Ninth after Pentecost

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 Cor and Heather!

PRELUDE: “Friends” (Smith)

OPENING PRAYER:

Holy God, we come to worship this morning
brought together by your Spirit.
It is your Spirit who teaches us to pray
and helps us be your faithful ones.
We ask now for the presence of your Holy Spirit:
open our hearts to your mercy,
remind us of the blessing of years past,
and help us move forward
trusting in your goodness.
Speak to each of us today—
bless us and make us a blessing.
Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, who rules all creation;
O my soul, praise him, at all times your health and salvation.
Come, all who hear:
brothers and sisters draw near,
joining in glad adoration.

Praise to the Lord, above all things so mightily reigning,
keeping us safe at his side, and so gently sustaining.
Have you not seen
how all you needed has been
met by God’s gracious ordaining?

Praise to the Lord who will prosper our work and defend us;
surely his goodness and mercy will daily attend us:
ponder anew
what the Almighty can do,
who out of love will befriend us.

Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in me adore him!
All that has life and breath come now with praises before him!
Let the Amen
sound from God’s people again:
gladly with praise we adore him.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Let us confess our shortcomings,
recalling the words of Christ:
Jesus said, “Peace be with you.”
Yet sometimes we sow discord,
neglecting to make peace with our sisters and brothers.

Jesus said, “As God has sent me, so I send you.”
Yet sometimes we refuse to go, fearing to follow
unknown paths of faith.

Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
But we turn away, rejecting the gifts of the Spirit.
Forgive us, blessed God,
in the name of Jesus Christ 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: “Ask Me What Great Thing I Know/Just As I Am” (Malan/Bradbury)

FIRST READING: Psalm 145

All your works praise you, Lord;
your faithful people extol you.
They tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might,
so that all people may know of your mighty acts
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures through all generations.
The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
and faithful in all he does.
The Lord upholds all who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and faithful in all he does.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.

SECOND READING: Ephesians 3.14-21

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

HYMN: “Jesus, you have come to the lakeshore”

Jesus, you have come to the lakeshore
looking neither for wealthy nor wise ones;
you only asked me to follow humbly.
O Jesus, with your eyes you have searched me,
and while smiling, have spoken my name;
now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me;
by your side I will seek other seas.

You know so well my possessions;
my boat carries no gold and no weapons;
you will find there my nets and labour.  
O Jesus, with your eyes you have searched me,
and while smiling, have spoken my name;
now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me;
by your side I will seek other seas.

You need my hands, full of caring
through my labours to give others rest,
and constant love that keeps on loving.  
O Jesus, with your eyes you have searched me,
and while smiling, have spoken my name;
now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me;
by your side I will seek other seas.

You, who have fished other oceans,
ever longed for by souls who are waiting,
my loving friend, as thus you call me.  
O Jesus, with your eyes you have searched me,
and while smiling, have spoken my name;
now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me;
by your side I will seek other seas.

REFLECTION

Everything I know about saying goodbye I learned from the movies.

My first instinct was to recreate the end of the Salzburg Folk Festival, where Max says “the highest musical honour in the Ostmark goes to the family Von Trapp” (applause, spotlight in an empty entrance). The family Von Trapp…” Then someone shouts “They’re gone!”

The other option, of course, was to rewind the tape and sing to you:

Regretfully they tell us
But firmly they compel us
To say goodbye to you.
So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night.

But I’m not going to sing, so that won’t work. This, then led to my perfect fantasy ending where a twister carries me off to some magical kingdom (maybe THE magical kingdom) and then I wake up only to discover that you’re all still with me—only now you’re transformed into various farm hands and my Auntie Em.

Sadly, I expect it will be more like the end of Casablanca, where you insist we get on the plane, remind us that we’ll always have Paris, and say something like “Here’s looking at you, kid.” That might work.

Better yet, we might want to look to our dear friend St. Paul for some direction on saying goodbye. It was my late mentor, the Rev. Doug Paterson, who once said “do you really think your preaching can improve on the words found in scripture?” He was talking about funeral homilies, but the point stands, because everything we need for learning, guidance, and inspiration is found in the pages of the Bible. Case in point:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4)

Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. (2 Corinthians 13)

But wait until the pandemic is over. I think you can see that Paul is giving us the perfect balance of encouraging the faithful, praising their goodness, and highlighting what truly matters. Now I’m no St. Paul, but I hope that in our time together I have spent enough time encouraging you to be faithful, praising your goodness, and highlighting what truly matters—the love and forgiveness found in our Lord Jesus Christ.

But this sermon is not about me. This sermon—and hopefully every sermon—is about what God can do through us, the grace and peace that we discover through Christ and share with others. It is about lives transformed and communities renewed, it is about the power of work and prayer, and it is about remaining open to where the Spirit leads. Paul captured this too, in our reading for today:

Now to God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Glory in the church belongs to God alone, and we, as God’s servants, get to share in that glory, to dwell in that reflected light, to participate in the next thing God will do in this place. As one chapter closes and another begins, we trust in God’s power to work within you and continue to write the remarkable story of this church.

In a few moments I will stumble over more words, try to express more gratitude, and finally say “auf wiedersehen, good night.” Whatever I say, and however haltingly I say it, the meaning is this: to serve here has been a great gift, a profound honour, and a blessing from God. Amen.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Glory to you, Almighty God.
You spoke, and light came out of darkness,
order rose from confusion.
Glory to you, Jesus Christ!
You meet us in every age,
the Word made flesh, born for us.
Glory to you, Holy Spirit!
You brooded over chaos,
mothering and shaping God’s new creation.
Glory to you, God, Three-in-One!
You bless our endings and our beginnings,
and turn our sadness to gratitude.

Glory to you, Almighty God.
You create and recreate,
a never ending cycle of grace and renewal.
Glory to you, Jesus Christ!
You show us with most vulnerable,
and name them our sisters and brothers.
Glory to you, Holy Spirit!
You speak to us in very moment,
and invite us to listen.
Glory to you, God, Three-in-One!
You make us, redeem us,
and blow through us still.

Glory to you, Almighty God.
You surround us with the glory that is yours alone,
and compel us to reflect it too.
Glory to you, Jesus Christ!
You heal the sick, tend the lonely,
and comfort those who mourn.
Glory to you, Holy Spirit!
You give us words to speak, to challenge injustice,
and speak your truth in love.
Glory to you, God, Three-in-One!
In every form, and in every age,
we worship you. 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: “Retell what Christ’s great love has done”

Retell what Christ’s great love has done,
how crib and cross the victory won:
God’s call obeyed, temptations faced,
the good news preached, then death embraced.
Let us who share his Easter light
sing praise to God, our chief delight.

Recall the covenant of grace
in which you freely find your place:
with water washed, at table fed,
in Christ alive, to self now dead.
Then with your lives, by day and night,
sing praise to God, your chief delight.

Review the tapestry of saints,
that canvas which the Spirit paints:
a prophet scorned, a teacher famed,
a host unknown and unacclaimed,
yet one and all who fought the fight
sing praise to God, their chief delight.

Rehearse the chorus of the heart,
let all earth’s hopes and fears take part:
the shouts of youth, the cries of age,
the prisoners’ groans, the victims’ rage.
And may each voice which seeks the right
sing praise to God, its chief delight.

Rejoice at what Christ yet will do,
intent on making all things new:
the hungry filled, the peaceful blessed,
the wounded healed, each heart at rest.
Then sing, till faith gives way to sight,
in praise of God, our chief delight.

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.

Eighth after Pentecost

Claude Monet, Three Fishing Boats, 1886. Museum of Fine Arts Budapest

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 Taye and Heather!

PRELUDE: “Gentle Breeze” (Bender)

OPENING PRAYER:

We praise you, God
that you come to us:
The Good Shepherd
The Gate for the Sheep
and The Lamb of God—
who takes away the sin of the world.
Find us in your pasture, God,
and may we ever dwell in your gates,
and find our rest in you.
Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “When morning gilds the skies”

When morning gilds the skies,
my heart awakening cries:
may Jesus Christ be praised!
When evening shadows fall,
this rings my curfew call:
may Jesus Christ be praised!

To God, the Word on high,
the hosts of angels cry:
may Jesus Christ be praised!
Let mortals, too, upraise
their voice in hymns of praise:
may Jesus Christ be praised!

Let all of humankind
in this their concord find: 
may Jesus Christ be praised!
Let all the earth around
ring joyous with the sound:
may Jesus Christ be praised!

Be this, while life is mine,
my canticle divine:
may Jesus Christ be praised!
Be this th’eternal song,
through all the ages long:
may Jesus Christ be praised!

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

God of mercy,
Once we were no people,
and now we are your people.
Still, we forget.
We forget that we belong to you,
and that you feed us,
you walk beside us,
and encourage us to rest.
We forget that you made us in your image,
a little less than angels
in the household of heaven.
Help us remember,
who we are,
and to Whom we belong,
In Jesus’ name we ask. 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: “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” (Hoffman/Showalter)

FIRST READING: Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

SECOND READING: Mark 6.30-34, 53-56

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

HYMN: “Take time to be holy”

Take time to be holy, speak oft with your Lord;
abide in him always, and feed on his word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
forgetting in nothing his blessing to seek.

Take time to be holy, let him be your guide,
and run not before him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,
and, looking to Jesus, still trust in his word.

Take time to be holy, be calm in your soul,
each thought and each motive beneath his control.
Thus led by his spirit to fountains of love,
you soon shall be fitted for service above.

Claude Monet, The Beach at Sainte-Adresse, 1867. The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection, 1933.

REFLECTION

Suddenly everyone’s going into space.

Well, when I say everyone, I mean everyone who’s a billionaire and can fund their own celestial science project. Sir Richard Branson seems to have won the race to create a space tourism industry, but others disagree. He only went up 50 miles, and everyone knows space is 60 miles up, right? Quietly, some ask the awkward “couldn’t this money be better spent on problems here on earth” question, but that betrays the spirit of the age.

All of this put me in mind of the last time too few people held too much weath, and that would be during the Gilded Age. Generally the period began in the 1870s and ushered in rapid economic growth, industrialization, and massive wealth inequality. The names of the leading men of the age are still familiar to us, so dramatic was their share of the wealth. Rockefeller, Carnegie, Guggenheim, and Vanderbilt are perhaps the best known, some for the scale of their wealth and some for charitable causes they supported. The library across the street was funded by the Carnegie Co. of New York, an example of something the Gilded Age gave us—our own little piece of all that excess wealth.

Something else the Gilded Age gave us was stress. Yes, stress existed before 1870, but the race to become wealthy in this new age created a new kind of pressure. The myth that if you worked hard enough you could become the next Rockefeller tormented the minds of many, and the result was a new ailment, the nervous breakdown. And with a new ailment comes a new cure, or perhaps we might say a new old cure, and that would be rest.

S. Weir Mitchell, a neurologist based in Philadelphia, created the rest cure, “a regimen of forced bed rest, restricted diet, and a combination of massage and electrical muscle stimulation in place of exercise.”* He is also known for his theories on women’s health, particularly the idea of “hysteria,” and in doing so caused great harm. Yet on the rest cure, his influence was short-lived, to be replaced by another nineteenth century innovation, the work cure.

The work cure was definitely a product of the age. A new theory replaced the idea that troubled people were somehow depleted, suggesting instead that people are like streetcars, meaning they need only draw on “sources of power beyond themselves.” Like the crisis that follows when the 501 gets disconnected from the overhead wires, you just need to reconnect and get going. I expect this is where the foolish advice to “keep busy” comes from, something we still hear today. Eventually, the work cure was discredited too, but vestiges remain in the popular imagination.

Jesus said “Come with me to a quiet place and get some rest.”

It sounds familiar because it is, but it also sounds familiar because of a more famous passage in Matthew 11 where Jesus says to the crowd “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Looking closely, these two statements are somewhat different, and require a look.

The first cure is finding rest in a quiet place. This is advice Jesus lives and shares throughout the Gospels. He knows the power of solitude, the need to retreat from the crowds and their demands—and be alone. He makes time to be alone with God, which is a remarkable thing considering his utterly unique relationship with the Most High. Still, he takes the time, and commends taking time to others, to find a quiet place and get some rest.

The second cure is finding rest in Jesus. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” The reason we share this quote at funerals is precisely because Jesus is the ultimate source of comfort. We support one another, we try to find the words, we might give a little advice, but ultimate rest is found in the arms of Jesus. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” he said, “for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Since I’m the third generation off the farm, I needed to look up yoke to recall exactly what it looked like. Essentially it’s a cross-beam, laid over two animals, often oxen, connecting them and allowing the farmer to control both animals. These “beasts of burden” work together to pull a plough, under the direction of the ploughman.

So a couple of things here. The first is the promise that Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light. When you choose to follow in the Way of Jesus, you are literally yoked to him and expected to do work. Preach and teach, forgive others, seek the Kingdom where it may be found; visit the sick, feed the hungry, encourage the despairing. “Love and serve others,” our creed says in summary, while you “seek justice and resist evil.” So we’re yoked, but the yoke is easy. And the yoke is easy precisely because we’re yoked to Jesus, the source of all rest.

That’s the first promise, yoked to the source of rest. The second part of the promise is implied in the design of the yoke. We are yoked together, not alone, but yoked to fellow travellers. We find greater rest when we share our burdens with each other, when we remember that we never pull alone. Everything that a life of faith demands is best met when we look to each other, and understand that discipleship is always a shared task.

In another time and another place, great wealth existed alongside great poverty. The time was the late Roman period, and the place was North Africa, called the “crown jewel” of the Roman Empire. North Africa was the wealthiest province, produced the most grain, and generated many other exports including ceramics and olives (and olive oil). All this made North Africa the place to acquire wealth and pursue your dreams. At the same time, great poverty existed with an underclass of labourers, slaves, and ex-slaves doing the bulk of the work. And into this setting stepped Augustine of Hippo, later St. Augustine, ministering to everyone in the busy port city of Hippo Regius.

You can imagine the pace of life in Hippo, the restlessness that surrounded everyone. The wealthy seeking more wealth, the poor seeking basic needs each day, the sick seeking relief. The early church stood in the centre of all this activity and tried to reach everyone. And finally, it took Augustine, with wisdom from God, to find the words, words that echo Mark 6 and Matthew 11 and offer a word to all the seekers of Hippo. He said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

However restless you feel today, and whatever burden you face, may you find rest in God, in this and every age. Amen.

*https://www.apa.org/monitor/2010/05/cures

Henrique Pousão, Boats-Capri, 1882. National Museum Soares dos Reis, Porto, Portugal

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Shepherd God,
You lead us to the stillness of this moment,
you make it sacred, and we shelter here.
Comfort us, God, as we shelter in your love.
Remind us that we are your children,
and that you lead us in your way.

Comfort us in the midst of fear:
fear of things lost and never to return,
fear of sorrow,
and fear of the unknown.

Encourage us to pray for others:
praying for the most vulnerable,
praying for those who suffer,
praying for all in need.

Guide us through the valley of shadows,
with your staff to protect us,
and your Spirit to lead us home.

Surround us this day with goodness,
Set a place at table,
that you may be our companion and guide,
and we may be companion and guide to others.

Dwell with us, God, this day,
and remind us that we never walk alone.
Strengthen us to care for others,
Following the compassionate example of your child,
Jesus the Christ. 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: “I heard the voice of Jesus say”

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto me and rest;
lay down, O weary one, lay down
your head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
weary and worn and sad;
I found in him a resting place,
and he has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
the living water; thirsty one,
stoop down and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s Light;
look unto me, your morn shall rise,
and all your days be bright.”
I looked to Jesus and I found
in him my Star, my Sun;
and in that light of life I’ll walk,
’til trav’ling days are done.

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.

Sixth after Pentecost

“Walking staffs” by Julie Dennehy is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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 Jenny and Heather!

PRELUDE: “L’Almanach des Images No. 8” (Grovlez)

OPENING PRAYER:

Holy One, 
you are with us in the dawning of the day,
through crowded hours of work and play,
and in the star-filled stillness of the night.
In these moments, 
touch our hearts with your peace,
that we may know your presence,
and may love and serve you in all that we do.
Remind us that any moment we focus on you
becomes an act of worship.
In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Immortal, invisible, God only wise”

Immortal, invisible, God only wise;
in light inaccessible hid from our eyes;
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;
thy justice like mountains high soaring above
thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life thou givest, to both great and small;
in all life thou livest, the true life of all;
we blossom and flourish like leaves on the tree,
then wither and perish; but naught changeth thee.

Thou reignest in glory, thou rulest in light;
thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
all praise we would render, O help us to see
’tis only the splendour of light hideth thee!

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: “Jesus Saw Them Fishing” (Canedo)

FIRST READING: Psalm 48

As we have heard,
so we have seen
in the city of the Lord Almighty,
in the city of our God:
God makes her secure forever.
Within your temple, O God,
we meditate on your unfailing love.
Like your name, O God,
your praise reaches to the ends of the earth;
your right hand is filled with righteousness.

Mount Zion rejoices,
the villages of Judah are glad
because of your judgments.

Walk about Zion, go around her,
count her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
view her citadels,

that you may tell of them
to the next generation.
For this God is our God for ever and ever;
he will be our guide even to the end.

SECOND READING: Mark 6.1-13

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,[a] Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

HYMN: “Praise our Maker”

Praise our Maker, peoples of one family:
God is love, God is love!
Praise our Maker, peoples of one family:
God is love, God is love!

Love our Saviour, followers of Jesus:
God is love, God is love!
Love our Saviour, followers of Jesus:
God is love, God is love!

Care for others, children of the Spirit:
God is love, God is love!
Care for others, children of the Spirit:
God is love, God is love!

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Christ and the Disciples on the Way to Emmaus, 1571. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

REFLECTION

Most often, preachers are just preachin’ to themselves.

Take the lesson about travelling light. As the boxes pile up, and the donation guy at the Value Village becomes my new best friend, I hear the instruction to travel light. You read “no bread, no bag, no money” and I hear “no books, no nick-nacks, and no electronic gewgaws.” Clearly, when they say “the Bible speaks,” it’s speaking to me.

A colleague once told me that early on her possessions were limited to what she could fit in her Pinto. As a student she moved frequently, and often across the country, and so decided to limit herself to the contents of a car, neatly packed, but not so neatly packed that the Pinto would not move. Her life had defined limits in terms of what she would allow herself to possess, and as she recounted the story, it was obvious she looked on those days with some satisfaction.

So Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.

Permitted: a staff, sandals, and one tunic.
Not permitted: bread, knapsack, money, extra tunic.

And this got me thinking about ancient lists, and a particular passage from John Dominic Crossan:

The Cynic would not appear anywhere without his knapsack, staff, and cloak, which must invariably be dirty and ragged and worn so as to leave the right shoulder bare. He never wore shoes and his hair and beard were long and unkempt. (Jesus, p. 115)

Permitted: a staff, knapsack, and one dirty tunic.
Not permitted: shoes (sandals) and apparently personal hygiene.

The reason I share these lists is to illustrate that each movement (in this case being a disciple of Jesus or being a Cynic) had a set of standards with regard to lifestyle. And apart from a few variables, the lists seem fairly similar. The key difference (aside from personal hygiene, which the Gospel doesn’t mention) is the use of a knapsack. In the case of a Cynic, the knapsack was an important symbol of all that you need to travel through life. So setting aside the modern definition of the term, essentially a Cynic was a person committed to travelling lightly and possessing few things.

Cicero tells the story of an encounter between Diogenes, the central thinker among the Cynics and Alexander the Great:

But Diogenes, certainly, was more outspoken in his quality of Cynic, when Alexander (the Great) asked him to name anything he wanted: “Just now, Diogenes said, “stand a bit away from the sun.” Alexander apparently had interfered with his basking in the sun.

The most powerful man in the ancient world offered him anything he wanted, all he wanted was a better tan. In many ways, this story best describes the Cynics’ beliefs: a desire to step outside cultural norms and embrace the freedom that comes without property and a raft of possessions. Hence the knapsack. A Cynic had to be free to travel through life with only the things he could carry in his bag.

Now recall that Jesus didn’t permit his followers even a knapsack. No bread, no bag, no money, no extra tunic: only a staff and a sturdy pair of sandals. The message of new life in Christ required no possessions, only the things that would make walking safe. In all things, the disciples were to be totally dependent on God and on the generosity of others.

And this, it seems, is the key contrast between the Cynics and the followers of Jesus: one achieved freedom through self-dependence (everything needed was in one bag) and the others achieved freedom through complete dependence. They were to trust in God to provide what they needed through the people they met on the way.

It would be impossible to have a discussion on possessions and Pintos without talking about the Desert Fathers and Mothers. By about the beginning of the fourth century, the desert began to fill up with monks and would-be monks who attempted to follow the example of St. Anthony. They made their homes in caves and abandoned buildings and practiced the most severe form of aestheticism: living without possessions and living completely on the generosity of others.

We learn about the fathers and mothers by the stories recorded by their many followers and admirers. They formed a collection of “sayings” that are told and retold down to our day. This retelling comes from Thomas Merton:

One of the brothers asked an elder saying: “Would it be all right if I kept two coins in my possession, in case I should get sick?”
The elder, seeing his thoughts, and that he wanted to keep them, said: “Keep them.”

The brother, going back to his cell, began to wrestle with his own thoughts, saying: “I wonder if the Father gave me his blessing or not? Rising up, he went back to the Father, inquiring of him and saying, “in God’s name, tell me the truth, because I am all upset over these two coins.”

The elder said to him, “since I saw your thoughts and your desire to keep them, I told you to keep them. But it is not good to keep more than we need for our body. Now these two coins are your hope. If they should be lost, would not God take care of you? Cast your care on the Lord, then, for he will take care of us.”

At some point a possession becomes more than a possession and becomes a hope. At some point it takes on qualities beyond its utility and is given some power of position that it does not deserve. An RRSP becomes a symbol of “freedom” rather than simply a reasonable approach to retirement. A certain car may seem to make you cooler, when in fact, through a strict application of the rules of the road, every vehicle will get you from A to B in about the same time.

Now, rather than giving you several more examples and adding to the self-indictment nature of this sermon, it might be more interesting to go back to the beginning, and try to understand the DNA of this dependence on God we are called to. We need look no further than Exodus 20.

It is Commandment One that we should have no other gods beside the One True God. In the Ancient Near East, this commandment was a little more tangible. Your neighbours, the tribe just over the hill, likely had a God for everything. Fertility problems? Try Min of Eqypt. Trouble with your tomatoes? Osiris. Heading to war? Horus (weirdly also the god of childbirth). Thing’s a little chaotic? Try Seth (actually, I think he brought chaos, but the page I looked at is not clear).

Imagine how unfair it must have seemed to the Israelites to be surrounded by people with a god for every occasion and be left with only One God. As a rule, whenever someone offers you the “one solution” to all your problems we should become appropriately suspicious. It just seems more practical to twin specific problems with specific solutions rather than imagine that one thing is going to be able to do it for us. The first commandment, however, is the reminder that in the world of God, we are meant to travel light.

So just as the twelve were sent out with no bread, no bag, no money, and no extra tunic, they were also sent out without Baal, Min, Horus and the rest. They were to be totally dependent on the One True God, not a Swiss Army Knife of divinities to keep them from harm.

As messages go, “be dependent” may be the toughest one to sell in this society. We spend childhood moving from dependence to independence, we hear the message from every side to forge your own path and set your own goals and be your own person. But here, within these walls, the message is quite different: be the person God wants you to be, follow in the way of Jesus Christ, let the Spirit guide you. This is what it means to be dependent on God—not helpless—but open: open to the idea that God will give you what you need to make your way in the world.

So find a staff, some sturdy sandals, put on your best Sunday tunic and go with God! Amen.

Delft Plate, late 17th century, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

God of all, 
We close our eyes and see the faces of those we know and love— 
neighbours and friends, sisters and brothers—
a community of kindred hearts.
Keep them safe from harm,
and encourage them in the face of sadness and fear.

God of all,
We close our eyes and see the faces of those we hardly know—
strangers, visitors, forgotten friends—
the ones who need an outstretched hand.
Give them hope,
and remind them that there are many who care.

God of all,
We close our eyes and see what cannot be unseen—
injustice, cruelty, oppression, malice,
the careless disregard for the sacredness of human life.
Stir our hearts,
and help us to be agents of your peace.

God of all,
We close our eyes and see all the images of God represented in our fellowship.  
In me, in you, in each of us,
God’s spirit shines for all to see.
In the name of Jesus, we pray. 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: “Blessed assurance”

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of the Spirit, washed in Christ’s blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Saviour all the day long;
this is my story, this is my song,
praising my Saviour all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight!
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
angels descending, bring from above
echoes of mercy, whispers of love. R

Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Saviour am happy and blessed;
watching and waiting, looking above,
filled with God’s goodness, lost in Christ’s love. R

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.

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)

Second after Pentecost

Antique Very Rare Dutch Delft Tile Baker & Oven Circa 1625-1650 | Delft  tiles, Delft, Dutch tiles
Delft tiles “incorporate scenes from Dutch life – farm workers, windmills, tulips and sailing ships taken from the local landscape – alongside images of everything from biblical stories to mythological creatures.” (House & Garden). Today’s selection of 17th and 18 century tiles relate to the elements of communion.*

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 Jenny and Heather!

PRELUDE: “Now to your table spread” (Ireland)

OPENING PRAYER:

Eternal God,
we come to you with hungry hearts,
waiting to be filled:
with a sense of your presence;
with the touch of your spirit;
with new energy for service.
Come to us, we pray.
Be with us.
Meet us in the bread and wine,
and allow us to taste eternity.
Empower us as your people,
that we might worship you,
and act in the world for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “All who hunger, gather gladly”

All who hunger, gather gladly;
holy manna is our bread.
Come from wilderness and wand’ring.
Here in truth, we will be fed.
You that yearn for days of fullness,
all around us is our food.
Taste and see the grace eternal,
taste and see that God is good.

All who hunger, never strangers,
seeker, be a welcome guest.
Come from restlessness and roaming.
Here in joy we keep the feast.
We that once were lost and scattered,
in communion’s love have stood.
Taste and see the grace eternal.
Taste and see that God is good.

All who hunger, sing together;
Jesus Christ is living bread.
Come from loneliness and longing.
Here in peace, we have been led.
Blest are those who from this table
live their lives in gratitude.
Taste and see the grace eternal.
Taste and see that God is good.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

If we say we have no sin, Lord,
we deceive ourselves,
and we neglect the truth.
In humility and faith we confess our sin:
things done and things left undone,
things avoided and things ignored,
things said and things left unsaid.
Our burden is heavy,
but we trust in you to ease our load and set us free.
Come, Lord Jesus, to make us whole.
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.

Dutch Delft tile depicting a farmer carrying a scythe

SPECIAL MUSIC: “Like a river of tears” (Oldham/Klusmeier)

FIRST READING: Psalm 138

I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
before the “gods” I will sing your praise.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
and will praise your name
for your unfailing love and your faithfulness,

for you have so exalted your solemn decree
that it surpasses your fame.
When I called, you answered me;
you greatly emboldened me.
May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord,
when they hear what you have decreed.
May they sing of the ways of the Lord,
for the glory of the Lord is great.
Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly;
though lofty, he sees them from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life.
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes;
with your right hand you save me.
The Lord will vindicate me;
your love, Lord, endures forever—
do not abandon the works of your hands.

SECOND READING: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”[a] Since we have that same spirit of[b] faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “We gather here”

We gather here in Jesus’ name 
His love is burning in our hearts like living flame 
For through His loving Son the Father makes us one 
Come take the bread come drink the wine 
Come share the Lord

No one is a stranger here, 
everyone belongs; 
finding our forgiveness here, 
we in turn forgive all wrongs.

He joins us here He breaks the bread 
The Lord who pours the cup is risen from the dead 
The One we love the most is now our gracious host 
Come take the bread come drink the wine 
Come share the Lord

We are now a family 
of which the Lord is head; 
though unseen he meets us here 
in the breaking of the bread.

We’ll gather soon where angels sing 
We’ll see the glory of our Lord and coming King 
Now we anticipate the feast for which we wait 
Come take the bread come drink the wine 
Come share the Lord

REFLECTION

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen on Zoom, but on what is unseen beyond Zoom. Since what is seen on Zoom is temporary, but what is unseen (beyond Zoom) is eternal.

I think I mentioned before about the highly “curated” world some have created for Zoom. Appropriate artwork, a plant or two, lighting just right, doors closed to block noise and wandering family members. Some, of course, preempt the entire curation process by simply selecting an engaging background: palm trees, outer space, or that view from the end of the dock.

A lot of ink has been spilled in the age of Covid about the meaning behind what you present. Books say “look at me, I’m clever.” Diplomas on the wall say “trust me” or maybe “take me seriously.” An open door in the background says openness, or maybe it says you’re one of those brave people who can arrange their desk with their back to the door. I’m not one of them.

Whatever message you send, intentional or unintentional, curated or uncurated, it’s not real. We have advanced to the point where we can present ourselves to the world the way we choose, for good or for ill. One of the primary objections to social media—Facebook or Instagram—is that it breeds the abiding sense that other people are having better lives: more adventuresome, more meaningful, more beautiful. But it’s not real, it’s an illusion we create, or an illusion we consume.

Of course, with all technology, there is a lively debate about whether we would be better off without it. Philosophers would step into the sermon at this point to remind us that the minute someone invented the bicycle it guaranteed that someone would be the first to fall off a bicycle, in the same way that the invention of the telephone pretty well guaranteed that someone would call and offer to clean my ducts. Phones don’t phone people, duct cleaners phone people.

So we can’t turn back the clock, but we don’t have to accept our reality either. And this seems to be the subtext of Paul meditation on reality found in 2 Corinthians 4. Jesus has died, and Jesus has risen, and Jesus will come again to take us to himself. Outwardly the followers of Jesus were aging, some wasting away, some sleeping in death, but Paul says “do not lose heart,” for you are, in fact, being renewed day by day. The momentary affliction that is holding you down today will be replaced by an eternal weight of glory.

And I’m sure some were convinced. Some understood that the promise to return in glory didn’t have a date attached. Some knew that brothers and sisters in the faith would pass before that great and glorious day, and trusted that all would be sorted in eternity. Some were able to “trust the process,” words that never fully convince anyone, while others were not able to trust the process. And for the unconvinced, Paul had more to say:

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

It’s amazing really, the extent to which Paul could make good on his promise to be “all things to all people.” To those familiar with Plato he had one message, and to those who had never heard of Plato, he had another. Ironic that Paul, the tentmaker, had a foot in each world, and could speak to both.

To the Platonist, or those who knew about Plato, he seems to be making a reference to The Allegory of the Cave. In the allegory, his fictional cave dwellers are chained in a cave, facing away from the light, only able to see shadows of the world behind them. Some try to turn around, only to be blinded by the light of reality, and some may even escape—to see the full reality of the world beyond the cave. But there is more: anyone who tries to return to the darkness of the cave to warn the others will be disoriented and stumbling about as they enter, which will only serve as a warning to the cave dwellers that escape may not be worth it.

Paul is suggesting that those who live in a land of shadows need to see the light, regardless of the risk.

To the practical, or those who knew about practical things, Paul returns to tentmaking. Tents are great, tents offer a temporary solution to a practical problem, but tents are easily destroyed. Fortuitously, we have a building from God built for us, not made by human hands, but eternal in the heavens.

Back to the cave reference, Plato (and Paul) give us an allegory that fits any number of situations. Anyone who feels timid, or troubled, or overwhelmed, can find themselves in the Allegory of the Cave. Venturing beyond the known, the familiar, the comfortable, will seem like a risky endeavor. Anyone who has created a false reality for themselves, or has had a false reality imposed on them, will understand the Allegory of the Cave. Indeed, anyone who is tired of the way we have structured life in the cave of this society, will understand the power of the allegory to encourage some and inhibit others. Some want to escape the cave we have created, and others are happy with shadows.

The last fews days have been difficult for most, and most of all for Canadians that live in this land that once belonged to others. We are the heirs of a society that lived in the cave of superiority, the abiding belief that the shadows on the wall meant that our culture, language, and religion were better than the culture, language, and religion of the Indigenous peoples who have called this place home for countless generations. And now, in recent years, some have come to see reality, and others have not. Part of our work as a church is to convince ourselves (and others) that the reality of our past is hard to face, but facing it is the right and true thing to do. But there is more.

Some in the church will be tempted to define our relationship with First Nations as a social justice issue, something to champion with them and for them. The additional layer of reality here, however, is that it’s not a social justice issue for a church that operated residential schools. It would be like if I assaulted someone and then became a champion for victim’s rights. We need to be about reconciliation, and right relations, and repairing the damage we helped cause.

What is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Such is the Christian hope. The earthly tent we live in, the tent of superiority, and structured inequality, and state-sponsored violence will be swept away in time, leaving an eternal dwelling place, the place God would have us dwell. And then, at the last, all will be one—on earth, as it is in heaven.

May God help us as we seek this place. Amen.

Antique Delft tile with a church and a farm in a typical Dutch landscape, 17th century Harlingen

THE GREAT THANKSGIVING

Prior to the Zoom worship, you are invited to gather the elements, bread and wine (grape juice).

God be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift our hearts in prayer.
Let us give thanks to God.
It is good to give God thanks and praise.

Loving God, Source of all,
we thank and praise you with our lips and with our lives,
that, having created us and all things through your Word,
you welcome our prayer and praise.
For the goodness of creation
and the glory of redemption, we praise you.
For the law of holiness, inviting our obedience,
and the call of prophets, rebuking our disobedience,
we praise you.

Therefore, with all that is, seen and unseen,
and with all the faithful of every time and place,
we join in this hymn of praise and thanksgiving:

Holy, holy, holy God,
power of life and love!
Heaven and earth are full of your glory!
Hosanna through the ages!
Blest is the One who comes to bring your justice to earth!

Loving God, Holy One,
we offer you praise and thanksgiving over this bread and cup,
because in Jesus Christ, your only Son,
you have joined yourself forever to us,
uniting heaven and earth.

Now, therefore, we gratefully remember:
Jesus’ birth into our humanity,
baptism for our sin,
compassion for our suffering,
intimacy with our frailty,
rebuke of our pride,
bearing of the cross with its death,
and rising from the tomb by the power of God.

On the night before he died,
it was Jesus who took a loaf of bread,
gave you thanks, broke it, and said,
“Take and eat; whenever you do this, remember me.”
Likewise, after supper, he took the cup, saying,
“This is the new covenant; remember me.”

We proclaim Jesus,
crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.

Loving God, creative Power,
blessing your name, we seek your Spirit.
Come to us and bless these gifts of bread and wine,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ;
the sign and seal of our forgiveness in him,
and our adoption as the children of God.
As we eat and drink together,
make us one with Christ and one in Christ,
a sign of his eternal reign in all the world.

This sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving
we offer you, loving God,
through Jesus Christ, our Saviour,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. 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.

FRACTION AND DISTRIBUTION

PRAYER AFTER COMMUNION

We give thanks, almighty God,
that you have refreshed us at your table
by granting us the presence of Jesus Christ.
Strengthen our faith,
increase our love for one another,
and send us forth into the world
united in courage and peace,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

HYMN: “Let us talents and tongues employ”

Let us talents and tongues employ,
reaching out with a shout of joy:
bread is broken, the wine is poured,
Christ is spoken and seen and heard.
Jesus lives again; earth can breathe again.
Pass the Word around: loaves abound!

Christ is able to make us one,
at his table he set the tone,
teaching people to live to bless,
love in word and in deed express.
Jesus lives again; earth can breathe again.
Pass the Word around: loaves abound!

Jesus calls us in, sends us out
bearing fruit in a world of doubt,
gives us love to tell, bread to share:
God (Immanuel) everywhere!
Jesus lives again; earth can breathe again.
Pass the Word around: loaves abound!

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.

*https://www.houseandgarden.co.uk/gallery/delft-tiles

Trinity Sunday

Alyona Knyazeva, Old Testament Trinity, 2008, Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA

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 Cor and Heather!

PRELUDE: “Freely, Freely” (Owens)

OPENING PRAYER:

Holy One,
Holy Three,
Holy One:
Find us in the mystery
that is the Holy Trinity.
Help us create, as we are created.
Help us redeem, as we are redeemed.
Help us sustain, as we are sustained.
Find us in the mystery
that is the Holy Trinity.
Open our minds, to all you have made.
Open our hearts, to all you have loved.
Open our souls, to all you have blessed.
Find us in the mystery
that is the Holy Trinity.
Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “All creatures of our God and King”

All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voice and with us sing,
alleluia, alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
thou silver moon with softer gleam,
Sing praises, sing praises, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
ye clouds that sail in heav’n along,
alleluia, alleluia!
Thou rising morn in praise rejoice,
ye lights of evening, find a voice,
Sing praises, sing praises, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Dear mother earth, who day by day,
unfoldest blessings on our way,
alleluia, alleluia!
The flow’rs and fruits that in thee grow,
let them God’s glory also show,
Sing praises, sing praises, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

And ev’ryone, with tender heart,
forgiving others, take your part,
alleluia, alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
sing praise and cast on God your care,
Sing praises, sing praises, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Let all things their Creator bless,
and worship God in humbleness,
alleluia, alleluia!
To God all thanks and praise belong!
Join in the everlasting song:
Sing praises, sing praises, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Heavenly Maker,
You have made us a little less than divine,
but you would hardly know it.
Made in your image, we distort it,
and fail to see the divine in each other.
Gracious Redeemer,
You have saved us from ourselves,
and taught us how to love,
but we often forget that love means forgiveness
and forgiveness means love.
Generous Sustainer,
You surround us and animate all that we do.
Your Spirit blows through our lives
if we can only see it, sense it, and show it to others.
Holy One and Holy Three,
surround us and make us one, 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: “We praise you, O God” (Dutch Traditional)

FIRST READING: Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,[a]
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendor.
The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.

The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,[b]
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!

SECOND READING: 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[a] 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!”

HYMN OF PRAISE: “All people that on earth do dwell”

All people that on earth do dwell,
sing to the LORD with cheerful voice.
Serve him with joy, his praises tell,
come now before him and rejoice!

Know that the LORD is God indeed;
he formed us all without our aid.
We are the flock he surely feeds,
the sheep who by his hand were made.

O enter then his gates with joy,
within his courts his praise proclaim!
Let thankful songs your tongues employ.
O bless and magnify his name!

Because the LORD our God is good,
his mercy is forever sure.
His faithfulness at all times stood
and shall from age to age endure.

“Three hares window” by Martin Cooper Ipswich is licensed under CC BY 2.0 The three hares is a motif found across Europe. The intertwined ears suggest the Holy Trinity.

REFLECTION

It’s easy to get lost in the image of the three hares.

Three hares appear to be chasing each other in a circle, and their ears form a triangle in the centre of the image. Looking closer, you see that there are only three ears for three hares, with each ear doing double-duty as the ear of the other. If you focus again, this time looking at each hare, they clearly appear to have two ears.

So, a unique image, but also a unique story. Or maybe I should say lack of story. For you see, the image of the three hares appears from the Far East to Britain: in China, Nepal, Iran, Southern Russia, Switzerland, Germany, France and the UK. They appear in caves, on sacred artifacts, and on medieval church decorations. In Devon alone, there are 29 examples found in 17 churches.

Theories abound about the source and origin of the symbol, but it remains a mystery. Rabbits and hares are common enough symbols, with some obvious associations and others that are less obvious. The ancients believed that rabbits reproduce spontaneously, and could therefore be associated with the Virgin Mary. This might explain why some of the examples in Devon place the hares near the equally ancient symbol of the Green Man, which in a church setting may represent our fallen state—sort of a point and counterpoint idea.

Point and counterpoint. One of the great ironies of church life is that this place we associate with holiness and purity is also a place built for sinners. This is where we confess, this is where we seek to be reconciled with our brothers and sisters in the faith, and this is the place we hear of the life and death of our redeemer. The healthy are in no need of a doctor, Jesus said, and therefore we find a home in his church.

And this point and counterpoint is also at the heart of our reading from Isaiah. On the surface, it’s a rather elaborate call story, where the prophet appears in the presence of the Most High and takes up his vocation. But ritual action tells us that this is also our story, the story of entering a sacred space to be redeemed.

Everything is the story is meant to overwhelm: the almighty seated on a throne, the six-winged seraphim, and even the song that sounds familiar to our ears as the seraphim call to each other: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The threshold of the imposing doors shook, and the temple filled with smoke.

And then the counterpoint. You might imagine our future prophet would have joy to sing or praise to extend, but instead we get dread. “Woe to me!” he cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” This, of course, is a reference to Exodus 33, when Moses asks to see God but is warned off. “No one may see me and live,” is all God says, a bit of divine legislation that need not be repeated twice.

So Isaiah braces for the worst, but then the extraordinary happens: from the brazier a seraphim retrieves a burning coal, and this coal is skillfully carried to the lips of the prophet. With this his sin is removed, and his feelings of guilt taken away. Then finally, the call and response: 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!”

In our context, it’s hard to miss the movement here. A very human prophet is created, approaching the Most High with all his limitations and flaws. Through ritual he is cleansed of his sin, redeemed to do the work he is called to do. Then this call is formalized, with the pledge to go to the world and speak for God, to tell-forth through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I think you see the shape of this movement. Created, redeemed, sustained—God in three-persons, blessed Trinity. And it all seems straightforward enough until someone asks you to explain it. And for this purpose another symbol emerged during the Middle Ages, that of the “Shield of the Trinity.” Developed by a French Theologian (Peter of Poitiers), the shield has God in the centre circle, with three others circles surrounding the first. The three outer circles are labelled Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with lines connecting all of them. On each line you find writing, with the lines connecting the outer circles to the inner circle labelled “is” and the lines between the outer circles labelled “is not.” Reading the lines and circles, you get this:

God is God
The Son is God
The Spirit is God
God is not the Son
God is not the Spirit
The Son is not the Spirit
(and so on)

It’s not as intriguing as intertwined hares, but it serves a purpose. The persons (personas) of God are separate, but all part of God. Each has a role to play in the unfolding of our life with God—creating, redeeming, sustaining. Each helps us arrive at the place where we enter the picture, speaking for God, through the Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ.

Speaking of those hares, it truly is more than a clever design. Like our circles and lines, the missing or not-missing ears underline the interconnectedness of God. You don’t need six ears to see that each is a hare, each is linked to the others, and each is connected to the whole.

Outside the church there is a surprisingly durable vinyl sign that says “Seeing Christ in Others Since 1821.” Again, not as intriguing as the three hares, but showing us (in words) the same interconnection. Together, God made us and made us one in our humanity. When we see Christ in others, we see evidence of our redemption, and we know that Christ is in our midst. And when we see Christ in others, and we speak to them, we speak through the power of the Spirit, the same Spirit that asks “Whom shall I send?” And the answer—with God’s help—is “Send me!” When we see Christ in others we never see strangers, only friends. We speak to them and for them, making us one.

May you be surrounded by evidence of the Three-in-One God we worship. And may you always trust the words when you answer the call, saying “Send me!” Amen.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-10.png
“Triquètre aux trois lièvres” by Ji-Elle is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

God of peace,
help us to remain in your image.
Help us to look within and confront the parts of ourselves,
that do not conform to your mercy, your grace,
and your desire that everyone be free.

God of compassion,
help us see Christ in others,
help us see Christ in the wounded,
the oppressed, and the vulnerable.
Help us to help others,
as your hands and feet in this world.

God of transformation,
blow through us with your Holy Spirit,
and blow through our community.
Help us overcome the divisions of race,
Help us overcome systems that diminish some
and lift up others, 
and help us to listen, truly listen,
to everyone in pain.
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: “Christ is made the sure foundation”

Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ the head and cornerstone,
chosen of the Lord and precious,
binding all the church in one;
holy Zion’s help forever,
and her confidence alone.

To this temple, where we call thee,
come, O Lord of hosts, today:
with thy wonted loving-kindness
hear thy people as they pray;
and thy fullest benediction
shed within its walls alway.

Here vouchsafe to all thy servants
what they ask of thee to gain,
what they gain from thee forever
with the blessed to retain,
and hereafter in thy glory
evermore with thee to reign.

Laud and honor to the Father,
laud and honor to the Son,
laud and honor to the Spirit,
ever Three and ever One,
One in might, and One in glory,
while unending ages run.

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.

Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis

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: “Minuet In G Major” (Bach)

OPENING PRAYER:

God of Pentecost, hear us as pray:

Unless the eye catch fire, you God, will not be seen.
Unless the ear catch fire, you God, will not be heard.
Unless the tongue catch fire, you God, will not be named.
Unless the heart catch fire, you God, will not be loved.
Unless, the mind catch fire, you God, will not be known.

Holy God of justice, living Spirit of power, Christ our peace,
may we burn, body and soul,
with love for you, each other, and all creation,
as these words are spoken and heard this day.
Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “As comes the breath of spring”

As comes the breath of spring
with light and mirth and song,
so does your Spirit bring
new days brave, free, and strong.
You come with thrill of life
to chase hence winter’s breath,
to hush to peace the strife
of sin that ends in death.

You come like dawning day
with flaming truth and love,
to chase all glooms away,
to brace our wills to prove
how wise, how good to choose
the truth and its brave fight,
to prize it, win or lose,
and live on your delight.

You come like songs at morn
that fill the earth with joy,
till we, in Christ newborn,
new strength in praise employ.
You come to rouse the heart
from drifting to despair,
through high hopes to impart
life with an ampler air.

You breathe and there is health;
you move and there is power;
you whisper, there is wealth
of love, your richest dower.
Your presence is to us
like summer in the soul;
your joy shines forth and then
life blossoms to its goal.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Almighty God,
you poured your Spirit
upon gathered disciples to create
a new community of faith.
We confess that we hold back
the force of your Spirit among us,
and often fail to listen for your word of grace.
Have mercy on us, O God,
And transform our lives
by the power of your Spirit. 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: “Breathe on me, breath of God” (Hatch)

A NEW CREED:

We are not alone,
we live in God’s world.
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new
who works in us and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.

FIRST READING: Psalm 104

O God, how manifold are your works!
With Wisdom at your side you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures. 

There lies the great and mighty Sea,
teeming with living things both great and small.
Upon it sail the ships, and there is Leviathan,
the monster you made to play in it.

All these look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
What you give them they gather up.
When you open your hand,
you fill them with good things.

But when you hide your face they despair.
When you take away their breath, they die,
and return to dust.
But when you send out your spirit, they live again,
and you renew the face of the earth.

May your glory, O God, endure forever.
May you rejoice, O God, in your works.
When you look at the earth it trembles,
when you touch the mountains they smoke.
I will sing to God as long as I live.
I will praise my God while I have being.

SECOND READING: Acts 2.1-8, 12-21

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?

Westonites, Mount Dennisians and Humberleans; residents of Pelmo Park, Rockcliffe-Smyth, Silverthorne and Lambton, The Westway and the Old Mill, Humber Heights and Emery, Richview and the parts of Brookhaven near Amesbury; visitors from the Junction (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Rexdale and Syme—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Spirit of God, unleashed on earth”

Spirit of God, unleashed on earth
with rush of wind and roar of flame!
With tongues of fire saints spread good news;
earth, kindling, blazed its loud acclaim.

You came in power, the church was born;
O Holy Spirit, come again!
From living waters raise new saints,
let new tongues hail the risen Lord.

With burning words of victory won
inspire our hearts grown cold with fear,
revive in us baptismal grace,
and fan our smouldering lives to flame.

Valentine Noh, c. 1470, Prague, Bohemia, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

REFLECTION

I think you can see what I did there. And I’m not sure it’s Mount Dennisians, but it should be.

The traditional reading, with all those exotic place names, tells us that Pentecost is about a gathering of people (from everywhere) that were present for the birth of the church. And while this is certainly true—and we can then speak of the worldwide spread of the nascent church—it might be more helpful to take a step back and try to understand what else the author may be trying to tell us.

Tip O’Neill famously said: “All politics is local.” Luke, who famously wrote both Luke and Acts, may have said: “All religion is local.” What we are tempted to read as “everywhere” is, in fact, more like “your place, and your place, and your place over there.” This is local religion, not in the tribal or parochial sense, but in the intimate sense that it belongs as much on my street as your street.

Some time ago we had the good fortune of visiting the Basilica di San Clemente, just a stones throw from the Colosseum in Rome. From the outside, it resembles many of the other churches you might find in Rome. But this one is a little different. You enter a 12th century church at street level, and then you head downstairs. One level below is a fourth century church, well-preserved, and below that is a first century house church, which began as a typical Roman home. Three layers and two thousand years of Roman history in a single stop.

With the tongues and wind and flames the message began. From the waters of baptism the church was born, carried off to those hard-to-pronounce places, but also an ordinary house in Rome. A community formed and met in that house. The community expanded, and knocked down a wall or two, making the circle wider. Walls were reshaped into a primitive form we might come recognize as a church—as kitchen table became altar and cup became chalice.

The journey from kitchen table to high altar, twenty centuries and perhaps thirty feet up, is not about the passage of time and the human effect on topography, but about the locality of our faith. It doesn’t happen in some far-off spiritual realm but right here, at 1 King, where the communion table faces east-ish to Jerusalem and makes a direct line from the day to Pentecost to today. It doesn’t happen in some far-off spiritual realm, but in your favourite chair when you close your eyes to pray. It belongs in kitchens and cubicles and neighbourhood churches; our faith belongs wherever breath is felt and language is spoken and love is made known.

But there is more. The message that these woman and men carried home, the message of death and resurrection, the message of a world made-new, was neatly summarized by Peter that day: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The conclusion of the dreamed dreams and the clearest visions, the surest signs and loudest prophecy is the simple truth that God saves.

It points to another prophecy, this one found in Zechariah. The angel of the Lord comes to the prophet and shares this wonderful verse:

Not by might, nor by power,
but by my spirit, says the Lord.

It has a musical quality to it, and this is not an accident. God wants the prophet to make no mistake about the source of human transformation, about the source of change in a hurting world, about the presence of God in the midst of adversity. I commend it to you, the kind of verse that reminds us that we are never alone, and that the presence of the Spirit is ever near.

Not by might, nor by power,
but by my spirit, says the Lord.

The other thing that happened that in the Day of Pentecost involves memory and longing, a sense of promise given and promise fulfilled. Only weeks earlier, Jesus made a simple (yet profound) promise:

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But soon the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Today the Advocate has come. The Advocate has come to your home and mine, to this place, and the many places like it. The Advocate has come to hearts broken and minds confused, and to troubled places and everyplace, where peace is elusive and the pandemic rages.

Yet the Advocate is still speaking. The Advocate is speaking through the least and the last, speaking through unsteady voice and faintest whisper, speaking to anyone who will listen. The Advocate chose the vessel we call the church to seek peace, to care for others, to continually remind them that God is the peacemaker, the caregiver, and the only one that saves.

Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. Let the Spirit find you this day and always, Amen.

Albrecht Dürer, c. 1510, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Spirit of Life—
come as the breath of life, 
pouring energy and power into our dry bones,
rekindling all who are weary,
that they may have life and know God.
Thank you, God, for the Spirit of Life!

Spirit of Truth—
come as the flame of Christ’s light among us,
illuminating our hearts, our minds, our lives.
Thank you, God, for the Spirit of Truth!

Spirit of Hope—
come from the four winds, 
O breath, O restless searcher;
breathe upon your people,
that creation may be renewed with hope.
Thank you, God, for the Spirit of Hope!

Spirit of Love—
come as our Comforter and Consoler,
that all who are broken or wounded may be healed,
that all who grieve may be consoled 
by the power of your love and grace.
Thank you, God, for the Spirit of Love.

Spirit of Wisdom—
come as the light of understanding,
that diversity in all its forms may be respected
and may be understood as gifts to cherish.
Thank you, God, for the Spirit of Wisdom!

Spirit of Peace—
come as the winds of truth,
that our hearts may be kindled
by the passion for justice and peace.
Thank you, God, for the Spirit of Peace!

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: “O Holy Spirit, root of life”

O Holy Spirit, root of life,
creator, cleanser of all things,
anoint our wounds, awaken us
with lustrous movement of your wings.

Eternal Vigour, saving one,
you free us by your living word,
becoming flesh to wear our pain,
and all creation is restored.

O Holy Wisdom, soaring power,
encompass us with wings unfurled,
and carry us, encircling all,
above, below, and through the world.

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.

Unknown artist, c. 1030, Regensburg, Bavaria, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Outreach Sunday

Photos of Mimico Creek were taken by Zach DeConinck in West Deane Park, Etobicoke

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 Zach, Mary Louise, Cathy, Taye, and Heather!

PRELUDE: “Romance Impromptu” (Benjamin)

OPENING PRAYER:

God, you touch our lives
with mystery and hope.
We come to this place today,
ready to see your power working through us.
Help us to be open to your Word,
and to answer your call among us.
Help us to mend the earth you made,
and learn to live lightly upon land and sea,
and beside the river that defines our neighbourhood.
Help us remember and celebrate the Humber,
as we remember and celebrate all of the natural world.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Shall we gather at the river”

Shall we gather at the river,
where bright angel feet have trod;
with its crystal tide for ever
flowing by the throne of God?
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
the beautiful, the beautiful river;
gather with the saints at the river
that flows by the throne of God.

Ere we reach the shining river,
lay we every burden down;
grace our spirits will deliver,
and provide a robe and crown.  
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
the beautiful, the beautiful river;
gather with the saints at the river
that flows by the throne of God.

Soon we’ll reach the shining river,
soon our pilgrimage will cease,
soon our happy hearts will quiver
with the melody of peace. 
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
the beautiful, the beautiful river;
gather with the saints at the river
that flows by the throne of God.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

God of all creation,
you love us into being,
yet we often flee our rightful place in your creation.
We confess that we exploit the gifts you place around us,
and dominate the richness of the natural order.
Forgive us.
We confess our part in the devastation of our planet home,
the sea, the sky, and every land.
Forgive and restore us, O God.
Nurturing God, remind us of other ways to live
and of a place called home,
where creation reflects your goodness
and each thing lives in balance with all others.
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: “Down in the River to Pray” (African-American Spritual)

FIRST READING: Psalm 1

Blessed is the one
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

SECOND READING: Job 12.7-13

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;
or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;[b]
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of all mankind.
Does not the ear test words
as the palate tastes food?
Wisdom is with the aged,
and understanding in length of days.
“With God are wisdom and might;
he has counsel and understanding.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “As the deer pants for the water”

As the deer pants for the water
So my soul longs after You.
You alone are my hearts desire
and I long to worship You.

Chorus
You alone are my strength, my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield.
You alone are my. hearts desire
And I long to worship You.

I want You more than gold and silver
Only You can satisfy.
You alone are the real joy giver
And on You I can rely

You’re my friend and You are my brother
Even though You are the King
I love You more than any other
So much more than any thing

REFLECTION

Many thanks to Mary Louise Ashbourne for sharing the story of our heritage river.

Today, rather than speak of the 200 year heritage of Central United Church which has already been dealt with by the Archives Committee, I am going to talk of the Humber River which is part of the environmental heritage of our community and the story of how it came to be designated a Canadian Heritage River.

My personal involvement began In 1984. I was  a member of the City of York Local  Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC) and a press release from the Federal Government was received for our information. A new heritage category “Designation as a Canadian Heritage River” had been created. 

We jumped on the news – what an opportunity – our Humber River is a Heritage River if there ever was one. We will nominate the Humber River.

The Clerk of the City of York was requested to notify the communities in the Humber Watershed (13), Regional Municipalities (5) and all heritage organizations (many), the Provincial Government  and of course the Metropolitan Toronto Region Conservation Authority (now TRCA) of our intention to nominate and asking their support. 

Letters came back. The Historical Societies were solidly in favour. The Municipal Governments wanted further information. The Province was non-committal. 

To our surprise, the Conservation Authority turned the idea down flat.

Undeterred the City of York LACAC planned a Conference in the City of York with special invitations to all “interested parties”. Speakers were invited from the Six Nations,  La Societe d’histoire de Toronto,  and United Empire Loyalists. The following year Etobicoke Historical Society held a follow-up conference in support of  designation. 

In the meantime all the watershed communities were asked to appoint a representative to a liaison committee, to keep everyone in the watershed informed and to co-ordinate support for each other. Environmental groups such as The Toronto Field naturalists (Helen Juhola) and ARCH (Luciano Martin, an environmental engineer) attended as members. The MTRCA was asked to send a representative to our meetings which they did, as did the Provincial Ministry of the Environment. Eventually MTRCA would even provide a meeting room for our monthly meetings.

Humber Hertage, as it came to be known, was one of the best groups I have ever been associated with. We planned walks and gave talks, the possibility of twinning with the Humber in England was explored. Pamphlets were prepared and printed. We received a grant from “Friends of the Environment” and were able to produce a large pamphlet for the schools as a teaching tool. Individual communities were encouraged and supported in sponsoring Humber River events. And in 1993 Metro Toronto, MTRCA and Humber Heritage sponsored Humber Heritage Day as an official Toronto 200 Activity along the Humber.

What we overlooked, and what made the Conservation Authority so cautious, were the criteria for the Federal Heritage River designation.

There were three main requirements.

First: Cultural Heritage – the interaction of human life with the river. This was more than covered. The Carrying Place Trail ran the length of the watershed.  And the MTRCA had been actively protecting the archaeological heritage of the watershed with more than 250 sites recorded and protected.  The Humber Heritage members had done their historical research.

Second: Recreational value. This was a bit more problematic. The park lands in the flood plains along the river and the bicycle paths and the conservation areas such as Boyd Park and Albion Hills were wonderful. But apart from a short stretch of the Lower Humber up to Bloor Street, the river itself was never good for canoeing, swimming was forbidden as dangerous and if you caught the rare fish, you were warned not to eat it.

The third criteria, and most difficult, was water quality.

The Humber Watershed is generally shaped like a huge funnel stretching from the Niagara Escarpment in the west along Highway 9 to Richmond Hill in the east. It is composed of myriad small creeks draining into larger streams and eventually into the three main branches of the river. The main branch begins near Orangeville and flows south. The East Branch joins it near Woodbridge.  The West Branch joins the now enlarged main branch just above Highway 401 and from there  the river flows on through the high banks of Weston.  Black Creek is the last tributary to join the main river in the Lambton Golf Club area.

Roughly the top half of the watershed is agricultural or rural. Farmers pastured their cows near the streams for convenience and the fields were fertilized and sprayed with pesticides which leach into the streams and find their way to the river. 

Along Weston Road and Highway 400 industry has been established and some are careless in disposing of waste. After testing, Emery Creek where it joined the Humber was found to be the worst source of pollutants. These were traced back to specific industries. 

The Thistletown Hospital was viewed with suspicion as another source of careless disposal of waste. 

And the further south you got, the more urbanized the landscape became. Subdivisions were being built with small back yards, large roofs and paved driveways. This prevented absorption of rainwater and resulted in flooding of the sewers, and included the grit and debris gathered by the runoff along the way. In the winter salt keeps the roads clear but the melt runs down into the drains on its way to the river and the trucks taking snow, dump it in the ravines beside  the river. 

And we cannot exclude the golf courses and their well tended green space.

Add to that, the average resident who says my little bit won’t hurt and you have a Heritage River with big problems.

Our “Heritage River” was polluted. Very polluted.

All our publicity about how important the river was was nothing compared to the remediation which would be required for designation if the Conservation Authority, which was the party responsible, took on the job.

The public had to be onside as partners if there was any hope of designation.

And a Watershed Management Plan had to be developed. 

I am sure a lot of thinking had gone into the decision when October 14, 1994 the Conservation Authority announced the formation of the Humber Watershed Task Force. The Task Force was to be a broad group of stakeholders from the watershed representing all communities. It was intended to assess pollution problems across the width and length of the watershed.

Members of the public were invited to apply and after applicants were interviewed, 13 residents of the watershed were appointed. Elected officials from 12 local and 3 regional municipalities were appointed. Nothing would be done without municipal buy-in. Representatives from 5 Agencies and 11 interest groups (Humber Heritage, Toronto Field Naturalists, Action to Restore a Clean Humber ARCH, Black Creek Project) were appointed  The Task Force was chaired by the Chair of MTRCA. The first meeting was February 1995.

Goals were set for the Task Force: Identification of issues, opportunities for regeneration and proposals or recommendations on how to achieve a healthy watershed. 

You cannot solve a problem if you do not understand the size and source of the problem.

We toured the watershed to have some understanding of the issues and their complexity. A series of public consultation meetings were held to identify key issues and nominations for Community Action Sites held. Eventually 3 sites were chosen to test possibilities of community involvement and commitment in remediation projects. 

5 subcommittees were struck and each member of the Task Force chose one.  The sub-committees met monthly, each third month being a meeting of the full task force to keep everyone informed. The committees met monthly for 21 months and their reports resulted in a book “Legacy: A strategy for a Healthy Humber” which was formally endorsed by the Task Force November 12, 1996.

Having established the goals, the Humber Watershed Task Force was disbanded and  October 1997 the Humber Watershed Alliance was established, Now a new goal was included – the implementation of the Management Plan with enough successes to make possible the nomination and designation of the Humber as a Canadian Heritage River. 

By 1997 we were not alone. A number of Conservation Authorities in Ontario had decided to nominate their rivers for designation and in fact the Grand River achieved designation before the Humber River . 

And another matter had to be rectified. Initially the Canadian Heritage Rivers were the wild unpolluted rivers of the north, beloved of canoe enthusiasts for their rough water challenge and clear waters. The Canadian Heritage Rivers Board now had to recognize the need for a separate category for Urban Heritage Rivers with more suitable criteria which recognized urban problems.

Now firmly committed, with the strong leadership of the Conservation Authority, the Alliance built the case for nomination and designation of the Humber River. The designation ceremony took place in Etienne Brule park near the Old Mill on September 26, 1999. A plaque was unveiled with the suitable inscription in Cree, French and English.

So what were the lessons learned? How does a Heritage River become a Canadian Heritage River? The public have to be involved, including the passionate small “Interest Groups” who bring purpose and dedication to the cause. The politicians have to be in agreement, especially when there are many communities involved. And the body which is ultimately responsible, in this case the MTRCA, (which became the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority – TRCA – in November, 2018), must be fully supported. 

So what are some of the measures which were expanded or newly instituted by the Conservation Authority. 

Some things they could do by themselves such as establishing a water quality monitoring system with 9 stations across the watershed to measure bacteria levels that  ultimately affect the quality of Toronto’s beaches.

But partnerships became very important too.  For instance they partnered with the municipalities in setting building requirements for developers to use storm water management to reduce bacteria levels in the river. 

And they partnered with Friends of the Greenbelt to give grants to farmers to help improve farming practices for storing and generally handling manure and for barriers for restriction of livestock access to the streams. 

They encouraged and installed storm water ponds and preservation of wetlands to prevent flooding and erosion. The wetlands are literally the filters of our drinking water and home to many small amphibious species such as turtles and frogs who eat mosquito larvae. They are a haven for waterfowl. In several cases Community groups have been successfully enlisted as partners in restoration of watershed wetlands.

They planted trees on conservation lands to provided linkages for the habitat of birds and small animals, and encouraged public and private owners to do the same. They encouraged municipal planning to protect woodlots and bylaws to protect trees. 

The Yellow Fish Road engaged schoolchildren and raised general awareness of the many pollutants which find the way drown our sewer drains.

With regard to the river itself, They work with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to prevent the sea lamprey from spawning and have built sea lamprey traps near the mouth of the Humber with great success. 

They have notched the weirs in the river to allow passage of salmon and other fish so they can reach their natural spawning grounds. 

And so much more.

Apart from my conviction that the Humber was a Canadian Heritage River and should be recognized as such, I knew so little and learned so much. This was a life lesson for me. Heritage can never be taken for granted. Even more important, our environment, which in this case included the watershed since the pollution came into the river from the surrounding land uses, must be protected.

Finally, we should look at each other, and each of us personally promise “the buck stops here”.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Great Spirit,
still brooding over the world—
as we hear the cry of the earth,
and see the sorrow of land
used and misused
for its varied resources;
as we hear the cry of the waters,
and see the sorrow of stream and ocean
polluted by the poisons
we release into them;
as we hear the cry of the animals,
and see the sorrow of bird, fish, and beast
needlessly suffering to serve us—
teach us, in your love:
sensitivity towards your creation;
simplicity in the way we live in our environment;
appreciation of the connectedness of all things.

Great author of creation,
we thank you for 200 years by the Humber,
and for a growing sense of our interconnectedness
with the river’s source and destination.
Remind us that our time by the river is short,
and that countless generations tended the river first,
and tend the river still.
Help us seek right relations,
and help us mend the fabric of our community and nation.
Open our eyes to the vitality of traditions,
spirituality, and cultures of Indigenous peoples,
and help us set aside ideas and assumptions
that stand in the way of reconciliation.

Creator of all life,
we pray for each other,
and we pray in silence for those in great need this day.
(silence)
Give them strength and comfort this day, O God,
that they may overcome every challenge,
and live as you intended.
We pray for those who live in the midst of trouble:
troubled nations, troubled communities,
troubled homes and places of work.
Help us speak for the vulnerable,
and give voice to their needs.
We pray in the name of Jesus the Christ. 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: “I’ve got peace like a river”

I’ve got peace like a river,
I’ve got peace like a river,
I’ve got peace like a river in-a my soul.
I’ve got peace like a river,
I’ve got peace like a river,
I’ve got peace like a river in-a my soul.

I’ve got joy like a fountain,
I’ve got joy like a fountain,
I’ve got joy like a fountain in-a my soul.
I’ve got joy like a fountain,
I’ve got joy like a fountain,
I’ve got joy like a fountain in-a my soul.

I’ve got love like an ocean, 
I’ve got love like an ocean,
I’ve got love like an ocean in-a my soul.
I’ve got love like an ocean, 
I’ve got love like an ocean,
I’ve got love like an ocean in-a my soul.

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.

Easter VI

Robert Indiana, LOVE, 1966–1998, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

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. Thanks this week to Jenny and Heather!

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY

To celebrate Mother’s Day, people were invited to send along the names of mothers, step-mothers, or maternal figures they wish to honour. Here is our list:

Ethel
Carol
Marilyn
Helen 
Mary Frances
Helen
Florence
Mary
Elsie
Gerry
Myrtle
Su
Ida
Sohair
Lara
Norma
Mernie
Becca
Mary
Ruby
Dorothy
Ann
Beverley
Helen
Dana
Bella Jane
Jo-Ann

PRELUDE: “Dreamcatcher” (Gaudet)

OPENING PRAYER 

Our God, as a gentle rain soaks the earth,
may your peace and love fall upon us,
bringing growth and life.
Soak into our innermost being.
Quiet all that makes us anxious.
Help us to linger in your presence,
open like the soil that welcomes the rain.
Mindful of the growth you give—grow in us.
Mindful of the comfort you share—comfort us.
Mindful of the healing you bring—heal us.
We pray in Jesus’ name this day. Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Come, let us sing of a wonderful love”

Come, let us sing of a wonderful love,
tender and true, tender and true;
out of the heart of the Father above,
streaming to me and to you:
wonderful love, wonderful love
dwells in the heart of the Father above.

Jesus the Saviour this gospel to tell
joyfully came, joyfully came,
came with the helpless and hopeless to dwell,
sharing their sorrow and shame:
seeking the lost, seeking the lost,
saving, redeeming at measureless cost.

Jesus is seeking the wanderers yet;
why do they roam? why do they roam?
Love only waits to forgive and forget;
home, weary wanderers, home:
wonderful love, wonderful love
dwells in the heart of the Father above.

Come to my heart, O thou wonderful love;
come and abide, come and abide,
lifting my life till it rises above
envy and falsehood and pride:
seeking to be, seeking to be
lowly and humble, a learner of thee.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

God, you touch our lives
with mystery and hope.
We come to this place today,
ready to see your power working through us,
ready to experience your love and mercy,
ready to open our hearts in the spirit of confession.
It is reconciliation we seek:
with our sisters and brothers,
with those we overlook,
with those we have wronged in any way—
and even with the earth itself.
Forgive us, God,
and set us free to serve you once more.
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: “Joy Is Like The Rain” (Medical Mission Sisters)

FIRST READING: Psalm 98

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made his salvation known
    and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
    and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
    shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
    let the mountains sing together for joy;
 let them sing before the Lord,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples with equity.

SECOND READING: John 15.9-17

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

Robert Indiana, AHAVA (Love), Israel Museum, Jerusalem (Photo by Talmoryair, CC BY-SA 4.0)

HYMN OF PRAISE: “We are one in the Spirit”

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love.

We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love.

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love.

REFLECTION

My late mentor, the Rev. Doug Paterson, once said that anyone who says they don’t believe in original sin has never met a toddler.

He was kidding, of course, but it does underline the extent to which a toddler will always be at the centre of everything—for good or for ill. Loudest, most destructive, most adorable, and always demanding the most attention. But then they grow out of it—well, some grow out of it.

Think of it as part of the rule of 80-20. The kids may make up 20 percent of the family, but they get 80 percent of the attention. And why stop at the kids? In any human activity, there are basically 20 percent that get 80 percent of the attention. 20 percent of drivers cause 80 percent of accidents. 20 percent of industry creates 80 percent of the pollution. 20 percent of workers tend to do 80 percent of the work. Even preachers fall into this: 80 percent of our sermons tend to come from no more than 20 percent of the Bible.

How did this come to be? Back in olden times, preachers preached passages of particular prominence, along with lots of alliteration. They would gravitate to their favourite passages, and return to them with surprizing regularity. To remedy this, some wise people invented the common lectionary, meaning more of the Bible shared over a three-year cycle. Your favourite passage would then appear only once every three years, by which time you might have something new to say.

Yet still, the three-year cycle of readings represents little more that 20 percent of the overall Bible. Thus, 80 percent of sermons tend to come from no more than 20 percent. Still, the idea was sound. And of course, I would take this a step further to suggest that within a particular passage there is always a verse or two that gets all the attention—akin to the rule of 80-20. Share ten verses, preach on two, and the rule returns.

How does that work? Well, imagine that like toddlers, there are verses that demand your attention. The most famous example, perhaps, is John 3.16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

But some have argued that the verse that follows says much the same thing, but with a slightly different focus:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

In verse 17, John clarifies God’s intention—not to condemn but to save—and therefore explodes any suggestion that God is simply waiting for us to fail. It speaks to the believer’s fear, and sends grace instead.

I share all of this because our passage from John 15 has the exact same issue: a single verse among many grabs our attention and tends to be the one we lean toward. (For our online worshippers, go back and reread the passage and guess which one I’m referring to).

I’m referring to verse 13 (“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”) Amid all the loving, the mutuality, the desire to remain in his love, we get a single verse that takes us straight out of the passage and on to the cross. In the most technical sense, this is called intertextuality: one verse suggests another, or another story, or another theme. And since there is no bigger theme that Christ’s passion, you can see how verse 13 tends to draw our attention away.

This verse is about love. And it does fit with the theme of ‘abide in my love.’ In some ways, it’s a request before Calvary to remain in his love come-what-may. Because truly, there is no greater love than laying down your life for others. But this need not lead us away from the real lesson of the passage, found just a verse earlier: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

If you participated in the Maundy Thursday service, you will recall that this verse is at the heart of the service. Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum, the word that gives us “mandate” in English. In this sense, the command to love one another is our mandate, or our mission—however you want to call it. There, amid all the final instructions that Jesus shares before his passion, only one rises to the level of a mandate: love each other.

In our online “static” service, Heather has played “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” a classic contemporary hymn that really states the obvious. Since our mandate is to love each other, and abide in the love found in Jesus, and since God is love, it seems rather obvious that they’ll know we are Christians by our love. Or is it?

Well, if you’ve been in church for longer than 10 minutes you’ll know that it’s not always the case. Like the twelve, people in church bicker (but not at Central, of course). Like the twelve, people in church seek pride of place (but not at Central, of course). And like the twelve, people in church are given to doubt, and even disbelief (but not at Central, of course). And even pastors have been known to sprinkle a little sugar on their message to make it go down better (but not at Central, of course).

Like any mandate, the command to love each other is aspirational. We work toward a mandate, and sometimes we achieve it, even if only for a time. But it’s still our mandate, and it’s still the reason we exist. We abide in Christ’s love, we love each other, and we show the world the power of love. We can do no other. And whatever happens, and however the world responsed, we begin and end with love—we never condemn, we only seek to save through the love, the same love we have received.

May God help us to remain among the 20 percent that are doing 80 percent of the loving in this town, and fulfil our mandate, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

God of all,
We close our eyes and see mothers,
both literal and metaphorical,
a network of nurture and love,
encouragement and forgiveness.
examples we can follow.

God of all,
We close our eyes and see the faces of those we know and love:
neighbours and friends, sisters and brothers—
a community of kindred hearts.
Keep them safe from harm,
and encourage them in the face of sadness and fear.

God of all,
We close our eyes and see the faces of those we hardly know:
strangers, visitors, forgotten friends—
the ones who need an outstretched hand.
Give them hope,
and remind them that there are many who care.

God of all,
We close our eyes and see trouble everywhere,
for India, and other places overwhelmed by hardship,
we pray this day.

God of all,
We close our eyes and see what cannot be unseen:
injustice, cruelty, oppression, malice,
the careless disregard for the sacredness of human life.
Stir our hearts,
and help us to be agents of your peace.

God of all,
We close our eyes and see the love of God represented in our fellowship.
In me, in you, in each of us.
Help us keep your command, and abide in your love,
In the name of Jesus, we pray. 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 Christ there is no east or west”

In Christ there is no east or west,
in him no south or north,
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.

In Christ shall true hearts ev’rywhere
their high communion find.
His service is the golden cord
close binding humankind.

Join hands, then, people of the faith,
whate’er your race may be.
All children of the living God
are surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both east and west,
in him meet south and north.
All Christly souls are joined as one
throughout the whole wide earth.

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.

LOVE Postage Stamp

Easter V

Ivan Generalić, Dancing in the Vineyards, 1968. Gallery of Naive Art, Hlebine, Croatia

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. Thanks this week to Carmen, Cor, and Heather!

PRELUDE: “Jesus Calls Us Here to Meet Him” (Iona Community)

OPENING PRAYER:

You are the vine, Lord, and we are the branches.
Though apart, we are connected–one to another–
by your presence:
living vine
cup of blessing
shepherd of the sheep.
Draw our hearts together, Lord
so that even in these troubled times
we will share the love you give.
Speak to us, today:
Through word and song
prayer and praise.
We trust we are never far apart
when we abide in your love. Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Like the murmur of the dove’s song”

Like the murmur of the dove’s song,
like the challenge of her flight,
like the vigour of the wind’s rush,
like the new flame’s eager might:
come, Holy Spirit, come.

To the members of Christ’s body,
to the branches of the Vine,
to the church in faith assembled,
to our midst as gift and sign:
come, Holy Spirit, come.

With the healing of division,
with the ceaseless voice of prayer,
with the power to love and witness,
with the peace beyond compare:
come, Holy Spirit, come.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Hear us, God as we pray:
We confess we have too much of some things
and too little of others.
We could use less worry, less news,
less judgement, less self-justification.
We could use more calm, more quiet,
more compassion, more understanding.
Help us find a balance,
help us find the middle path.
help as 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: “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” (Dorsey)

FIRST READING: Psalm 22

From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!

SECOND READING: John 15.1-8

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful.You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “We have this ministry”

We have this ministry, and we are not discouraged,
It is by God’s own power that we may live and serve
Openly we share God’s word, speaking truth as we believe
Praying that the shadowed world may healing light receive.
We have this ministry, O God receive our living.

O Christ the tree of life, our end and our beginning
We grow to fullest flower when rooted in your love.
Brothers, sisters, clergy, lay, called to service by your grace
Different cultures, different gifts, the young and old a place.
We have this ministry, O God receive our giving.

The yoke of Christ is ours, the whole world is our parish
We daily take the cross, the burden and the joy.
Bearing hurts of those we serve, wounded, bruised and bowed with pain
Holy Spirit, bread and wine, we die and rise again.
We have this ministry, O God receive our loving.

Decorative Inlay, 12th or 13th century, Pergamonmuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

REFLECTION

Any anxiety you feel about cleanliness likely comes from television.

Do you worry that your whites are not whiter than white? Your colours are not brighter than bright? Are your paper towels absorbent enough? Does your broom reach those hard-to-reach places? Do you need to dip your entire house in CLR? Does it even work?

Obviously, the Bible has a lot to say about being clean. But before I give you my one-minute overview, I want to dispel a popular myth. Nowhere in scripture does it say “cleanliness is next to godliness.” These words come from one of John Wesley’s sermons, given late in his life, and likely related to some sort of controversy around neatness and dress. In effect, he tells his followers that God condemns neither the sloppy nor the well-dressed, but in general, cleanliness is next to godliness. In other words, if you’ve been wearing track-pants for the last 400 days that’s okay, as long as they are clean.

So, what does the Bible say about being clean?

In Genesis, it’s animals for sacrifice, clean and unclean.
In Leviticus, it’s food, disease, and even the mould in your house.
In Numbers, it’s about ritual, and being ceremonially clean.
In the history books, it’s about being rewarded and restored.
In the wisdom books, it’s about a clean heart and clean hands.
In the prophets, it’s about cleansing the sin of Israel as a nation.
For Jesus, it’s about making lepers clean, and being clean on the inside (and not just on the outside).
And in Acts, and the letters of Paul, it’s about food, and declaring that nothing God has created can be named unclean.

I share all this because I’m interested in one of one of the most neglected lines in our passage about the vine and the branches. Jesus said, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” There amid all the talk of fruitfulness, and all the connections, and all the potential pruning, we get this simple declarative statement: “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”

Following my summary, Jesus is all about being clean on the inside, and not the countless ways people are considered clean on the outside. And I might go even a step further, to suggest that if we stumbled upon Jesus’ dog-eared Bible, there is one page (from Psalm 51) where the corner would decidedly be turned down: “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” the psalmist said, “and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

Do I have more evidence? Three other short verses, in fact. One that echoes Psalm 51, one that makes these heart-sayings a little more tangible, and one that belongs on a t-shirt:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5.8)
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12.34)
For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of (Luke 6.45)

I told you it belongs in a t-shirt. Wear it to Mar-a-Lago, I dare you. (Okay, enough of that). But I think you see the progression here: Jesus blesses those rare ones among us who are pure in heart. Then he warns us about the treasure store we’re building up in life, and the extent to which it reflects the content of our hearts. And then a little brutal honesty, which Jesus only seems to resort to when the twelve were being particularly thick in the head.

And then he said “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” The scripture he shared, the hymns they sang, the Word he gave them—taken together these words made them clean. Attend a master class in cleanliness given by the Master himself, and you will graduate with an honours in having a clean heart. But then what?

In many ways, the “then what” is the sum of Christian living. We can align ourselves with the words, we can be cleansed by the words, we can even recite the words to others, but unless they remain within us, we’ll soon find treasure elsewhere. This is why the psalmist’s prayer is twofold: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” The most difficult part—the clean heart—has already been given, and given freely. This leaves us with the desire for steadfast spirit, something that God will also freely give.

The desire for purity is something that never goes away. Moralists on the right and activists on the left, everyone wants a particular kind of purity. Everyone is seeking a purer form of the treasure they store. But God seeks a pure heart, a heart made new through the grace of Jesus Christ, and a heart that desires constant renewal, renewal in love and mercy.

Brian Wren describes the way God found us, summed up with the simple words “forgiven, loved and free.” All the bright colours and better brooms cannot compare to the purity that God gives, the purity within us, and the purity within others, when we truly see. Amen.

Richard Correll, Vineyard March, 1970, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

The Moderator, the Rt. Rev. Richard Bott, wrote this prayer at the beginning of the pandemicwords that still resonate.

In this time of COVID-19, we pray:
When we aren’t sure, God,
help us be calm;
when information comes
from all sides, correct and not,
help us to discern;
when fear makes it hard to breathe,
and anxiety seems to be the order of the day,
slow us down, God;
help us to reach out with our hearts,
when we can’t touch with our hands;
help us to be socially connected,
when we have to be socially distant;
help us to love as perfectly as we can,
knowing that “perfect love casts out all fear.”

For the doctors, we pray,
for the nurses, we pray,
for the technicians and the janitors and the
aides and the caregivers, we pray,
for the researchers and theorists,
the epidemiologists and investigators,
for those who are sick,
and those who are grieving, we pray,
for all who are affected,
all around the world…
we pray
for safety,
for health,
for wholeness.

May we feed the hungry,
give drink to the thirsty,
clothe the naked and house those without homes;
may we walk with those who feel they are alone,
and may we do all that we can to heal
the sick—
in spite of the epidemic,
in spite of the fear.

Help us, O God,
that we might help each other.

In the love of the Creator,
in the name of the Healer,
in the life of the Holy Spirit that is in all and with all,
we pray.

May it be so. 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 loving partnership we come”

In loving partnership we come,
seeking, O God, your will to do.
Our prayers and actions now receive;
we freely offer them to you.

We are the hands and feet of Christ,
serving by grace each other’s need.
We dare to risk and sacrifice
with truthful word and faithful deed.

Loving community we seek;
your hope and strength within us move.
The poor and rich, the strong and weak
are brought together in your love.

In loving partnership, O God,
help us your future to proclaim.
Justice and peace be our desire,
we humbly pray in Jesus’ name.

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.

Win Vine Vineyards, LIFE Photo Collection