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January 29, 2023

Epiphany 4

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

We light this candle to remind us of the One who came as a light for all the nations.

 

Call to Worship

Friends, come!

Gather around deep insight.

Feed on words of unusual wisdom,

seeing before us an unfolding vision

of a renewed and just world

as close and real as our breathing.

 

Come!

Jesus,

our teacher, healer,

leader, and friend,

invites our good and attentive company.

Our time together will be blessed.

 

Opening Prayer (unison)

Open to your Spirit

and alive to the Christ,

who was, who is, and who comes,

we gather in thanksgiving, O God.

We offer you our adoration,

our acclaim,

and our very lives as we sing.

 

HYMN  VU 382 Breathe on me, Breath of God

Prayer of Confession

This prayer seeks to highlight how conventional wisdom is not the way of Christ. There was a cue to begin each stanza by ringing a bell or singing bowl each time.

 

We have heard it said:

It’s just common sense.

Self-protection at all costs.

Conquer or be conquered.

Charity always begins at home;

and we often believe without thinking

(observe silence followed by bell).

 

We have heard it said:

Of course, our culture is superior.

Warheads make for peace and security.

Wealth will buy happiness.

Celebrities are role models;

and we often believe without thinking

(observe silence followed by bell).

 

We have heard it said:

Nothing can be done to change that.

The poor will always be with us.

I am not my brother or sister’s keeper.

Tears are for women and children;

and we often believe without thinking

(observe silence followed by bell).

 

God of surprises and non-convention,

grace us with a vulnerability and openness

to hear the wise and lyrical voice of Jesus anew.

 

May our way of seeing,

thinking,

acting,

and responding

be changed in light of Jesus’

great love of you

and the world of your making.

Amen.

 

Words of Affirmation

Blessed ones, the God who gathers us

together with words of peace and hope,

is the same God who renews grace and peace within us now.

We are a loved and forgiven people.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

Readings & Reflection

Micah 6:1–8

Listen to what the Lord says:

“Stand up, plead my case before the mountains;
    let the hills hear what you have to say.

“Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation;
    listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth.
For the Lord has a case against his people;
    he is lodging a charge against Israel.

“My people, what have I done to you?
    How have I burdened you? Answer me.
I brought you up out of Egypt
    and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you,
    also Aaron and Miriam.
My people, remember
    what Balak king of Moab plotted
    and what Balaam son of Beor answered.
Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal,
    that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”

With what shall I come before the Lord
    and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

 

On his blog post The Waking Dreamer Alan Brehm wrote —

The Secret of Happiness

A few years ago a film called “The Secret” was all the rage. It purported to reveal an ancient principle that had enabled people for generations to achieve wealth, success and happiness. That principle was called the “Law of Attraction”: all you have to do to get everything you want in life is to simply believe that you will get it, envision your life with it, and speak about it as if it is a reality. This will then “attract” what you want into your life.  The more we hear of hucksters like this, the more we tend to be skeptical that there is any such thing as a “secret to happiness.” But I would say that there is a “secret” to happiness that has been recognized throughout human history, and by most of the world’s major religions. The true secret to happiness is not to hold tightly to whatever it is you want and come up with all kinds of schemes for getting it. The true secret to happiness is to let go what you want and accept life as it is. Call it what you will—trusting God, being enlightened, letting go—it is the true secret to happiness.

What does this have to do with our lessons for today? It seems to me that the qualities for living expressed in our Scripture readings today—justice, kindness, integrity, and humility—come from embracing this way of living. There is something about letting go our obsession with getting what we want and accepting what life brings us that opens us up to be able to enjoy the goodness all around us. And in turn it opens us up to relate to those around us with compassion —even those we may or may not “like.” When we can look at another human being—even one who may be an “enemy”—with compassion, we can let go all our fears and our preconceived notions, and just see a human being who is struggling to find happiness. We can be truly kind to those we see in that light, and we can also begin to care about their well-being, which means that we care about their peace and justice and we accept our calling to relate to them with integrity.

One of the reasons why this approach to living remains so elusive to us is that it requires that we accept the fact that we are broken people. We have to accept our basic vulnerability to life in order to let go and embrace life as it is. Most of us find this quite difficult, if not downright impossible. It requires that we experience some measure of brokenness—which is something most of us spend a lot of energy and effort trying to avoid. We have to encounter what Anne Lamott calls the “gift of failure.”[3] Many of us may find that language strange, but failure is a gift in that it enables you to accept the humility of looking foolish, of being broken and flawed. In a very real sense, failure enables you to embrace the vulnerability of being human. And throughout the ages, many have recognized the profound wisdom that it is only through accepting our vulnerability that we find the path to peace, the path to blessedness, the path to life and true happiness.

I think this idea finds expression in our lessons most clearly in the Gospel reading—Jesus’ “Beatitudes.” Many of us may have been raised to hear these verses as an outline of character traits that we as Christians are called to embody. It may be that in a secondary way, but that is not the main point. The main point is that the Kingdom of God turns everything in this world upside down![5] “Blessed are the poor in spirit” first of all says that those whom society has deemed unfortunate are truly blessed in God’s realm. It says that those who have no reason in this world for hope or joy, those who have been deprived of their fair share of goodness and justice—these are the ones for whom God’s Kingdom and God’s justice and God’s peace are incredible gifts.[6]

Part of what makes the Beatitudes so counter-intuitive is that Jesus pronounces God’s blessing on those who expose our vulnerability![7] From that perspective, the secret to happiness—to open yourself and accept life as it is and then to live out of the compassion and integrity of that wholeness—may sound foolish.[8] Our typical approach to life is that success or wealth or power equals happiness. The problem with that is that the more you succeed, the more wealth and power you gain, the more you have to lose, and therefore the more you relate to life in fear and competition. This way of life leads us to think we can only be happy in life by winning, by beating someone else at the game.

As those who seek to follow Jesus Christ we are called to embody a completely different vision of life. We are called to spend our lives working to extend God’s mercy to the left out and beat down in this world, to seek to establish God’s peace and God’s justice for all the dispossessed and disenfranchised of this world. We are called to align our lives with those whom the world despises and rejects—which means that we too will be despised and rejected because of our commitment to God’s mercy and peace and justice. But like those whom the world tramples, when we align our lives in that way we also can rejoice when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.[9] As St. Paul says it, “God has chose what is low and despised in the world” (1 Cor. 1:28).

We may not like those words, but we cannot avoid the truth they confront us with. The only way we can truly embody Jesus’ vision of God’s kingdom and God’s justice and God’s peace is by opening ourselves to accept life as it is and our own vulnerability to the pains and losses and disappointments of life. It is only as we embrace life in this way that we can find true joy, and can open ourselves enough to leave competition behind and instead relate to those around us in compassion and integrity. May God grant us the courage to embark on that path of life—to walk in the light that our savior Jesus the Christ has brought to us, and so find the true secret to blessedness.

Matthew 5:1–12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the

mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples

came to him.

We are called to be God’s people and are open to

receive God’s holy word.

Then Jesus began to speak, and taught them,

saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is

the kingdom of heaven.

VU 266 “Amazing Grace” verse 1

 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Comfort me, O Lord! For I am weak and lack the

confidence to lead a saintly life.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

VU 266 “Amazing Grace” verse 2

 

Bless are those who hunger and thirst for

righteousness, for they will be filled

For God knows our every thought, God lives in

the midst of God’s people.

VU 266 “Amazing Grace” verse 3

 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

God’s grace is the holy love given to us unconditionally.

Blessed are the peacemakers

for they will be called children of God.

VU 266 “Amazing Grace” verse 4

 

Blessed are those who are persecuted for

righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In baptism, we are called, claimed, and

commissioned into the life of Christ.

Blessed are those who are reviled and persecuted,

against whom all kinds of evil is falsely uttered on

my account.

VU 266 “Amazing Grace” verses 1 and 5

 

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven;

for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets

who were before you.

Amen.

 

(Written by Tammy Fergusson

Gathering, Advent/Christmas/Epiphany 2022/23 Page 76  Used with Permission)

 

Contrasting Jesus’ beatitudes with contemporary ones:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying

Blessed are the rich in spirit — who think they are really special, and insist on others treating them that way, whether they like it or not. theirs is the world!

Blessed are the poor in spirit – – whose egos are not puffed up with self-importance, who know that even the greatest person is made of dust, and who look to God for their support, and approval. Theirs is the Kingdom of God.

Blessed are those who  avoid facing their own faults, and don’t let themselves feel the misery of others or think too deeply- Blessed are they, for ignorance is bliss.

Blessed are those who mourn- who are aware of their own losses and failures, the suffering of others, and the sadness of a world that is so much less than it was created to be. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the aggressive – – who know what they want and go for it, and don’t worry about the whiners and the losers for they shall take over the earth.

Blessed are the MEEK — who do not seek their own advantage over others, but seek what is best for all; they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after SUCCESS AND POPULARITY for they shall make it to the top.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness — who long for God’s will to be done in their lives and in the world — for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the GUARDIANS of MORALITY – – who do not need mercy because they follow the rules pretty darn well, and who make sure that those who DON’T follow the rules are punished, to set an example. They shall receive acclaim as “pillars of society”.

Blessed are the MERCIFUL – – who understand and have compassion, seeking to heal and forgive, and not taking pleasure in condemning. They shall receive mercy.

Blessed are those who figure out how the game is played and learn how to play it well — being moral and ethical when it pays, but not hesitating to abandon high principles when necessary — for they shall see short term profits rise.

Blessed are the pure in heart. For they shall see God.

Blessed are those who succeed in imposing their will on others, for they shall be called “winners.”

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called “children of God.”

Blessed are those who do not make waves and never offend anyone, for theirs is the kingdom of cheap peace. 

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are YOU – – when people revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of untrue stuff about you when you try genuinely to follow me. Rejoice — be really, really glad when you stir up trouble by saying and doing the kinds of things that I would. For it means you’re on the right track – – you are helping to bring about the Kingdom of God — and your reward in heaven is great. For that’s exactly how they treated the prophets who came before you.

 

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

Your Mission & Service gifts support anti-racism programs and initiatives like the ones Adele 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.

 

Prayers of the People

God of all goodness,

by glimpsing something of your vision

of a just and merciful world,

we become acutely aware

of how much inhumanity

and suffering still exists in the world.

 

It would overwhelm us

if it were not for the tender beauty

and hope that arises each new morning

and shimmers from the heavens at night.

And so from graced places

of gratitude and wonder we pray:

 

For Earth staggering under the weight

of global warming and deforestation,

together, may we see and find another way.

 

For people staggering under the weight

of poverty, violence, and loss,

together, may we see and find another way.

 

For nations staggering under the weight

of pride and a need to impose their will,

together, may we see and find another way.

 

And for the Christian Church staggering under the weight

of seeming irrelevance within secular cultures,

together, may we see and find another way.

 

God of all, honour the desires in our hearts

and may they flourish within the people

of grace and compassion we seek to be.

 

we gather these spoken prayers together with the prayers that rest deep within us, as we continue to pray as he taught us saying… Our Father…

Amen.

 

HYMN   896 VU Blest are They 

 

Blessing

 

Go now, beloved,

to follow the love of God

to be surprised by God’s wonder

to lift your voice for love and compassion.

 

Dare to believe that you are people

on a mission of healing and grace.

Feel God’s encouragement

to be a blessing as you offer blessings

with your heart and hands and

know that you never, ever go alone. 

 

Amen.

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

 

 

January 22., 2023

Good afternoon folks. Welcome to worship at FMUC.

Last call for Lenten Devotional book from United Church that we will use for our Lenten study. Cost $20 when it arrives. Please let Bev know by tomorrow (Mon) if you would like a copy.

This week, I will be out of the office attending a United Fresh Start facilitator training event with leadership from General Council. I will be joining with 23 other clergy from the Maritime area. This is a learning program designed to help ministers and congregational groups explore in depth some specific dynamics of congregational life. It looks fairly intensive but it will give us access to practical hands-on material for learning events.

 

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.

From Isaiah we read, “The people who walked in shadows have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep despair- on them light has shined.” As we light this candle, may we remember Christ as the centre of who we are and why we gather.

Call to Worship:

With many questions we need to ask God

and with so many things we don’t quite understand,

we gather to worship, called by God’s grace.

From many places to this place

we come as disciples of Christ, called by Christ’s peace.

As sisters and brothers, united as people of the Spirit,

we are called to change direction, to live in newness of life.

We belong to each other and to our God.

Praise be to God!

 

Let us pray:

O God, you are our light and our salvation.

You invite us to follow, to witness and to wonder.

You hold us close.

We ask so much of you, O God.

We want your beauty and comfort.

We need your strength and peace.

Help us to accept your offer to be our guide

as we seek to bring light and love to the world. Amen.

Hymn:  563 VU Jesus, You Have Come to the Lakeshore 

Prayer of Confession:

Holy God,

your voice invites us, beckons us and inspires us to risk going in new directions.

Sometimes, though, we don’t pause long enough to listen.

Instead, we move forward, doing what needs to be done,

but without much enthusiasm or direction.

We simply cross things off our lists and move on to the next thing.

We find ourselves splitting hairs over things that are really not all that important.

Forgive us, God.

Remind us of what truly matters- centering our lives on you and seeking to follow in your ways.

Unite us in that purpose, we pray. Amen.

 

Words of Affirmation:

God hears our prayers and promises us peace.

God forgives us and sets us on a new path.

We are a new people invited to journey in new directions.

This is good news! Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

Readings and Reflection:

Invitations to Change Direction

Barbara Lemmel in an article in the Christian Century tells a story that reminds us that congregational divisions are not unique to the Christian tradition.  It seems that a young rabbi discovered a serious problem in his new congregation.  During Friday services, half his congregation stood for prayers while the other half remained seated.  Each faction shouted at the other that they were observing the true tradition.

Since the rabbi couldn’t find a way to solve the dilemma, he had a conversation with the synagogue’s 99-year-old founder.  When he met the elderly rabbi, he described his problem.  “Tell me,” the young rabbi pleaded, “was it the tradition for the congregation to stand during the prayers?”

“No,” the elderly rabbi answered.

“So,” the younger rabbi responded, “then it was the tradition to sit during the prayers.”

“No,” the elderly rabbi again answered.

“Well,” the younger rabbi pressed, “what we have is complete chaos!  Half the people stand, and the other half sits and screams.”

“Ah,” said the aged rabbi, “that was the tradition.”

Complete chaos. This is exactly what Paul was facing in the Corinthian church. You would think that being a small, fledgling church numbering in the dozens that they might band together. However, you know what it is like- human nature being as it is. After leaving them and heading off to help establish other communities in other areas, Paul gets whiff of the chaos through a report brought to him. It seems that the church in Corinth was a mess. Internal squabbles and factions had become the norm. People insisted on forming themselves into cliques based on which leader had baptized them. Strife and jealousy were building up among them. It was not at all the vision that Paul had for them. We can imagine how he must have been feeling, ready to pull his hair out and wondering what he might say to get them to change direction. Listen for the sarcasm in his remarks as he tries to get them to pull together:

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you but that you be knit together in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been made clear to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God] that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel—and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Paul’s words sound much like those my mother used to say to us when we were kids, “Stop your bickering. Would you please try to get along.” I think though there was even more to it than just keeping the peace. In breaking off into all sorts of individual loyalties to various leaders, the Corinthian church had become sidetracked from its very core- the heart of what they were called to be about as followers of Christ. Paul reminds them that their concern with who did the baptizing was not the essence of who they were. It was in whose name they were baptized- Christ’s name, that mattered. It is through Christ, not through any of their human leaders, that God’s saving grace and power was being made known to them. Circling their wagons around human leaders was not the way to go. I am certain that what Paul would have preferred to have heard in the reports about them would have been news about how they were following Christ by keeping the cross firmly in view and spreading the good news far and wide. It is little wonder his tone is sarcastic, even rambling and humorous in places as he forgets just who he may have baptized. It is little wonder that he seems to be losing patience with them. It is not hard to tell that he is more than a little frustrated with them!

 It was not that disagreements were bad. I don’t think he meant that honest discussion and debate within the Christian community were unwelcome or needing to be discouraged. The challenge, however, was how to disagree without becoming disagreeable. It involved learning how to celebrate the diversity of gifts present without descending into destructive rivalries. They needed to keep the love of Christ as the central foundation. We know from our own experiences that having everyone agree all the time is impossible. Certainly, measures taken during the pandemic have shown us that! Over and over again, diverse opinions have been expressed about which direction we should be taking and when. We also have realized hopefully by now that caring for one another in community has often meant laying aside our own preferences for the safety and protection of the whole.

Paul’s reminder to that early Corinthian church is a good reminder to us too. It is easy to lose sight of Christ and to get caught in what I call “majoring in minors.” It is natural too because we are all human. We come from different families, traditions, experiences and cultures. We are not all the same. Differences are inevitable. What that early church experienced has continued to be present throughout the history of church communities. Splits between the East and the West. The Protestant Reformation with some following Luther, others following John Wesley, others Calvin and so on. Stronger allegiances to certain popes more than to others. Yet, what Paul is saying to us is this- Christ is bigger than any religious movement and that is something we can never lose sight of as we live and serve in his name.

Following Christ challenges us to this new way of being and living in community, remembering that it is not simply about us and our desires. It involves being respectful of the whole. In our gospel lesson we get a very concrete example of how those first disciples experienced this. Jesus meets them on the seashore in the midst of their ordinary lives and, much like Paul in speaking to the Corinthian church, invites them to change direction.

Matthew 4: 12-23

  Now when Jesus] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.]

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishers. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

23 Jesuswent throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good newsof the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

For these disciples, Jesus’ message was simple-“follow me”. He knew that he could not do it alone. He needed to encourage some helpers to journey with him. He needed them to live into his unfolding vision. For them, that meant a change in direction, becoming life-long learners of the mission of Jesus. Yet, we know that it didn’t take long before they too fell into the kind of squabbles Paul saw emerging in the Corinthian church. James and John would later argue about who was the greatest and ask for prominent status in the coming kingdom. When Jesus was no longer physically with them, they struggled with how to be his body in the world. In calling them at the shoreline that day to come and follow, to change direction in their lives, Jesus called them as they were. He didn’t seem concerned with calling model disciples who would never mess up. It was like he knew they, much like us as followers today, would always be a work in progress.

It’s a little like a story I was reading online about an aunt who was sharing how in their younger days, her niece and nephew fought over issues large and small. She watched one day how they were arguing over who got to sit in the front seat of the car. The exasperated Mom asked, “Is there anything you two won’t fight about?” For a minute they stopped shouting. They happily beamed and said, “No.” Then they resumed their fighting. Yet, the aunt noted, these two loved one another indivisibly.

For both the early disciples on the seashore that day hearing Jesus inviting them and for that early church at Corinth, it was that kind of love that would need to stand above all the human divisions and differences of opinion that would challenge them along their journeys.

As we look around our own church and the churches of our global community today, we are no different. There are all kinds of things that we may disagree on- understandings of baptism, the ordination of women, how we worship, the climate crisis, sexual identities, ways to reach out, social issues galore. There are many ways we can draw lines in the sand. The key is how, in following Jesus, we choose to deal with our differences. Like that story I told you earlier of the young rabbi’s dilemma in dealing with his congregation that was divided over whether to stand or sit during the prayers, we can crumble into brokenness and division. Or, as Paul encouraged the struggling church at Corinth, we can choose to change direction, holding up our ultimate loyalty to Christ and to one another as the glue that holds us together, even in our all our diversities and disagreements.

That’s something I am sure that that the fishers – Peter and Andrew, James and John, had to figure out as well as time went on as well. That no matter what, we are in it together. We are part of something much bigger than ourselves, bigger than just Jesus and me. I like how an African proverb puts it:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

What really matters is hearing and being transformed by Christ’s ongoing invitation to change direction. What holds us together is our experience of Christ’s love. What reassures us is his promise to equip us as we follow. With it though there is no promise of success. There are no details of the journey and no set destinations. Simply follow as you are. Bring your skills, your talents, your regrets, your failures. Bring every bit of it. By God’s grace, Jesus will use it all. Nothing will be wasted.  Put it all in there and offer it with the gifts of others, not in a spirit of competition or rivalry, but in a spirit of love and with the understanding that whatever we offer, with God’s help, it will be used to bring about transformation in our world. An invitation to us all to live into the new kind of community of God’s unfolding love for the world- a community that calls for our ultimate loyalty to Christ and one that invites us all to pull together. Amen.

Minute for Mission

The Path toward Healing: Murray Pruden’s Work

Healing begins with truth and reconciliation.

In late October 2022, the federal government recognized the residential school system as an act of genocide against Canada’s Indigenous Peoples.

It was a reminder that we are still very much on the path to reconciliation and healing.

“We know that we have an impact as The United Church of Canada,” says the Rev. Murray Pruden. He is Nehiyaw, Cree First Nations, from the Goodfish Lake and Saddle Lake First Nations and is the current Executive Minister for Indigenous Ministries and Justice for The United Church of Canada.

Supported by Mission & Service, Pruden has made significant gains in building relationships of trust and healing between the church and Indigenous communities.

After unmarked graves were discovered in Kamloops, BC, in 2021, the United Church gave an additional $3 million to help Indigenous communities respond, mourn, heal, and potentially find other unmarked graves.

Because we believe every child matters!

The funds also supported the dedication of memorials to lost children, like one for a BC community that raised a totem pole funded in part by Mission & Service.

Other healing initiatives include the translation of the Mohawk Language Bible, the Food for the North program, healing circles, and programs for Indigenous youth to learn and reclaim their languages.

Pruden stresses the need for patience.

“Ever since Kamloops, we had many non-Indigenous church communities and people ask what they can do or how can they contribute in different ways,” he says. “And we at the time really kind of put our hands up and said, ‘Whoa, we need to pause for a minute because we need to mourn.’

“I think that we still have so much to give, to teach, and to be in relationship with. And as long as we have a greater understanding within the church and the supports, we can do it.”

Relationships, friendships, understanding, and trust―these are the foundations of the work Mission & Service is doing across Turtle Island thanks to your generosity.

Let us pray:

Gracious God, you have called us each by name and invited us to be your disciples. Like the early disciples, you speak to us in the midst of our ordinary, everyday routines challenging us to risk journeying down new pathways. We are grateful for the gift of this day and for the beauty of this planet where we live, work, worship and play. Help us to preserve its beauty and the natural life it supports.

We are grateful for the people in our lives- co-workers, neighbours, friends and families, for those who join with us to worship you and to serve in your name. Show us how we can support one another as we seek to answer your call in our lives. Help us to leave aside differences for the sake of the gospel, that our witness to your love and grace in the community and the world might be all the stronger.

We pray this day for all whose bodies, lives and spirits are broken. We think of the many who struggle with delay in medical attention as they wait on long lists for diagnosis, for treatments and surgeries. We pray for all who work under great stresses to care for others. We lift before you those who grieve the loss of loved ones and others who sit at bedsides as death looms. Speak your word of healing and reassurance, O God. We remember the many who are shut in during these icy and snowy months and who long for companionship, some little gesture that says someone is thinking about them. We pray for families who are struggling for so many reasons- the rising costs of daily necessities, worries about job security, those who have lost their savings or businesses and are in need of some kind of reassurance from you. Show us ways to offer support where and when we can. We remember our aboriginal communities as once again we are learning of unmarked graves of innocent children being discovered and all the anguish and trauma this surfaces. We call on you to bring peace in our world where conflict rages and comfort where despair reigns. We pray for all who are seeking to cope in the midst of floods, storms and power outages. We remember before you today people living face to face with war and violence, especially those places where ancient hatreds burn.

We remember people living face to face with discrimination and social prejudice, those who are bullied at school, at work or at home. Speak to them your word of dignity and love, O God.

 In this week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we remember people of different creeds and faiths, those who seek understanding and co-operation among different religious traditions, and those who show love to their neighbours, whatever their creed or conviction. God, speak to us a word of reconciliation. And so, in unity with your Church around the world you love,

we pray together the words Jesus taught us saying… Our Father

Hymn: 331 Vu The Church is One Foundation 

Blessing:

Go now to follow the love of God

to be surprised by God’s wonder

to lift your voice for love and compassion.

Dare to believe that you are people

on a mission of healing and grace,

invited and encouraged by God to change direction

to be a blessing as you offer blessings to others

and know that you never, ever go alone.

 

The light of Christ is what you carry with you. Amen.

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

 

January 15, 2023

This past week, 106 pounds of non-perishable food were dropped off at Valley Food Bank from our church.

Remember that the box is always there for you to add your items. Drop offs are made after the first Sunday of the month.

If you are able to help with the delivery, please sign the sheet in the entry way.

Thanks to all who are remembering to bring in their items.

 

Reminder that the meeting of the Official Board to approve the budget prior to its presentation to annual meeting is next Sunday after in person worship.

 

Good to see folks picking up some new reading material at the book swap! Be sure to add your titles!

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

We light this candle to remind us of the One who came as a light for all the nations.

Call to Worship: (refers to 1 Corinthians 1:1-9)

Grace and peace to you from God and from Jesus Christ.

Friends, in God we have been graced with wisdom and knowledge,

we are not lacking in any spiritual gift.

We are continually encouraged and strengthened,

called as partners in Christ’s mission of love and service to the world.

We gather in hope.

We worship with the Spirit at play in our hearts.

Praise be to the God of goodness and light.

 

Let us pray;

Faithful God, you give us your all,

holding nothing back for the sake of fuller, wider expressions of love.

Move us to take similar risks.

Grace us with renewed confidence,

and inspire us to come and see your touchable vision

for life, work and service in your name. Amen.

Hymn: 96 VU Will You Come and See the Light 

Prayer of Confession:

Holy God, from all the many paths our lives take,

we hear you asking us again and again, “What are you looking for?”

We admit before you and to those around us,

that at times it all seems too hard;

when we see little fruit for our labours,

receive ingratitude for honest efforts,

or feel we are simply spinning our tires without getting anywhere.

Fear and uncertainty haunt our stepping forth in faith.

We prefer playing it safe rather than answering your call to ‘come and see’.

Forgive us,

not just for a lack of belief in you but a lack of belief in who we are.

Forgive us for negative conclusions and false humilities

that would have us hide away and not hear the calls for creative love and justice

that you place ever before us.

Restore us in the undying courage of Christ

and the strengthening presence of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Words of Affirmation

Before you were born, you were named with love and grace.

God is still listening now and paying attention to each honest confession.

You are forgiven.

You are redeemed.

You are loved.

May we dare to grow into this affirmation of God’s love.

 

Readings and Reflection:

 What Are You Looking For?

What are you looking for? That’s a question we hear often from salespersons when we enter a store. Can I help you find something? Are you looking for anything special? It is also a question that we can ask ourselves on a much deeper level as well. What are you looking for in life? What answers would I get if I were to ask that question out on the streets- Loving relationships? Safety? Acceptance? Fulfillment? Meaning? Purpose? Success? Wisdom? Guidance? Material wealth? Fame?

In both of our readings this morning that question seems to play a central role. Our reading from Isaiah is one of the suffering servant passages. There has been a lot of speculation as to the identity of this servant. Is it the prophet Isaiah?  Is it the people of Israel in the midst of exile? No one has ever been entirely certain. Nonetheless, we can all relate to the feelings that are shared by this servant. He(or she!) has been called to a task, to proclaim that God is faithful but now feels like he has hit a brick wall. Despite all the best efforts, there are no visible results. There is nothing to show. The servant is ready to throw in the towel. What he has been looking for cannot be found. The servant feels stuck- as if all his labour has been in vain. Watch, though, how God responds to the servant’s feelings, not by letting him off the hook, but by upping the challenge:

Isaiah 49: 1-7:

Listen to me, O coastlands;
pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born;
while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the Lord
and my reward with my God.”

And now the Lord says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
he says,
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,
the slave of rulers,
“Kings shall see and stand up;
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Did you catch that? Despite a feeling of having done nothing but spin his wheels, God doesn’t let this servant off the hook. Despite a sense of not being up to the task, of not having achieved the results that were desired, the servant receives an even bigger challenge- to be a light to all the nations, not just Israel. God redirects the servant from the fruitlessness of previous efforts with meager results and clarifies the call, pushing the servant beyond self- interest to something wider and more global.

I don’t know about you, but I can identify with this servant some days. Some days I wish I was a house painter. I could start out in the morning on one corner of the house and maybe, by the end of the day, I could get down off the ladder, step back and say, “There, now that is finished. It looks much better.” Thankfully, there are things in life like that where we can see almost instantly the results we have been looking for- things like finishing the lawn mowing or ploughing the driveway, or taking a favourite dish out of the oven.

I remember a retired grade 1 teacher in one of my pastoral charges sharing a story with me about a little girl she once had in her class who came from a difficult home environment. The little girl would arrive at school each morning with her hair uncombed and her face unwashed. This teacher though worked with her, bringing a little mirror for her and a comb, showing her how to take pride in her appearance. Over the course of the year, the teacher was feeling rather satisfied that she was helping to make a difference in this little girl’s life as she seemed to be getting the idea. However, about 20 years later, sure enough, in this same community, this little girl had grown up and had her own little girl who was in the same teacher’s class. And, as often happens, the same instruction was needed.

No doubt, the teacher could relate to the words of that Isaiah passage: “I have laboured in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord and my reward is with God.” Despite seeing little visible results, this teacher continued to labour on. It is little wonder, though, that burnout is so common in helping professions. Unlike painting a house, the results of our efforts are not instantly evident.

Much of what I do in ministry is like that too. I read recently of a study that was conducted to measure the effort of preaching on racial attitudes. Prior to a preaching series, a questionnaire was given to a congregation asking their opinions on race. A series of sermons was preached attempting to apply the gospel to the issue of racism. The questionnaire was given again to measure change and sure enough, the congregation was 2.5% more racist after the sermons than before! Go figure!

Being commissioned and empowered by our baptisms to be servants and disciples of God is like that too. We volunteer our time. We give of ourselves. Sometimes we burn the candle at both ends working for justice in our world, even doing things like bringing canned goods for the food bank. Yet, hunger and needs continue. Just this week on the news, we heard of the increased demands on our food banks. We might even ask much like the servant in Isaiah, “Why do I bother? Why do we continue our efforts when there are no measurable results? We can understand the servant’s frustration and impatience. No wonder there is that desire to want to throw in the towel.

Yet, God doesn’t let us off the hook that easily. God doesn’t say, there, there now. You go take a rest. No, instead, God says to the servant, I will give you more responsibility by enlarging the scope of your mission. If God were a business manager and did such a thing, we would just shake our heads, wouldn’t we? Think about it- if you were in charge of local production at McCains and your efforts didn’t meet the quotas and then your boss said, don’t worry, I will put you in charge of McCain’s international. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what happens for the servant in this passage. Where the results we might be looking for are not achieved, God says let the results be up to me to evaluate. Sometimes, it simply means we need to take our hands off the throttle by simply being a light out there, by acting in faithful ways and remembering that it is not entirely up to us to be responsible for the outcomes.

I can’t help but think that this is what Jesus is trying to get across to those first disciples too. In the gospel from John, Jesus’ ministry begins with a question- “What are you looking for?” Watch how the disciples seem kind of stumped by the question, unsure perhaps what to say, but curious enough, nonetheless, to ask their own questions of Jesus:

John 1: 29-42:

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Chosen One.”

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas] (which is translated Peter]).

It is interesting that the question the disciples ask in return, ‘where are you staying?’ doesn’t simply imply they want to know his address in town. They want to pin him down, to discover where is he heading, the purpose of his mission and ministry. In other words, what will be the results? Jesus though, doesn’t spell it all out. He refuses to be boxed in. He simply invites them to ‘come and see’ for themselves. They will learn as they go. All they need is their curiosity that keeps asking what are we looking for?

That’s a question that we as beloved sons and daughters of God need to keep asking ourselves on a daily basis. What is it that we are looking for? If it is instant and measurable results for our efforts, we may find ourselves easily discouraged or disappointed like the servant in Isaiah. While some days, we may be overjoyed when our efforts at witnessing to the good news are met with a sense of inner peace, there will also be other days, when, as his followers, we will have nothing to show for our work. Sometimes we won’t see the changes that are taking place through our seemingly futile efforts. Like the servant, we may feel we are labouring in vain. Sometimes, the harvest, or concrete results if you like, only comes years later in God’s good timing. They may not even be recognizable to us because they have come about in a round about way, a way that we might never even have imagined would have been possible.

What are we looking for as a church community? What do we need most? How would we answer that if Jesus were to ask it of us? Would it be that we are looking for silence in the midst of a noisy world? Or inner peace? Or a way of life that offers us something different, something more than our culture can offer? Or hope and courage in the face of news that is full of despair and fear? Or community in the face of isolation and individualism that runs rampant in our world? Or justice for the many who are scarred by abuse, war and violence in this world? What do we need most as we embark on this new year? Where might God be calling us together in new directions beyond our previous ways of being and enlarging the scope of our mission and ministry beyond ourselves, beyond even our community and calling us to be lights to the nations? Where is Jesus simply beckoning us to be curious, to come and see for ourselves, to risk new journeys of faithfulness, to explore new opportunities together and to be witnesses to others of our own stories and experiences of God’s presence in our lives?  Where are we being called beyond ourselves to see God’s bigger plans and visions for our faith community even when like Isaiah, sometimes it feels like our efforts are futile?  It is not about beating ourselves up by saying things like we would be a “better” church if this or that happened, or if we had this or that. It is about simply exploring what we are really and sincerely looking for, what are we seeking as we participate in a worshipping community together and seeking to engage our faith in our every day lives? Where is Jesus inviting us to go deeper, to listen for our names being called, to hear the invitation to be part of something bigger than ourselves and then to allow ourselves to be used in the service of God’s love?

As a Presbyterian minister, Carla Pratt Keyes, summarizes so well:

 What are you looking for? . . . Come and see. These first words of the incarnate word hold one of the most gracious invitations I know: to discern what we desire most deeply and to pursue it in the company of one who is patient with our uncertainty, our missteps, our wrong-headed striving. Jesus Christ is the beginning and end of all we want or need . . . but it’s OK with him if we don’t understand that yet. Come, learn what you want, he says. Come, figure it out. Come and see. Amen

Minute for Mission

   “The care of people who are strangers to one another―the importance and impact of that can’t be overstated.”

Jennifer Janzen-Ball is seen in a selfie against a blue background.Credit: Jennifer Janzen-Ball

 You may think Mission & Service just happens far away from your church.

But the effects of Mission & Service may be as close as your local pulpit.

Mission & Service does a surprising amount of development in your local church, recruiting new ministers and funding theological schools. It even shapes the hymn books you sing from every service.

Another important way Mission & Service supports local ministry: by providing academic bursaries for students studying to become ministers and theological leaders.

“The church has a lot to offer in terms of witness to the community and supporting people who are struggling,” explains the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Janzen-Ball, the United Church’s Executive Minister for Theological Leadership.

Janzen-Ball knows there’s more to a bursary than just the financial gift. “The money is really helpful,” she says, “but the other thing that is so important to students is realizing that people throughout the church cared enough to donate to Mission & Service.”

The Rev. Alexa Gilmour received one of these bursaries when she was still a ministry candidate. “I was a single parent, and I knew I couldn’t get through without support,” Gilmour says. “I felt blessed by God through people who donated and who, by giving, encouraged me on my journey.

“I have tremendous gratitude for that important role the church played in my life at that time.”

Janzen-Ball wants you to know that your gifts do matter.

“They matter both tangibly in peoples’ lives in a real way but also in intangible ways because they signal the support of the wider community,” she says. “The care of people who are strangers to one another―the importance and impact of that can’t be overstated.

“Giving to Mission & Service is an opportunity to support future and current leaders. Those gifts make a significant difference.”

Let us pray:

 Gracious God, source of light and life, we thank you that you have called us to be your servants in the world: to work for justice and goodness, to help those who feel unloved and unworthy to know that they are loved by you; to reach out to those who are in need, helping alleviate not only their needs but their sense of hopelessness.

 Gracious God, we thank you that you have called us to be your saints in the world: to be set apart for your purposes, and to live our lives a little differently than those around us, not because we are better than they are, but because you call us to a different standard than that of the world. We are set apart to experience your presence always, and to find ways to make your presence felt by others in our world.

 Gracious God, we thank you that you have called us to be a light in the world: to shine boldly so that others might see that your way leads to wholeness and new life, and to show others the ways you invite them to live.

Help us to know that we are not alone.  Help us to feel our way through the shadows. Help us to know that sometimes the questions are the answers and that by asking them we are given direction to the home within ourselves where you dwell. Be our guiding presence, leading us to each other, showing us companions along the journey. Teach us to risk going broader and wider and deeper. Stand with us when we feel stuck or uncertain about which path to take. Show us how to witness to your good news in gentle ways by listening to the many needs that call out for our attention and our action, in our personal lives, in our communal lives and in the wider world of which we are a part. In the name of Jesus, we gather these spoken prayers together with the prayers that rest deep within us, as we continue to pray as he taught us saying… Our Father…

Hymn: 509 VU I, the Lord of Sea and Sky  

Blessing:

God, who chose us before our birth,

who calls us and knows us each by name,

now sends us out into the world—

to bring light to those in sit in the shadows,

comfort to those who grieve,

hope to those who despair.

Dare to believe that working and serving together

we have everything we need to make this happen.

Go with the blessing of God

the love of Jesus Christ,

and the presence of the Holy Spirit

 

 Amen

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

January 7, 2023

Good afternoon on this bright but cold day!

Welcome to our Worship service for Baptism of Christ Sunday.

Be sure to check out the photos on our Facebook page as we looked at each other’s baptismal “artifacts” in the hall after worship. So great to see such a variety of things and to hear the stories that surrounded our baptisms.

Next week, we are starting a book swap table in the hall. Bring a book or two to add to the table ( not your whole library!) and find a book to take home. Great way to catch up on some reading over these winter months.

Have a great week!

 

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

The light of even this tiny, flickering flame of the Christ candle reminds us the difference his coming to be with us brings to our lives and our world, offering calm and strength to this day and everyday.

Call to Worship:

From different homes and different lives,

from different journeys and life experiences,

we gather as God’s servants, filled with God’s Spirit.

The waters of baptism beckon us

to live in the ways of Christ.

As beloved sons and daughters of God

we are ready to answer the call

to bring healing and hope in our world

as we worship and serve together.

 

Let us pray: (in unison)

Source of life and love,

our identity, our being and our calling begins with you.

We gather this day on the banks of the River Jordan

ready to wade in and follow Jesus.

Renew us and affirm us as your own.

Equip us by your Spirit

to journey where you lead us.

Ignite even the tiniest and most fragile wicks of faith within us

that we might humbly answer your call to serve in your name. Amen.

Hymn: 100 VU   When Jesus Comes to be Baptized  

Prayer of Confession: (responsive)

Creator God, you love us and see such great potential in us,

potential that we are often blind to because we are so focused on what we are not, or what we lack, or how we don’t measure up to others. Yet, in the background, we hear words spoken at Jesus’ baptism and our baptism:

Beloved, beloved, beloved.

We confess that we do always see ourselves as worthy enough of your attention yet your voice speaks out over all the other voices in our heads:

Beloved, beloved, beloved.

Wash over us. Refresh us, that call of your Beloved might echo in our hearts,

and reflect in one another. Amen.

 

Words of Affirmation:

God claims us, accepts us and calls us God’s beloved.

No matter how far we have wandered, no matter how much we have thwarted God’s plans for us,

God continues to forgive us, and sends us out to bring peace and hope to others.

Empowered by such amazing grace, may we know ourselves as forgiven and loved beyond all measure.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

Readings and Reflection:

 Beloved, Commissioned and Empowered

So, here we are 8 days into the new year. How are those new year’s resolutions going for you? Still hanging in there? Or are they already forgotten? Regardless of how things are turning out for you in the resolution department, there is still something fresh and hopeful about the start of a new year. Even the very act of putting up that brand new calendar on the wall carries with it our hopes and expectations for renewal and reawakening.

Today is a Sunday we call Baptism of Christ Sunday when we not only remember Jesus’ baptism, but we also remember our own baptisms and the promises that were made. And, even if you have not yet been baptized, it is a day when we remember the gift of God’s grace poured out on us all, naming us, claiming us and empowering us by the Holy Spirit to live in Christ’s ways of love, justice and service in the world. Because baptism marks a recognition of the beginning of Christ’s ministry, I love how we always celebrate it just after Epiphany Sunday, at the beginning of a new year.

In our reading from Isaiah today, we find a portrait of a servant who models a style of leadership one might expect from one called by God. It gives us a glimpse of what it means to participate in the new and fresh ways that God calls us to live out our baptismal vows. Unlike the oppressive and bullying style of leadership that the people of Israel had been used to from their kings, the prophet Isaiah paints a radically different picture of what it means to serve. In this description, we find a servant who works through tender acts of care and mercy rather than loud, grandiose, forceful and self-centred actions. What we find here is a much gentler way of serving. Something new is emerging. Something fresh.

Isaiah 42:1-9

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry out or lift up his voice
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth,
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.
See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.

In this passage we hear the familiar words echoed at the baptism of Jesus- “here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights”. While Isaiah didn’t have Jesus in mind in proclaiming these words, it is clear that the writer of Matthew’s gospel is recalling them as he tells of Jesus’ baptism, pointing out to the people how Jesus’ ministry will fulfill the ancient Jewish prophecies. As we will come to learn, God’s justice will be modelled in Jesus, not by a lashing out and stomping of feet but by acts of gentleness, forgiveness, love and patience.

Let’s listen to Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism:

Matthew 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw God’s Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, the Beloved] with whom I am well pleased.”

Unlike the accounts of Jesus’ baptism in Mark and Luke, Matthew’s version is the only one that has this little theological debate happening between John and Jesus about who should be baptizing whom. John thinks it should be the other way around. Jesus should be baptizing him. As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, it surely would have been more appropriate if Jesus just came in and said to John, ‘thanks for your preparation, my friend, I will take over now.’ But that is not how it went. Jesus is baptized by John. In fact, there is no record of Jesus ever baptizing anyone. So why was Jesus baptized anyway? As theologian John Dominic Crossan once said, “Jesus’ baptism was an acute embarrassment to the early church.”

It is a good question, isn’t it? People have often wondered about that. Jesus’ response here marks the first words he speaks in the gospel of Matthew, “it is to fulfil all righteousness.” At his baptism, Jesus publicly enters into solidarity with all humanity. He embodies the kind of servanthood that Isaiah spoke about- one that identifies with the people by his willingness to get his feet wet by intertwining and connecting with humanity. Baptism becomes for Jesus a sign of his obedience to the will of God, the launching point of his ministry  as servant to all the people, a light to the nations, a public demonstration of his belonging to a different realm, the realm of God, a community where love reigns. From that moment on, Jesus’ life would no longer be his own. Now, he is saying very clearly, “I am in this with you.” He was publicly declaring that he was now joining the revolution where God’s justice will be made known in the world. He was stepping into solidarity with something much bigger than himself- into the fullness of humanity, complete with its pain, brokenness and suffering, its problems, its fears and anxieties, its neediness, embracing it all and accepting it all unconditionally. His leadership would not be over the people but with the people, beside the people, accompanying the people; playing by a different set of rules as he witnessed to a greater power- the power of God.

As he emerges from those waters, Jesus is named “beloved”, and then commissioned, much like the servant in Isaiah, to be a light to the nations, as he is empowered by the Holy Spirit. And that, my friends, is exactly what happens at our own baptisms too. In the waters that are sprinkled or poured over us, we symbolize how we are accepted, recognized, named as God’s sons and daughters and invited to something much bigger than ourselves. We become part of a community. And what could be more powerful to us than that? As theologian Paul Tillich once said, “to be told that you are accepted is one of the most fundamental human needs.” That’s why baptism is such a big deal for us. It is that public recognition that tells us we are worthy right now, that no matter where we go, no matter what our trials in life may be, God does not abandon us. We have a name. We are beloved. We are enough. That goes both for us as individuals and for us as a community of faith, the people of Faith Memorial United Church.

And the best part is we don’t have to do anything to earn that worthiness. Such a contrast to the messages that society gives us, isn’t it? Things like we will be more worthy if we lose 20 pounds, more likes on our Facebook page, if we drive the right car, wear the right clothes, make a good living, have the right kind of relationships, attend the right kinds of social functions… you fill in the blanks. Or we will be a better church if we have more people in our pews or parking lots or whatever. I like how Richard Rohr expresses this, “life is not a matter of making a special name for ourselves but uncovering the name we have always had- that name is beloved.” There is no need to prove ourselves. There are no hoops to jump through. By the gift of grace, we are God’s. Valued. Cherished. That is the name we receive and the truth of who we are and the identity we are called to see in one another. It is the identity that commissions us and empowers us to embrace and embody Christ’s larger way of seeing and responding to the world around us. It is what enables us to step into God’s fresh and ongoing purpose and visions for our lives and our community of faith.

Over the holidays I watched an inspiring and heartwarming movie called Wonder. I read the book a few years back and was happy the movie was on television one night. It is about a rather precocious boy named Auggie who was born with facial differences that required a number of surgeries. His parents homeschooled him until middle school when they decided it was time for him to be with other students. As you might imagine his first days at school were far from easy as he endured the stares and bullying. All the while though, he received the encouragement of his parents, his sister, his teachers and the reassurance of their love for him. It was much like how Isaiah envisioned the servant leader- they cupped their hands around the tiny flame of Auggie’s spirit, preventing the dimly burning wick from being extinguished, and helping his light to grow and spread. As the year progressed, Auggie’s classmates recognized his strengths and his popularity grew. At graduation that year, he was awarded a medal for strength and courage. He turned to his mom and said to her, “Thanks for enrolling me at the school.’’ And she turned to him saying, “Thank you, Auggie, for coming into our lives. For being you. You really are a wonder, Auggie.”

I couldn’t help but hear in those words God’s ultimate affirmation of each one of us.

Remembering our baptismal identity as beloved sons and daughters of God is the launching point of our ministries to the world. The rest of our lives is all about keeping the flame burning by caring for the bruised and vulnerable of our world, doing what we can to remind ourselves and to help others remember that just like Auggie, God has made each one of us, God loves us as we are, and God has plans for us. Beloved. Commissioned. Empowered. The journey is before us. We can make a difference. We can influence this world to a new way through our gentle love that we allow to shine forth in the most ordinary of encounters. Here we are, God’s beloved servants, sons and daughters in whom God delights. Touch your foreheads (say aloud- I am God’s beloved, commissioned and empowered) Remember who you are- a person with an identity as a servant and disciple of Jesus Christ. Or, as this same movie says so simply, learning who you are is what you are here to do. So, whether your place of witnessing, encouraging, caring, offering wisdom or bringing healing and justice is in the classroom, at the hospital, in the neighbourhood, at the kitchen table, at your desk, in the arena, at the gym, the post office or wherever you find yourself on a daily basis, live as one who claims and is claimed by the Holy One. Amen.  

Minute for Mission:

 When children can’t go to school, society suffers.

 

Patti Talbot speaks into a microphone beside other people on a stage. A World Council of Churches banner is in the background.

Credit: Patti Talbot

 

How do you make the world a better place?

You can start by taking kids to school.

Around the world, 57 million children cannot attend school. * They may never learn to read, to add or subtract, or to write. These are the skills they need to succeed.

Even more importantly, they never learn about their basic human rights.

It’s a complicated problem, says Patti Talbot, the United Church’s Global Partnership Team Leader. “The work we do isn’t going to lead to immediate societal change,” she says, “but it will make a big difference down the road.”

When children can’t go to school, society suffers. And that is why Mission & Service is in partnership with 85 organizations that work to increase access to education across the globe.

Each partner has their own approach to education and skills training, each supported by your gifts to Mission & Service.

Colombia’s Center for Communication uses arts and media to teach children about their rights. Women for Change in Zambia creates educational groups where participants share agricultural knowledge and awareness of their rights. At Japan’s Asian Rural Institute, local leaders gather to learn sustainable agriculture techniques they can take home and transform their communities.

“How can we make the world a better place?” asks Talbot before responding, “We can’t do that by ourselves; our partners know best what the challenges are.”

Talbot, a child of missionaries who was raised in Japan and Korea, knows that educational partnerships are critical. “In our partnerships, we learn from and teach each other,” she says. “The United Church’s focus is more than just sharing resources, but really sharing life together.”

It’s an approach that Talbot knows works, even if results take time. “Our partners are very grateful that the United Church of Canada has demonstrated over and over again that we are there for the long term,” Talbot says.

“Partners say to us ‘It makes such a difference to us to know that the United Church is with us, walking with us in prayer, supporting us, remembering us in their lives.’”

 

Let us pray;

Gracious God, from the moment your Spirit hovered over the watery chaos, calling forth life, you have hovered close to us and have remained close. You have journeyed with your people, parting the sea, delivering them from bondage, sustaining them with freedom and new life. In the waters of the Jordan, your Son, Jesus, was named as your beloved, and called to be a light to all the nations, modelling your revolutionary ways of love and justice.

We give you thanks for the gift of water, for the cleansing and renewal it brings. We thank you that you continue to name us and call us your beloved sons and daughters, cupping your hands around our flickering faith and breathing us to new life. You call us to work for justice through intentional acts of service. You offer us courage to speak words of hope. Your gentle presence among us whispers words of love to broken hearts, offering strength and renewal.

We lift before you the names of people and situations that need your healing and gentle embrace of grace this day. For homes and countries in need of peace…, for people facing transition and loss, loneliness or illness, for the many who are struggling in the face of rising prices for the basics of life like food and shelter, for all who are living with uncertainty and anxiety, for all who question if anyone cares. Bring your reassurance, O God, to all our lives and remind us that no matter what we may be experiencing, whether it is joy or sorrow, you continue to call us beloved and send us out to share your good news. Drenched in your love, may we always remember that our identity, our being and our calling begins and ends and begins again with you. Marked as your own, we pray with confidence as Jesus taught us, saying… Our Father…

 

Hymn: 161 MV I have Called You by your Name  

Blessing:

Go now, beloved, to follow the way of Christ, to share the love of God, to be surprised by God’s wonder.

Feel the Holy Spirit’s encouragement to be a blessing as you offer blessings with your heart and hands,

and know that you never, ever go alone. Amen.

                               

*********************** 

 

  

January 1, 2022

Epiphany: A New Year, a New Vision

―by David Sparks

Deep Spirituality. Bold Discipleship. Daring Justice.

These six words are our call as a United Church. And they go with a vision:

Called by God, as disciples of Jesus, The United Church of Canada seeks to be a bold, connected, evolving church of diverse, courageous, hope-filled communities united in deep spirituality, inspiring worship, and daring justice.

Call to Worship. Called to a Spirit Journey

You call us to a journey of the Spirit, Loving God.
As we prepare, you speak, and we listen.
You call us to a journey of the Spirit, Loving God.

Our goal is clear; we seek the highest good.
You call us to a journey of the Spirit, Loving God.

We are not alone; our faith companions go with us.
You call us to a journey of the Spirit, Loving God.
You are our guide; we have nothing to fear. Amen

Opening Prayer: A Prayer of Bold Discipleship

Loving God,
In our discipleship we will be bold.
As bold disciples, we will listen carefully to those who
experience life differently from us.
In our discipleship we will be bold.

As bold disciples, we will work out our own faith
and explore that of other faith communities.
In our discipleship we will be bold.

As bold disciples, we will meet with the powerful ones
but will not submit to them.
In our discipleship we will be bold.

As bold disciples, we will experience love in a little child with their carers
and will humbly worship. Amen

Hymn Sing

Voices United 69, Away in a Manger 

 

Voices United 48, Hark the Herald Angels Sing 

 

Voices United 67 Silent Night

A Prayer before the Reading

Touch us with your Word, Loving God,
stir up within us fresh ways of enlivening your Word for our day.
Hold us with your Word, Loving God,

challenge us as we search for your way in our faith community.
Shake us with your Word, Loving God,

set us ablaze with a determination to be bolder disciples.
In the name of Jesus we pray,
Amen

Readings

Isaiah 60: 1-12

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.

3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.

5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you to you the riches of the nations will come.

6 Herds of camels(P) will cover your land young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense, and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

Matthew 2:1‒12

The Magi Visit the Messiah

2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people, Israel.’”

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

A Prayer after the Reading

We thank you for your Word, Loving God,
gracious words that tell of your presence.
We thank you for your Word, Loving God,

enlivening words that enthuse and affirm.
We thank you for your Word, Loving God,

familiar words that faithfully inspire
We thank you for your Word, Loving God,

challenging words that are surprising and heartening.
Living God, we thank you for your Word.

Amen

An Epiphany Reflection in Light of the Call and Vision Statement of the United Church

Leader: The church, our church, The United Church of Canada, has deliberated, the church has wrestled with some different concepts,the church has come to a conclusion, and now we have a Call and Vision, endorsed by the 43rd General Council. Are we thankful to GC or what?!

Here it is: “Deep Spirituality. Bold Discipleship. Daring Justice.”

These six words are our call as a United Church. And they go with a vision:

Called by God, as disciples of Jesus, The United Church of Canada seeks to be a bold, connected, evolving church of diverse, courageous, hope-filled communities united in deep spirituality, inspiring worship, and daring justice.

Questioner: Sounds great, sounds challenging, but whatever has it to do with the season of Epiphany that we are in, and the often-told, often-sung story of the magi that we heard read earlier? (sing:) “We three Kings of Orient are, Bearing gifts we traverse so far…”

Leader: A good question! It deserves a good answer, and I’ll do my best. You got a few minutes?

Questioner: Bring it on!

Leader: Let’s begin by looking at the season of the church year that we are beginning today, Epiphany. It’s the time of a great insight. One description of its importance made clear that Epiphany is like the insight that came when Newton experienced the apple falling and then formulated the concept of gravity.

Questioner: Wait a minute, “hugely important,” but was this a historical incident, were there historical magi on a quest, or has another story about how the Queen of Sheba pays homage to King Solomon been modified by the gospel writer Matthew?

Leader: For now, let’s focus on the Magi’s quest as a guide.

This is not just a story of some “wise guys” going off on a whim following a moving comet. The story makes clear that risk was involved, risk to life and limb in coming to see the baby Jesus. Herod was a powerful and nasty character, yet the magi made the journey anyways. It was of supreme importance to them.

Questioner: I get it. To go back to the new United Church Call and Vision, the story is gently reminding us that it isn’t the state of the economy that matters most, or holidays in exotic places, or our financial or workplace success, it is what we have going for us in the realm of spirituality, deep spirituality. The magi found their goal―the birthplace of the baby Jesus―and they gave the baby appropriate and valuable gifts.

You don’t give presents worth a whole lot to someone who isn’t vital. Jesus is central to their quest, and he is on the receiving end of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, valuable gifts.

Leader: And more than that, we are united in our spirituality. We find it, we are silent with it, we pray it from the bottom of our hearts, and we share it in the faith community. The spiritual is a hopeful faith-shared sphere of our existence, and it matters hugely.

The magi got it right.

Questioner: But wait a minute, we set out to see whether the Call and Vision approved by General Council had relevance to the Epiphany story. I get the point about spirituality, even deep spirituality, but there is nothing in the story about the magi becoming disciples. The second part of the Call and Vision relates to disciples, and bold ones at that.

Leader: Okay, remember you are not dealing with history. This is likely a very good story, and we only have to look a little further into the gospel account of Matthew to read the call of disciples Andrew and Simon Peter, and James and John, sons of Zebedee.

Throughout Matthew’s gospel the training and work of the disciples has a prominent place. Not far into the gospel of Matthew (Matt. 10:9‒15) there is an account of the training program for the disciples, and it even includes a section on what to do when rejection comes your way.

The Call and Vision talks about bold discipleship. Bold―not perfect! ―and that is what is made clear in the gospel record. As the early church finds its feet, disciples emerge and grow, sometimes not very expertly in their committed following of Jesus.

Questioner: But what about now?

Leader: If ever there was a time for developing a bold program for a new local program for evangelization, using Facebook and other social media, it is today (or maybe yesterday!). If ever there was a time to go out in twos and knock on doors and tell people, “The church is alive; this is what the church is really about, not what the media often says it is about,” it is now! You could try it!

Questioner: Fair enough! But what about “Daring justice”?

Leader: Well, you have read the story. It’s about magi, sages―dedicated, recognized, but way down the power ladder―taking on King Herod, ruler and supreme leader of his time, and the underdogs coming out on top.

In the story we are all rooting for the magi to get their gifts to Jesus and get away from Herod, and for once the right people are on the winning side! Alleluia!

Questioner: Very well and good, but do you have some daring justice stories that tell what the church has been up to recently? Your local church or the national church with Mission and Service stories?

Leader: Actually, I have. Here is a story from Stories of Our Mission on the United Church website, “Stories of Our Mission” about working with others toward justice.

Nicole was in crisis. Her mental health had taken a turn for the worse. She hit rock bottom and turned to 1JustCity, a Winnipeg-based Mission & Service partner that supports three drop-in centres, for support.

Before long, Nicole was not only attending programs but also started volunteering. She carried boxes, made coffee, and ran the dishwasher. She laughs as she talks about how trucking boxes up stairs is a good way to get in shape. It’s been seven years since Nicole first walked through 1JustCity’s doors. She’s never looked back.

Last year, Nicole applied to enter a job-training program. Now, she is staff at 1JustCity. “I love being staff. I feel respected. Working gives me a reason to get up in the morning. I feel mentally better about myself. It gives me a routine. Having something to do each day improves your mental health,” she says, smiling. Above all, what warms Nicole’s heart most is making a difference in someone else’s life. “Helping people feels awesome. Every single day you are there you are helping people. Giving them food. Giving them hygiene. Sometimes we have clothes. We help with emergencies. People meet in groups to support each other. It makes a difference.”

Your Mission & Service gifts help people like Nicole not only find support but also discover what is meaningful to them. “1JustCity has been my rock, and without it I would be all over the place,” she says. “The Mission & Service of the United Church has changed my life because it gives me purpose every day.” Thank you for your generous support.

Questioner: So, to sum it all up, what emerges from the ancient story at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel as it relates to the Call and Vision statement?

Leader: What we have in this magi story in the Epiphany, what we as church people have in the birth of Jesus, is of huge fundamental importance.

It calls on us to take the Call and Vision statement seriously.

It calls us to deepen our spirituality.
It calls us to be emboldened as disciples.
It calls us to be daring as we strive for justice.

Are you up to the challenge? Am I? Amen

Hymn Sing

 Voices United 91 The First Nowell

 

VU 55,  In the Bleak Midwinter

Voices United 87 I Am the Light of the World

Pastoral Prayer: A Prayer of Daring

Loving God, there are opportunities for us to work and advocate for
cleaner air and cleaner water. (Time of silent reflection)
As those who believe the environment matters way beyond our lifetime,
we will dare to get involved.
Loving God, the never-ending procession of refugees fills us with horror (Time of silent reflection).

As those who believe that every family has the right to a safe home,
we will dare to get involved.
Loving God, we are among those who are ignored and looked down on because of an addiction. (Time of silent reflection)

As those who have a difficult story to tell,
we will dare to get involved.
Loving God, we know those who are going through hard times with sickness, in relationships, and because dreams will not become reality. (Time of silent reflection)

As those who are ready to listen and act compassionately,
we will dare to get involved.
Loving God, we rejoice in this faith community, our work in this neighbourhood, and our outreach through the Mission and Service. (Time of silent reflection)

As those who, in community, are ready to renew and commit time, talents, and gifts,
we will dare to get involved
Loving God, we give thanks for our Christian faith.

Our faith has been a rock, is a source of strength, and will be a beacon of hope in all the years that lie ahead (Time of silent reflection)
As individuals we acknowledge all that is ours in Jesus the Christ.
We dare to witness, “Yes, I am faithfully involved!”

Lord’s Prayer

An Act of Faithful Commitment for a New Year

(Faith community members and friends)

Follow the star!
The light of Jesus Christ will be our light in the new year.
We will study faithfully and listen patiently.
We will proclaim Jesus joyfully and care compassionately.
We will play our part in the faith community fully
and pursue justice with daring.
You will go with God,

and God will go with us.
Thanks be to God!

Hymn

VU 79 Arise Your Light Is Come

A Commissioning for the New Year

You go into a new year with us, Loving God,
with us as we explore new adventures of faith.
You go into the new year with us, Loving God,

with us as we test the depth of our spirituality.
You go into the new year with us, Loving God,

with us as we are emboldened as disciples of Jesus the Christ.
You go into the new year with us, Loving God,

with us as we dare to confront and overcome injustice,
with us on our personal quest,
with us as we draw strength and go forward as faith communities.
We will suffer setbacks, we will encounter challenges,

we will feel like giving up, we will say, “What’s the use?”
But you, Loving God, will forge us in hope; you will renew our strength.
With us when life is good,
with us when life is tough,
our Never-Failing God. Amen

Hymn    MV 212 Sent Out in Jesus Name

 

David Sparks is a retired United Church of Canada minister living in Summerland, British Columbia. He is the author of the Prayers to Share, Pastoral Prayers to Share, and Responsive Prayers series of lectionary-based prayers (Wood Lake Publishing). He is also the author of Off to a Good Start and A Good Ending (United Church Publishing House).

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

 

December 18, 2022

Welcome everyone to worship on this snowy 4th Sunday of Advent.

We are pleased to announce that as a congregation we contributed $3450 to our White Gift Sunday offering! Thank you one and all.

The money will be shared between Valley Food Bank, The Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Sanctuary House and We’ve Got Your Back backpack program.

 

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.

Call to Worship:

God’s people ask for signs of God’s presence.

(whispered) Emmanuel! God with us!

From ancient times, they have called upon God for salvation.

(a little louder) Emmanuel! God with us!

“Shine your face upon us,” they cry.

(louder still) Emmanuel! God with us!

And an angel said to Joseph:

(full throttle) Emmanuel! God with us!

Come let us worship God!

 

Advent Candle lighting

What does love feel like in the new world?

Love feels like knowing I am a sacred piece of a magnificent whole.

Love feels like acceptance and gratitude.

Love feels like being cherished.  (Please feel free to add other ideas…)

Voice 2:

Advent is the beginning of this new world, a better world, where you, and me, and all of God’s creation are treasured and beloved.

May it be so.  (Candle of love is lit)

Hymn: (seated) 220 MV Love Shines as the Solitary Star 

Let us pray:

God, be our light along our paths.

Help us to trust in your promise breaking through even in the messiest of places.

Keep us awake and present to your love

as we prepare to welcome a child into the bleakest corners of our ordinary lives.

Through him, lead us to a more just world. Amen.

Hymn: 64 VU O Little Town of Bethlehem (vs.3-4)

Prayer of Confession: (responsive litany)

God, our shepherd – Restorer of our souls,
In a world full of hopelessness,
we have sometimes forgotten that you have shown your hope in endless ways.
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may know your hope.

In the mirey mess of the world,
we have sometimes neglected to lean into your peace that transcends comprehension.
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may know your peace.
In a culture shrouded in doom and despair,
we have often forgotten how to fight for our joy.
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may know your joy.
In a moment when it is easier to hate others because they believe differently,
love differently, live differently, vote differently – we have forgotten how to love beyond the bounds of what separates us.
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may know your love.
Stimulate our memory, O divine Creator.
Remind us that even in our weakness, you are mighty.

Words of Affirmation
God has never left us nor forsaken us.
God is Emmanuel in the face of crisis,
Emmanuel, in the midst of calamity
Emmanuel, in the presence of tribulation.
God with us, forgiving us, helping our unbelief, bringing us back to life,
reminding us that we are light.

 Let that be good news for all of us. Amen

 Readings and Reflection:

Decisions, Decisions

What to do, what to do. Sometimes we say, it’s a no- brainer. There is a fire in our homes. Our fear motivates us to run to safety, to get out of there as quickly as possible. Other decisions in life require some pondering, some weighing of options, some listing of the advantages and drawbacks. Do I take that job? Do I relocate? Do I say yes to a new relationship? Is this the time I should be thinking about downsizing to a more manageable living space? Should I go to university or learn a trade? Life is full of such decisions. At times, we may wrestle with them for days or weeks. We might list the alternatives on paper. We might pray for discernment. We might call a trusted friend and talk it over.

King Ahaz of Judah was a man faced with a decision in the midst of a military threat on his doorstep. Through Isaiah, Ahaz is encouraged to ask God for a sign and to trust God. But Ahaz refuses. He feels that his own power can save him. Yet, God sends him a sign anyway.

Isaiah 7: 10-16

 10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 Then Isaiah] said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

Joan Chittister, in commenting on this passage, says that Ahaz is our temptation when we are faced with decisions- that independent streak that is in us, that feeling that we can save ourselves, that we don’t need to trust in God, we can do it on our own. We don’t see a lot of weighing of options here on the part of Ahaz. Who knows, maybe he fears that if God gives him a sign, he would have to act on it. Besides, without God, Ahaz could have more control over his decision making. Or maybe he was too terrified that the sign God would give him would threaten his world view or send him in a strange, new direction. So, he chooses to go it alone, to turn a blind eye even when he does receive a sign. He has his own plans about how he would confront the encroaching military threat and he doesn’t want God interfering by messing things up. Besides, when you let God in there, you lose control of your own decision making. You don’t get to do your own thing. You lose power. You have to consider another way. Who wants that? Chittister is right. In our decision making, Ahaz is certainly our temptation.

But then there is Joseph. Like Ahaz, he too is confronted with a decision- a life changing decision. In fact, the choice he makes is pivotal in the unfolding of God’s plan. His willingness to lean in and to embrace the seemingly impossible circumstances in which he finds himself will determine whether the plan goes ahead or comes to a screeching halt.

The situation is messy, to say the least. He and Mary are betrothed which was a legally binding relationship entered into about one year prior to marriage. Betrothal was marked by a public gathering of friends and family. Yet, the couple still would not live together. Any infidelity in that betrothal period though was considered as adultery with the possibility of punishment by stoning the individual to death. So, when Joseph learns of Mary’s pregnancy, you can imagine the predicament in which he finds himself. What to do, what to do. This is not at all how he planned for his life to unfold. He is torn between doing what the religious laws required and his love for Mary. He wants to do the right thing but there are no good options. He is in the unenviable position of knowing he is not the biological father of this child, while at the same time, the one who can determine Mary’s fate. Nonetheless, he chooses the most humane solution- he will divorce her quietly. It is the most compassionate thing he can think of amidst the circumstances.  At least then, she will still live, and they both can get on with their lives. The decision is now made; he tries to get some sleep. But God has something further in mind:

Matthew 1: 18-25  

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiahtook place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to divorce her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 “Look, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had given birth to a son] and he named him Jesus.

Unlike Ahaz then who let his own ego get in the way by choosing to dismiss God’s sign, Joseph does just the opposite. He acts on the sign he receives in this dream. As Chittister says again, if Ahaz is our temptation, Joseph is our model. He trusts that, first of all, this child is from the Holy Spirit. Secondly, he learns the child’s identity as Emmanuel, God with us. Thirdly, he sees his role in the plan as a descendent of David and, in a culture where it was customary for the mother to name the child, Joseph is the one who will name him Jesus. In this courageous act of naming and claiming him, Joseph throws aside all the conventions of his day and the fears of a system designed to “keep things the way they are” and gives way to total trust in God’s way that is unfolding. As he cooperates with God in all this, Joseph, we might say, becomes the first to recognize Jesus’ identity.

So much for a well-ordered life! In adopting Jesus, Joseph is now all in. His plans are upended. In being courageous enough to trust God in the messiness of his dilemma, Joseph is indeed a great model for us. By opening his life to God’s direction in the midst of his decision making, the path forward was completely different than anything that he might have previously imagined it would be. It does make me wonder what might have happened if he had been more like Ahaz? What if he had refused to listen to the advice in that dream and had just dismissed it as the result of the pepperoni pizza he ate too close to bedtime? What if his personal anger and embarrassment with the whole news of Mary’s pregnancy had got the better of him and he was not able to lay aside his pride and ego and do as God encouraged him to do? What if he had simply chosen to cast aside what God had spoken to him in that dream? What if he had vowed to maintain his own control over the situation and not let God interfere in his plans, his way of doing things?  Let’s face it- it is no wonder the angel’s first words to him in that dream were “Do not be afraid!” He had every reason in the book to be afraid! I can’t imagine, even when that voice in the dream was loud and clear, that Joseph’s decision to follow through was one that came all that easily. There would be hardships and heartache to endure and lots of innuendo from gossiping town folk to overcome as Jesus grew. The way ahead would not be a piece of cake.

Yet, in that moment of decision making, he chose to not give in to doubt, but to trust in what certainly must have felt like an impossible plan about to become a reality. No, it was not at all as he might have expected his life to go. In fact, it was down right messy.

Still, it is into the messiness of Joseph’s life, into the messiness of our lives and our world, complete with the upheaval of wars, the suffering of our climate, the homelessness and hunger of so many, the brokenness of relationships, the heartache of illnesses and the seemingly unending pandemic, the grief and anguish of personal losses and distress, God continues to come to be with us- the word made flesh, Emmanuel. Even today, God is struggling to be born among us and within us. It may not be in the way we have planned. But it will be in the way God chooses to show up, if we are open, if we are able to set aside our own plans, in favour of those bigger signs and plans God has in mind for us. In a vulnerable baby in a manger, through the most unlikely of parents, God is working out this plan. All that is required of us is that openness to embrace what was unfolded that night 2000 years ago, and what continues to be unfolded in the messiness of our world today. The key is to trust that God is with us, even now, for where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.  Amen.  

Minute for Mission:

Children are the most vulnerable group in Colombia.

Three laughing little girls crowd around a microphone one is holding while a little boy looks on.

Children record radio programs through CEPALC.

Credit: Felix Posada, CEPALC

We all know what it’s like to feel our spirit lift at the first note of music or to sense our minds being pried open by an enlightening radio or television show. Deep down we know that art changes our lives.

For hundreds of children living in Córdoba, Colombia, arts programs supported through your Mission & Service gifts teach children about their rights, give them an opportunity to express themselves, and promote peace-making as well as gender justice.

“Providing workshops for children that teach them about their rights empowers them to think critically about themselves and their country. Through media, art, music, and theatre, they learn about important social issues, human rights, and gender equality,” says the Latin American Center for Popular Communication (CEPALC).

Children are the most vulnerable group in Colombia. Eighty-four percent of violent acts in Colombia are committed against children. Two and a half million children living there work to sustain their families. Many are forced into dangerous labour. That’s why CEPALC designs programs in sectors hardest hit by poverty and violence.

“I told my mom that we had seen some works of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Flora Tristan. I remember that they taught us that we must defend the rights of us women. What I like, in general, is that they taught us that we must make peace,” says Amelie, an eight-year-old girl who lives in Bogotá and workshop participant. “Thanks to CEPALC workshops, I’ll be a writer, and I will write things so that children will promote and defend peace, following Jesus’ examples. I will defend and promote our rights in my stories so that nobody can disrespect us or the rights that we have. When I am an adult, I won’t be doing violence against anybody.”

 

(In- person worship continues with Sacrament of Communion)

 

Hymn: 9 VU   People, Look East   

 

Blessing:

An angel came to Joseph and proclaimed:

Emmanuel! God with us!

In this final week before Christmas Day, may our waiting proclaim:

Emmanuel! God with us!

Go forth in joy to tell the world:

Emmanuel! God with us!

 

 

Hymn: 7 Hope is a Star (all verses)  

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

 

 

December 11, 2022

Advent 3

Next Sunday is Communion Sunday.  Don’t forget to bring a grape or grape juice and a  cracker or piece of bread.

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.

Call to Worship: (based on Luke 1:46-55)

Our souls magnify the Lord.
Our spirits rejoice in God our Savior!
We come today with eager hope, awaiting God’s new revelation.
The mighty One has done great things!
God’s mercy covers generations.
We come today with ready peace, trusting with anticipation.
The One who lifted up the lowly
And filled the hungry, dwells with us.
We come today with fervent joy, we worship with great expectation.

Advent Candle Lighting:

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and shouting.” (Isaiah 35:1‒2)

What does joy feel like in the new world?

Joy feels like everlasting love.

Joy feels like the freedom to be who God created me to be.

Joy feels like sharing love and kindness.

Joy feels like pride.  (other ideas of what joy feels like to you…)

Voice 2:

Advent is the beginning of this new world, a better world, where joy boldly bubbles up in unexpected places.

May it be so. (candle of joy is lit)

Hymn: (seated) 220 MV Joy Shines as the Solitary Star 

Let us pray:

God, be a light along our paths as we work with you for transformation

on this earth and in our lives.

May we look around for your promised joy in unlikely places and situations.

Inspire us to go and tell others what we see and hear,

that sorrow and sighing may give way to rejoicing in your presence with us always.  Amen.

Hymn: 59 VU Joy to the World 

Prayer of Confession:

Holy One, we do not always see the joy in the ordinary.

We may mistake gaining power, possessions, status, or wealth for true joy.

Sometimes despair and emptiness overshadow the joy.

Sometimes we forget to say “thank you”, and we overlook simple things in our lives that are cause for gratitude and joy.

Sometimes we say “yes” and give of ourselves from a place of guilt rather than a place of joy or sense of justice.

We give of ourselves until there is no joy left inside us.

Help us to find the balance, courage and deep, abundant joy that is so needed in a hurting world. Amen

Words of Affirmation:

May we lift our voices as we sing a new song!

Even in our brokenness and imperfection, God never leaves us.

May we sing praise as Mary does, steeped in the assurance of this truth:

We are forgiven and cherished through and through.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Readings and Reflection:

Unexpected Glimpses of Joy

This is a time of year that carries with it a great deal of anticipation and expectation. I can remember as a child how that was. We sifted through the Sears catalogue and circled items. We carried with us the expectation of my mother’s divinity fudge with green and red cherries to decorate the tops. We knew where she hid it- in the dryer. On Christmas Day, we came to anticipate going to my grandparents’ home in Sackville, in the afternoon, and climbing the ladder to the hay mow in the barn. There, hidden under the bales of hay, we searched for gifts that Santa left for us. After that, while my grandfather was still living, we looked forward to his hitching up the pony to a sleigh and transporting us over the bumpy land of the Tantramar marshes, back when there was snow enough to cover them. Then, it was inside for a plate of cookies and hot chocolate.

As I was reminiscing about all this, I thought to myself how so much of our Christmas preparations and traditions are bound up in expectations. We expect certain people to be there at our family gatherings. We expect certain foods, certain decorations to be placed on our trees. Yet, sometimes the pressure of all these expectations can also carry with them a certain amount of stress too. Our health changes. The absence of a loved one because of distance or death brings changes around the table. Sometimes, for whatever reason, things are not quite what may have been expected. Still, however, if we look around, joy manages to break in, often in the most unexpected ways.

Our readings today all carry with them that sense of things happening in unexpected ways. Our Isaiah reading addresses a people in exile. Hundreds of miles stood between them and their homeland in Israel. The return home looked like a distant dream. It would take great risk and courage to make their way through the wilderness- a wilderness fraught with danger and scarcity. Wild animals were everywhere. Resources like food and water would be lacking. Many people were wanting to stay put where resources were more plentiful rather than risk the journey. Yet, Isaiah speaks to them of an unexpected reversal, of God’s promises of renewal even in the wilderness, a way being made for them even in the uncertainties of their current realities:

Isaiah 35: 1-10

 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly
    and rejoice with joy and shouting.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
    the majesty of our God]

Strengthen the weak hands
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
    “Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
    He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
    He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf shall be opened;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp
]
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,[
    and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it
]
    but it shall be for God’s people]
    no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
    nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
    but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain joy and gladness,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

 

Surely, such a vision of joy and singing in the face of such hopelessness would not have been at all what the exiles would have been expecting. In their heads it would have seemed like something impossible- to see a bleak desert blossoming with new life, and people restored by God’s transforming power.

 

Whenever I read that passage, I think of the story of the transformation that took place after the eruption of the volcano in Mount St. Helen’s in Washington State in 1980. At first, there was nothing but ash everywhere. The land and the wildlife had been destroyed. Any recovery was highly doubtful. Yet within weeks, animals that had been hibernating underground dug through the ash. Within 10 years plant life was able to support wildlife that was there previously. Even the scientists were baffled. They were sure it would never happen. It was not at all what had been expected.  A sign, nonetheless of God’s amazing transforming power even when all seemed lost. An unexpected glimpse of joy.

 

And then there is Mary. A peasant woman who, in the face of a daunting message from the angel Gabriel, without knowing all the details, without knowing what will happen next, dares to sing of joy and trust in what God is doing through her. Certainly, everything that was happening to her was far from anything she might have expected. Yet, even in the uncertainty, she sings what we might call a “power anthem” of reversal and transformation that God is bringing to the world, knocking down the obstacles of power, prestige and possessions and making a way for God’s reign. Mary uses her voice to praise God for what God is doing and calling us to do:

Luke 1: 46-55

My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowly state of his servant.
    Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name;
50 indeed, his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has come to the aid of his child Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

 

Much like Isaiah, Mary catches that bigger picture of how God is acting with justice and mercy by lifting up the lowly and feeding the hungry. These are not tame words. Not at all a soothing lullaby we might be expecting from her. To those who hold power and cling to self-importance and influence, they are threatening. Yet, Mary dares to sing them and tell them with boldness and courage. And as she does so, she carries in her the hopes of all those generations who have gone before her and all who come after her helping us all to catch glimpses of joy and promise and liberation by reversing the world’s power structures. Her song, the Magnificat, is once again, an unexpected glimpse of joy that she cannot keep to herself. In singing it, she draws us all into that bigger picture- of being Christ bearers in our world even today.

 

When we turn to our final reading, it is hard, at first to catch much in the way of a glimpse of unexpected joy. Here we find John the Baptist lingering in jail. It is quite a contrast to the fiery John we heard last week out in the wilderness and preaching repentance. It turns out that Jesus was not at all the kind of Messiah he had been expecting. So far John had seen no revolution taking place. Now, John is filled with doubts and disillusionment. He had expected Jesus to come like a tidal wave by overthrowing those in power, sweeping clean all the chaff but this is not at all what he sees in Jesus. Instead, Jesus is focused on attending banquets with tax collectors and sinners, often insulting the hosts and attacking the respectable classes, speaking with the marginalized, like the lepers and the Samaritans, and healing people. In John’s books, Jesus is just too tame as he talks about things like forgiveness of one’s enemies, blessings for the meek, praying for one’s persecutors and turning the other cheek. Surely John must be second guessing himself, wondering if he backed the wrong person. Is this Jesus for real? Watch what John the Baptist does to deal with his clashing expectations and listen carefully to how Jesus responds to John’s inquiry:

Matthew 11:2-11

 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with a skin disease are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What, then, did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What, then, did you go out to see? A prophet? [ Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist, yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

In essence, Jesus doesn’t answer John’s inquiry. He doesn’t say yes or no whether he is the one everyone has been waiting for. Instead, Jesus calls John and the others to look around and decide for themselves. Look at the healing that is happening. Look at the new things taking place. Like Isaiah, look at the deserts that are blossoming. Watch for the transformation and renewal in the tiniest of signs.  Like Mary, see what God is doing through the unlikeliest of people. See how God’s love is being channelled. Notice, if you will, the unexpected glimpses of joy happening all around you, little by little, person by person. And when you see these things, point them out to others, tell about them, sing about them, spread the joy. Then, you decide for yourself if I am the one.

That’s such a great invitation for us in these Advent days. Look around. Catch those glimpses of people reaching out to help others, of food being brought to the hungry, of fences and walls of hostility being mended, of white gift envelopes being filled, of charities being helped as volunteers pitch in, of lonely people receiving encouragement, of homeless folks finding permanent shelter, of people going above and beyond to show compassion.

One of my favourite personal stories that I have shared with many of you is of a time about 30 years ago when my sister-in – law died at the age of 28. For many years, when my father had been a police officer in Moncton, he had reached out to an elderly woman who was bringing up her physically challenged grandson. She had done everything she could to assist him all on a very frugal income. Dad had been good to the young fellow, often getting special permission from his superiors to give him a chance to sit in the police car and turn on the siren and lights which the boy just loved. At Christmas time, Dad would get Mom to make some of her divinity fudge to take to them along with a few extra Christmas decorations. And sure enough, when my sister-in -law died, this elderly woman, on very limited means, hired a cab one cold January night and turned up at the visiting hours to offer her condolences to our family. It was an unexpected glimpse of joy that has never left me.

Look around, Isaiah says. See the places where the desert is rejoicing and blossoming.  Tell John what you see and hear, says Jesus. Share the unexpected glimpses of joy. Sing, as Mary does, of the reversals taking place, of the lowly being lifted and the powerful being sent down from their thrones, of transformed hearts and ways being made in the wildernesses of our world, even now, even today. We need not look for another. Jesus is the one- who came and who continues to come into our world offering us those unexpected glimpses of joy. He is the real deal. Our Advent work is to help one another to catch those glimpses and to tell about what we see and hear, to point to the evidence of renewal and transformation happening even in the many of wildernesses and uncertainties of our world. May we take our place with Mary in singing about those unexpected moments when joy transforms even life’s deepest sorrows, oppressions and injustices, when Christ breaks through again and again and the world stands ready to turn.  Amen

Minute for Mission

After what happened to George Floyd, I wanted to get involved.”

Jonisha Lewinson, a teenage girl dressed in a grey hoodie, sits on a couch holding her smartphone

Credit: Jonisha Lewinson

The murder of George Floyd had a profound affect on Jonisha Lewinson, a college student and member of North Bramalea United Church. “Although I had experienced racism, I hadn’t been interested in exploring it, but after what happened to George Floyd, I wanted to get involved,” she says. “I decided I wanted to not just have a quiet voice but an active voice in making information about anti-racism available to people.”

Shortly after she made that internal commitment, a friend told Lewison that the United Church was inviting young people to apply to the Young Black Scholarship Program project, part of the church’s commitment to the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent. Each of the participants was tasked to research and report on various aspects of Black experiences in Canadian churches and received a scholarship supported through your Mission & Service gifts for their work.

From there, the idea for an app-based curriculum that would inspire teens ages 12─18 to become anti-racist was born.

Jonisha landed the contract to develop the curriculum for the app and is currently one of four young adults leading the project. Through the app, teens learn about topics like the history of racism in Canada, White privilege, and how to get involved in anti-racism work. Each of the units includes audio, video, and chat features. Called ar4yt (short for “Anti-Racism for Youth Training”), the app is set to launch January 1, 2023, and will be freely available on Google Play and the App Store.

“I’ve never written a curriculum before, so there was a lot of research. It was a big learning experience not just in creating the curriculum but learning about how racism affects different people in Canada other than myself,” reflects Jonisha.

What does she hope young people will take from the experience with the app?

“Part of dismantling racism means having conversations on a smaller scale with friends and family. That means just as much as being part of huge organizations. I hope that young people engaging with the app realize that making change is not as difficult as it seems,” she says.

Your generosity through Mission & Service supports the leadership of young adults like Jonisha who are actively using their talent and skill to change our world for the better. Thank you!

Let us pray:

God of all creation, on this day that we mark with the joy candle, we join with Mary in magnifying your name. You give us courage to speak your truth and praise you in all things. Thank you for giving us voices to tell of those glimpses of joy that we see- like when we greet old friends, when we notice people showing compassion and generosity in their words and deeds, when a store clerk still manages to smile and offer assistance even when they are weary, when a card arrives in the mail, when a child is given attention, when a shut-in receives a phone call or some carollers at their door. Thank you, O God, for the amazing things you do in our midst through such simple gestures, as we learn to partner with you and work together as a team.

We thank you for the many ways you are working to turn this weary world upside down, as the hungry are fed, as the homeless receive shelter, as the addicted, the abuser and the abused find counsel, as the lonely and the depressed receive the encouragement and support they need, and as the sick are healed. We ask, O God, that you might show your strength on those who foolishly trust in their own pride and on those who attempt to lord over, dominate, exploit and control others. Put a hunger for justice in those whose bellies are full.

Help us, with Mary, to say yes to the plans and visions you have in store for us, that our very lives may be signs to others of the transformation and love you bring to the world. We pray for all whose voices have been silenced by threats, by violence, by war and by tragedy, for the many who find this festive season difficult this year, especially where grief or loss casts a long shadow, for the many who, for whatever reason, are finding it difficult to cope amidst all the pressures and strains of living. We take a moment now, O God, to name the people and situations we know so closely who need our prayers and our actions…

O God, renew in all of us, that deep-seated joy that comes from the assurance of your unconditional love for us in Christ Jesus, through whom you continue to show us a way through all the uncertainties and wilderness paths we travel. In his name, we pray together in one voice saying… Our Father…

Hymn: 120 MV My Soul Cries Out  

Blessing: (from Isaiah 55: 10 and Isaiah 35:4)

You shall go out with joy and be led forth in peace.

The mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing

and all the hills of the field will clap their hands.

The Mighty One is doing good things in us and through us.

Let us dare to look around and then tell others:

The world is about to turn and we can be part of it!

 

Hymn:7 VU Hope is a Star  

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

December 4, 2022

Good afternoon on this bright but nippy day.

So nice to enjoy the clear roads, at least for now!

 

Once again, we had some new additions to our photos. So many oohs and aahs!

Be sure to check out our Facebook page to see more as well as some photos of our beautiful decorations for the season. Thanks to our helpers!

 

Next week, Dec. 11, is the date when you need to have your White Gift envelopes in. For those worshipping from home, please drop them in the mail to arrive at church Dec. 9 or send them with a neighbour. Make sure you mark your name on the envelope and note on your cheque White Gift.

Monies will be divided between Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Valley Food Bank, Sanctuary House and the We’ve Got your Back backpack program.

 

After worship on Dec. 11 ( Next Sunday), we will gather in the hall to organize outdoor community carolling. Dress for the weather and bring along a snack for the car.  Invite a friend to come help spread some joy of the season. Songbooks will be provided. 

 

Dec. 18  Advent Communion- Be sure to bring a drinking box of grape juice/ grape and a piece of bread/ cracker.

 

Dec. 24  Christmas Eve Worship at 4:30 pm

 

2023 Church Calendars still available. Contact Bev!

 

 

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.

                                            

Call to Worship:

Imagine with us,

a world where God takes shoots and buds and uses them for large purposes.

We imagine a world,

where baby cows and baby bears play together in peace and harmony,

where lions and lambs live together in safety.

Imagine God’s world,

where God’s Holy Mountain provides refuge, peace and safety.

We come to worship; we come to the mountain

to worship the One who takes the tiniest shoot and uses it

to signal the peace of God.

 

Advent Candle lighting

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion will feed together, and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)

What does peace look like in the new world?

Peace looks like a flowing river

where every living thing has what that they need to flourish.

Peace looks like a place where those who are weak

are not afraid of those who are strong.

Peace looks like good conversations around big tables. (please feel free to add)

Voice 2:

Advent is the beginning of this new world, a better world, where we can boldly build a good life together.

May it be so. (candle of peace is lit)

Hymn: (seated) 220 MV Peace Shines as the Solitary Star (3x) 

Let us pray:

God, be a light along all our paths.

Help us to find our way through the wilderness together.

Show us how to be part of your dream for peace with justice in our world.

Let us imagine and live into your possibilities for all people, and with all creation. Amen.

Hymn: 20 VU On Jordan’s Bank 

Call to Confession:

John the Baptist called us to repent as the kin-dom of heaven comes near.

Yet, we often decide that we would rather not change our lives to see that realm.

Let us come to God and ask for a spirit of repentance as we confess our sins to God and to one another. Let us pray:

Hear our hearts, God of peace and justice.

We hear your call for repentance, and we often ignore it.

We find it is easier not to change than to reorient our lives to you.

We find it more convenient to continue our lives than re-examine them.

We would rather glorify being busy than take time to explore the wonders of your Word and your world through play.

Turn our hearts.

Open us to the wonder of your peace and cultivate a desire in us to seek it.

Let us know the freedom of your grace. Amen.

Words of Affirmation

“Blessed is God alone who does wondrous things.

Through Jesus Christ, we are forgiven, redeemed and loved. Amen.

 

Readings and Reflection:

Helping the Dream Find a Way

An article in this month’s Broadview magazine reminded me that we are smack dab in the middle of the Hallmark Christmas movie season. You either love them or hate them! They are the ones where everyone wears those flashy Christmas sweaters and the neighbourhoods are all beautifully decorated. The plots are fairly typical. Often someone returns home from a corporate job somewhere and meets up with an old flame. Or there is a cooking contest. Or an ice sculpting competition. Or an attempt to rescue a book store, a gift shop, a ski resort or a café before it goes into receivership and new owners propose to tear it down in order to build a condominium complex.  Yes, true confessions, I have watched several of these!

They tend to be rather whimsical. The overall theme often centres around the dream of making this Christmas the very best ever. I think this is what makes them popular. At this time of the year, we all savour this kind of dreaming for the “perfect” kind of Christmas. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Snow falling softly on Christmas Eve. Candlelight and carols. The tantalizing aromas of turkey cooking in our ovens. Friends and family gathered, preferably without quarrelling!

Our readings on this second Sunday of Advent invite us to dream in a different and deeper kind of way, to dream of a world transformed and to let our imaginations be stirred as we envision a new way; God’s way of peace and harmony.

Isaiah begins with a vision of a reordering of norms in both society and in the natural world. In it, we hear of the promise of a new kind of earth, of impossible possibilities, of enemies becoming companions and of safety and peace for all.

Let’s listen to the hope of this beautiful dream of the peaceable kingdom:

Isaiah 11: 1-10

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see
or decide by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge for the poor
and decide with equity for the oppressed of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb;
the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the lion will feed together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Isaiah speaks these words in a time of war and violence in Israel and Judah. In so doing, he is planting sees of imagination in the people, opening them up to a new way- God’s way, a way of restoration, a way that will turn the accepted ways of the world upside down. It will be unlike anything they had ever experienced before. Prey and predator will live together happily. The wolf will remain a wolf. The lion will remain a lion. The bear will remain a bear. The snake will remain a snake. The lamb will remain a lamb. The difference, however, as Adele Halliday reflects, is that they all will make different choices. The predators, for instance, will choose not to wield their power. They will intentionally give up some of that power to make space for another. Some will need to act and be different. And, for the world, there will need to be courage on all sides for people to be together in a different way than they have been in the past, caring for one another deeply. It is a vision of power being used for the good rather than for harm. It is a dream of what we might become but we are not there yet- a dream that can only come to fruition as we seek God’s help in making it a reality, little by little and step by step.

Impossible we might say. The fangs are bared in Russia. Aggression and greed run rampant. Refugees flee for their lives. Terror and violence reigns. Individual rights and privilege stomp on the needs of the vulnerable. Selfishness abounds. Homeless people die in the cold in our own province. The list goes on and on.

This is where I think John the Baptist’s message comes in. Like Isaiah, he too, has continued the dream 700 years later.  In fact, we might say he is on fire with God’s dream for the world. He dares to tell it like it is by meeting the people not in the temple, but out in the wilderness, a traditional place of danger and testing, a place where God’s promise had been revealed most clearly to the people of Israel during the exodus, a place where they discovered a new way. Here, he shares the dream of one who is coming to turn the world on its axis. John’s message catches the people off guard. Nothing soft and whimsical here! No sugar coating here.

Matthew 3: 1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’ ”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his] baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore, bear fruit worthy of repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; therefore, every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I, and I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with] the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

One couldn’t get blunter than that now, could we? You wouldn’t go away from that encounter with John and say, “I didn’t get what he was talking about.” No, John’s message is harsh. It is urgent. It is concrete. Interesting too, that although only Matthew and Luke’s gospels tell of Jesus’ birth, all 4 gospels tell of John the Baptist. We can’t get past him in our Advent Season. He is always there with his wake-up call.

And sure enough, people flock to hear him out there in the wilderness, away from the temple setting, even the religious leaders, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. And what a harsh message he has for them- no, he says, there is no resting on your laurels or your ancestral heritage. Saying you have Abraham as your ancestor will not cut the mustard. Nor will your resume or your status.

No, for John the Baptist it is all about repentance- but not simply repentance as we might think of it – not just saying sorry for something you did in the past. No, repentance as in taking a dramatic change of mind and direction, turning away from the values and practices of the old age- things like violence, power, control, exploitation and turning toward the values of the reign of God- love, peace, dignity, freedom and integrity. In other words, live into God’s new dream. Get in step. Change your course. It is not simply about looking back, but looking forward. It is choosing to live in a new way with a new perspective. Bearing fruit worthy of repentance. Doing the things that show you are committed to living differently, embracing God’s dream for a renewed world.

David Lose, in one of his writings on this passage, invites us to do this kind of dreaming in Advent. We might begin by looking at our own lives and daring to dream of God’s vision for ourselves. Where might we be called to take a different way, to change course? Maybe it might mean using our time differently. Maybe it might involve repairing a relationship or taking up a practice that will produce a more abundant life for you or for another. Perhaps it might mean an additional donation of energy or money to some ministry. Or maybe getting to know someone new or different from yourself, someone of a different age, a different background or political persuasion.

Like John the Baptist states, ‘Good intentions alone won’t cut it. Get to it! Bear fruits worthy of repentance- fruits that will demonstrate that you are helping the dream to find a way in your life and in our world. Dive in there. Step forward. Allow yourself to be reoriented this Advent by dreaming that larger and deeper dream of working for a better world.

I like how our Moderator, the Rte. Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne, expresses it in her Advent message in Broadview magazine- “Change is hard. We say we want a guaranteed liveable wage. We say we want to practice reconciliation in action and reduce greenhouse gas emissions but at the same time we want taxes to decrease and we don’t want anything to change.” Yet, in Advent we hear John the Baptist calling us to do the hard work to help the dream find a way into our lives and our world.

Advent is a great time for this sort of reflection, for recentering and for dreaming about what is possible. It invites us to leave our familiar and well-trod paths as we dare to venture down another way. It is about looking at the things that need to be changed and transformed in our acquired habits and practices and comparing them with our deepest hopes and dreams. It is then taking the necessary steps to live into a new way- God’s way, where cooperation and affirmation replace competition and power struggles, where fears and divisions along racial and ethnic lines give way to a world where all people are recognized as children of God, where inequities that place some people as privileged while others are marginalized are broken down and where violence and war is replaced by peace. This is the longed -for dream of Isaiah when he speaks of a time when “no one will hurt or destroy on my holy mountain for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”.

The test of true repentance as John the Baptist says is in the fruits that we bear, the dreams that we help nurture to reality.  Is all this possible amidst the obstacles and heaviness in our world? Only as we live as witnesses to the hope and love God sends to us in the person of Jesus who comes to us as a shoot from the stump of Jesse, the Prince of Peace.

So, as the words of Pamela Pettitt shared in her hymn I sent out to you this week, “I have a dream a man once said,”

Dream the dreams and sing the songs

but never be content

For thought and words don’t ease the pain

unless there is action, all is vain

Faith proves itself in deeds.

 

Friends, God’s dream in human form is coming as a child in a manger who will bring transformation and renewal to all the earth. In the meantime, with God as our helper, may we do whatever is needed for that dream to find its way. Amen.

Minute for Mission

 A meaningful gift is a simple click away.

Cover of the 2022-2023 Gifts with Vision print catalogue showing girls in Damascus playing a game outdoors with highrise apartment buildings in the background.

Credit: The United Church of Canada. Photo of girls in Damascus: Ibrahim Ibrahim Melhem, Middle East Council of Churches

Is there someone on your Christmas list who is hard to buy for or doesn’t need yet another gadget or figurine? Do you long to sidestep the consumerist trappings of the season for something more meaningful?

Gifts with Vision(opens in a new tab)—the United Church’s giving catalogue—is the answer.

Gifts with Vision is full of gifts that will help transform people’s lives throughout Canada and across the world. While Gifts with Vision continues to feature gifts for Ukraine and COVID-19, we have been busy adding new gifts to support people across the world who are experiencing the effects of climate change, economic instability, and war. Particularly children. There are several new gifts for children in this year’s catalogue.

We have added a new category, too: anti-racism. Projects in Nunavut, Guatemala, and Palestine—just to name a few—support the rights, culture, and dignity of people who experience racism daily. In addition, several gifts that have been very popular in the past, like Operation Backpack, Help Build a Well, and A Safe Place to Heal, are returning in this year’s catalogue.

And that’s only the beginning!

Mindful of the environment, the print catalogue continues to be small—but there are a lot more gift choices on the Gifts with Vision(opens in a new tab) website. Stories of our partners’ projects are also available there.

 

Every Gift with Vision provides support for a specific Mission & Service partner offering a unique project. Without Mission & Service, Gifts with Vision projects would not be possible. Thank you for supporting both.

When Christmas rolls around, remember that a meaningful gift is a simple click away. If madly dashing around the mall on Christmas Eve is your gift-buying style, kick back and relax. Gifts with Vision has you covered!

Let us pray:

God of hope and promise, we give you thanks for the ways you continue to invite us to participate in your dreams for the world, to imagine how we might turn around and start on a new path. The images of your peaceable kingdom where predator and prey are reconciled continue to inspire us. The voice of John the Baptist in the wilderness gives us courage to be voices that cry out in the wilderness for those who are vulnerable and preyed upon by the injustice of bullying, exclusion, poverty and violence in our world today.

Stir us with your power, O God, that we might be refashioned to more clearly bear your image and your fruits of repentance as we work for the kind of world that you intend- one where there is balance and equity for all people. Show us how to help your dream find a way even amidst all the hatred, sorrow, hurt and stresses of life. Help us to catch the glimpses of hope- like when a child learns to read with the help of a mentor, when a community receives the tools it needs to grow its own food, when a family is given the necessary food it needs at a food bank, when a homeless person is given shelter, when an agency provides  encouragement to someone who is lonely or anxious and in need of support. Sustain us with these glimpses God, these tiny shoots of new life.

We lift before you this day the people of Ukraine who long for peace and stability, the people of Somalia in the face of severe drought and hunger, the many who long for healing in the face of illness and disease, the many who find this time of year especially difficult because of loss and painful memories, the many who are living with addiction and abuse. In the quietness of our hearts, we lift before you our individual concerns for ourselves, our families and friends, for our world…

We continue to pray as Jesus taught us, saying… Our Father…

Hymn: 18 VU   There’s a Voice in the Wilderness  

Blessing

 

Let us go forth knowing that we are led by God,
that we are held by God, that we are loved by God.
Let us know that God empowers us as God holds and leads and loves us;
And knowing all that, let us stand as a signal
that the glory of God dwells with us now and forever more.
Amen

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

November 27, 2022

Welcome to worship at Faith Memorial United Church on this first Sunday of Advent.

 

A few announcements…

We had a great time guessing who’s who with our childhood photos in the hall today after worship.  In case you forgot, you are not too late…. you can add yours next week. Amazing how some folks hardly changed!  Be sure to watch Facebook.

 

A few church calendars are still available. $10.00 see Bev.

 

Reminder: Please try to have White Gift donations  in no later than Dec. 11. Please make sure your envelope is marked with your name.

Cheques will be received by mail if you are worshipping at home. Make sure you write White Gift on cheque. The monies offered by you will be divided between Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Sanctuary House, Valley Food Bank and We’ve Got Your Back backpack program. Together, we can make a difference in so many lives.

 

Also, Dec. 11 ( snow date Dec. 18) plans are being made for congregational carol singing out in the community.  Please ask a friend to join this effort with us! The more the merrier! We will meet in hall after worship. Make sure you dress for the weather. Songbooks will be available! 

 

Dec. 18 we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion 

 

 And, for those of you who are thinking way ahead ( not me, yet!) Christmas Eve worship is at 4:30 pm.

 

May our service of worship found attached for Advent 1 help set the tone for you in these Advent days!

 

 

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.

                                            

Call to Worship: (inspired by Psalm 122 and Isaiah 2:15)

  I was glad when they said to me,

“Let us go to the house of the Giver of hope!”
 We come today with eager expectation.
Our feet are standing within God’s gates.

Come, let us go up to the mountain
that the Giver may teach us the way of peace.
 We come today with holy expectation.
Our hands are lifted with grateful praise.

We gather at the edge of the throne of justice.
 Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

 

Advent Candle Lighting:

What do you hope for in the new world?

We hope for a future that is more amazing than anything we could ever imagine.

We hope for the healing of creation.

We hope for good mental health and wellness.

We hope for a world where everyone seeks the good.

What else might you hope for… (feel free to give your ideas)

Voice 2:

Advent is the beginning of this new world, a better world, where we can dare to hope boldly.

May it be so.       (candle of hope is lit)

Hymn: (seated) 220 MV Hope Shines as the Solitary Star 

Let us pray:

God, be a light along all our paths.

Lead us to a more just world.

and help us to stay awake

and present to your love

in each ordinary day. Amen.

Hymn: 2 VU Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus  

Prayer of Confession:

Gracious God,

You know that we fail to live as you would have us fully live,

and we fail to love as you would have us fully love,

and the result is a world where so many live in various kinds of conflict.

Consumed by the worries of the world,

we struggle to think about anything other than ourselves and our own.

It seems that our failings only fuel bad habits of forgetting about you.

We lay before you, Holy God, our broken promises, hurtful words,

bad intentions and sinful ways,

that you might somehow love us into wholeness

and help us take small steps towards your greatest peace.

In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Words of Affirmation

Hear the Good News.

Our gracious God gathers us from our warring ways and grants us freedom to join

God’s new vision of a peaceful world.

Let us learn the ways of peace and know that in Jesus the Christ, we are forgiven. Amen.

Readings and Reflection:

Aligning Ourselves with the Vision

Happy New Year! Advent has always been one of my most favourite seasons of our church year. It always strikes me as so invitational. The readings each Sunday call us to imagine a different kind of world and a world transformed. They invite us to open ourselves to possibility and to hope, while at the same time calling us to imagine the impossible and to take those first steps toward achieving a world as it could be and should be- a world of healing, of justice, of peace and restoration.

It is also important for us to remember that Advent is not just a run up to Christmas. It is a season with an integrity all its own. Yes, partly it involves anticipating once again the birth of Christ. Secondly, it looks toward the coming again of Jesus in the fulfillment of his reign on earth. And thirdly, it looks toward the everyday arrival of Jesus in our lives, often in the most unexpected places and faces. Generally, we are pretty good at the first part- we scurry around setting up creche scenes in our church and our homes, we put up lights and decorations and so on. But the second and third parts- that’s where we get a little fuzzy. How are we to live in the meantime? What is God calling us to be and do?

Our first reading this morning from the prophet Isaiah paints us a picture of God’s dream for the world. Written to a people in the face of an uncertain future, with the Assyrian army threatening invasion, Isaiah dares to dream beyond what is, to what could be. As he invites them into this vision, he urges them to set their feet on the path of what God is longing for in this world and to do the “leg work” in making it a reality.

Isaiah 2: 1-5

  The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
    Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation;
neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!

What I see here is an invitation to a new path- a path of peace that looks beyond the threat of the encroaching Assyrians. A path that calls for the unlearning of the ways of war and a rechanneling of efforts elsewhere and an invitation to live toward that day by leaning toward the light of God and trusting in it. I wonder how these words would be heard by the Ukrainian people in light of the Russian invasion? Would they, can we, find a way to imagine this kind of peace? Or do we just give up and say but this is not the kind of world we live in? What if, in the meantime, we concentrated on living “as if” this vision was a possibility by beginning with even the smallest of actions that honour the earth, that respect diversity among the peoples of our communities and our world and that work to promote peace within the closest of our relationships? What if, as the song says, we were to let peace begin with me/us? How might we make the necessary adjustments to break with the way things are by imagining the way things could be- the new future God has in mind “in days to come.”?

Take for instance the tensions between Israel and Palestine where many Palestinian Christians and Muslims are denied access to the Holy City. Every Friday, an Israeli Jewish Peace Group meets in a silent vigil to end the military occupation of Palestinian territories. It is their way of holding up Isaiah’s vision of people streaming to God’s ways. In so doing, they are choosing to align themselves and channeling their energies toward peace. Small steps, perhaps. But steps that, little by little, lead to transformation.

Similar in many ways to stories of whole communities bringing guns to parking lots in the United States where blacksmiths are set up who help pound them into shovels and garden tools. People imagining a whole new way and taking those steps to bring it about. Looking beyond what is and imagining what could be. Awakening to a whole new world. Leaning in to God’s promises. Examining our own behaviour, motives, jealousies and hostilities and learning to lay them down as we embark on that journey up the mountain toward God’s shalom.

Such are the themes and the work of this Advent Season for us. Putting on our shoes and taking that deliberate walk that looks for the light in the shadows of this world. Standing on tiptoe as we dream with Isaiah of a world as it could be and not as it is. Living today in light of God’s tomorrow. Being the light, this world needs by sharing the love of God, encouraging one another and making the reign of God visible through our lives.

Our reading from Matthew likens it to being awake and alert, paying attention to what we see around us, holding to the vision of what could be and finding ways of giving others glimpses of the hope that is ours.

This passage is written to a community feeling like their world is crumbling. They are waiting for Jesus’ return. Matthew gives them instruction about how to live in the meantime, calling them and us to attend to the important things of life today, and living each and every day as if it were our last.

Matthew 24:36-44

36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so, too, will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken, and one will be left. 42 Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what dayyour Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

In some ways this reminds me of that bumper sticker- Jesus is coming. Get busy! In some ways, all kidding aside, there is some truth to that! Matthew is cautioning them about their need to stop obsessing on the when, and to start paying attention to the now. Look around and find ways to align yourselves with the vision of where God is calling you to act. Wake up to the moment. Resist saving your best self for tomorrow. Begin today. Don’t put things off. Be alert and attentive to God’s in breaking all around you. Sit on the edge of your seats and expect the unexpected. Pay attention to what really matters. Don’t get side-tracked by your complacency, to business as usual. Be vigilant. Be ready to live in the light of a transformed reality. Don’t be like the householder who gets lulled into a false sense of security. Like a thief in the night, God can surprise us. So, wake up to the blessings of each day, to the chance encounters, to the deep conversations with friends and strangers alike. Find ways to express your love to others, to say you are sorry when you have hurt someone and to make amends. Work to bring hope and reassurance to someone in despair. Wake from all the distractions of this season and focus on the deeper meanings of hope, peace, joy and love. Do the things that really matter. Care for the vulnerable. Share what you have with another in need. Look for God’s in breaking. And most of all, don’t act like today is like everyday. Live this, and every day, as if it were your last. Be directed by a spirit of community, not competition; by sharing rather than over consumption; orient yourself to the ways of peace rather than war. Picture that world Isaiah paints and walk toward it, living “as if” it was already here, knowing that with even the smallest flicker of the light of hope piercing this world’s shadows, anything is possible. Amen.  

Minute for Mission

Your gifts will be put to work in the areas where they are needed most.

 

ACT Alliance distributes hygiene and shelter kits, jerry cans, and mosquito nets after flooding in Pakistan.

Credit: RDF

People facing the worst crisis of their lives urgently need our support.

  • While some refugees are returning to Ukraine, over 6 million are still displaced and have no home to return to.
  • COVID-19 cases are starting to rise again, and some countries still have no access to vaccines or boosters.
  • In Africa, food prices are soaring, leaving 146 million people hungry.
  • Entire communities in Pakistan are left without shelter, farmland, healthcare facilities, and basic necessities of life because of flooding and landslides.

After the headlines fade, the emergency remains. You can help.

November 29 is Giving Tuesday, a day that is all about generosity. This year, Giving Tuesday gifts will support the United Church’s vital emergency response work. Your gift will help provide critical support like food, water, shelter, personal care, rebuilding efforts, and trauma counselling.

Your gifts will be put to work as soon as they are needed in the areas where they are needed most. And your support will be there to help rebuild long after the headlines fade.

Every gift counts. Make a life-saving gift this Giving Tuesday

 

Let us pray:

God of new visions and hope, we have heard your prophet Isaiah calling us to take those first steps toward the light of your presence, to go to your mountain and to learn your ways of peace. Like your people of long ago, we are waiting… waiting for compassion and healing for the many who struggle with illnesses and disease, waiting for the Earth to be cared for, waiting for an equal sharing of the Earth’s resources, waiting for differences in race, religion, culture and ability to be honoured and respected, waiting for long-term measures to be put in place for all who are without shelter on our streets, waiting for an end to violence.

 

It is hard to wait, God, especially when the nightly news speaks of gunfire and explosions, people fleeing for their lives, overcrowded emergency rooms, innocent people being shot in nightclubs, streets and in homes, increasing numbers lining up at soup kitchens and food banks, spiralling costs of heating oil. We wonder how we can take small steps and large steps to turn swords into ploughshares, to bring about transformation in our communities and our world. We don’t know all the answers, God, to these many questions that plague our living, but we do know to whom we pray. We pray to you, Creator God. And we are thankful that we are part of a faith community that wonders about these very same things. We do not journey alone. Give us courage to act where and when we can act in little ways, in big ways to bear Jesus’ gifts of love and life and hope to the world. Help us to use these Advent days as a time to pay attention, to be alert and to be awake to opportunities where we can make a difference. 

We pause now in silence, lifting up to you those nations, those households, those workplaces, those marriages, those schools, those hearts, where we know that conflict of some kind rages, places where your peace is needed…

Show us how to live in these days of uncertainty and unrest. Help us to live as if your reign is among us, seeking out those places in hearts where we need transformation, deeper understanding and a sense of your presence and guidance. We offer these prayers to you in the spirit of Jesus Christ, who came as a little child, who grew up and brought transformation to this world and who continues to inspire our world to revolution and new possibilities, saying together, Our Father…

 

Hymn: 5 VU All Earth is Waiting  

Blessing:

May God take us

and hold us

call us

and love us

unsettle us

and challenge us

waken us

and guide us

remold us

and transform us

align us

and grant us vision

as we wait and work for God’s revolutionary in-breaking in our world. Amen.

 +++++++++++++++++++++++

 

 

November 20, 2022

Good afternoon and welcome to our worship service on this last Sunday of our church year.

Next Sunday is like our church’s New Year’s party as we begin Advent, and a brand-new cycle of our church calendar!

 

Hope you are all snug in your homes with a cup of something hot in your hands.

 

Blessings for your week ahead.

 

 

 

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 candle to remind us of Jesus, who lives and reigns among us, not as power and might, but as the tiniest flicker of light offering forgiveness and compassion even from a cross.

 

Call to Worship: (adapted from Rev. Beth Johnston, in The Gathering)     

We have come to the end of a journey.

A full year has passed since we first began to wait in hope for God’s reign.

We looked for the baby Jesus in a palace.

But Jesus was not there.

We looked for Jesus in all the respectable places.

But Jesus was often associating in places less accepted by society.

We looked for Jesus in the tomb.

But Jesus was not there; he had been raised.

We continue to look for Jesus.

And we find him, in the glimpses of our daily lives and often in the most unexpected places.

As we gather for worship, his presence breaks in through the Holy Spirit.

Come, Jesus, and let your reign begin in us!       

 

Let us pray:

Gracious God, you reach out to us in so many different ways,

showing us over and over again how your realm of grace and love

is different from the powers of our day.

Through the witness of Jesus as he brings healing in the midst of brokenness,

strength in the midst of suffering,

and hope in the midst of despair,

we continue to see glimpses of how you reign in our world, even now.

Guide us by your truth and love as we gather in worship today

and as we seek to live as people of your vision. Amen.

Hymn: 213 VU Rejoice, the Lord is King   

Prayer of Confession: (from Lectionary Liturgies, Thom Shuman)

In these moments, Remembering God, we bring to you all the ways we have not lived as your people:
we stand by watching
while those in need struggle to survive;
we cast our lots with those
who worship power and success;
we offer insults rather than words of grace
to those who care for us;
we scoff at your words
which call us to a different lifestyle.
Forgive us, God of Mercy, for not knowing what we do to you, to others, to ourselves.  Speak to us through Jesus Christ, our King and our Savior, who bears words filled with your tender mercy and gracious hope.

Words of Affirmation:

The forgiveness of God sheds light on the shadows and guides us into new ways of peace.

Resting in this forgiveness, let us replace old grievances and resentments with new love.

 

Readings and Reflection:

A King on a Cross? Now This is Different!

As I mentioned earlier in the week in one of your morning emails, today is Reign of Christ Sunday. It is the day when we celebrate that we have come through another cycle of our church year- a year that began with Advent, then Christmas, then Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost. In our own lives that year has hopefully brought with it some new experiences and discoveries for each of you on your personal and spiritual journeys. For most of us, there have been a mix of joys and struggles along the way. We tuck all these into our hearts as we take stock and reflect on what his reign means for us personally and how we might live as citizens of his realm in the world. How does this influence where we place our priorities, how we relate to one another, how we respond to the issues that our community and world present to us?

It is interesting to note that of all the days and seasons of the church calendar this naming of a Sunday as Reign of Christ Sunday is a relatively new concept in the long history of the church. It was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in response to the growing secularism at the time. If you can recall your history lessons, you will know that this was the time when people like Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler were beginning to surface. Pope Pius felt the need to remind people that their primary allegiance was not to earthly powers but to Christ.

Yet, as we know, Jesus never identified himself as a king, at least not in the way these secular rulers were purporting. Let’s face it, Jesus never put on a ball cap that read “I want to make this world great again.” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge!) No, instead, as we will see later in our readings, the only thing on his head was a crown of thorns, a symbol of suffering and vulnerability. His story is not one of glamour, success and power as we know it in our world. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is characterized by service, love and grace.

So, who is this Jesus and what is his reign all about? What difference does his reign make in how we live our lives? That’s what I invite you to reflect on with me today. Before we get to our scriptures, let’s listen to the parts of our United Church’s Song of Faith that tries to bring meaning to these very questions about Jesus. For those of you who get the emails, it is what I sent to you earlier this week:

We sing of Jesus,

    a Jew,

    born to a woman in poverty

    in a time of social upheaval

    and political oppression.

He knew human joy and sorrow.

So filled with the Holy Spirit was he

that in him people experienced the presence of God among them.

We sing praise to God incarnate.

 

Jesus announced the coming of God’s reign—

    a commonwealth not of domination

    but of peace, justice, and reconciliation.

He healed the sick and fed the hungry.

He forgave sins and freed those held captive

    by all manner of demonic powers.

He crossed barriers of race, class, culture, and gender.

He preached and practised unconditional love—

    love of God, love of neighbour,

    love of friend, love of enemy—

and he commanded his followers to love one another

    as he had loved them.

 

Because his witness to love was threatening,

    those exercising power sought to silence Jesus.

He suffered abandonment and betrayal,

    state-sanctioned torture and execution.

He was crucified.

 

But death was not the last word.

God raised Jesus from death,

    turning sorrow into joy,

    despair into hope.

We sing of Jesus raised from the dead.

We sing hallelujah.

 

By becoming flesh in Jesus,

    God makes all things new.

InJesus’ life, teaching, and self-offering,

    God empowers us to live in love.

In Jesus’ crucifixion,

    God bears the sin, grief, and suffering of the world.

In Jesus’ resurrection,

    God overcomes death.

Nothing separates us from the love of God.

 

In our reading from Colossians, the writer also tries his hand at giving words to who Jesus is and the work that he was about. While somewhat more overwhelming and rather lofty in its images of Jesus, I do like the idea of Jesus as “the one who holds all things together”- the super glue, if you like! Such a great image to remind us that unlike world rulers and secular leaders, Jesus reigns not by thirst for power, not with weapons of mass destruction or by the notion of the survival of the fittest, but through a bond of love and justice.

Colossians 1:11-20

11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, so that you may have all endurance and patience, joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

And then comes our gospel, a reading that, in many ways, at first sounds more like a reading for Good Friday than the Reign of Christ. Here, we find Jesus as a deeply humiliated and vulnerable figure hanging on a cross and mocked by others as “King of the Jews.” Yet, as you listen to his words, you will notice that he spends his last minutes doing exactly what he had done all his life- forgiving, loving, including and refusing to repay evil with evil, offering his very presence and compassion to another in need. In so acting, as you will see, this beaten Jesus has more power than all those who sit in authority over him. Thankfully, one of the criminals sees this for himself.

Luke 23: 33-43

33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesusthere 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[c] 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.”

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 in] your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Now that’s different, isn’t it? No wonder Jesus’ reign was missed by so many. It was unlike anything they had ever seen or experienced before. It simply didn’t fit the mold. A king who is crucified? A king who forgives the very people who executed him? A king who granted salvation to a criminal next to him rather than further condemning him? Let’s face it- it doesn’t sound like any king or ruler we know either. If we were watching a blockbuster movie, this is where our hero would leap from the cross. But this is not how the story plays out, is it? The only power we see is the power to forgive and the invitation to embrace the hope of life in God’s reign. A power of love like no other.

I came across something a little similar to this in a story told I was reading this week. It is written by Peter Marty in The Christian Century. And it touched me so much I just had to share it with you. Her name was Ruby Bridges. She lived in New Orleans. In 1960, when the story took place, she was 6 years old. Ruby was black and the other students were white. Before her first day at school ended, the other parents had emptied out the school of white children and staged a massive boycott. Ruby learned alone that year- taught by the 1 teacher willing to remain. Daily, huge crowds of protesters shouted slurs and death threats at Ruby. Angry white people waved confederate flags. Some even shoved before Ruby an open child’s casket with a black doll inside. Mob mentality reigned. A psychologist by the name of Robert Coles who was studying children in the time of desegregation took an interest in Ruby and was intrigued by her strength and stoicism and overall cheeriness in the midst of what she faced. He met with her weekly.

Ruby’s teacher told Coles that she noticed Ruby moving her lips as she walked to school. “Who were you talking to?” He asked her.

“I was talking to God and praying for the people on the street.”

“Why are you doing that?”

“Well, because I wanted to pray for them. Don’t you think they need praying for?”

“Where did you learn that?”

“From my mommy and daddy and from the minister at church. I pray every morning and, on the way home from school.”

“But people are so mean to you. You must have some other feelings besides just praying for them and hoping God will be good to them.”

“No, I just say, please, dear God, forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.”

Ruby, in her 6-year-old wisdom, knew the truth of a king who reigned in a different way and she modelled what living in that realm looks like. As I read that story, it made me ask myself, do I? Do we? In her, I caught a glimpse of exactly what that second criminal must have seen in Jesus- a king like no other, a new way of living- a way of reconciliation and healing, not revenge, a way that celebrates diversity, a way of service and sacrifice, of forgiveness and blessing, a way of mercy, of simplicity and non violence, an alternative to the way of domination, a way that upends power structures and the status quo, a power made perfect in weakness and vulnerability. A way where the last are first and the first are last, where a wayward son who asks for an inheritance from his father and then squanders it is then welcomed home, a way where a shepherd leaves the 99 to seek the one lost sheep, a way where a rich man’s feast is opened to the poor and lame and where God’s love reaches out to a thief on a cross, welcoming him with grace. A way the world had not seen before. A way that we catch glimpses of in the Ruby’s of this world- if we have eyes to see and hearts that are open. Amen.

 

Minute for Mission

Families want their dads to come back.”

A man holding the hand of his young daughter, who's about 3 years old, walk away from the camera on a forest path.

Credit: Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

 

On November 20, countries around the world celebrate Universal Children’s Day (also called World Children’s Day). The date marks the anniversary of the UN General Assembly adopting both the declaration and the convention on children’s rights. On the same day, Restorative Justice Week kicks off.

It’s a perfect time to raise up the needs of children with incarcerated parents―the all-too-often forgotten, invisible, or ignored victims of the criminal justice system.

No one knows how many children in Canada are affected by the incarceration of a parent. Back in 2007, the guestimate was 357,604. * But advocates think that with the increase in the prison population, the number is much higher.

While every situation is unique, many children with incarcerated parents face trauma, family instability, social isolation, and economic insecurity. On the inside, parents struggle to stay connected to their kids, let go of shame, and deepen parenting skills so they can successfully unite their family when they are released.

That’s why Parkland Restorative Justice―a Mission & Service partner based in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan―runs an eight-week parenting course for male inmates called Dad HERO, (an acronym for “Helping Everyone Realize Opportunities”). Developed in partnership with the Canadian Families and Corrections Network (CFCN), the course is designed to educate dads about parenting, how to communicate with their child, and how to work with a co-parent. Afterward, the dads meet regularly in a group that continues to provide support after their release.

“A lot of people don’t think about men inside prisons as a hero. In fact, when we told the men the name of the program, some of them said, ‘That doesn’t resonate with me, I don’t really feel like a hero to my kids. But I want my children to look up to me, to think that I have value and worth, that I have information to give them, and can be a good parent that is aspiring to be a hero,” says Louise Leonardi, Executive Director of the CFCN. “We all want the same things for these men. We want them to come out of prison, to reoffend less, to be with their families, to start a pro-social and productive life, and to move into society in a well-balanced way. Families want their dads to come back.” **

No one is disposable, and no child should feel forgotten. Thank you for helping to build stronger families and for believing everyone can be a hero.

 

Let us pray:

God of grace and mercy, we give you thanks that in Jesus Christ you reign through love and vulnerability. Through him, you have revealed just how your power is shown to the world- not by brute force, not by tanks and warfare, not by bullying and scare tactics but by compassion and empathy. Thank you for revealing to us that to trust is wisdom, to forgive is the best way to deal with enemies, and to serve is the best way to lead. We pray that, through the grace of your kingdom, 

each beloved creature and citizen will know safety and satisfaction in their homes. We ask that the vision of your peaceable kingdom might take root in our hearts, bringing healing to families and communities, and in every place wounded by violence or destruction.  

We give you thanks for reaching out to those on the margins, like those criminals on the cross, so that each one knew they belonged in your kingdom.  

We pray for those who face discrimination or insecurity in our communities, 

longing for respect and a change to thrive. Lead us by your Spirit to do our part

in your work of mending the brokenness of this world. 

Thank you for enduring the pain of the cross and the darkness of the tomb 

to show us there is life beyond death through your resurrecting love. 

We pray for those who are grieving a loss this day, 

the loss of someone beloved,  

the loss of love or hope or trust,  

the loss of opportunity or security or future plans.  

 Be present with all who know the sadness and disruption of a loss, 

and bring each one comfort and courage.  

 Be a healing presence to all who are ill and to all who give care, especially under stressful conditions that our health care institutions are facing.  

We pray for your church at work in the world, 

confronting the challenges and changes of these times, the worries of so many, the struggles to keep up in the midst of rising costs of food, heat and other necessities.   

Unite us in witness and service,  

and encourage us when difficulties arise, 

for we are your people, committed to the unfolding of your reign among us, 

as we pray the words you taught us – Our Father… 

 

 Hymn: 330 VU Jesus Shall Reign 

 

Blessing:

In the places of this world where lives are broken,

where people are forgotten and hurting,

where the powerful lord it over the powerless,

where greed, abuse and violence strip people of their dignity,

where imbalance is the name of the game.

In this same world,

we are called to be the body of Christ.

Friends, through the shared life of this community,

 

may we make Christ’s reign known, this day and everyday. Amen.

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

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