  tried new things and if these didn’t work, realized they could be changed, who shared opinions in meetings, not in parking lots, who knew what they stood for, who kept Christ’s vision at the forefront as they made plans for their future together, who breathed in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who dared to dream, to serve and to forgive one another, who engaged with the larger community and the world, who allowed their lives and vision to be reset, and most of all, who became living proof that beneath all that divides them from one another, is the living presence of the resurrected Jesus at work in the world. Was it perfect? Far from it. Did they agree all the time? Hardly. Was there conflict? Sometimes, but they came to understand that conflict was not a thing to be feared or suppressed- it simply meant that there were two or more opinions in the same room. They learned to listen respectfully to one another. They also learned to disagree without becoming disagreeable, keeping unity in Christ first and foremost in their hearts and souls. In time, as the story of the first Easter unraveled in their lives, it transformed them as they connected it with their own stories and experiences. With the commitment of each participant, this community was known as a real, authentic group of followers, united in its purpose of practicing discipleship in the manner shown to them by Jesus Christ.

Who knows, perhaps it took this pandemic to reveal their finest hour, helping  them to figure out who they were, helping them to realize that they could be the church anywhere and giving them the reboot experience they needed to be, in the words of Richard Rohr, a Catholic theologian, “a community, a spiritual home that connects with their whole life, not just somewhere to go on Sunday mornings but a community that nurtures and supports individuals along their full journey toward the ultimate goal of a lived experience of the communion of saints, a shared life together as one family- the Reign of God, on earth as it is in heaven.”

A great snapshot for the album, don’t you think? Amen.

Minute for Mission

Rainbow Camp® provides campers with a safe space to be who they are without judgement.

Chris Southin was lounging in front of the television and Harry Stewart was in the kitchen when they got the call from the Governor General’s office. Over the phone, the couple learned they had won an award from the Governor General recognizing “great Canadians for exceptional deeds that bring honour to our country.” They received the honour for co-founding Rainbow Camp®, based in northern Ontario. Since 2012, the camp has welcomed young people of all sexual identities.

“It was unbelievable. We didn’t even know we were nominated,” says Stewart. “We will receive the award in person when the pandemic lifts. I guess I’ll need to buy a suit,” he laughs.

From the beginning, Mission & Service has supported Welcome Friend Association, which runs Rainbow Camp®.

“Initially, we wanted to bridge the local LGBTQ community with area churches. We started the association, and then we launched the camp. We had no idea what we were doing at the time. Only one person on the board had camp experience, but we knew that young people would benefit,” says Southin.

Originally a one-week camp with 14 youths, Rainbow Camp® now serves up to 50 youth each week for four weeks. Expansion plans are in the works; over the next couple of years, Rainbow Camp® will pilot on the east and west coasts. “We’ve had an invitation to duplicate the Rainbow Camp® experience in Australia and in the UK too. It’s exciting!” says Stewart.

Above all, Rainbow Camp® provides campers with a safe space to be who they are without judgment.

“I’ll never forget our first year of camp. It was the second full day. A camper told us his mom had found a dress in his closet. He lied to her and said that it belonged to his girlfriend. He had brought the dress to camp and said he would like to wear it. High heels and sand don’t mix!” Stewart explains, laughing: “But the warmth, love, and compassion that the camper received from everyone at camp was amazing. We tell all of our staff ‘Your job is to make sure that each and every camper has the best possible time at Rainbow Camp®.’”

Southin and Stewart say they want the camp experience to be memorable, fun, soul-searching, and supportive. “We don’t want any camper to feel afraid to be who they are. I think that’s why so many now call it their home.”

Your generosity through Mission & Service supports safe, welcoming spaces like Rainbow Camp®. Thank you!

 

Let us pray:

Ever-present God, thank you for meeting us where we are this day. Some of us are at kitchen tables. Others of us are in easy chairs. Some of us are reclining comfortably in our beds. Others of us are back from caring for loved ones at bedsides.  Wherever we are, we know that we are surrounded by the warmth of your Holy Spirit. Your grace fills us and inspires us in much the same way as it did those first disciples huddled together in the midst of their fears and uncertainties. Like them, there is much that confounds and confuses us in our living. There are many whose way of life is destroyed by violence, greed and injustice. They have no access to the wealth and power of the world. There are those who have been driven from their homes, their farms, their countries as others fight for power and gains. There are those who have lost their way of life because of harm done to the environment. There are those who suffer in the aftermath of abuse or who suffer mental or physical illnesses. In these fearful days of virus variants, there are those who are separated from loved ones by restrictions on travel and visitation. We pray especially for the people of the Edmundston region as well as other areas of our country where the stories and statistics of this pandemic are staggering, where so many are weary, lonely and anxious about loved ones and patients.

Awaken us to these many needs, O God, that we might see those who are overlooked and respond to their cries for help. Teach us to work together in community to advocate for the voiceless, the homeless, the hungry and the disadvantaged. Help us to find ways of empowering them and granting them dignity.

Build us up in these times, O God, that we might be known as a community that risks being less of ourselves and more for you as we work together, sharing our resources generously, encouraging one another and wrestling with the challenges of being your faithful people in trying times.  Most of all, help us to live as those who have encountered the resurrected Christ, in whose name we pray, saying Our Father…

Hymn: Deep in Our Hearts MV 154  

Blessing:

Go into the world, aware of the unity we share in Christ,

Be alive to the possibilities open to us in the Spirit.

Be sensitive to the needs of God’s creation everywhere.

May our lives be snapshots to others,

revealing the power of the resurrection of Christ to the world,

and serving as a living testimony of his love, peace and presence. Amen.

 

 

Stay safe out there! Enjoy the spring days ahead!

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

 

Easter, April 4, 2021 

Hallelujah! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

Easter joy is for all of us!

We are witnesses to these things!

May Christ’s love and renewed hope burn in us. (Please light a candle)

May our spirits swell and the borders of our compassion expand.

May our life together in community be deepened and empowered.

 Hallelujah! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

Let us pray:

God of resurrection,

despair is not the end of the story, Hallelujah!

With the dawn of that first Easter comes a new creation.

Hope is alive and moves among us!

May the power of this message be made known to us today as we worship

that we might live as Easter people,

full of new life and joy, ready to share the Good News.

May Hallelujah be our song! In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Hymn: 155 VU Jesus Christ is Risen Today 

 A Story that Can’t be Rushed

Our first reading this morning is a reminder to us that the Good News of the resurrection is for all people. It tells how Peter came to the realization that God shows no partiality. Earlier in his life, Peter would never have gone to the home of a Gentile. However, after an experience he had in a vision, he now recognizes that God’s love and welcome is for all. In this speech, he outlines how his transformation in thinking came about. It wasn’t instantaneous. It took some questioning on his part, and most of all the power of the Holy Spirit at work within him to turn his previously held ideas upside down. Now he couldn’t help but wonder how the world could be different if everyone could see things in this new way:

Acts 10:34-43

34 Peter then said:

Now I am certain that God treats all people alike. 35 God is pleased with everyone who worships him and does right, no matter what nation they come from. 36 This is the same message that God gave to the people of Israel, when he sent Jesus Christ, the Lord of all, to offer peace to them.

37 You surely know what happened everywhere in Judea. It all began in Galilee after John had told everyone to be baptized. 38 God gave the Holy Spirit and power to Jesus from Nazareth. He was with Jesus, as he went around doing good and healing everyone who was under the power of the devil. 39 We all saw what Jesus did both in Israel and in the city of Jerusalem.

Jesus was put to death on a cross. 40 But three days later, God raised him to life and let him be seen. 41 Not everyone saw him. He was seen only by us, who ate and drank with him after he was raised from death. We were the ones God chose to tell others about him.

42 God told us to announce clearly to the people that Jesus is the one he has chosen to judge the living and the dead. 43 Every one of the prophets has said that all who have faith in Jesus will have their sins forgiven in his name.

Coming to this new understanding, I am sure, took some processing on Peter’s part. Over time, the pieces started to fit together for him as he looked back on the teachings and ministry of Jesus. Gradually, his experiences started to make sense.

 I was thinking this week about how so much of life is like that. There are things in life need to be savoured- like a nice hot cup of tea or coffee, a good wine, a compelling novel or a spectacular scene in nature. We speak often of letting something like this “soak into our souls and spirits”.

I can’t help but think that the Easter story is a lot like that. It is a story that we hear every year from one gospel account or another, but one, nonetheless, that takes a lifetime to soak in. While the details are different in each of the renditions, the message is essentially the same: a woman or a group of women walk to the tomb full of fear, anger, grief and regret. They go out of respect for Jesus; as we might say today to find some “closure” for the dream that they had felt could be possible through this man Jesus. However, making those steps to the tomb of Jesus was a risky thing to be doing- it meant demonstrating solidarity with a known political protester. So they go early, just as the sun is about to rise, hoping not to be detected. Upon arrival though, things were not as they expected. In each of the accounts, they hear the good news-“He is not here. He is risen, just as he said.”

This year I offer you the account from the gospel of Mark. It just happens to be  the one I like most. I think that’s because had I been present at that first Easter, my response would have been similar to how Mark tells it. See what you think:

Mark 16: 1-8

After the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James bought some spices to put on Jesus’ body. Very early on Sunday morning, just as the sun was coming up, they went to the tomb. On their way, they were asking one another, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” But when they looked, they saw that the stone had already been rolled away. And it was a huge stone!

The women went into the tomb, and on the right side they saw a young man in a white robe sitting there. They were alarmed.

The man said, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus from Nazareth, who was nailed to a cross. God has raised him to life, and he isn’t here. You can see the place where they put his body. Now go and tell his disciples, and especially Peter, that he will go ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.”

When the women ran from the tomb, they were confused and shaking all over. They were too afraid to tell anyone what had happened.

Don’t you like that phrase- “confused and shaking all over”? Some other versions render this as “trembling and bewildered” or “terror and amazement had seized them”. The Message scripture really captures it best though- saying that the women were “beside themselves, their heads swimming”.

The clincher, however, is really that last sentence: “They were too afraid to tell anyone what had happened.” They were afraid. Stunned, we might say. Scared into silence. We can’t blame them though, can we? While most of us have heard the story before, they were experiencing it for the first time. It had to have been jarring and terrifying to say the least. First, the stone is already rolled back. Second, to be greeted by a young man telling them not to be alarmed. He is not here. How could you not be alarmed? Nothing is as it was expected. It was all too much to take in. So they said nothing. Period. End of story. No more to tell.

 

It is a pretty abrupt ending, isn’t it? No resurrection appearances of Jesus as in the other gospels. We might ask, is that it? It doesn’t really help us to feel in the Easter mood, does it? Why aren’t they happy? We might liken it to something like a grandparent telling a grandchild they have a surprise waiting for them out in the garage- a new bike. But instead of leaping for joy and bounding out to the garage, the child runs in the opposite direction, fleeing from the grandparent. It is not a very satisfying outcome or response to what has just been said.

Afraid. As I think about all the beautiful Easter hymns, I can’t think of any that zone in on that emotion. Alleluias, yes. Glory and praise, yes. But fear? No. Scholars of Mark’s gospel have wrestled with this. Some said Mark had to have been interrupted in his writing. Others figure maybe he wrote more and it just got lost. Some have even proposed a longer ending to the story that is included in most Bibles- as a way of telling  us that yes, indeed, the story did get told to others. Nonetheless, most agree that Mark was intentional in finishing his account almost in mid sentence, without a neat ending and that he knew exactly what he was doing. It’s because Easter is a lot to absorb. It’s a story that can’t be rushed. As much as we might want to conclude, ok, great now everything will be fine now that Jesus has been raised, it still takes a lifetime of wrestling with this new reality. We might think of it more so as a “slow cooker” kind of experience rather than “an instant pot or microwave” experience. We need to savour it and let it permeate and unfold into our lives.

I was thinking this week about the old story about a man who found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to squeeze its body through the tiny hole. Then it stopped, as if it couldn’t go further.

So the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bits of cocoon. The butterfly emerged easily but it had a swollen body and shriveled wings.

The man continued to watch it, expecting that any minute the wings would enlarge and expand enough to support the body. Neither happened! In fact the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around. It was never able to fly.

What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand: The restricting cocoon and the struggle required by the butterfly to get through the opening was a way of forcing the fluid from the body into the wings so that it would be ready for flight once that was achieved.

I think Mark’s account of the resurrection is a little like that. We might want to rush in there to bring it to a better conclusion, a more satisfying one when really, what might help us more is to just sit there with it for a bit, letting it unravel in our lives, without trying to fill in all the blanks. I can’t help but think that there is something significant being said in the stunned silence of the women in Mark’s telling of the story. We also heard how they were directed back to Galilee, the place where it all began, home turf, the location of their daily routines. The everyday world, not hanging around a tomb,- that is where Jesus, crucified and risen, is found.  That is where we are called to complete the story as we encounter new people and situations along with familiar people, as we wrestle with the same things Jesus encountered on his journey- people who are ill and grieving, people who are wrestling with demons, unresolved issues  from their past, people who are sitting on the sidelines of life and community, people who are shouldering heavy burdens,  people who are feeling hopeless, weighed down by oppression, by poverty, by violence and who, like us, are in need of transformation.

I like it that Mark’s ending leaves us in an uncomfortable place, without everything all neatly closed and fixed. An open ending like that makes us wrestle with it and reminds us of our call to be transformed by the good news of Christ’s presence in our lives. It reminds us that our mission is to pick up the story and let it begin again in us, to make it our own as we start a new chapter.  So, like the women, we are instructed to go back to Galilee where it all began, not simply to rehash the good old days, but to think over the whole story of Jesus from his baptism onwards and to write its continuing chapters in our world today. For it is there, in Galilee, where we are beckoned forward with those simple instructions- “Follow me.” He goes ahead of us into our futures and blazes us trail for us. Let that good news simmer in your hearts. Don’t rush it. Let it unfold, until, like the women at that tomb on the first Easter your silence gives way to speech and action- “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. Alleluia! ” The end is only the beginning. May this good news work in you and through you. Amen.

Minute for Mission ( Jesse’s story, part 2)

 

Meaningful work helps Jesse—and all of us—thrive.

Jesse stands in the ydroponic greenhouse at Stella’s Circle.

Jesse in the hydroponic greenhouse at Stella’s Circle.

Credit: Stella’s Circle

After a brain injury and the death of his mother, Jesse found himself homeless and sleeping in a storage unit. Now, thanks to employment training and support programs run by Mission & Service partner Stella’s Circle combined with his hard work, Jesse is a trained greenhouse technician. He leads a new social enterprise that grows produce for sale. One day, Jesse hopes to supply restaurants with the produce he and others grow.

What does work mean for him? “It means maintaining my independence. It means building confidence. It means instilling purpose. It makes me feel functional,” says Jesse.

Supporting job training and employment programs has never been more important. Because of the pandemic, 114 million more jobs were lost in 2020 than in 2019. Four times more jobs were lost during the pandemic than during the global financial crisis in 2009.[1]

All of us work at something, whether we are paid or unpaid. When our values match what we spend time working at, we find meaning in life. People who are unable to work not only struggle to pay the bills, but their sense of meaning and self worth suffers too.

That’s why your generosity through Mission & Service supports job training programs here at home and around the world.

Meaningful work helps us thrive. Maybe that’s why, in the Bible, “work” is mentioned more than 800 times. In the Easter story, the work of Passover preparations set the table for Jesus’ divine work order: “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

Mission & Service supports programs that help people find meaningful employment and renewed life. It’s one of the ways you and I participate in God’s holy, resurrecting work every day. Thank you for your generous support.

 

Let us pray:

God of grace and power, this is a day when the story speaks for itself. Everything has changed. Nothing is as it once was. A new way has been made for us. Not even in death did your love desert us. We are a new people, an Easter people, called to see you alive in the world, invited to see with new eyes and feel with greater compassion. The presence of the Risen Christ in the midst of this world’s brokenness empowers us with new possibilities and hope even in times of uncertainty and fear. Teach us, like the women at the tomb, to let this Good News soak into our souls and permeate both our thoughts and actions.

We pray this day for our world so in need of this message of Easter. We remember all who are locked in by hurt, anxiety, grief or loneliness… all who are struggling in the face of addiction, unemployment, hunger or poverty… all who are weary in the midst of the global pandemic… health care workers, essential workers, teachers, health authorities… all who are discouraged or disheartened with their personal lives and who don’t know where to turn for the support they need… all who face uncertainty about their health or the health of a loved one… all who encounter oppression or discrimination  because of who they are… the colour of their skin, their beliefs, their sexual orientation or their ethnicity.

We bring before you all those places in our own lives and in our world where we need to wrestle with what your new life at Easter really means.  Mend us, renew us and transform us we pray. Point us to actions, however small, which lead to a more hopeful future for ourselves and for others. Fill us with courage to be generous in our believing, joyful in our serving and ever mindful that you are walking with us each step of the way. In the name of the Risen Christ, we pray as he taught us saying… Our Father…

Hymn: Thine is the Glory 173 VU 

Blessing :

Hallelujah! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

Now we are an Easter people,

sent out into the world

to live as changed people

restored people

called by Christ to follow him into our everyday lives

and to act for justice and peace in our world.

Go in the power of that love and proclaim it again:

Hallelujah! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah! Amen.

Happy Easter everyone! Stay safe! Don’t eat too much chocolate!

 

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

                                    Palm/Passion Sunday March 28,2021

Good morning.

Welcome to Holy Week when we remember the final journey of Jesus to the cross.

This is a week filled with lots of drama and intense emotion.

During our Palm Passion service today and into the week, we will read through a large section of scripture that describes the events.

Normally, we would present it with many voices and some props to help us to experience it.

Obviously that is not possible.

I do invite you ,however, to read the story slowly and meditatively that you might hear how it is speaking to our world and our lives in these times in which we are living. I have provided some hymn links to help you in reflecting.

Later in the week, I will send you a Maundy Thursday service. On Good Friday we will join with our Moderator for a church wide worship service. I will send you the link when it becomes available on that day.

By walking through the story in this way, you will have a greater appreciation of the Good News that will follow.

Reminder to Sunday School and parents to please join Janice and myself for a conversation about the events of Holy Week via Zoom. 11 am TODAY!

 

Welcome to our Palm/Passion Worship Service.

This marks the beginning of Holy Week- a week of tension and mixed emotions, of highs and lows, of great hopes and intense despair and disappointment.

Up to now, Jesus had been cautioning the disciples to keep silent about what they had heard and seen. Now he is going public about who he is. Through the events of this week, Jesus is about to demonstrate a challenge to the powers that be.

As you read through the events, I invite you to notice how he does this, not so much through the words he speaks, but through the symbolic actions he takes. In each of these actions, Jesus is communicating something important to the people of his day, to the powers of Rome and to us. For many, it made no sense -at least not now. It is hard for us to put ourselves in the sandals of those who were watching it unfold, either up close or from a distance. We might think that had we been there, we would have responded differently. We might wonder how did it all go so wrong?

As we read through the story with all its contrasts, as we watch what happens, I invite you to try to experience it as if you do not know what comes next. Look at the choices Jesus made to trust in God’s way of love and presence despite what he was facing. Then think about the choices you are making, the ways you are taking, as you seek to be one of his followers in our day and age.

Let us pray:

Draw close to us, God, on this unusual day,

this day of confusion, of shouts of joy and cries of shame.

Remind us that you are with us always,

in all moods and seasons,

in darkness and light and in between.

Lead us through this day and this week,

to the cross, the tomb and beyond. Amen

 

We begin our journey with Psalm 118:1-2,19-29, a processional psalm, often sung by pilgrims as they came to worship on high holy days. It is a thanksgiving to God for liberation and steadfast love:

1      O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; 

    his steadfast love endures forever! 

    2      Let Israel say, 

    “His steadfast love endures forever.” 

    19      Open to me the gates of righteousness, 

    that I may enter through them 

    and give thanks to the LORD. 

    20      This is the gate of the LORD; 

    the righteous shall enter through it. 

    21      I thank you that you have answered me 

    and have become my salvation. 

    22      The stone that the builders rejected 

    has become the chief cornerstone. 

    23      This is the LORD’s doing; 

    it is marvelous in our eyes. 

    24      This is the day that the LORD has made; 

    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

    25      Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! 

    O LORD, we beseech you, give us success! 

    26      Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD.

    We bless you from the house of the LORD. 

    27      The LORD is God, 

    and he has given us light. 

    Bind the festal procession with branches, 

    up to the horns of the altar.

    28      You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; 

    you are my God, I will extol you. 

    29      O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, 

    for his steadfast love endures forever. 

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, some folks in the crowd who were attracted to Jesus and his teachings go on ahead. Many of these saw in him their hope and liberation from Roman oppression. While his entry into Jerusalem may have seemed to many to be a simple, quiet processional, it had deeper meaning.

In their book, The Last Week, Biblical scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan suggest that it was a protest parade involving those who were on the margins. At the same time Jesus was entering the city through one gate, another procession was happening on the opposite side of the city. This one was led by Pilate. Unlike the simple and humble entry of Jesus on a back of a donkey, Pilate’s entry involved a display of military power- war horses, weapons and soldiers marching in formation. Pilate was there to stop rebellion and to show who was in charge.

In contrast, Jesus’ entry was as one who turns imperial notions of power and rule on their head. He comes not as one who lords it over others with wealth, power and prestige, but as one who identifies with the poor and marginalized. Jesus enters in vulnerability. There is no glamour, no glitz, no display of imperial power; only the power of peace and love.  It is little wonder that those in authority see him as a threat. As you read this passage, watch how every act and detail of this parade is communicating a different way to both those who follow him and to those powers of Rome who are threatened by his challenge to the status quo:

Mark 11: 1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna! ( which means God save us now, we are desperate!)
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10     Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Hymn: 124 VU He Came Riding on a Donkey 

The joy and anticipation of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem though is short-lived and bittersweet as the events of the next few days unfold. The mood of the story quickly changes to one of sadness and deep loneliness as Jesus faces the ultimate cost of being faithful to God’s call, despite the pressure to give up and turn away.

The Passion Story that follows comes from The Lectionary Story Bible: Year B by Ralph Milton, copyright 2008, Wood Lake Publishing Inc. and is reproduced by permission through our Seasons of the Spirit curriculum. May your reading of it bring new understanding:

A Kind Woman: Based on Mark 14:3–8

Jesus had many friends in Jerusalem. His friend Simon asked him to come for

dinner. Simon also invited many others.

While they were eating, a woman came into the house. She had heard about Jesus and wanted to do something to show how much she loved him. She bought some very expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus’ head. It smelled wonderful. It made the whole house smell nice.

      But some of the people who were eating with Jesus got angry. “That perfume cost a lot of money. She shouldn’t waste money like that. She should give that money to poor people.”

      “Leave her alone!” said Jesus. “She has done a beautiful thing. Yes, we should help poor people whenever we can. But this kind woman wanted to do something special. Think of it this way. I am probably going to die soon. This woman has made my body ready for when I am buried.”

      Judas, one of Jesus’ best friends, had an angry look on his face. He was thinking to himself, “Jesus is doing such stupid things. Letting that woman pour expensive perfume on his head – well that’s it! I won’t be Jesus’ friend anymore.”

 

Hymn:148 VUJesus Remember Me” (Taizé). 

 

The Last Supper: Based on Mark 14:12–25


 There were many people in Jerusalem, because it was the time of year when they gathered to eat a very special meal together. It was called Passover. This meal helped the Jewish people remember how God rescued them from slavery in Egypt and led them through the desert to a new land.

      Jesus and his friends found a place where they could all be together to eat their Passover meal.

They had just started eating when Jesus said to them, “One of you does not want to be my friend anymore. One of you will try to hurt me. One of you will betray me.”

“But who would do this?” Andrew asked.

For a long time, Jesus didn’t say anything. All the disciples waited. Jesus took some bread and dipped it into a bowl of wine.

Jesus looked around at his friends. There were tears in his eyes. He could hardly talk. “It is one of you,” he said. “One who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.”

Then Jesus took a loaf of bread. “This bread is like my body,” he said.

Then he tore the loaf into pieces and passed the bread to all his friends.

“Whenever you eat bread, remember that my body was broken, just like this loaf of bread.”

Jesus took a cup of wine. He passed the cup around to his friends, and all of them took a drink. “This wine will help you remember. When you drink it, remember that God has promised to love you forever.”

 

 Hymn: 148 VUJesus Remember Me 

 

Jesus Is Arrested: Based on Mark 14:32–51, 15:1–3, 16–37

 

 Late that night, Jesus and his friends were in a garden. Jesus wanted a quiet place where he could pray. He knew something terrible was going to happen soon, and he was afraid.

      “Please, Dad,” he prayed. Jesus felt that God was just like his own father, and so he sometimes called God “Dad.”

      “Please, Dad. Do I have to do this awful thing? Do I really have to?” Jesus was quiet for a long time. He was listening to God. Finally, he whispered very quietly. “If that is what you want me to do, then I will do it.”

 

Hymn:Stay with Me” (Taizé).  

 

 Later that night, some soldiers came. They tied Jesus’ hands with a rope. They put him in a dark prison and kept him there all night.

 

Hymn: 134 VU Shadows Gather, Deep and Cold 

 

 In the morning, they brought Jesus to Pilate. Pilate was the ruler of the whole country. Like a king, except they called him the governor.

      Pilate said to Jesus, “They tell me you think you are the king of this whole country. Is that true?”

      “If you say so,” said Jesus.

      Then the soldiers took Jesus into the yard of Pilate’s house. They started to tease him and say mean things to him. They hit him hard, many times. Then they put a purple cloth around his shoulders and yelled, “There, now you look like a real king!” And they laughed and laughed. Jesus didn’t say anything. It was still early in the morning. The soldiers made Jesus carry a heavy wooden cross. They went to a place called Golgotha, which was the place people threw all their garbage.

      There they nailed Jesus’ hands to the cross. They nailed his feet to the cross.

      Then they lifted up the cross so Jesus hung there. It hurt terribly.

 

The soldiers and others standing around started to tease Jesus again. “If you are a king – if you really are God’s chosen one – then show us! Jump down off that cross!”

      Jesus hung on that cross for hours. Finally, he lifted his head and yelled, “O God! O God! Why have you left me here all alone?”

 

Hymn: 144 VU Were You There? 

 

Jesus Is Buried: Based on Mark 15:40–47

 Most of Jesus’ friends had run away. They were afraid the soldiers would come and catch them, too.

      But Mary of Magdala was there at the cross. So was Jesus’ mother, whose name was also Mary. James and Salome and several women were there. They were some of the friends who had helped Jesus in Galilee, when he was telling stories about God and helping people feel strong again. They were afraid, too, but they didn’t run away.

      Later, a rich man named Joseph, who came from Arimathea, talked to Pilate. “Please let me take Jesus’ dead body. Let me put it in a grave. Jesus is dead, and we want to take care of his body in a kind and gentle way.”

      Joseph took a nice white cloth to wrap Jesus’ dead body in. Then he and the two Marys put Jesus into the grave, which was a cave in the hillside. They did it slowly, and gently.

      Then Joseph rolled a big, heavy stone across the opening, to close up the grave. The three of them stood there for a long time just looking at the place where Jesus lay dead.

 

 Then slowly, the three of them walked away. “It’s so sad,” said Joseph. “Jesus was such a kind, gentle person. I really thought he was God’s chosen one.”

      Mary of Magdala nodded. Tears filled her eyes. “I guess the story of Jesus is over. It’s all over!”

      But Mary was wrong.

      The story of Jesus was just beginning.

 

Indeed, the way has begun-

 another way,

 a different way,

 an upside down way,

 a way of love and peace.

As we watch and wait,

 as we go about our daily lives this week,

 our spirits unsettled and restless with tension,

 

may that way work in our hearts and bring with it the promise of new life. Amen.

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

 

March 21, 2021

Good morning! Spring has sprung!

Hope you can get some vitamin D.

Please find attached a worship service to centre your day.

Reminder too that today is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Be sure to listen for news stories that highlight the day and our call to take action.

Welcome to our time of worship. We are glad you have joined us on this 5th Sunday of Lent. I invite you light a candle to acknowledge that from wherever you are worshipping today, alone or in the company of your household, Christ’s light and  guiding presence is with you.

Come and seek God with your whole heart:

meditate on Christ’s teachings,

fix yourself on the ways of Christ

and delight in God’s Holy Word.

Let us pray:

God of love, fill our hearts with your Spirit so that we may draw closer to you.

May we follow in Jesus’ way and be inspired by our encounters with Christ

to share your love in the world, in all that we are, all that we do, and all that we say. Amen.

Hymn: 12MV Come Touch our Hearts 

                                              Letting Go to Grow

It is hard to believe that our Lenten journey is nearing its completion. Both of our scripture texts today signify turning points. Something new, something monumental is about to happen. A new path is about to be outlined for both the returning exiles in the book of Jeremiah and for followers of Jesus in our gospel. Yet, what is about to begin will be unlike anything that has happened before. It will not simply be a repeat of the past. This new beginning and new future will mark a whole new way of relating with God, with Jesus, with one another and even with the deepest parts of ourselves.

We begin with the prophet Jeremiah. He is often called the “weeping prophet”. That’s because he spends so much of his time warning the people of Israel of coming disaster because of their inability to keep up their end of God’s covenant with them. Many times he feels the futility of his efforts as the people go on their merry ways that leads to their exile to Babylon . Yet, by about chapter 30 or 31, something shifts for Jeremiah. He starts to speak of the hope and promise of a new covenant, something totally different from anything they had experienced before. This time nothing will be required of them. They will no longer know “about God” based on teachings. They will know God internally, from the inside out. The covenant will be for everyone, not just a select few. It will involve transformation- a breaking with the past, a different approach, a rebirth that will begin on their very hearts. It would be a new beginning for them, something not tied to the good old days but based on a new future that God had in store for them. In essence, with this new covenant, their very heartbeats would be in sync with God. Listen then for the hope and reassurance Jeremiah gives:

Jeremiah 31:31-34

31 The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 It won’t be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant with me even though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 They will no longer need to teach each other to say, “Know the Lord!” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord; for I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins.

This new covenant was a pivotal moment for the people of Israel and ultimately for us too. It meant letting go of the former ways of relating with God so that the new things to which God was calling them might be embraced and come to life within them.

We see something similar happening in our passage from John that is set in the context of the Festival of the Passover. Although somewhat out of sync with our marking of the palm parade next Sunday, in John’s gospel Jesus has already entered Jerusalem just after spending some time with Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Now, with the arrival of the Greeks, who symbolize the world’s curiosity, Jesus recognizes that his time is running short. The religious authorities would perceive the arrival of the Greeks from away as an indication that Jesus’ reputation was spreading.  In their minds, something would need to be done and done soon to squash his alternative message. As Jesus says, his “hour” has come- the beginning of a new covenant. This is the hour, the time to which his whole life has been leading. Things are about to change. What follows marks his last public dialogue. From this moment on, his life would be marked by letting go, like a grain of wheat falling to the ground. Only then, would something new be brought to life. Let’s listen as Jesus prepares the disciples for what is about to come:

John 12:20-33 ( to hear Linnea tell this by heart, click here

20 Some Greeks were among those who had come up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and made a request: “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” 22 Philip told Andrew, and Andrew and Philip told Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. 24 I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me.

27 “Now I am deeply troubled.] What should I say? ‘Father, save me from this time’? No, for this is the reason I have come to this time. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

29 The crowd standing there heard and said, “It’s thunder.” Others said, “An angel spoke to him.”

30 Jesus replied, “This voice wasn’t for my benefit but for yours. 31 Now is the time for judgment of this world. Now this world’s ruler will be thrown out. 32 When I am lifted up] from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.” (33 He said this to show how he was going to die.)

As I reflected on these two passages this week, I noticed how both of them involved the task of letting go of one way of thinking and relating in order to embrace something new. I wondered how difficult it must have been for both the people of Israel and these followers of Jesus to get their minds around what was being proposed, especially when it all seemed so foreign to their expectations. The people of Israel were used to the law being written down, learned and, by times, debated by many. Now it was to be internalized, known innately by all. The followers of Jesus had images of a conquering Messiah. Now he was talking about one who would die. Both groups must have wrestled with what was being told to them.

Our Whole People of God curriculum presents the following story that pushed me along in my thinking this week. While perhaps intended for our younger folks, it proved useful in helping me to think of this whole idea of letting go and embracing something unfamiliar so that we too might grow and experience rebirth. I invite you to let your imaginations be open as you consider it with me. It is called The Seed Who Didn’t Want to Die

 Imagine with me that we are part of a big, beautiful garden. In our garden there is a huge, gorgeous sunflower. It is seed planting time in the garden, and the sunflower mother has something important to say to her seeds. “My darling little ones. The time has come for you to leave me. You will fall into the ground and the soft earth will cover you over. You will be buried in the darkness for many days. You might feel like you are dying. However, you will not be dying – you will be changing and growing. It is the way of life for a seed.” One of the seeds named Carla said, “Oh, it sounds so mysterious and important.” Her sister Philomena said, “Ohhhhh no. It sounds like dying to me. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to change.” The sunflower mother smiled sadly. She knew there was no other way. The next day the sunflower mother leaned over, and all the little seeds fell into the soft ground. As she fell, Carla called out, “Goodbye Philomena.” But Philomena did not hear her. She was too busy hanging on for dear life! She clung to the mother sunflower for as long as she could, but eventually she too fell away. But instead of landing in the garden, Philomena landed on the garden pathway. “What a stroke of good luck,” she thought, “I’m safe! I’m not going to get buried and die after all!” She rolled to the side of the path and hoped for the best. Life on the pathway was not really that great, but she survived. In fact she was so busy surviving that she didn’t notice how her bright shiny coat was becoming dry and cracked. She was becoming all shriveled up. Early one misty morning, she was awakened by a voice calling her name. “Philomena!” the voice said. She did not know who it could be. She looked around but couldn’t figure it out.

 “Philomena! Over here in the garden.” There, right beside her, was a tiny green shoot with little spring-green leaves. “It’s me. Carla.” “Carla! You’ve changed. You’re…you’re beautiful. What happened to you?” “It was just like our sunflower mother said. I can’t describe how wonderful it was. I feel so happy I want to sing.” Philomena began to cry. “I wish I could be like you. I wish I could have a second chance!” Just then a raindrop fell. Carla smiled, “Maybe you can!” It was the first rain in many days. First it drizzled. Then it pattered and then it poured. Little rivers of water began to flow. Philomena was caught up and washed into the garden. The wet ground opened to receive her, and she was suddenly surrounded by darkness. Philomena didn’t know how long she lay under the ground – all she remembered was that she began to feel like she was going to burst. And then she did. She could feel something inside of her push its way out and up towards the light of the sun. When little Philomena poked her first green shoot out of the earth, she was greeted with cheers and laughter. All the flowers in the garden were waiting for her to emerge. “Welcome, Philomena” they said. “Welcome to your new life!” Philomena couldn’t believe it.

Who did you imagine yourself to be- Carla or Philomena? Letting go of a familiar way of life and embracing transformation is never easy.

I was thinking this week about my internship experiences as a student minister years ago. This was a time in the church when persons with very specific portfolios in the General Council office would come and interview us in an effort to match our needs for learning with the needs of congregations seeking to have an intern. In effect, we were sent to a community that knew very little about.  It was also the times when supervising ministers were present in the congregation to provide direct guidance and feedback. We also had what was then called a lay support committee who worked with us on learning goals and providing additional feedback. My first internship was in a two point charge in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.  When I arrived everything was in place- the committee was all set up and ready to go. They had had other students before me so were acquainted with the process. It was a great summer of learning and exploring many aspects of ministry. The next summer, however, I had another placement here in the Maritimes where the folks were not quite as ready. I was their first student so they were not as familiar with the procedures.

At first, I remember feeling pretty frustrated and impatient, a little like Philomena, the seed in our story. I felt I was surviving all the confusion, but not really thriving. In fact, I was having real difficulty letting go of the summer before when everything had gone so well.  So much so that I was failing to see the new growth and learning opportunities that my new setting was presenting to me. In time, however, with the help of my supervisor, I was able to work through the delays and frustrations in order to embrace new learnings that the first internship had not revealed to me. I realized that as long as I was clinging on for dear life to that former experience, I simply could not make room for what new things could yet bear fruit in the new experience.

Often it is like that, isn’t it? Much like the seed needing to be buried in the ground or the old covenant needing to be renewed, sometimes we just have to let go of the things that limit us and prevent our growth, whether those things are expectations of how things should be or preconceived ideas about people or experiences, before we can embrace new life. Sometimes we need to let certain things die in order that new life might break forth- things like our own self-preservation, like old grudges, old conflicts, old fears and old experiences that cripple our ability to live fully in the present.  Often this letting go can take a lot of effort.  It doesn’t mean the past is simply erased. It still is foundational for us. It is part of what makes us who we are, whether our experiences are good or bad. As happened to me, sometimes we almost idolize an old experience and get stuck there without giving a new experience any chance. We can get so fixated and comfortable with the familiar that like Philomena, we almost miss out on growing and becoming who God intends us to be. We become almost like someone learning how to become a trapeze artist- we cling tightly to the rung we are on even when a new one swings our way.

I like how The Message scripture interprets that part about the grain of wheat needing to die: “anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”

This goes for systems in our world too, like economic systems based on greed or consumerism. Some things simply need to die to bring about change in our world, the kind of change that Jesus understands his pending death to bring about.  We need to die to the exploitation of the earth’s natural resources so that a new covenant might be made with the earth and its creatures. We need to die to our lack of compassion for the poor, the oppressed and the victims of systemic injustices like racism and inequality in order to work for a new way of being where love, respect and justice are the driving values.  This calls for not just a “tweaking” of the old, but a total reorientation of agendas and perspectives.

As Philomena found out, there is a whole lot of vulnerability involved in letting go.

As Barbara Brown Taylor says it so well about Jesus’ last days- There were two choices laid out for his listeners, the same two available to him as the net drew in around him. The first way, the way of self-protection, was closed to suffering… he could stop walking around in the open and go underground or tone down his message. He could find more pleasant ways to phrase things. He could stop eating with outcasts and start showing more respect for organized religion. He could save his life. His second option was the way of self-offering. It contained the probability of suffering if he kept speaking and living his confrontational message and crossing lines of power. A grain of wheat cannot grow unless it dies. To do what it was meant to do, it has to be given up.  It has to let go that new life might come forth. Because Jesus was willing to let go, his seed bore much fruit. A new community was formed in his name. He showed us what is possible.

He is counting on us to take our grain of wheat, to let it fall to the earth and nurture a new covenant in his name. As we prepare for the events of Holy Week next Sunday, may we learn what it means to really let go, that the new life he brings might blossom among us.  Amen.

Minute for Mission ( This story reminds us that sometimes we need “to let go” of the idea that homelessness only happens in cities. Often, in rural areas like our own, needs for housing and food are not always as obvious but they are still there. As we read this, let’s think about how we might open our hearts and minds to new understandings about rural poverty)

Through your gifts, Mission & Service helps support those who struggle in rural areas, where poverty can be hard to spot.

A photo of a trailer home in a snowy landscape.

In rural communities, homelessness can be even more hidden.

Credit: Trisha Elliott / The United Church of Canada

Gary* is a senior citizen living in Ingleside, Ontario, a village of 1,300 people. He lives alone, and is in poor health. He tries to keep warm by heating his house with wood. That’s fine – until he runs out. Gary doesn’t have a driver’s license so can’t access social services in the city. Thankfully, a few months ago, his doctor referred him to the House of Lazarus, a Mission & Service supported community outreach that offers food, clothing, and household goods to those in need.  

“Gary would have starved or frozen to death without House of Lazarus intervening and getting him food and wood. But long-term solutions for people without cars are challenging because they have no way to access services in larger centres,” says Rev. Dan Hayward, the minister at Ingleside-Newington United Church where the House of Lazarus just opened a satellite location last August. “There’s a rural homelessness issue here that few people would think exists,” says Hayward.  

In rural communities, poverty can be hard to spot. There, people rarely ask for money on the street. There are no downtown cores to gather in and few, if any shelters, to turn to. Lack of public transit and nearby resources means that, too often, people suffer alone.  

“We first saw the problem when we began delivering firewood. One person put a wood stove into an old camper to stay warm. It was definitely not safe,” says Cathy Ashby, the House of Lazarus Executive Director. Women are particularly impacted. “We know they stay in abusive situations because there is no affordable housing or emergency shelters in the area. We found a single mother and her two teenage daughters sleeping in a tent well into November. It’s challenging. Politicians are not going to put money into an issue that they don’t see.” 

Increasingly, the House of Lazarus is reaching out into the community rather than waiting for people to come to them. Mission & Service support helps provide community meals and breakfast programs off-site. Through Operation Backpack, highlighted in this year’s Gifts With Vision catalogue, 170 students receive food in their backpack every Friday to help them through the weekend. 

“The United Church is definitely a strong supporter. We have had Seeds of Hope grant funding, been highlighted in Gifts with Vision, and receive regular Mission & Service support. We are grateful,” says Ashby. 

Your gifts through Mission and Service help transform lives in rural and urban centers across our country. Thank you.  

*Gary’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.

 

Let us pray:

 

Loving God, your law of love is written on our hearts and is there for us as a song for our journeys. It is a song with words that comfort when hardships on the road burden us, when weakness overwhelms us, when uncertainty paralyses us with fear, and when temptation beckons us. It is a tune that buoys our spirits and strengthens our resolve to see the journey through. Thank you, God, for that steadfast presence.

As we experience all the joys and pains of living, the brokenness of the world that separates us from you, creation and one another, assure us of your forgiveness and ability to bring about transformation. Like a tiny seed in the ground, nurture us and renew us that we might grow in your ways of wisdom. Where we need to let go of old habits, old understandings, preconceived ideas or familiar ways of thinking and doing, open us to the stirring of your Spirit.

We pray for all who this day are struggling in the midst of broken relationships, poverty, lack of clean drinking water, adequate food, or shelter, illness, or the ongoing care of loved ones. Hold them in your light and concern, we pray….

Restore to all of us a sense of hope as vaccines start to roll out across our nation. Give us patience in the midst of frustrations. Open us to the needs of others and help us to work for a new world where there is no longer least and greatest, rich and poor, where there is enough for all, and all are treated as your beloved children. May the work of our church and its ministries all across our nation and world help to grow this kind of world that you envision. In the spirit of Jesus, may we never tone down the message of all that can be possible when we live  in your ways of love, justice and peace. Hear these our prayers, O God, as we offer them in the name of the One who, through his words and actions, continues to remind us that new life is possible as we learn to let go and allow ourselves to be drawn to you. From deep in our hearts, we pray, as he taught us saying… Our Father

Hymn: 79 MV Spirit, Open My Heart  

Blessing:

Go into this week, knowing that God speaks in every heartbeat and  promises us that only a heartbeat away is the promise of resurrection.

Dwell in that love and embody it to the world.

 

May it be our song for the journey. Amen

 

March 14, 2021

Welcome everyone to our worship time at Faith Memorial.

Let us light a candle in thanksgiving for Christ’s light and presence on our journeys.

We begin our service with an adaptation of words from Psalm 107:

Give thanks to God for God is good all the time,

and God’s steadfast love endures forever.

For we cried out to God in our troubles,

and God saved us in our distress.

The Word came to heal and deliver us from destruction.

Let all of humankind offer thanksgiving and sing of God’s deeds through worship.

Let us pray

Healing and ever-present God,

You are rich in mercy and generous in love.

As we worship you this day,

grace us with signs of your presence

and call us toward the new way of life you show us in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hymn : 266 VU Amazing Grace        

Not Your Own Doing

Some of you might remember the Dennis the Menace comic strip. I am not sure if it is still around.  One of these depicts Dennis and his little friend Joey leaving Mrs. Wilson’s house with their hands full of cookies. Joey says to Dennis,” I wonder what we did to deserve this?”

Dennis replies,” Look, Joey, Mrs. Wilson gives us cookies not because we are nice but because she is nice.”

In essence, that is a pretty good picture of what God’s grace is like too, isn’t it? It is God’s initiative that is the key component of grace. God is the primary actor. We are the recipients.

Both of our readings today suggest this very principle. God reaches out with love and grace. All we are called to do is respond.

Yet, that is not how we always see it. It is easy to fall into what has often been called The Protestant Work Ethic. It is the idea that we need to work hard or do good deeds and with those efforts , we will be successful and that will be a sign that we are “saved.”  When it doesn’t work like that we get offended, don’t we? Remember the elder brother who stayed home and worked hard while his brother sowed his wild oats? Remember how the Dad responded when the younger one came home? Remember how upset and resentful that elder brother was?

In other words, a little like Dennis’ friend Joey, we fall into the trap of thinking that God will reward us with ‘success’ because we deserve it, or because our efforts at being nice have paid off. This way of thinking  places the onus on us and the things we do as a means of earning grace. It pictures God as one who hands out merit points, something like PC points that reward us at the Superstore for customer loyalty!  It also has a number of loopholes. What about the working poor? Then, again, how do we define success? The truth be told, obviously, grace is not about us, and our efforts. It is pure gift- a gift from God that is unmerited. Nonetheless, it does call for our response.

Let’s look at our first reading, a letter to the Ephesians that reminds the church that God’s grace was always present, even before they were even aware of it.

Ephesians 2: 1-10

At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God’s will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.

4-5 However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace! And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus. God did this to show future generations the greatness of his grace by the goodness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus.

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. 10 Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

In other words, grace is all gift. As Dennis explained to Joey, it has nothing to do with our deserving it or earning it by our virtues, our accomplishments or our hard work. It all begins with God, not us. It can’t be bought through our efforts or our behavior. As Richard Rohr, a Catholic theologian writes, “You can’t make God love you any more than God loves you right now. You can go to church every day for the rest of your life and God isn’t going to love you any more than God loves you right now. You can do a terrible thing and God won’t love you less. The only thing you can do is trust that love and grace and know that God is on our side more than we are on our own.”

This is a similar message that Nicodemus is trying to get his head around as we come to the midpoint of his conversation with Jesus. Jesus had earlier been talking to him about having to be born anew, about letting his life be transformed by letting go of his need to be in control and acknowledging something greater than himself at work in his life- God’s love for us even in spite of ourselves.

John 3:14-21 – to hear Linnea share this,  click here

 And the Son of Man must be lifted up, just as that metal snake was lifted up by Moses in the desert] 15 Then everyone who has faith in the Son of Man will have eternal life.

16 God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. 17 God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them! 18 No one who has faith in God’s Son will be condemned. But everyone who doesn’t have faith in him has already been condemned for not having faith in God’s only Son.

19 The light has come into the world, and people who do evil things are judged guilty because they love the dark more than the light. 20 People who do evil hate the light and won’t come to the light, because it clearly shows what they have done. 21 But everyone who lives by the truth will come to the light, because they want others to know that God is really the one doing what they do.

Once again, this love (or grace) is initiated by God. It is pure gift- to the whole world. Not just the insiders. Not simply to the morally upright. Not only to the deserving. Not to the ones who look like us, think like us or believe like us. But to all the world. It is not a limited love that is in short supply. It is a love beyond our understanding. A love that just keeps showing up.

Many of you read the little devotionals in These Days. This week one of those messages used the old story about a reporter from the northeast who was travelling in the southern part of the states and stopped for breakfast at a cafe. He ordered two eggs, bacon, toast, hash browns, coffee and orange juice. When the server brought the meal, it included all that plus some white stuff in a bowl on the side. ” What is that?” he asked the server. She replied, “Grits”. The reporter said, “But, I didn’t order that.” The server said, “That’s all right. You don’t have to order it, it just comes.” So, we conclude, that’s also the way with grace. We don’t have to do anything to merit it. We don’t have to order it. It just comes.

Nonetheless, it is still hard to get our heads around ,isn’t it? I wonder if that is because it is so opposite to the way that we humans are used to? We all can relate with the confusion poor Nicodemus must have felt after that conversation with Jesus. His journey back home that night must have been a bewildering one to say the least.

On our Lenten journeys too, we wrestle with many different things, including God’s grace. We are all carrying something- for me, it is recent grief. For many of you it is personal illness or the illness of a loved one. For others it is anxiety, impatience and frustration with this pandemic and its restrictions that weigh us down. For others it is concern for the environment or some global issue that is plaguing so many. It is easy to feel that we alone are responsible for so many things. It is also easy to forget that we have One who shoulders our burdens- that it doesn’t need to fall only on us. This is not to say that we shouldn’t carry the hurts and needs of the world in our hearts at all, but how we carry them matters. As Vicki Kemper writes, “Do we lift them with our backs or do we bend our knees? Do we put our burdens down when we get tired or do we insist on taking them all the way? Do we carry the load alone or do we ask for help? Do we keep inviting people to lean on us or do we set healthy boundaries? ” We are not called to life sapping labour but are invited to find rest for our souls by embracing the new life God is offering us in grace.

Think about it. If grace depended on what we do, we would never make it! On the other hand , even though it doesn’t require our efforts or our perfection in virtue or behavior to receive it, the shape of God’s grace in our lives is conditioned by our responses. It bubbles up into our lives through our generosity and acts of love toward our neighbours, both near and far. It is a gift that inspires us to live into the light and do good things in response to Christ being alive in us. It compels us to work for reconciliation in the midst of the brokenness present in our lives and in our world. Yet, all the while, even when we fail miserably at loving others, even when we count out any number of reasons why we can’t love particular people, even when we become hopelessly self-absorbed, God shelters us in our failures and continues to show up again and again, embracing us with grace beyond our understanding and beyond our deserving.

It is a little like a story I heard about a minister who became quite ill early one Sunday morning. Although he could have handed his already prepared service over to a lay leader to do, he made his way to the church. Half way through the sermon, the room started spinning and a lay leader stepped in to finish the service.  So much for being indispensible! Later in the day, a doctor in the congregation came by to see how he was doing. He gave the minister some counsel about what to take to settle his stomach. But what he said next to the minister stuck better than any medical advice- “next time,” he said, “stay home. God will show up, even if you’re not there. It is not all up to us!”

God is always showing up, always gifting us with love and grace. Wherever our journeys meander, God is there taking the initiative in our lives. Just as it was in the nature of Mrs. Wilson to be nice in giving Dennis and Joey handfuls of cookies, so it is in God’s nature to offer love and grace.  God, of course, encourages us to respond to this by making that love evident in our lives by the way we speak and act toward one another, by the way we reach out beyond ourselves, by the way we live with respect toward others and toward all God’s creation. Sometimes we do that well. Sometimes we fail miserably. Regardless, God keeps on loving, keeps on heaping grace and mercy upon us. I like this poem by Denise Levertou called

The Avowal which, to me, summarizes it so well:

As swimmers dare

to lie face to the sky

and water bears them

as hawks rest upon air

and air sustains them

so would I learn to attain

free fall, and float

into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace

knowing no effort earns

that all- surrounding grace.

Thanks be to God that we don’t do this on our own- that grace accompanies us each winding step of our way.  Amen.

Minute for Mission

Through Mission & Service, your gifts help community ministries respond to growing homelessness and poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Brenda was close to nine months pregnant and living in a tent. She and her partner Gail couldn’t find housing they could afford. In Hamilton, Ontario, the waiting list for subsidized housing is long – for some, over 10 years. With no other options, Brenda and Gail moved into a homeless encampment. They started to go to Wesley Urban Ministries, an outreach ministry of The United Church of Canada. There, they accessed meals, showers, and housing support. Wesley staff found a place for them to live temporarily. During this time, Brenda gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. 

Tragically, because Brenda and Gail don’t have stable housing, their baby was put in temporary custody. Housing workers at Wesley are working hard to help them get settled and reunite their family. “Despite all their hardships, they remain motivated. They show up for appointments and keep a positive outlook. We will not give up on them,” says a housing worker.  

Your Mission & Service gifts support Wesley’s Day Centre where 100 homeless people find help each day. When the city deemed it an essential service, Wesley expanded its hours.  

“Only 13 people are allowed inside at any given time during lockdown. Everyone is really good about coming in, getting warm, having a meal, and leaving so others can come in,” says Andrea Buttars, the director of resource development and social enterprise. Buttars says that during the pandemic, clients have had difficulty meeting practical needs. “Our clients have had a hard time finding bathrooms or having a shower because malls and libraries are closed. We are renting a trailer that has showers and washrooms in it,” she says.  

Now that so many work from home, people are moving into the area from bigger centres. “That has a trickle down effect. We used to say that we had a housing quality problem. Now, we have a housing shortage problem, too,” she says. 

As the pandemic strains social support networks, Wesley continues to step up. “We are committed to keep essential programs open and to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Research has found that the homeless are five times more likely to die of COVID-19,” says Buttars. “Through Mission & Service, the United Church helps us serve people who are very much at risk right now.” 

Your generosity through Mission and Service helps support Wesley Urban Ministries and other community ministries as they respond to growing homelessness and economic stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you.

 

One way we respond to God’s love and grace in our lives is through the offering of our monetary gifts. In making an offering, you express your gratitude to God and your commitment to building the kind of world that makes that love and grace visible to others. Thank you for your faithful stewardship.

Let us pray:

Gracious God, thank you for your unconditional love for each and every one of us. From the moment we wake in the morning to the hours of our deepest slumber, you are there for us. May we never doubt that love, but live in it always. You break into the brokenness of our lives and our world, helping to restore focus when we wander. Your grace is not a matter of our deserving. It is heaped upon us over and over again, not because of who we are or what we have done, but because of who you are. There are no words that can express our gratitude. All we can do is seek to faithfully respond by letting you transform us from the inside out. May our lives be open to that rearranging that by the words we speak and the actions we take, we might reveal your divine spark to others.

Inspire us, we pray, to act justly in the world, to look beyond our own needs and wants to the needs of others. We pray for all who working for our safety in these times, all who are working in the field of research, all who are tending to the care of vulnerable persons in communal settings, in refugee camps, in shelters, at food banks and in hospitals. Give them stamina on their most difficult days and help them to see the big picture of their most mundane actions.

Remind us all that in every fear, you are there holding hope; in every sadness you are holding comfort; in every frustration and moment of impatience, you are bringing us encouragement. Help us to see you- ahead of us, leading us; behind us, nudging us; beside us, accompanying us.

Teach us to rest our weary souls in the healing balm of your grace and love that we might find the renewal we all need to carry on, following your lead over each winding path we tread on our journeys.

Hear these and all our prayers this day, as we offer them in the name of Jesus, using the words that he taught us saying… Our Father…

Hymn: 635 VU All the Way My Saviour Leads Me 

Blessing:

May our path from this time of worship and into this new week

be guided by love- loving each other and serving God in the world.

May God’s grace, Jesus’ love and the Holy Spirit’s guiding presence go with us all. Amen.                   

 

Have a good week, everyone! 

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