Third after Pentecost

Vincent van Gogh, Sunset at Montmajour, 1888. Private Collection (Public domain)

Gathered through the power of the Holy Spirit, we worship God with gladness. We encourage you to pray over the words that follow, and follow the links within the liturgy. Prayers in this service are adapted from Celebrate God’s Presence (UCPH). Thanks this week to Dave and Heather!

PRELUDE: “Lord, the Light of your Love is Shining” (Kendrick)

OPENING PRAYER:

God of power and love,
you raised Jesus from death to life,
resplendent in glory to rule over all creation.
Free the world to rejoice in his peace,
to glory in his justice,
and to live in his love.
Free the world to rejoice in his mercy,
to share his forgiveness,
and manifest his grace.
Free the world to rejoice in his growth,
to follow his example,
and to become Christ to others.
Unite all humankind in Jesus Christ your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “For the fruit of all creation”

For the fruit of all creation, thanks be to God.
For the gifts to every nation, thanks be to God.
For the ploughing, sowing, reaping,
silent growth while we are sleeping,
future needs in earth’s safekeeping, thanks be to God.

In the just reward of labour, God’s will is done.
In the help we give our neighbour, God’s will is done.
In our worldwide task of caring
for the hungry and despairing,
in the harvests we are sharing, God’s will is done.

For the harvests of the Spirit, thanks be to God.
For the good we all inherit, thanks be to God.
For the wonders that astound us,
for the truths that still confound us,
most of all that love has found us, thanks be to God.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

O God, in whose mercy we find our peace, 
in whose presence we find our place,  
in whose world we find our calling: 
grant us grace so to hear and accept your Word 
that we may be faithful followers 
of your will and your way all our days.
The road is hard, and we often falter,
but we know that you urge us on,
willing to walk by our side.
Forgive us our halting steps.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

God will give us what we need:
strength for today,
hope for tomorrow,
and forgiveness
for all that is past.
Amen.

SPECIAL MUSIC: “Don’t You Wish It Was True” (Fogerty)

FIRST READING: Psalm 20

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the Lord grant all your requests.
Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!

SECOND READING: Mark 4.26-34

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Lord, speak to me”

Lord, speak to me that I may speak
in living echoes of your tone;
as you have sought, so let me seek
your straying children lost and lone.

O lead me, so that I may lead
the wandering and the wavering feet;
O feed me, so that I may feed
your hungering ones with manna sweet.

O teach me, so that I may teach
the precious truths which you impart;
and wing my words, that they may reach
the hidden depths of many a heart.

O fill me with your fullness, Lord,
until my very heart o’erflows
in kindling thought and glowing word,
your love to tell, your praise to show.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-2.png
Vincent van Gogh, Trees and Shrubs, 1889. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Public domain)

REFLECTION

Weston has a secret portal that gets you under the 401.
Weston has a secret Victorian village hidden amid the highrises.
Weston has a somewhat secret shrine to Mary, right up there with Lourdes and Guadalupe.
Weston has a secret history on the west bank of the Humber, until the river had other ideas back in 1850.
Weston is mystified by the secret of all those bank departures, though greed might be the answer.
And finally, number nine on Now Magazines “Hidden Toronto” list of the city’s best-kept secrets is…Weston.

I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface here. And I didn’t even start on the secrets of Mount Dennis or the secret part of Pelmo Park north of the 401.

Leaving that for another day, we are surrounded by things unknown and things unexplained. There is a popular online forum called whatisthisthing, where people will post a picture of something mysterious looking, and enlist others to help them figure it out. It’s the ultimate crowdsourcing, where the secret of an unfamiliar item is revealed by someone who immediately knows what it is.

Related to this is an entire genre of “reality television” with titles like How It’s Made, How Do They Do That? and What on Earth? There is obviously an appetite for understanding hidden things, or things that are remarkable in their creation, even if they are commonplace or familiar.

And that takes us to our lesson. Seeds scattered on the ground, the disproportionate growth of the mustard seed—these parables take something familiar and open up the meaning to reveal more. And in this case we get the explicit introduction “this is what the kingdom of God is like”—the implied purpose of every parable. But before we begin to draw Kingdom lessons, let’s look again at how these tiny literary units work.

These parables use a device best described with the words “and yet.” On other occasions, we have talked about parables creating a world, which sours, then resolves to reveal the Kingdom. These simpler parables function in the same way: describing something, adding the “and yet,” and then pointing to some Kingdom theme.

In the first one, the Parable of the Growing Seed, the constructed world is someone planting seeds, and yet they don’t know how they grow. Still, the growth continues, until the harvest is plentiful. In the second—even simpler than the first—the constructed world is the mustard seed, and yet it’s among the smallest seeds on earth. It grows into a large shrub, and birds make nests in it’s branches.

In each case, the “and yet” is the secret of the parable, the hidden meaning that makes this part of the Kingdom. The simple act of sowing seeds results in the harvest. The tiny seed becomes a shrub, far out of proportion to the size of the seed. It’s about the miracle of growth, of course, but it’s mostly about the abundance that follows the simple act of sowing a seed.

Now, a scientist could explain all the steps needed to achieve germination (even a scientist in elementary school) and tell you about hydrating the seed (imbibition), activating the enzymes inside the seed, and putting down a root (radicle). Soon it will sprout, and the sun will take over from there—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.

But rather than looking at the science and saying ‘mystery solved,’ I think the mystery deepens. With each new discovery, and each new insight, what is really revealed is the remarkable complexity of everything God made. The more complex, and the more inexplicable, the more we wonder at the gift of the natural world that keeps giving. Things that work in nature for the benefit of others, cures waiting to be discovered in the natural world, even the number of stars in the sky—all reveal the glory of the Most High.

And then God made humans. Odd that we don’t need to condemn humanity for all our failures relating to the natural world, because we humans are busy condemning ourselves. Every day we need to choose whether we are part of the natural world, and therefore worth protecting, or we are somehow outside the natural world, and on our own. At this moment in human history we seem very much on our own, and we may pay a steep price.

In the same manner that we have divided ourselves from the natural world, we insist on dividing ourselves from one another. Some divisions—location, language—are a part of the diversity of human life. While others—race, status, economic standing— we create and impose on each other. The need to feel superior seems hardwired somehow, and the project of human living should always be setting aside that particular need.

It’s no secret that there is racism in Canada. We have been blessed with abundance, and yet we retreat to racism and xenophobia. We have created a society where everyone has access to healthcare and basic needs, and yet we imagine that some are less deserving or jumping some sort of invisible queue. We have all the resources to educate ourselves about how to live together, and yet we retreat to the voices that tell us what we want to hear, even when it leads to violence.

It’s no secret that there is racism in Canada, and yet the solution is within us, since we all contribute in some small way. Sounds like a parable, because it is. This little world we have created, remarkable in so many ways, still sours because we each carry that gene of superiority, that sense of suspicion, and that willingness to listen to the least helpful voices. It’s hard to even name that we carry around the kernel of racism within us, but by naming it we can perhaps begin to move on.

The point of a parable is resolving to reveal the Kingdom. Resolving implies trouble, or some human problem we face. And yet, in the face of trouble, God is most attentive, most willing to stand beside us, and most willing to lift up those in deep need. The parables show us that God’s direction always points to the Kingdom, where everything that divides us is cast out, where everything that hurts us is healed, and everything that separates us from the love of God is set aside—now and forevermore, Amen.

Vincent van Gogh, detail of Wheatfield with Cypresses, 1889. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Public domain)

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE:

God of power and love,
you have shown your compassion in Jesus Christ.
Guide the work of the church.
Help it to persevere in faith
and to proclaim your name to people everywhere.
Let us pray for all who serve the church
with the gifts God gives them.

God of power and love,
your Spirit guides the church and makes it holy.
Strengthen and sustain all who serve.
Keep them in health and safety
and help each of us to do faithfully
the work to which you have called us.

Let us pray for all who do not know God,
that the light of the Holy Spirit
may awaken them to faith.
God of power and love,
may all your children everywhere
know your goodness.
Help us, your church,
to become more perfect witnesses of your grace
so that all may see you in us.

Let us pray for victims of hate,
and everyone who has experienced violence.
We pray for the Afzaal family:
Talat, Madiha, Salman, Yumna,
and nine-year-old Fayez, recovering from his injuries.
Heal hearts that are broken, God,
and comfort those overcome with fear.

Let us pray for those who hate.
Reach into their hearts, Lord,
and help them see your design for us:
that everyone is your beloved child,
that everyone deserves respect,
that everyone deserves to live in peace.

God of power and love,
defender of the poor and oppressed,
call to account the rulers of this world,
so that people everywhere may enjoy
justice, peace, and freedom
and a fair share of the goodness of creation.

Let us pray for all who are sick or dying,
all who are homeless or in prison,
and for all who suffer from hunger or violence.

God of power and love,
strength of the weary,
hope of the despairing,
hear the cries of your suffering children
and give us the courage to be agents of your love for them.
We pray in the name of Christ our Saviour. Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

HYMN: “In the bulb there is a flower”

In the bulb there is a flower;
in the seed, an apple tree;
in cocoons, a hidden promise:
butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter
there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence,
seeking word and melody;
there’s a dawn in every darkness,
bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future;
what it holds, a mystery,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning;
in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing;
in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection;
at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see
.

BLESSING

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way,
and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless
until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. Amen.
—1 Thessalonians 5:23

God be with you till we meet again;
loving counsels guide, uphold you,
with a shepherd’s care enfold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

Vincent van Gogh, Lilac Bush, 1889. Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia (Public domain)

2 thoughts on “Third after Pentecost

  1. Most inspiring! We needed this when we are in this sea of troubles. We, indeed, are like mustard seeds.
    Once again, thanks to Our musicians Dave and Heather.
    Love you all. God bless

  2. We tend to fear what is different or what we don’t understand. We should remind ourselves that God created everyone. No one is better than someone else. May God open our hearts to others and treat them as we would want to be treated.

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