August 7, 2022 

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

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

 

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



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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Come, let us worship God together!

Let us pray:

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

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

that dares to challenge things that need to change,

and that reminds us that you are never far away.

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

and to trust in your promises for us. Amen.

Hymn: 176 MV Three Things I Promise  

Prayer of Confession:

God of our past, present and future,

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

When we want it all now,

may we find the realm of love growing

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

Forgive our impatience, O God.

When we want immediate results

remind us of the slow unfolding of faith

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

Forgive our impatience, O God.

Words of Affirmation:

Like an oak, faith grows purposefully and firmly.

As roots stretch down,

So faith grounds itself in our living.

As branches and leaves provide life, so our faith produces

the fruit of love and justice.

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

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

Readings and Reflection:

By Faith…

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 12: 32-40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith is…

acting for good when we’d rather do nothing;

siding with life when we’d rather play dead;

speaking the truth when we’d rather be silent.

Faith is…

noiselessly listening when we’d rather shout out;

paying attention when we’d prefer not to notice;

standing for right when we’d rather keep walking.

Faith is…

trusting that after the darkness there will be light;

seeing the rainbow as the sign of the sun

hearing the rooster crow as hope for the dawn.

Faith is…

upsetting the comfortable status quo;

unreasonable, irrational, a foretaste of heaven;

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

 

Minute for Mission:

What would Jesus do?

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

Credit: Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your support.

Let us pray:

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

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

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

Hymn: 580 VU  Faith of our Fathers 

Blessing:

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

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

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

 **********************

July 31, 2022

Good Morning and Welcome

Announcements

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

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

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

Let us read responsively the Call to Worship:

Greeting to our brothers and sisters in the faith.

We come to celebrate God’s presence,

and God’s love expressed through Jesus Christ.

We come remembering Christ’s life and ministry,

and the life we are called to live.

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

We come seeking the strength to carry on our journey.

Let us rejoice in God’s faith to us!

 

Please join together in the Opening Prayer

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

and present us with a whole new way of seeing.

You invite us to commit our whole selves

to follow your paths of righteousness.

We come with expectant hearts and minds,

praying that we might be open to hearing

what it is that you require of us.

to make your dream a reality.

in the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

 

Hymn: Love Divine All Loves Excelling VU 333

 

Prayer of Confession (unison)

Gracious God,

you have called us into being

and equipped us with communication and knowledge,

and with ever spiritual gift we need.

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

Forgive us for our insecurities.

Forgive us for to easily tapping into excuses like

“someone else can do it better.”

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

in the eyes of the world.

Turn our hearts and minds back to you, God.

Offer us strength where we are weak.

Join our hearts and minds so that we may

seek your mission for our community of faith. Amen.

 

Words of Affirmation (responsive)

God loves us and showers us with grace unending,

no matter what we have done or failed to do.

God Gives us new hope and new vigor to be faithful

followers of Jesus.

We are a forgiven people called to a new purpose.

Thanks be to God.

 

Readings and Reflection:

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

Bible reading – Psalm 107: 1-9 & 43

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Gospel Reading: Matthew 4: 18-22

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Each life must touch so many lives

        From morn till set of sun _

        Leave many marks for right or wrong

        By things that we have done.

        Each new day we should make a wish,

        And then in earnest pray:

        “Lord let my life help other lives

        That I shall meet today”.     Amen.

 

Minute for Mission

“We are grateful for any kind of help.”

Aid workers load boxes of relief supplies onto pallets outdoors.

Hungarian Interchurch Aid distributes relief supplies in Ukraine.

Credit: ACT Alliance/HIA

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Thank you for your compassion.

Let us Pray

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

 

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

 

Hymn – Will You Come and Follow Me — VU 567

Blessing and Sending Forth  (responsive)

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the love of God,

and the communion the Holy Spirit

be ours this day, and always.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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July 24, 2022

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

Lighting of the Christ Candle.  

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

CELEBRATING 60 YEARS of UCW 

Welcome and Announcements 

Call to Worship

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

Opening Prayer

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

Hymn VU #412 This Is The Day   

UCW: Past and Present 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And so to the purpose of UCW: 

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

What does this mean? 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Let us pray: 

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

 

Let us now join in singing the UCW song. 

 

UCW Song   (Tune: Clementine)

 

1. UCW, UCW

Helped to make the church survive

Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday

Now we’re 60, still alive!

 

 

Chorus, after verses 1, 3, and 5 only

O, the casseroles and the turkeys

Bread and pies and carrot cake,

Feed the hungry, clothe the needy,

Serving all for Jesus’ sake.

 

2. Christian witness, study, service,

Fellowship and so much more.

All are part of our purpose,

Loyal to Jesus at the core.

 

3. In the 60’s, dress was formal,

Gloves and hats and high-heeled shoes

Now we’ve changed and much more casual,

Comfort footwear, denim blues.

 

Chorus:

O, the casseroles and the turkeys

Bread and pies and carrot cake,

Feed the hungry, clothe the needy,

Serving all for Jesus’ sake.

 

4. Play the organ, choir practice,

Study missions, meditate,

Hold a food sale, clean the kitchen,

Keep the manse in shining shape!

 

5. All the fun and all the laughter,

Fellowship and friends we made.

Joining, singing, helping, praying.

Memories that never fade!

 

Chorus:

O, the casseroles and the turkeys

Bread and pies and carrot cake,

Feed the hungry, clothe the needy,

Serving all for Jesus’ sake.

 

 

Responsive Psalm #95 Part 1 Page 814 VU 

Reading 1– Isaiah 41:10

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

I will strengthen you and help you;

I will uphold you with my righteous right  hand.  

 

Reading 2 — Hebrews 6:19 NIV

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

 

Minute For Mission 

 

Women For Change, Zambia

Never accept poverty. Unite and fight it.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Hymn VU # 371 Open My Eyes That I May See 

 

Meditation — Will Your Anchor Hold? 

“We have this hope as an anchor”.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Steadfast and sure!

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

 

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

drifting off course.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

What a blessing! Amen.

 

Pastoral Prayer 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bolster all of them with your love.

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

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

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

 

Hymn VU # 675 Will Your Anchor Hold? 

 

Benediction 

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

 

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

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July 17, 2022

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

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

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

Call to Worship:

From a week filled with needs and demands,

we come to regroup and to regather.

With many anxieties and distractions,

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

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

Learning, being and doing- it is all important.

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

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

Let us pray:

God of stillness, God of action,

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

Help us to be faithful servants.

In all that we do, may we welcome you

and serve you as Christ’s disciples. Amen.

Hymn:  374 VU Come and Find the Quiet Centre 

Prayer of Confession:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words of Affirmation

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

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

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

Readings and Reflection:

Worried and Distracted by Many Things

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

Amos 8: 1-12

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

“A basket of ripe fruit,” I replied.

Then he said,

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

The Lord said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 10: 38-42

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biblical commentator Elizabeth Myer Boulton summarizes our story this way:

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

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

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

Minute for Mission

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

 

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

Food baskets are distributed in Agadir, Morocco.

Credit: Église Évangélique Au Morocco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let us pray:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hymn: 506 VU Take My Life and Let it Be  

Blessing:

In our being and in our doing,

in our learning and in our growing,

in our praying and in our serving,

may we remain focused,

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

And may the blessings of God,

our host and our guest,

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

 

 **********************

 

July 10, 2022

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

We light the Christ candle as a reminder to us of the light that guides toward acts of compassion and mercy to our neighbours in need.

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

Blessed is God, who created us and loves us beyond measure.
Blessed is God, who calls us to stop measuring out our love.
Blessed is God, who speaks and tells us stories about ourselves.
Blessed is God, who reveals to us who we are
and who we could be.
Blessed is God, whose compassion is poured out
on every single person.
Blessed is God, who gives us compassion to share
with every single person,
even people we do not know or care about.

Come, let us be neighbours in this place,

and let us worship God together.

Let us pray:

Divine Builder, you set our standards and foundation.

You call us to be people of compassion.

As we gather this day, may this community reflect your body and your vision.

Speak to us again your words of love

and remind us again what it means to be a neighbour.

Enliven our senses and stir our being as we worship you

as the people you have crafted to build alongside you. Amen

Hymn: 581 VU When We Are Living 

Prayer of Confession:

God of grace: when we hear prophets calling us to measure up, and we turn away,

forgive us.

When we see our neighbours in need, and we turn away,

forgive us.

When we assume we are too busy, or too involved to stop or to get involved,

forgive us.

When we try to discredit prophet voices so that we can ignore them,

forgive us.

When we measure ourselves not by your standards but by the standards of this world,

forgive us.

Words of Assurance

On our journeys, we miss seeing many things but our God misses nothing.

God notes our choices and our cries for forgiveness.

God forgives us and sets us free to live new lives.

We are blessed that God hears our prayers and forgives. Thanks be to God.

 

Readings and Reflection

God’s Plumbline Tool

This week I have been thinking about the many ways that we have of measuring success or achievement. Nations often measure greatness in terms of political influence, military power or the gross national product figures. Businesses look at the bottom line on annual financial statements. Customer satisfaction ratings are also important. Schools determine success by such things as report cards, standardized testing scores and other evaluation tools. Sports teams look at scoreboards and win/loss statistics. The stock market evaluates daily closing figures to determine whether we are in a bear or a bull market. Workplaces do yearly performance reviews of their employees. In our church communities we often mimic some of these more secular standards of measurement in determining our success-like having a balanced budget or counting the number of people in our pews. That last one seems to be a real preoccupation lately as we come through the pandemic. In talking with people in many congregations, people seem especially hyped these days on reporting and knowing how many were in church on any given Sunday. But how does God measure things? What tool does God use to evaluate our standing or our performance as God’s people?

This question appears to be at the heart of our readings for today. In our first reading, we are introduced to the prophet Amos from the southern nation of Judah who lived about 100 years after Elijah and Elisha. Actually, he kind of cringed at being called a prophet. He saw himself more as an ordinary, everyday farmer and dresser of trees. Yet, as ordinary as he was, God had called him to prophesy to the people of Israel during a time of great prosperity, religious piety and general security as a nation. The message Amos had for them was that despite their supposed “successes”, their lives as God’s people didn’t measure up to the expectations God had for them. God saw fatal flaws in their community structure. With the help of a plumbline tool used to measure the placement of beams and the alignment of walls, God called Amos to expose their crookedness. As you will see, the message Amos is called to speak to the powers that be, to Amaziah the high priest and to King Jeroboam, does not sit well:

Amos 7:7-17

  This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,

“See, I am setting a plumb line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will spare them no longer;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said,

‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
and Israel must go into exile
away from his land.’ ”

12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there, 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

14 Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I am a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15 and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

16 “Now therefore hear the word of the Lord.
You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’
17 Therefore thus says the Lord:
Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword,
and your land shall be parceled out by line;
you yourself shall die in an unclean land,
and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.”

As you can see, Amos’ message was not welcome news. Let’s face it- exposing the hypocrisy of another is hardly the best way of winning friends and influencing people! It is little wonder Amaziah tells him to go back to where he had come from and prophesy back there! Amos, however, has little regard for people in authority who ignore God. He tells them that God isn’t concerned with their temple piety and their prosperity when the poor and the oppressed are being treated unjustly or ignored all together. God has no concern with the bottom line of their budgets or the proper alignment of the walls of their temples. What matters more to God is that their lives are in balance- that they are living with care and responsibility for the well being of their neighbours. Hollow worship without compassion and justice simply doesn’t measure up. As Amos says without mincing any words, it is hypocritical. To Amaziah and King Jeroboam, who prefer the status quo, this hits a nerve. The people of Israel had the words of the law as their guide. They had priests and prophets. They had worship and rituals. Still, however, they had lost their way by not allowing these very things to issue in acts of justice and mercy toward the poor and the oppressed. As a result, the walls of their faith were faulty and in need of an overhaul.  A realignment was called for before it was too late and their people taken into exile.

Much like Amos, Jesus, when confronted by the questioning lawyer in our gospel, reiterates the same message. God’s plumbline tool is love and justice toward our neighbour. That is the standard by which true worship and true faith is measured.

It is a message, however, that we might suspect doesn’t sit well with the lawyer. He presents himself before Jesus as very articulate. We can relate to him. He is hungry for God and for what God requires of him. He is concerned with drawing lines between right and wrong. When he asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life I can’t help wondering if he is really asking how he can experience meaning and purpose in life, right now. He wants to know the gold standard answer.  Rather than answering his question, Jesus in a manner common with rabbis, asks him another question, letting him figure it out for himself. Watch how this first part goes:

Luke 10: 25-28

25 An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

We can also relate with the next question he asks- who is my neighbour? Let’s face it with all the needs out there in the news headlines both locally and globally, like us, this fellow is probably overwhelmed. In asking this question, we might suspect that he is trying to limit the requirements, bring them down to a more manageable number. We might wonder if he is trying to make his life a little easier since the smaller the circle of those he needs to call his neighbours means the easier it will be to act in love toward them. In some ways, it would seem that he is looking for a bit of a loophole, almost like his question might have been better asked, who is not my neighbour? Where can I draw the lines? At what point am I off the hook? Or what is the least I have to do? That’s again, when Jesus does not answer but this time shares a story:

Luke 10: 29-37

 29 But wanting to vindicate himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and took off, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came upon him, and when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, treating them with oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him, and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

In essence then, it is the same message that Amos was trying to get across- the plumbline tool that God uses to measure true religion or true worship is not having all the right answers and being the star pupil when Jesus asks, but the going and doing of those answers. It makes me wonder if the lawyer, much like Amaziah the priest and King Jeroboam, was disturbed by this story. After all, his initial question of what must I do to inherit eternal life was a very self-centred one. When he answered it correctly, it must have felt to him that he had ticked off all the right boxes and been successful. But then, as Jesus pushes further, pointing out through this story that it was a Samaritan, an outsider, who did the right thing in caring for this man at the side of the road, the lawyer must have been shocked at the unexpectedness of this. Now, he has to realize that there are no loopholes, no boundaries or limits. There is no one he can wash his hands of. Anyone in need of mercy or compassion is a neighbour. If it was a debate this lawyer was looking for, he has lost.

In sharing this story, Jesus is reminding us that faithfulness is not a matter of knowing the right answers. It is more than ritual purity as Amos prophesied to Israel. No, God’s measuring tool is love- love that sets no limits, love those crosses boundaries, love that cares for strangers, love that turns strangers into friends, love that opens its vision to others in need, love that stands with the oppressed, love that dares to break rules and take risks of speaking up and of acting on behalf of another. It involves noticing the other as a child of God. As Martin Luther King Jr once said of this parable, it means worrying less about “what will happen to me if I stop and help this man and more about what will happen to him if I do not stop.”

I like how a seminary professor named Hill Charmichael once put it:

 The priest and the Levite aren’t bad people. Both the priest and the Levite are deeply respected in their communities. They very likely follow all the societal rules and norms. They sit on local boards. They pay their taxes on time and likely coach their son’s or daughter’s teams. They also show a great deal of love to those within their immediate communities, but because of what crossing the road to help might cost them, they put their head down and go about their business. So, without even recognizing it, they do more harm than good. Their focus is inward toward their needs and the needs of those who are most like them. It’s an ethic that leads the good and decent priest and Levite toward a life of valuing their reputations instead of relationships. And it often results in them choosing their own individual rights over the health and well-being of their neighbors. Then there is the Samaritan, whose ethic is love. Along one of the most dangerous roads in all of history seems to live by a code that says, “what is mine is yours…if you have need of it.”
My safety is yours…if you have need of it.
My security is yours…if you have need of it.
My resources are yours…if you have need of them.
My health is tied to your health.
My well-being is tied to your well-being

The story of the Good Samaritan is the picture of what God’s plumbline measures. How different our impact on the world would be if we assessed ourselves, not by the numbers in our pews, the bottom line in our budgets or all the many other tools of measurement of our success and greatness that are out there in our world.  What if we simply reached into our toolboxes and took out that plumbline and measured ourselves against God’s standard of love for the “other”, against God’s call to live with justice and care toward those who are wounded by life and laying at the sidelines of life? What if we spent our time, money and energy on making our communities more equitable by speaking truth to power and caring for the vulnerable? What if we were to measure our lives against our words? What if we simply heeded Jesus’ invitation to go and do likewise? Amen.

Minute for Mission

It was a big heavy bag of coins they carried for seven or eight blocks to get here.”

 

A child's hands hold three daisies

Credit: Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay

Behind every act of generosity there’s a story. Those who work in the United Church’s Philanthropy Unit have the privilege of hearing these stories from generous supporters. Sometimes the story involves honouring someone significant through a gift; other times it’s responding to a deep internal impulse to create positive change in the world.

Each story shared is inspiring, but this note included in a cheque sent by Rock Lake Pastoral Charge in Manitoba is especially delightful:

“Please find enclosed our cheque for $125.00. One of our member’s great-grandchildren rolled loose coins they found around the house. There was 1 roll of loonies, 6 rolls of quarters, 6 rolls of dimes, and 5 rolls of nickels. The three children ages 12, 9, and 7 were told if they rolled the coins, they could use the money however they wanted. They decided very quickly that they wanted to give it to children/people of Ukraine. They brought the money to Rock Lake Pastoral Charge and asked to have the money sent through The United Church of Canada for Emergency Response―Ukraine. They wanted it to go through the church because their great-grandmother loved the church.”

This story represents thoughtful, intentional giving at its finest. “The children could have gone and bought a toy or chocolate bar but they thought about it and decided to give it to help the people of Ukraine. They were so proud when they came into the office. It was a big heavy bag of coins they carried for seven or eight blocks to get here. They were really pleased to present it,” says office administrator Linda Sharpe.

Every gift given is a treasure. Every gift given tells a story about generosity.

Thank you for supporting the work we do together as a United Church. May the story we tell in our giving and receiving bring us ever more near the heart of God.

 

Let us pray

We give you thanks, O God, for the many mercies of each day: for the kind word given freely, for the smile offered sincerely, for the simple moments when someone loves a neighbour, for acts of compassion and generosity we witness and celebrate, for all who serve the most vulnerable members of our communities, for all those whose compassionate attention to detail enhances another’s life.

Teach us to see such everyday acts of love, healing and presence as the true measurement of greatness in our world. Help us to be open to opportunities to both be a neighbour to others and to receive freely from others who choose to be a neighbour to us, even despite differences that may stand between us.

We pray for justice for those who are mistreated by others. Give us courage, like Amos, to speak truth to power.

As we look around our world, there is much that distresses us- innocent people watching a parade being shot down, war continuing in Ukraine, people targeted because of the colour of their skin, the people they love or the faith they practice, our earth crying out for care, the many who are hungry, exploited or living in fear. Together with these concerns, we bring before you the concerns on our hearts, for people whom we know and love who are ill, who are anxious about their futures and who are in need of your loving embrace and guidance…

O God, fill us with your love, show us to serve the neighbours we have from you. In the name of our friend and neighbour Jesus, who cares for one and all, no matter what, we pray together saying… Our Father…

Hymn:  600 VU When I Needed a Neighbour  

Blessing:

Go into the world using God’s love as your plumbline and Christ’s justice as your tape measure.

We go forth to inch toward God’s reign on earth.

With open hands and open hearts, go to meet your neighbour,

giving and receiving the goodness of God’s love.

We go forth to weave right living into our relationships. Amen.

 ********************************

 

July 3, 2022

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

So often in life, we recognize that it is the small, and often simple things that make all the difference. As we gather this morning for worship, we light this one small candle as a symbol to remind us of the intense difference the gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ makes to our lives. (light candle)

Call to Worship: (inspired by our gospel from Luke 10 today, by Richard Bott in  The Gathering worship resource, adapted from an African American spiritual)

And God says, “Children, go where I send thee.”

How shall you send us?

“I’m gonna send you one by one,

all for the little bitty baby,

who was born in Bethlehem.”

And where shall we go?

Together, at God’s call,

we’ll journey where Christ leads.

Together, at God’s call,

we’ll follow in Christ’s footsteps,

travelling lightly.

The Way is not easy.

But we will be strong,

singing, laughing, crying, loving,

and helping each other on the journey.

Alleluia!

Alleluia, amen.

Opening Prayer:

God of love and compassion,

you call us together in worship

that we might be open to hear messages

from near and far,

from the familiar and the unfamiliar,

that, like your first followers, we may be sent out,

sharing your love, your healing and your blessing

in simple, yet profound ways,

to our world in need. Amen.

Hymn: 226 VU For the Beauty of the Earth  

Prayer of Confession:

So often we have need, but we don’t want to admit it:

we stand proud, unbending, unwilling to acknowledge we

need something we cannot create ourselves.

We try to make do with substitutes for your truth and grace, O God, but they fail us.

We sometimes over- complicate things when really, the way you call us to travel is quite simple- a way of love, of peace and of listening to voices of unexpected people along the way.

God, forgive our stubbornness that closes us off.

Make us simple in trust, simple in life, simple in our commitment to you. Amen.

Words of Assurance

God’s love never leaves us. We are loved, understood, forgiven and enabled to begin again. For God’s great grace toward us,

We offer our praise and thanksgiving.

 

 Readings and Reflection:

Sent

In a recent conversation I had with a friend, somehow, I was reminded of my first internship as a student minister. Back in those days, representatives from the General Council office would schedule a meeting with us at the Atlantic School of Theology. Each of us would be interviewed to discuss learning goals and our needs for various types of ministry experiences. Then, a few weeks later, by snail mail, of course, in those days, we would be sent a letter telling us where, in Canada, we were being sent. I learned that my placement would be in Waterloo, Quebec. So, the first thing I did was get out a map to find out where that was. Within a few days, I received communication from the pastoral charge and somehow, we figured out the date of my arrival. Meanwhile, they made arrangements for my housing for the 4 months I would be there and looked after a few other details.

As I look back on it these many years later, I guess I remember feeling more than a little vulnerable. At the age of 23, I don’t think I had ever driven that far before. I was green as grass and certainly had no idea what to expect. All I knew as I set off was that I was to arrive in front of the Chinese food restaurant in the main street of town. There, I would find a pay phone from which I could call a certain number and someone would arrive to guide me to their home for supper, after which they would introduce me to the owner of a home where I would be house sitting for the summer as she went off to Germany.

So, to make a long story short, the summer turned out to be a great experience of learning some skills for ministry, meeting a great group of supportive people and receiving the encouragement I needed to grow as a person. Today, I look back on that experience as a truly formative one for me.

Both of our readings this morning involve people being sent forth in new directions. Going where they are sent involves letting go of control, risking vulnerability and paying attention to cues along the way.

For Naaman that is not an easy thing to do. As a mighty general of the Syrian army, a national hero granted much prestige and power, Naaman doesn’t respond all that well to advice from unlikely sources. He is too used to being in control, to being his own boss so to speak, and to not having to depend on others. But… and this is a big but… he has a skin disease and has exhausted all avenues and sources of healing. While he is sent forth with some simple instructions, listen for the rather comedic way in which his ego gets in the way, almost to the point where he misses out on the healing that is being offered:

2 Kings 5: 1-14  

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from a skin disease. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his skin disease.” So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go, then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”

He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his skin disease.” When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his skin disease? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God and would wave his hand over the spot and cure the skin disease! 12 Are not Abana] and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

It does create a funny picture, doesn’t it? Naaman all in a huff, mad as a hornet at the suggestions being offered him. Naaman with all his fine clothes and gold and fanfare, arriving at the prophet Elisha’s home and Elisha not even bothering to greet him. Then, to add insult to injury, Elisha suggesting that Naaman dip seven times in the dirty old Jordan River. All of this requires Naaman to risk being vulnerable. That doesn’t come easy to a fellow whose whole life has been structured on power, influence and authority. To be healed both physically and spiritually, he has to let go and receive the advice coming to him, from the most unlikely sources- like the slave girl, the foreign prophet Elisha and Naaman’s own servants who encourage him to heed the simple advice from Elisha to dip in the Jordan River.

It is much like I discovered when I was sent on my first internship. When we are sent, we need to realize that we cannot do it alone. We need one another. Our survival depends on each other. In that internship, I was not long realizing the importance of community. Just as Naaman’s healing depended on the help of many voices working together in community, so I learned the value of relying on the hospitality and generosity of others in carrying forth the good news. We know that in our own faith community. No one of us is an island. Our survival as a community depends on each other. As Benjamin Franklin so aptly said at the signing of the US Declaration of Independence: “We must hang together or assuredly, we will hang separately.”

I can’t help thinking that’s why, when Jesus sends out the 70 (0r 72 depending on the version) ahead of him, he sends them in pairs. He knows that the mission is not easy, especially in the face of the rejection and criticism they will meet as they speak about the kingdom of God. What they say will, no doubt, clash with the status quo. They will need the support and encouragement of one another because they will find themselves in places and situations where they will feel very vulnerable. Often, they will indeed find themselves at a point of discouragement. There will be anxious and uncertain moments in their work. Sometimes, they will be met with indifference. Let’s listen to the advice he gives as he sends them:

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

  After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way; I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if a person of peace is there, your peace will rest on that person, but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’]16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 Indeed, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Both of our passages today remind us of the importance of trust- trust in God and trust in one another as we are sent out into the world. They remind us that as much as we may value our independence, we cannot go it alone. Sooner or later, illness (as in the case of Naaman) or some other crisis, like the pandemic for instance, calls us to turn to each other in community. The nature of our faith is always communal. We need one another. Faith is very much a team effort. Even today, we are sent out “as lambs in the midst of wolves.” The message we carry of Jesus’ inclusive love and justice is often met with resistance and perhaps even more so today, I believe, with indifference.  Think about it for a minute, the world we live in is very individualistic. People place great value, much like Naaman, on power, privilege and being self-made successes. Showing ourselves to be vulnerable, in need of something or some greater power beyond ourselves to trust in, and to be interdependent rather than independent is often viewed as a weakness by many. Yet, Jesus says, vulnerability is implicit in our mission. What matters most is not popularity or earthly success but an eternal relationship with God that comes from knowing that we are workers with God in carrying out a different message to the world. It means, much like Naaman, learning to abandon our pride and pretense and following the simple instructions we are given. Maybe it is a nudge to check in on a neighbour or friend from church or work. Maybe it is an offer to volunteer. Maybe it a helping hand or a listening ear. Maybe it is bowl of soup. Maybe it is a being a voice for someone who needs an advocate. Being sent out into the world today is really not all that different than it was for those 70. The urgency of the mission is the same. The message is still the same. Show others that the kingdom of God is near. Point out God’s love in another’s life or experience. Dare to be vulnerable by not living on the surface. Dare to open up and go just a little deeper by listening, as Naaman learned to do, to voices coming from unexpected people and places. Welcome the good news wherever you find it. Name it. And simply learn to trust in the generosity and hospitality of others.

With the war in Ukraine and the need for many to find safety, with the ongoing price increases that are bearing down heavy on us, with the heart-wrenching story of Mexican, Honduran, and Haitian asylum seekers dying of hunger and heat exhaustion in the back of a truck, the increasing incidents of gun violence, racism and homophobia to name but a few, the world is desperate for peace, for reconciliation, for compassion. It is to this world that we are sent with simple instructions- to find ways of letting people know there is another way… the way of God’s realm. It is for this vulnerable world that we, as a church community working together, have what is needed to live and share the good news.  Now all we have to do is follow the simple instructions and go where we are sent. Amen.

Minute for Mission

Saidath’s goal is to develop more cooperatives in the community.

Three rows of young adults from different countries pose in front of a blackboard in a classroom.

Saidath Murorunkwere (middle row, second from the right) is pictured here with classmates.

Credit: Asian Rural Institute

Each year, the Asian Rural Institute (ARI), supported through your Mission & Service gifts, invites 25‒30 grassroots rural leaders from Asia, Africa, and Latin America to learn sustainable agriculture techniques at their Rural Leaders Training Centre in Tochigi, Japan.

Saidath Murorunkwere is one of ARI’s most recent graduates.

Like many other Rwandans, the genocide of 1994 left scars in her life. In just 100 days between April and July, an estimated 800,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, the majority of whom were Tutsis.

“Of Saidath’s extended family of nearly 200, only two aunts and a few of her siblings survived. When the Rwanda Patriotic Front forces finally stopped the genocide, Saidath, her mother, and her remaining siblings had to start over with absolutely nothing. Everything was either burned or stolen, including their 42 cows and other livestock,” ARI reports.

To make ends meet through the following years, her mother sold charcoal and Saidath worked as a bus driver’s assistant, opening doors for passengers and collecting fees. Many days they went without eating. Still, Saidath was determined to finish secondary school. She became a secretary and eventually studied at the University of Rwanda, where she graduated with a degree in journalism.

Despite her education, the pay was low so she began to work as a farmer and a social worker with Dufatanye, a non-governmental organization that works to fight HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, and poverty while promoting organic agricultural practices. In that role, Saidath worked with 60 farming families to build kitchen gardens.

Inspired to make an even bigger difference, she applied to ARI. “Nearly 40 percent of the population in my area lives in poverty. Small-scale farming is the major occupation, and I wanted to learn techniques and skills from ARI that I could share.”

Whether it be environmental conservation, providing education, initiating microfinance programs, attaining rights for women and children, or organizing aid for refugees, each student of ARI graduates with the intention to make a positive difference.

Saidath’s goal is to develop more cooperatives in the community where she can pass on the skills she has learned. “With better nutrition, health will improve and children can go to school,” she says.

Thank you for supporting programs like ARI that inspire extraordinary community leaders like Saidath to make a difference.

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God’s generosity to us calls out of us a response. In this place of worship on the offering plates, through PAR and through cheques sent in by mail, we offer a portion of our treasure, our talents, our time, even our very selves. God uses them to further God’s work among us in our community and our world. Thanks to each of you for your ongoing support. Your generosity truly does matter.

Let us pray:

We pause, O God, in these brief moments, to simply breathe, to offer you our thanksgiving and praise. For the warm and gentle breezes of summer, for the beauty of creation, for the richness and diversity of our country and its peoples, for family and friends, for the many gifts present in our faith community and for all the many blessings that are ours…

As we celebrate our nation’s birthday this weekend, we ask for your wisdom that we might live in peace with one another, respecting the various cultures, languages and traditions that make us so unique. Give us courage as we move forward in these uncertain times. Stir the consciences of our leaders and all of us as we strive to make decisions that will bless and empower one another. Guide us as we do our part to protect the environment and as we work toward truth and reconciliation with the indigenous peoples of our nation.

Grant us vision to be on the lookout for all the small and subtle ways that you make your power and presence, your love and mercy shown to us. Remind us that it is so often in our ordinary, everyday words and actions that we can make a difference to another- a simple smile, the touch of a hand, a gesture of support, a phone call to encourage, a perfect word or invitation offered at just the right moment. Lead us to listen for your gentle nudges that call us to act with compassion. Equip us for the ministries to which we are called- whether it be to heal those who are hurting, to bring good news to the poor, to feed the hungry or simply to be a caring presence in the life of another.

We bring before you the wounds in our hearts and bodies- illnesses and griefs, difficult relationships, financial worries, harsh words said that we cannot take back, pain we have inflicted, pain that we carry… and we ask for your help in bearing the load…

We pray for family and friends, for our newly minted graduates as they find their way into their futures, for the many in this world who struggle in the face of tragedies… war, accidents in the workplace, families who grieve the loss of loved ones attempting to find asylum, the many living in abusive relationships in need of hope and freedom. Remind us, O God, of our call to shine your light of love and to be your hands and feet in this world so desperately in need of the alternative vision that you offer. We gather these prayers, both spoken and unspoken, and offer them to you, O God, in the strong name of Jesus Christ, who sends us out and who promises us strength for the journey, and we pray as he taught us… Our Father…

Hymn: 212 MV Sent Out in Jesus’ Name  

Blessing

Go into the world, as labourers bringing good news into a world of need.

Proclaim that the reign of God has begun.

We go to serve our God!

Go to share God’s simple blessings with others.

We go to serve our God!

Go to heal the sick by offering them the love of God.

We go to serve our God! 

Share with one another Christ’s peace. Take the blessings of our God – Creator, Healer, Comforter – with you, everywhere you go. May that love bubble in you, bubble out of you and brighten the lives of all you meet.

We go to serve our God! Amen

 

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June 24, 2022

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

 

We are living in a time of change and confusion.

We need a source of unwavering light to show us the way.

So, we light this candle, the Christ candle, to remind us of his light and our call to share his light with others. (light candle)

Call to Worship:

A way parts and God’s presence is recognized among us.

A path is made by the footsteps of faith

and we merge with the generations before us

to be the people of faith in our time and place.

We gather in worship to pick up the mantle of discipleship

to listen for where the Spirit is leading us

and to find a focus for the way ahead.

We gather seeking to be equipped to tell new generations

of the wonders God has done and continues to do.

Through us and in us, God’s story continues.

Let us worship God!

Let us pray:

Holy One,
we come before you today:
full of hope,
full of desire,
full of promise.
Help us take up the mantle of faith
you have laid before us,
that we may use our own gifts of the Spirit
to face the challenges before us.
Help us face the turmoil
within and around us,
that we may face the future unafraid.
Be our strength and courage as we work

to bring about your reign on earth. Amen.

Hymn: 642 VU Be Thou My Vision 

Prayer of Confession:

When the flame goes out,

and we imagine ourselves not good enough,

when the way is too difficult,

and we can find no one else to lead,

when the gifts seem thin

and we feel we cannot find the way,

whisper your presence, O God.

When the questions are too deep

and there is no way to seek an answer,

when the mantle is unworn

and we are the only ones to pick it up,

when the world is tough

and your calling is even tougher,

whisper your presence, O God.

May we find a new vision to dream,

may we find a new language to speak,

may we find a new daring within our souls,

whisper your presence, O God…         (please take a moment to listen)

Words of Assurance

God works wonders through ordinary people like us, leading us by the hand.

God’s presence is among us as in days of old

enabling us to speak daringly the truth

and to be courageous in our action for justice.

Let us be the prophets of God in our time.

 

Readings and Reflection:

The Show Must Go On

The story is told of a famous preacher who was a bit of a fraud. His sermons were highly acclaimed but come to find out, they were written by his office assistant. One day the assistant’s patience ran out. The preacher was speaking to a large crowd when he came to the bottom of p. 2 of the sermon and he read these stirring words: “… and this my friends takes us to the heart of the book of Habakkuk which is…”  The preacher then flipped to page 3 only to find at the top nothing but the words: “you’re on your own now.”

We can only imagine the sheer panic he must have felt!

I was reminded of that story as I thought about our readings for this week. In both of them we find people in times of transition, when they are about to enter a new phase of their journeys. Yet, much like that preacher in turning over that page, they are met with feelings of uncertainty and panic. We all know those kinds of experiences in our own lives- those times when we can sense that things are changing but we are unsure in just what direction we will go or what the future will bring. I am sure this is exactly how many of our graduates and their parents are feeling during these days. It’s the kind of feelings we have when we drop a child off for the first time at a university dorm or when we see them off at the airport as they move into a new job opportunity. It’s what we feel when the doctor calls us in to review some irregularities in our test results. It’s what we sense when we walk away from a funeral or graveside service of a loved one. It’s that unsettled piece in the pit of our stomachs. The vulnerability in the midst of the transition.

Our first reading morning describes the response of Elisha in just such a transition. His mentor, Elijah, is about to depart. Elisha senses that he will soon be on his own. Elisha grapples with his many feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability. As you listen to this story, watch how Elisha tries to avoid the changes that are coming as he clings to Elijah to the very end:

2 Kings 2: 1-14

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So, they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”

Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here, for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So, they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So, the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing, yet if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

13 He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him and struck the water. He said, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah? Where is he?” He struck the water again, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha crossed over.

Similar to Elijah as he prepares to depart from Elisha, Jesus, too, has an important journey to make. In our gospel lesson this morning, we find Jesus at a pivotal moment in his mission. After his time spent teaching and healing in Galilee, he is, in the words of Luke, ready “to set his face towards Jerusalem”. Like Elijah, Jesus realizes that things are about to shift. His life is meeting its climax. He needs to make sure that those who follow him will be committed to his mission. In the words of theologian Soren Kierkegaard, “they must be followers and not merely admirers”. They must be determined and unwavering as they set out, ready to change their loyalties and priorities. Jesus minces no words here. He spells it out very plainly. There is no beating around the bush, no fine print. The way ahead will involve disruption and sometimes even a violation of cultural norms. This will be no sentimental journey. It will take courage and a willingness to forego popularity. There will be no wishy-washy middle ground as they go forth. No more saying, but first let me do this or take care of this. No more postponing or procrastinating. Listen as Jesus calls his followers to whole-hearted commitment:

Luke 9: 51-62

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to prepare for his arrival, 53 but they did not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?] 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Thenthey went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus] said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 And Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Both of these stories involve what I like to call “hinge or pivotal moments”. Both of them share the theme that things are about to change from what once was to what is yet to be. There is no turning back and yet what is ahead seems unclear and uncertain. It is little wonder that Elisha’s desire is to cling to Elijah, to not let him out of his sight. It is little wonder that the “would-be followers” of Jesus cry out with those words “but first, let me look after my affairs at home.” Stooping down to actually pick up the mantle takes courage. It means that we are committed to the journey ahead. It means we are ready to let go of what was but is no more. It means we are ready, so to speak, to “set our hand to the plow without looking back.” Ready to live fully in “the now”.

Soren Kierkegaard, whom I mentioned earlier, described life this way- “it can only be understood backward but it has to be lived forward.”

I have been thinking along these lines lately as I have been sorting through old photos, both my own and those of my family. Since cleaning out and selling my family home a few years back, I have been the caretaker of stacks of photo albums. I am taking them out of those sticky, now yellowing, albums and labelling them. Sometimes it means returning certain photos to various branches of the family. Sometimes it means discarding the ones that are no longer identifiable because the old photo paper is worn out. I know that many of you have gone through this whole process. While I am far from finished, I am very much sensing that I am reliving my life through the process, doing a kind of life review of places I have lived and relationships I have made along the way. It is sort of what Elijah did with Elisha as he journeyed. They stopped at various points like Bethel, Jericho and the Jordan- all significant places in the history of the people of Israel. Each place holding a memory and a teaching. Each place a treasure filled with meaning and revelation.

Yet, much like Elijah, as I looked over those photos and treasured them, I knew I couldn’t get stuck in them. It is kind of like how it is in our cars. The rear-view mirror is much smaller than the windshield. There is a reason for that. It’s because the way forward is where we live today. That’s why Jesus “sets his face toward Jerusalem”.

Cleaning up and sorting through these photos has reminded me that all we have is “Now”. With the death of my parents last year and with all these reminders of times past, I am especially mindful that it is up to those of us alive now to pick up the mantle and carry it forward into the future.

It is the same for us as a church community. Our mission is now. Jesus is calling us to embrace the ministry that is now. While we might treasure those “photos” of times past and learn from their many experiences, all we have is now. Like the “would be followers” Jesus highlights in that gospel, we can’t be in the now if we are always saying… but first… like but first, we need to get this pandemic behind us, but first… we must get back to the way things were prior to 2020, or but first… we have to get things back to normal (whatever that is!) Yet, we all know that what we have been through in this pandemic has changed everything. As much as we all have that tendency to look through the rear-view mirror, to pick up those old photos so to speak, we know that the bigger windshield view has to be our focus for our discipleship together. Looking ahead, setting our face forward is the stance Jesus requires of us. It is not to say that what went before has no value or relevance or that all those photos are meaningless. It is simply that we need to do some sorting and reframing of them to meet the current context that we call now. And yes, just like sorting those old photos in my albums, this process has its difficult moments too. We grieve for what once was but is no more. Sometimes there are tears. Yet, sometimes too there are new opportunities still to be revealed, ways that are being shown to us of reaching out to others that we might never have thought of before, new opportunities that move forward.

One of the articles I read this week mentioned that for us, right now, as churches, all we can do is make short term plans because we cannot predict what will happen in the future with variants of Covid. Still, though, we need to remember that we are still here. No, maybe the way things are, is far from ideal. It isn’t the world we left but it is the world we have. And we are called to live in the now, to stoop and pick up the mantle that is before us. The windshield to the future is where we will spend the rest of our lives. As a group of us as clergy were sharing in a zoom meeting a few weeks back- we can’t postpone our existence. We have to live as if each day matters and counts. And most of all we need to remember that God is still very much present with us and meets us in the transitions and reconfigurations of our lives together as a faith community.

I leave you with a story. It’s about a baritone soloist who had a heart attack in the midst of a concert. He had finished the first half of the performance but pain, shortness of breath came upon him as he stood backstage, listening to the choir. No one knew he had pains and there was no one back there to help, no way to tell the choir out front. He knew they would wait for him to come in and he wouldn’t be there. Yet, the show must go on, he thought to himself and finished the concert before driving himself to the hospital where he was admitted to intensive care.

Jesus had that same feeling. Elijah had it too. The show must go on. Or as my mother used to say in the face of any uncertainty… don’t worry, we’re here ahead of it. The view from the windshield beckons us onward. And the Spirit is out in front, leading us onward. There are more photos of experiences, of people and of events yet to be added to our collections. The mantle is at our feet. May we, like Elisha, be prepared to step in and pick it up. With God’s grace to guide us, may we then cross over, without looking back and may the show continue to go on through us, as we follow in Christ’s ways of love and justice and as we live in this time that we call now. Amen.

Minute for Mission

“We are working with these people…so they don’t become victims.

People in India sit on mats on the ground and on a bench along a wall while a man who is standing speaks.

Participants gather for an anti-human trafficking education program.

Credit: Diocese of Durgapur

 

In December 2020, we shared Lakshmi’s story. Lakshmi, a teenager from West Bengal, India, was trafficked by her aunt, who promised that Lakshmi could earn money “dancing.” Thankfully, the story had a happy ending. Lakshmi’s parents contacted the Diocese of Durgapur, which runs an anti-human trafficking program supported by your Mission & Service gifts. The Diocese intervened, and on the threat of legal action, Lakshmi’s aunt returned her to her parents.

Over the year since we published Lakshmi’s story, the Diocese of Durgapur has been busy initiating life-saving anti-trafficking programming, advocacy, education, and relief efforts.

Here’s an update. In 2021, your support through Mission & Service meant that

  • 985 key leaders became aware of anti-human trafficking methods, including youth, church, and community leaders
  • 20 young people received computer training
  • 9 families learned bamboo crafting to augment their income
  • 500 families received relief during COVID lockdowns, including food hampers and personal protective equipment
  • CCTV cameras were installed in the Malda Safe Home, which houses 21 children

Now that people are returning to work after COVID lockdowns, the efforts of the Diocese and ongoing Mission & Service support are especially critical.

Most of the people the Diocese of Durgapur reaches out to live below the poverty line and earn their livelihood through agriculture and labour. “They go to other states looking for work and sometimes fall victim to human trafficking. Now as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, people are again getting ready to go outside for work. We are working with these people, especially in the areas where people were trafficked earlier, so they don’t become victims,” says Raja Moses, a Project Coordinator for the Diocese.

Your generous gifts through Mission & Service support anti-human trafficking programs run through the Diocese of Durgapur, directly impacting thousands of lives. Thank you!

 

(in person worship follows with communion)

Hymn: 150 MV Spirit God, be our Breath  

Blessing:

God ordains every generation to be prophets.

May we take up our mantle of ministry.

Christ sets us free to live our love in the world.

May we take up our mantle of ministry.

The Spirit makes a way of ministry before us.

May we take up our mantle of ministry.

May the God of our past, our present and our future go with us

as we go to be prophets of love through our words and actions this week.

Amen

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June 19, 2022

Nîpin, Summer Is Here
Worship Service for the Indigenous Day of Prayer

June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day, and the Indigenous Day of Prayer may be celebrated the Sunday before or after June 21.

Welcome and Acknowledgement

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

 

Indigenous People always make it a point to leave a tobacco offering at certain places where it is needed for grace and gratitude. It’s a way for Indigenous peoples to give blessings and thanks for all that one is, was, and is to become. It is a way to connect to God, our Mother Earth, and all ancestors and guides on all our paths in life. This planet that we call home is our first church. This land sings the stories of all peoples; many people don’t like to listen to the harmony that is a spiritual gift each day. The land always gives us life and wellbeing. We all need to pray and connect to that each moment that we can, because that’s God’s language, that’s the voice of our Mother, that’s the song of our people, our ancestors, and all our relations.

 

Opening Prayer (with Tobacco)

Our loving God, our Creator, you have brought us here with our family, friends, and community to learn and experience the wonders of this great world you created for us to live in. You have brought us to our church, Faith Memorial, and we give you thanks. This experience and our travels will be many and varied. Please, look after us and allow us to accept the journey and the many blessings that face us each day. God, I ask you to continue to bless our Mother, Earth, as she grants us her grace to live with her. Allow our relationship with her to continue. She is a great teacher to humanity. And of course, dear God, I ask for the support and guidance of our ancestors and the ancestors of this land to be with us now and through our time here on Earth. I leave this offering to you, to our Mother and to our numerous ancestors who have lived, loved, and bled to be a people of the land. And as I lay this here, my spirit and heart are placed here as well for the respect of all your creations. Thank you, God. May Jesus walk with us on our path today, tomorrow, and for days to come. The light and life are with us now and forever more. In Jesus name, Amen.

Prayer of Approach

One: We call upon the light, God’s light. The light shall shine upon and within us.

All:    The light is God and it is great.

One: It shall encourage us, strengthen us, guide us, protect us, shield us, love us, empower us, ground us, give us wisdom and the actions of God’s Holy Spirit

All:    The light is calm. The light is never rushed. The light knows no time. The light is the Holy Spirit.

One: We sense the light; we know, feel, and smell the light. It is like pure joy. Jesus was created by the light, truly God’s light.

All:    It shall never leave us.

One: With all you have given and taught us, forgive us, loving God, for the times when we have rejected your light (pause for a time for silent reflection). Allow us to accept the light and creation of the lives we each lead.

All:    We love you, God. We love you, Holy Spirit. We love you, Jesus.

One: With peace and forgiveness, in Jesus’ name.

All:    Amen.

 

Opening Hymn

Morning Has Broken (VU 409)   

Learning Together: The Butterfly

The butterfly is a beautiful and gentle message of transformation. It’s a great representation and reminder of Jesus, who died on the cross, transformed, and resurrected to a new, holy being of light and love for all of us. The butterfly does the same thing in this season of summer. The butterfly starts as a caterpillar and cocoons itself into a metamorphosis phase and changes, transforms, and breaks out of its cocoon as a beautiful, colourful, and flittering butterfly. The butterfly, like Jesus, reminds us of the transformation and change that happens in our lives and in the world with the seasons. Summer is here and is celebrated with the beauty of the butterflies, bees, flowers, and trees, as well as the wonderful creatures that live with us in respect on this land. The Earth is alive! We shout with joy. Just as we shout the message that Jesus’ disciples and Mary Magdalene shouted when they were reunited with our beloved Jesus—Jesus is alive! As we see the butterfly in all its beauty and splendor we shout for the season—summer is here!

 

Hymn

Jesus, Friend of Little Children (VU 340)  

 

First Reading

Proverbs 8:1–4, 22-31

 

Wisdom’s Call

1 Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? 2 At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; 3 beside the gate leading into the city, at the entrance, she cries aloud: 4 “To you, O people, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. 22 “The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; 23 I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. 24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; 25 before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, 26 before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth. 27 I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, 28 when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, 29 when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. 30 Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, 31 rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.

 

Second Reading

Isiah 55: 9-12

 

9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. 12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Reflection

 

Nîpin, Summer Is Here

The summer is a time for reflection, and the summer is a time for fully embracing what the land has to offer us. Summer is a time when we give thanks to our Mother Earth for her gifts of the season. But, when we give thanks to God for the season and for the precious and sacred gifts of the land, we also wait for the call of the season so we can prepare in gratitude for summer.

 

The robin is such a beautiful representation of the summer season. With her call and her presence, we know that she embodies the nature of the season. And if it wasn’t for the gift from the Creator to have the robin in our land, we wouldn’t hear the true call of the season in such a way. You see, the robin has a beautiful call. And when she calls out the song, “nee-pin,” you know she’s around. And it’s that call of “nee-pin” that is the glorious message of summer. Grandmother Robin, in all her grace, always brings the message of summer to the Cree and Indigenous people on this land.

 

The Cree language is so rooted to the land and to our environment; it has such a beautiful and lineal connection to our Mother. This is the language that so many Indigenous people speak and try so desperately to preserve today. Many believe that it is the language that God speaks, for it was God who gave us the language to speak to our Mother, to the land, and to all of the animals and elements. The land is our teacher and our family. God connects us with who we are in a gifted and spiritual way. We are blessed to connect and be a part of this world, on this earth plain, and with all our relations—the winds, the fire, the stones, the waters, the four-legged, the fish, the winged, the nations of the two-legged, and all those in between.

 

Nîpin is the Cree word for summer. It is Kokum (Grandmother) Robin, nîpin aya (summer bird), who first signals the call for summer. “Nee-pin” is a song that means summer because Kokum reminds us so. When we hear that call, we know summer is coming and is here to stay. Murray Pruden, who prepared this service, recalls this experience:

 ‘This spring, as I was walking home from my travels, in the distant mountain air I heard a light echo from afar, “Nee-pin.” I stopped in my tracks and paused for a few seconds to listen to that all familiar sound. “Nee-pin” came, a distant sound in the chilled breeze of the afternoon air. That was my call from Kokum Robin that summer, nîpin, is coming, prepare for its arrival, nôsisim (grandson). Then, after a few weeks had passed, I was on my walk in the morning, down my trails. In the trees above, in the warmth of a spring mountain morning sun, a closer reminder and call became much more vibrant to the ear and the spirit: “Nee-pin.” The reminder was from Kokum Robin, who had arrived and was sitting in the tree above my head, singing her song of summer, “Nee-pin.” With much more energy and assurance in her song, Kokum Robin made a more formal call to summer. “Prepare for summer, nôsisim, it is much closer. It’s time to pray for and celebrate all that God is giving us.”

 

And as this reminder and song of summer is clear and announced, it’s a blessed, annual atonement of the four seasons. We are reminded to respect and honour it, because it is the land and God’s messengers that pass on this wisdom song to acknowledge. Every time we hear Kokum Robin sing, it can remind us of Proverbs 8:22–31 – Wisdom’s Call that was present from the very beginning. Kokum Robin is a wise woman who teaches us to respect the seasons and to respect our land, our Mother, and each other. She teaches us to recognize God in all creation that is in our lives. Love like God loves, with a humble heart. “Nee-pin,” summer is here, my grandchildren. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Prayer of Thanksgiving

God our Creator, we give thanks that you have given and provided for us this beautiful land.

 

We look to the east and give thanks for the direction where the sun rises each day. As the sun rises for a new day, let the grace of Jesus also rise in our hearts.

 

We look to the south, give thanks, and respond to the land and waters that are our Mother Earth. She provides us with the medicines and life force that allow us to be a part of your Creation. May we always give her the respect she needs as we are people of the land and are always reminded of that simple but sustainable purpose.

 

We look to the west and give thanks for the winds and the air that help move our seasons and celebrate the time we are in now—the season of summer. With the change in the air and temperatures, we are able to appreciate the beauty and nourishment of the breath of life that is within each one of us.

 

We look to the north and give thanks for the great wisdom of all that you give us. We appreciate the wisdom of our peoples, the elders, and the many ancestors and loved ones who came and left before us, and whom are with us still. For they are your wisdom and knowledge, and teachers of livelihood. All of your teachings, the good and the bad, are great. They make us the loving and blessed people we are today.

 

Hear us, loving God, as we pray. We pray for our Nations living together within this country we call Canada, and the numerous territories of the Indigenous peoples of this great land. We pray for children and youth to grow strong and be mindful of your teachings and the wonderful land you have provided for all creations to live together as one. Jesus taught us about the path of love. Let your blessed love embrace all those, including us here today, that need and require a source of comfort and joy. And may we all journey along a humble path in the many ways we do—for the sake of unity and understanding, the acceptance of our differences, and kindness. With your gentle breeze, give us hope. We pray for this in Jesus’ name and for the ways of peace and grace. Amen.

 

The Lord’s Prayer

 

Hymn

Teach Me, God, to Wonder (VU 299)  

 

Commissioning

Surround yourself in the Spirit;

God is with you.

Surround yourself in the Light;

God is with you.

Surround yourself in the Wisdom;

God is with you.

Surround yourself in the Love;

God is with you.

Be brave. Be strong. Be humble.

Be God.

Peace be with us.

In Jesus name, Amen.

 

 

—This worship service was created by Murray Pruden. Murray is a student minister in his third year of studies in the Vancouver School of Theology’s Masters of Divinity program through the Indigenous Ministries program at the University of British Columbia. He also attends Sandy-Saulteaux Spiritual Centre in Beausejour, Manitoba. Murray is Cree from the Goodfish Lake and Saddle Lake First Nations in central Alberta. He is a direct descendant, fourth generation, of Rev. Henry Bird Steinhauer. Murray believes in connection, respecting all paths of spirituality, and honouring each other with our gifts.

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

 

June 12, 2022

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

 

We light the Christ candle, a sign of the light that lives with us and within us.

Call to Worship:

At the crossroads of busyness and rest,

of judgement and mercy,

of conflict and peace,

of wants and needs,

we gather to worship our awesome and mysterious God.

Over the hubbub of competing voices,

competing desires, possibilities and energies,

we come, seeking the voice of wisdom.

May this be a time for each of us to experience God present to us-

as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

May God, distant, yet intimate, meet us here.

 

Opening Prayer:

Wise, creating and loving God,

what a delight it is to be in your presence

and to recognize your wondrous touch in all the world.

Deepen our capacity to listen for your voice

and to discern you in the usual and unusual places of our living.

May we celebrate your unfolding presence,

that guides us into a greater understanding of who you are

and who we are,

as a community called together in your love. Amen.

Hymn: 30 MV It’s a Song of Praise to the Maker 

 

Prayer of Confession:

Loving, delighting God,

we do not always remember who you are or whose we are.

We place limits on our understanding of you,

yet we know that you are beyond our abilities or images that attempt to confine you.

As the psalmist proclaims, “How majestic is your name in all the earth”

We forget your delight in your Creation and instead focus our energies on undoing it.

We miss your voice calling to us in the everyday places of our living.

We forget the simple joy of being, as we fret over our doings.

Forgive our narrow vision, our distracted focus and our forgetfulness.

Enable us to remember your grace, your joy and your clear call to love and service. Amen.

 

Words of Affirmation:

We forget, but God remembers.

God remembers God’s covenant and promises to be with us always and to love us always. God hears our confession

and we know ourselves forgiven. Thanks be to God.

 

Readings and Reflection

  Who is God? Who are We?

I guess I was feeling more than a little playful as I thought up that title this week! If you think that after a few minutes of reflection here this morning that you will have a clear answer to either of these questions and that all your wondering will cease, I am afraid that you will be sorely disappointed! Listener alert: the mystery of who God is and who we are will not be solved here today. Just wanted to clear the air on that! That’s how I see this whole doctrine of the trinity too. Sure, there have been efforts to explain it- Father, Son, Holy Spirit… Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer… a three-legged stool… water, ice, steam… all somewhat helpful, but none fully satisfactory or complete. I think that is because answers to those questions around who we are, who God is and what the trinity means all fall under the realm of mystery. Day by day, moment by moment, we get glimpses that keep us searching, wrestling and growing. We never fully arrive.

A section from our United Church Song of Faith says it well:

God is Holy Mystery,

beyond complete knowledge,

above perfect description.

Yet,

in love,

the one eternal God

seeks relationship

with us.

I like also how Barbara Brown Taylor writes “When we dare to think that we have you cornered, O God, we trust you to escape!”

So, this morning, rather than trying to figure out the answers to these questions as if they were math problems to be solved, I invite you to listen to the scriptures and to celebrate the variety of ways we can experience God in loving relationship with us.

Our first reading is from Proverbs. It describes the role of Wisdom as accompanying God in the work of creation and longing to share that experience with any who will listen.

Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31

Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
‘To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.

22 The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
26 when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30     then I was beside him, like a master worker]
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.

Somehow, I imagine wisdom moving through our Thursday morning market, standing next to McIntosh’s strawberries, or on the boardwalk or maybe even at the multiplex, bubbling over with delight as she tells, to all who will listen, of her experience working alongside God at creation. It might be something like those postcards we send when on vacation- “Wish you were here, it is awesomely glorious.” Scripture describes Wisdom’s presence to be like an architect or a little child. I like the little child image- frolicking along as God creates- noticing each new flower and delighting in the fuzzy caterpillars, giggling with joy as God puts that long neck on the giraffe, delighting in the human race, asking questions, splashing in the newborn streams, watching as the mountains rise and the foundations of the earth are brought together and gasping in wonderment and awe. Wisdom is everywhere, inviting us to pay attention to God’s presence and calling us to relish in God’s creation. It challenges us to experience the wondrous joy and playfulness of creation and to find our place within it. It gives us a glimpse of who God is- one who delights in creation, and who we are – people called to appreciate creation’s deep blessing to us as we care deeply for it and pay attention to the needs of all its people through our responsible living.

In much the same way as Wisdom marvels at creation and God’s relationship with it all, so we find the psalmist standing back in awe as the night sky and all its stars are revealed to him. This happens to be one of my most favourite psalms and I think it is such an appropriate one for Trinity Sunday.  It reminds me of the classic Breton fisherman’s prayer: “O God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.” If you have ever looked out over the breadth of the ocean, or gazed at the grandeur of a mountain, you can relate to the words and feelings this psalm invokes:

Psalm 8 (p 732 VU)

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
    Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are humans that you are mindful of them,
mortals] that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God]
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Awe, marvel, wonder at the unfathomableness and incomprehensibility of it all. How can we begin to answer our question- who is God? Who are we? I like how one writer named Stacey Simpson expresses it:

 “The same God that stitched the iridescent feathers onto the littlest hummingbird fashioned a pair of eyelashes for each human baby. The God that painted stripes on the zebra decorated human beings in a wide assortment of shades. The God that spoke the universe into existence breathed life into a clump of dirt. That same God gave us language and emotions and a soul, crowning us with glory and honor.”

A God who is mindful. A God who pays attention to each little detail in creation. Yet, a God who, at one and the same time, chooses to relate to us! Let’s face it- in the grand scheme of creation, in the universe that is bigger and more diverse than we ever thought, filled with billions of galaxies shown to us through the likes of the Hubble Deep Space telescope, we are even less significant than we ever thought. We are only specks. Yet, God cares for us, thinks about us and looks out for us. More than that even, God delights in each and every one of us. Imagine that! How humbling! No wonder the psalmist is blown away! And that is with the naked eye as he looks to the heavens. Surely, through a telescope, he would faint in awe. And it is not just the sky that leaves one feeling this way. Annie Dillard in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek writes:

“Take just the top inch of soil, the world squirming right under my palms.  In the top inch of forest soil, biologists found “an average of 1,356 living creatures in each square foot, including 865 mites, 265 springtails, 22 millipedes, 19 adult beetles, and various numbers of 12 other forms…Had an estimate also been made of the microscopic population, it might have ranged up to two billion bacteria and many millions of fungi, protozoa and algae – in a mere teaspoon of soil”

Who is God? Who are we? How do we fit? What is our place in it all?

These are the questions asked by the psalmist and by each one of us when, with all humility, we simply take the time to be silent, to simply be and to notice it all. In so doing, we realize that each one of us matters. Each one of us, as insignificant as we may feel in the grand scheme of things, are seen and known by God. In turn, we are called to responsibility. We are called to exercise dominion, not in the sense of domination, but in the sense of a phrase I came across this week, “skilled mastery”. It means paying attention to what belongs to God- all creation, all humanity. It means seeing as God sees, caring as God cares and relating as God relates. I like how theologian Rolf Jacobson describes this: “God may hold the whole world in God’s hands but God has entrusted everything under our feet to our care.”

In his departing words to the disciples, Jesus further entrusts this responsibility to them, and ultimately to us, as he reminds them God will not abandon them in his absence. As a community, we will be led forth with the Spirit of truth to guide us and to accompany us to face the future with confidence:

John 16:12-15

 12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

So, my friends, there you have it- some glimpses of who God is and who we are in relationship with God- the one who delights in all creation, including each and every one of us,

the one who calls us to relationship, to connection and entrusts us with responsibility for that creation,

the one who accompanies us with the gift of the Spirit of truth to guide us,

the one who calls us to open our eyes and stand back in awe and delight at our small place and yet, our significant place as co-creators, co-managers with God.

God, beyond complete knowledge,

above perfect description.

Yet,

in love,

the one eternal God, seeking relationship,

with us…

And who are we?…

A people created purposefully by God, loved uniquely, crowned with glory and honour. Called into community- God’s community. Entrusted and guided with the Spirit of Truth as we continue to live into the mystery. Amen.

Minute for Mission:

Lack of transportation can prevent people from accessing the support they need.

 

People stand around a bus shelter at sunset.

Credit: 99mimimi from Pixabay

Published On: May 13, 2022

 

Gill visited Mission & Service partner Our Place Society for her meals every day. At one community meal, she met an outreach worker and inquired about making a meaningful change in her life. But making the changes she needed meant accessing programs in parts of the city she couldn’t easily get to without a bus pass.

Too often, lack of transportation is a significant barrier that prevents people from accessing the support they need. It’s hard to keep appointments, go to school, or visit family and friends with no way to travel. High gas prices, the cost of a vehicle, lack of public transit or a system that does not reach job-rich areas are barriers to creating a better life.

In a recent study, Jeff Allen and Steven Farber, geographers at the University of Toronto, report that in Canada’s eight largest cities, 5 percent of the total population are living in low-income households that are also situated in areas with low transit accessibility. “This totals nearly one million people who are at risk of transport poverty nation-wide,” they write.

What does it mean to not have adequate transportation? Farber told University of Toronto News it’s a mix of disadvantages: socioeconomic status (low income, ill health, being a recent immigrant or elderly) and a lack of access to transportation (being unable to afford a car or to reach destinations easily by transit, for example). *

“The time is right for a national accounting of those living in transport poverty and the development of a national transport and land use strategy.” **

Mission & Service partners working on the ground to alleviate poverty regularly help people access transportation so they can improve their lives. The bus pass project that provided Gill with passes she needed to keep life-changing appointments was supported through the United Church’s Gifts with Vision catalogue. Thank you for your generosity.

 

Let us pray:

God of the galaxies, God of the rivers and oceans, God of mountains, your wisdom is revealed in all of creation, in creatures great and small. As human beings, we marvel at it all and stand back in awe. Like the psalmist, it is so easy to feel insignificant, and yet, you have entrusted us with the care of the earth. We are thankful that you call us into relationship and partnership with you as we do this. Teach us to cherish life and to delight in all your gifts to us. Show us how to live with respect toward all that you have made.

We thank you for the gift of Jesus, for the ways of love and justice he has modelled for us. Teach us to walk in his ways.

We praise you for the gift of the Holy Spirit, our comforter, our guide on the side, the one who imparts to us your truth and presence for our daily living.

As we celebrate this day all the many ways you reveal yourself to us, we bring our prayers to you, for our world, for our loved ones and for ourselves. We lift before you the people of Ukraine as they flee war and violence, as they seek the security of safe places and safe countries. We ask that those who arrive in our province may find the welcome and support they need in the midst of all the fear and uncertainty they have experienced. We pray for the children of our province, many whom are falling through the cracks, unable to receive adequate nutrition, housing or simply the encouragement they need to grow and develop in healthy ways. Give your support to all who work directly to help- people in social services, our teachers and the many parents who struggle under tremendous burdens. Grant wisdom to our leaders to set policies that offer long term solutions rather than stop gap measures. We pray for the many who are burdened this day with anxiety, whose path ahead involves surgery or medical treatments, the many who are coping with loss or change in their lives, whether it be the death of a loved one, the loss of a dream, the loss of employment or a relationship that has been broken. Grant them your comfort. We pray for all who are entering new chapters in their lives- a relocation to a new community or a movement to assisted living, our graduates who are moving on to new dreams, others who are experiencing the life changes that come about through the birth of a child, a new partnership or a retirement.

We pray for our church community, for our United Church of Canada as it moves into the future in the midst of all that has been changed through these pandemic years. Show us a way forward O God, as we seek to live in your name and reach out to the needs that cry for our attention and action.

Hear these our prayers, together with the prayers of each individual heart, as we offer them in the strong name of Jesus, who taught us to pray saying… Our Father…

 

Hymn: 229 VU God of the Sparrow  

Blessing:

May you hear Wisdom’s voice.

May you understand God’s delight in all things.

May you find God’s peace

and may you live God’s joy, this day and every day. Amen

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June 5, 2022

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

We light this one candle to remind us that the light of Christ softens the shadows of our living, calling us to carry forth his love and hope to the world. (light candle)

 

May the light of this Christ candle, kindle a flame in our hearts on this Pentecost Sunday.

Call to Worship:

Come, from every corner of the earth, from every time and place.

We come from south and north, from east and west.

For the Spirit of God is being poured out upon us,

even now, in this place, upon young and old.

Upon the women and the men, slaves and free,

upon each of us here.

Come, let us worship God in the unity of the Spirit.

Let us pray;

God of wind and fire, breathe your Holy Spirit over us again this day.

Help us to better hear one another and untangle the differences we have allowed to divide us.

Bring your renewal and understanding.

May your Spirit give us the power to be the church you had hoped we would be, one body, one people seeking to build your beloved community of justice, mercy, and hope. Amen.

Hymn: 376 VU   Spirit of the Living God  

Prayer of Confession:

Loving God,

your Spirit is all around us, refreshing us, giving energy and hope.

And yet, too often, we do not see it

because we are caught up in our day-to-day affairs.

Hear us as we come to you in a moment of confession.

Hear the honesty of our hearts as we tell you that we are sorry for the times we ignore you.

Come, fill us with your Spirit of newness.

Stir us and equip us to live our lives with you at the centre. Amen.

Words of Affirmation:

The Spirit hovers like a dove of peace over our lives

waiting to give us new gifts each day, calling us to go beyond ourselves,

gathering us into the harmony of love.

When you send your Spirit, we are renewed and restored.

Thanks be to God!

 

Readings and Reflection:

So, What Really is the Miracle of Pentecost?

A volunteer fire fighter heard a siren and raced into action only to discover that the fire was at the local United Church, of which he was a member, but never attended. He and the other firefighters were able to put out the small blaze. While they were cleaning up, the minister came by to thank them for their efforts. He noticed this one volunteer firefighter and he said, “Joe, I know you are a member of our church but this is the first time I’ve seen you here.” Joe replied, “Yeah, well this is the first time I have seen this church on fire.”

Makes me wonder if he had ever been present at a Pentecost Sunday worship! We are all familiar with the story from Acts- tongues as of fire alighting on all the gathered, the sound of rushing wind. People spilling out into the streets. Excitement. Pandemonium. The Spirit pulling out all the stops. It is, at one and the same time, every preacher’s fantasy and every preacher’s fear. Had Joe been there, he would have been more than impressed, I’m sure!

But, what really did it all mean back then? What does it mean to us today? Let’s face it- we get Christmas because it is all cozy and contained. What could be more easily understood and adored than a baby in a manger? The Easter story too. An empty tomb. New life. But Pentecost? What is it all about?

This year, the Pentecost story in Acts is paired with the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis so I thought this might be an interesting way for us to try to explore and attempt to understand the real miracle of Pentecost. So, let’s begin by reading the story from Genesis:

Genesis 11: 1-9

 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and fire them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth, and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

The conventional way of thinking about this story is to see Babel as a tragedy. Most of us are probably familiar with an interpretation of this as God’s punishment on the people for trying to “make a name for themselves” and displacing God. The people are fearful of being scattered so they build this tower to keep them secure. It is a way to keep them the same and in one place. Then they will feel at home. You know how it is… if you travel to an area where no one speaks your language, and then suddenly you hear someone speaking in your native tongue, it makes you feel more secure, like you are back home again. Reminds me a bit of a story I heard about an American tourist in Germany. The tourist had no knowledge of German whatsoever and had wandered off the tourist trail and found himself in a small village where he was having trouble making himself understood. He was about to panic when he was caught in a sneezing fit. A passerby smiled and nodded at him and said, “Gesundheit!” The American rushed after the man and declared, “O good, you speak English!” That’s a little like how I imagine it was for those people building that tower. They wanted the security of sameness. So, it is little wonder then that in the traditional telling of this story, God’s scattering of the people over the face of the earth and separating them into different languages was seen as punishment. It threatened their security.

Yet, let’s look at the story in another way. Do you really think God was threatened by their tower? Somehow, I think not. I wonder if God, in seeing them all huddled together in one place, in a fortress- like tower, God is more concerned about them not learning anything new. Let’s think about that for a minute. If everyone is the same than human pride can be quick to take over. We know what it is like in countries and regimes where “sameness” is the aim of the governing authorities. There is no freedom to be individuals. No freedom to hold an opinion that is different from the controlling leaders. People are under totalitarian control. Think Hitler. Think Stalin. Think modern day. Think any group or organization who by threat of violence, abuse of power or perceived rights to act in ways that harm or discriminate against others incite fear and hatred. Somehow, then, I don’t think it is the tower itself that bothers God in this story. Rather, it is the people’s desire to build uniformity and to stay put, to focus solely on personal security and to not be bothered to branch out. Yet, if you remember, right from the time of creation, it was God’s desire and vision that the people spread out and fill all corners of the earth, caring for all its creatures. What if we see then the scattering and the confusing of their language in this story not as God’s punishment or judgement on the people, but rather God’s renewal of God’s initial will for diversity across the world? In other words, differences of race, language, culture and so on are not problems to be solved but diversity to be celebrated.

The same applies to the traditional line of thinking about our reading from Acts. It has been conventional to interpret what happened at that first Pentecost as the Spirit reversing all the confusion of the tower of Babel. Yet, as I invite you to listen to that familiar story from Acts, with all the wind, flames and sounds, listen to the consequences of what happened that day. The people gathered are all Jewish but they come from many different cultures, languages and ethnicities. Yet, notice one thing. They are not all speaking one language after the Spirit blows through them. The real miracle here is that even in all the diversity, they are able to understand one another:

Acts 2:1-21

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

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

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

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

So, sure, there was a lot happening that day as the Spirit moved through the early church- the disciples went from fear to courage and Peter is emboldened and called to interpret what has happened using a reference from the prophet Joel. Yet, I think the greatest miracle here is that the people were given a fresh capacity to hear and understand one another, to appreciate one another despite the diversity of languages, races and cultures present. In the movement of the Spirit, differences were made holy. It was not that all people learned to speak English. It was that they all heard the gospel of love in their own language and through that language of love, community was formed. It was the celebration of a unity that embraced differences; rather than seeing differences as problems needing solutions.

We can’t help but see how this speaks to us today as we are constantly bombarded by stories of so much that divides us along lines of race, gender, culture, orientation and political leanings. I like how theologian Brian McLaren summarizes this best in a book I have called, We Make the Road by Walking:

“At the tower of Babel, people grasped at godlike power by unifying everyone under one imperial language and culture. At Babel, God opposed that imperial uniformity and voted for diversity by multiplying language. Now, in the Pentecost story, we discover a third option, not unity without diversity and not diversity without unity but unity and diversity in harmony.”

When I think about our churches and our world today, we kind of teeter in between both Babel and that first day of Pentecost in the early church. We are a bit of a mix. At times of crisis, like tragedies, disasters, even pandemics the Holy Spirit’s presence can be so evident as we work together in community to understand each other’s needs despite our differences. At other times though, we retreat back into our Babel towers, our silos of individualism and security and sameness, forgetting our call to risk spilling out into the streets beyond our comfort zones.

The game changer of that Pentecost experience in the early church was that the Holy Spirit did not erase differences but spoke through them. When we think about the experience of the aboriginal residential schools in our country, that is exactly what was forgotten. In an effort to create sameness through assimilation, to take the Indian out of the child, we failed to honour the diversity present. As a result, even today, many aspects of indigeneous cultures and languages in our country have been lost and we are the poorer for it.

What happened that day in the early church was not a “one of” movement of the Holy Spirit. It still happens. The Spirit still moves among us creating community where there were only strangers before, bringing together diverse groups of people, (even like us!) and helping us to listen, to understand and live that language of love despite our differences. Even today, think about it, we are from Florenceville-Bristol, Bath, Centreville, Johnville, Beechwood, Oakland, Perth-Andover, Wicklow, Connell, Williamstown, Glassville, Carlow, Greenfield, Summerfield, Coldstream, Riverbank and all points in between. We have many experiences, many gifts, many opinions and yet, we, through the whoosh of the Holy Spirit, are brought together as one. We belong to one another and just as on that first day of Pentecost in the early church, even though we are unsure, uncertain, fearful by times, wondering and waiting, the Holy Spirit is bursting in upon us, as it always has, coming to us once again, moving among us all. Sure, others may sneer or laugh at us. They may tell us we are full of fanciful ideas and are not dealing with the ‘real world’, but we still remember- God’s Spirit is poured out on all of us in all of our diversity- men, women, young, old, no matter who we are or where we have been. We are called and empowered to create community and to be renewed as we reach out and as we seek to understand our world and one another. Like those early disciples, we need to wait and to be ready to be scattered and recreated.

Pentecost is the time, when we, like the early church in all its diversity, get our marching orders, when we are called to blow our covers, and let the Spirit take the lead. No, maybe it won’t be quite as sensational as it was in those early days of the church. Yet, the winds are still blowing, breaking through barriers, welcoming outsiders, reconciling the separated, embracing “otherness” and energizing us to go into the world to care for all creation and all creatures. And when that happens, when despite our differences, despite our distinctions, we learn to work together toward a common vision, we witness once again, the miracle of Pentecost, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on us, a gift of God’s love for all people.  Amen.  

Minute for Mission:

Thank you so very much for your compassion

A woman in her 30s looks into the camera. In the background we see a room decorated with children's art and toys.

Irina in a refugee shelter

Credit: Fekete Dániel/Hungarian Interchurch Aid

Published On: May 13, 2022

The latest stats released by the United Nations are mind-boggling: More than 12 million people are believed to have fled their homes in Ukraine since the invasion began. Over 5.7 million have left for neighbouring countries, and another 6.5 million people are thought to be displaced inside the war-torn country itself. *

Irina, a trained nurse, is one of these millions of people whose family has been torn apart by war. Her husband, a history teacher, joined the territorial defence in the first days of the occupation. In the beginning, Irina and her five- and eight-year-old children moved in with her parents; because the home didn’t have a basement, they rearranged sofas and furniture to create safe shelter. When a bomb exploded in the neighbourhood, Irina had a tough decision to make. Her parents did not want to leave their beloved home, but as a mother she felt she needed to get her children to safety.

After a lot of agonizing soul-searching, Irina parted with her parents and started walking with her children toward the evacuation point. They were forced to take cover as shelling grew near. Eventually, the family was able to catch a train to western Lviv―a 20-hour journey―and then endured another exhausting 5-hour train ride to Batiovo, Transcarpathia.

In Batiovo they were welcomed into one of 120 refugee centres and shelters. Through bilateral partnership with Hungarian Interchurch Aid held in relationship by ACT Alliance, your generous gifts are helping to provide these centres and shelters with food, water, hygiene products, and household appliances.

There, thousands of people like Irina and her children have found shelter and warm meals, and volunteers are doing what they can to offer support and help keep spirits up. For now, the family isn’t crossing the border; Irina’s husband, sister, and parents are in Ukraine and Irina doesn’t want to leave them farther behind. She recognizes this might not be an option in the future.

In an unimaginably difficult time, your gifts(opens in a new tab) are not only helping to provide necessities, they are also showing the people of Ukraine you care. Thank you so very much for your compassion. Please continue to hold Irina and the people of Ukraine in your prayers.

 

Let us pray:

    Come, Holy Spirit, come

    Response:  Refresh us and renew us.

O God, as we your people gather in this time and space, we await the stirring of your Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit, come.

 Refresh us and renew us.

Come as the wind, blowing through the cobwebs, knocking down barriers, giving us boldness to proclaim your good news to everyone. Come, Holy Spirt, come. Refresh us and renew us.

Come as tongues of fire, alighting on each one of us, burning away all that gets in the way of our experience of you. Come, Holy Spirit, come.

 Refresh us and renew us.

Come bringing hope in the midst of despair, healing in the midst of hurt, comfort in the midst of grief, peace in the midst of war, security in the midst of fear and anxiety. Come, Holy Spirit, come.

 Refresh us and renew us.

Come showing us how to honour and cherish the gifts of one another, teaching us how to use them to reach out beyond ourselves. Come, Holy Spirit, come.

 Refresh us and renew us.

Come helping us to dream your dreams for us, teaching us to listen for ways that we might align our plans and visions with your plans and visions for us. Come, Holy Spirit, come.

 Refresh us and renew us.

Come revealing to us ways that we might respect the rich diversity of each language, culture and race. Gift us with the ability to understand one another. Come, Holy Spirit, come.

 Refresh us and renew us.

Come empowering us to be your people in these challenging times in which we live. Disturb us in our complacency. Restore our confidence. Make us bold in our witness in our everyday lives. Come, Holy Spirit, come.

 Refresh us and renew us.

And together, through your Spirit, lead us your people, to become the change the world needs. We pray trusting in the love and strength of Jesus, saying together… Our Father…

Hymn:  375 VU Spirit of Gentleness  

Blessing: (adapted from David Summerland, in Gathering)

As we leave this time of worship,

remember that the breath of the Spirit goes with us,

enabling us to pay attention to the needs around us,

calling us to use our gifts wisely,

reminding us that forgiveness is possible,

and giving us the strength to meet each day with hope.

We are a Spirit-led people!

We go with boldness, empowered to be God’s people!

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

May 29, 2022

Welcome to worship at Faith Memorial United.

Reminder that next week is Pentecost so be sure to wear red as we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the early church.

This week, Cathy Howatt and I will be attending the Annual Meeting of the Fundy St Lawrence Dawning Waters Region of our United Church. The meeting takes place via zoom on Tue, Thurs and Friday evenings and all day Saturday.

We light the Christ candle as a symbol to remind us that it is through the Holy Spirit, that we, though many, are one in Christ’s love.

Call to Worship: (from Thom Shuman in Lectionary Liturgies)

We come to this place of prayer,
for here we can bring our hopes and dreams,
our hidden fears and the doubts we dare wear on our sleeves.
We come to this place of grace,
for here we learn compassion and joy,
and discover how deeply we are loved.
We come with these people called the church,
to be blessed by the variety of gifts,
to live as one for our God.
Let us pray;

In the unity of your love revealed in Jesus Christ,

we gather as your people, O God.

Your Spirit continues to break forth in new and unexpected ways,

reminding us that you are the One in whom the whole earth rejoices.

In this time of worship and prayer, loosen our chains,

open our hearts that we may hear and respond to the Spirit’s call. Amen.

Hymn: 602 Blest be the Tie that Binds                                   

Prayer of Confession:

Holy God, even as Jesus prays “that all may be one”,

we know that we have a lot of work to do.

Too often we become bound, even imprisoned,

by our fears or distrust of those

who seem different from us in some way.

When our fears bind us,

we forget our calling to be witnesses in the world

of the love of God shown forth in Christ Jesus

and in each of us.

Forgive the times we have chosen not to see or hear others,

for not speaking up on behalf of another

and for speaking too quickly when we should have listened.

Free us, O God, to live with love, open to you and to one another. Amen.

Words of Affirmation:

God’s love is never bound by our limitations and failures.

It rises renewed in each moment, waiting on the pathway of life to offer us grace.

The chains which bind our lives are torn apart by the power of God’s gift of forgiveness.

Thanks be to God!

 That All May Be One

Last week in our reading from Acts, we heard the story of Paul and Silas encountering Lydia and a group of women by the riverside just outside of Philippi. This week Paul and Silas continue to witness to their faith in Philippi yet the reception they receive from the chief magistrates of the city is anything but hospitable. After setting a slave girl free from an evil spirit that allowed her owners to manipulate her for profit, Paul and Silas are beaten and sent to jail for “upsetting our city.” Her owners had lost their source of income from her so they hide their greed behind accusations that Paul and Silas are a threat to the economy and need to be stopped. Even in prison, though, they continue to witness to the freeing power of Jesus. They demonstrate to the jailer that they do not play by the rules of this world. The jailer sees something different in them. He notices their compassion and integrity, their willingness to go the extra mile for him. And as you will see, he wants to know more about the peace and courage they have through their faith in Jesus.

Acts 16:16-34

 16 One day on our way to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl. She had a spirit in her that gave her the power to tell the future. By doing this she made a lot of money for her owners. 17 The girl followed Paul and the rest of us, and she kept yelling, “These men are servants of the Most High God! They are telling you how to be saved.”

18 This went on for several days. Finally, Paul got so upset that he turned and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I order you to leave this girl alone!” At once the evil spirit left her.

19 When the girl’s owners realized they had lost all chances for making more money, they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them into court. 20 They told the officials, “These Jews are upsetting our city! 21 They are telling us to do things we Romans are not allowed to do.”

22 The crowd joined in the attack on Paul and Silas. Then the officials tore the clothes off the two men and ordered them to be beaten with a whip. 23 After they had been badly beaten, they were put in jail, and the jailer was told to guard them carefully. 24 The jailer did as he was told. He put them deep inside the jail and chained their feet to heavy blocks of wood.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing praises to God, while the other prisoners listened. 26 Suddenly a strong earthquake shook the jail to its foundations. The doors opened, and the chains fell from all the prisoners.

27 When the jailer woke up and saw that the doors were open, he thought that the prisoners had escaped. He pulled out his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! No one has escaped.”

29 The jailer asked for a torch and went into the jail. He was shaking all over as he knelt down in front of Paul and Silas. 30 After he had led them out of the jail, he asked, “What must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Have faith in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved! This is also true for everyone who lives in your home.”

32 Then Paul and Silas told him and everyone else in his house about the Lord. 33 While it was still night, the jailer took them to a place where he could wash their cuts and bruises. Then he and everyone in his home were baptized. 34 They were very glad they had put their faith in God. After this, the jailer took Paul and Silas to his home and gave them something to eat.

No wonder the jailer was curious about Paul and Silas after that experience! After all, the natural thing for them to have done after the earthquake unlocked the prison doors would have been to run out as fast as one could and let the jailer face the consequences of their escape. But they chose to stay. It was that courage to do the unexpected thing that impressed the jailer. They had gone the extra mile for him. Their witness to the love of Jesus in that action had a profound effect on the jailer- profound enough that he wanted to learn more about this Jesus.

In our gospel lesson, Jesus is at the last supper with the disciples on Maundy Thursday, just prior to his arrest. In the past couple of weeks as we have read from this part of John, called the farewell discourse, Jesus has been preparing them for his departure. He has promised them comfort and guidance through the coming of the Holy Spirit. Now, as his time is running out, we find him in prayer for them and for us as we continue to make his compassion and teachings known through our witness in the world. It is a bit of a rambling prayer in spots. Nonetheless, as I read it, I invite you to listen to it as if you are overhearing him pray for you and for us as a congregation as we, like Paul and Silas, witness to our faith in the midst of the challenging times in which we live.

John 17: 20-26

20 I am not praying just for these followers. I am also praying for everyone else who will have faith because of what my followers will say about me. 21 I want all of them to be one with each other, just as I am one with you and you are one with me. I also want them to be one with us. Then the people of this world will believe that you sent me.

22 I have honored my followers in the same way you honored me, in order that they may be one with each other, just as we are one. 23 I am one with them, and you are one with me, so they may become completely one. Then this world’s people will know that you sent me. They will know that you love my followers as much as you love me.

24 Father, I want everyone you have given me to be with me, wherever I am. Then they will see the glory you have given me, because you loved me before the world was created. 25 Good Father, the people of this world don’t know you. But I know you, and my followers know that you sent me. 26 I told them what you are like, and I will tell them even more. Then the love you have for me will become part of them, and I will be one with them.

Those of you who are familiar with our United Church of Canada will know that these words of Jesus in this prayer “that all may be one” are inscribed at the bottom of our crest in Latin (check it out as you leave this morning, it is on our glass door at the entrance). Just think about that though- Jesus has one final prayer to offer God. He could have prayed that they not be led into temptation. He could have prayed that they believe the right things. He could have prayed that all would be smooth sailing for them in his absence. Or that all their efforts at spreading the gospel would be met with success. No, none of the above. He prays that they all may be one.

 But what exactly is this “oneness” that Jesus is praying for in this passage? Does he mean uniformity? Is he saying that we all need to be the same? Or that we all need to have the same opinion and agree with one another 100% of the time? Or that we even need to like each other all the time? I hope not! Let’s face it, even at the last supper there was a great deal of division among the gathered disciples… James and John jockeying for position, Judas plotting his betrayal, Peter having second thoughts.

Does unity mean that we all need to agree all the time? Somehow, I think that would be rather boring! No, I think what Jesus had in mind when he prayed that all may be one was that those who follow him, including us, might know ourselves as loved by God and connected to God as he was. Then, through our witness to others, we would become the instruments through which that love might be made known in the world. It was not about being the same, but rather it was about having the same purpose or vision. Ralph Milton illustrates how sameness can lead to problems:

Caterpillars are known to follow the next caterpillar ahead of them, no matter where the caterpillar is going. A naturalist decided to put a bunch of caterpillars together in a neat circle, each touching the other one ahead. Faithful to their DNA, each followed the next. In the middle of the circle, some of the caterpillars’ favourite food was placed. The naturalist wondered whether they would stop following even for a moment, just for a bite of lunch. Not on your life! The food was within 2 inches, but they kept on following each other in circles until they died in hunger.

In his prayer for unity, Jesus was not praying for this kind of conformity. He was not praying that we would all be cookie cutter followers. He knew we would all have different gifts. He knew that those who would follow were thinking people. Opinionated people. They did not all look alike or act alike. The same with us. The unity Jesus was speaking about was the unity that they had in their love toward one another and toward God, a love that would move them to respect differences, while at the same time, inspire them toward a common mission. It’s the kind of love Paul and Silas would later show toward their fellow prisoners as they sang and prayed together even while shackled in chains. It’s the same love that caused them to care for the jailer by not escaping the prison even though the doors were unlocked. It was a love and a unity that made people curious, that helped make the gospel attractive to others.

Somewhere this week I heard it expressed like this: the best testimony of the truth of the gospel is the quality of our life together; how we live and care for one another. It has the power to draw people together to God’s way. If it is not evident, we can push people away. How we live together in community is the most persuasive sermon we ever get to preach. I think this is perhaps more like what Jesus meant when he prayed “that all may be one.”

As I was thinking about what kind of witness of unity we are making to the world through our faith community, I was reminded of the time when I was serving in ministry in a small town in Quebec. As a United Church congregation, we worked together as part of a grouping of clergy and lay persons from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Presbyterian churches in our town. Together, we worked to develop a breakfast program for the various schools, a community wide Remembrance Service held on the Sunday closest to Remembrance Day at the elementary school auditorium. On that day, we closed our own church buildings so we could worship together with all ages present and very much involved in the service. On Labour Day Sunday each year all these churches came together in a local park for a worship service and picnic. On Good Friday, we marched a 10-foot cross through the streets of the town, stopping at each of the 4 churches and the nursing home for brief reading of one section of the Passion story. On Easter Sunday at sunrise, we shared a common communion service together at the gazebo on the banks of the river and then shared in a simple breakfast together. It was not that we didn’t come with our own perspectives into these groupings. We all had our denominational way of doing things. We still had our own liturgies and styles of worship. Still, though, through these worship services and projects, I think we modelled something of the kind of unity Jesus envisioned for his followers in that prayer. We gave testimony by our actions that we were not Lone Rangers. As I look back on that experience these many years later, I pray that somehow we made the way of Christ look attractive to others in that community.

On the other hand, of course, we can all cite examples where disunity in our faith communities has turned others away.  Sort of like the story I came across about a woman who went into a restaurant and starting chatting with the waitress over the meal. Somehow the topic came around to churches and she asked the waitress if she went to church anywhere. Definitely not, was her firm answer. Those “church people” come into the restaurant and are always fighting about something, and they are the meanest, most demanding and worst tippers of anyone around.  That little story reminds me of that old adage that no matter how much the Bible is read and quoted, no matter how beautiful and inspiring the worship may be, unless we can show that we are guided by a similar love and sense of connection that Jesus and God shared with each other and that Jesus demonstrated to the world, our witness will fail.

When I think about the jailer in our Acts reading, it was that something different in Paul and Silas that drew him in deeper.  He reached a point where he wanted what they had- that ability to go the extra mile, that courage and freedom to act in ways that went counter to what might be expected within the power structures of their day. I think the actions of Paul and Silas in that prison cell are but one example of that last prayer of Jesus being lived out in a real-world setting. It demonstrated that they were empowered by the same liberating Spirit that was in Jesus.

That all may be one. No wonder that for nearly 100 years now, that has been our motto as the United Church of Canada. It’s what Jesus wants for his disciples, for us and for all who come after us. It’s what is at the heart of our merging together as a new congregation. It’s the message of unity in God that we seek to convey to the community at large. It is how we seek to make Christ’s love visible in the midst of so much brokenness and injustice in our world. And as the familiar folk song says it best, it is how we “spread the news that God is in our land.” Amen

Minute for Mission

The name calling started when she was about three years old.

Four young children wearing masks sit together at the top of a playground slide.

Credit: kali9/iStock

The following is an excerpt from a blog written by Adele Halliday. Your Mission & Service gifts support anti-racism programs and initiatives like the ones Halliday develops as the United Church’s Anti-Racism and Equity Lead to help all of us be in deeper, more equitable relationships with one another.

The name calling started when she was about three years old. They were racial slurs, and names, and taunts. My child, my own flesh and blood, was being ostracized for having Black skin. The people slinging the insults? Other children on the playground….

She may not have necessarily always understood the particular terms that they used, but she knew that it was related to her Blackness and her racial identity. And this deeply wounded her tender heart….

Despite all of our intentional modelling, teaching, and proactive actions, our child is still already developing internalized racism and inferior notions of herself.

The children who were taunting her were offering explicit and overt notions of racism, but they were children! They had not even started primary school! And yet, the children had already learned behaviour (at home, or elsewhere in society) that Whiteness is superior. And, they had the audacity to vocalize that to an innocent little child….

This is in part why I am so deeply committed to dismantling racism in all its forms—racism is damaging and destructive for all people in society. It reinforces negative notions for people of colour. I live it in a particular way because of my own racial identity, as a Black person who has lived with racial injustice my entire life.

The systemic nature of racism is something that cannot be ignored…. This effort to overcome racism is a continuous effort. And I am committed to this work for the long haul. I hope that you will be too.

Let us pray:

God of freedom and new life, we come before you this morning longing to live in the spirit of unity that Christ desires for us and for all the world. In the face of so much that can easily discourage us- like the unimaginable shooting of innocent children in an elementary school and the ongoing racial prejudice and violence that captures the news headlines, we need your help in finding ways to transform this broken world with your love. Show us ways that we might speak words of compassion to the voiceless and the vulnerable ones. Teach us to listen and to respect our differences. We pray for all who live in fear and cry for release from oppressive forces that seek to control. We pray for those who are snared in abuse, in unhealthy and unloving relationships, those trafficked and exploited by others. Help us to break the chains. We pray for all who are innocent victims of war, violence and power. We pray for all who are trapped in the suffering of illness or anxiety, in the cycles of addiction, who seek peace of mind, and a reminder that they are not alone. May we find ways to support and encourage them through our words and actions. We pray for all those in helping professions, those who work for organizations that seek to reach out to all people whose living is not the fullness you long for. We pray for ourselves this day, O God, and for our loved ones. We pray for our faith community as we strive to find new ways to live in your love, reaching out and serving the needs that are presenting. We ask that your Holy Spirit might guide the actions of our Regional Meeting this week. Stir your wisdom within the hearts of all who gather over zoom that together we might work for a world where diversity is celebrated, where love is lived and where the weakest and the most vulnerable are cared for.

These prayers, together with the prayers of each of hearts, we offer in the name of Jesus, who taught us to pray in one voice, saying together… Our Father… 

Hymn: 691VU Though Ancient Walls 

Blessing

Be as one with one another just as God is one with us.

We go forth to share the Good News

building bridges where once there were walls,

so that all the world might see the love of God at work within us and among us.

Then truly they will know we are Christians by our love. Amen.

 

 

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

 

May 22, 2022

Welcome to worship on this 6th Sunday of the Easter Season. One more week of Easter left and then…

On June 5 we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the early church community on Pentecost Sunday.

Don’t forget to wear red on June 5!

 

Enjoy the rest of this Victoria Day weekend!

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

In the name of Jesus who, through the Spirit, comes alongside us in our fears and uncertainties, we light this candle to remind us there is light for the way.

Call to Worship:

Come, pause and look for God’s presence.

We are looking and listening.

Come, be open and responsive to God’s possibilities.

We are ready to be shaped and reshaped by new visions.

Come, drink fresh waters from the river of life.

We join with generation upon generation in worshipping God.

Opening Prayer:(in unison)

Ever guiding Spirit,

open us to the paths you call us to travel.

Open us to the ones with whom you would have us minister.

May we welcome one another with hearts of grace,

offering support and encouragement,

so that together, we may be hospitable to your purposes. Amen.                             

Hymn: 603 VUIn Loving Partnership We Come 

Prayer of Confession:

God of diversity and detail,

the wonders of your creation amaze us.

Yet we confess we often fail to honour its beauty and variety

in the details of our lives.

Often, we don’t think to visit those

who live across rivers of cultural differences,

with lifestyles and habits that are different.

When voices differ in opinion, we listen to those we agree with.

We fail to honour experience different than our own.

We resist calls to honour the earth as if it were ours for the taking.

Forgive our narrow perspectives.

Open our eyes and our hearts to the pain and perspectives of others,

and renew us all with your healing grace. Amen

Words of Affirmation

Jesus said, “My peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

May his forgiveness set us at peace with God and ourselves, helping us to make peace with one another. Amen

             

Readings and Reflection

Growing Together in Ministry

“Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” I am not sure who penned those words but from our own life experiences most of us can probably describe at least one time when these words rang true for us. We make preparations, we lay foundations and we expect things to unravel in a certain way and then life takes us in a whole different route. It happens with our work or careers. It happens with our relationships. It happens with our health or the health of a loved one. A move, a death, an illness, a break up or any number of unforeseen events or experiences and suddenly we find ourselves pushed in a new direction. Things shift. We are called to navigate uncharted waters, often without the necessary tools. It can feel like an expression I heard this week, as if we are “canoeing up mountains.” The strategies and navigational instruments that we used to rely on are no longer working for us.

Certainly, the experience of these pandemic years has been one instance of this that we all hold in common. Every time we tried to make plans we were diverted. Ask any couple who tried to plan a wedding over these past months. In our churches we have found ourselves going from plan “a” to plan “b” and sometimes even to plan “c” when it has come to worship and meetings. If nothing else, we have learned something about being nimble and adaptable.

In our reading from Acts this morning, Paul also was one who had his plans thwarted. He and his companions had intended to travel in the direction of Asia Minor, only to be blocked by the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, as that door closed, another one opened. Let’s listen as Paul responds to a vision that changes the direction of his intended journey:

Acts 16:9-15

 A vision of a man from Macedonia came to Paul during the night. He stood urging Paul, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 Immediately after he saw the vision, we prepared to leave for the province of Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

11 We sailed from Troas straight for Samothrace and came to Neapolis the following day. 12 From there we went to Philippi, a city of Macedonia’s first district and a Roman colony. We stayed in that city several days. 13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the riverbank, where we thought there might be a place for prayer. We sat down and began to talk with the women who had gathered. 14 One of those women was Lydia, a Gentile God-worshipper from the city of Thyatira, a dealer in purple cloth. As she listened, the Lord enabled her to embrace Paul’s message. 15 Once she and her household were baptized, she urged, “Now that you have decided that I am a believer in the Lord, come and stay in my house.” And she persuaded us.

And speaking of plans being shaken up and thrown out the window, think of the disciples as Jesus prepares them for his absence. This was not how the disciples thought things would play out. They had pinned all their hopes, their very lives on following Jesus. Now they are afraid and confused, unsure about what is next, wondering if they will survive or disband, anxious about what will become of them in his absence. Listen as Jesus offers them reassurance in the midst of the transition that is about to take place:

John 14:23-29

23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words, and the word that you hear is not mine but is from the Father who sent me.

25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now, I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur you may believe.

In both of these passages, waiting and listening for the Holy Spirit is key. For Paul and his companions, it is the Spirit that calls him to a new place and among a group of women who were worshipping together by the river outside of Philippi. For the disciples it is the Spirit that would bind them together for the way forward as they continued on in Jesus’ ministry after his departure. The growth of the early church was about working together as a team. It meant partnering with the Spirit as they listened for direction and as they learned to lean on one another for support along the way.

Following the Spirit’s lead, Paul and his companions find Lydia. If you really think about it, Paul and Lydia were two people with very little in common. We might imagine Paul hearing Lydia and her small group praying or singing down by that riverside. Somehow, they hit it off as they start talking about God. At this point Lydia is a “God-fearer” which meant that she was a Gentile attracted to Judaism but was not yet ready to make a commitment of conversion. As an independent businesswoman who dealt in purple cloth, a cloth purchased by only the wealthy, Lydia had considerable influence in her community. As she listens to Paul speaking about Jesus and the things that Jesus did and said, Lydia is open and receptive. I imagine her sharing some of her stories of faith with Paul too. Her openness leads to her baptism as well as the baptism of others in her household. She then opens her home in a gesture of hospitality for Paul and his companions. From this simple conversation between two very different people with very different backgrounds and experiences, a spirit of interdependence and mutuality forms. As a result, the church grows in Philippi and spreads throughout Europe.

So much of what happened there was about being open to the leading of the Holy Spirit coming alongside both Paul and Lydia. From their collaborative efforts and in knowing that they were companioned and ministered to by each other, the church was propelled to expand beyond boundaries of culture, geography and economic backgrounds. Let’s face it- even the very site where Paul was called to go was not a traditional church building but a riverside setting. He didn’t wait for them to come to him. He went to where they were. When he arrived, he didn’t charge in and take over the meeting of those women who were gathered there. He listened first to what they had to say. He honoured them as he participated with them in their worship. He developed a relationship with them and together, they built bridges and fostered community. It was very much a team effort of hospitality and generosity.

It is a great model for us as we complete our work of merging our communities of faith; a work we began prior to the pandemic. True discipleship involves that same kind of mutuality that Paul and Lydia showed us- listening to one another’s perspectives and finding ways of sharing our gifts for ministry in these changing times. Only in standing together as equal partners and in letting ourselves be thrust into new conversations with people we may never have met before will new possibilities unfold for us as a new congregation. This is especially important for us to do as we emerge from these pandemic times. It is good for us to be thinking about where, like Paul and his companions, the Spirit might be closing one door so that another might be opened. Where might God be leading us and how are we being called to support each other on the journey? What new partnerships are we being called to embrace in our community? How are we being called to stand together as a people of faith?

Lately, I have been enjoying a book by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer entitled Braiding Sweetgrass. As an indigenous botanist, she weaves together her scientific knowledge with indigenous wisdom and teaching about plants. As she says, “plants tell their stories not by what they say, but by what they do.” In what seems like good advice to us as many of us are planting flowers and vegetables at this time of the year, she calls us to look closer at the natural world and try to become part of it rather than existing outside of it.

In one of her chapters, she speaks about The Three Sisters- corn, beans and squash.  By the time European settlers arrived in America in the early 1600s, the Iroquois had been growing the “three sisters” for over three centuries. The vegetable trio sustained the Native Americans both physically and spiritually. In legend, the plants were a gift from the gods, always to be grown together in a mound of soil about a square foot, eaten together, and celebrated together.

Each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. Together, the sisters provide a balanced diet from a single planting. 

  • As older sisters often do, the corn grows tall and offers the beans needed support.
  • The beans, the giving sister, pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil for the benefit of all three. 
  • As the beans grow through the tangle of squash vines and wind their way up the cornstalks into the sunlight, they hold the sisters close together.
  • The large leaves of the sprawling squash protect the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and preventing weeds.
  • The prickly squash leaves also keep away raccoons, which don’t like to step on them.

Robin describes the lesson of these Three Sisters as a model of what a community can become when its members understand and share their gifts. Together, they are greater than when they are alone. They represent balance and harmony as they both give and receive in a reciprocal way. Each plant respects and supports the other. In drought and crisis, they lean on each other. Each cooperates with the other without competing. Each is adaptable and willing to work in partnership to increase the growth of the whole.

For the anxious disciples facing Jesus’ departure and for Paul and Lydia and their companions in ministry, it was the Holy Spirit that made this kind of growth possible. What a great reminder this is to us in these challenging times of transition and uncertainty as well. We are not alone. There is a guide on our side, to support us as we ask questions and move into new possibilities. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we have one who comes to remind us of Jesus’ teachings, and most of all, one in whom we can find the reassurance we need as we grow together in ministry. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Minute for Mission

Somalia is going through its worst drought in 40 years.

 

A masked woman puts packets into the shopping bag of another masked woman holding a baby.

Suheyb and his mother Hodan receiving nutritional supplements.

Credit: Trócaire

Published On: April 19, 2022

Hodan has three children. Her husband works as a charcoal burner and is the family breadwinner. He works hard but the $3‒$5 he makes each day just isn’t enough. Eight months ago, the family had a farm. But all their livestock died during a devastating drought, and they had no choice but to leave their home to try to find help.

In Somalia, one in seven children die before the age of five. Therapeutic feeding centres dot the country, but they are overwhelmed. The country is going through its worst drought in 40 years, and more than half a million farmers and herders have lost their crops and animals. Humanitarian agencies say they have less than 3 percent of the money they need to help. *

That’s why for the last three years, in partnership with Development and Peace‒Caritas Canada and Canadian Foodgrains Bank, your generosity through Mission & Service has been supporting a nutrition program in the Gedo region of Somalia. There, families receive nutrition education, supplements, and treatment for malnutrition in healthcare facilities.

Hodan’s son Suheyb was badly malnourished when she brought him to the health facility for care. She had already tried everything she could on her own and he wasn’t getting better. For just over a month, Suheyb received treatment. In the end, he got better.

“I never imagined that my child would recover,” says Hodan. “I am very happy to see my child’s health improve. I will continue to give him his therapeutic food regularly.”

Even though there’s enough food to feed everyone on the planet, conflict, climate change, disasters, and unjust systems that strip people of their resources mean that each of us has to be strongly committed to achieve the goal of a world without hunger. Please continue to provide immediate support and advocate for long-term solutions. Together, we can build a better world. Thank you.

Let us pray:

Loving and gracious God, as the beauty of the springtime earth unfolds all around us, we give thanks for the ways you renew us as your people. Day by day, your Holy Spirit nudges us, in thoughts and ideas, in conversations, calling us and sending us out in new directions. You invite us to share our gifts and our talents, celebrating and blending them with the gifts of others, working in partnership to reach out and to spread your good news to others. We want to make a difference, God. Help us to be open and ready and willing to shift our own plans that we might follow in the directions in which you call us to go.

We give thanks for the many partnerships that are forming in this world… for people in our own communities who are working together to provide students food through breakfast programs and lunch programs at our schools, for others who are packing food for backpacks, for folks who deliver meals for shut ins, for the many who simply see a need in our community and step up to help. We pray for places where people are offering food, clothing, shelter, financial gifts and all different kinds of assistance to the people of Ukraine as they seek settlement from the atrocities of war. God, there are so many places in this world where healing is needed, where people cry for peace with justice and where hopelessness abounds. Send your Spirit of wisdom and courage that the hearts of leaders might break open and order might be restored. Protect all who face racist attitudes and actions in their daily lives. Send your healing and comforting presence on all who know sickness and pain, all who travel through journeys of uncertainty, all who are feeling overwhelmed by life. In the silence of our hearts, we name people and situations that need our prayers this day….

O God, hear these our prayers as we offer them in the name of Jesus Christ, who reassures us and promises accompaniment through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Together, we pray as he has taught us saying… Our Father…

 

Hymn: 605 VUThe Church of Christ in Every Age 

 

Blessing

Go forward this day:

ready to find God in the world,

willing to see God at work in intriguing and unexpected ways,

in surprising places, among surprising people.

Listen for those nudges.

Go forth with faith. Go forth with love.

And may Christ’s peace go with you.

 

Amen

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

May 15, 2022

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

We gather the name of Jesus, who through his life and boundary breaking love, calls us to imagine a world where all are welcome and included. May the lighting of this candle remind us of his light that opens us to new ways of seeing. (light candle).

Call to Worship:

In a world of ‘us and them’,
God invites us to embrace.

In a world that divides and boxes people into categories or groups,
Christ invites us to embrace.

In our lives, full of petty grudges and neglected relationships,
The Spirit invites us to embrace.

So come all you who yearn for deeper living.

With one voice, one joy, one faith, one love,

we worship God together.

Let us pray:

We praise you, O God, for the gift of creation and the surprise of re-creation.

Open our eyes to see new things.

Open our minds to think fresh thoughts.

Open our communities to welcome new partners.

Open our spirits to follow your Spirit. Amen.

Hymn: 217 VU All Creatures of our God and King 

Prayer of Confession:

God of all people,
our hearts are too narrow,
our perspectives are too small.

Our boundaries are too fixed and settled.

We reject those who are not like us—
those with different political opinions,
those who struggle with mental illness,
those who disagree with us,

those who challenge our values and traditions.

We forget that your Spirit calls us to another way,

breaking down our barriers and crashing through our comfort zones,

calling us to live in God’s way,

loving without conditions,

pushing back the walls of our community

to make room for all.

Forgive us then, O God,

the narrow-mindedness that excludes,

the tendency to disapprove and judge,
the many ways we have failed
to be a people known by our love.
Show us how to be more caring.
Teach us how to love one another,
and make us faithful disciples. Amen.

Words of Affirmation:

Though we wander from the path, God is in our midst making all things new.

Christ comes bearing life, light, truth and new life to us all.

We are living in God’s new creation. Thanks be to God.

 

Readings and Reflection:

Loving Beyond Distinctions

Last week, as you might recall, we were given a glimpse of Tabitha’s bridge building ministry among the widows of Joppa. This week our readings continue in a similar vein as the Spirit breaks into the early Christian community prodding and challenging them to network and reach out beyond themselves. It is important to remember that in its beginning, after Jesus’ resurrection, the church was a sect of Judaism. No doubt, it might have been very easy and comfortable to stay in that mindset. However, the Spirit of God kept pushing them in new directions, drawing the circle wider and wider and encouraging the people through visions to embrace new ideas and people of different backgrounds. As we can relate to even today, these changes were not always welcome. Often, as the Spirit took the lead in calling the church to new areas of ministry where they never would have gone if left to their own devices, the people were found to be kicking and screaming and dragging their heels. In many instances, it meant letting go of what they had been taught and being open to a whole new reality.

This is the context of our reading from Acts this morning. There is tension in the air as Peter is called on the carpet for eating “unclean” food with “unclean” people, namely the Gentiles. While this might sound rather silly as we look at it with our 21st century eyes, what Peter had done was a big deal, a life and death issue. That’s because dietary codes dating back to Leviticus defined what could and could not be eaten by followers of Judaism. They also restricted these same followers from having table fellowship with non-Jews. These purity codes, as they were called, reinforced their identity as a people set apart to honour God and receive God’s deliverance. Yet, through a vision that Peter had and through his recounting of that story, this way of life based on purity and separation starts to unravel.

Peter’s action though, in sharing table fellowship with Gentiles, needs some explaining. The authorities are not happy with him. Probably this was the first time the church uttered those famous words, Tut, tut, Peter, that’s not the way we do things around here.” Yet, through the power of his story, Peter expands their vision of who is in and who is out. Let’s listen as he recounts it to them:

Acts 11:1-18

 Now the apostles and the brothers and sisters who were in Judea heard that the gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance, I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners, and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely, I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

In our Gospel reading, we rewind to the night before the crucifixion when Jesus gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room. It is an intense moment. The disciples are unsure of what is next. They have left everything to follow him and now, he is speaking about his arrest and departure from them. In the midst of the uncertainty, the disciples are feeling pretty vulnerable. In what has often been described as a short passage with a big message, Jesus speaks to the disciples’ fear and disorientation, preparing them to carry on after his departure:

John 13: 31-35

31 When he (Judas) had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and as I said to the Jews so now, I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

As I was reflecting on these two readings, I remembered an old story about a teacher who took his class out for a walk one spring evening. At the end of the evening, they gathered around a campfire. The teacher asked, “At what point does the night end and the day begin?”

The answers came back

         “When you can tell the difference between your dog and a wolf at 50 paces?”

         “No,” the teacher said.

         “When it is light enough to tell by the leaves overhead whether you are sitting under an oak or a maple?”

         “No,” the teacher said again.

         Then he said, “It is when one looks into the eyes of another and sees a sister or brother. Then day has begun.”

In other words, that is the turning point. It is based on love and acceptance of the other. That’s the turning point Peter had reached as a result of his vision of the sheet with all the animals on it and the Spirit of God calling him not to make a distinction between clean and unclean. From that experience, Peter explains how his perception changed. He had to let go of what he had earlier been taught. As he told his story to those who were questioning him, they too, had to rethink what it might mean to think about their faith community in a new way; a way that now would mean that Gentiles were no longer “outsiders”. I like thinking about how the change came over those who, at first, were rather indignant about what Peter had done. Yet, all the while, Peter attests that what happened was not his own doing. It was the prodding of the Spirit. As he concluded, “Who am I to hinder God?” It was only as they listened to his testimony, his story, that their blinders were removed and they began to praise God. It took the sharing of this real-life experience for them to be persuaded that God did not intend for anyone to be excluded from God’s love. On that day, the boundaries and distinctions started to lift and expand. Soon, Paul would declare that in Christ there could be no distinction between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, woman and man. Yet, even in the church and in our world today, we wrestle to make this real. Like the story of the Sneetches by Dr. Seuss that I sent out to you earlier this week, we are still fond of slapping labels on people and setting up boundaries that divide people into categories of “us” and “them”. Like those gathered around Peter as he recounts his experience, we too need to hear stories that challenge and expand our understandings, that push us in new directions even when, at first, they seem daunting and downright frightening. As Jesus counselled his disciples at the Last Supper, love for one another needs to be our guiding principle. It sounds like the simplest of commandments but as we all know from experience that love is hard work. It is not instinctive. It has to be learned. As Jesus implies it is not acting ‘as if’ we love by doing and saying nice or kind things while biting our tongues or continuing to keep our own circles small and manageable, but loving as he loved- welcoming the stranger, bending down to wash another’s feet, sharing a meal, being present, feeding the hungry, associating with those whom others label as outsiders, bridging divides and distinctions. It means being vulnerable. It means being ready, as Peter was, to face the possibility of opposition from others who may criticize our actions and call us on the carpet because of our associations.

As Jesus prepares to leave the disciples, he could have said any number of things to them. He could have said- keep the faith or teach or preach or give money or believe certain things. But what he said was love one another as I have loved you. That was the key to reorienting their lives in the new reality after his death.

That’s also the lesson Peter received through his vision. It was a call to love without distinction and to make that the central part of faith. But so often, as Peter and others in that early church community discovered, sometimes that kind of love involves letting go of long- held points of view and rethinking preconceived notions. I think of the many ways that our pandemic experience has caused us to rethink the “ways” we do church, especially as we lived and worshipped outside the walls of our church buildings. As a result, many of us are still rethinking and wondering how to build bridges to the broader community of which we are a part. Who knows, maybe much like the early church as it broadened its vision as it sought to live in the spirit and power of the risen Christ, we too will look back on this common experience of these past two years and see it as a watershed moment for us, a turning point that helped us rethink our identity and pushed us in new directions, helping us to embrace those whose life experience is different than our own.

After all, isn’t that the point of Easter- to tell the story, to share where God’s Spirit is continuing to prod us today and push us beyond where we have been, to break down all the many boundaries and distinctions that keep us separated from one another?

As our curriculum says: “God has done, and still does, new things in our midst. God seeks individuals like us, and communities like us willing to risk new ways of seeing and receiving.” The story of God is still unfolding. Sometimes, yes, we will find ourselves kicking and screaming as we are called to places and ideas that we may never have considered before or to embrace people we never would have thought of embracing.  Sometimes like Peter we will have some explaining to do as the circle widens and the bridges are built. Yet, as Peter proclaims, who are we to hinder God? For when the Spirit leads, all we can do is follow in love. Amen.

Minute for Mission:

“I feel belonging because of the garden. It has changed my life.”

             Video: https://youtu.be/z3NQJh0HxDs

One in nine people around the world are going hungry according to the United Nations. Since the pandemic struck, 40 percent more people in need of a nutritious meal have turned to the Fred Victor Centre, a Mission & Service partner, for help. That’s one of the reasons why the 240 community gardens it runs are so important.

“Every day, we’ll see 250‒300 people standing outside for food. That is all the encouragement we need to keep growing and cooking. We donate most of the fruits and vegetables to our kitchen, and our participants get fresh veggies and support from us,” says Ashrafi, Fred Victor’s Garden centre coordinator.

Today, over 200 families, many living in poverty, grow their own nutritious food at Fred Victor’s gardens thanks to generous supporters like you. But there’s more to the gardens than the food.

Ashrafi says children learn where food comes from by gardening, and participants tell her they feel less stress and pain, have more energy, and meet new friends because of the gardens.

“People from different cultural backgrounds share their vegetables and herbs with each other. Through sharing, they come to appreciate each other. At the core, we are all the same,” she says.

The garden has changed Ashrafi’s life, too.

“As an immigrant, I came here feeling isolated. My family didn’t know where to start. But now I feel I’m standing on my own feet and I know the community. Every day when I walk home from work everyone says, ‘Hi Ashrafi, how are you?’ They make my day happier. I feel belonging because of the garden. It has changed my life. Thank you for your support.”

Let us pray:

O God, again and again, you call us to imagine a new kind of world- one where all are welcome, where all have enough food and water, one where all people can live without fear and hatred, war and violence, a world where love for one another is the dominant value. Inspire us once again, O God, with that vision. May our hearts and eyes always be open to new ways of seeing and feeling things. Show us how to walk in another’s shoes and to appreciate their world view so that walls of discrimination and prejudice that we hold might be cast aside. Teach us ways of being together and working together despite our many differences. Show us how to weave together the world’s many strands, differences of race, culture and creed, that we might tell the story of your love for us and witness to your world renewed. O God, let there be new visions among us.

Let there be peace in our world, in our relationships, in our families and neighbourhoods. May words of hatred be left in the past. May weapons of warfare be cast aside. Bring healing to the many who are ill, the many who are discouraged or depressed, the many who are challenged by so many burdens that are weighing heavy upon them. We remember especially the people of Ukraine in the midst of so much destruction and disarray as they worry for family members and their safety. May they find hope in the welcoming arms of the many who are striving to meet their needs. We remember communities in our country where fires and floods prevail and all the first responders who are coming to their aid. We pray for all who are suffering in the midst of the prejudice and discrimination of others, the many who feel like outsiders looking in, never fully welcomed or included. We pray for families and individuals who are struggling financially in the face of the rising cost of living, the food banks, breakfast and lunch programs, community gardens who are seeking to fill in the gaps.

O God, let there be a new heaven and a new earth, a new beginning, for us, for this world, and may your Spirit take the lead in prodding us to follow boldly. May it be so. We offer these prayers in the Spirit of Christ’s love, praying as one voice saying… Our Father…

Hymn: 154 VU Deep in Our Hearts  

Blessing:

Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Go out in love, to serve and to find ways to love all whom you meet this week.

And in so doing, may others know that we are Christ’s disciples. Amen.

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

 

 

May 8, 2022

Greetings to everyone on this Christian Family Sunday.

To all the Moms out there Happy Mothers Day.

Dorothy Bishop is taking orders or renewals for Broadview magazine until the end of the week. Cost is $25.00 for this multi award winning magazine.

Session meeting is next Sunday, May 15 after in person worship

Sympathy of the congregation is extended to Connie and Bob Fleming and Clifford and Eileen Crain on the death of sister Alta Wright.

 

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

We light the Christ candle today as a symbol of the presence of the One who, like a shepherd, guides us to paths of living water and restores our souls. (light candle)  

Call to Worship: (based on Psalm 23)

We gather with the people of God, to worship the One who provides what we need, not just what we want.

God is our Shepherd.

With God at our side, we need not fear even when we walk through the shadowed valleys of life.

God’s love in Christ reaches out to us and builds bridges among us.

When the burdens of the world rest on our shoulders,

God puts things in perspective, bringing comfort and strength.

In life, in death, in life beyond death, God’s goodness and mercy shall follow us.

For we will always live in the presence of God.

Let us praise God together!

Let us pray: (in unison)

O God, from rushing to and fro,

we gather now as people of your worldwide family.

You call us to rise up, to live, to seek the welfare of others,

and to offer words and deeds that help to build bridges with one another.

Fill us with your presence and guide us as we grow as disciples.

May this time of worship open us to serve in your name. Amen.

Hymn: 395 VU Part of the Family 

Prayer of Confession:(in unison)

Loving God,

we reflect upon those times

when we have not acknowledged

your presence with us:

in nature (pause),

around town, at the post office, the grocery store (pause)

in daily living (pause)

in challenging times (pause)

in wonderful times (pause)

in all the in-between times (pause)

in times of need (pause)

when we feel hounded by enemies (pause)

when we are cared for by “shepherds” (pause)

in the faces of the many people we encounter each day (pause).

Forgive us, God.

Inspire us to worship and celebrate your presence every moment. Amen.

Words of Affirmation:

Whether we are lost or confused, wandering or waiting,

God’s love is steadfast.

Faithless or doubting, disobedient or disowning,

God is present to us.

Weary or distracted, tired or defeated,

we are held in God’s sustaining and nurturing love. Thanks be to God!

 

Readings and Reflection:

 A Legacy of Bridge Building

In the 50 days of the Easter Season, our scriptures give us several glimpses of the early church as it sought to live faithfully in the power of the risen Christ. Our first reading today from Acts is one such example of the kind of community of loving kindness that emerged under the leadership of a woman known by two names, Dorcas or Tabitha:

Acts 9: 36-43

36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

In our gospel reading, we find Jesus teaching in the temple. Among his hearers are many who are uncertain and unsettled about Jesus’ identity and the authority by which he speaks. They ask him for more clarity. Many feel that if he is the Messiah, his mission will be to overturn the Romans. Jesus explains to them that he is among them as one who is building relationships and connections with them, much like a shepherd does with their sheep. As much as he has revealed his identity by his acts of love and service, his healings and signs, many still cannot understand him because they cannot see and celebrate the community that is forming between him and his followers. The problem is that his way of leading is not at all what they were expecting of a Messiah. It proves too challenging.

John 10:22-30

22 The time came for the Festival of Dedication in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple, walking in the covered porch named for Solomon. 24 The Jewish opposition circled around him and asked, “How long will you test our patience? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, but you don’t believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you don’t believe because you don’t belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life. They will never die, and no one will snatch them from my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them from my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.

Somewhere in my reading this week I came across this rather inspirational poem. Perhaps you have heard it before. It is entitled simply: The Bridge Builder and was written by Will Allen Dromgoole

An old man going a lone highway,

Came, at the evening cold and gray,

To a chasm vast and deep and wide.

Through which was flowing a sullen tide

The old man crossed in the twilight dim,

The sullen stream had no fear for him;

But he turned when safe on the other side

And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,

“You are wasting your strength with building here;

Your journey will end with the ending day,

You never again will pass this way;

You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,

Why build this bridge at evening tide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head;

“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,

“There followed after me to-day

A youth whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm that has been as naught to me

To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;

He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;

Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”

For some reason, this poem made me think of the legacy of Dorcas/ Tabitha in our reading from Acts today. Her ministry among the widows of Joppa was very much one of bridge building; making a way for those who would follow. Our scripture tells us that she was devoted to good works and acts of charity. She put her faith in action by sewing and distributing clothing among the many widows of her community. As widows in their day, they would have been at the very bottom of the social heap with few options. No social security. No pensions.

 Yet, in Tabitha/Dorcas they had found a highly respected community leader, one with whom they could easily relate, one who could sense their needs and who was committed to restoring them with a sense of hope and dignity. In fact, she is the only woman in the entire New Testament to be referred to with the female form of the word “disciple”. And unlike so many other females in Scripture, she actually was known by name- 2 names in fact- the Hebrew name “Tabitha” and the Greek name “Dorcas”. That’s significant. It tells us that she was known among both groups of people, that her ministry and outreach transcended race and creed.

While we are told that she was a seamstress, I suspect that in addition to her practical assistance in providing clothing, she also listened to their concerns. I imagine her home to be a kind of refuge for many of these widows, a place where they could pour out their hearts as they sipped a cup of tea, a place of solace in the midst of tough world. She was for them what we might call a loving, mothering or shepherding presence. Anyone who entered her home could be assured of a warm welcome and loving generosity. I can see her introducing the women to one another, finding common interests and helping them to network. No doubt, that upper room in her home also served as a place of prayer and worship.

It is little wonder then that when Tabitha died, the hearts of everyone in that community would have been broken. We can relate. We know the impact that is felt when a pillar of our community dies. Immediately, two men from the community are sent to find Peter. When he arrives on the scene, the women show him articles that Tabitha had made- perhaps a dress she had made for a child, or a blanket. It is kind of the same as us- when someone we love dies, we bring out photos or we show physical things that remind us of their earthly life- the tools from the shed, their favorite coffee mug, their handwritten recipes, a perennial garden lovingly cared for over the years, the Bible from their nightstand, the things that anchored them in our families and with the community. Peter, in seeing these things and in listening to their stories of Tabitha, comes to recognize the legacy of Tabitha’s life and the impact her dying has had on these folks. Then, in an act reminiscent of Jesus, Peter orders the others out of the house and goes to Tabitha’s bedside. There he prays and orders her to rise. She sits up and shows herself to be alive.

As I was reading through this story and thinking about the impact and legacy of Tabitha’s ministry of compassion and kindness, I started thinking about our own legacies. How will we as individuals be remembered? How do we want to be known as a church community? What sorts of things are we doing to build bridges for those who will follow us?

This week as I was catching up on my Netflix movies, I came across a rather inspiring one entitled All Saints. It is worth looking up if you have Netflix. It’s a true story about an Episcopal priest and his family who are sent to a small community in Tennessee. With only 12 people left in the pews, the bishop’s desire is for it be closed and for the people to join up with a nearby church. Yet, that plan goes out the window. Not long after arriving, the new priest is pleasantly surprised to notice that a group of South Asian refugees start to attend worship. At first, the original 12 or so people are rather skeptical about these new arrivals. The priest discovers that they are in need of some sort of sustainable source of food so gradually, he works to build bridges between the new arrivals and the whole town as they work together on a community garden. Farmers in the area offer their equipment and expertise. Everyone offers their labour and the project turns out to be a success as the community comes together. In many ways this movie reminds me of what is currently happening as those fleeing war in Ukraine arrive in Canada. Some people are opening their homes for them while others are pledging money to provide food for a family for a month. People are reaching out as community and combining their gifts in order to accommodate the needs that are presenting. It is inspiring to see these things happening. We are given glimpses of humanity at its best.

After the resurrection, that’s similar to what happens in the early church as well. Through people like Peter and Tabitha, who continue in the Spirit and power of Christ to engage in active bridge building with the community at large, the church grows and expands into different areas and among different people. They start to make an impact through their shepherding care and compassion. They lift people to new life as they build community together, sharing resources, worshipping together, praying, encouraging and supporting one another. Working together, they become living legacies of the life of Christ and the power of the resurrection alive and active in the world.

This Sunday, along with Mother’s Day, is also known in church circles as Christian Family Sunday. It is a day when we celebrate our connections with one another as sisters and brothers. We remember the shepherding care of Jesus and how his whole purpose was to call us into a community of love by building bridges of relationship with all kinds of people. As we talked about last week with the metaphor of the Body of Christ, we are called to be extensions of Jesus’ body by serving as he served, by loving as he loved and by networking into our communities as he networked. We all know people who modelled or are modelling the ministry of Tabitha too, who by their actions of kindness have brought meaning to our own lives and the lives of countless others through simple acts of encouragement and support along the way.

The late former Archbishop of South Africa, Desmond Tutu, in many of his speeches and writings reminded us of the call to this kind of community and bridge building.  He speaks of one of the sayings of his country, a concept called Ubuntu. It is, he says, the very essence of being human. A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others  and does not feel threatened that others are able and good.

 It is based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.  Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. It says, “I am because you are.” You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another. However, this concept reminds us that we are connected and what we do (or neglect to do) affects the whole world. When we do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.

 As Tutu reminded us, we are not that different, you and me. Though we may be separated by many ideas and many kilometers, we are a part of this oneness and we share with each other a common life together. Our lives are contingent upon one another. Or as Tutu’s granddaughter also adds, “my humanity is caught up and inextricably bound up in yours.” So, life, all of life is about reaching out, building bridges with others and embracing differences. Jesus showed us that. So too did members of those early Christian communities like Peter, like Tabitha. Being part of the Christian family both locally and globally, reaching beyond ourselves and reminding ourselves that the life of faith is never a solitary experience provides us with many opportunities to practice and leave a legacy for those who will follow. So, like the man in the poem who crossed the chasm and then turned and built a bridge for others to follow, let’s keep building those bridges, remembering that the support and encouragement we offer today, however small or insignificant it may seem, does have impact. Or as Father Richard Rohr who writes a daily devotional that I read online says it best- “Nothing stands alone. Everything is connected.” Amen.

Minute for Mission

Supporting Ukrainian refugees through Gifts with Vision

In a crowded refugee centre people sit or stand around beds lined up along the walls.

At the refugee point in Barabás, a small Hungarian village on the border of Ukraine, ACT Alliance member Hungarian Interchurch Aid offers food, drinks, and hygiene items for people fleeing the Ukraine war.

Credit: Antii Yrjönen/FCA

The scenes are heartbreaking: Families confined to underground subway stations. Children standing alone in endless lines at borders. Mothers printing their names and contact information in permanent marker on their children’s backs lest they get separated―or worse.

By the end of March 2022, over 4 million refugees had fled Ukraine, 90 percent of them women and children.

Gifts with Vision―the United Church’s giving catalogue―has just unveiled its latest gifts to help them(opens in a new tab).

A gift of $25 will provide families fleeing from Ukraine with a hygiene package containing items like toothpaste, laundry detergent, and disinfectant. A gift of $38 will provide one food basket with staples such as cooking oil, buckwheat, canned fish, dried peas, and condensed milk; and $40 will provide one hygiene package plus a supply of incontinence products.

“What really strikes me about the food basket is the attention to detail. It has chocolate and cookies in it. That speaks volumes to me about going beyond the survival basics and trying to build morale,” says Kathie Murphy, the United Church’s Annual Giving Associate. “The hygiene basket is so thoughtful, too. It’s not just about personal hygiene―it also includes laundry and cleaning products. And remembering incontinence materials for those who need them is all about helping people maintain their dignity.”

Sarah Charters, director of the United Church’s Philanthropy Unit, is glad the new gifts have been added in time for Christian Family Sunday. “It’s a day the church sets aside to reflect on the importance of families. I hope people will be inspired this year to take action for families fleeing Ukraine,” says Charters. “We can’t end the war in Ukraine, but we can do something to help. Every little bit of good we do makes a difference.”

You can give a gift of food and hygiene through Gifts with Vision(opens in a new tab) or by calling 1-844-715-7969. Thank you for your generous support.

Let us pray:

Loving God, Creator and keeper of all life, we praise you this day. In each opening bud, in each blossoming tree, in the imminent return of the hummingbirds to our feeders, in the sights and sounds of farmers cultivating the fields and preparing for spring planting, you invite us to experience your presence and to find ourselves so deeply connected to the renewal of life. We thank you for the many ways you continue to weave us together in community as we offer our gifts and care to one another. We praise you for the families we belong to, for all those who shepherd us with guidance along the way. We thank you for the example of Tabitha in our scriptures and others who model your kindness and compassion and who, through efforts great and small, build bridges of connection.

We pray this day for mothers in the Ukraine and other places of conflict in this world who worry for their children and their futures. We pray for families who are struggling to make ends meet, for the many who are stressed by concerns for the mental and physical health of their loved ones, for the many who live with abuse and violence in their homes, for the many who are overcome by addictions. Loving God, relationships can be so hard. We acknowledge our need for your help. Show us ways that we can make connections, loving as you love us, speaking up for the voiceless, protecting those who are threatened, offering hospitality to those who are rejected and working for justice for all who are exploited. In the face of so much uncertainty in our world, so much sorrow and so much fear and pain, may we work together to model a different way, a way that builds bridges of healing and compassion. Hear these our prayers together with the prayers of our hearts for people and situations where your presence is most needed this day… In the name of Jesus, we pray as one, saying together… Our Father…

Hymn: 595 VU We are Pilgrims    

Blessing:

Go into the world where the Spirit of Christ is already at work,

feeding, clothing, caring and tending.

We go in the name of Jesus to be the Body of Christ in our time and place.

 

Amen. Let it be so.

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

 

 

 May 1, 2022

Annual Meeting Sunday Order of Service 

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

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

We are an Easter people!

The light of Christ shines among us and is reflected into the corners of our lives.

(The Christ candle is lit)

Call to Worship (responsive)

Friends, for the sake of love, we are here
gathering as the body of Christ
reflecting on our call to be the church
deciding how best to embody Christ in the world
striving for justice, compassion,
humility, and peace
letting the unity of our oneness in Jesus draw us together:

     We are not alone
we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.

      Thanks be to God.

Hymn: 402 VU We Are One 

Prayer of Approach (unison)

Generous God, giver of every good and perfect gift, we lift our voices today to express our thanks and praise. For family and friends, for our homes and this church community, and for your abiding and life-giving presence, we say thank you. For your love, which knows no bounds, and for empowering us to share your love with others, we sing your praise. Make us deeply aware of your presence today―this Annual Meeting Sunday―as we gather together to worship, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

―Adapted from Called to Be the Church congregational giving program.

Theme Time

 What kinds of things did you do this week? (chores around house, talk with friends, go to work, plant seedlings, drive someone to an appointment, change car tires, talk to doctor/dentist, help children or grandchildren with homework, get groceries, read a book, wish happy birthday, make a meal for someone, go for a walk, pray, take part in town garbage clean up…)

 And of all those things, what matters most to you?

 Annual Meeting Sunday is a time to look back on the things we did as a community of faith together through the year and celebrate what matters most. It’s also a time to think about the year ahead and consider where God is calling our church to share the love of Jesus in our community and world.

What kind of church are we called to become? What is God intending for us?

Do you think God wants us to be the church we were 60 years ago? Or to be the church of today? How can we best use this building, our people, our time, our financial resources?

 Gary Paterson, a former moderator, shared in a blog I came across this week something that we all know: the church in Canada exists in a very changed world- a society that is increasingly secular. Today, we have many:

“NONES”- people with no religious affiliation

“DONES”- people who have a church background but are no longer interested

“SBNR” – spiritual but not religious

FERVANTLY ATHEIST/ANTI RELIGIOUS

I would dare add another category too- people who are CURIOUS  about what it means to be a disciple of Christ but not sure what they will find in our churches. Will they catch a glimpse of the Spirit? Will they find a language of faith that is intelligible and relatable to the 21st Century? Will someone from any of these categories that we listed feel welcome at our church?

 We know these curious folk are out there because Shauna has repeatedly told us that each month our Faith Memorial United Church website that publishes our written worship services receives 300 hits. Other churches have discovered the same thing throughout the pandemic.

We all can relate to this. But, in many ways, this reality is not unlike that faced the early church after the resurrection. If you remember, it all began with a few people huddled together in an upper room, filled with fear. Then, as time went on, as they met and worshipped together, they started to discover what it meant to be a disciple, to follow Jesus. They learned to support and encourage each other and to hold one another accountable for doing their part to spread the good news of God’s redeeming and transforming love. They moved from locked doors to faithful witness.

Is God wanting us to be the church that tries to do everything well and meet every need of every person all the time or the church that does a few select things really well?

What are our unique assets and gifts particular to us as Faith Memorial United?

(an accessible building, a collective wisdom and experience to share as seniors, a connection to resources, webinars, seed funding for projects available through our United Church of Canada and its many networks)

  What are some things we did as a church in the last year? Our annual report reveals some of these things. (we worshipped and connected in different ways, we explored our faith through study groups, we offered care to one another, we were faithful stewards to local and global ministries and mission)

 And of all those things, what matters most to you?

Was it a different year? A different couple of years? Indeed, very much so. Much has changed. And going forward, much will continue to change.

Yet one thing is exactly the same as it always has been… this truth:

 Nothing can separate us from the love of God. God’s love is unending. God is still calling us―you, me, and our church―to love the same way God loves us.

Hymn: MV 1 Let us Build a House  

Scripture

Deuteronomy 6:4‒9

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

1 Corinthians 12:12‒31

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Sermon: For the Sake of Love

Sixty million cells. Thirty-six million heartbeats a year. Three hundred billion red blood cells produced every day. Sixty thousand miles of blood vessels in each body.

The human body. A complex, miraculous system. That, Paul says, is the Christian community.

And he wasn’t talking about just any body, he was talking about Christ’s body. A holy body. The holiest body. He told his community they were to be the “body” that Jesus would be if he was physically present.

“The body of Christ” almost sounds cliché. We may have heard that we are “the body of Christ” so often that we hardly pay attention to it. But think about the magnitude of what Paul is saying. Sit with the analogy.

You are―we are―the body of Christ. Wow!

There are 100 billion neurons in the brain. There are 54 bones in your hands. Twenty-five million new cells are being produced every second.

The body is constantly evolving, interconnected, designed for life.

For Christians the purpose of life is love.

Jesus’ body is designed for love.

So our body is designed for love.

Our church as the body of Christ has faithfully joined God’s loving mission this year.

We may have missed our sacred space and grieved not being able to gather in person the way we would like to but love is still very much alive.

In 2021, we were indeed the body of Christ.

As we mentioned earlier, in 2021 we continued to live into Christ’s mission. Many of us printed off worship services for our neighbours. Others of us learned how to zoom. We did the work of the official board in new ways. We discovered creative ways of being together, yet apart.

We, as Faith Memorial United Church, have joined the wider body of Christ through our collective Mission & Service, too, raising in excess of $18,000. At Christmas time, we offered approximately $3000 for our White Gift efforts that helped the We Got Your Back program and our local food bank. In addition, we responded to other local needs as we became aware of them.  In the past couple of months, we offered another $5000 for our United Church’s special appeal for Ukraine. Together, as part of the United Church of Canada, we have supported partners in pandemic relief efforts to help provide personal protective equipment, safe shelter, sanitation stations, public awareness communications, and food hampers. We have provided over 8,360 full vaccinations to those living in the global South and East and $500,000 in COVID-19 emergency funding. In addition, $240,000 was distributed to partners in our region alone so we can help close to home.

The pandemic has not diminished our mission. The central call to love as Jesus loves is the same as it has ever been.

When we meet as committees or teams―whatever they may be―and as we meet today to reflect on the year past and on the year to come, we aren’t just ticking off agenda items. We are meeting for the sake of love.

When we are discussing the budget, our discussions are an expression of love. When we are projecting ahead to fixing God knows what in our building or at the manse, whether that is our heating units on the roof, windows or whatever, that work is an expression of love. When we are recording minutes, balancing books, and doing all the behind-the-scenes coordinating and organizing―we do that for love. When we are trying to figure out how best to comfort spirits and soothe hearts even while we feel dislocated ourselves―we are all about love.

Today, on this Annual Meeting Sunday, I’m not going to tell you anything new. I’m just going to remind you and me of who we are―the body of Christ.

What does that mean? Well…

Jesus reached out his hand and touched people who needed healing. He laid his hands on those who were sick and dying and extended forgiveness to sinners.

He ate with people no one else dared associate with.

With his voice, he told stories―parables that changed peoples’ hearts.

With his ears, he listened to the yearning of countless souls.

He got down on his knees to wash his disciples’ feet and brought children onto his knees to teach a lesson about what’s important.

He sweated in the garden of suffering.

He stretched his arms on the cross.

And at the end of it all, he appeared to his disciples to show them that new life is possible.

He used his whole being for love.

Paul says, “You are the body of Christ.”

In all that we say and do, let us not forget:

We are the body of Christ.

For the sake of love.

In 2022, may we continue to embody love.

Amen.

Hymn: 171 MV  Christ Has No Body Now but Yours 

While we have seen many challenges this year, we have also experienced many blessings. Let us pray together with thanksgiving for the year gone by and hope for the year ahead.

We give thanks for all those who made time to reach out to isolated members of our community this year. During a time when so many suffered from isolation, receiving a phone call meant knowing someone cared and made people who were struggling feel less alone.

We give thanks for leaders of our church teams and congregation members who were willing to adapt to new ways of being the church. Their faithfulness and commitment anchored us and ensured that our ministry would continue, come what may.

We give thanks for our ministry and personnel committee, who encouraged us as staff on our most difficult days and applauded us on our most successful ones. Their encouragement and support energized us to continue to listen for and lean into God’s call.

 We give thanks for the compassionate presence of parents, grandparents and teachers who have brought joy and hope into our youngest members who have been deeply affected by this pandemic.

We give thanks for all those who ensured we could continue to worship together. We are thankful for those who printed and delivered worship services for others, who volunteered to clean, to take names at the door, and to usher. Their support meant we could join with and open our hearts to the peaceful, loving presence of the Spirit alongside one another.

We give thanks for all who continue to offer their financial gifts so that ministries and outreach can be sustained. We know that those who were already vulnerable are even more so as a result of the pandemic. Every gift we gave brought a little more love into the world.

We give thanks for those who give generously to our common Mission & Service. By joining with caring members across the country, we were able to have an enormous impact this past year, helping to transform lives at home and abroad in concrete ways together. We are thankful.

We give thanks for all the behind-the-scenes volunteers- for our treasurer and our stewards whokept our finances in orderfor our trustees and caretakers who looked after the building, for our board chairs and secretary who worked to communicate decisions to the congregations, for our pandemic planning team who interpreted and then reinterpreted government and church guidelines, for our music team who adapted as necessary to rules about singing or not singing, for our secretary who seamed all the loose ends together. Together, these humble tasks are the backbone of our church and truly enable our ministry to happen.

God of deep blessing, continue to enfold us in a spirit of gratitude. Let it carry us into the year ahead, choosing to focus on your abundant grace and faithfully responding to your call. We are the church for the sake of love. In every decision going forward, let love be our guide. We continue to pray in the way of Jesus, saying, “Our Father who art in heaven…”

 Hymn: 145 MV Draw the Circle Wide 

Blessing

Based on Micah 6:8.

Let us go from here seeking justice, loving kindness, and living humbly with God
Let us go and be the church for the sake of love.
And now may God our Creator, Jesus our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit our Sustainer be and abide with all of us this day, this year, and forevermore. Amen
.

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In Truth and Action
A Service for Earth Day

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

Lighting the Christ candle is a symbol that we are not alone. Our lives are centred in his love and grace, freely poured out for us, providing light for the way. (light candle).

Call to Worship

We are one flock,

we are called to be one in community.

We have boldness before God

because we know we are loved and known

and so, in the same, way let us love each other, siblings and cousins.

not only in word or speech

but in truth and action—let us join together as one flock to worship the one God. Amen.

 

Prayer of Approach

Holy One, Heart of Creation,

you know us and call us into bold service.

We come together this day to celebrate your creation,

the beautiful streams that surround us and provide us with food and water,

and that are often the centre of our communities.

We come to hear hard stories of where our still waters have been lost, communities broken.

Open our hearts to hear the cries of our family, of partners in Canada and abroad

so that we may be empowered to act in love for one another.

For you are our shepherd, who leads us toward green pastures. Amen.

 

Hymn:  Like a Healing Stream   

Prayer of Confession

Holy One,

we are blessed to live in a land of plentiful natural resources.

We are blessed to have rules of law that protect our human dignity.

We recognize that these blessings are not extended to others,

we recognize that our privilege allows us to exploit others.

We recognize that, in this country and overseas,

mining has allowed us to reap the rewards of natural resources

while also harming your creation and fracturing communities.

We recognize the harm caused by our want for more.

Heal us in our desire for ever more resources;

forgive those times when we do not speak up against injustice,

and embolden us to be agents of your change in this world.

For the building of the kin-dom, Amen.

 

Assurance of Pardon

Scripture assures us, The Lord is our Shepherd, we shall not want (Psalm 23).

“Whenever our hearts condemn us…God is greater than our hearts, and…knows everything” (1 John 3:20).

As a shepherd cares for scattered sheep, our God cares, forgives us, and calls us into community.

Members of the one flock—we are forgiven.

Thanks be to God.

 

Readings and Reflection

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.

 

 


Sermon

On August 4, 2014, 26 billion litres of waste water containing dangerous chemicals poured into local waterways and one of the world’s deepest freshwater lakes. Quesnel Lake, in central British Columbia, birthing waters of salmon and an important tributary of the Fraser River watershed, was irreparably changed when the dam at the Mount Polley Mine broke in the middle of the night.

“For as long as I can remember, the waters of B.C.’s Quesnel Lake played an important role in my community,” said Jacinda Mack, coordinator of First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining. “We fished for trout and swam in its depths, camped along its shores and picked berries and medicines in the surrounding Cariboo Mountains. The entire time, we were sharing our Xat’sull language and culture with our children.” Jacinda’s community has been devastated by the mine waste spill and the ongoing contamination of the water through mine activities. Despite calls from affected communities, church groups, and environmental organizations, there has been no accountability or justice for the people, for the animals, for all life living near Quesnel Lake.

Seven thousand kilometres away, Indigenous Lenca communities in Honduras are fighting to stop a mega-dam from being built on the sacred Gualcarque River. Berta Caceres was their leader when on March 2, 2016, she was shot and killed in her home for her outspoken voice of dissent. Berta worked tirelessly to protect a river and a way of life at risk. The Gualcarque River provides Berta’s community with food and drinking water, and Berta’s murder sent a clear message to anyone standing up to protect the earth that they were in danger.

The lone witness to her murder said, “Our dream is to build a different world, to generate life amid so much violence and death, but they do not even allow us to do that.” Surely Berta, and her community, were walking in the most fearsome valleys in the days and months before her murder. As an outspoken and committed woman leader, she had been defamed, criticized, and threatened, yet her struggle for the earth and the sacred water continued; evil surrounded her, yet she walked proudly in the footsteps of her ancestors, listening and answering the call of Creator to protect life.

 

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[a] 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.

 

April 22 is Earth Day. It’s a day to remember and care for the earth. It’s also a day for action and justice. There’s a common chorus in Latin American hymns, “God is not in heaven. God is in our brothers and sisters.” We know this from 1 John 3:16–18: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 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? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

Berta laid down her life for her kin; her death is remembered as the day her seed was sown to be reborn in a million others who would live by her example. She wasn’t only fighting for the river sacred to her people, but for all rivers and lakes. “Wake up humanity!” she said as she received the Goldman Environmental Prize the year before she was killed. “There is no time left.”

Sister Streams was a movement created by the communities impacted by the Mount Polley Mine disaster to remember and honour our waters, to pray for justice and their safekeeping. August 4 is a day to remember that we have only one planet and we, as guardians of the earth, must protect it. As we struggle to respond to the call to be people of faith, caretakers of the earth and each other, let our discomfort challenge us to use our voice for the voiceless, the trees, the waters and the mountains, like Berta and Jacinda. This Earth Day, as we walk on new grass and the abundance of life and promise blooms all around us, let us work together to protect Mother Earth, our common home. Let us defend her and keep her, honouring the sacrifices that so many have made for us and doing our part to live the vision of Jesus for a world of peace with justice.

Minute for Mission

Today we are recognizing Earth Day.  It is also Camping Sunday which our Minute for Mission is recognizing.

Camp is more than a holiday. It gives young people skills that last a lifetime.

 

Kathleen is a special education teacher, a busy mom of three children under the age of five, and a youth and young adults coordinator at her church. She says her early summer church camp experience continues to impact her approach to each of these important roles.

 

“Camp taught me that children are precious and we’re there to help them and guide them. Vespers taught me to take a deep breath in times of stress. Chaplains showed me how to bring out the best in children and draw out their talents. All those things I learned from camp I now apply to my everyday world, including motherhood,” says Kathleen.

 

Kathleen grew up in very formal churches where she felt she had to be perfect all the time. Outdoors, in an informal setting, her faith blossomed.

 

“I never felt really connected to God before going to camp. It opened up my perspective of what church is. My relationship with God expanded. I learned to pray, to reflect, and to experience God in nature.”

 

Those early lessons continue to ground Kathleen in trying moments.

“Today, because I learned to connect with God in nature, I can take time to reflect and I can show God’s love. When I’m too stressed, I can take a quick look at a bird or tree and remember that God is with me when a student is expressing their frustration. Staying calm and showing God’s love is huge. It goes a long way. I remind my own children that God is with them, even in the hardest times too,” she says.

Before COVID, approximately 20,000 children attended a United Church camp every year. During the pandemic, many camps provided virtual support to young people during lockdown.

 

“I just want to say a huge thank you to Mission & Service donors for their support of camps,” says Kathleen. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for their support. Thank you.”

 

Prayers of the People

Creator, Shepherd who laid down his life for love of us,

be with us in the light of the violence in our world.

Be with the families of El Estor, Guatemala;

as they continue to fight for justice in the shootings

that killed Aldofo Ich, and paralyzed German Chub.

Shootings related to Canadian mining overseas.

Be with the families who relied on the gifts of Lake Quensel

which was decimated when the tailings dam burst at Mount Polley Mine

in central British Columbia, releasing a 26 billion litres of mine waste into Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek, and Quesnel Lake—headwaters and spawning grounds of the Fraser River watershed.

May their stories and ongoing court proceedings,

cause our country and our world to rethink

our treatment of Indigenous peoples

and our mining practices overseas and at home.

Help us to discern the best way forward,

for the Sisson Brook Mine,

for Kellys Mountain,

and for all mining here and abroad.

That we may truly understand the blessings

we have received from the earth,

and use it wisely.

We pray for miners,

for those who put their lives at risk

on the job of providing us with resources from the earth.

We pray for land defenders,

for those who question the status quo.

May we show compassion and love to both.

We ask it in Christ’s name,

Who taught us saying … Our Father…

 

—United for Mining Justice (UfMJ) is a network of United Church of Canada folks and allies working towards a just extractive sector laws and practices, for an accountable Canadian mining industry, and for local and national jurisdiction over mineral resources. Our vision is a society where people’s traditions, values and rights are respected.

 

Hymn: Sent Forth by God’s Blessing   

Blessing:

May God of the sunshine warm you with love and acceptance.

May God of the rain showers nourish you with strength and renewal.

May God of the rainbows embrace you with inspiration and encouragement.

Go now to be faithful caretakers of God’s good Earth!  Amen.

 

 Written by Gill Le Fevre,

Walton Memorial UC, Oakville, Ont

Gathering Lent/Easter 2022-04-14 page    

Used with permission.

 

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April 17, 2022

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Happy Easter!

 

Please mark May 1 on your calendar for our Annual Meeting.

 

Enjoy the joy and celebrations of this day! 

 

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

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (light Christ candle)

Love- God’s love has the last word. Alleluia!

 

Call to Worship:

This is the day that God has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
We gather today to shout Alleluia!
Christ is risen; he is risen indeed.

Out of the doom of death and despair,
victory comes, glory appears.
We gather today to shout Alleluia!
Christ is risen; he is risen indeed.

We shall live, witness, and recount the deeds
of the God whose love endures forever.
We gather today to shout Alleluia!
Christ is risen; he is risen indeed.

Let us pray:

Our eyes are barely open, God, the sky has hardly brightened,

the morning has just begun,

and we see that you have already done a new thing.

Praise be to you, O God.

Your ways are beyond our understanding,

your mystery is too vast for words,

yet on this day, we dare to believe

that you are making us into your new creations. Alleluia! Amen.

 

Hymn: 155 VU Jesus Christ is Risen Today 

Prayer of Confession:

We are Christ’s disciples, his hands and feet in the world today.

At times, we have been the frightened ones, staying at a distance,

worried about our status or our reputations.

But you come close to us, O God,

bringing peace and challenge,

unlocking our potential and setting us free.

At times we have been the weeping ones,

filled with grief and lost hope,

unable to see your presence in our midst.

But you come close and speak our names

and we discover that we are fully known and loved,

and our hearts reach out to embrace you.

We offer you our fear, our confusion and our tears

and we find ourselves liberated and united

by the love of the resurrected one.

Words of Affirmation:

“Behold,” God says, “I am making a new heaven and a new earth.

The events of the past will be completely forgotten, they will never come to mind.”

This is the same God who raised up Jesus Christ and whose spirit is making all things new. Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

Readings and Reflection:

Easter Begins in the Dark

It is more than obvious this morning that the reason we celebrate Easter comes from the good news proclaimed in the gospel. However, before we go there, our reading from Isaiah has themes that compliment that good news. It speaks to a devastated people, a people who had undergone more than their share of suffering under the siege of the Babylonian army. Now they stand on the verge of a return to their homeland of Israel. Yet this would be no simple return to the way things were back in the good old days. Their homeland was in ruins. Their temple had been destroyed. To this discouraged people, Isaiah speaks words of hope and promise:

Isaiah 65: 17-25

17 For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
24 Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

It’s a vision of renewal and transformation in the midst of their bleakest moment.

We hear those same themes in our Easter gospel story:

John 20: 1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

This week as I turned to John’s rendition of the resurrection story, there was a phrase that caught my eye like never before: ‘while it was still dark.’ I checked it out against the other gospel accounts and John is the only one who describes Mary arriving at the tomb in the dark. Matthew says it was ‘as the first day of the week was dawning’, Mark says it was ‘when the sun had risen’ and Luke says ‘at early dawn’. John, though, is very clear: it was still dark. No birds chirping yet. No sun coming over the horizon. Only darkness.

Back in pre-pandemic times, if you recall, that’s what met you when you came to worship on Easter Sunday at Faith Memorial United Church. The sanctuary was in darkness. No flowers. No bright banners. No white pulpit hangings. All was subdued. Just a black cloth hanging on the cross. Then, as we sang our first hymn, the transformation took place. The banners and flowers were brought in. The Christ candle was placed. Unfortunately, this year, in an effort to minimalize movement in our confined space, we opted not to do that but I think you can visualize the experience. John had it right. Easter, for Mary, and for us begins in the dark.

Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a book I read a few years back called Learning to Walk in the Dark. In it, she suggests that darkness is where God does the best work. It is the backdrop of new beginnings. “Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb or Jesus in the tomb [new life] starts in the dark.” It is not hard to come up with some examples of this is scripture. At the beginning of creation itself, there is darkness and emptiness. I think of God taking Abraham out under the darkness of the night sky and promising him descendants as many as the stars. There’s Jacob wrestling with the angel in the dark. God promising to come to Moses in the darkness of a cloud. The Israelite people escaping slavery in Egypt in the darkness of the night. Jonah hearing the voice of God in the darkness of the belly of a fish. The angels announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds at night. There’s probably lots more.

As people of faith, I think it is easy for us to focus only on the light to the point where we forget that God does not simply switch off God’s presence after lights out! God continues to be present and active even in the dark. There’s where I think the writer of John gets it right in situating the beginning of the Easter story solidly in the dark. Not just a physical darkness but a spiritual one.

Think of Mary as she picked her way over the twigs on the way to the tomb. Imagine the darkness of her heart as she relived those scenes of Jesus hanging on the cross only days before. The brokenness and trauma lay fresh upon her spirit. All she wanted to do now was to pay her dear friend some respect. She was not wearing any bright Easter bonnet; only a sackcloth of mourning. Upon arrival at the tomb, there are no alleluias and no trumpets. Only more darkness, more trauma as she discovers that the stone has been removed. Insult added to injury. This was not at all what she had been expecting. She assumes foul play, body snatchers, no doubt. She runs to report her findings to the others. Confusion and fear overtake Peter and the beloved disciple as they run to the scene. The beloved disciple looks in the tomb. Peter goes in. Then the beloved disciple goes in. Both of them see the folded grave clothes. The beloved disciple, we are told, believes… believes what? Mary’s story?  But he did not understand. Both of these men leave the scene. Were they happy? Were they sad? Were they confused? Hard to say. We are not told. No expression of emotion whatsoever.

Mary, however, lingers there alone, in the darkness of her grief. Four times it is noted that she is weeping. She stays with those feelings. She looks in the tomb and is met by two angels who ask the reason for her tears. Once again, Mary repeats her conclusion about the body being snatched. Then, she turns around, away from the tomb, and sees one whom she thinks to be a gardener who, once again, asks her the same question. Finally, Mary hears her name spoken. It becomes a moment of recognition for her; a moment of restored relationship with Jesus.

Yet, it all began in the dark. This was no leap to belief. Not for the disciples. Not for Mary. That first Easter was not a huge light show, no flip of some giant switch It was more like a dimmer switch… a gradual awareness, something that came with time and relationship. Something that began in the shadows of disbelief and bewilderment and fear. It was only in her willingness to linger with the difficult feelings- the sadness, the pain, the questions and doubts that that moment of recognition happened. It was in that darkness, through the blurriness of her tears, that Easter began for Mary.

I like how Frederick Buechner expresses it: “It is not the absence of Jesus from the empty tomb that moves us. It is his presence in our empty hearts.”

We know this from our own experiences. Sometimes we don’t see it at the moment but when we look back over time, we can see how things were working themselves out in the darkness, in the hard places of our lives. It is as we linger, as we work through the grief, the despair and the pain, Easter happens. Sometimes, like Mary, that means telling the story several times as she did, “They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have laid him.” Sometimes it means naming those dark places where we have felt God’s absence, turning them over and over again and being open to transformation unfolding even in the darkness and shadows.

My sense and my experience suggest to me that this is so often where Easter is found. It is not in poking around inside the tomb but in turning back outward. Perhaps that’s what Jesus meant when he said to Mary, “Don’t cling to me. Get back out there. Move outward.”

Maybe that’s a good message for us too as we come through these two years of pandemic, as we weep for the people of Ukraine, as we weep over lives lost during Covid and as we listen to the daily newscasts.

 It also resonates with where we are as a church. Rummaging around for some kind of “glory days” won’t get us anywhere. As our United Church moderator said in his Easter message in Broadview magazine, our membership peaked in 1930, just five years after union! We have been in decline as a denomination for almost our entire existence! Yet, he says, we need to stop saying we are dying. “Death simply doesn’t matter if we are living out our discipleship, our ministry to the best of our ability every moment we live.”

 Maybe it’s what we need to hear too in our personal lives when we stand in the hospital corridors and hear those words from a physician telling us they have done all they could for our loved one, or when we face the loss of a job, a relationship or a dream. Easter meets us in these dark places, when like Mary, we feel vulnerable and alone in our emptiness and grief.

That’s where the Easter story begins. It doesn’t end there though. It doesn’t end with a return to the way things were. It is not about nostalgia. Resurrection is an invitation to what will be, an acknowledgement that the way things are in this world does not have to be the way things will always be. Love- God’s love will always have the last word. It is this love that raised Jesus from the dead, that called all of creation into being and that scattered the darkness on that first Easter morning. This is a love more powerful than all the tragedy in our lives and in our world. The risen Christ calls us each by name and sends us out to proclaim that love- one that is stronger than hatred, stronger than pain, stronger even than death itself.  Christ is risen! Risen indeed! We are a new creation. Alleluia! 

Minute for Mission:

Jesus put compassion into action every day he lived.

There is one thing that will never fail us: compassion.

Acts of compassion both big and small give rise to peace. We can’t wave a magic wand and bring about world peace, but with every act of compassion we harness the power of love, the same love Jesus lived and died for and that he promised would move mountains.

Over two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began to sweep the globe, life has become harder for millions of families.

  • 148,000,000 more people are having trouble putting food on the table than in 2019.
  • Last year more than 80,000,000 people around the world were forced to flee their homes because of rising violence and conflict; half of them were children.
  • In the last two years, visits to Canadian food banks have climbed 20 percent, with the cost of food predicted to rise 5‒7 percent this year.

When people don’t have what they need to survive, conflict is inevitable.

That’s why your generosity matters so much.

The food security initiatives, refugee support work, educational programs, as well as emergency and advocacy efforts your gifts through Mission & Service support aren’t just about food, safety, education, and human rights. They are ultimately about peace. And in a world where division tears the fabric that binds us together, that’s everything.

Jesus put compassion into action every day he lived. He brought hope into every room he walked into. He was literally the calm in the storm. He stretched out his arms in the ultimate sacrifice of love, and the world was never the same. The Easter story is a testament to our ability to make a powerful, positive difference.

Every act of compassion gives rise to peace. Thank you for your generosity through Mission & Service. Your gifts truly do help move mountains.

 

Hymn: 166 VU Joy Comes with the Dawn 

Blessing:

Christ is risen.

Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Go to live as the Body of Christ

resurrected by love

and empowered by the Spirit

to continue God’s work in the world. Amen

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

 

GOOD FRIDAY – APRIL 15, 2022

 

 

We continue to follow with Jesus after the scene in the Upper Room last evening.

 

  

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

 

Call to Worship:

 

Our way through Lent has brought us to this day.

We have asked questions and explored new choices.

We have felt God’s protection.

We have heard about God’s way for us.

We have renewed our friendship with God.

We have experienced God’s gifts of outpoured love.

Today we experience God’s love poured out through Christ.

We experience the passion of Jesus, who suffered and died this day.

 

Hymn:149 VU When I Survey the Wondrous Cross   

 

Prayer of Approach

Loving God, we thank you for Jesus,

who had great courage,

risking even death

to bring about a world of love and justice.

In our worship today,

may we hear and feel your passion, your sorrow,

your forgiveness, and your call to follow,

to love as Jesus loved.

We pray in his name. Amen.

 

Scripture sharing

 Isaiah 52:13–53:12

Let us now hear Isaiah’s words on the suffering of the Israelite people in exile. Let us also remember the suffering servant, Jesus, and all those in history who have suffered persecution and exile.

13 The Lord says:
My servant will succeed!
He will be given great praise
and the highest honors.
14 Many were horrified
at what happened to him.
But everyone who saw him
was even more horrified
because he suffered until
he no longer looked human.
15 My servant will make
nations worthy to worship me]
kings will be silent
as they bow in wonder.
They will see and think about
things they have never seen
or thought about before.

 

53 Has anyone believed us
or seen the mighty power
of the Lord in action?
Like a young plant or a root
that sprouts in dry ground,
the servant grew up
obeying the Lord.
He wasn’t some handsome king.
Nothing about the way he looked
made him attractive to us.
He was hated and rejected;
his life was filled with sorrow
and terrible suffering.
No one wanted to look at him.
We despised him and said,
“He is a nobody!”

He suffered and endured
great pain for us,
but we thought his suffering
was punishment from God.
He was wounded and crushed
because of our sins;
by taking our punishment,
he made us completely well.
All of us were like sheep
that had wandered off.
We had each gone our own way,
but the Lord gave him
the punishment we deserved.

He was painfully abused,
but he did not complain.
He was silent like a lamb
being led to the butcher,
as quiet as a sheep
having its wool cut off.

He was condemned to death
without a fair trial.
Who could have imagined
what would happen to him?
His life was taken away
because of the sinful things
my people had done.
He wasn’t dishonest or violent,
but he was buried in a tomb
among cruel, rich people]

10 The Lord decided his servant
would suffer as a sacrifice
to take away the sin
and guilt of others.
Now the servant will live
to see his own descendants.
He did everything
the Lord had planned.

11 By suffering, the servant
will learn the true meaning
of obeying the Lord.
Although he is innocent,
he will take the punishment
for the sins of others,
so that many of them
will no longer be guilty.
12 The Lord will reward him
with honor and power
for sacrificing his life.
Others thought he was a sinner,
but he suffered for our sins
and asked God to forgive us

 

Psalm 22

Jesus spoke the opening words of Psalm 22 from the cross. As we read responsively, let us reflect on the loneliness and pain Jesus experienced on the cross.

 

My God, my God, why do you desert me?

I cry desperately for help, but it does not come!

 

I feel more like a worm than a person!

I feel scorned and abused by everyone. They make fun of me!

 

They stick out their tongues and sneer.

They say to me: “If God cares for you, why doesn’t God help you?”

 

Like a pack of dogs, evil people close in on me!

They surround me and tear at my hands and feet!

 

I can count my bones! They can all be seen!

My enemies look at me and stare! They gloat over me!

 

They gamble for my clothes and divide them among themselves. Come quickly to help me! Stay close to me, O God,

and I will praise your power to all people!

 

 In the midst of the congregation, I will praise you!

 

 Let all the people of God worship and praise God!

 

The Reproaches: (expressions of disapproval or disappointment)

(Introduce hymn 148 VU Jesus, Remember Me

 

 

 God says, “O my people, what have I done to offend you? Answer me.”

 What do you mean?

 

 First Reproach

 

 John 18:1–9

18 After he said these things, Jesus went out with his disciples and crossed over to the other side of the Kidron Valley. He and his disciples entered a garden there. Judas, his betrayer, also knew the place because Jesus often gathered there with his disciples. Judas brought a company of soldiers] and some guards from the chief priests and Pharisees. They came there carrying lanterns, torches, and weapons. Jesus knew everything that was to happen to him, so he went out and asked, “Who are you looking for?”

They answered, “Jesus the Nazarene.”

He said to them, “I Am.”(Judas, his betrayer, was standing with them.) When he said, “I Am,” they shrank back and fell to the ground. He asked them again, “Who are you looking for?”

They said, “Jesus the Nazarene.”

Jesus answered, “I told you, ‘I Am.’] If you are looking for me, then let these people go.” This was so that the word he had spoken might be fulfilled: “I didn’t lose anyone of those whom you gave me.”

 

 

God made all that is.

Giving us everything in abundance:

land, water, air, and other species to be with us.

God speaks to us in the whisper of a breeze,

in the vastness of the skies,

 in the eyes of a child,

in the life of Jesus.

Yet we did not listen.

We ravage the land and pollute the water and air.

We enslave children and teach them our prejudices.

We cause God’s creatures to become extinct.

We are called to follow Jesus, yet in the end, we betray him.

O people of God, what has God done to offend us?

 

 

Sing: 148 VU Jesus, Remember Me

 

Second Reproach 

 

 John 18:10–11

 

10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 Jesus told Peter, “Put your sword away! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given me?”

 

 God gave us each other as friends, neighbors, and lovers.

 Yet we fight and argue with one another.

We insult, abuse, and even kill one another.

God gave us Jesus.

Yet we think we can defend his name with anger and a sword.

O people of God, what has God done to offend us?

 

Sing: 148 VUJesus, Remember Me

 

 Third Reproach

 

 John 18:15–18, 25–27

 

15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Because this other disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard. 16 However, Peter stood outside near the gate. Then the other disciple (the one known to the high priest) came out and spoke to the woman stationed at the gate, and she brought Peter in. 17 The servant woman stationed at the gate asked Peter, “Aren’t you one of this man’s disciples?”

“I’m not,” he replied. 18 The servants and the guards had made a fire because it was cold. They were standing around it, warming themselves. Peter joined them there, standing by the fire and warming himself.

said nothing in private. 

25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing with the guards, warming himself. They asked, “Aren’t you one of his disciples?”

Peter denied it, saying, “I’m not.”

26 A servant of the high priest, a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, said to him, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?” 27 Peter denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed.

 

 We are God’s people.

God made a covenant with us.

We were shown the way of peace.

We were shown the way of love.

Yet when things get tough,

when our comfort or security is threatened,

we forget and even deny God.

We forget who we are

and follow the way of greed and things we can possess.

We follow the in-group

and the lives of the rich and famous.

O people of God, what has God done to offend us?

 

Sing: 148 VU Jesus, Remember Me.

 

                                        Fourth Reproach

 

  John 18:33–38

 

 33 Pilate went back into the palace. He summoned Jesus and asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others spoken to you about me?”

35 Pilate responded, “I’m not a Jew, am I? Your nation and its chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”

36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world. If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders. My kingdom isn’t from here.”

37 “So you are a king?” Pilate said.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice.”

38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked

 

 

 God gives us the truth, again and again,

in creation,

in great teachers, in scriptures, in art and music,

and the life of Jesus.

The truth is simple: love ourselves and others as God has loved us.

Then justice and righteousness will flow like an everlasting stream.

Yet we turn God’s truth into pious prayers

and rigid rules and empty rituals and religious arguments.

We starve God’s spirit and refuse to grow in wisdom.

O people of God, what has God done to offend us?

 

Sing: 148 VU Jesus, Remember Me

 

                                              Fifth Reproach

 John 19:1–6b

 

Then Pilate had Jesus taken and whipped. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. Over and over they went up to him and said, “Greetings, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.

Pilate came out of the palace again and said to the Jewish leaders, “Look! I’m bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no grounds for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here’s the man.”

When the chief priests and their deputies saw him, they shouted out, “Crucify, crucify!”

Pilate told them, “You take him and crucify him. I don’t find any grounds for a charge against him.”

 

 

 God comes to us in a friend, a teacher,

a so-called enemy, a stranger, a prisoner,

a parent, a brother, a sister, an elder, a hungry child, a lonely soul,

and yet we do not see God.

We even look the other way.

We put Jesus on the cross and abandoned him.

O people of God, what has God done to offend us?

 

Sing: 148 VU Jesus, Remember Me

 

                                               Sixth Reproach

 John 19:7–16a.

 

The Jewish leaders replied, “We have a Law, and according to this Law he ought to die because he made himself out to be God’s Son.”

When Pilate heard this word, he was even more afraid. He went back into the residence and spoke to Jesus, “Where are you from?” Jesus didn’t answer. 10 So Pilate said, “You won’t speak to me? Don’t you know that I have authority to release you and also to crucify you?”

11 Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over me if it had not been given to you from above. That’s why the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.” 12 From that moment on, Pilate wanted to release Jesus.

However, the Jewish leaders cried out, saying, “If you release this man, you aren’t a friend of the emperor! Anyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes the emperor!”

13 When Pilate heard these words, he led Jesus out and seated him on the judge’s bench at the place called Stone Pavement (in Aramaic, Gabbatha). 14 It was about noon on the Preparation Day for the Passover. Pilate said to the Jewish leaders, “Here’s your king.”

15 The Jewish leaders cried out, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

Pilate responded, “What? Do you want me to crucify your king?”

“We have no king except the emperor,” the chief priests answered. 16 Then Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.

 

 God gave us great power to act freely,

to think and decide for ourselves,

to choose oneness with each other and with God.

Yet we use God’s power to lord it over others.

We make laws and rules that only serve our private purposes.

 We control and manipulate others and deny them their own power.

 Or we deny the power God has given us

and let others lord it over us and control us.

We separate ourselves from each other and God.

O people of God, what has God done to offend us?

 

Sing: 148 VU Jesus, Remember Me

 

                                        Seventh Reproach

 

  John 19:16b–19, 23–25

 

The soldiers took Jesus prisoner. 17 Carrying his cross by himself, he went out to a place called Skull Place (in Aramaic, Golgotha). 18 That’s where they crucified him—and two others with him, one on each side and Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate had a public notice written and posted on the cross. It read “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews.”  When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and his sandals, and divided them into four shares, one for each soldier. His shirt was seamless, woven as one piece from the top to the bottom.

24 They said to each other, “Let’s not tear it. Let’s cast lots to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill the scripture,

They divided my clothes among themselves,
and they cast lots for my clothing.
That’s what the soldiers did.

25 Jesus’ mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood near the cross.

 

God has shown us the miracles

of healing, of listening, of learning, of sharing, of hoping,

of remembering, of forgiving, of promising,

of transforming our lives, of everlasting joy.

Yet Jesus was crucified and abandoned by his friends.

And we hardly notice.

Oh, we’re sad for a few minutes, but then it’s back to life as usual.

 We miss the passion, the life worth living.

We go from day to day as if our lives didn’t matter.

O people of God, what has God done to offend you?

 

Sing: 148 VU Jesus, Remember Me

 

                             Eighth Reproach

 

 (Extinguish Christ candle) John 19:28–29

 

 28 After this, knowing that everything was already completed, in order to fulfill the scripture, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was nearby, so the soldiers soaked a sponge in it, placed it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips.


 God gives us manna in the desert,

 rich soil and good food, enough for all.

Yet we eat in fancy restaurants

while many of God’s children starve in the streets.

We destroy forests and farmland and topsoil.

Many animals and insects are endangered.

Our carbon footprint is threatening the future of our planet.

O people of God, what has God done to offend you?

 

Sing: 148 VU Jesus, Remember Me

.

Prayer (in unison)

 

Ever-loving God, we hear what you are saying to us.

 We know that Jesus was not just crucified 2,000 years ago,

but is crucified again and again,

each time we hurt each other and do not follow your way.

Save us, and help us, we humbly ask you.

Give us courage to be with the pain, sorrow, and death of Jesus,

and the pains, sorrows, and deaths of our world.

May his passion be our passion.

May we choose the loving path, whatever the risks.

May we know the miracles of new life and joy

that come in following Jesus,

even unto the cross.

Be gracious unto us, and give us your peace. Amen.

 

You are invited to remain to pray or meditate.

Continue to ponder the story, today and tomorrow.

Try to hold the uncertainty, the pain, the confusion, the tension…

until…

 

        we gather again.

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

 

April 10, 2022

Good morning and welcome to worship at Faith Memorial United Church as we stand outside the gates of Jerusalem on this Palm/Passion Sunday.

 

Please note the upcoming Holy Week worship services:

 

Maundy Thursday ( from the Latin mandatum, meaning commandment) we will remember the scene in the Upper Room on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion.

This brief service will take place via zoom only. Invitation will be sent later this week.

It will include communion so please have a glass of juice and a piece of bread/ cracker handy in your homes.

Also, please prepare a large bowl of water and a hand towel

Service is at 7 pm Thursday.


Good Friday we will follow the passion story from the gospel according to John using a service of reproaches.

Service is at 10:30 am in person and also available online.


Easter Sunday – In person worship will include communion so please remember to bring bread/cracker and grape or drinking box of grape juice. 


Wed@ 6:30 pm reflections from Lenten devotional book Lesser Evils will take place via zoom.


Don’t forget to mark May 1 on your calendars for a special annual meeting worship service followed by annual meeting.

 

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

 

Today marks the beginning of Holy Week. It is a week of growing tension and uncertainty. While it begins in celebration as Jesus enters Jerusalem, it ends with anger, despair and grief. Yet, we marvel at how Jesus stops at nothing- not even death- to proclaim God’s unconditional and never-ending love for all people.

 

As we prepare to share the story, we are drawn to the flickering flame (light candle) that burns brightly in our hearts. We know that there are those who want to extinguish this light in us and in Jesus. We look to Jesus for courage as we gather with the crowds at the gates of Jerusalem.

 

Luke 19: 28-40

 

29 When he had come near Bethpage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

 

Hymn: 122 VU All Glory, Laud and Honour 

 

Call to Worship:

 

Look he is here!

Who?

The Messiah! The Christ!

God’s chosen One! Hosanna!

Hosanna! Hallelujah!

Here comes our king! Riding on a donkey.

Wait! Why is a king riding on a donkey?

Why does he look so quiet in the middle of our parade?

Where is his army?

He has no army.

Just a message of peace, of love.

A rule based on service; a power grounded solidly in God.

A kingdom that cannot be silenced.
Let us worship this Servant King.

Let us worship our God.

 

Opening Prayer and Confession:

Loving God, we line up with the crowd to celebrate the coming of your chosen one.  We shout “Hosanna!” as we welcome Jesus to Jerusalem. May the enthusiasm we feel continue as we journey with him, all the way, through the shadowed and difficult parts ahead. We remember Jesus’ passion for justice. We confess how easy it is to relive the happy parts of his life without taking on his struggle to make the world a better place. Give us courage to overcome our fears and desires for self-preservation. May we be your voice today and live your message, even when the stakes are high. Amen.

 

Words of Affirmation:

 In the fateful journey of Jesus to the cross,

 in the tragic events of this week,

 we hear that same proclamation Jesus spoke over and over again:

 “God loves and forgives all people.”

We are invited to follow,

to embrace the joys and sufferings of Jesus,

of others, and of ourselves,

for God is with us.

 Thanks be to God!

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

 

Scripture sharing: Luke’s Story of the Passion of Jesus

 

Scene One: The Last Supper

 

 

           We will now hear the story of the Passion of Jesus from the book of Luke.

When we speak of Jesus’ passion, we mean his suffering and death. “Passion” also means powerful feelings. Jesus experienced powerful feelings of joy, anger, sadness, loneliness, comfort, and pain during these last days. Let us be with these feelings as much as we are able. To help us, we invite you to try to put yourself in the place of those who were present.

 

Jesus went to the temple soon after he entered Jerusalem. He angrily drove out those   sellers who were cheating people. For the next several days, he taught large crowds in the templeand spent each night on the Mount of Olives.

 

The religious leaders felt threatened by what Jesus said. They made plans

 to get rid of him. Judas, one of Jesus’ disciples, agreed to betray Jesus.

 

Jesus arranged to have a Passover meal with his disciples in a large

 upstairs room.

 

 Luke 22: 14-23

 

 14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it[ until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. [ 21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. 22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” 23 Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

 

 

 

Scene Two: The Dispute about Greatness

 

 Luke 22:24.

 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest.

 

 Luke 22:25–30.

25Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles LORD it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

 

 

Scene Three: Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

 

 Luke 22:31–34.

31 “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 33 And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”

 

 

Scene Four: Prayer and the Agony on the Mount of Olives

 

  You, the congregation, have a part to say in our drama. When one of us

  says, “That was the story then,” you will respond, “And it still happens now.”

 

  Luke 22:39–46.

39 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. 40 When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” 41 Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” [[43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. 44 In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.]][ 45 When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”

 

 Imagine how embarrassed the disciples must have been! Jesus told them to pray for     strength, and they fell asleep instead! Jesus had been working hard, preparing for the challenges ahead. They would have been sad that they let Jesus down. Think about how often you have let down a friend or a loved one when they really need you…

 

That was the story then.

And it still happens now.

 

Scene Five: The Betrayal and the Arrest of Jesus

 

 Luke 22:47–48

 

 47 While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?”

 

We might imagine what was going through Judas’ mind. Had he given up on Jesus? Was he no longer able to understand what Jesus was saying or doing? Things simply weren’t unfolding with Jesus’ mission in the way he had thought they would. Jesus wasn’t concerned about taking control and power over the Romans.  Could Judas see where it was all heading and wanted out rather than risk looking like a fool?  Did he simply cave to his own selfish ambitions? Did he succumb to the feeling that the world belongs to the rich and the strong and that following Jesus had just been a waste of time?

 

 

That was the story then.

 And it still happens now.

 

 Luke 22:49–51

49 When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” 50 Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.

 

What about that disciple who struck the slave? Do you suppose that given all that was happening, he didn’t know what else to do but to get angry? We all know that feeling.  Sometimes when we get angry or frustrated with something that has happened, we just react without thinking. We end up hurting someone else or even ourselves. When this disciple saw that Judas had betrayed Jesus, it was like he knew he had to do something. He used his sword, the weapon he had, against one of the enemy. Sometimes we use whatever is close at hand, even our words as weapons to hurt others too. Thankfully, Jesus healed this slave and probably saved this disciple from getting arrested as well!

 

 That was the story then.

 And it still happens now.

 

We might wonder about that slave of the high priest, too. Imagine what it was like for him. He was just doing his job, and this guy chops off his ear! The pain would have been incredible – and then, somehow, the pain was gone, and his ear was okay. Would he not later wonder: Who is this Jesus, anyway? What would he tell his family about this when he got home later?

 

 That was the story then.

 And it still happens now.

 

 Luke 22:52–53

 

52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? 53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!”

 

Scene Six: Peter’s Denial and Rejection

 

 Luke 22:54–62

 

 54Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” 57But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. 58A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. 59About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” 60Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61The LORD turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the LORD had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62And he went outside and wept bitterly.

 

Imagine how Peter would have felt. He would have kicked himself over and over again, replaying what had just happened. Imagine the regret of denying Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times! Earlier he had said he would do anything for Jesus, even die for him. What had happened to Peter in the meantime? Was he just too hung up on being liked and being safe? Had he forgotten how Jesus had said that following him would mean taking risks?

 

That was the story then.

And it still happens now.

 

 Luke 22:63–71

 

63The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. 64They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” 65And they said many other insulting things to him. 66At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and the teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67“If you are the Messiah,” they said, “tell us.” Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” 70They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “You say that I am.” 71Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.”

 

What if you had been one of the religious leaders at that meeting? What would you have concluded about this man Jesus? After all, you were the keepers of the law and the traditions and here was a man challenging all the traditional ways. It was no wonder they branded Jesus as a troublemaker! Too many dangerous new ideas. The only solution- get rid of him!

 

 

 That was the story then.

 And it still happens now.

 

Scene Seven: Jesus before Pilate and Herod

 

 Luke 23:1–12.

 

 Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesusbefore Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.”

 

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus [ gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. 12 That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.

 

What about Herod? Would he have heard much about Jesus before? Would he welcome the opportunity to meet this famous Jesus in person, to hear what he had to say for himself? Imagine though how disappointed Herod might have been when Jesus just stood there and said nothing, even when everyone was making fun of him. Surely, Herod must have questioned how anyone as unassuming as Jesus standing silently before him could ever possibly think that he could change the world. To Herod, Jesus must have seemed like an unwanted interruption in his schedule. Couldn’t these others see that Jesus would amount to nothing?

 

That was the story then.

And it still happens now.

 

Scene Eight: Jesus Sentenced to Death

 

 Luke 23:13–25.

 

13 Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him; 15 neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Behold, nothing deserving death has been done by him; 16 I will therefore chastise him and release him.”[

18 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— 19 a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city, and for murder. 20 Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus; 21 but they shouted out, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no crime deserving death; I will therefore chastise him and release him.” 23 But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate gave sentence that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, whom they asked for; but Jesus he delivered up to their will.

 

Pilate would have been caught between a rock and a hard place. He gave Jesus every chance he could have given him to speak up and defend himself. At the same time, the people were on Pilate’s back. His job, after all, was to keep the peace. So, what was it, let Jesus go free or watch a riot break out if Jesus wasn’t sentenced to death? What would it matter anyway? Better to give in to what the people wanted rather than lose his position of authority. Besides, in the long run, what would this one death matter anyway?

 

That was the story then.

And it still happens now.

 

Scene Nine: The Crucifixion of Jesus

 

 Luke 23:26

 

26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.

 

Poor Simon of Cyrene, he would have had no idea where he was going or what was going on. He had no opinion about Jesus. It was purely by chance that he became involved in the whole affair. He was simply grabbed from among the curious onlookers. With a sword held to his face, he was told to carry some criminal’s cross. Imagine how fearful he would have been of being mistaken for one of Jesus’ followers. In his flashbacks to that moment though, we can only wonder if somehow, he remembered how Jesus looked at him. Was there something in that glance that maybe at the time Simon just couldn’t put into words? Something that made him realize just how much he was loved?

 

That was the story then.

And it still happens now.

 

 Luke 23:27–31

 

27A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28 But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

 

Surely the women must have been lamenting and wondering how all this could have been happening right in front of them. Why is this innocent man having to suffer? What cowards these men of Rome and the Sanhedrin were! The women would be remembering all that Jesus had done so much for them. Yet, at this moment, they could do nothing for him. What could he possibly mean when he said that they should cry for themselves and their children?

 

That was the story then.

And it still happens now.

 

 Luke 23:32–38

 

 32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah [ of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

 

To these soldiers, it was all a game- rolling a dice, trying to win his cloak. What did they care? Before too long they would be off duty. Why not have a little fun before then? What’s the difference? 

 

 That was the story then.

 And it still happens now.  

 

 Luke 23:39–43

 

 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deridinghim and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into] your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

 

 

You have to give it to that second criminal. He sees Jesus’ innocence. He recognizes and commends Jesus who, even in the midst of horrible pain, about to die, forgives the very ones who are killing him. This criminal can’t get over how Jesus then turns and offers him comfort too, even in his dying hour. What grace and compassion!

 

 That was the story then.

 And it still happens now.

 

Scene Ten: The Death of Jesus

 

 Luke 23:44–47

 

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole landuntil three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.”

 

That centurion- he was supposed to be a tough Roman soldier and not feel anything for the people he had to crucify. But for some reason, it seemed that this man saw that Jesus was different. Could it be that he felt Jesus’ power and compassion even there on the cross? Otherwise, why would he have praised God?

 

 That was the story then.

 And it still happens now.

 

 

Scene Eleven: The Burial of Jesus

 

 Luke 23:48–54

 

48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49 But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning.

 

What more could Joseph of Arimathea have done? In the face of it all, he couldn’t have prevented Jesus’ death. Now, he was ashamed of all that had happened. The least he

could do was care for Jesus’ body and bury him with dignity.

 

 That was the story then.

 And it still happens now.

 

 Luke 23:55–56

 

53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

 

Imagine the pain as they walked away from the scene knowing that their beloved teacher is gone. We can only think of our world today and all the senseless things happening… so much sorrow, so much hunger, so much war, so many innocent deaths, so much cruelty, so much power over others.

Jesus, your loss is a heavy burden. Yet somehow… somehow, we still have hope.

 

That was the story then.

And it still happens now.

 

Hymn: 144 VU Were You There?   

 

Let us Pray:

 

God, it is not easy to face this story. Much of it we cannot understand. Some of the details we struggle to make sense of. How is it that one so loved became one so hated, one who sought to heal and love others and encouraged us to do the same brought out the opposite in us?

We think of the world we live in today and how it still crucifies love.

We have seen it over and over again-

prophets of peace being silenced because they asked us to change more than we desired.

We are familiar with a world of war and injustice, of greed and ingratitude, of personal agendas winning out over compassion, of the weak and marginalized being trampled upon, of justice being side-lined by a desire to maintain the status quo.

And yet… somehow, we hold to hope, confident of your steadfast love which endures for all time.

As we sit in the shadows of this week, may we not lose track of the light within us, the promise of something beyond this, beyond the reality of all this uncertainty, all this pain, something that cannot be silenced.

It is to that hope that we cling…

Please feel free to pray and meditate and then to depart in silence

 

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