July 7, 2024 Power Made Perfect in Weakness

 Welcome to our worship service at Faith Memorial United!

Sure is a steamy one out there today.

We enjoyed our strawberry shortcakes after worship today courtesy of Shauna and Charlie!

Thanks to all who remembered your donations to food bank. As always, you can add items anytime but we do try to highlight the first Sunday of the month.

Reminder that Covid is still out there. If you do not have a test kit, we still have some available at the church on the table in the hall.

Have a good week and keep cool and hydrated!

Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples have occupied and cared for the land which many call Canada. In our worship together this day, in this area, we gather on the traditional land of the Wabanaki peoples, predominantly the lands of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Wolastoqiyik and Passamaquoddy. As a community of faith, we seek to rebuild right relations with theses people, to learn from them and to live on this land, their land with respect and gratitude for its creation and Creator.                                                   

In the name of Jesus Christ from whom we draw light and power for our living, we light this candle.

Call to Worship: (Written by Dr. Lisa Hancock, Discipleship Ministries, April 2024.)

When our bodies feel unable and incapable, and the voices all around us disparage and criticize our bodies as weak and worthless, God calls to us…

Open your heart to your weakness and my strength.

When we persist in the false belief that we should and must do everything on our own, never asking for help and persisting in our drive for full independence, God calls to us…

Open your heart to your weakness and my strength.

When we feel shame because we need help, and the deep vulnerability of our needs pierces our hearts, God calls to us…

Open your heart to your weakness and my strength.

Listen! Pay attention! God calls to us in our weakness, not to erase our frailties or bemoan all the things society may tell us we lack, but to empower us within the vulnerability of our humanness, naming us Beloved in the fullness of who we are.

May we open our hearts in worship to receive the goodness in our weakness and the power in the strength of God’s love for all of God’s vulnerable creation.

Opening Prayer:

We open our hearts to receive your wisdom, O God.

When we ponder your greatness, we are filled with awe.

We think of the tremendous responsibility to which Jesus commissioned the first disciples.

Help us as we worship, to feel again that same spirit of mission,

that we, too, may be equipped to serve in your name.

May your power meet us in our weakness. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Hymn: 624 VU Give to Us Laughter 

Prayer of Confession:

Intro: Paul talks about power being made perfect in weakness.

 Paul says that he boasts of his weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in him. In the spirit of Paul’s reflections, let us pray:

Forgive us the times when we ignore you, O God,

and depend on our own strength to do things our own way.

Forgive us for believing

that we have to be hard and domineering

if we want to get ahead in life.

Forgive us when we use our power selfishly or aggressively,

ignoring that indwelling, Christ-given power

which frees us to be vulnerable.

Permeate our lives with your grace, Lord,

so that we can affirm with Paul

that we are content with weaknesses for your sake,

and fill us with the knowledge

that it is when we allow ourselves to be empowered by you,

that we are truly strong. Amen.

 

Words of Affirmation

Hear again the good news: that Jesus’ grace is sufficient for us all—

sufficient for us to be forgiven in his name.

Receive that grace and rejoice in the power to live in his strength.

Thanks be to God!

 

Scripture Readings and Reflection:

AUDIO format available by clicking here

                                             Power Made Perfect in Weakness

Sometimes we forget just how challenging it is to share the Good News. We live in a world where even our churches can get caught up in notions of secular success. Even though we may not always say it, we think it. We like to have influence in our communities. We think that our numbers in the pews or the money in our offering plates is the measure of our “success”. We worry about “saving” our churches instead of living out our faith in daily life. We sometimes even find ourselves more concerned about our reputations or with the trappings of power and privilege instead of serving God. We like to be liked, to be respected and in control.

How often, however, do we ask what really is the church for? Well-known Biblical commentator William Willimon in an article I was reading in a periodical called Pulpit Resource asks this very question that might cause us to ponder. “Are we as a church about meeting our own needs or are we as the church about rearranging our needs, or, better still, giving us needs we never would have had, had we not come to worship? What if the church is not here to meet needs but to hear a call to be part of the countercultural activity of serving God in a world that does not worship God? Why do we come to church anyway? Willimon says that most of us would answer this by saying we come to be reassured that we are on the right path, or to seek help for our problems or to share community with like-minded people. Yet, he asks, is that all the church is- a place to meet our needs? What if God has a different idea about church as something more than merely satisfying its “customers”? What if it is to discern what God is calling us to be and do? Willimon’s reflections intrigue me as I hope they do you too. It seems to me we all have expectations about our faith communities and the kind of power we as Jesus’ followers should have. Sometimes, though, I wonder if in getting caught up in how the world defines ‘success’, that we start relying more on our own power than on the power of God that so often speaks to us in our weakness and our vulnerabilities. When we step back to let go just that little bit in humility, the grace of God becomes all the more evident.

It strikes me that often it is through the fiery trials and struggles of life, like when we experience rejection and resistance, that we experience the most personal growth. For instance, I would think we all have the experience somewhere in our lives of perhaps applying for a job, or asking a person out on a date and being turned down. While shocking and disappointing at first, when dealt with in a healthy way by talking it over with a trusted friend maybe, we find a way of moving on in a new way.

Our readings this morning carry with them these sorts of revelatory moments. I think you will find it rather reassuring that as writer Nadia Bolz Weber writes, “Rejection has been the travelling companion of the Gospel from the beginning” And she adds, “Don’t take it personally!”

Our first reading shares one such example from Paul’s faith journey. Just to set the context a bit, Paul is attempting to share Christ’s message in the midst of what we today would call on the internet as a group of “influencers”. Known as the “super apostles”, they boast of their powerful spiritual experiences of speaking in tongues, spectacular visions and miracle working abilities. They take great pleasure in undermining Paul whose ministry has been plagued by things like shipwrecks, imprisonment and personal suffering which they see as a sign of his “weak” faith. Yet, Paul, even in the midst of all this mud-slinging and finger pointing, isn’t going to play their game. Let’s listen to how he looks to Christ and finds personal strength not in his own ability or power but in God’s power and ability to use him, even in the midst of his weaknesses. In other words, even in his weaknesses and sufferings, his power is found in God’s grace. And it is that grace that will prove sufficient as he learns to serve God with humility.

2 Corinthians 12: 2-10

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

 

In a somewhat similar way to Paul, Jesus too had his credibility tested on countless occasions. In our gospel reading this morning, it happens among the people we might least expect it- his hometown friends and neighbours. At first, when he returns, they are pleased and excited to see him, patting themselves on the back for what a fine, young man they as a community had raised up. Yet, it doesn’t take long before they turn a cold shoulder on him. They are turned off because they couldn’t get what he is about. As people today who love to say of churches, “he didn’t meet their needs.” While our text from Mark does not give us any indication what he said or did, for some reason it proved unsatisfying. No doubt, it disturbed them and challenged them or called them to see their priorities and values differently. They wanted nothing to do with him so they begin to cut him down a peg or two. Isn’t he Mary’s son? Who does he think he is and where did he get so wise all of a sudden? Isn’t he just one of us? They were not interested in learning anything more about him. I like how the Message scripture words this: We had no idea he was this good! So, they tripped over what little they knew of him and fell, sprawling. Or maybe they were just too frightened to learn anything more because of the changes it might mean for them. So, they do much like we often do when something new and challenging comes to the surface- they take offense to protect themselves from going any further with Jesus.

 As a result of this resistance and unbelief, Jesus was unable to do the kind of things he was able to do elsewhere. Yet, despite their close- mindedness and Jesus’ perceived inability to “satisfy the customers” as we say, there was still no stopping the good news. Let’s listen to how Jesus, even in this vulnerable position in which he found himself, handled their resistance:

Mark 6:1-13

  Jesus left that place and came to his hometown. His disciples followed him. On the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard him were surprised. “Where did this man get all this? What’s this wisdom he’s been given? What about the powerful acts accomplished through him? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” They were repulsed by him and fell into sin.

Jesus said to them, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.” He was unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. He was appalled by their disbelief.

Then Jesus traveled through the surrounding villages teaching.

He called for the Twelve and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick—no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts. He told them to wear sandals but not to put on two shirts. 10 He said, “Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. 11 If a place doesn’t welcome you or listen to you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. 13 They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them.

I hope you caught it. While appalled by their disbelief, what did Jesus do? Did he fire off a nasty Facebook message for all to read? Did he reprimand his townsfolk? Did he call out for fire from the skies to be cast upon them? Did he condemn them and take offense? Did he enter into a shouting match and try to “win” them over to his new way of seeing the world?  Did he throw up his hands in defeat and say, well, I’m never going to speak another word about God’s love and grace ever again.

No, none of the above. Instead, and this is where he is a lot like Paul with the taunting of those super apostles, he simply acknowledged to himself that he was up against a hard crowd and moved on to other villages. And he knew he could only do so much. As Barbara Brown Taylor put it, “He lit the match but they blew out the flame.” He left them to let his light shine somewhere else.

Meanwhile, the disciples had seen and experienced all this. So, in calling them out to their mission, he wants them to realize that just like him, they too will experience resistance and sometimes even rejection. It is then, when like Paul, they will need to rely most readily not on their own power but on the power of God working through them in their weakness. When they go out, he encourages them to travel simply, to travel in supportive teams of two, to not go from house to house but to enter and stay at the house that offers them hospitality. In other words, be a good guest. If you find yourself unwelcome by resistance to your message, don’t make a scene. Don’t fret.  Don’t be stopped by it. Don’t grow bitter. Simply shake off the dust from your feet and move on. Almost like he is saying, remember my experience in my hometown? Remember, you won’t always be successful. You are only planting seeds. Expect some failure and resistance along the way. Some of what you do will yield results right away. Some might germinate after a long while. Some may never. Just keep on moving on and being faithful in getting the good news out there. Do what you can but don’t kick yourself if results aren’t forthcoming. Or as Paul said so well, sometimes it is so true, power can be made perfect in weakness. One never knows where the good news might just be taking root, just beneath the surface.

Such a great message for us, don’t you think, as churches today, especially when we so often bemoan our influence and position in society. How often we feel like we are so weak compared to whatever we think the golden era of churches might be. How often it feels like it is a tough crowd out there. Still, Jesus says, get out there. Go beyond the doors and walls of our church buildings. Go with humility, as guests. And remember there is no instruction here from Jesus about converting the masses. Simply go. Be. Listen and share the good news where the people are- do what you can where you find yourselves and simply move on. Even in what you may feel to be your weakness, remind yourself that that is so often where we find God’s strength at work. And remember- not even Jesus said it would be easy!  Amen.

Your Generosity Matters/ Our Offerings are Received

The emotional toll of ministering to a grieving community is enormous.

Sunny day on a lake surrounded by trees, the clouds reflecting in the water.

Credit: Lindsay Victoria

Northern United Church ministers are facing a crisis. The number of deaths in northern communities has been immense, and the grief of burying community members, especially young people, has been overwhelming. The emotional toll of ministering to a grieving community is enormous, and ministers are in dire need of rest and renewal.

ministers’ retreat is being planned for October 2024. The retreat will provide rest, training in crisis management, and spiritual renewal, and will allow leaders to return with renewed strength to help those in need. Ministers will participate in a blend of training and respite opportunities, including learning about vicarious trauma and administering Naloxone, and relaxation opportunities through art therapy, beading workshops, and sharing circles.

Through your generous support of Mission and Service, this retreat is on its way to being a reality.

Every dollar donated will be matched by a contribution from the Healing Fund. Thank you.

 

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession

Loving God, in the warmth of these summer days, we are grateful for this time to be together as we worship you. Thank you for these moments of pause and reflection as we call to mind the events and experiences of this past week. Thank you for opportunities that this summer brings to be outside, to marvel at your works in creation. Thank you for reunions with family and friends that summertime travel makes possible.

We give thanks that just as Jesus called those first disciples and sent them out to do your work of spreading the good news of your love and grace to people near and far, so you send us. May we be open to receiving the insight and hospitality that others offer along the way. Show us how to travel lightly and simply, bringing nothing with us but your hope and healing. Give us courage in the face of adversity and strength in the midst of our weaknesses. Keep us open to your power to bring new possibilities in the many places of our lives and our world where barrenness prevails.

We name before you situations where hardship, suffering, mental, physical or spiritual illness are a constant presence. We think of the many in our country who are homeless, the many among us who suffer with addictions, the many who are feeling unloved, forgotten or pushed aside. We remember especially the aboriginal churches and communities of Northern Ontario and Manitoba as they are overwhelmed by increasing numbers of suicides, missing and murdered women and drug addictions. We pray for the people of the Caribbean in the aftermath of a hurricane and others in our world bearing the brunt of natural disasters and rebuilding.  We continue to offer you our prayers for peace with justice in Ukraine and the Middle East, asking that your wisdom might be upon all the world leaders in what feels like such a time of unrest. Show us ways that we might be channels of your love and light as we work for healing and reconciliation in all the places where hatred and division prevail.

We offer these prayers in the name of Jesus, who encourages us to keep on planting seeds as we continue to move forward in the power of your Holy Spirit to be the people you call us to be. And we pray together with Jesus saying… Our Father…

Hymn: 660 VU How Firm a Foundation 

Blessing

Like the first disciples of long ago, we are sent out to proclaim the good news.

Imagine the possibilities!

Just as they were reminded to lean on God’s power and not their own,

So are we invited to live in trust that our needs will be met.

Just as they were called to shake the dust off our feet and to keep on keeping on,

So are we encouraged to pick ourselves up in when the going gets tough.

There is much to be done and many places where God’s message of love and grace is needed.

May God give us courage.

May Christ bring us peace.

May the Holy Spirit send wind for our sails.

Amen and amen!

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June 23, 2024 An Invitation to the Other Side

Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples have occupied and cared for the land which many call Canada. In our worship together this day, in this area, we gather on the traditional land of the Wabanaki peoples, predominantly the lands of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Wolastoqiyik and Passamaquoddy. As a community of faith, we seek to rebuild right relations with theses people, to learn from them and to live on this land, their land with respect and gratitude for its creation and Creator.                                        

            

 

The light of Christ breaks into our lives in mysterious and awesome ways, calming our fears and sending us forth in new directions.

Call to Worship:

In a world that often causes us to be afraid,

We gather in the promise of God’s peace.

We come to be renewed by Christ’s love.

We open ourselves to the encouragement of the Holy Spirit.

During a time in history that often seems uncertain,

We gather in the promise of God’s peace.

We come to be renewed by Christ’s love.

We open ourselves to the encouragement of the Holy Spirit.

Living in the midst of environmental change and crisis,

We gather in the promise of God’s peace.

We come to be renewed by Christ’s love.

We open ourselves to the encouragement of the Holy Spirit.

And trying to cope with the everyday stresses and strains of life,

We gather in the promise of God’s peace.

We come to be renewed by Christ’s love.

We open ourselves to the encouragement of the Holy Spirit.

 

Opening Prayer:

We come, O God, seeking the peace you offer.

You have power to calm the wind, the sea and our spirits.

In the midst of life’s storms, we seek you.

In the leisurely pace of summer, at work, at home, you are there.

In despair and sorrow, in comfort and joy, in the faces of friends and family, we meet you.

So, we pray, meet us here as we worship.

May we hear your invitation and follow you with renewed faith and courage. Amen.

Hymn: 637 VU Jesus, Saviour Pilot Me 

Prayer of Confession

Merciful God, we confess how easy it is to have faith when all is well.

Yet, we confess how easily we identify with the fear of the disciples when they were caught in the storm.

Like them, we know that such fears are part of being human.

It is easy to falter, to wonder where you are.

And even when we realize you are with us, our fears do not always subside.

We fear where you might lead us and how we might be changed as we follow you.

When we are uncertain of the way ahead, may we never forget our source of help and hope in you.

In our worries over health, relationships, finances and the state of the world, may we be reassured in knowing that Jesus is in our midst,

strengthening us when we are most vulnerable,

and challenging us for what is next. Amen.

 

Words of Affirmation

With the calming words, “Peace, be still,” Jesus fills us with new courage.

He beckons us to live with renewed faith. By his side, we are invited to journey unafraid.

Thanks be to God!

Readings and Reflection: AUDIO VERSION Link, click here


An Invitation to the Other Side

In our lectionary readings this week, we are given a choice between two passages from 1 Samuel. One is the familiar story of young David who stakes his life on the power of God to defeat the Philistine giant Goliath. The other text, however, is not so well known so I have decided it is time we heard that one too. It is situated just after the David and Goliath story when Saul, the king and commander of the Israelite army, begins to see David as a threat to his power and control over the people. He fears David will seize the throne. The other thing that threatens Saul is David’s trust in God. Saul’s jealousy toward David is so strong that he makes attempts on David’s life. While I am not going to say much more about this text, I think it is a good one for us to hear in that it also introduces us to a positive example from scripture of a close friendship between two men, David and Jonathan, Saul’s son.

1 Samuel 17:57-18:1-16

57 On David’s return from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with the head of the Philistine in his hand. 58 Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”

18 When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing and gave it to David and his armor and even his sword and his bow and his belt. David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him; as a result, Saul set him over the army. And all the people, even the servants of Saul, approved.

As they were coming home, when David returned from killing the Philistine, the women came out of all the towns of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. And the women sang to one another as they made merry,

“Saul has killed his thousands
    and David his ten thousand.”

Saul was very angry, for this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands; what more can he have but the kingdom?” So Saul eyed David from that day on.

10 The next day an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand, 11 and Saul threw the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice.

12 Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. 13 So Saul removed him from his presence and made him a commander of a thousand, and David marched out and came in, leading the army. 14 David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him. 15 When Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in awe of him. 16 But all Israel and Judah loved David, for it was he who marched out and came in leading them.

Our gospel reading is the familiar story of Jesus calming the storm at sea. It is the kind of story with which we can easily relate. We think of the “storms” in our lives, those things that cause us to feel like we are sinking- stresses, relationships that turn sour, isolation, meaninglessness, anxieties, illness, death, rejection, failure and so on. Our experiences in life have certainly shown us that there are lots of things that give us cause to fear. We all can attest to times in our lives when we have felt as vulnerable and out of control as those disciples were in the storm-tossed boat. Traditionally, we have read this story to remind us that Jesus is there with us in the storms of life. And there is nothing wrong with that interpretation. I wonder, however, if there is a way to hear this story in a fresh way. As you listen to it this morning, I invite you to pay special attention to both Jesus’ words to the disciples after the storm is calmed and their reaction to this miracle.

Mark 4: 35-41

  35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion, and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And waking up, he rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Be silent! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

I hope you noted that even though the storm had been calmed, our passage says that the disciples were still filled with fear, wondering who this fellow in the boat with them really was. Yes, fear of drowning in a windstorm was one thing but now, in the aftermath of the storm, it was then that discovered that the real danger is Jesus himself and his power to calm the storm. In him, they recognized the presence and power of God. As Mary Oliver in her poem about this story entitled “Awe” concludes, this power was “a thousand times more frightening than the killer sea”. They feared where this power might lead them and how it might change them. In other words, if the windstorm had tossed them around, imagine how much more the power of God would shake them?

If they had known this, would they have even gotten into this boat in the first place? Would they have accepted his invitation to cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, to go to unknown territory and unknown people, the Gentiles? Can you imagine what these disciples must have been thinking and saying to one another after the storm was over and Jesus returned to his sleep in the stern of the boat? No wonder their fear remained. What would await them on the other side?

Their fear of the power Jesus exerted over the storm reminded me a bit of an old story told by Fred Craddock about a minister he knew who went to visit one of his parishioners in the hospital. The woman was suffering from a terminal disease, and the minister went to visit her knowing that, at the end of that visit, he would pray one of those prayers that acknowledges the desperation of that situation, and that accepts, as fact, that not much is going to change. Craddock writes, I know about prayers like that, I've prayed prayers like that hundreds of times in hospital rooms. They are honest and pastorally sensitive, and often they are the only appropriate kinds of prayers to pray. They go something like this. "Oh God, we thank you that you are with us as a companion in every circumstance; even in this circumstance. And we ask you, if you choose not to change things, then to change us ~ to give us the courage to accept your will for our future, whatever that will is, and to place ourselves, with trust, in all-knowing hands."

The minister went there prepared to pray that kind of prayer, as Craddock tells the story. But the woman prevailed upon him to beg God to heal her. And so, against his better judgment, he prayed a different kind of prayer altogether. He prayed fervently, even while he understood what a long-shot that prayer was. And then when that prayer was over, he left that room. But a few days later he was back for another visit. The woman was sitting up in the bed. The tubes had been removed, and the curtains were open. She said to him, "You won't believe what has happened." She said, "The doctors noticed some changes the other day, and called for more x-rays, and they have told me that they can no longer see any sign of a tumor! I'm going home tomorrow."

The minister said later, "When I got out to the parking lot, I looked up into the skies and said, 'Don't ever do that to me again!"'

There's something about the power of God that ought to make us fear, because it's that unmanageable. I think that is the kind of fear that those disciples must have had after the storm. Now, with the power of God revealed through Jesus, anything could happen.  Life would never be the same again. Going with Jesus to the other side of that lake would challenge them to see beyond what was known, what was comfortable. Crossing to the other side would mean letting go of all that was fixed. It would move them from fishers to disciples. And I can’t help but imagine that the very thought of where all this was going felt every bit and perhaps more unsettling to these disciples as the rocking of the boat in the windstorm did. Is it any wonder that those old fears of being swamped by waves continued to prevail for them? For who knew what would be next for them? In trying to figure out who this Jesus was and where he was headed, what had they gotten themselves into? If they had known what was ahead, would they have accepted the invitation to get in the boat with Jesus in the first place? It certainly would have felt safer to just stay on that shoreline, doing what they were used to doing.

Kind of interesting too that when the windstorm lashed at their boat, one of the first things out of the disciples’ mouths to Jesus was ‘don’t you care that we are perishing?” Now, in taking them to the other side, beyond their comfort zone by crossing social and cultural boundaries to meet and mix with people who are different than themselves, it is as if Jesus is now responding, “let me show you how much I care.”

I care enough to invite you to detach from your familiar shores of Capernaum to journey to the unknown, to meet new people who might just challenge your values. I care enough to encourage you to go beyond yourself, to places you have never been before, to engage in conversations you have never risked having before. I care enough to push you and challenge you to some deeper reflections about what it means to be God’s faithful people. Come with me, he says, let’s go together to that other side, out of your familiar neighbourhoods, beyond the walls and barriers of clean and unclean, beyond the categories of insiders and outsiders that you have constructed. Come, that we might learn and grow together. Let’s not be paralyzed by our fears as we move forward.

It strikes me that Jesus’ invitation to those early disciples is the same invitation to us as the church today- to go with Jesus to the other side- to dare to cross boundaries and to allow ourselves to be stretched beyond what we know and beyond our comfort zones. Dare to explore somewhere new. Dare to broaden your horizons. Like those disciples, often this invitation makes us hesitant and unsure of ourselves, fearful even of being swamped and worst of all, out of control. Sometimes, we are scared of getting in the boat all together. After Covid, our churches are facing a lot of unknowns and we find ourselves asking now what? It is easy to fall into panic mode, wondering like the disciples did in the boat, if Jesus cares, if we are left totally abandoned in the challenges. And even when we do realize he is there with us in our boats, it doesn’t mean that no storms will arise. It doesn’t mean that we will never be afraid, that we will never panic or doubt. Yet, his presence does invite us to see possibilities in places where our fears might otherwise limit our imaginations. I can’t help but wonder if maybe our greatest act of faith is simply staying in the boat and listening for his invitation to believe that further adventures await us on the other side of the lake, in the unknowns that await. Certainly, putting our foot over the gunnels and finding our balance once we are in the boat is a big first step.

I like how Biblical commentator Karoline Lewis of Working Preacher phrases it best:

 “The promise of this text is that there is something on the other side that Jesus knows about — and needs to get us to. Of course, the reality for the disciples, and for us, is that the other side is not all that rosy. It has its own set of challenges — the disciples have to see Jesus differently, themselves differently. It means living into a new reality. And that takes some getting used to. Because when your location changes so does your perspective and others’ perspective of you. When your location changes, so do you. That’s pretty much how change works.

Perhaps the act of faith is not just the trust that Jesus will still the storm. The act of faith is taking Jesus’ invitation to heart. The act of faith is getting into the boat. The act of faith is believing that another side is not only possible, it is essential.” Amen

Your Generosity Matters/ Our Offerings are Presented

“The children…thought about it and decided to give it to help the people of Ukraine.”

A child's hand hands a yellow flower to an adult's hand.

Credit: Hakase_

Those who work in the United Church’s Philanthropy Unit have the privilege of hearing the stories of generous supporters. Each story shared is inspiring, but this note included in a cheque sent by Rock Lake Pastoral Charge in Manitoba is especially delightful:

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

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

This story represents thoughtful, intentional giving at its finest. Every gift given is a treasure. Every gift given tells a story about generosity.

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

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession

God of peaceful calm and God of stormy seas, we are thankful that you are present with us always. When we are overwhelmed with worries and anxieties, when it feels like the waves of life are overtaking us, when we are confused and in need of direction, when we are uncertain about our next steps, you are there, inviting us to cross over to new possibilities and new pathways. Give us courage and persistence to stay in the boat with you and to follow where you lead.

We pray for the many among us whose lives are filled with fear this day- for loved ones, for their communities and for themselves. For some, it may be a concern over health, a looming medical appointment, an upcoming surgery or treatment. For others it is a loss of independent living, a relationship, a pending decision that weighs heavy on their hearts, a transition of some sort or a major life decision.

Still others are fearful for their very lives and the lives of their families as they flee bombs and missile fire, as they wander in search of food, as they look for safety in the face of wildfires and natural disasters that threaten their homes and places of work, as they long for security in the midst of physical or emotional abuse. In these and so many such situations, O God, speak your word of peace.

We pray for churches the world over and for our local church community, that through our ministries beyond these walls we might be a beacon of love, of justice and inclusion to all who are threatened by the many challenges of life. Guide us as we explore new territory, new ways of being and new means of sharing your good news. Show us the way, we pray.

We ask these things in the name of Jesus, who holds us in his care and who taught us to pray as one people saying, Our Father…

Hymn: 675 VU Will Your Anchor Hold 

Blessing:

The love of God invites us to journey forth from comfortable and known shores,

to bring good news of God’s love and grace to all.

No matter how high the storm waves are in our lives, may we always rest secure in God’s presence as we risk crossing to the other side. Amen

 

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June 16, 2024 Sow then Let Go

Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples have occupied and cared for the land which many call Canada. In our worship together this day, in this area, we gather on the traditional land of the Wabanaki peoples, predominantly the lands of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Wolastoqiyik and Passamaquoddy. As a community of faith, we seek to rebuild right relations with theses people, to learn from them and to live on this land, their land with respect and gratitude for its creation and Creator.                                         

The spark of light from this Christ candle is such a small thing. Yet, as we bask in its glow, it offers us a symbol of warmth and guidance in our lives. May it offer us light for our living as we share its promise and hope for our world.

Call to Worship: (adapted from Rev. Lisa Lopez, Christ Presbyterian Church, Hanover Park IL)

Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed; it starts out as a small thing, but it grows and grows until it gives a home to the birds of the air.

Can we believe a new day is coming? As surely as the sun rises over the horizon God is creating a new world. 

Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like that someone who casts seed on the ground, and then sleeps and wakes, day after day, while the earth produces the fruit from the seed that was cast.

We do not know how God works out the fullness of redemption. But we know we are partners in that work.

As we gather, may we celebrate the subtle, yet significant, ways God is working in and through our lives.

Praise be to our God who works in mysterious ways!

 

Opening Prayer: (Posted on Thematic, Intercessory and Scripture Prayers for the RCL, Vanderbilt   Divinity Library.)

Mighty God, to you belong the mysteries of the universe.

You transform shepherds into kings,

the smallest seeds into magnificent trees,

and hardened hearts into loving ones.

Bless us with your life-giving Spirit,

re-create us in your image,

and shape us to your purposes,

through Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

 Hymn: 289 VU It Only Takes a Spark 

   

Prayer of Confession:

God, we remember with gratitude those people who generously sowed seeds of faith in in our lives.

You have blessed our lives by your Spirit so that our faith has miraculously and mysteriously grown.

Forgive us the times when we have failed to scatter seeds of faith in the lives of others-

the times when our personal agendas become more important than yours;

the times we have grown frustrated and impatient, fearing nothing would grow;

the times when we have thrown up our hands in despair;

the times when we felt it was all up to us to bring about the growth;

the times when we failed to put our trust in you and your promises…

                                  (silence)

God, it is easy to become disconnected from you to the point where our lives become parched and dry.

Renew our lives, we pray.

Teach us, once again, what it means to scatter seeds and to let you do the rest. Amen.

Words of Affirmation (2 Corinthians 5: 17)

“If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.”

Thanks be to God! Amen

Readings and Reflection:

To hear an AUDIO version, click here

Sow and Let Go

How often have we heard it said that God works in mysterious ways? How often have we been left baffled by how things turn out? We think things through. We make plans. And then, low and behold, things unravel in unexpected and often surprising ways. Our scripture stories provide us with many such examples. The younger brother Joseph who was resented by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt ends up being in charge of food distribution during a famine when his brothers come searching for help. Again, in the classic parable, the younger son who had made off with his father’s inheritance ends up being welcomed home with a feast while the dutiful elder son looks on with resentment.

Our first reading this morning from 1 Samuel is much like that too. After Saul’s dismal failure as a king, God calls Samuel to anoint another king from among the sons of Jesse. As the sons are paraded before Samuel, Samuel’s natural inclination is to go for the obvious- the eldest, the strongest. Yet, God has a different kind of leader in mind, one that once again upsets the apple cart of our human expectations.

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

34 Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 35 Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.

16 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do, and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably. I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely his anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him, for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him, for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him, for this is the one.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

 

I can’t help but thinking that much like Samuel, so often in life we can be fooled into thinking that we have control over how things should go or how things should turn out, but God surprises us. Some things are simply beyond our control. Like the Kingdom of God, for example. It often grows among us regardless of what we do and sometimes, even, in spite of what we do or don’t do. How surprising is that? Like the seeds we planted here last Sunday, we can bury them in the ground, we can water them when needed, we can expose them to warm sunlight, yet, despite our scientific knowledge about PH levels and photosynthesis, it is God who gives the growth. It is little wonder that Jesus uses a couple of parables about seeds to describe what God’s Kingdom is like:

Mark 4: 26-34

26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle because the harvest has come.”

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

 

It's so true, isn’t it? So often we can get lured into thinking that a thriving garden is all about the things we do. While not totally untrue, we do need to do some things- like hoeing up the rows, sowing the seeds, picking out the weeds, watering and fertilizing, it is God who gives the growth. Yet, so much happens after we go inside and have a little nap. Or we rest for a few days and then go back to look at the garden only to notice that that seed or that tiny plant has grown. The flower that was in bud a few days ago now has burst forth and has colour. The tomato blossom has now produced a tiny green tomato. Growth seems to happen so subtly. It is out of our hands.

Ralph Milton shares a funny story about a time when he lived next door to a couple who were meticulous about the appearance of their lawn. Early in the spring, they could be seen spreading fertilizer, spraying fungicides, aerating the roots and generally worrying about their lawn. He recalls how Hazel would be on her hands and knees digging out any dandelion unwise enough to grow there.

This couple didn’t like the way Ralph looked after his lawn. Or, as he says more accurately, the way I didn’t look after it. I mowed it when I thought it was necessary, which was about a third as often as Pearce mowed his. I let the clippings fall right on the grass. I figured they were good mulch- a natural fertilizer. I watered it when we had a dry spell. But I never sprayed or spread or fussed.

What really annoyed Hazel and Pearce was that we let the kids play on our lawn. “They’ll ruin it! They’ll kill every blade of grass. Pearce would preach to me long homilies about the care and feeding of lawns.

What drove them absolutely wild was that our lawn looked every bit as good as theirs. They rejected my theory that God created grass for children to play on and that his grass was dying of loneliness. I offered to loan him my kids to play on his lawn as they didn’t have any children of their own. Kids will pick your dandelions when they bloom and put them in a glass on your kitchen table, I said.

You have to dig them out by the roots, said Hazel.

Turns out Pearce was a medical doctor and one day Ralph asked him why he was wearing a dark suit on a Saturday. Pearce shared that he had just been to a funeral for a man who was his very first patient when he moved to town. They had been good friends. I should have been able to keep him alive. I shouldn’t have let him die but he wouldn’t let me do chemotherapy on him that last time. I might have saved him, but he wouldn’t let me. Pearce’s eyes filled with tears and he walked into his house. Ralph said, He couldn’t let me see him like that- out of control. Because that’s the way he lived his life. Kind of like the way he took care of his lawn. In charge. In control. All the time.

Such a great reminder isn’t it too of what I think Jesus was getting at in both these parables about God’s Kingdom. While we are called to participate, to do our part, so much is out of our control. How God’s Kingdom spreads is a mystery. Like the mustard seed, it just keeps spreading- whether it is on our perfectly manicured lawns or in the cracks along the sidewalk. Sometimes like a tiny seed, God’s kingdom begins so insignificantly- someone speaks an encouraging word to us or an idea percolates in the background or behind the scenes and leads to an action. Sometimes, it grows as we sleep, as we take a step back from trying to do everything in our ability to make it happen. More often than not, it is when we take our hand off the throttle, when we stop micromanaging every little detail, that seed takes root.

Such a great lesson for us in our churches these days, don’t you think? Especially as we worry about our future and put all sorts of pressures on ourselves and try all kinds of innovative things in an attempt to attract others. Really, when you think about it, perhaps it is more than a little arrogant on our part to think that somehow, through our plans or our programs, we can bring about the kingdom of God by our efforts alone. Not to say that we need to just sit back and do nothing, but maybe just let go a bit and simply scatter the seeds and then just let the Spirit carry them in ways that we cannot fully comprehend, like dandelion fluff in the wind. And to remember that the results do not depend on us. Our job is to simply sow those small seeds and to be patient.

I like how Mother Teresa once replied to a journalist who asked her how she ever thought she might be successful in meeting the needs of all those dying on the streets of Calcutta. She simply said, “I am not called to be successful. I am called to be faithful.”

How true. The growth, the final product is not something we can control. All we can do is faithfully scatter the seeds of hope, of love, of justice and then trust that those seeds will do their work in God’s good timing, not our own. We are called to keep sharing the stories, doing what we can, volunteering, praying, worshipping, reaching out, acting with compassion, sharing generously of our gifts of time, talent and treasure. These seeds simply need to be sown and scattered. And then we have to do the hard part. We need to wait and to be patient. And when we get frustrated that God’s kingdom doesn’t come by tomorrow at noon, we need to remember to trust in God’s promises even when it feels like there is very little happening. The mustard seed has a way of spreading. The seed grows and sprouts under the surface. We can’t make it happen. We know not how.  The things we do today may not be harvested for years or even decades. We are Kingdom workers, not Kingdom bringers. We are not responsible for everything and that is a good thing. What a relief that is that it is not all up to us! I kind of find it helpful to think of it sort of like Moses and his journey. He worked hard but he never did get to enter that Promised Land. All he got was a glimpse.

I leave with you one of my most favourite quotes that feels especially appropriate as we think about the seeds we sow today:

It’s a prayer written by Bishop Kenneth E. Untener in memory of the holy martyr Archbishop Oscar Romero, killed at his altar for opposing evil in El Salvador.

“It helps now and then, to step back and take the long view. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

“This is what we are about: We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capability.

“We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

“We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

“We are prophets of a future not our own. “

So, continue sowing the seeds, my friends. Work. Pray. Love. Be generous. Reach out beyond yourselves. For even when we can’t see it or feel it, through such seemingly small or insignificant actions, something holy is happening. The Kingdom of God is at work in the world in God’s own timetable. Growth is taking place, just beneath the surface. Something new and mighty is being born. For indeed, God does work in mysterious ways. Inch by inch. Row by row. Amen. (from Rev. Susan Estabrooks, Faith Memorial United Church, Florenceville-Bristol, NB)

Sing: Inch by Inch

Your Generosity Matters/ Our Offerings are Presented

We are blessed to live in Canada, a country that recognizes the right to love whoever you want, regardless of their gender or sex. And while we haven’t always done what is right, The United Church of Canada now recognizes that all love―including Two Spirit or LGBTQIA+ relationships―is holy and blessed by God. But those rights do not exist in many parts of the world today.

“One of our partners in Kenya has advocated strongly for the human rights of sexual minorities, and that has caused him to be in jail, caused him to risk his life to be able to do that,” says the Rev. Michael Blair. The church’s first openly gay General Secretary is now helping to advocate for sexual and gender minorities in foreign countries.

“When we hear these stories, we can see that this is a life and death matter.”

Your gifts for Mission and Service help shelter refugees as they escape repressive governments. As of May 2024, 64 jurisdictions criminalize private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity, and 12 countries have jurisdictions in which the death penalty is imposed or at least a possibility for private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity.

Mission and Service also holds consultations in other countries to discover how we can best work with our partners to protect sexual and gender minorities. “A few years ago, we hosted a consultation here in Canada with several partners and asked how we can be supportive of their work,” Blair says. “They told us we needed to come and help in their context.”

To date, Mission and Service has supported consultations in Latin America and the Philippines.

“We are bringing together leaders to explore how the church can be a place of liberation and life for sexual and gender minorities in those communities. That is happening because of the folks who contribute to Mission and Service,” says Blair.

Thank you for helping to protect sexual and gender minorities. You are saving lives and changing views around the world!

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession:

God of small seeds and secret growth, in this season of planting and gardening, we marvel at the mystery of how you nurture those seeds and surprise us with new life. You do the same with our lives. You see the potential in us, even when we feel so inadequate for the tasks before us. You call us to trust in your wisdom and guidance as we move with confidence into our future. Even when we wonder what might take root, you continue to beckon us to keep on scattering the seeds and to be patient that in your good timing growth will come about.

We give thanks for all who have blessed us along the way, and all who continue to bless our lives with love, with patience and with encouragement. On this day that celebrates fathers, we give thanks for loving fathers and we pray for all families everywhere. We remember families in war-torn communities like Gaza, and for the many children suffering in the midst of famine. We remember families among us living under the strain of financial hardships and constant anxiety, the many who suffer in the midst of addictions or abuse. We pray for all for whom this day feels empty or lonely.

As our country prepares to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day this week, we pray for our church and our governments as we work to pursue truth and reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. We pray for the many indigenous communities that lack clean drinking water and health care close at hand. We remember all those who are mourning the loss of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Guide decision makers to act with timely courage and compassion that justice might be done.

We remember and pray for our graduates from high schools, community colleges, universities and training programs. May they remember the values and skills that they have acquired that they might use them wisely in the pursuit of their dreams for the future. Bless the families, teachers and all who have mentored these students all the way.

Keep them and all of us open to the ways of your Spirit moving and guiding us in our lives.

In the quiet of these moments, we lift before you, O God, the concerns that weigh heavily on our hearts, for family, for friends, for neighbours, for our community and our world, for ourselves, for all who are in need, for all who are ill, for all who long for peace with justice…

Hear these our prayers, dear God, both spoken and deep within us, as we offer them in the name of Jesus, saying together… Our Father…

Hymn: 226 VU For the Fruit of All Creation 

Blessing:

Go forth and feel the love of God growing within your hearts.

Scatter seeds of love, mercy, joy and peace in all you say and do.

Tend the soil of community.

Then, let go and marvel at the growth God brings.

To God be the glory now and always. Amen.

 

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June 9, 2024 Letting Go to Bear Much Fruit

Link to audio of today's Reflection here.


June 2, 2024 Giving with Intention and Love

Giving with Intention and Love                

                                                     

Welcome & Announcements

God Moments

Land Acknowledgement

Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples have occupied and cared for the land which many call Canada. In our worship together this day, in this area, we gather on the traditional land of the Wabanaki peoples, predominantly the lands of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Wolastoqiyik and Passamaquoddy. As a community of faith, we seek to rebuild right relations with theses people, to learn from them and to live on this land, their land with respect and gratitude for its creation and Creator. 

 

Lighting the Christ Candle

As we gather to worship, we light this candle to remember the light and love that Jesus shared with so many. He did not keep this light to himself. Jesus shared it with his friends, and after Jesus died, his friends continued to share the light with their friends. For generations upon generations, the light has been shared, and love continues. Jesus is still with us. Today, in love, we welcome the light, the light of the world.

 

Call to Worship

      What have you brought to give today?

      We have brought our hopes and our fears.

      What have you brought to give today?

      We have brought our joys and our sorrows.

      What have you brought to give today?

      We have brought our prayer and our voices.

      What have you brought to give today?

      We have brought our talents and our money.

Let us give all of ourselves in this time of worship.

Let us, with gratitude and joy, worship God!

 

Opening Prayer

      Giver of life, you have sown love and hope in your world since creation. You have planted joy and kindness in our hearts and watered it with your patience.

      You shine your peace upon us, that even as we experience life’s challenges, your gentle presence reassures us that you are in control. Let your Spirit of generosity fill our lives and stir our desire to share with others what you have so graciously given to us. Amen.

 

Hymn  MV 28  God of the Bible


Prayer of Confession

      Gracious God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden, hear us as we offer our confession.

      Gracious One, we confess that too often we give sparingly, yet expect to reap abundance. Too often we give the bare minimum out of fear that we do not have enough; other times we give sparingly because we believe our efforts do not make much difference. Forgive us, we pray, for not giving generously. Give us clarity to see our giving as our way of celebrating your goodness to us and our contribution toward caring for those in need in the world you love. Help us to trust you to supply what we need and give us the courage to share what we have, being fully confident of your continued provision. In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen.

(Time for silent prayer)

 

Words of Assurance

      Friends, know that forgiveness is available in abundance, “pressed down, shaken together, running over” (Luke 6:38). It will never run out. Receive forgiveness, be free from the fears that affect your giving, forgive yourself and others as you have been forgiven this day. Amen.

 

Scripture Reading

2 Corinthians 9:6–7

6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Reflection


Giving on Purpose (Link to audio of Reflection here)

In 2 Corinthians 9:6–7 Paul writes this portion of his letter to the Corinthian church to address one specific area of their Christian witness: their financial giving to support those in need in Jerusalem, including needy Christians. This letter was also written to stir the people to give more diligently as a famine had swept across Judea (late 40s C.E.). Within these two verses, I lift up two key principles for us to consider as we think about giving: 1) it matters how much we give and 2) giving should be intentional with love in mind.

It matters how much we give.

Using the principle of sowing and reaping, Paul highlights that generosity begets greater generosity. He asserts: “…the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). This verse alludes to Proverbs 11:24–26, which reads: “There is one who scatters, yet increases more; and there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty. The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself. The people will curse him who withholds grain, but blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.” (New King James Version)

This is a principle that holds true in the natural and spiritual world. It is a principle that would be obvious to a farmer or a gardener. There is a direct relationship between the abundance and sparsity of a harvest based on the quantity sown. If we scatter seed sparingly in a field, it will produce a meager crop. If we scatter seed generously, it will produce an abundant crop.

The word “sparingly” is a good translation of the Greek word pheidomenos. It means to hold back, to give with restraint, to measure with a teaspoon rather than a jug. By using this word, Paul highlights his suspicion that there are givers who are holding back from giving, even though they have enough available to give more. If that is the case, then the restraint is not just about the money; it is about the state of the heart of the giver.

The seed you and I sow may be money, or time, or talent.

What holds you back from giving more than you are giving to the needs around you (more time, more talent, more money)?

What holds you back from giving more, when in reality you can give (more time, more talent, more money)?

Too often we give out of a sense of scarcity rather than a sense of bounty. Too often we give from a heart that fears that we do not have enough. Too often we give from a heart that forgets that all we have comes from God, the provider and sustainer. Too often we give from a heart that struggles to trust God. We often give forgetting that Jesus says: “…give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38). We forget that Jesus says, “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

Are you not of more value than they?… And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.… But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:25–26, 28–29, 33).

If our expectation is to make a difference, if our expectation is for more needs to be met by our giving, then we cannot give sparingly; we need to change the way we sow our seeds, we need a change to the way we give, we need a change of heart from giving sparingly to giving bountifully.

Paul presents the principle of bountiful giving, using the Greek word eulogia, a combination of two words, eu (good), and logos (word). Eulogia literally means good word, later coming to mean blessing. The term carries the idea that those who bless will be blessed, those who give generously will receive generosity in return.

Where does this blessing come from? There are several directions: let’s take two. The blessings come from:

the act of giving itself—those who give generously speak of feeling a sense of satisfaction and joy to have contributed. Jesus also says “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)

God – God promises blessing for generosity. Proverbs 19:17 reads “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to [God], and will be repaid in full”; Proverbs 28:27 reads “Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing”; Psalm 41:1–3 reads “Happy are those who consider the poor; [God] delivers them in the day of trouble. [God] protects them and keeps them alive; they are called happy in the land. You do not give them up to the will of their enemies. [God] sustains them on their sickbed; in their illness you heal all their infirmities”

Giving should be intentional with love in mind.

Paul says, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Paul uses the Greek phrase ek lupe, which means “out of grief or sorrow” and the Greek phrase ek anagke, which means “out of necessity or compulsion” to convey the idea that when we give, it should not be a painful experience; it should not feel like someone is twisting your arm or holding you to ransom; we should not grieve the money we put on the offering plate or give out of guilt.

Eugene Peterson, in The Message, translates this verse like this:

Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.

That translation makes it a lot clearer, doesn’t it? When we think about charitable giving, quite often, it is driven by guilt tripping, arm-twisting, and sob stories. It’s hard to say no to images of poverty on the screen, children in need of surgery that will save their lives, parents who need assistance so that they can give their children Christmas presents, or the look on the face of a person in need when they receive their donated supply of groceries from the food bank. It’s hard to resist the ad campaigns that urge us to do these good things and alleviate suffering in the world, though admittedly the tactics are designed to tug on our emotions. Paul wishes to draw our attention to the fact that sometimes when we give, it is not a matter of the heart, it is merely out of emotion, and it shouldn’t be that way. While compassion is the emotional response to suffering, if after giving we feel guilt or regret, then one has to question what drove the response to begin with.

Instead, Paul says, give as you have “made up your mind,” coming from the Greek word proaireō that means “to reach a decision beforehand, commit oneself to, to prefer.” If we think about it, this makes sense, because our circumstances differ. From moment to moment our circumstances change, and we have to respond to those circumstances even when we contemplate our giving. In other words, when we are asked to give, we are invited to deliberately consider the need and decide on our gift, based both on what we have to give and what the size of the needs are that we are trying to meet. While it is our responsibility to give both to the work of God and to help those in need, and though the tithe is the suggested starting point for us to give intentionally to the work of the church, Christian giving should be a product of thoughtful discipleship. When we give to the Mission & Service of the United Church or (include here other projects that your congregation collects gifts for), it is not to be done under compulsion or because we are made to feel bad about the suffering of others. We should give because we want to give, and what we give should be a conscious decision based on the depth of the need and the extent of our resources.

What God desires are people who are happy to give because they are able to give as they are able to give and are committed to give so that God’s work will flourish. That happiness in giving comes when we give with love in mind. When God gives, God gives with love in mind, “For God so loved the world, that [God] gave [God’s] only Son” (John 3:16). That is what Paul means when he says “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). A cheerful giver is one who gives with love on their mind. A bountiful giver is one who gives from a heart that wants to share and out of love for those in need, out of love for God’s work, and the desire for that work to continue.

This morning, I invite us to give out of love, and not because of shame, fear, or a sense of responsibility. Give out of love, a love that has no limits, a love that has but one desire, that is to see that the beneficiary experiences a better life and to ensure that the good work continues.

This is the point: Give generously, give intentionally, give with love in mind, for God loves a cheerful giver. A cheerful giver is one who gives on purpose and not under compulsion.  Amen.

Your Generosity Matters/ Our Offerings are Presented

Young 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals explore and reconcile their faith with their identity.

Multicoloured mural on an interior wall with a heart-shaped Pride flag and people in different colours circling it.

Credit: Honey Haze Photography

Queer Kid Bible Camp is a unique and affirming space that has emerged to provide a supportive environment for 2SLGBTQIA+ youth within the framework of spirituality. Started by Mission and Service partner Silver Spire United Church in St. Catharines, Ontario, Queer Kid Bible Camp blends teachings of God’s love with messages of inclusivity.

Queer individuals have often been marginalized or excluded in spiritual experiences, which can make them feel isolated and alienated. Queer Kid Bible Camp aims to challenge these negative experiences by fostering a sense of belonging and acceptance in a spiritual context. The camp offers a place for young 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals to explore and reconcile their faith with their identity. Through theological and spiritual discussions, youth can openly ask questions without feeling uncertain about their safety.

The benefits of Queer Kid Bible Camp extend beyond its immediate impact on individual campers. The camp experience sparks conversation with parents and guardians who want to connect and understand their children better. As young participants gain confidence and self-acceptance, they become advocates for change within their own communities. The Rev. Karen Orlandi of Silver Spire United Church has seen a wonderful ripple effect, noting that she’s seen “healing for queer adults as they see queer kids openly embracing their identity.”

 

Your support through Mission and Service provides the queer community with opportunities to thrive in safe environments as they learn about God’s love. Thank you.

Hymn: 577 VU I’ve Got Peace Like a River

Prayers of the People

Loving God, giver of all creation, we pray to you in faith with thanksgiving in our hearts. We give you thanks for all you do to care for us. Give us grace to care for others and to love others as Christ loves us. We are grateful that your love is steadfast and enduring, offered to all through Jesus Christ. We ask your help for all who suffer and strength for those who bring your help to them.

Make us faithful stewards of your goodness.

 

Compassionate Jesus, healer of all creation, we pray for the sick and those who sit with grief and all those who are in need of your healing touch. We pray for the ministry of healing and caring that comes from the church and other organizations. We pray for the leaders of nations, for honesty, integrity, justice, and compassion in national, provincial, and international politics, and for financial resources to be distributed equitably. We live in a world where people struggle to meet their basic needs while others are denied basic human rights. War and corruption stifle the economic and social advancement of many.

Make us faithful stewards of your goodness.

 

Holy Spirit, sanctifier of all creation, help us to be generous in meeting the needs of others through the gifts of our time, kind words, and a listening ear. Bless those whose lives are touched through our gifts to Mission & Service. We pray for those known to us who are in need of your care for their minds, body, or spirit at this time.

 

Make us faithful stewards of your goodness as we join our voices together to pray the prayer our Saviour taught us Our Father….

 

HYMN  VU 382 Breathe on Me Breath of God 

Sending Forth

May God, the Giver of all good gifts, pour out blessing, that you may always have all that you need, abundance enough that you may know the joy of generosity.
And the blessing of God Almighty, the Creator, the Christ, and the Comforter, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

© 2021 The United Church of Canada/L’Église Unie du Canada. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike Licence. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.5/ca. Any copy must include this notice.

 

May 26, 2024  Those Uh-Oh Moments

Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples have occupied and cared for the land which many call Canada. In our worship together this day, in this area, we gather on the traditional land of the Wabanaki peoples, predominantly the lands of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Wolastoqiyik and Passamaquoddy. As a community of faith, we seek to rebuild right relations with theses people, to learn from them and to live on this land, their land with respect and gratitude for its creation and Creator. 

                                      

We light this candle remembering that God created light, the Saviour loved light, and the Spirit offers us the fire to stir us from complacency.

Call to Worship: (inspired by Psalm 29, found on Sermon Seeds, The United Church of Christ)

Credit the Holy One with glory and power!
Give God the honor due with worshipful reverence!
The Voice speaks and we hear. The Voice thunders and creation moves.
The Voice is strong and mighty, secure and majestic.
The Living Water refreshes us. The Holy Spirit strengthens us.
Bless the name of our God!

Opening Prayer: (written by Richard Bott, found in Gathering Pentecost 1, 2024) 

Holy One...
Holy Three...
Known in our hearts.
Great Mystery!

Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.
Source of our lives, always and all ways.
We rest in this moment,
opening ourselves to you.

Breathe new life into our souls, we pray.
Guide us to paths of love, we ask.
Fill us with a desire to live for you, we cry!
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.

Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
Great Mystery!
In our hearts.
Holy Three.
Holy One.
Amen.

Hymn: 315VU Holy, Holy, Holy 

Prayer of Confession: (responsive)

Three-in-One God, you call us into loving relationship, with you, with all creation and with each other.

Forgive us for treating our part of the world as a commodity to be used, rather than as a gift to be shared.

Forgive us for our failure to live with respect for the oceans, the rivers, the soil, the lakes and the air that we breathe.

God, bearer of humanity in Jesus Christ,

Forgive us for forgetting to love one another as you love us.

Forgive us when we judge people on the basis of their appearance, their possessions or their achievements, rather than accepting them as they are loved and accepted by you.

God, giver of the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth,

Forgive us when we betray the truth of your gospel through our lack of integrity.

Forgive us for forgetting, for trying to go it alone.

Draw us back to your circle of love.

Remind us that we are your children and members of the same family. Amen.

 

Words of Affirmation:

Our God who is more than we can ever understand

loves us and forgives us more than we can ever dare to hope.

In this awesome God, we find our strength and peace. Amen                                                   

To listen to an AUDIO version of the readings and reflections, click here:

                                             

                                                    Those Uh-Oh Moments

A cute little story caught my eye this week. It is shared by a long-time Presbyterian minister, Rev. John Buchanan, in an old editorial in The Christian Century. He spoke of a baptism he performed for a two-year-old child. He read the standard pronouncement from the prayer book: “You are a child of God, sealed by the Spirit in your baptism, and you belong to Jesus Christ forever.” Unexpectedly, the child responded, “Uh-oh.” This, of course, brought smiles from the congregation. In reflecting on that moment, Buchanan writes: “It was an appropriate response . . . a stunning theological affirmation.”

Uh-oh. It would seem that maybe that child understood the significance of the moment of his baptism better than many of the adults present that day. Last year, about this time, we celebrated the baptism and confirmation of Betty D. in our worship service. I wonder if she or any of us ever thought of responding to it with those words, uh-oh?! Yet, the more I think about that response, that little exclamation really does capture the essence of the moment. Something significant is happening. Something that may very well set us on edge and send us in new directions.

As I think back to my own confirmation, as hands were laid on my head, uh oh might have been an appropriate response too. I remember how on the same day, those of us who had been part of the confirmation group were handed a box of offering envelopes. Uh-oh. A response to a profession of faith was being asked of me. Then, a few months later, a request to serve on Session. Uh-oh. What did I know about such meetings? I was being stretched, knocked off balance and carried in new directions. Way beyond my comfort zone.

This is a little like what I see happening in our scriptures this morning. People caught in uh-oh moments. Called to rearrange their thinking, challenged to go deeper, to ask more questions. Discombobulated, even. Called to leave behind an old set of bearings and to take on a new set. Recognizing that something new and startling was afoot in their lives.

It happens with Isaiah as he receives a call to prophesy. His nation of Israel had just experienced the death of King Uzziah. It was a time of much uncertainty. Isaiah has retreated to the temple to get some much-needed perspective on life. No doubt, in the midst of his nation’s turmoil, he was thinking the temple worship service would bring him some comfort. Yet, uh-oh. This was not to be. As he enters the temple, Isaiah is overwhelmed by an awesome encounter with God.

Let’s listen as Isaiah’s priorities and perceptions are re-aligned by God’s transformative grace:

Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty, and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said, “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

No doubt, not at all what Isaiah was expecting when he showed up for worship that day! Trying to imagine that scene made me think of that quote from Annie Dillard’s book, Holy the Firm in which she alludes to the idea that when we come to worship, we should expect the unexpected. She writes,

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

Imagine again the awesomeness of this moment for Isaiah in the temple. Uh- oh. His world is turned upside down as he marvels at the grandeur of God filling the temple. Smoke everywhere. Everything shaking. Seraphs flying all over the place. Voices shouting holy, holy, holy. No wonder he confesses, woe is me. Uh-oh. This is too much for me. No wonder he feels inadequate, unworthy in the midst of it all. Yet, quickly on the heels of his confession, he then hears an assurance of pardon and a voice asking for someone to serve. Immediately, Isaiah raises his hand. “Here I am. Send me.” Put me in coach!

If we were to read a little further in Isaiah, we would discover that in answering the call, he probably should have said, “Uh-Oh”. Because what he was being asked to do would push him out of his comfort zone. A crash helmet probably should have been issued. I can picture him with knees shaking in fear and trepidation. He was being called to take on a mission of calling his own people back to faithfulness. It was a calling that would take over his life, that would bring him more sorrow than joy.

We all have had those moments, haven’t we? When what is being asked of us can feel like too much. We may fear what will happen to us or where we will be carried if we say, yes, here I am send me. Yet, as Isaiah discovered, God not only called him, but as time went by, God also equipped him for the difficult and overwhelming tasks ahead.

In a similar kind of way, Nicodemus, a learned Pharisee, also experiences such an uh-oh moment when he comes to ask some questions of Jesus. Yet, unlike Isaiah, we are not quite so sure what he did with the responses he heard. When Jesus challenges him to go deeper by pushing him out of his settled, neatly boxed up and rigid rules, Nicodemus struggles. He just can’t seem to get his head around it all.

John 3: 1-17

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with that person.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen, yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.

In all fairness to Nicodemus, it was a lot to absorb. He was more used to the idea of God being more predictable. All this talk from Jesus about the Spirit being like wind and blowing where it chooses was a far cry from how Nicodemus was used to seeing things. He much preferred seeing life as controlled. He was fond of proofs and evidence. What Jesus was talking about was so ambiguous. No wonder Nicodemus asks, “How can these things be?” He liked things nailed down and in order. Yet, here Jesus was unravelling everything. We can imagine Nicodemus saying, “Uh-oh.” Where will this take me? How could he ever let go of what he already knew and adopt a kind of beginner’s mind? How could he ever leave behind his literal thinking about faith and start all over again from scratch? It seemed to be just too daunting, too discombobulating to even think about. It made him plain uncomfortable. Because what Jesus seemed to be talking about was something totally new. I can’t do this, Nicodemus says. I can’t go back into my mother’s womb. Uh- oh. This is more than I bargained for. Besides, who knows where this Spirit will take me? What Jesus was speaking about was too much. It would mean a complete break in his mind and heart as to what religion meant. A total transformation. No human logic could figure all this out.

Certainly, an uh-oh moment for Nicodemus but unlike Isaiah, he couldn’t completely commit to what was being requested of him. Jesus was talking about setting aside the rules, throwing open the windows and living in a new spiritual reality. No wonder poor Nicodemus was befuddled. What Jesus was speaking of had nothing to do with tight boxes and proofs. It had more to do with reorienting our lives and being reframed by a new power unleashed in the world. No amount of learning could figure this out. It was about seeing the world in an upside-down way, seeing humility and kindness as more valuable than pride and human efforts to promote oneself. It meant seeing the meek and lowly and quiet of the earth as far more valuable than the bold and lofty and noisy of the earth. It was a complete transformation that would be required.

Uh-oh. To Nicodemus this meant recognizing that everything had changed and would never be the same again. And Nicodemus was struggling with all this. Struggling to get his head around it. No doubt, quite uncomfortable at the thought of having to let go and let the wind of God’s Spirit carry him in totally new ways. Suddenly, things were not quite as neat and defined as he once thought they were. We can only imagine him leaving that conversation with Jesus not nearly as certain and sure of himself as he had come.

Nonetheless, that uh-oh moment worked on Nicodemus. In time, if you were to read further in John’s gospel, you would see that later when accusations were hurled at Jesus, it was Nicodemus who defended him. And later too, at the time of Jesus’ death, it was Nicodemus who identified with Jesus by providing spices for embalming Jesus’ body.

Isn’t that the same for us? Sometimes, our recognition of an uh-oh moment comes right away, as it did in that story of the young child being baptized, as it did for Isaiah in the temple that day. Other times, as it seemed to be for Nicodemus, the uh-oh moment plays on us for a period of time. We may question it and toss it around in our minds. And then, low and behold, through some experience in our lives, a birth, a death, a move to a new location, a graduation, a new job, or maybe a discussion at a book study, or a retreat where we find ourselves challenged about what we believe, or someplace where we find ourselves questioning ideas or opinions we might have held before and things shift. We find ourselves stretched. Reoriented. Blown about in a new direction. Disrupted. Unsatisfied with easy answers. Overcome by something that knocks our preconceived ideas off balance. And carried forth to a new place. Saying to ourselves, uh-oh, there is something more to this whole faith thing than just memorizing scripture, reading or listening to sermons or discussing our faith. Something that cannot be controlled, only experienced.

Let me conclude with these thoughts by Brian McLaren in his book We Make the Road by Walking:

At the core of Jesus’ life and message, then, was this good news: the Spirit of God, the Spirit of aliveness, the Wind-breath-fire-cloud-water-wine-dove Spirit who filled Jesus is on the move in our world. And that gives us a choice: do we dig in our heels, clench our fists, and live for our own agenda, or do we let go, let be, and let come … and so be taken up into the Spirit’s movement? Amen

Your Generosity Matters/ Our Gifts are Offered

Supporting people’s dignity and well-being

 

Credit: Lindsay Vautour/The United Church of Canada

Being able to take a shower can have a positive impact on a person’s mental and emotional health. It provides a sense of dignity, self-worth, and normalcy that contributes to overall well-being, especially to people living on the streets.

In downtown St. Catharines, ON, Silver Spire United Church’s shower and laundry program is changing lives. Three mornings a week, people are offered an opportunity to refresh and recharge. The two shower rooms can be locked and each have a changing area, so patrons have space to secure their personal belongings. The laundry room next door means that after they shower people can dress in their own clean clothing. Cellphone chargers are another small but helpful detail.

This program goes beyond being a practical service. It embodies compassion, addresses fundamental needs, and provides comfort in a welcoming space. In the sweltering heat of summer, a cool shower can make a huge difference.

Your support through Mission and Service helps programs like Silver Spire’s to support people’s well-being. Thank you.

 

Hymn: 577 VU Peace like a River

 

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession:

Holy and awesome God, you reveal yourself to us in a myriad of ways- as creator of this world and all its beauty we find all around us in these springtime days. We praise you for the growth you provide to tiny seeds, for sun and rain, for the work that occupies our days and for the rest and renewal we receive as we sleep.

In the human face of Jesus, we learn of your love and grace. We are reminded of our call to serve and to follow in your ways.

Through the Holy Spirit, you carry us like the wind to places we have never been before, to experiences that challenge us and you empower us to let go and to begin again and again.

As we worship you in community, we celebrate how clear your presence has been for us this past week- in a smile given, in a word spoken or in some small gesture of kindness or generosity. We hear you speaking to us in the needs that are all around us, the cries of the many in this world who seek peace, security and hope; in the groans of the earth that calls out for our care and restoration, in the struggles of all who are coping with poor mental or physical health, in the unspoken words of all who walk through the shadow of death and those who accompany them on their journey, in the voices of the many who do not have adequate food, clothing or shelter, and in the pain of the many who suffer in silence and isolation. Show us ways we might be agents of your hope and conveyors of your comfort.

We remember before you the challenges that our churches both locally and globally are facing. Teach us to work together and to build us into the communities of faith you call us to be. Strengthen us and guide us as we discern ways of living out your kingdom values of generosity, inclusion, compassion and justice.

We pray for representatives of the various United Churches in our Fundy St. Lawrence Dawning Waters region who are gathering this week for its annual meeting in Charlottetown. May your Spirit of new life blow through each participant and may we all be empowered to dream new dreams so that our communities of faith might spill out into the world bringing courage, healing and renewal where it is needed most.

We bring before you in these moments of silence people and situations where your love and presence is needed this day…

We offer these our prayers to you, O God, uniting our voices in the prayer Jesus taught us to pray… Our Father…

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

Blessing:

As we go into this new week, may the Holy Spirit blow upon us, may we hear its sound, and may we be carried to all kinds of places and possibilities where we can share God’s love.

As we open ourselves to its direction, may we be surprised and in awe of where God is at work, within us and all around us.

Go in peace to love and serve Christ in this world. Amen.

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

 

 

May 19, 2024  Through Open Windows, Come Fresh Winds

Happy Pentecost! So great to see all the red garb in worship today!

 

Hope everyone is enjoying this long weekend wherever you are!

 

Approximately $2800 has been raised through the Flea Market this week. Thanks to all who helped!

 

Next Sunday: Knitting Circle meets after worship.

 

Reminder that this is PAR (pre-authorized remittance) month. If you would like to offer your gifts to the church in this way ( it is especially helpful over the summer months when you might be away to cottages, vacation and saves having to find cash when you get back as you make up your envelopes), please contact Charlie McIntosh to register.

 

Enjoy the summer like temperatures!

      

On this Pentecost Sunday, we light this candle remembering the time when the Spirit came down like flames of fire, praying that we, too, on this day, may be warmed, inspired and ignited by the dancing flames of the Spirit working in us as we worship and as we live out Christ’s mission in the world.

Call to Worship: (written by Joanna Harader and posted on Spacious Faith)

Come, Holy Spirit,
The wind of God, the breath of Life.
Come, Holy Spirit,
Our Advocate, our Counselor.
Come, Holy Spirit,
Teacher of Wisdom, Reminder of Christ.
Come, Holy Spirit,
Granter of forgiveness, giver of peace.
Come, Holy Spirit.
May we feel God breathing through our worship.
May we receive the Holy Spirit in this place.

Opening Prayer:

God of wind and flame, we come ready to receive anew the gifts of your Spirit.

Free us from fear.

Give us courage to speak of your marvelous ways

and of your hope

so that we may live each day fully.

Awaken and energize us with your power

that we might boldly open our hearts to receive

your call to be Christ’s body in the world.

As we worship together this day,

come as both our comforter and our disturber

opening us to the possibilities you bring.

Come, Holy Spirit, come. Amen

 

Hymn: 375 VU Spirit of Gentleness 

Prayer of Confession: (responsive)

We pray, come, Holy Spirit, come.

But when your flames rest upon us, we say- but not like this.

We pray, come, Holy Spirit, come.

But when fresh winds blow through us, we say- not right now.

We pray, come, Holy Spirit, come.

But when you try to fill us, we say- our lives are too full already.

Forgive us, God-

for trying to control how, why and when you come into our lives.

Open us-

to the surprises of your grace.

Open us-

to the ways you disturb our comfort.

Open us-

Come, Holy Spirit, come. Amen

 

Words of Affirmation: (from Romans 8:26-27)

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words.

 And God, who searches hearts, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

It is this Spirit that is our guide, coming alongside us, pushing us in new directions.

With this Spirit present and active in our lives, new life is ours. Amen.

 

Here is the AUDIO link to scriptures and reflection:


          

                              Through Open Windows, Come Fresh Winds

Ah! Fresh air! There is nothing quite like those first days of spring when the warmth of the sunshine permits us to open up the windows in our homes to change the air. It gives us that feeling of renewal. It fills our spirits with hope. It shakes clean some of winter’s dust and cobwebs that have collected.

That is often how I like to think of our celebrations at Pentecost. While hard to describe and explain exactly what happened on that first Pentecost, we might liken it to a breath of fresh air enlivening the early church and sending the community out with new energy, strength and determination to carry Jesus’ mission to the world.

We begin this morning with a passage from the gospel according to John. Once again, we find Jesus in the Upper Room with his disciples on the night before his death. Knowing that the end is very near, Jesus promises the disciples that in his absence from them, they will not be abandoned. The advocate, the Holy Spirit will come alongside them. Let’s listen as Jesus explains to them the role the Holy Spirit will play in their lives:

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

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

 

I am trying to picture the disciples as they hear all these words. Like many of the other things he had already told them in that Upper Room just after his last supper with them, I am sure they are probably left scratching their heads in confusion. It must have seemed like an awful lot to absorb in a limited time frame.

Now, let’s fast forward 50 days. The crucifixion had taken place the day after Jesus spoke this promise about the Holy Spirit. Then came the stories of Jesus’ resurrection and several appearances to the disciples. Then came the ascension when Jesus told them to go back to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit.

It was now a high holy day for the Jewish people, the festival of Weeks, when the people gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the giving of the law to the Israelites and to Moses on Mount Sinai. The disciples are huddled in the Upper Room once again. Waiting. Cocooned we might say. Feeling defeated, perhaps. Wondering what to do next. Apprehensive, no doubt. Maybe they should just become a memorial society to Jesus and get on with their lives. But what about those words Jesus spoke about one who would come alongside them? What would this promised one look and feel like? How would they recognize this Holy Spirit? As they were impatiently mulling over all these things, let’s listen to what happens next:

Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven, there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound, the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked,
Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.

All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them,

Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Oh, to have been there that day as one of those disciples! Nothing in their experience would have prepared them for all that had taken place. As the fresh winds of the Spirit blew among them, these disciples changed from inward looking, fear-filled followers to outward looking fearless leaders, set loose and propelled to go public with Jesus’ message.

As I was preparing this week, I came across a book on my shelf by Ralph Milton entitled Is This Your Idea of a Good Time, God? in which he gives a fresh, creative voice to various personalities and stories from scripture. So, after a little email consultation with him, seeking permission to share his rendition of the Pentecost story with you, I offer it to you in its entirety. In it, he imagines that Mary of Magdala, although not mentioned in the reading from Acts, was very much a part of that inner circle gathered with the others on that first Pentecost.

(reading, pp. 177-179)

I think Milton brings up a good point. Describing the experience in detail about what happened on that first Pentecost day is not near as important as responding to the experience of the fresh winds the Spirit offers and sets loose even in our world today. We see it whenever barriers and walls come tumbling down. Wherever fresh air enters our churches. Whenever authentic communication happens even in the midst of our differences and diversity. Wherever we are thrust out of our comfort zones. Wherever the lifeless, grieving parts of our lives, our church and our world give way to renewed energy and enthusiasm. Wherever new understanding is fostered. Whenever we start to see that what we are now experiencing in our churches is not really the end but a beginning of something new, somewhere different where the Spirit is leading us.

As I was reading somewhere this week, no one ever prays on Pentecost, “come Holy Spirit so that we might remain the same as we are.” Perhaps a more appropriate prayer would be “come, Holy Spirit, blow our covers. Launch us forth toward what is only beginning to be. Point us to new beginnings, new horizons. Teach us to see visions and dream new dreams. And for heaven’s sake, open up those windows! Amen.

Your Generosity Matters/ Our Offerings are Presented

Project Ploughshares is committed to making the world a better place.

Duncan Etches

Credit: Duncan Etches

Project Ploughshares is a Canadian peace research institute with a focus on disarmament efforts and international security. It is also one of our dedicated Mission and Service partners. Project Ploughshares’ important efforts come with many barriers, including discouragement, pushback, and regular exposure to mentally draining work.

Duncan Etches started his journey with Project Ploughshares as a supporter. When he saw an opportunity to be The United Church of Canada representative on the management committee, he felt it was time to step into the key role. He comments on how wise and inspirational the whole team is, sharing that “they keep hope in impossible situations.”

Project Ploughshares includes people from diverse backgrounds who are all deeply committed to making the world a better place. Rooted in the ethics of Christianity—peace, reconciliation, and justice—their work connects with people inside and outside faith communities. Members are respected and invited to be part of important conversations.

Your support through Mission and Service provides encouragement and hope to leaders of Project Ploughshares, a vital connection point for those passionate about global peace and security. Thank you.

Hymn: 577 VU I’ve Got Peace like a River

A litany prayer for Pentecost using hymn 202 VU

(Sing verse 1:)
O Breath of life, come sweeping through us,
Revive your Church with life and power;
O Breath of life, come, cleanse, renew us,
and fit your Church to meet this hour.

[We hold a moment of silence to become more aware of God's presence]

Keep us true to who we are.

Enable us to use the gifts you have given.
Bless us with your Spirit that we might build upon the foundations of Christ
as we seek to be your church at work in the world.

(Sing verse 2:)
O Wind of God, come bend us, break us,
till humbly we confess our need;
then in your tenderness remake us,
revive, restore; for this we plead.

[In a moment of silence to seek God's tender mercy]

Keep us true to who we are.

enable the bending of what is rigid,

the reversal of what has gone astray,

the freshness of new possibility.

Bless us with your Spirit that we might open the windows of our lives and breathe.

(Sing verse 3):
O Breath of love, come breathe within us,
renewing thought and will and heart:
come, Love of Christ, afresh to win us,
revive your Church in every part.

[We hold a moment of silence seek God's renewing Spirit in our lives, congregation and community]

Keep us true to who we are.
Come as comforter and offer us and all people

relief, consolation and companionship.

Tend to our woundedness.

Restore us to life that we may be healers.

Reconciler and spirit for justice,

empower our prophet's voice

that it may be heard throughout the land

retelling the gospel vision,

praying for unity in the midst of diversity,

for hope in the midst of despair,

for peace in the midst of war,

and renewal in the face of destruction and devastation.

With fresh dreams and bold visions to empower our living, we pray together as Jesus taught us saying… Our Father…

 

Hymn: 150 MV Spirit God, Be our Breath 

Blessing🙁 written by Richard Bott and Shannon Tennant) 

In our moments of chaos…

God is with us.

In our moments of calm…

God is with us.

In our moments of life…

God is with us. Alleluia!

We go as a Pentecost people,

touched by fire,

stirred by wind,

to mend the world.

            Alleluia! Amen.

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

 

 

 

May 12, 2024  Succession Plan

Welcome to worship service at Faith Memorial United Church.

We wish you a Happy Christian Family Sunday and a Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers, grandmothers and women who are as moms in our lives 

Thanks to all who wore white today and appeared in our group photo as we communicate our desire for peace with justice in Israel and Palestine.  

Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples have occupied and cared for the land which many call Canada. In our worship together this day, in this area, we gather on the traditional land of the Wabanaki peoples, predominantly the lands of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Wolastoqiyik and Passamaquoddy. As a community of faith, we seek to rebuild right relations with theses people, to learn from them and to live on this land, their land with respect and gratitude for its creation and Creator.                                         

 

In the face of uncertainty and amid transition, taking time to discern Christ’s guidance is important to us. As we worship together today, may we centre ourselves in the light he offers us.

Call to Worship: (Written by Dr. Lisa Hancock, Discipleship Ministries, January 2023.)

Easter people, raise your voices, for you belong to the Risen Christ!
We belong to Christ, and so we share in Christ together.

Just as we share in Christ together, so we are called to share Christ with the world.
We share Christ by proclaiming the good news of God’s love to the world.

How will you share God’s love with the world?
By loving, respecting, and honoring our neighbors, especially those the world neglects, overlooks, and ignores.

Easter people, you belong to the Risen Christ!
Because we belong to Christ, we will share Christ’s love and belonging everywhere we go.

A prayer for Christian Family Sunday (written by Norm Esdon, found on back of a UCC bulletin)

As a robin gathers her brood under her wings, O Holy One,

you gather us in families-

nuclear, extended;

mended and blended;

denominational, ecumenical

national and racial.

In a robin and her brood, O Holy One,

you reveal your greater family-

not only people of every feather

but robins, too,

the trees that cradle them,

and the earth that bears them all.

In your family, O Holy One, you gather

creatures of every colour of skin, bark, and feather;

O Holy One, how great is your family in all the earth! Amen.

 

Hymn: 395 VU Part of the Family 

Prayer of Confession: (inspired by thoughts of Beth Merrill Neel on her blog, ‘Hold Fast to What Is Good’.) 

Holy God, you call us to be your people and to live in community with one another.

We long to grow more each day into the image of Christ.

We long to be anchored firmly in our faith,

like trees planted near streams of water, bearing good fruit.

We confess, though, that we have not lived out your call to share in abundant life and unconditional love.

Sometimes, we have deemed ourselves ill-equipped to be your modern-day disciples.

We have grown too comfortable with the world as it is

instead of working for the world as you desire it to be- filled with love, justice and peace.

We believe that you have the power to turn us around to a more inclusive way of living, so we ask you to do that.

We ask you to give us the courage to change.

We ask that you give us the energy, intelligence, imagination, and love to be your people in all we say and do.

Show us ways to make this happen. Amen.

 

Words of Affirmation

Jesus prayed that God would watch over us always even when he was no long physically present with us.

Grounded firm and deep in his never-failing love, we are recipients of his forgiveness. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

To listen to an audio version of the scripture readings and the reflection, please click this link

                                                          Succession Planning

By now you may have heard that Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp and Resort in Woodstock has been sold to new owners, the same folks who own Magic Mountain in Moncton. The former owners Peter and Janet Clark were interviewed on CBC recently about their experience in buying the property in the 1980’s and developing it over these past 42 years. I met Peter a few years ago when St. James United in Woodstock was between ministers and I was supervising their meetings. Peter was the chair of their official board. In the radio interview, it was not hard to tell that this campground has been their baby. As Peter reminisced, it is even the place where he proposed to Janet! Over the years they have enjoyed meeting all the families who often came every year. They spoke as well about working with their staff, many of whom still keep in close touch with them. Nonetheless, after much discernment, the Clarks felt that it was time to hand on the torch to new ownership whom they hope will continue to develop the park. Peter’s vision is that long after the Clarks are gone, families will continue to enjoy the experience that is offered there. In the meantime, Janet and Peter are going to stay on as managers during the transition and will remain with the park in Peter’s words, “as long as they are still having fun.”

In any business, such succession planning is so important. When I lived in Quebec, many of the folks in my congregation were part of large multi generational dairy farms and making plans for next generations was always top on their agendas as they considered at what point they would need to invest in the expansion of their barns and operations. Even in our personal lives, we know the importance of legacy planning- not only of our financial matters regarding wills and such but also in terms of spiritual legacies such as what values, beliefs and wisdom we wish to pass on to those who come after us.

It struck me that these very kinds of questions were weighing on both Jesus and the disciples in the face of transition. What would they need to pay attention to as they moved forward? What would need to be their priorities for their next steps? What was important to communicate to the followers when Jesus was no longer physically present with them?

Our first reading from Acts takes place in the early days following Jesus’ ascension. Here we find the disciples regrouping under the leadership of Peter. They do what we church folks often do. They call a meeting. The big item on the agenda is to find a replacement for Judas. In some ways, his betrayal is the elephant in the room. Yet, much to their credit, they don’t sweep it under the carpet. They name it and deal with it. They know that in order to move forward, they need to name the pain and the hurt that his actions had caused. The process they follow is very transparent. They begin by listing the qualifications needed of the potential candidate. Next, they put their heads together and propose two individuals. Then they pray for discernment. But then, they do what seems like a crazy thing to us- they put the two names in an urn and shake it to see whose name will roll out! While that seems rather haphazard to us, apparently this was considered to be a very respectable means of discerning God’s choice for a successor, given that the whole process was bathed in prayer and that the whole community had been given the opportunity to propose possible candidates. Let’s take a peek at how this internal matter facing the early church plays out:

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26   

15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers and sisters (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16 “Brothers and sisters, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus, 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 

21 “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was added to the eleven apostles.

We might wonder what was going through the minds of Justus and Matthias as that urn shook. How can we be sure that either of them wanted the position? As Biblical commentator Walter Brueggemann speculates, both of them might very well have been wishing that it went to the other. After all, being among the 12 was going to be challenging work to say the least. Sharing the truth as witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection and telling how Jesus’ mission is to form an alternative community that will overturn injustice would be risky business, to say the least. Let’s face it- all they had to do was look at what had happened to Jesus himself. I can’t help but wonder if both Justus and Matthias, although both considered by their peers to have been suitable for the position, must have been shaking in their boots as that urn was rolling out the first stone. Who knows? After this moment, we never hear mention of either of their names again.

In our gospel reading, it is clear that Jesus knew the risks and challenges that would face his witnesses as they made their way forward in his absence. As I was thinking about it this week, chapters 14 -17 in John’s gospel are, in essence, Jesus’ succession plan for the disciples. Spoken to them in the Upper Room on the night before his death, these words are his last attempt to pass on his spiritual legacy to them. He is preparing them for what is ahead and, as much as he might desire that the way be smooth, he knows it will not be. There will be all kinds of hurdles too for them as they go forward to continue his work in the world. That’s why at the end of their last evening together, just before his arrest, Jesus chooses to pray into the uncertainty of the moment, asking God to do for his friends what he can no longer do- to protect them, to unite them and to empower them with the truth that he has made known to them. What he is doing is much like a form of prayer that the Celtic people call the practice of “Caim” which involves the encircling of another in prayer in the face of a threat or a journey. Jesus knows that these first disciples and each of us will face challenges as we move into an often-treacherous world. The costs in being his followers will be high. There will be temptations to abandon, to run and to escape many dangers as we carry forth with his mission and ministry in the world. Still, Jesus does not pray that we will be released from danger but that we will be strong in the face of danger and given patience to endure whatever comes our way. He knows that we will encounter resistance to his message of love, inclusion, peace and justice just as he did. So, as we listen to this rather rambling, and sometimes hard to follow, prayer of Jesus, let’s hear it as if we were in that Upper Room with him too with the curtain pulled back, as his prayer for us, his beneficiaries so to speak, and for our congregation as we are sent out into the world to complete his work and to face our future together:

John 17: 6-19

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you, for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Much like anyone who is doing succession planning, Jesus, in this prayer, outlines his hopes, his vision for what will continue after he is gone. He knows that our unity will be a witness to him. The Message version of scripture says it like this: My life is on display in them. In other words, how we live and love in the world is the presentation of Christ to others who have never heard of him. How we treat others, how we share, how we honour others, how we include others, how we celebrate one another and how we live in community with one another – all these things and more will be a reflection of Christ to others. We are called to be his witnesses in the world and to be signs of his living presence in the world as we share in the kingdom values he has made known to us.

In some ways, it is like these last words spoken in the form of a prayer are Jesus’ way of tying up lose ends in the face of what is to come for him. Kind of like the way a loving parent might launch a child out into the world as they head off to university or the work force, trusting that they have learned what they need to know as they move forward, praying that the foundations laid might carry them through the difficulties and risks ahead.

Now it is us, the people of faith in our time and place, who are the ones sent forth to the world much like those first disciples were. And like Matthias, we too might even wonder if we are sufficiently equipped for meeting the uncertainties of our world today. Do we have what it takes to continue where Jesus leaves off? Are we ready to pick up the torch and move forward as we proclaim his message, as we seek to be “in’ the world but not “of” the world, daring to love as he loves, to forgive as he forgives, to feed as he feeds, to speak the truth to power as he speaks, to work for justice and peace in the world as he works, to include and reach out as he does, to embrace the stranger as he embraces, to seek and welcome the lost as he does and to be sent into the world as he was sent?

While, like Matthias, maybe we might sometimes feel doubtful about our abilities, or fear too much might be being asked of us, we can find our reassurance in knowing that as with those first disciples Jesus is praying for us, the people of Faith Memorial United Church, as we go to the world. He is asking that we have courage, the we find patience, that we remain connected and united with one another and that we support and offer companionship to one another. To be in the world is crucial because it is the world God loves and calls us to love. To be his witnesses, we must be out there, even doing those simple things like we are doing today in standing up for peace with justice for Israel and Palestine.

There’s an old legend I like that puts it this way. The angel Gabriel meets with Jesus after his ascension and Gabriel asks him what have you achieved? Jesus replies, well, I have 11 followers who believe in me.

Is that all? Gabriel asks.

Yet, it is all.

But if they fail you, have you no other plan?

Simply and hopefully, Jesus replies, I have no other plan.

As the words attributed to St. Teresa of Ávila say it best:

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

As we await the fresh winds of the Holy Spirit to empower and renew us once again at Pentecost, may we never forget that each and every one of us is part of Jesus’ plan to carry his message forward. We’re it. May God show us the way. Amen.

Your Generosity Matters/ Our Offerings are Presented

Mission and 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 and 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.

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

A more detailed video, A Deeper Look: Educating the Ministers of Tomorrow(opens in a new tab), is available on YouTube.

Hymn: 577 VU Peace like a River

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession

Loving God, as we gather on this Christian Family Sunday, we bring our prayers for the families to which we belong- parents, partners, siblings, grandparents, children and grandchildren, for extended families and for friends, neighbours, people in our faith community, who, by their acts of love, are as family to us. We thank you for the unique gifts each one brings to our life together. We ask for your guidance and your protection for them as they face the challenges and pressures of life and as we continue to celebrate life together with them.

We thank you that you have given us the work of creating a new community where love is shared with all. We pray for the many who do not feel like they belong anywhere, for all who feel that no one seems to care, for families where physical or emotional abuse prevails, where differences have become wedges and walls of silence prevent effective communication and understanding. We know that just as Jesus prayed for those first disciples, he continues to pray for us and for our world. Show us ways that we might speak and act and grow in your truth as we move forward together. As we await the renewal of the Holy Spirit, open us to be witnesses of your good news in our daily living at home, at work and in our communities.

 Keep us steadfast and relentless in the pursuit of peace in the world until the violence, war and bloodshed ends. Today, we are remembering especially the people of Israel and Palestine. Give us the fortitude to pray, without ceasing, until the safety, well-being and dignity of all people is cherished and held as sacred; and until elected officials and those in positions of power safeguard the most vulnerable and protect their human rights. Give us the courage to pray boldly with our hearts, our words, our actions and our resources until all people in Palestine and Israel can enjoy freedom, justice and peace in abundance.

We offer these prayers, O God, as your followers seeking to live in this world with your alternative kingdom values as our priorities. With each prayer on our hearts this day, we boldly join with one voice as pray the prayer Jesus taught us saying… Our Father…

Hymn: 420 VU Go to the World 

Blessing:

As Christ was sent out into the world, so we are chosen and sent out-

to be witnesses to his love, to be his eyes and ears, his hands and feet.

May we always remember that his life is on display in us.

Let us go in Christ’s peace to love as we are loved. Amen 

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May 5, 2024  "Friended" by Jesus

Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples have occupied and cared for the land which many call Canada. In our worship together this day, in this area, we gather on the traditional land of the Wabanaki peoples, predominantly the lands of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Wolastoqiyik and Passamaquoddy. As a community of faith, we seek to rebuild right relations with theses people, to learn from them and to live on this land, their land with respect and gratitude for its creation and Creator.                                        

The glow of a flickering flame draws us in with the promise of light for our way.

The light of the Christ candle centres us as we worship this day.

Call to Worship:

We come in response to Jesus who chooses us and calls us friends.
We abide in Christ because Christ abides in us.

Jesus made a home among us to show us how to love.
We abide in Christ because Christ abides in us.

When we love one another as Christ has loved us, we will live lives full of joy.
We will live with God’s love deep in our hearts.

Let us worship the one who shows us how to live in love and friendship toward all.
Let us worship with joy! Alleluia

Opening Prayer: (adapted from Friends of God: Service Prayers for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, written by the Rev. Susan A. Blain.  Posted on the United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways)

O Beloved One, creator of friendships,
all the ends of the earth marvel
at your deeds of power;
we rejoice as we remember your faithfulness and steadfast love
revealed in the risen Christ.
Surround us with that faithfulness and steadfast love.
Fill us with generosity and courage
so that we may be called your friends
and go forth to befriend your world as you continue to befriend us.

 In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hymn: 340 VU Jesus, Friend of Little Children 

Prayer of Confession:

Gracious God, we know what it means to be a friend.

Yet, we confess the times when our friendships have faltered.

Too often, we have found your commandment to love as you love to be burdensome.

Too often the idea of laying down our lives in support of another has seemed too risky.

We have shied away from putting ourselves in the vulnerable place of standing up or speaking out for another.

It is far easier and safer to prioritize ourselves over others.

Forgive us for closing our doors and shutting down opportunities to be bearers of your love in the world.

Remind us again and again of your call to follow your example.

May we never forget that we are chosen and appointed by you to bring hope to a weary world.

Help us renew our focus and live by your will…that we may follow you with joy in our hearts. Amen.

 

Words of Affirmation

Jesus no longer calls us servants, but friends. Each relationship is a new opportunity to abide in Christ’s love, and a reminder that we can start again.

We are forgiven. Thanks be to God!

 

To listen to an AUDIO version of the following scriptures and reflection, click here:

 

“Friended” by Jesus

As we discovered last Sunday with the story of Philip and the eunuch, as the disciples carry the message of Jesus to others, they find themselves continually trying to catch up with the Spirit that is moving ahead of them. It seems like there is no stopping that Spirit that kept guiding the early church on to new horizons. Old walls and boundaries kept being lifted. Distinctions between insiders and outsiders are pushed aside. Eunuchs, once excluded from belonging as God’s people and from being a part of temple worship, are now baptized and welcomed.

Today, in our reading from Acts, it is now Peter’s turn to discover and witness for himself this great shift taking place. Our reading this morning comes at the conclusion of a much bigger story in which Peter’s stereotypes of what is ritually clean and unclean are shattered. In order to set our reading in context, here’s the Reader’s Digest Condensed version, but you can read it for yourself in the earlier parts of Acts 10. Peter has a dream and, in that dream, he sees a blanket of different kinds of animals coming down from heaven. Some of these animals and foods were considered forbidden by law for Jewish folks to eat. Yet, Peter is called to kill and eat them. When Peter protests that they are unclean, he hears a message three times that says, “What God has made clean, don’t call unclean.” Peter realizes this is a call to expand the mission to embrace all people, even the Gentiles. There are to be no more distinctions. Meanwhile, a Gentile named Cornelius also has a dream telling him to invite Peter to his house.  The long and the short of it is that Peter realizes that with God’s Spirit, nothing is off limits. In this sermon to the people, he concludes that this is what love in action looks like as the Spirit descends on Jews and Gentiles alike:

Acts 10: 44-48

44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Our gospel lesson this morning continues on from where we left off last week when Jesus was reassuring the fearful disciples in the Upper Room just before his arrest, reminding them of the importance of abiding in his love much like the way that branches remain connected to a vine. In doing so, they will thrive. Let’s listen as he continues in his instruction to them:

John 15: 9-17

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

I suspect that many of you are familiar with the rather endearing 1989 movie Driving Miss Daisy. It starred Jessica Tandy as an elderly and rather crotchety Jewish aristocrat, Miss Daisy, and Morgan Freeman as Hoke, her African American chauffeur. It was a story of two very different people from completely different backgrounds. It begins when Miss Daisy’s son is concerned about her deteriorating driving skills and breaks it to her that he is going to hire her a driver. At first, independent and often ornery Miss Daisy resists this assistance, even to the point where in that classic scene she walks along side her chauffeur-driven car as Hoke tries to persuade her to get inside. Over the course of their 25-year relationship however, her relationship with Hoke goes from resentment to genuine care and compassion to the point where in one of the last scenes when Miss Daisy is now in a nursing home and Hoke comes for a visit, she proclaims, “Hoke, you’re my best friend.” Their lives had become as intertwined as branches on a vine.

Imagine how that must have felt for Hoke to hear those words of promotion after all those years of serving Miss Daisy with such patience and forbearance. From servant to friend. I was thinking about that as I read those words spoken to the disciples- I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends. Surely, in hearing those words spoken to them, it must have felt a little like the way Hoke felt. It signified a new level of relationship between Jesus and the disciples, a new kind of openness and a fierce kind of love.

Because, lets face it, there is a big difference between a servant/master relationship and a friendship. Much like the stories we have heard from Acts last week and this week, this new form of relationship meant that yet another big boundary had been crossed. In leaving the disciples, Jesus was now telling them that what he knew, they now knew. He had shared everything with them. There were no secrets. He had let them in on what was ahead for him. They knew his thoughts and he was now instructing them that in his absence, they would be his hands and feet as they carried forth the mission he had been given by God. And that mission was to love one another in the same way that he loved- whole-heartedly and unconditionally, reaching out to others with the friendship he had modelled.

I titled the reflection this morning Friended by Jesus but I have to confess to you that I was a little hesitant to use that- given that the verb “friended” for me seems to have a much less enduring feel about it given its connotations in the whole Facebook context. People speak about friending and unfriending one another sometimes to the point where I feel friendship can often be cheapened in its meaning. I believe that when Jesus calls his disciples and us his friends, he is speaking about a relationship of intimacy and trust that endures through thick and thin. Yes, I know some of our Facebook friends may be those kind of friends- but not all 200 or them! I like to think of friends, as someone once said, as the people who come in when the world goes out- the people who stand beside us in a crisis, who turn up in an emergency room, who weep with us at the grave, who stand quietly beside us when a relationship sours, who know us through and through and like us anyway. That’s more like what I feel friendship with Jesus is like. Theologian Frederick Buechner once described friendship like this in his book Whistling in the Dark:

“Friends are people you make part of your life just because you feel like it. There are lots of other ways people get to be part of each other's lives like being related to each other, living near each other, sharing some special passion with each other … but though all or any of those may be involved in a friendship, they are secondary to it. Basically, your friends are not your friends for any particular reason. They are your friends for no particular reason. The job you do, the family you have, the way you vote, the major achievements and blunders of your life, your religious convictions or lack of them, are all somehow set off to one side when the two of you get together.

If you are old friends, you know all those things about each other and a lot more besides, but they are beside the point. Even if you talk about them, they are beside the point. Stripped, humanly speaking, to the bare essentials, you are yourselves the point.” I like that. When Jesus calls us his friends, we, ourselves, are the point. Nothing else. Not our career, not our age, not our gender, not our race, not our personal or family background, nothing else. Simply, we, ourselves, are the point. Jesus reaches out to us with just that kind of trust and understanding. It is a relationship of choice and love totally unlike a master-slave relationship characterized by obligation and very often, fear.

As such, Jesus’ friendship relationship with us reminds us of our call to sincere commitment and enduring presence with others too, especially in times of threat and crisis. It’s a willingness to lay down our lives, not necessarily to take a bullet for another, but to be reach out to another, to be interested in the good of another especially in the face of hatred or rejection, to set aside our prejudices or to willingly move out of our comfort zones in order to stand up for another who is marginalized. For Peter, in our earlier reading from Acts this morning, such friendship meant inclusion- not withholding the water of baptism from the Gentiles who had received the Spirit just as he and his fellow Jews had.

In calling his disciples, and ultimately us, his friends, Jesus is speaking of a relationship of mutuality and shared vulnerability.

Diana Butler Bass, in the first chapter of her book Freeing Jesus, presents some valuable and pertinent reflections on seeing Jesus as a friend. In that chapter, she quotes Paul Wadell who says that we need to see “true friendships not as relationships we can control, but as adventures we enter into”. Butler Bass cites one such example that went viral in 2019 (show image)

 


In August 2019, it was the beginning of the school year. Conner, the little boy on the left, was autistic and was entering second grade. It was his first time going to school alone. The bus trip went well but when he arrived at school, he froze with fear and started to cry. He hid in a corner and was unable to walk into the building. That’s when Christian, the boy on the right, saw Conner and went to comfort him. He took Conner by the hand and led him inside the building. Conner later remarked to a reporter, “He found me and held my hand and I got happy tears. He was kind to me. It was my first day of school and I started crying. He helped me and I was happy.” Conner’s mom later said, “Christian is Conner’s first real friend and now they have an inseparable bond.” At whatever risk that may have been involved for Christian, he went ahead anyway.

Diana Butler Bass in remarking on this photo says that “when I think about what friendship with Jesus is like, I imagine that hand extended, tenderly leading a frightened boy toward a new world. It reminds me, that I am not alone as I take the next steps in my journey.”

I like it that among Jesus last words in that farewell speech to his disciples in the Upper Room, we find these memorable words about friendship. It is Jesus taking the initiative in choosing us.

When he says, I have called you friends, everything changes for those disciples. Everything changes for us, too. We have someone to talk to. Someone we can depend upon. Someone who risks offering us that extended hand. Someone who calls us to offer those same hands to one another, to reach beyond our boundaries of self-interest as we embrace and embody his inclusive love to the world.

It is indeed a big moment for the disciples. It is a change in status as the hierarchy breaks down. Jesus goes from being master to being friend. The motivation for those disciples to serve in his name changes from obligation to mutual love.

It is the same for us. Friended by Jesus, we are introduced to a new level of intimacy. Called to a world beyond ourselves. Chosen and appointed, in his absence, to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. To friend others, as we have been friended by him. Amen.  

Your Generosity Matters/ Our Offerings are Presented

 MECC is dedicated to sustainable relief.

A small boy in a dark blue jacket smiles in a room with mattress on the floor.

Credit: Middle East Council of Churches

 

When we hear of a global emergency, our minds often jump to “How can we help?” Your gifts to Mission and Service enable partners to immediately get to work providing crucial basic needs: food, water, shelter, and medication. But after the initial response, and after headlines fade away, the emergency and urgency remain.

After the immediate shock lessens, people living in the wake of a disaster can have difficulty imagining what life will look like down the road. In these times, hope is essential. By giving us the motivation to keep moving forward, hope is a powerful force that inspires us to keep going.

Mission and Service partner the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) continues to be hard at work providing hope. People in Syria are still experiencing the devastating aftermath of the February 2023 earthquakes.

From retrofitting buildings and providing medical equipment to education and trauma healing, MECC is dedicated to sustainable relief.

In Aleppo, MECC rehabilitated four schools before the academic year launched in September 2023, providing children with a safe place to learn.

Thank you for supporting the work of our Mission and Service partners. Your generosity is a beacon of hope during challenging times.

Hymn: 577 VU I’ve Got Peace Like a River

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession

Gentle, Holy Friend, we give thanks for these moments of pause in our lives when we can simply breathe and celebrate your presence within us and among us. As we look back over our week, we give thanks for those moments of joy with friends and loved ones. We are thankful too for that sense of comfort we have felt in your accompaniment with us through the more difficult struggles of the week. We take a moment as we recall our week…

Thank you for your amazing grace and love that abides with us always. In Jesus, we have witnessed over and over again, how you love freely and unconditionally, reaching out to bless the children, sharing a meal with outcasts and touching the untouchable. We have seen that love modelled in the way he listened, welcomed and stood beside all who needed a genuine and caring friend.

We have watched how your Holy Spirit blew through the early church, pushing back boundaries, tearing down walls and opening up new possibilities. We know that this same Spirit continues to beckon us as a faith community and we seek the courage we need to follow where it is leading us. Empower us to be your bold and faith-filled disciples in our time. May we be that hand that reaches out to comfort another, to be a friend to someone who is hurting or feeling alone or abandoned.

As we listen to the news and as we interact with the world around us, we know that there are so many in need. There are countries and areas of the world where war continues to rage on, where innocent people are killed in the crossfire and where peace feels a long way off. We cry out for all who mourn, and all who live in the midst of so much pain and uncertainty. Show us ways that we might offer support as we advocate for the basic human rights of all people,
support the peace-builders who are actively resisting the dehumanizing forces of violence, and better proclaim the gospel of peace for your sake.

We name before you people and situations we know personally where your healing and presence and our ongoing care is needed… for those who are ill in body, mind or spirit, for those who are coping with struggles that overwhelm, for all who this day simply need a friend alongside of them for their journey…

We offer these prayers in the name of Jesus, who no longer calls us servants, but friends, who loves us no matter who we are, and who calls us together in this circle of friends as a faith community, inviting us to pray as one saying… Our Father…

Hymn: 605 VU Jesus, Teacher, Brave and Bold 

Blessing: (from Friends of God: Service Prayers for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, written by the Rev. Susan A. Blain.  Posted on the United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways)

Christ sends us forth:

Keep my commandments, abide in my love.
We will go forth in peace and justice!

Love one another, go forth to serve:

We will go forth in love!

Share in my mission, bear fruit that will last:

We will go forth as your friends, rejoicing!

Let us go forth in peace to witness to our community and world,

that Christ is alive!

Alleluia! Amen!

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

 

 

 

April 28 Oh the Wonderful Things You'll Do


Welcome to worship at Faith Memorial United Church for April 28.

Lots of announcements today! Please look them over and mark the dates on your calendars.

Call for Nominations for General Council Commissioners:

The 45th General Council of The United Church of Canada will meet in-person August 7 to 12, 2025 in Calgary, AB. The 45th General Council begins its work as we celebrate our 100th anniversary as a denomination. We encourage you to prayerfully consider serving as a General Council commissioner, which provides you a unique opportunity to be part of the wider church and have an impact on the future of The United Church of Canada as we seek to discern where the Holy Spirit calls us into the next 100 years as a church.

Nominations will be accepted until May 10, 2024

 

Urban / Rural Rides is a registered charity powered by volunteers created in response to an ever-growing need in rural communities for safe, affordable, reliable transportation. They do their very best to accommodate all travel requests, but generally require 48 hours’ notice.  You will need to register to become a client.  Information and registration forms are on the sign-up table in the foyer.

Our United Church of Canada has joined in partnership with other organizations in the Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage.

At Faith Memorial United, through our Official Board meeting, we have decided to support these efforts. On Sunday, May 12, we ask you to wear a white shirt, sweater as a sign of our support. After worship, we will take an outdoor group photo to express our support of these actions. We will send this photo to our MP in the hopes of encouraging action on the part of our government.

Broadview Magazine renewals are now due.  The cost is $30.00 each.  Please pay by cheque, cash or E transfer to dbishop030@gmail.com  by May 15th.  New subscriptions are also welcomed.

Sunday, May 5 is Food Bank Sunday

 

Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples have occupied and cared for the land which many call Canada. In our worship together this day, in this area, we gather on the traditional land of the Wabanaki peoples, predominantly the lands of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Wolastoqiyik and Passamaquoddy. As a community of faith, we seek to rebuild right relations with theses people, to learn from them and to live on this land, their land with respect and gratitude for its creation and Creator.

In the name of Jesus who bids us to follow where he leads, we light this candle as a reminder of the light and guidance he offers us as we journey together.

Call to Worship (inspired by John 15:1-8, adapted from Joanna Harader, on Spacious Faith)

We are branches, rooted in the life-giving Vine of Christ.

We are branches of the Vine—sustained, nurtured, and pruned by Love.

When we make our home in the Vine, and the Vine makes a home in us, we bear the fruit of Love.

Apart from that Love, there is no life.

We come because we long to be spiritually vibrant, alive, productive.

If we abide in Christ, then Christ’s words will abide in us.

We come because we strive to be faithful disciples,

by building community with God and with one another.

We gather for worship now to the glory of the One God: 

Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.

May we grow wildly as God tends us lovingly.

 

Opening Prayer:

 

True Vine, Gentle Gardener,

the road we have travelled to get here today is different for each one of us,
but we meet together in this place to praise you.

We come together to reconnect with you,

the source of all love.

We long to grow by your grace into fruitful people.

We long to nourish others with our words and deeds.

Let us be open to the light of your transforming word

bringing us thoughts and revelations that inspire us,

carrying us forth into places we have never been,
and bringing you glory today and always. Amen.

 

Hymn: 1 MV Let Us Build a House 

 

Prayer of Confession:

 

God of Love, we are a work in progress.

You offer us life, you nourish and tend us,

showing us how we might bear good fruit.

Sometimes, though, we wither away.

We rebel from your care.

We resist our connection to you and to one another.

We seek to go our own way.

Forgive our resistance to your cultivation and direction.

Be patient with us, we pray.

Prune back those places where we need your light and love to help us grow.

Show us how we might be channels of your grace

and branches of your life-giving Spirit.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 

Words of Affirmation:

The promise of God is clear:

God sent Jesus into the world so that we might live.

When we abide in God, God abides in us.

When we love one another, God lives in us.

When we choose love, there is no fear.

Therefore, let God’s loving word cleanse us and free us from all that impoverishes our lives.

Let us open our hearts to receiving God’s bounty and to embracing the places where the Spirit calls us forth. Amen.

 

To listen to an Audio version of the readings and reflection, click here:

 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/12lGrA28JAhqpwoP7UXj9wyw32MA1cXE5/view?usp=drivesdk

 

Oh, the Places You’ll Go

Some of you might be familiar with a book by Dr. Suess with that title. It speaks to a theme of transition and new discoveries. If you are looking for a gift for a graduate, it would be a most appropriate choice. It describes the way ahead as a kind of journey, filled with all sorts of choices and decisions, with many different pathways. Some will be smooth. Some will be bumpy. Some will open up to even more opportunities. Some will lead to dead ends and the need to retrace one’s steps, and start over in a new way. Some will be confusing. Some will be filled with trials and hazards.

I thought of this book as I was reading our scriptures for this Sunday and I relistened to it over you tube. It made me think of our identity as church communities in this time of change. We often find ourselves asking where are we going? What will become of us? Certainly, we know that we are in a different place than we were thirty or twenty or even ten years ago. The practices and the pathways which once seemed to fit for us and work for us in times past now are not always leading us to the outcomes we might wish for. And, as is often the case, our tendency is to think about what we are losing rather than where the Spirit might be taking us next. It is hard to let go of what once was. It is hard to be patient when it feels like the many things that we have thought to be solid foundations in our faith communities often feel like they are crumpling beneath us.

I take comfort, though, that such transitions and reshaping have always been a part of faith communities. As the early church expanded in the wake of Jesus’ resurrection, it was constantly renewing itself as the Spirit pushed the followers to places they had never been before and to people they never would have encountered before. Over and over again, boundaries and walls were broken down as fresh winds of the Spirit carried them forward in all sorts of new directions.

Our first reading is one such example. Here we find Philip directed by the Spirit to an encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza. As you listen to this, hear how the gospel finds it way to an unexpected person and an unexpected place.

Acts 8: 26-40

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

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

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

Our gospel reading takes us back to Maundy Thursday as the disciples gather with Jesus in the Upper Room. The disciples are distraught and disoriented as they now listen to Jesus speaking about how he will soon suffer and be put to death. You might remember it was Thomas who asked where are you going and how can we know the way. Much like us as churches wondering about what our future might look like, the disciples ask similar questions. They are fearful. Yet, here we find Jesus reassuring the disciples, reminding them that although he will no longer be physically present to them, they will be called forward into a deeper intimacy with him. They will be closer to him than even before. The key will be in their ability to abide in him and to remain connected with each other as branches are connected to a vine. This attachment is what will bring them the continual renewal they will need as they move forward to the new experiences and places where they will be called to serve and bear fruit in his name.

John 15: 1-8

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

Taken together, these two passages give us some ideas as a church community about how to make our way forward together by allowing the Spirit to push us out of our comfort zones and by remaining mutually connected to Jesus, the true vine, and to one another.

Faith is never a solo endeavour. We need one another. We need to work at building relationships that help support one another.

We see a wonderful example of how that works as Philip shares that simple conversation with the Ethiopian eunuch. And it is that simple conversation that leads both of them to find a commonality that results not only in the eunuch’s conversion, but also in Philip’s conversion. Consider this. Without the Spirit’s leading, would Philip ever have made a connection with this unexpected person? What ever would they have found in common? How ever would they have met and struck up a conversation?

Yet, because the Spirit called to Philip to get up and go to this unexpected place, to branch out beyond his known boundaries and to meet this stranger, something new opened up for the early church. On this wilderness road, Philip notices an ornate chariot passing in front of him.  This experience might be as akin for us as walking along the Juniper Road and noticing a limousine coming along. Philip watches and overhears a man in the back seat reading from a scroll. The man is dressed in fancy clothes, obviously quite wealthy. Philip concludes he must be a VIP. The Spirit calls Philip to catch up with the chariot. From there a conversation ensues as Philip figures out that the man is a eunuch, a castrated male, who serves as the treasurer in the court of the queen of Ethiopia. As a eunuch, this court official would not fit into any social or sexual categories of his time.  When Philip asks whether he understands the passage he is reading from the scroll of Isaiah, the eunuch says how can I unless someone helps me figure out who this suffering servant is. That’s when Philip helps him fill in the blanks as he shares with him the whole story of Jesus being despised, beaten and killed even though he embodied the love of God. He goes on to share how Jesus was raised to new life and that through him we are forgiven. It is then that the eunuch sees new possibility for himself. In this passage and the interpretation Philip gives him, he finds hope and acceptance. He can relate to the vulnerability of such a suffering servant, given his own sexual difference. That’s when he asks Philip a zinger of a question: what is to prevent me from being baptized too? In essence, there was much that might have prevented him from being baptized.

The biggest hindrance was the fact that he was a eunuch. There were clear prohibitions in Deuteronomy preventing eunuchs and foreigners from being part of the community of God or from entering the temple. Yet, other passages like Isaiah 56:4-7 spoke of day when all would be included:

Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely separate me from his people,”
and do not let the eunuch say,
    “I am just a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose the things that please me
    and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
    a monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
    to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath and do not profane it
    and hold fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar,
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.

In the face of this man’s request to be baptized, Philip has to figure out what to do right there and then on the spot. Just as the Spirit had led him to this encounter in this place, Philip is led by this same Spirit to conclude that there is nothing to prevent this man from being welcomed and included in the community of Jesus. Philip can see that this man is sincere in his search to understand and to learn more. So, they proceed with the baptism.

Together, both the eunuch and Philip are taken to new places. As commentator Debie Thomas says this story is a two-way conversion. Both of them are changed by the encounter. For the first time in his life, the eunuch is gifted with an experience of belonging and a sense of being included. At the same time, as Philip acts as a guide on the side for this eunuch, his own eyes are opened wide to a world beyond his previously held boundaries of insiders and outsiders. In acting as both teacher and student for this man, Philip has been led to a place he might never have gone before. With the pushing and prodding of the Spirit’s power unleashed through this encounter, Philip becomes a branch, a channel of God’s light that moves them both into new realizations about just how broad and inclusive God’s love is. Together, as they share in this conversation, they both move to worlds outside the lines of their previously held ideas.

There is no stopping the Spirit as it sends the early church crossing into new horizons, branching out beyond Jerusalem and Judea, and scattering the gospel beyond boundaries of where people thought it could go. Imagine how exciting this must have been for those previously fearful disciples who once sat with Jesus in the Upper Room on the night before his death, as they remembered that conversation about the vine and branches.

That Spirit is still ahead of us today, blowing through us, urging us to keep listening for those prompts to get up and go where we are sent. Together, as branches of that one vine, we are being called to expand, to push back the boundaries, to enlarge our welcome, to allow our preconceived notions to be shaken up as we find a way in these changing, and often challenging, times in which we find ourselves as Christ’s disciples. As we seek to be renewed, we will find that we will often be taken into to new places we haven’t been before and among people we have never met before. Our call is simply to follow into those new paths, some may lead us to further opportunities and possibilities. Some may make us feel like we are going down rabbit holes and may leave us coming up empty-handed. The main thing, however, is to remember to trust in the Spirit’s leading as we journey and to remain connected with Jesus and with one another.

Or in the words probably best said by the immortal Dr. Suess,

And when things start to happen,

don’t worry, don’t stew.

Just go right along.

You’ll start happening too.

Oh! The Places you will go!     Amen.

Your Generosity Matters/ Our Gifts are Presented

Cast and audiences learn and share a story of cultural resilience.

The cast of a theatre play stand on stage with their joined hands joined raised.

Credit: copyright (c) The Raven Collective

Storytelling is a powerful way to preserve and share history. The theatre performance, Bunk #7, does just that.

Bunk #7 shares the true story of six boys rioting against the mistreatment and many forms of abuse they received at Edmonton Indian Residential School in St. Albert, Alberta, in the early 1960s. Written by the late Nisga’a MLA Larry Guno, the play is based on his own experience at the residential school and named for his bunk number.

The cast features Indigenous youth and young adults, offering a powerful way for the cast and audiences to learn and share the story of cultural resilience. In November 2021, the play premiered at Raven Theatre in British Columbia to a full audience. With overwhelming support, the performers went on a tour of northwestern BC to share the transformative journey. Performances in fall 2023 were once again met with great support.

Your gifts to Mission and Service open opportunities for storytelling to move forward in an impactful and powerful way. Thank you for your generosity.

Hymn: What Can I Do

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession:

God of love, we come to you this morning in thanksgiving for the many blessings of life- for families and friends, for colleagues and neighbours and total strangers we meet in our day to day lives who nurture us in so many different ways. We thank you for the presence of Jesus in our lives, whose teachings continue to ground us and inspire us to serve as your disciples. Thank you for the strength that is ours in knowing that he abides in us and we abide in him, a strength that enables and encourages us to bear good fruit. May we stay rooted in that love always, opening ourselves to your pruning of all that holds back your light, whether it is our fear, our apathy, our prejudices or our inability to imagine new possibilities for ourselves or for our communities.

As your Holy Spirit prompted Philip to come alongside another, to strike up a conversation and to open the way for your Good News, so help us listen for ways that we might follow your Spirit’s guidance in our lives, branching out and sharing your compassion with others.

We pray for all who are in need of your protection and safety this day- for the many who live and serve in areas of war, for the many who live with violence in their homes or on their streets, for the many who are living under the strain of financial stresses and are wondering how they will make ends meet, for the many who are marginalized and persecuted, suffering because of their race, sexuality, gender, faith or convictions, for the many who are estranged from family and support systems, for the many who are coping with uncertainties about their health, for all who are dying and for all for whom grief is fresh. Send your comforting presence upon each one who is in need of your healing, your peace and your compassion. Show us how we might be channels of your support through our presence and the offering of our skills and financial gifts. Give us the courage to go where we are needed, to draw those circles just a little wider, to build bridges and to find ways of colouring outside the lines of our previously held boundaries and limits.

We offer these prayers, in the name of Jesus, the true vine, who helps us to grow toward your light and your love, and who taught us, as your branches, to pray boldly saying… Our Father...

 

Hymn: 138MV My Love Colours Outside the Lines 

Blessing:

The same spirit that prodded Philip calls us to journey to new places, to meet up with strangers on the way.

God’s love in Jesus is all about making those kinds of connections.

Our mission is to tend to every branch, to travel those roads that call us to branch out.

We go, prepared to answer the call to go beyond our borders boldly.

May our love endanger every form of exclusion.

We go that it might be so. Amen.

 

 

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