Advent IV

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, Jenny, Dave, Taye, and Heather!

LIGHTING THE FOURTH ADVENT CANDLE

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness shall never overcome it.
St. Augustine said, “By loving us, God,
You made us lovable.”

Source of LOVE, shine in our hearts,
that we might love everyone we meet.
Amen.

O come, O Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel.

OPENING PRAYER

O come, Emmanuel, come to us,
for we are lonely for God.
Come, bring the peace of God-with-us.
O come, Wisdom from on high,
lead us in the ways of knowledge,
and show us the paths of peace.

Glorious Shoot from the Jesse tree,
come and bring life,
fresh and green and lovely, to our spirits.

O Rose which blooms in the snow of winter,
come and grant to us the blessed gift of hope.
O Bright Morning Star of the darkened world,
come and be for us the Light, the Truth, and the Way.
Jesus our Christ, we welcome you.
Come and be known among us,
for we want to be your people. Amen.

HYMN: “Once in royal David’s city”

Once in royal David’s city
stood a lowly cattleshed,
where a mother laid her baby
in a manger for his bed.
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child.

He came down to earth from heaven
who, with God, is over all,
and his shelter was a stable,
and his cradle was a stall.
There among the poor and lowly
lived on earth our Saviour holy.

For he is our lifelong pattern;
daily, when on earth he grew,
he was tempted, scorned, rejected,
tears and smiles like us he knew.
Thus he feels for all our sadness,
and he shares in all our gladness.

And our eyes at last shall see him,
through his own redeeming love;
for that child who seemed so helpless
is our Lord in heaven above;
and he leads his children on
to the place where he is gone.

INTRODUCTION TO LESSONS AND CAROLS

We begin our service of lessons and carols with some background. While King’s College, Cambridge remains the most famous example of lessons and carols—started in 1918—the tradition begins much earlier. The present form begins in 1880, in Truro, Cornwall, under the leadership of Bishop Edward Benson. He took carols and paired them with readings that recounted the complete story of our faith, from the Garden of Eden to the revelation of St. John.

The tradition, however, begins earlier still. The oratorio, developed in the 1600’s, combined orchestra, choir, and soloists to recount a sacred story. Some included a dialogue between saints and biblical characters, while others—such as Handel’s Messiah—drew on scripture alone.

Today we follow the theme of God’s light—beginning at the moment of creation and concluding with John’s promise that as the light shines in the darkness, the darkness will never overcome it. As we hear these familiar words, call to mind that everything God created was declared ‘good.’

FIRST READING: Genesis 1:1-3

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

SOLO: “See Amid the Winter’s Snow”

Bishop Benson’s service of nine lessons and carols began with Genesis 3, the story of Adam and Eve. The point of the reading—the fall of humanity—is summarized in the first verse of the next reading. The story of our salvation includes disobedience, exile, and the promise of one who will return to show us God’s way.

Isaiah 9 also highlights the Kingdom of God, the theme that Jesus taught throughout his earthly ministry. Every parable he told was a story of the Kingdom, and every interaction that brought healing and wholeness was a glimpse of his Kingdom.

SECOND READING: Isaiah 9.2, 6-7

2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government will be upon his shoulder,
and his name will be called
“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom,
to establish it, and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

HYMN: “O little town of Bethlehem”

O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by;
yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary;
and gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep
their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars, together
proclaim the holy birth,
and praises sing to God the King,
and peace to all on earth.

How silently, how silently
the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
the blessed gift of heaven.
No ear may hear his coming;
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him, still
the dear Christ enters in.

O holy child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in;
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel.

Like the Cambridge version, we include two readings from the prophet Isaiah. This underlines the importance of Isaiah, famously described by St. Jerome as “more evangelist than prophet.” In fact, some scholars have called the Book of Isaiah “the fifth Gospel,” owing to it’s importance in the development of the Christian faith.

Our third reading describes the scope of God’s promise. We will hear this reading again in the season of Epiphany—it reminds us that the light is for all people. Beginning with God’s chosen, and shining for everyone to see, God’s glory will be revealed.

THIRD READING: Isaiah 60.1-3

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
3 And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.

SOLO: “Il est né, le divin Enfant”

Our fourth reading describes the heart of the nativity according to St. Luke. Jesus’ background and present circumstances are less important than the heavenly messages we are meant to hear.

It begins with Zechariah. The father of St. John the Baptist is the first to hear an angel’s message: He and Elizabeth will have a son, and his task will be to “make ready a people,” and return to the wisdom of the righteous. Next, an angel appears to Mary, and she learns that she will give birth to the son of the Most High.

Finally, in Luke 2, an angel brings “good news of great joy for all people.” The shepherds are sore afraid, but they need not fear—the angel will guide them to a sign.

FOURTH READING: Luke 2.8-14

8 And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”

HYMN: “Angels, from the realms of glory”

Angels, from the realms of glory,
wing your flight o’er all the earth;
ye who sang creation’s story,
now proclaim Messiah’s birth:
come and worship, come and worship,
worship Christ, the newborn King.

Shepherds in the field abiding,
watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing,
yonder shines the infant Light:
come and worship, come and worship,
worship Christ, the newborn King.

Sages, leave your contemplations;
brighter visions beam afar;
seek the great desire of nations;
ye have seen his natal star:
come and worship, come and worship,
worship Christ, the newborn King.

Saints before the altar bending,
watching long in hope and fear,
suddenly the Lord, descending,
in his temple shall appear:
come and worship, come and worship,
worship Christ, the newborn King.

Our fifth reading comes from the Book of Revelation, perhaps the most enigmatic book and the least read book in the Bible. The book has provoked debate from the earliest days of the Christian Church—the first debate was whether it should be included in the Bible at all!

The next debate, the debate that continues, concerns meaning. Does it describe past events, presented as future events? Is it a collection of prophecies, foretelling the future? Or is it an elaborate religious allegory that defies interpretation?

Whatever the meaning, chapter 21 seems clear: St. John sees a bright city on the hill, with God as the temple, and the lamb as the light casting light on the world.

FIFTH READING: Revelations 21.22-27

22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates shall never be shut by day—and there shall be no night there; 26 they shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

SPECIAL MUSIC: “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman”

Matthew 2 gives us a glimpse of the time to come. Some are very excited that God is entering the world in a new way, while others conspire to prevent such a turn-of-events. Both reactions underline that something extraordinary happened in little Bethlehem, and the world would never be the same.

This passage also points to a recurring theme in these readings: Jesus is born for all people. Nations and kings will be drawn to him, and some will find him sooner than others. The story of how our faith is shared will be told in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, but the story of sharing faith begins here: Wise men seeking Jesus.

SIXTH READING: Matthew 2.1-2, 9-11

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” 9 When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; 11 and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

SOLO: “In the bleak midwinter”

Our look at lessons and carols concludes the same way the King’s College version does: with John’s prologue. For over a hundred years, these words within the service have formed an ending that is really a beginning: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory” and we behold it still.

Even in the most trying circumstances, the service continued. Even in the darkness of the Second World War—with the stained glass windows removed for safe-keeping, and the bitter cold—the service continued. For the sake of security the name “King’s College” was not mentioned, though it hardly mattered—the message came through: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall never overcome it.”

SEVENTH READING: John 1.1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God; 3 all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life,[a] and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
9 The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. 11 He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.

HYMN: “In the darkness shines the splendour”

In the darkness shines the splendour
of the Word who took our flesh,
welcoming, in love’s surrender,
death’s dark shadow at his crèche.
Bearing every human story,
Word made flesh reveals his glory.

Light of nations, veiled in history,
born of woman’s flesh and blood,
calling to the depths of mystery
restless hearts that seek the good.
Healing every human story,
Word made flesh reveals his glory.

Broken bread, sustaining us in sorrow,
wine poured out to toast our joy;
exodus and new tomorrow,
life’s full promise to enjoy!
Gladdening every human story,
Word made flesh reveals his glory.

All God’s people, sing in jubilation
of the birth that sets us free,
telling of the revelation:
Jesus, God’s epiphany.
Celebrate the human story!
Word made flesh reveals our glory.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Gracious God,
we pray this day
for all who have come with us to Bethlehem
We pray for all who are poor and cold
and hungry like the shepherds,
that they may hear good news.
We pray for all who are too tired for the journey,
that their bodies and souls may be healed,
that they grieve no more.
We pray for all who are wandering and searching like the magi,
that they may find the place to leave their gifts
and their burdens.
We pray for all who are busy, hurried,
preoccupied like the innkeeper,
that they may know the peace
that comes from genuine acts of hospitality.
We pray for all like Herod who have power,
that they may use it with good will.
We pray for ourselves—we who need comfort, peace and joy,
even in this starlit season,
and all the days of our lives. 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: “Hark! the herald angels sing”

Hark! the herald angels sing,
‘Glory to the newborn King,
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!’
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
with the angelic host proclaim,
‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!’
Hark! the herald angels sing,
‘Glory to the newborn King!’

Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
late in time behold him come,
offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail, the incarnate deity,
pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing,
‘Glory to the newborn King!’

Hail, the heavenborn Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
‘Glory to the newborn King!’

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.

All Saints’ Sunday

St Anne’s Church, Highgate, London (1853), Google Streetview

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, Cor, and Heather!

PRELUDE: “Flying Free” (Besig)

OPENING PRAYER

For all the saints
who went before us
who have spoken to our hearts
and touched us with your fire,
we praise you, O God.

For all the saints
who live beside us
whose weaknesses and strengths
are woven with our own,
we praise you, O God.

For all the saints
who live beyond us
who challenge us
to change us
to change the world with them,
we praise you, O God.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty!”

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;
holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye made blind by sin thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name in earth and sky and sea;
holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

May Christ,
who makes saints of sinners,
and who has transformed those we remember today,
transform us too, made new in his likeness.
Surround us with your Spirit,
and call us find within ourselves
the heroic virtue that defines the saints.
Help us to see Christ in others,
and serve them, as we are served. 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: “When in Our Music God is glorified” (Green/Stanford)

FIRST READING: Psalm 107

O give thanks, for God is gracious;
God’s steadfast love endures for ever.
Let the redeemed of God say so, those redeemed from trouble,
whom God gathered in from the lands,
from the east and the west,
from the north and the south.

Some lost their way in desert wastes, finding no place to settle;
hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to you, God, in their trouble;
you rescued them from their distress.
You led them by a straight path,
till they reached a place to settle.

Let them thank you, O God, for your steadfast love,
for the wonders you do for us.
For you satisfy the thirsty,
and fill the hungry with good things.

SECOND READING: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13:

9 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.

Brookdale United Church, Boileau, QC, circa 1905, restored 2010. Photo by Herman Meyer

HYMN: “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.

REFLECTION

I suspect my mother was a secret Catholic.

And while my evidence may be vague and and a little flimsy, it remains a question in my mind. My suspicion began with the purchase of a late 70s Corolla, used, brown in colour with a beige vinyl roof. Already you find this story troubling, and that’s before you sit inside. For there, in the middle of the dashboard, was a small ornament, like a small coin on a pedestal.

Me: Mother, what is that?
Mother: That’s St. Christopher, patron saint of travellers.
Me: But you’re not Catholic.
Mother: I know, but he’s the patron saint of travellers.
Me: You’re just gonna leave it there, aren’t you?
Mother: Of course.

It was only later that I learned that St. Christopher had been demoted—maybe reassigned—within the list of Catholic saints. I can’t imagine that this information would have any bearing on the shiny metal object in the middle of the dash, since leaving it there was more about avoiding bad luck. In other words, she was not-so-secretly superstitious rather than secretly Catholic.

If you are currently looking at the St. Christopher medal on your keychain, I do not mean to offend. He’s an interesting case, and represents an important step in the evolution of the idea of sainthood. His story mirrors numerous saints who emerged in the middle ages and became increasingly popular. Christopher, like his colleagues St. Nicholas and St. George, appeared with the kernel of a story that was embellished over the centuries.

The name Christopher means Christ-bearer, and he is said to have carried a young child across a river, only to discover that he was carrying Christ. In this sense, he blesses travellers, as he was blessed. He becomes the embodiment of “entertaining angels unawares” (Heb 13) or serving Christ in the form of the “least of these.” (Mat 25)

This, of course, was not enough to keep him on the formal list of saints. Church reform in the 1960s demanded that saints who were more legend than fact be removed from the primary calendar of commemoration. They were never fully omitted, just placed in a new category. This allowed the church to emphasize saints that were recognized through the highly organized process of canonization.

Over here in the Protestant Church, we’ve taken a different approach. Our Anglican friends continue to commemorate pre-Reformation saints, but have shifted focus to “saints and heroes” of the faith. On the west front of Westminster Abbey you will find statues of Martin Luther King Jr. and Óscar Romero, modern saints and heroes, just two examples. Methodists have taken a similar approach, never praying to saints, but lifting them up as examples to follow.

The phrase “hero of the faith” is helpful, since the common definition of sainthood is to display “heroic virtue.” Beginning in the middle ages, this meant demonstrating the four cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance) along with the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. If these three sound familiar, it may relate to the many weddings you have attended. St. Paul commends faith, hope, and charity in 1 Corinthians, though we usually flatter the bride and groom by using the alternate translation, “faith, hope, and love.”

In many ways, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is an expanded version of faith, hope, and charity. The letter is less concerned with matters of doctrine, and more about living together as believers. The passage that Joyce shared is like a letter inside the letter, giving us the gist of the matter:

For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

Paul is keen to remind them that he was trying to set an example, demonstrating “faith, hope, and charity” at Thessalonica, and urging them to do likewise. In some ways it sounds immodest, reminding them that he and his helpers were “holy, righteous, and blameless” while with them, but it strengthens his point. By living lives worthy of God, we practice the ultimate form of devotion, the greatest gift we can give.

His words are not fully without doctrine, because he shares an important principle in the next section:

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.

“You accepted…the word of God, which is indeed at work in you…”

I’m going to be bold and suggest that what Paul is giving us is a summary of sainthood, a summary that includes virtue (in the word of God) and the abiding sense that God is at work in us. Consider it: when we follow the word, we take it on, we embody it—then we take it into the world. Without us, there is risk that the word of God will simply be words in a page. But when we live it, when we personify the word, then God is working in us.

And this, of course, is why we treasure scripture. It provides comfort and hope, inspiration and direction, but it also reminds us of the many ways we can allow God to work in us. Think about some of your favourite passages, and then consider the mandate of allowing God to “work in us and others.” Think of Micah 6, for example: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Countless believers have lived these words on their daily walk with the Most High. Likewise, these words from Proverbs 3: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Prov 3)

Perhaps the Proverbs passage is a little less familiar than Micah, but “lean not on your own understanding” is also at the heart of sainthood. We imagine that the great heroes of the faith had all the answers, knew exactly what they were doing, always did the right thing—but this is not the case. Allowing God to work in us, allowing God to anchor our lives, doesn’t make us less human. In fact, allowing God to work in us will make us more aware of our need for redemption, and the power of God’s mercy.

I want to conclude with the list of church names that we have been compiling since last Sunday. As an anniversary project, the list represents all the churches that formed us, and formed Central, making us who we are today. That was last week. This week, we ponder the list and call to mind all the saints represented by the congregations of the list. Consider the service rendered by these congregations: the mercy shown, the comfort given, the instruction shared, the inspiration kindled. Each church on our list represents devoted service—the work of saints—to keep the faith, share hope, and enact the charity that God provides.

We’ll pray over these names in a few moments, but for now we give thanks, thanks for lives lived and love enacted, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Former St. James-Bond United Church, Toronto. The congregation was an amalgamation of St. James Square United Church with Bond Street United Church in 1928. The congregation then amalgamated with Fairlawn Avenue United Church in 2005. The site has been redeveloped for housing. Some believe that Ian Fleming, 007 creator, observed the name while staying with friends nearby. Photo by Reg Innell, Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

O God,
we thank you for the many people throughout the ages
who have followed your way of life joyfully;
for the many saints and martyrs, men and women,
who have offered up their very lives,
so that your life abundant may become manifest.
For your love and faithfulness we praise you.

O God,
we thank you for those who chose the way of Christ.
In the midst of trial, they held out hope;
in the midst of hatred, they kindled love;
in the midst of persecutions, they witnessed to your power;
in the midst of despair, they clung to your promise.
For your love and faithfulness we praise you.

O God,
we thank you for the truth they passed on to us:
that it is by giving that we shall receive;
it is by becoming weak that we shall be strong;
it is by loving others that we shall be loved;
it is by offering ourselves that the kingdom will unfold;
it is by dying that we shall inherit life everlasting.
O God, give us courage to follow your way of life.
For your love and faithfulness we praise you. Amen.

O God,
bless the saints who embodied your Word:
through work and worship,
and the desire to serve others.
We call to mind these congregations,
some active, some gone, but none forgotten.
Bless everyone touched by these
expressions of your love,
and bless us as we read these names:

All Saints Roman Catholic Church, Toronto
Althorpe United Church, Althorpe, ON
Angus United Church, Angus, ON
Applewood United Church, Mississauga
Bethesda-Dixie United Church, Mississauga
Beth Tzedec Synagogue, Toronto
Beverly Hills United Church, North York
Blakey Street Mission, Blackburn, Lancashire, UK
Bloor Street United Church, Toronto
Bolingbroke United Church, Bolingbroke, ON
Bracebridge United Church, Bracebridge, ON
Broadway United Church, Regina, SK
Brookdale United Church, Boileau, QC
Calvary United Church, Calgary, AB
Calvin United Church, DeWitt’s Corners, ON
Canadian Memorial United Church, Vancouver
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, Kent, UK
Central United Church, Weston
Chalmers United Church, Mount Dennis
Chapel on the Hill UCC, Largo, Florida
Christ Church Anglican Church, Ivy, ON
Christ the King Chapel, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA
Church of the Good Shepherd, Mount Dennis
The Church on the Road to the Dump, Kawartha Lakes
Coppercliff United Church, Sudbury
Davenport Presbyterian Church, Toronto
Deer Park United Church, Toronto
Dublin Street United Church, Guelph
Eastminster United Church, Toronto
Eden United Church, Mississauga
Elizabethville United Church, Elizabeth, ON
Elverston-Trethrewey United Church, Toronto
Etobicoke Salvation Army Church, Etobicoke
Exmouth Street United Church, Saint John, NB
Faith United Church, Toronto
Fenelon Falls United Church, Fenelon Falls, ON
Foothills United Church, Banff, AB
Forest Hill United Church, Toronto
Fort Totten Chapel, Fort Totten, Queens, NY
Fraserburg United Church, Bracebridge, ON
Glen Ayr United Church, Scarborough
Grace United Church, Barrie
Grace United Church, Tavistock, ON
Greenwood United Church, Greenwood, ON
Gilmore Park United Church, Richmond, BC
Heritage United Church, Regina, SK
Hillview Presbyterian Church, Etobicoke
HMCS Cornwallis Chapel, Deep Brook, NS
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill
Humber Valley United Church, Etobicoke
Inverary United Church, Inverary, ON
John Calvin Hungarian Presbyterian Church, Hamilton
Knox Presbyterian Church, Toronto
Knox United Church, Dunchurch, ON
Knox United Church, Nippising, ON
Königin Luise Kirche. Königsberg, Ostpreußen (Germany, now Russia)
Lady Margaret Road Wesleyan, Kentish Town, London UK
Maple Presbyterian Church, Maple, ON
Martingrove United Church, Etobicoke
Medical Ministry International
Mount Albert United Church, Mount Albert, ON
Mount Dennis United Church, Mount Dennis
Mount Dennis Baptist Church, Mount Dennis
Nobleton United Church, Nobleton
North Bramalea United Church, Bramalea
Ossington Baptist Church, Toronto
Park Lawn Baptist Church, Toronto
Pasadena Community Church, St. Petersburg, FL
Pearen Memorial United Church, Mount Dennis
The People’s Church, Toronto
Pioneer United Church, Hillside, ON
Rexdale United Church, Rexdale
Runnymede United Church, Toronto
Silverthorn United Church, Toronto
Simcoe Street United Church, Oshawa
South Burnaby United Church, Burnaby, BC
South Wilberforce United, Wilberforce, ON
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Humber Heights
St. Andrew’s United Church, Oshawa
St Andrews-Chalmers Presbyterian Church, Uxbridge, ON
St. Anne’s Church, Highgate, London, UK
St. David’s United Church, Toronto
St. George’s Presbyterian Church, Blackburn, Lancashire, UK
St. Gregory’s Catholic Church, Oshawa
St. James-Bond United Church, Toronto
St. John the Evangelist, Weston
St. John’s United Church, Stratford
St. Margaret’s United Church, Kingston, ON
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Kitchener
St. Mark’s United Church, Whitby
St. Matthew’s United Church, Toronto
St. Paul’s United Church, Oakville
St. Paul’s United Church, Waterloo
St. Petersburg United Methodist Church, St. Petersburg, FL
St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, Toronto
St. Stephen’s United Church, Vancouver, BC
St. Stephen’s Church, Lewisham, London, UK
St. Willibrord’s, The Hague
Streetsville United Church, Mississuaga
Sunbury United Church, Sunbury, ON
Swastika United Church, Swastika, ON
Teresia van Avilakerk, The Hague
Teston United Church, Teston, ON
Thistletown United Church, Thistletown
Thornhill United Church, Thornhill
Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, Toronto
Trinity United Church, Huntsville
Trinity United Church, Malton
Tsawwassen United Church in Delta, BC
Unity Church of Truth, Toronto
Wesley Hall Methodist Church, Leicester, UK
Westdale United Church, Hamilton
Westmount Church, Etobicoke
Westminster United Church, Mississauga
Westminster United Church, Orangeville
Westminster United Church, Weston
Weston Park Baptist Church, Toronto
Weston Presbyterian Church, Weston
Westway United Church, Etobicoke
Zion United Church, Moose Jaw

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: “For all the saints, who from their labours rest”

For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
all who by faith before the world confessed,
your name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Hallelujah, hallelujah!

You were their rock, their fortress, and their might:
you were their captain in the well-fought fight;
you, in the darkness drear, their one true light.
Hallelujah, hallelujah!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;

yet all are one within your great design.
Hallelujah, hallelujah!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
Hallelujah, hallelujah!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day
the saints triumphant rise in bright array:
as God to glory calls them all away.
Hallelujah, hallelujah!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:
Hallelujah, hallelujah!

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.

Königin Luise Kirche, former Königsberg, East Prussia. The church, heavily damaged during World War II, was rebuilt in the 1960s to become a puppet theatre. Königsberg is now called Kaliningrad, located in the Kaliningrad Oblast, an exclave of the Russian Federation. Photo by A. Savin.

The Feast of Saint Francis

Detail of Saint Francis of Assisi by Jusepe de Ribera, 1642, El Escorial, Madrid

Today—World Communion Sunday—left us with a dilemma: we determined that there is no completely safe way to share communion at the church, and we can’t do share it online either. Pondering this, I was reminded that today is also the Feast of Saint Francis. Francis, famous for preaching to the birds, is the inspiration behind “communion” for our avian friends—a liturgy and seed offering. Those worshiping in person will receive a small bag of bird seed (in a compostable plastic bag), while those at home are invited to gather seeds or some other food item that the birds might enjoy. You will find the liturgy near the end of this service. Thanks this week to Jenny, Cor, and Heather!

PRELUDE: “In the Evening” (Hofmann)

OPENING PRAYER

Loving God,
you speak to us in so many ways:
in the song of a bird,
in the babbling of a brook,
in the voices of our friends,
in the warmth of an embrace,
in the songs we sing,
and in the stories of the Bible.
Speak to us as we worship.
Help us to hear your voice
and follow the way of Jesus.
Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Come, we that love the Lord”

Come, we that love the Lord,
and let our joys be known,
join in a song with sweet accord,
and thus surround the throne.

Let those refuse to sing
who never knew our God;
but children of the heavenly King
may speak their joys abroad.

The hill of Zion yields
a thousand sacred sweets
before we reach the heavenly fields
or walk the golden streets.

Then let our songs abound,
and every tear be dry;
we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground,
to fairer worlds on high.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

God of all creation,
we confess our inability to tread lightly on the earth.
Our use of resources,
the lives we live,
have done harm to our earthly home.
Help us, Lord, to repent,
and to find new ways to interact
with the world you gave us.
Lend us your mercy and show us your way:
that we may travel as lightly
as the birds of the air,
and dwell as effortlessly
and the flowers of the field.
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: “Eternal Christ, you rule” (Damon)

FIRST READING: Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the vault of the sky reveals God’s handiwork.
One day speaks to another,
and night shares its knowledge with night,

and this without speech or language;
their voices are not heard.
But their sound goes out to all the lands,
their words to the ends of the earth.

In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun
which comes out like a bridegroom from under the canopy,
like an athlete eager to run the race.
Its rising is at one end of the sky,
it runs its course to the other,
and there is nothing that is hidden from its heat.

God’s law is perfect, refreshing the soul;
God’s instruction is sure,
giving wisdom to the simple;

God’s precepts are right, rejoicing the heart;
God’s commandment is pure
giving light to the eyes;

God’s fear is clean, enduring forever;
God’s judgements are true,
every one of them righteous;

more desirable than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
pure honey from the comb.

By them is your servant warned;
for in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern unwitting sins?
O cleanse me from my secret faults.
Keep your servant also from presumptuous sins,
lest they get the better of me.
Then shall I be clean and innocent of great offence.

SECOND READING: Philippians 3.4b-14

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

HYMN: “When I survey the wondrous cross”

When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
save in the death of Christ, my God:
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small:
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

REFLECTION

He preached to the birds, he befriended a wolf, and he rebuilt ruined chapels.

Like many saints, he was a reformer, directing the church back to founding principles: repentance, care for the sick, and a call to poverty. His movement, the Friars Minor, grew from the strength of his personality and the compelling example he set. He was no revolutionary, and he never sought to break with the church—something that disappointed his critics. He is perhaps the best known saint after Mary herself, and certainly among the most loved.

Francis began his life with wealth and position. His father was a successful cloth merchant in Assisi, his mother a French noblewoman. And Francis lived into this wealth. He had a reputation as a wild young man, a rogue with deep pockets and easy charm, which made him very popular.

The first change to this life of ease began in war. Enlisting to fight—some say to demonstrate his love for luxurious costumes—he was captured in battle and held for a year. Finally ransomed by his father, he returned a changed person. He began to spend less time at business and more time in prayer, mostly outside Assisi in small chapels. He developed an affinity for the poor, and when he went on pilgrimage to Rome, he spent much of his time around St. Peter’s with local beggars.

Returning to Assisi, he continued to pray in remote chapels. On one occasion, Christ spoke to him and said “Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.” He took this direction literally, rebuilding ruined chapels and gathering fellow-minded followers.

His father, you can imagine, was not impressed. Fearing that all this wealth would one day be spent on these projects, his father sued to disinherit Francis. The climax of the case saw Francis renounce his father, and famously disrobe, returning his clothing. As his local fame increased, so did his followers.

And Francis soon understood the command to rebuild the church as metaphor. He directed his followers to care for the poor, tend to lepers, and share a message of repentance, brotherly love, and peace. He and his followers rejected possessions, survived (in the early days) by begging, and saw themselves as standing against the surrounding culture.

Perhaps this is at the heart of his lasting appeal. Like the hippies of the 1960s, Francis and his group defied the dominant culture. They wore simple tunics, and went barefoot—earning them the name pazzo, meaning madmen. Labelled fools, Francis called himself “a new kind of fool.” He spoke about himself and his followers as Jongleurs de Dieu (which means something like “jesters for God”). And together they were also referred to as poverello (little poor ones) for their refusal to accumulate possessions.*

All of this points to a departure, a turn from one life to another life altogether. It defines the life of Francis, and it defines the life of St. Paul. We hear this in our reading from Philippians: Paul’s recitation at the beginning, his former c.v., and then the conversion that follows. Listen once more to the source of his early confidence: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”

But his confident recounting of the past is then transformed into new confidence in the present:

But whatever were gains to me, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I now consider them garbage…

In both Francis and Paul we see the same pattern: renunciation, redirection, and rededication. They discard comfort (Francis) and confidence (Paul) for the sake of Christ. They redirect their effort to care for the poor (Francis) and the poor at heart (Francis and Paul). And they rededicate themselves to the gospel of Jesus Christ, building a church (Paul) or rebuilding a church (Francis) to reflect God’s glory. Whatever was gain is now considered loss for Christ Jesus.

About now you may be wondering how this tiny temple to Methodism (Central) ended up marking a feast day on the Catholic calendar and engaging in so much hagiography—recalling the lives of the saints. It turns out that Francis is also venerated by Anglicans—our ecclesiastical forebears—and most other traditions too. Oddly, scholars can find no mention of Francis in the writings of John Wesley, strange because they had much in common. They shared the same concern for the poor, the same desire to preach Christ in the open air—directly to the people—and the same desire to rebuild the church. They even shared a love for God’s creatures, Wesley preaching against cruelty to animals.**

What these reformers share is a desire to return to the primitive church. Reading scripture, considering the relationship between Christ and his disciples, and trying to find the heart of the message—these are the hallmarks of the reformer’s project. Time and trouble create a complicated church, and the task of the reformer is to return the church to first principles: forgiveness, care for the vulnerable, and peace—peace between people, and between people and the earth.

And this last point, perhaps, explains Francis’ lasting appeal. Each generation can find in Francis the simple and unifying message they need in troubled times. In the 60s it was an end to war, and the sense of sisterhood and brotherhood of all peoples. Today, it’s the environment, and a saint that can bless our need to care for creation, to guide us back to a peaceful relationship with the one Francis called Sister Mother Earth. To this end, I want to conclude with the story of the Wolf of Gubbio.

Fear of wolves lived in the hearts of many in the middle ages, and none more than rural people. Wolves were a threat to livestock, and a threat to the lone traveller, particularly at night. While Francis was living near Gubbio, the townspeople were contending with one such wolf. The town, in effect, was under siege. Attempts were made to kill the wolf, but to no avail.

Francis, deciding on a new approach, departed the town walls, and found the wolf near its lair. Making the sign of the cross, he spoke to the wolf, offering a simple exchange. Past wrongs would be forgiven, and food shared, if the wolf left the people and their animals alone. The wolf extended a paw and Francis took it. It is said that the people befriended the wolf, and mourned when it died, even (according to tradition) burying the wolf in the churchyard. All of this, of course, was regarded as legend, until 1872, when the skeleton of a large wolf was discovered near the outer wall of the church.

Knowing Christ Jesus, understanding his way, we can live new lives of love and mercy. Knowing Christ Jesus, understanding his way, we can live differently on the earth. And knowing Christ Jesus, understanding his way, we can rebuild the church for each new generation.

May God bless us and the world God made. Amen.

Woodcut of St. Francis, German, 15th Century.

A LITURGY FOR THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS

God be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the God Most High.
It is right to give thanks and praise.

Today we mark the feast of St. Francis,
beloved of God, and worthy of praise.
He followed God’s command to rebuild the church,
to bless the poor, and become poor—
that the riches of God might extend to all.

Holy One, you inspired Francis
to walk in the way of Christ:
to love others,
and to care for the least of your children.
He saw Christ in others,
and he saw divinity in the natural world.

In this way he praised you, as we praise you:

Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

Embracing heaven and earth,
he named them family,
praising the God he saw all around:
Brother Sun and Sister Moon,
Brother Wind and Sister Water,
Brother Fire and Sister Earth.

Surrounded, as he was, by your glory,
Francis preached to the birds,
befriended the wolf,
and gave voice to earth.
He found you, God, in glade and forest,
on crashing waves, and on the pilgrims’ path.

In time, he developed the wounds of Christ,
a sacred mystery we struggle to comprehend.
Yet in his very being,
Francis proclaimed the Good News:

Dying, Christ destroyed our death,
rising, Christ restored our life:
reassuring, Christ will come again.

Send your Spirit on these seeds, O God,
that like Francis we might preach to the birds,
embrace all creatures, and find in them your kingdom.
Bless our homes and families,
Strengthen our fellowship,
and teach us, like Francis,
to live with love and mercy.
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 feel the winds of God today”

I feel the winds of God today;
today my sail I lift,
though heavy oft with drenching spray
and torn with many a rift;
if hope but light the water’s crest,
and Christ my bark will use,
I’ll seek the seas at his behest,
and brave another cruise.

It is the wind of God that dries
my vain regretful tears,
until with braver thoughts shall rise
the purer, brighter years;
if cast on shores of selfish ease
or pleasure I should be,
O let me feel your freshening breeze,
and I’ll put back to sea.

If ever I forget your love
and how that love was shown,
lift high the blood-red flag above;
it bears your name alone.
Great pilot of my onward way,
you will not let me drift.
I feel the winds of God today;
today my sail I lift.

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.

An image of Francis from St. Benedict’s Cave, circa 1223, near The Abbey of Saint Scholastica, Subiaco, Italy. It is the only known contemporary image of the saint.

Twelfth after Pentecost

Detail of the Tomb of Saqqara, photo by Frans Vandewalle (Creative Commons, BY-NC 2.0)

United in spirit, and 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, Jenny, and Heather!

PRELUDE: “The Song of Twilight” (Nakada)

OPENING PRAYER (St. Patrick, 5th century)

May the strength of God pilot us.
May the power of God preserve us.
May the wisdom of God instruct us.
May the hand of God protect us.
May the way of God direct us.
May the shield of God defend us.
May the host of God guard us against the snares of evil
and the temptations of the world.
May Christ be with us,
Christ before us,
Christ in us,
Christ over us.
May our salvation, O God,
be always ours this day and forevermore. Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Guide me, O thou great Jehovah”

Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but thou art mighty,
hold me with thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me till I want no more,
feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain,
whence the healing stream doth flow;
let the fire and cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through.
Strong deliverer, strong deliverer,
be thou still my strength and shield,
be thou still my strength and shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside;
death of death, and hell’s destruction,
land me safe on Canaan’s side:
songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever give to thee,
I will ever give to 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.

Detail of the Book of the Dead of Nebqed, photo by Frans Vandewalle (Creative Commons, BY-NC 2.0)

SPECIAL MUSIC: “God’s Colouring Book” (Parton)

FIRST READING: Psalm 124

‘If God had not been at our side,’
now let Israel say:
‘If God had not been at our side
when mortals rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us alive,
when their fury was roused against us.
Then the flood would have swept us away,
and the torrent would have covered us.
Then the raging waters
would have gone right over our heads.’

But praised be God:
who has not given us as a prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
from the hunter’s snare;
the snare is broken and we are free.
Our help is in the name of the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

SECOND READING: Exodus 1.8-22

8 Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. 9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”

11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

HYMN: “God of freedom, God of justice”

God of freedom, God of justice,
you whose love is strong as death,
you who saw the dark of prison,
you who knew the price of faith:
touch our world of sad oppression
with your Spirit’s healing breath.

Rid the earth of torture’s terror,
you whose hands were nailed to wood;
hear the cries of pain and protest,
you who shed the tears and blood:
move in us the power of pity
restless for the common good.

Make in us a captive conscience
quick to hear, to act, to plead;
make us truly sisters, brothers
of whatever race or creed:
teach us to be fully human,
open to each other’s need.

REFLECTION

In the spirit of fairness, I give you evil kings.

After Mary I, Eadburh of Wessex, and old Jezebel, it seems fair to look at regal malevolence from the male point-of-view. There are, of course, no shortage of examples. And for that reason, I’m going to limit my look to evil kings in the Bible, beginning with Ahab, consort of the infamous Jezebel. You might say Ahab is more of the unindicted co-conspirator type (see last week), but he’s a bad hombre nonetheless.

Next, I might suggest Abimelech, who wanted to be king of Shechem, but had two problems: he was illegitimate (being the son of a Shechemite concubine) and he had 70 brothers, each with a better claim to the throne. He killed them all, save one, and claimed the throne.

Then there is the first Pharaoh on our list, this one made famous by Yul Brenner in the Ten Commandments. Handsome, yes, but hardhearted, stubborn, and seemingly impervious to frogs, lice, boils, pestilence, and most other plagues.

Or, how about King Herod, stock villain of every church school pageant since the dawn of time? Infanticide is the quickest route to being declared an evil king, so he qualifies.

And speaking of infanticide, we meet today’s evil king, an unnamed Pharoah who was obviously the boyhood hero of King Herod. In Exodus 1, we learn that whatever lingering gratitude the royal house of Egypt felt toward Joseph and his people was gone. The Egyptians felt threatened by the growing Israelite population, and feared a slave revolt or worse.

More taskmasters were appointed, and the Israelites were compelled to build new cities—cities of stone—yet the sense of threat did not recede. The author of Exodus describes the situation in simple terms: “the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly.” Clearly, Pharaoh needs a new plan, so he calls the midwives:

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

I don’t do sermon titles, but if I did, I might call this sermon “How to lie to a tyrant.” For you see, when you lie to a tyrant, you need to speak to the tyrant’s bias or base assumption. So, in this example, they describe the Hebrew women as more “vigorous,” which I expect Pharaoh heard as less refined than the Egyptian women. Some scholars have even suggested that vigorous is code for beast-like, which would take the existing bias argument even further. Whatever the meaning of vigorous, it’s clear that Pharaoh accepts the lie they concoct—disappointed that they have not completed their mission, but satisfied with their answer.

So who are these women, Shiphrah and Puah? The fact that they are named, while Pharaoh remains unnamed, tells us that they are the real subjects of the story. Again, there is a bit of a debate about their identity, since the Hebrew is unclear. It seems the key words can be translated “Hebrew midwives” or “the midwives to the Hebrews.” Now, my resident scholar is out of town, so I’m flying blind here, but this translation problem could explain a lot.

If the midwives were Egyptians tasked with obstetrics among the Hebrew women, the order to kill the male babies seems less unlikely. If the midwives were Hebrews, then we get into a whole other conversation about servitude and the extent to which those enslaved could be expected to carry out genocide against their own people. There is ample evidence that this occurs, but it remains a puzzle within the text.

The one thing we can infer is that these women have status within their society. They seem to have some oversight role among the midwives, since we can safely assume that there were more than two. Perhaps they were the head of their guild, women responsible for the practice of midwifery throughout the society. Such guilds functioned as both oversight bodies and centres of education. Perhaps Shiphrah and Puah were “ministers of midwifery” within the governmental structure, the kind of people you would turn to to implement a controversial plan.*

But the plan—for a moment at least—is thwarted. Pharaoh accepts the lie that the midwives were late every single time, and he must find a new way to proceed. The late professor David Daube describes the action (inaction?) of Shiphrah and Puah as civil disobedience, and “the oldest record in world literature of the spurning of a governmental decree.” It won’t take long for the next act, when Moses’ mother and the daughter of Pharaoh engage in their own flaunting of the law, but pride-of-place belongs to Shiphrah and Puah. They are the mothers of civil disobedience, engaging in “good trouble” (quoting the late John Lewis) to overcome the ultimate example of state-sponsored violence: genocide.

And just because the lesson for today has taken us into the realm of resistance, I want to go a step further, and draw a link between the language of Pharaoh and the great scourge of our time, white supremacy. Listen as Pharaoh describes his view:

8 Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. 9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”

It has long been argued that “Make America Great Again” is a dog-whistle to those who believe that America peaked in the 1950s and can only be great if the clock could somehow be wound back. And the choice of time is not accidental, since it predates civil rights legislation, gay rights, environmental regulations, second-wave feminism, and increased immigration from non-white majority nations. The words “far too numerous for us” could be found in a tweet, and they betray a sense that some belong and some do not.

When Hannah Arendt wrote her book on the Eichmann trial, she chose as a subtitle “A Report on the Banality of Evil.” It has become a familiar and oft-deployed phrase, describing the way evil hides behind “just following orders” or “just following the law.” When malevolent people control the levers of government, making dangerous laws or enacting corrupt policies, it falls to ordinary women and men to do the extraordinary things needed to meet the moment.

Meeting the moment, we meet Shiphrah and Puah. They bravely defy Pharaoh and “so God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.” Thus the House of Shiphrah and the House of Puah were founded, blessed by the God who blesses the troublemakers, those willing to defy the Pharaoh’s of this world.

May God continue to bless those who seek justice and resist evil. And may God bless those with the determination and creativity of Shiphrah and Puah, midwives of good trouble. Amen.

Detail of the Book of the Dead of Nebqed, photo by Frans Vandewalle (Creative Commons BY-NC 2.0)

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: “Let there be light”

Let there be light,
let there be understanding,
let all the nations gather,
let them be face to face;

open our lips,
open our minds to ponder,
open the door of concord
opening into grace;

perish the sword,
perish the angry judgement,
perish the bombs and hunger,
perish the fight for gain;

hallow our love,
hallow the deaths of martyrs,
hallow their holy freedom,
hallowed be your name;

your kingdom come,
your spirit turn to language,
your people speak together,
your spirit never fade;

let there be light;
open our hearts to wonder,
perish the way of terror,
hallow the world God made.

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.

Eleventh after Pentecost

From The History of Joseph and his Brethren, Jones and Warren, 1865

United in spirit, and 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: “This is My Father’s World” (Babcock)

OPENING PRAYER

Gracious God,
we pray for your blessing
on the church this day.
May the faithful find salvation,
and the careless be awakened.
May the doubting find courage,
and the anxious be calmed.
May the tempted find help,
and the sorrowful be comforted.
May the weary find rest,
and the strong be renewed.
May the aged find consolation,
and the young be inspired,
in Jesus, the Christ. 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

Gracious God,
You are the author of love
and source of forgiveness.
We are all too human,
quick to judge,
and slow to understand.
Send your Spirit, O God.
Remind us the last word,
spoken on a hill far away,
was “forgive.”
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: “Glory Bound” (Maher)

FIRST READING: Psalm 133

Spanish Refrain:
¡Miren qué bueno, qué bueno es!
¡Miren qué bueno, qué bueno es!

English Refrain:
Behold how pleasant, how good it is!
Behold how pleasant, how good it is!

How pleasant and harmonious
when God’s people are together:
fragrant as precious oil
when running fresh on Aaron’s beard. R

How pleasant and harmonious
when God’s people are together:
fresh like the morning dew
that falls on Zion’s holy hill. R

How pleasant and harmonious
when God’s people are together:
there is where God bestows
the blessing, life for evermore. R

SECOND READING: Genesis 45.1-15

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.[a]

8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. 9 Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”

14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

Detail of “Joseph forgiving his brothers for selling him into slavery” from Preceptive Illustrations of the Bible, 1901, TIME

HYMN: “Blest be the tie that binds”

Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love;
the unity of heart and mind
is like to that above.

Before our Maker’s throne
we pour our ardent prayers;
our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
our comforts and our cares.

We share each other’s woes,
each other’s burdens bear;
and often for each other flows
the sympathizing tear.

This glorious hope revives
our courage on the way;
that we shall live in perfect love
in God’s eternal day.

REFLECTION

Our story begins with a criminal conspiracy.

No, we’re not talking about Russian interference or coercing Ukraine to help find dirt. That’s another sermon. In this sermon, Joseph’s brothers conspire to murder the lad, then change their minds, then conspire to deceive their father, and break an old man’s heart. But is it still criminal?

Conspiracy is one of those things you hear on television all the time. If you have an appetite for procedural dramas of a criminal sort, you will know that when two or more people conspire to commit an offence, yet only one person does the deed, everyone gets charged. In fact, doing the deed isn’t even necessary for the conspiracy charge to stick, since planning a crime is a crime itself.

And just because I’ve waited 30 years to quote a legal decision in a sermon, here is Regina v. O’Brien [1954]: “The law punishes conspiracy so that the unlawful object is not attained. It considers that several persons who agree together to commit an unlawful act, are a menace to society.” So the next time you and a friend are eyeing the donut on my plate, and agree to split my tasty donut, think again—no one wants to be labelled a menace to society.

(Just as an aside, keep R. v. Déry, [2006] in your back pocket. In my donut example, the Supreme Court does not include “fruitless discussions” as conspiracy. You need to make a proper plan.)

Back to poor Joseph. It’s not his fault that he’s his father’s favourite. Of that he has vivid dreams that others find annoying. Or that he can interpret the dreams of others. Or that his father gave him a fabulous coat, the kind of coat that just screams “Broadway musical.” Maybe Joseph was a little overbearing, or enjoyed his special status a little too much. But a criminal conspiracy? That’s going too far.

On the day in question, Joseph’s father has sent the lad to check up on the others, and make sure they’re doing their work. He’s still a speck on the horizon when the brother’s decide they’ve had enough of this upstart. They agree to kill him. Their plan—if you could call it a plan—is to kill Joseph, throw his body in an empty cistern, and claim a wild animal did it.

Luckily for Joseph, one brother couldn’t abide the plan. Reuben suggested they forget the killing part and just throw him in the cistern—just teach him a lesson, I suppose. But just then some traders appear, and the brothers hit on a new plan: sell Joseph to the Egyptbound traders, make some shekels, and then present a bloodied dreamcoat to their father. And the plan works. Joseph is sold on to Potiphar, the captain of the Pharaoh’s guard, and Jacob believes that his son is gone.

But that, of course, isn’t the end of the story. To summarize our way to today’s reading, we learn:

Some sort of Mrs. Robinson thing happens with Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.
Joseph lands in jail, but uses his dream gift to impress others.
One of the impressed inmates takes word back to Pharaoh, and Joseph is released.
Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream of fat and skinny cows, and becomes vizier.
As vizier—sort of like Prime Minister—Joseph saves the land from famine (and skinny cows).
People from the surrounding nations come to buy from Egypt’s ample supply of grain, including Joseph’s own brothers.
There is some back and forth with a silver cup (see chapter 44)
And the moment finally comes for Joseph to reveal to his brothers that he is, in fact, the vizier of Egypt.

But first Joseph has a good cry. People were a bit more emotional back then. He has a good cry and then the reveal:

“I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.”

And just because they’re in shock, he says it again, and then again: “God sent me ahead of you to save your lives! Go and get my father, and bring him along. There will be five more years of famine, some I’m going to settle you in the nearby Land of Goshen, and I will provide for you there—for you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have.” At this moment, he embraced his brother Benjamin, and started crying. And Benjamin hugged him back, and started crying. Then I assume everyone was crying—because afterall—it was a more emotional time.

This is the moment to ponder hugging in the Bible. Where else do we see tearful reunions, families reunited in an emotional time? I think you see where I’m headed. This is really just an early telling of the prodigal son—which Jesus has recast to teach us about the Kingdom. How does it work?

Joseph, like the prodigal, is in a faraway land, and only late in the story chooses to return home (or rather, lets home come to him). There is lots of brotherly resentment, for Joseph on the front-end of the story, and for the prodigal at the end-end of the story. Both stories have an element of “while he was still far off,” but with a twist. For Joseph being far off gives his brothers occasion to plot against him, for the prodigal being far off gives the father time to plot forgiveness.

And forgiveness is where the stories truly meet. Yes, Joseph was forgiving from a position of good fortune, but this does not erase the pain of being sold, imprisoned, and separated from the father he loved. He could have just as easily turned his brothers away, or imprisoned them for all they did and for all they conspired to do. But he did not. He chose to forgive.

Likewise, the father of the prodigal had every reason to align with the older brother. Half his fortune wasted on profligate living. A faithful son still by this side. He could easily have turned the prodigal son away, and let the dead remain dead in his eyes, but he did not. He chose to forgive.

The glue that binds these two passages is a forgiving God. God could have acted to thwart the co-conspirators, but gave occasion to save them instead. Joseph gives God the glory, he doesn’t claim it for himself. It is God’s desire to preserve Joseph and by extension to save the rest of the tribe, since God has plans for all of them. And God can forgive these brothers, even when they don’t deserve it.

And again, the parable of the prodigal son is a glimpse of God’s kingdom, where wastrels and those given to profligate living also receive forgiveness: once dead, he is alive once more—was lost, but now is found. It is God’s desire to reach beyond resentment and “the way the world works” and forgive instead. It is God’s desire that everyone separated from kin and clan find their way home, resting in the everlasting arms of a forgiving God. Amen.

Detail of Portrait of a Bearded Man from a Shrine, Romano-Egyptian panel painting, c. 100 CE, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Attentive God,
you have called us to be your holy people,
and to sing your praise.
Teach us to use our gifts for your glory,
and for strengthening the faith of your church.
Help us to persevere in practice and prayer,
that we may show your love to others,
and lead them closer to you.

Accept, O God,
the service of those who offer you praise
in the fellowship of this church.
May they serve you with glad hearts and dedicated lives;
that, by their service, your name will be glorified,
and the hearts of your people uplifted.

Acknowledge God,
the confession we make, having wronged others.
the prayers we make, for the sake of others.
the needs we have, making us like all others.

For those who are ill…hear our prayers.
For those who mourn…hear our prayers.
For those who have lost everything,
or enough to make it feel that way…hear our prayers.
For those in leadership…hear our prayers.
For those who teach, care, comfort, challenge,
support, console, or advocate…hear our prayers.
Find us among those we name,
as we pray for ourselves.
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: “Now thank we all our God”

Now thank we all our God, with heart,
and hands, and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom this world rejoices;
who from our mother’s arms has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us,
and keep us strong in grace, and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ill in this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God
for all that has been given,
the Son, and Spirit blest
who dwell in highest heaven,
the one eternal God, whom heaven and earth adore;
for thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

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.

Elizabeth Quantock, Joseph’s Coat of Many Colours, Leaded Stained Glass Panel, used with permission

Tenth after Pentecost

Herman van Swanevelt, Elijah in the Wilderness, 1600s, National Gallery of Art, Washington

United in spirit, and 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 Faith, Olivia, and Heather!

PRELUDE: “Without His Cross” (Martin)

OPENING PRAYER

Ever-present God,
this day enfolds us and surrounds us:
be in our speaking and in our thinking;
be in our life and on our lips;
be in our hearts and in our souls,
today and forever. Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Come, O Fount of every blessing”

Come, O Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing your grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing
call for songs of endless praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount; I’m fixed upon it,
mount of God’s unfailing love.

Here I pause in my sojourning,
giving thanks for having come,
come to trust, at every turning,
God will guide me safely home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God,
came to rescue me from danger,
precious presence, precious blood.

O, to grace how great a debt
or daily I am drawn anew!
Let that grace now, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to you.
Prone to wander, I can feel it,
wander from the love I’ve known:
here’s my heart, O, take and seal it,
seal it for your very own.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Merciful God,
you made us in your image,
with a mind to know you,
a heart to love you,
and a will to serve you.
But our knowledge is imperfect,
our love inconstant,
our obedience incomplete.
Day by day, we fail to grow into your likeness.
In your tender love, forgive.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

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

Unknown, Detail of Prophet Elijah in the Desert, early 16th century, Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Patmos.

SPECIAL MUSIC: “Let There Be Peace on Earth” (Miller/Jackson)

FIRST READING: Psalm 105

Give thanks and call on God’s name.
Make known to the nations what God has done.
Sing, O sing the songs of praise;
tell of all God’s wonderful deeds.

Exult in God’s holy name;
let those who seek God be joyful in heart.

Turn for help to the One who is your strength;
seek God’s presence continually.
Remember the marvels the Most High has done,
the wonders and judgements God has given,

O children of Abraham and Sarah, God’s servants,*
O offspring of Israel, chosen of God.

You are the eternal God,
your justice reaches every corner of the earth.
You are ever mindful of your covenant,
the promise you gave to a thousand generations,
the covenant you made with Sarah and Abraham,
the oath you gave to Isaac.

You confirmed it for Jacob as binding.
To Israel your everlasting covenant you declared,
‘To you I give the land of Canaan,
as your appointed inheritance.’

SECOND READING: 1 Kings 19.9-18

9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

HYMN: “Come down, O love divine”

Come down, O love divine,
seek now this soul of mine,
and visit it with your own ardour glowing.
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, your holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn,
till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let your glorious light
shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, my onward path illuming.

And so the yearning strong
with which the soul will long
shall far outpass the power of human telling;
for none can guess its grace,
till love creates the place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes its dwelling.

REFLECTION

It seems accurate to say that your legacy is a matter of perspective and circumstance.

Take, for example, Mary I of England, known to history as “Bloody Mary.” Her premature death meant the failure of her project of returning England to the Roman Catholic faith. Had she succeeded, history would view her very differently, and we might be in the middle of Mass right now.

Yet even with her tarnished legacy, and a reputation that approaches the stereotype of an “evil queen,” recent scholars have taken a second look and decided that her legacy is less one-sided. Many in the realm welcomed a return to the old faith, and many of the things that her sister gets credit for—naval supremacy, the beginning of the age of exploration—actually started under Mary.

If you want someone closer to the evil queen trope, look no further than Eadburh, queen of Wessex. Annoyed with her husband’s advisor, she poisoned him, and inadvertently killed her husband (the king) as well. She fled to Francia, and ended up in an awkward love triangle with Charlemange and his son. Banished from court, she was appointed the abbess of a convent, a position she soon lost after a tryst with an overnight guest. If you were wondering why so few little girls are named Eadburh, then wonder no more.

And then, of course, there is Jezebel. Ignoring the way Jezebel has been reinterpreted in recent years, we need to look again at the book of 1 Kings to see Jezebel in her original setting. Like many “foreign” queens, she brought her religion with her to Israel, meaning that she was always going to be controversial. But rather than quietly worship Baal in her well-appointed chapel, she exploited her husband’s weakness to promote Baal throughout the land.

Enter Elijah the prophet. First, he warns the king that years of drought will follow if the worship of Baal does not stop. (In addition to being a garden-variety punishment for disobedience, drought is also a direct attack on Baal, since he was supposed to be the god of rain). Exiled the first time, Elijah waits three years before he is commanded to confront the priests of Baal directly. Read 1 Kings 18 for the best duel in history. It’s Jezebel and the priests of Baal zero, Elijah (and YHWH) one.

So Elijah must flee once more—and we reach today’s reading—but the real conclusion of the Jezebel story comes in the next episode. Ahab, the weak king, is unable to convince one of his subjects to sell him a vineyard. Annoyed, Jezebel arranges to have the vineyard owner killed through an abuse of the courts, and she seizes the vineyard. For the God of justice this is a step too far, and Jezebel’s inevitable fate is sealed. Again, if you were wondering why so few little girls are named Jezebel, then wonder no more.

Back to our reading, Elijah’s second exile is worse than the first. This time he’s hiding in a cave, feeling sorry for himself, and generally resigning himself to defeat at the hands of Jezebel and Ahab. God is having none of it. The word of the Lord came to Elijah and said “what are you doing in there?” He could have just admitted that he was hiding, but instead he tries to explain himself: “everyone,” he said, “is dead. The covenant is gone, along with the places of worship. I’m the only prophet left, even though I have been zealous for the LORD.”

At this point the LORD was growing tired of all the gloom, and told Elijah to wait at the mouth of the cave for the LORD to pass by. Here’s what happened next:

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

The same question, then the same response. Still, God is having none of it. “Go back to the seats of power,” the LORD said, “and you will have occasion to make some political changes.” And then the most important message at all: “You imagine that you are the last of a breed, but this is far from the truth. There are seven thousand others in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

When we’re surrounded by trouble, the first and obvious question is ‘where is God in all this?’ Weak kings and evil queens, the worship of foreign gods, the murder of prophets, abuse of process and the state-sanctioned killing of innocent people—where is God while all this is happening? We want God to move heaven and earth to defeat the unjust, to overcome those who would rule with such inequity, but direct intervention doesn’t follow. A great and powerful wind levelled mountains before the Lord, but the Lord is not in the wind. After the wind, the earth trembled and quaked, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. But after the fire came a still small voice.

So we pull our cloaks over our heads, and we edge farther out of our hiding places, our eyes adjust to the light of this moment, and we train our ears and truly listen as the heavenly voice speaks: ‘You suppose you are alone, but you are not. You suppose that you are the last to seek justice, but you are not. You suppose you are the last to hate abuse, the last who decry the way the powerful oppress the weak—but you are not. The Lord of all can see into the hearts of the people, and understands that many have not bowed down to useless gods of this age.

Perhaps they are quiet now, and perhaps they remain in their caves of fear and reluctance, but they too are ready to listen for the still small voice of the Most High. Elijah felt alone, but 7,000 others meant he was not alone.

The bluster of those who worship the false-god of strength (and power at any cost) can be overwhelming. The noise of those who lack compassion or promote discord can be overwhelming. The intensity of daily outrage and 20,000 lies can be overwhelming. But we do not lose heart.

For God is not in the strength of the wind, nor is God in the noise of the earthquake, nor is God in the intensity of the fire. No, God is in the still small voice that says “we are not alone.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

Marc Chagall, Elijah, LIFE, Time, Inc.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

O God, lover of the world,
you hold all that you have created
within your compassionate embrace.
As you hold our lives
torn by pain or sorrow within your aching heart,
we cry out for wholeness—
for ourselves, for those we love,
and for our world.
May your healing presence gently transform
the places of our lives where we hold pain.
May your loving presence be a comforting reality
for all those who find themselves
in despair, lost or alone.
May your transforming presence
create generosity in place of greed,
harmony in place of hatred,
and everlasting justice where evil now reigns.
O God, lover of the world,
from the silence of our own hearts,
we bring before you
these people and places that need
your healing, loving, transforming presence…
O God, lover of the world,
this is your world,
and we claim your power and your presence
to make it whole.
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: “Lead on, O cloud of Presence”

Lead on, O cloud of Presence, the exodus is come.
In wilderness and desert our tribe shall make its home.
Our slavery left behind us,
new hopes within us grow.
We seek the land of promise where milk and honey flow.

Lead on, O fiery Pillar, we follow yet with fears,
but we shall come rejoicing though joy be born of tears.
We are not lost, though wandering,
for by your light we come,
and we are still God’s people. The journey is our home.

Lead on, O God of freedom, and guide us on our way,
and help us trust the promise through struggle and delay.
We pray our sons and daughters
may journey to that land
where justice dwells with mercy, and love is law’s demand.

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.

Giuseppe Angeli, Elijah Taken Up in a Chariot of Fire, c. 1740/1755, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Ninth after Pentecost

Photo by chotda (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0)

United in spirit, and 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: “The Prayer” (Foster et al.)

OPENING PRAYER

Come Holy Spirit, come.
Come into every place we worship this day.
Come into each heart, each prayer, each song,
each life open today
so that we may live and love with purpose,
courage, and enthusiasm
serving our world.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “O for a thousand tongues to sing”

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King,
he triumphs of God’s grace.

Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
that bids our sorrows cease;
’tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’tis life and health and peace.

He speaks, and listening to his voice,
new life the dead receive,
the mournful broken-hearts rejoice,
the humble poor believe.

Hear him, you deaf; you voiceless ones,
your tongues again employ;
you blind, behold your Saviour comes,
and leap, you lame, for joy!

My gracious Master and my God,
assist me to proclaim,
to spread through all the earth abroad
the honours of your name.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Holy Spirit of forgiveness, come to us again:
shake our hearts,
and set our souls on fire with your love.
We hold out to you
all our particular burdens of guilt and sin,
and we ask for your help
to live the way of your justice and love. 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: “On The Wings Of A Dove” (Ferguson)

FIRST READING: Psalm 17

Hear my just cause; attend to my cry, O God.
Listen to my prayer from lips that do not lie.
Let judgement in my favour come forth from your presence;
and let your eyes discern what is right.
If you examine my heart, if you visit me by night,
if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me.
As for what others do, according to the command of your lips
I have kept from travelling with the violent.
My steps have been firm in your paths,
and my feet have not stumbled.

I call upon you, God, for you will answer me.
Incline your ear to me and hear my words.
Show me the wonders of your steadfast love;
for by your right hand you save from their enemies
those who take refuge in you.

Guard me as the apple of your eye;
hide me under the shadow of your wings,
from the wicked who assail me,
from deadly foes who surround me.
As for me, I shall see your face because my plea is just;
when I awake and see your face,
I shall be satisfied.

SECOND READING: Matthew 14.13-21

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Photo by Alfred Muller (Creative Commons BY-NC 2.0)

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!

REFLECTION

I open the backdoor, I see a new tree. I look up from my book, I see a new tree. I close my eyes and count to ten, I see a new tree.

And not just any tree. This fast-growing and seemingly supernatural tree is known to some as the Tree of Heaven, the Chinese Sumac, the Varnish Tree, the Stinking Sumac (like rotting cashews?) while some cheeky gardeners and landscapers have been known to call it the Tree of Hell.

It grows quickly. It requires no care. It is one of the few trees that will take root in a crack in the sidewalk and make a go of it. And while this constantly reseeding tree will spread and quickly take over any space available, it has some internal weakness, and is known to drop branches or topple over in a strong wind. In most places, it is classed as a noxious weed, and should be avoided, as it pushes out native species and is very hard to eradicate.

I know, you’re thinking, “tell us how you really feel…” But I can confess to you that I have mixed feelings about the tree. It is an attractive tree, and I admire it’s tenacity, but the cost to the neighbourhood is too high. Meanwhile, it does teach us about abundance, and the extent to which nature finds a way. There may be no mustard tree in my backyard, but the Tree of Heaven is the next best thing, if explosive growth from seemingly nothing is what you’re looking for.

Lectionary watchers, attentive to the sequence of readings we follow, are just now wondering if I have the wrong sermon. The mustard seed and the yeast in three measures of flour is so last week, and this week we are supposed to be feeding the five thousand, or trying to understand this moment in the unfolding story. Rest assured I’m on the right week, but I see a parallel—maybe a bridge—from the seeds and yeast to the five thousand on the hillside.

Just ten chapters ago, Jesus was calling the disciples. The first crowd appears, a direct response to the healing and teaching that has begun. He shares the Sermon on the Mount, and the crowd grows. There is more healing, more teaching, and soon Jesus is struggling to keep up. “The harvest is plentiful,” he says, “but the workers are few.” He sends out the twelve to share the load, but this only increases the need. Soon we’re at five thousand, and when Jesus landed he saw them he had compassion on them and healed the sick—but the crowd remained.

Before we talk about feeding anyone, we need to recognize that this is a living parable, a sure sign of the kingdom embodied in the explosive growth of the crowd. Jesus is the leaven, the seed that grows, creating a plant where everyone can find shade. The explosive growth from inviting an intimate group to walk with him, to facing a hillside of hungry souls, is just as kingdom-setting as the mustard seed or the yeast in flour.

So too the premise of the story. “They need not go away,” Jesus said, “we should feed them instead.”

“But Lord,” they said (something I’m sure Jesus was tired of hearing, or is tired of hearing), “we have food for ourselves, and no more.” They actually gave the evening’s menu—five loaves and two fish—but the assumption was the same: few could be fed. Soon, however, we learn that explosive growth is on the menu, and the kingdom comes to the hillside that day and everyone is fed.

I want to interrupt this sermon with an observation. God in Jesus feeds the five thousand, something that all preachers agree. Then things diverge. On one end of the spectrum, feeding the five thousand becomes an early version of stone soup, with Jesus inspiring the crowd to share the food that was already on hand. At the other end of the spectrum, the physical limitations of five loaves and two fish were overcome, in the same manner that the storm was stilled, the leper was healed, and the demons sent away.

I can’t tell you what to believe, I can only point to what the world seems to need. We need God to be active in the world, overturning our expectations, expanding our horizons, overwhelming us with the explosive growth that belongs to the kingdom alone. Efforts to explain (or explain away) don’t live comfortably with the arresting and unexpected nature of God’s own realm. When faced with longing and hunger, Jesus said “we should feed them instead.”

In our time, on many levels, we face an explosive growth in need. The hillside crowd continues to swell, with people who are hurting, lost, broken, afraid, grieving, isolated, alienated, oppressed, confused, angry, bewildered, or simply exhausted. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Now, more than even, we turn to God to help us address this need, in both ourselves and others. We turn to God to open the kingdom store of loaves and fishes once more, to fill us—that we in turn may fill others. “They need not go away,” Jesus said, “we should feed them instead.”

I want to conclude with words from our passage, words that transform this living parable in a sacrament of compassion:

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied.

May it be so. Amen.

Photo by Lawrence OP (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0)

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

We remember before you the great company
of every name joined with us throughout the world.
From five thousand to countless millions,
your generosity never ends.
You multiply the gifts you give us,
simple things that become extraordinary,
—and mirror your love.

O Lord, save your people and bless your inheritance;
embrace them also, and lift them up for ever.
We bless your holy name for all your servants
believers that span the world you made.
Bless your church wherever it is found,
in peace or in strife,
and bless the ministry that you provide:
caring for others and sharing your mercy.

We rejoice that we share a holy fellowship.
We pray that we may be united
with sisters and brothers the world round,
we pray for them as they pray for us,
committed to tend the sick, calm the anxious,
and speak for those who cannot be heard.

We pray this through Jesus Christ our Redeemer.
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.

© Can Stock Photo / Anke

Second after Pentecost

The illustrations in this service come from the Ethiopian Gospels, Ms. W.850, Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, MD. The Ethiopian Gospel Book was made in the first half of the sixteenth century and is written in Ge’ez, the traditional liturgical language of the Ethiopian church. (Public domain)

United in spirit, and 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 Dr. Jim, Carol, Sharon, Jenny, Robert, and Heather!

PRELUDE: “Old 100th” (Genevan Psalter 1551)

OPENING PRAYER

God of gladness,
We enter your presence
with praise on our lips,
and thanksgiving in our hearts.
The gates of your goodness are always open,
and your faithfulness extends to every age.
Tend us, Lord, and remind us
that we belong to you alone.
Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Make a joyful noise all the earth!”

Make a joyful noise all the earth!
Worship your God with gladness.
Make a joyful noise all the earth.
Come to this place with a song!

Know that your God has made you.
Know it’s to God we belong.
And come to this place with joyfulness and praise.
Worship your God with a song! R

Ages through endless ages,
seasons of endless years,
the love of our Maker ever shall endure.
Worship your God with a song! R

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

God of mercy,
you know how we feel before we feel it.
When frustrated, you understand.
When weary, you know how much.
When angry, you always forgive.
Abide with us, Lord, even when we struggle,
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: “Bless the Lord, O my soul” (Redman/Myrin)

FIRST READING: Psalm 100

Shout to God, all the earth:
worship with gladness and joy.
Come before God with laughter,
our maker to whom we belong.
To the Shepherd who tends us like sheep,
let us raise our voices in song.

Come to God’s gates with thanks;
come to God’s courts with praise.
Praise and bless God’s name.
‘Truly you are good:
you are always gracious,
and faithful age after age.’

Image of St. Matthew

SECOND READING: Matthew 9.35-10.1, 10.5-15

35-38 Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!”

The prayer was no sooner prayed than it was answered. Jesus called twelve of his followers and sent them into the ripe fields. He gave them power to kick out the evil spirits and to tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives.

5-8 Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:

“Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.

9-10 “Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.

11 “When you enter a town or village, don’t insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people, and be content there until you leave.

12-15 “When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. You can be sure that on Judgment Day they’ll be mighty sorry—but it’s no concern of yours now.

HYMN: “Jesus, you have come 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. R

You need my hands, full of caring
through my labours to give others rest,
and constant love that keeps on loving. R

You, who have fished other oceans,
ever longed for by souls who are waiting,
my loving friend, as thus you call me. R

REFLECTION

If you ever lay awake at night wondering what’s the most popular hymn, then lay awake no more.

For you see, the good folks at the Hymn Society have created a sort of CHUM chart of popular hymns, both “most popular” and “trending hymns.” It’s not entirely clear what the difference is, but I can tell you that “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!” tops them both, owing—it seems—to the fact that it appeals to the most number of Christian denominations. Seems “Holy, Holy, Holy!” is the one thing we can all agree on.

(Just as an aside, if you don’t know what the CHUM chart is, you’re going to need to ask someone over 50.)

The other thing to note is that on the top fifteen list of most popular hymns, only one author appears twice, and that would be Charles Wesley. Now some may argue that he had an unfair advantage: that when you write 6,000 hymns, two of them are bound to appear in the top 15, and that may be so. But when you look at his “best of” list it’s hard not to be impressed:

“Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
“Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending”
“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”
“O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”

Nevertheless, Charles never achieves the universal agreeableness of a “Holy, Holy, Holy!” because of his tendency toward the idea of Christian perfection. Wesley believed, along with the many Methodists he inspired, that you could achieve a measure of perfection in this life—sanctification being the term they used. In fact, if you dig around in the archives, the old Methodist class books would (on rare occasions) include an “S” beside a name, indicating that the class member had become sanctified.

Now those of us who feel we are equal parts Presbyterian and Methodist immediately start scratching our heads. “Who decides?” is the first and obvious question, along with “how long?” and followed by “then what?” I hope the Methodist class teacher was writing in pencil, since our capacity to sin—including the sin of pride—generally takes over, and leads to the disappearance of that rare “S” notation.

Back to hymns, hymnbook editors generally find a way to adapt hymns to make them more acceptable. An example is “Love Divine, all loves excelling” (number 10 in the top 15) and the original line “pure and sinless let us be.” Apparently, even brother John thought Charles went too far, by suggesting that we could somehow become sinless like Christ. So the line was changed to “pure and spotless let us be.” See, fixed. Spotless is like the kitchen floor that will be dirty again tomorrow, while sinless moves us into territory we don’t belong (and will likely never achieve).

Having fixed the hymn, it remains one of the best expressions of the Christian hope. Charles concludes the first verse with these lines:

Jesus, Thou art all compassion;
Pure, unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.

I may be guilty of quoting these four lines too frequently, but they seem to say what Charles meant to say when he drifted into Christian perfection. Jesus has compassion on us, meeting us with a love that is pure and unbounded, and may enter our heart—and every heart—trembling for salvation through him. We are saved then, rather than sanctified, and “perfectly restored” in Christ Jesus.

I share all this because I suspect that Matthew 9.35 and following was in his mind while Charles wrote these words. “When he saw the crowds,” Matthew tells us, “he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” That’s where Jesus finds us. In fact, even after Jesus finds us, we can feel “harassed and hopeless,” and only able to go on, knowing that his compassion never ends. The Good Shepherd will tend us, and restore us to the fold.

Further, Jesus sends the twelve out into the world saying, “tell them this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” This can be read in a variety of ways, but once again Charles is here to help. “Visit us with Thy salvation, enter every trembling heart” is just another way of saying ‘the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ It’s as near as your heart, where the kingdom will enter in and the will of the Most High will be done. Jesus said as much when he was arguing with the Pharisees. “When will the kingdom come?” they asked, and Jesus said ‘stop looking for signs, and ignore everyone who says “over here!” or “over there!” because the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17.21). It has already entered your trembling heart.

The kingdom is within us
it has entered our hearts.
The Compassionate One walks beside us
and restores us to our place with him.
We are surrounded by the harassed and helpless
and remind them the Shepherd is here.

May God bless us and fill our hearts with unbounded love. May we freely love others, as Christ has so freely loved us. And may the Spirit move within, and help us find the kingdom there. Amen.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

God of love,
We come before you with many needs.
We are beset with worry:
for our friends and family,
for our congregation,
for the community we inhabit,
for the nation we love,
for the sad and the lonely,
for the hurt and oppressed.

Day and night we struggle,
for fear of the future,
and fear of an illness,
that remains overwhelming
and beyond our control.
Sustain us through these times,
giving wisdom to leaders,
and insight to researchers,
and patience to all who need more.

Find us, Lord,
in the midst of this moment:
comfort those in grief,
and ease those in pain.
Help us abide in you,
walking in the light of your goodness,
now and always,
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: “Take my live, and let it be”

Take my life, and let it be
consecrated, all for thee;
take my moments and my days;
let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands, and let them move
at the impulse of thy love;
take my feet, and let them be
swift and purposeful for thee.

Take my lips, and let them be
filled with messages from thee;
take my intellect, and use
every power as thou shalt choose.

Take my will, and make it thine;
it shall be no longer mine;
take my heart, it is thine own;
it shall be thy royal throne.

Take my love: and I will pour
at thy feet its treasure store;
take myself, and I will be
ever, only, all for thee.

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.

Trinity Sunday

Our service today is dedicated to church picnics and the happy memories we share. To this end, we include recollections from young people (and the young at heart) in the service, appearing in the photo captions. Special thanks to Norma and Lang for being such generous hosts each year. Thanks today to Cor, Shauna, Amanda, Beth, and Heather!

PRELUDE: “What the World Needs Now Is Love” (David/Bacharach)

OPENING PRAYER

O God, our God,
how glorious is your name in all the earth!
From the lips of infants and children, the young,
the not-so-young, the somewhat older, the older
and the really old: your praises reach the heavens!
When looking to the heavens, we wonder.
When seeing the the work of your fingers, we wonder.
When looking up at the moon and the stars, we wonder:
Why are mindful of us? Why should you care for us?
And then the answer:
Little less than divine you made us,
and crowned us with your glory,
in the name of the Most High,
the Risen One, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

Kerri: For me, one of the highlights of the church picnic has always been the amazing outdoor games. We have so much fun playing them and even though it can be competitive, it is always fun and good spirited. I especially love the shoe toss, the scavenger hunt, and of course the balloon toss. Our family is very grateful for all the years we have been able to enjoy the church picnics including the sleepovers the night before. We are grateful to the Moffat family for sharing their wonderful property with us and very grateful to everyone who puts so much time and energy into organizing the picnic every year.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “All things bright and beautiful”

All things bright and beautiful,
all creatures great and small,
all things wise and wonderful:
in love, God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
each little bird that sings,
God made their glowing colours,
God made their tiny wings. R

The purpleheaded mountains,
the river running by,
the sunset and the morning
that brightens up the sky; R

The cold wind in the winter,
the pleasant summer sun,
the ripe fruits in the garden:
God made them every one. R

The rocky mountain splendour,
the lone wolf’s haunting call,
the great lakes and the prairies,
the forest in the fall; R

God gave us eyes to see them,
and lips that we might tell
how great is God our maker,
who has made all things well. R

Katie: For as long as I can remember the water balloon toss has always been the highlight of the picnic for me.

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.
Given the gift of creation, we abuse it,
treating your earth as disposable.
Instructed to rest, as you rested,
we would rather keep busy.
Teach us to love one another,
to truly love the earth,
and to find true rest in you.
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.

Abigail: As someone who is usually unable to attend weekly services and regular church functions because I attend school away from home, the picnic has always been a great way to reconnect with the church community.

SPECIAL MUSIC: “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” (traditional)

FIRST READING: Psalm 8

O God, our God, how glorious is your name in all the earth!
From the lips of infants and children your praises
reach up to the heavens.
You have set up a stronghold against your foes,
to quell the enemy and the avenger.

When I look to the heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars you have set in their places,
what are we mortals that you should be mindful of us,
mere human beings that you should care for us?

You have made us little less than divine,
and crowned us with glory and honour.
You have made us rulers over all your creation,
and put all things under our feet,

all sheep and cattle, all creatures of the wild,
the birds of the air and the fish in the sea,
and all that make their way through the waters.

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SECOND READING: Genesis 1.1-31, 2.1-4a

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. 4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

HYMN: “This is God’s wondrous world”

This is God’s wondrous world,
and to my listening ears
all nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
This is God’s wondrous world;
I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas,
God’s hand the wonders wrought.

This is God’s wondrous world:
the birds their carols raise;
the morning light, the lily white,
declare their Maker’s praise.
This is God’s wondrous world:
God shines in all that’s fair;
in the rustling grass or mountain pass,
God’s voice speaks everywhere.

This is God’s wondrous world:
O let me ne’er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is God’s wondrous world:
why should my heart be sad?
Let voices sing, let the heavens ring:
God reigns, let earth be glad!

Em: I love playing pig back badminton. Although i always lose with Robert, it’s fun to fall around and act like little kids with the real little kids. It’s always felt the same: youthful, joyful, and fun.

REFLECTION

The Voyager 1 space probe had already been travelling away from earth for a dozen years when Carl Sagan approached NASA with an idea. Since the probes “photo assignment” included shots of the sun and the planets, why not spin around for a moment and take a picture of the earth?

So on February 14, 1990, as “the spacecraft left our planetary neighbourhood for the fringes of the solar system,” the probe came about, looked back four billion miles, and took a photo. Sagan described it as a “pale blue dot,” just 0.12 pixels in size, there amid the light rays cast by the sun.* Even the colourblind can see that it’s blue, and very small, almost lost in the vastness of space.

“What are we mortals,” the psalmist asks, “that you should be mindful of us? Mere human beings, that you should care for us?” Indeed, in the vastness of the heavens, among two trillion galaxies, averaging 100 billion stars per galaxy, you might suggest we are lost in space. And without opening a debate that includes little green men or saucers that fly, it remains safe to assume that we’re lonely in our little corner of space. Maybe not alone, but certainly lonely when the measure is in lightyears.

The psalmist then answers the question for us: “a little less than angels you made us, and crowned us with glory and honour. You have made us rulers over all your creation, and put all things under our feet.” So we are unique, with a unique role in the unfolding of creation. How do you think we’re doing? Before we get to that, we should spend a moment more on our semi-divine status, our position just shy of the angels. Again, how do you think we’re doing?

Well, the answer is mixed. Anyone looking in on us just now might question our near angelness, so we need to approach the question in a different way. I want to begin at the beginning, and for that we need to travel to Africa. Imagine for a moment that we’ve spent millions of years evolving. The earth is old, but humans are not, and there was a moment in time when one or two or more people developed consciousness. One moment this tiny band was like every other living thing that moved upon the earth, and then in the next moment everything changed.

Now, I don’t want to move us into the garden too quickly, so I’m going to stay with consciousness and the birth of our humanity. When it was just a handful of self-aware people and their Maker, things were simple. I’m sure there was conflict—it is one of our defining characteristics—but the danger was small. As consciousness spread, and the number of “humans” increased, we discovered our differences. Band A had a better diet than Band B. Band B. had better music than Band A, and so on. All the human emotions came into play: pride, envy, anger, distrust, and the rest. Every possible difference was explored, and our humanity began to show.

You can imagine this grieved (and grieves) our Maker. We were made in God’s image, the marker of our common humanity, but we see only differences. So God sent plagues to convince Pharaoh that the Israelites were human. God sent prophets to convince the Israelites that their neighbours were human. God sent Jesus to convince all of humanity that we’re human. Yet here we are. There is no easy answer to this problem, our focus on differences, but we can start with where God would have us start: rereading the stories of exodus, exile, and the one we call Emmanuel. And we might listen to other voices too, like Professor Alice Roberts who shared some truth this week:

We’re all members of a young species…
wherever we’ve ended up, all over the world,
we’re Africans under the skin. And
uncovering that story, retracing the steps of
our ancestors, has given me a profound
sense of our common humanity: our shared
past, and our shared future”

And what about our other question, our rule over creation? The creation narrative (delightfully read), is one of those earth-positive readings that demands to be heard. Same for Psalm 104, and Job 38 (a very unique celebration of creation), and all the places in scripture that describe the way the earth feeds us. We have dominion, which sounds an awful lot like domination, but means more like “supreme authority.” In the nuclear age, our authority became more supreme, with the power to keep or destroy. And with that in mind, I would suggest dominion is really just a form of extreme stewardship. The earth is ours to keep or destroy.

There were a number of stories in April about the environment and the pause that came through the pandemic. Birds sang, smog cleared, and animals cautiously entered places that humans appeared to vacate. It was a powerful moment. It’s obvious that we can’t shut down human industry, but the pause was a reminder that we can help the earth, that nothing we do is set in stone, and that change is possible. It’s a hard way to learn, but that doesn’t negate the lesson.

Every crisis reminds us that we have more to learn, more to fix, and more to grieve. Every crisis reminds us that God knows us better than we know ourselves, and that God will hold us through our learning—and lack of learning. Every crisis reminds us that we need God: to remake us in God’s own image, to redeem us through the abiding presence of Jesus Christ, and to sustain us for whatever comes next, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

*https://www.planetary.org/explore/space-topics/earth/pale-blue-dot.html

Beth: Every year, the night before the church picnic, all the kids (and Kevin) partake in an epic game of manhunt, in the pitch black, through the trees on the back of the Moffat property . It’s like a cross between tag and hide and seek. There have been epic sidestep moves as people try to avoid getting tagged, and awesome hiding places including up trees or in plain site at the campfire. You also develop an uncanny skill of dodging trees as you run through the darkness (well most people do … there were a few people who ran into trees haha). One year Robert brought a super bright flashlight that was totally unfair as he lit up the whole forest, but was also entertaining. We also got to work together and look out for each other as we hid, or team up to look for people hiding in the bushes once we got caught. Manhunt is just a joyful experience with awesome people that is unique to the church camping sleepover. So many great memories. Manhunt at the sleepover will surely be missed this year.

Robert: My Flashlight was totally legit

Beth: Debatable

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.

Shauna: For me the camping and picnic has been a super relaxing weekend. Always great catching up with everyone while the kids (and young adults) have fun. Puppies and fresh air! And special memories of Linda Brown.

Paige: The church picnics always remind me of Linda Brown. She always loved being involved with kids club 😊 she would be so happy hearing these stories!

HYMN: “O splendour of God’s glory bright”

O splendour of God’s glory bright,
from light eternal bringing light;
O light of life, light’s living spring,
true day, all days illumining:

come, Holy Sun of heavenly love,
pour down your radiance from above,
and to our inward hearts convey
the Holy Spirit’s cloudless ray.

O joyful be the passing day
with thoughts as clear as morning’s ray,
with faith like noontide shining bright,
our souls unshadowed by the night.

O Christ, with each returning morn
your image to our hearts is born;
O may we ever see anew
our Saviour and our God in you!

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

During this time of physical isolation, we look for ways to share words of comfort and hope in the face of uncertainty and fear. We encourage you to pray over the words that follow, and follow the links within the liturgy. The prayers in our service today are from Celebrate God’s Presence. Many thanks to Taye, Jenna, and Heather!

PRELUDE: “Spirit of Life” (McDade)

OPENING PRAYER

Spirit of the living God, visit us again this day of Pentecost.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.
On rushing winds that sweep away all barriers,
come, Holy Spirit, come.
With tongues of fire that set our hearts aflame,
come, Holy Spirit, come.
With speech that unites the babel of our tongues,
come, Holy Spirit, come.
With love that overleaps the boundaries of race and nation,
come, Holy Spirit, come.
With power from above to make our weakness strong,
come, Holy Spirit, come.
In the name of God, the Holy One,
and of Jesus Christ our Saviour,
come, Holy Spirit, come.

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.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Spirit of God,
You send us the Spirit of courage,
but we have been afraid.
You send us the Spirit of truth,
but we cling to our illusions.
You send us the Spirit of healing,
but we cannot let go of our hurts.
Holy Spirit of forgiveness, come to us again:
shake our hearts,
set our souls on fire with your love:
rejoicing in your power.
Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

God’s unfailing love sustains and upholds us;
God will never let us go.
Where the Spirit is, there is freedom.
Receive God’s forgiveness.
Come alive in Christ!

SPECIAL MUSIC: “She Flies On” (Light)

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 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?

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: “Spirit of the living God”

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mould me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Spirit of the living God, move among us all;
make us one in heart and mind, make us one in love:
humble, caring, selfless, sharing.
Spirit of the living God, fill our lives with love!

REFLECTION

I expect Luke knew that his recounting of Pentecost would someday be read aloud. He may have been thinking about his words being read at some sort of public gathering—and not read into a smartphone—but I expect he knew someone would read it to others. So as we thank Jenna for her fine reading, she can thank Luke, because he put the unreadable bits together in such a way that we can save them for later. Then, of course, it falls to me to struggle through Luke’s list, which I will do now. I’ll take it from verse eight:

Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Indeed, what does it mean? But before we get to that larger question—the meaning of Pentecost—I want to talk about diversity in the Roman world. Luke is amazed by it, and this tells me that we should be too. He recounts for us the nations represented that day, the nations with a large enough Jewish population that they deserved a mention. Looking at a map, you would see that his list takes us from Rome in the west (1,400 miles!) to Parthia in the east, and south into Africa, both Egypt and Libya. To the north is modern-day Turkey, and all those cities Paul and his companions will someday visit.

And as I began pondering this passage, thinking about the diversity of the Roman world, I remembered an interview with Professor Mary Beard, included in David Olusoga’s documentary Black in Britain.* Olusoga is also interested in the diversity of the Roman world, and how physical differences like skin colour were perceived. Dr. Beard begins with a rather long caveat (“I don’t…want to give any impression that the Romans are particularly nice or angelic about this”) but then goes on to say, “what the Romans weren’t is racist in our terms, and there is no sense that skin colour is really the thing that marks you out for your position in the culture.”

“When it comes to race [then],” Olusoga asks, “the Romans were more liberal than we are now?”

“Yeah,” she says, “I think we live with a kind of myth that somehow we’ve got less and less prejudiced over the centuries, and that’s simply not true. And one of the points of looking at the Romans—one of the lessons they’ve got for us—is they remind us that some of the prejudices we hold haven’t been held forever. There’s something a bit optimistic about it because it might actually mean that we won’t go on holding them one day. Who knows,” she says, “Who knows?”

I share all this at the end of a very long week, with the death of George Floyd and all the unrest that continues. 53 years ago, Dr. King said that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” He wasn’t justifying violence—his project was always non-violent—but rather explaining why systemic racism and extrajudicial violence leads to unrest. We pray for an end to violence, best resolved through reconciliation and truth-telling. As we have learned on this side of the border, the process of addressing past wrongs is long and complex, but our collective future depends on it. And as Mary Beard reminds us, race and racial inequality are learned ideas, and can hopefully be unlearned.

On the day of Pentecost, differences melted away. Religious women and men from all over the known world had a common experience of divine power, the wind and flame of the Holy Spirit. They (literally) spoke with one voice to proclaim the wonders of God, the God who saves, the God who transforms us and makes us one.

Pentecost is the birthday of the church, but it’s also the beginning of Joel’s “last days,” a new era that will lead to the “great and glorious day of the Lord.” It begins amid the Babel, erased by the power of the Holy Spirit. From this moment of unity will come a common message, and that common message will be carried back to the farthest corners of the Roman world. Soon the world will learn that “anyone who calls on the name of the Lord can be saved”—saved from meaninglessness, saved from the things that divide us, and saved from death itself.

The cornerstone of Pentecost is baptism, entering into the death and resurrection of Christ to emerge a new person. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile,” Paul will soon write, “neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Wind and flame—and the cleansing water of baptism—will sweep away what divides us, and make us one. May we ever remain Pentecostal people, alive in the Spirit, and determined in our desire for unity. Amen.

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

God of power,
may the boldness of your Spirit transform us,
may the gentleness of your Spirit lead us,
may the gifts of your Spirit equip us
to serve and worship you now and always. Amen.

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.