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Sixteenth after Pentecost

It was lovely to see everyone at worship this morning, both face-to-face and on Zoom.

Thank you to Marg Todman (Bunny) for leading worship and to Dave Hewitt for singing and Heather Maclean for providing the music.

Click below to view this morning’s service:

Next week’s service will be at 11:00 (in person and Zoom). Taye Maddison will be leading worship.

Ninth after Pentecost

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

PRELUDE: “Friends” (Smith)

OPENING PRAYER:

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

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

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

Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
But we turn away, rejecting the gifts of the Spirit.
Forgive us, blessed God,
in the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

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

SPECIAL MUSIC: “Ask Me What Great Thing I Know/Just As I Am” (Malan/Bradbury)

FIRST READING: Psalm 145

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

SECOND READING: Ephesians 3.14-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REFLECTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

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

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

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

THE LORD’S PRAYER

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

HYMN: “Retell what Christ’s great love has done”

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

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

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

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

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

BLESSING

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

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

Eighth after Pentecost

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

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

PRELUDE: “Gentle Breeze” (Bender)

OPENING PRAYER:

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

HYMN OF PRAISE: “When morning gilds the skies”

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

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

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

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

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

God of mercy,
Once we were no people,
and now we are your people.
Still, we forget.
We forget that we belong to you,
and that you feed us,
you walk beside us,
and encourage us to rest.
We forget that you made us in your image,
a little less than angels
in the household of heaven.
Help us remember,
who we are,
and to Whom we belong,
In Jesus’ name we ask. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

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

SPECIAL MUSIC: “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” (Hoffman/Showalter)

FIRST READING: Psalm 23

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

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

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

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

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

SECOND READING: Mark 6.30-34, 53-56

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

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

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

HYMN: “Take time to be holy”

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

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

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

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

REFLECTION

Suddenly everyone’s going into space.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

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

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

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

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

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

Dwell with us, God, this day,
and remind us that we never walk alone.
Strengthen us to care for others,
Following the compassionate example of your child,
Jesus the Christ. Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

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

HYMN: “I heard the voice of Jesus say”

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

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

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

BLESSING

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

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

Seventh after Pentecost

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Peasant Wedding, c. 1566. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna

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: “What a Wonderful World” (Thiele/Weiss)

OPENING PRAYER:

We come from scattered lives to this moment,
seeking unity in the Spirit,
seeking the grace of Christ,
seeking the peace of God.

seeking creativity in the Spirit,
seeking the compassion of Christ,
seeking knowledge of God.

seeking fellowship in the Spirit,
seeking companionship in Christ,
seeking union with God.
Speak to us though these words, Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “All the way my Saviour leads me”

All the way my Saviour leads me;
what have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt his tender mercy
who through life has been my guide?
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort,
here by faith in him to dwell,
for I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

All the way my Saviour leads me,
cheers each winding path I tread,
gives me grace for every trial,
feeds me with the living bread.
Though my weary steps may falter,
and my soul athirst may be,
gushing from the rock before me,
lo, a spring of joy I see!

All the way my Saviour leads me;
O the fullness of his love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
in my Father’s house above.
When my spirit, clothed, immortal,
wings its flight to realms of day,
this my song through endless ages,
‘Jesus led me all the way!’

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

In joy and in trouble,
help us, gracious God,
to trust your love,
to serve your purpose,
and to praise your name.

In joy and in trouble,
help us, gracious God,
to open our hearts,
to trust in you,
and welcome your mercy.

In joy and in trouble
help us, gracious God,
to forgive others, and ourselves,
knowing that forgiveness
comes from you alone. 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: “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” (Chapman)

FIRST READING: Psalm 24

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.[a]

They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob.[b][c]

Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

Who is he, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty—
he is the King of glory.

SECOND READING: Luke 14.1-14

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.

Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child[a] or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And they had nothing to say.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

HYMN: “Lord, speak to me”

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

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

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

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

File:Diego Rivera, Triumph of the Revolution, 1926. (6968295771).jpg
Diego Rivera, Triumph of the Revolution, 1926. Fresco. Autonomous University of Chapingo, Mexico.

REFLECTION

It seems unnatural to part with a book. A book is like an old friend. A book is like an engaging conversational partner. A book is like a member of the family. Alas, you can’t keep every book you read, or intend to read, or read then stop when some other book demands to be read. This week I thought long and hard about giving away Robert Putnam’s book. Not that Robert Putman, the other Robert Putnam, the one who wrote “Bowling Alone.”

So while I ponder the fate of my well-worn copy of Bowling Alone, maybe I’ll tell you about it as I try to decide. In a nutshell, it’s a book about social trends in the United States, and in particular the state of community or “social capital.” These things are measured and studied in depth, but Putnam has assembled all the studies and surveys into a single volume. Here are a few examples—apropos to our reading—on the topic of eating:

In the last two decades of the last century, the amount of entertaining at home dropped by 45 percent. The decline was so sharp, that if the trend holds, the entire practice of entertaining at home will cease. The evening meal? Down by a third in the same period. So, you wonder, if people are eating at home less, and entertaining at home less, perhaps there’s a shift to restaurants. Not based on statistics. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of “full-service” restaurants in America dropped by 25 percent, the number of bars and luncheonettes by 50 percent. People were not having picnics either: they are off by 60 percent (pp. 98-102).

After reading the first hundred pages or so, it all seems rather grim. The ties that bind people to each other are declining and ending, and I wish I could assure you that it is limited to south of the border, but I cannot. Still, it’s a book worth reading, because once you get past the bad news at the beginning, you get the part that he revealed in the sub-title of the book: “The Collapse and Revival of American Community.”

Eating, of course, is at the centre of our experience of being human. We think about food all the time, at least three times a day. If we’re not actually eating a meal, we’re just as likely to be planning a meal, or thinking back to a meal we’ve enjoyed. Some of us have others to feed, while others feed only themselves. Alone or with others, we cannot avoid the need to eat.

Taking the long view, eating has always been a primary preoccupation of humans, and most agree that it is the very foundation of society. Years ago I read a very convincing article that suggested that the foundational impulse of agriculture was the production of beer. The discovery of beer was the push needed to get our forebears in the Nile Delta to get it together and cooperate on farming. Now, whether you can accept the “beer theory” of human development or not, it seems clear that at some point food production (and the eating that followed) became a key factor in the formation of human society.

Key enough, that the study of eating unlocks much of what we can know about societies in general. From a couple of anthropologists named Farb and Armelogos, we get this:

In all societies, both simple and complex, eating is the primary way of initiating and maintaining human relationships…Once the anthropologists finds out where, when and with whom the food is eaten, just about everything else can be inferred about the relations among the society’s members (Crossan, p. 68).

Looking back at “Bowling Alone” for a minute, I wonder what future anthropologists will make of the fact that at the same moment family meals and conventional restaurants were in sharp decline, the number of fast food places doubled. Hold that thought.

Jesus, the first and best anthropologist, said this:

“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”

He was describing what future scholars would call food exchanges, “a series of obligations to give, receive and repay” (p. 69). As anyone who has ever planned a significant meal or event will tell you, there are layers and layers of thinking involved:

Should we invite them? We were invited to their party. Where should we seat them? Can we put the second and third cousins at the back? We can’t serve chicken; everyone serves chicken. Where should we seat the minister? Surely someone on the list must go to church…we’ll put him with them.

You get the picture. Jesus understood the politics of food and meal planning and knew that the primary motive for issuing invitations was quid pro quo. We become obligated. We seek to create obligation with certain people, and avoid it with others. We tend to share our table with people just like us. The United States was 125 years old before an African-American was invited to dine at the White House. 36 years after the end of slavery, Booker T. Washington, leader and former slave, was invited to dine with then-president Theodore Roosevelt. The house itself, built by slaves, was standing for over 100 years before an African-American was invited to dine there.

When we imagine the people with whom we want to share a meal, we naturally begin with family, and then neighbours (usually our economic equals). Jesus takes this further and adds the people better off, and more likely to repay in style. Call him cynical, but as first and best anthropologist, Jesus knew that our selfish impulses usually win out. This might go some way to explain his waning popularity as the Gospel progresses. Jesus knew that comfort and selfish desire win over generosity and selflessness every time.

But he was persistent. And maybe even a little rude. He is invited to the house of a leader of the Pharisees (a social promotion for a humble Nazarene) and decides that this is the moment to share a couple of parables that would condemn most of the people at the party. “Thanks for the invite” he said, “but when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”

Not only does he suggest we reject the principle of “inviting up,” he goes much further and suggests that we invite the least desirable people in society, the people that his hosts thought were rejected by God. Remember the question “who sinned, this man or his parents that he be born blind?” There is an entire theological worldview in this one simple question. God punishes sin, according to this view, and the secret to understanding any misfortune is simply determining the source of the sin. Jesus couldn’t disagree more.

God’s kingdom, and the table in that kingdom, is long and eclectic, populated by exactly the people Jesus describes. God doesn’t enumerate sinners and bar the door: God opens the table to everyone, casting aside both the idea of desirable and undesirable and severing the link between misfortune and sin. God’s blessing is extended to those who model their table after the divine table, making invitations precisely because the people invited are in no position to repay.

Way back in time, some 13 years ago, some very dedicated elders received a resume from a minister who listed “daycare cook” as the first item under work experience. I expect that gave me the edge, since I soon learned that my hard-earned skill from the daycare would be needed at Central. As an aside, there is no greater character building exercise than cooking for preschoolers. I still have no adequate response to the words “Ewwww, what’s that?”

Of course, Tuesday night dinner is just the beginning of the story of Central and food. Eventually WKNC added more meals, groceries, and takeaway meals, and then our dear friends from WAES appeared on the scene, taking food distribution to the next level. Even Shakespeare in Action has been helping distribute food during the pandemic, illustrating the size and scale of the heavenly banquet happening at 1 King Street. And that’s without looking south to Mount Dennis, where we created an entire community ministry dedicated to food security.

In every way we can, we have been reversing the trends that disconnect people from their food, and underling the ways in which sharing a meal is at the heart of being human. We have made the last first, and in doing so, we helped bring the Kingdom to this community. May this banquet persist, and may we always find ourselves among the people with needs greater than our own. Amen.

Addison Scurlock, Mr. Harry White’s Party, 1930.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Almighty and merciful God,
from whom comes all that is good,
we praise you for all your mercies:
for your goodness that has created us,
your grace that has sustained us,
your wisdom that has challenged us,
your patience that has borne with us,
and your love that has redeemed us.
Help us to love you and all your children,
and to be thankful for all your gifts,
by serving you and delighting to do your will.

Almighty and merciful God,
from whom comes all that is just,
we praise you for your guidance:
your law that guides us,
your prophets that speak to us,
your Spirit that animates us,
and your Word that leads us.
Help us to further your kingdom,
and demonstrate your mercy,
by serving you and delighting to do your will.

Almighty and merciful God,
from whom comes the desire to pray,
we turn to you when our hearts are heavy:
for the lost and those uncertain,
for the sick and those recovering,
for the sad and those tired with grief,
and for everyone who is vulnerable in your sight.
Help us to comfort them,
and demonstrate your compassion,
by serving you and delighting to do your will.
In Jesus’ name, 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: “Precious Lord, take my hand”

Precious Lord, take my hand,
lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
through the storm, through the night,
lead me on to the light:
take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

When my way grows drear,
precious Lord, linger near,
when my life is almost gone,
hear my cry, hear my call,
hold my hand lest I fall:
take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

When the darkness appears,
and the night draws near,
and the day is past and gone,
at the river I stand,
guide my feet, hold my hand:
take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

BLESSING

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

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

Sixth after Pentecost

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

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

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

OPENING PRAYER:

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

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

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

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

SPECIAL MUSIC: “Jesus Saw Them Fishing” (Canedo)

FIRST READING: Psalm 48

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

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

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

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

SECOND READING: Mark 6.1-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

HYMN: “Praise our Maker”

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

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

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

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

REFLECTION

Most often, preachers are just preachin’ to themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

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

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

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

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

THE LORD’S PRAYER

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

HYMN: “Blessed assurance”

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

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

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

BLESSING

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

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

Fifth after Pentecost

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-12.png
Mark 5.41: Jesus took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Photo by nsawyer (Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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

PRELUDE: “Shooting Stars in Summer” (Ikeda)

OPENING PRAYER:

Wondrous God:
you touch our lives with healing and mercy;
new life is your gift.
We praise you for the Good News
which is ours through Jesus Christ.
May this time of worship nourish us
with your promise of meaning and purpose.
May this time be a balm for the hurting
and a rest for the weary.
May we be strengthen to carry your message
of new life in Christ to the streets that surround us.
And may we be empowered to carry your grace
into the coming week.
We pray in Jesus’ name, our Source and Saviour.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Come and find the quiet centre”

Come and find the quiet centre
in the crowded life we lead,
find the room for hope to enter,
find the frame where we are freed:
clear the chaos and the clutter,
clear our eyes, that we can see
all the things that really matter,
be at peace, and simply be.

Silence is a friend who claims us,
cools the heat and slows the pace,
God it is who speaks and names us,
knows our being, face to face,
making space within our thinking,
lifting shades to show the sun,
raising courage when we’re shrinking,
finding scope for faith begun.

In the Spirit let us travel,
open to each other’s pain,
let our loves and fears unravel,
celebrate the space we gain:
there’s a place for deepest dreaming,
there’s a time for heart to care,
in the Spirit’s lively scheming
there is always room to spare!

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: “In Suffering Love/There is a Balm in Gilead”

FIRST READING: Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.

He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.

SECOND READING: Mark 5.21-43

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

HYMN: “Healer of our every ill”

Healer of our every ill,
light of each tomorrow,
give us peace beyond our fear,
and hope beyond our sorrow.

You who know our fears and sadness,
grace us with your peace and gladness.
Spirit of all comfort, fill our hearts. R

In the pain and joy beholding,
how your grace is still unfolding.
Give us all your vision, God of love. R

Give us strength to love each other,
every sister, every brother.
Spirit of all kindness, be our guide. R

You who know each thought and feeling,
teach us all your way of healing.
Spirit of compassion, fill each heart. R

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-11.png
Fresco from Catacombs of Rome, c. 300 CE. Photo in the public domain.

REFLECTION

My wee laddie turned 30 this week, and suddenly I’m out of touch.

Not so much with the usual music, clothing, slang, social media platform, or recreational choices, but children’s books— something I haven’t thought about for many years. I had an inkling, and my inkling relates to the lesson of the day, so I decided to check out bestselling books for preschoolers.

Sure enough, there are many best-selling books about bodies, learning about your body, and self-esteem related to what you find. And they seem to follow a few broad themes, the first being a general kind of body positivity: Bodies Are Cool (Tyler Feder); Me and My Amazing Body (Joan Sweeney); and
I Love Being Me! (Mechal Renee Roe).

And then there is the inevitable and wildly popular book Everyone Poops (Taro Gomi), and what seems like an unintentional sequel, We Poop on the Potty (Jim Harbison). Some things need to be said.

I’m particularly partial to the rhyming titles, such as Oliver West! It’s Time to Get Dressed! (Kelly Louise); Whose Toes Are Those? (Jabari Asim), and (of course) Whose Knees are These? (Jabari Asim). And this then leads us to books for kids who are self-conscious, such as Big Hair, Don’t Care (Crystal Swain-Bates) or a new personal favourite: Your Nose! A Wild Little Love Story (Sandra Boynton).

The link to our passage is bodies, physicality, and the extent to which we can imagine the scene. I’m going to reread a summary version, with a focus on the physical. (Remember this is a story within a story, so we begin and end with the healing of Jairus’ daughter)

Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet.
He pleaded, “Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed.”

A large crowd followed and pressed around him.
A woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.
She came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak.
She thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”
Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him.
“Who touched my clothes?” he asked.
“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”
The woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet.

Jesus then went in where the child was.
He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old).
He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

A few things to note here: first, there is an obvious connection between healing and touch. The dialogue between “If I could only touch him” and “Who touched me?” tells us all we need to know about the immediacy of touch and the need to be present, both to touch and to be touched. In almost every healing, there is an element of the physical.

And this also tells us all we need to know about this incarnational God we worship. We follow the Way: an intentional decision to walk the way we walk, to enter the pain and suffering of life, and to visit God’s healing on the people he met. I’m going to assume all the people he met. This is the moment we remember John’s coda, the last words of his Gospel: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

Imagine the power of God emanating for everyone he met—a gentle touch, a kind word, a gentle challenge—and forgiveness for all that is past. We tend to see these a series of “healing episodes,” passages that we preach (or avoid) as individual units of healing. My sense, based on this passage and others, is that Jesus healed everyone he met: whether they knew it or not, whether they wanted it or not. Meeting Jesus meant transformation, and meeting Jesus means transformation, because the power of God is infinite.

And that brings me to another point, one born of the remarkable line: “At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him.” Remember this is Mark’s Gospel. Generally it’s John’s Gospel that gives us the self-aware Jesus, the Jesus that knows (and tells people) that he is the way, the truth and the life. Mark’s Jesus is the “tell no one” Jesus, which is the way our reading ends today. Yet he knows that power has left him, and Mark knows too. Jesus doesn’t heal by accident, it’s always his intention to heal.

And then the remarkable end to our passage, when we finally meet Jairus’ daughter after what seems a false start. Even in their grief, the people around the girl think it’s absurd that she is merely sleeping. In a time well acquainted with death, they know she is gone, and they think they know the limit of God’s power. “You are dust,” God said, “and to the dust you shall return.” Yet even this bit of divine legislation does not bind the Son of the Most High, who understands the mysteries of death and can raise the dead. This, and the raising of Lazarus, remain the most confounding of Jesus’ miracles, but we are invited to open ourselves to this mystery nonetheless.

The past few weeks, and the discovery of countless graves around residential schools, reminds us of the power of the physical. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report dedicated a chapter to missing children and unmarked burials, but the physical discovery of graves, and the innocents within, has moved us more than many expected. And so we heed the moderator’s words, who in a letter to clergy this week offered these reflections:

This is a time for The United Church of Canada to listen rather than prescribe. The pain in Indigenous communities and churches is immense. I ask you to continue to hold Indigenous members of the United Church and their families and communities in prayer and ask members of your community of faith to do the same.

Again, back to the physical. We use our ears rather than our tongues, and listen to the pain that is shared, the anguish and the anger. I expect it will be a long summer of listening, and reflecting on the past. And prayer is an excellent place to start, knowing that we will be called upon to act, and will need God’s help when that moment comes.

God’s desire to heal is infinite, and God’s desire to walk with those in pain is never-ending. God entered our world precisely to heal everyone who God met through Jesus. This tells us all we need to know about the heavenly healing mandate. As God’s agents, or ambassadors, we share the same mandate, and strive (first of all) to do no harm, and then share the same gentle touch, and kind word, and wish for healing that we know. May God give us the strength we need, now and always, Amen.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 14584470488_7397d97647_c.jpg
Sarcophagus with various scenes, 325-350 CE, Vatican Museum. The episodes tend to run together, with the raising of Lazarus, a woman touching Jesus’ garment, arrest of Peter, and Peter denying Christ.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Blessed are you, gracious God:
you have given us life and freedom
to be your people in the world.
Blessed are you, gracious God:
you have called us into the church,
and into this community of faith,
pilgrims together on the journey into new creation.
Blessed are you, gracious God:
you have touched our hearts with hope,
so that we long to see the day of your salvation.

Blessed are you, gracious God:
you challenge us to grow in understanding
about our history and the implications of the past.
Blessed are you, gracious God:
you help us face hard truths,
and see the ways we collectively failed individuals
and individually failed others.
Blessed are you, gracious God:
For sending us latter-day prophets,
to speak the truth in love, even if we find it hard to hear.

Blessed are you, gracious God:
you have give us meaningful work
and the ability to work together for the common good.
Blessed are you, gracious God:
you heal the sick, comfort the troubled,
and encourage those without hope.
Blessed are you, gracious God:
you challenge us to work together
for a world transformed in your image.

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 danced in the morning”

I danced in the morning when the world was begun,
and I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun,
and I came from heaven and I danced on the earth;
at Bethlehem I had my birth.

Dance, then, wherever you may be;
I am the Lord of the dance, said he,
and I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,
and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

I danced for the scribe and the pharisee,
but they would not dance and they would not follow me;
I danced for the fishermen, for James and John;
they came with me and the dance went on. R

I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame;
the holy people said it was a shame;
they whipped and they stripped and they hung me high,
and left me there on a cross to die. R

I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black;
it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back;
they buried my body and they thought I’d gone,
but I am the dance and I still go on. R

They cut me down and I leap up high;
I am the life that will never, never die;
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me;
I am the Lord of the dance, said he. 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.

Fourth after Pentecost

Candido Portinari. The Quieted Storm, 1955. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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

PRELUDE: “Prelude Nocturne” (Sheftel)

OPENING PRAYER:

We worship you, O God.
You who stilled the storm,
calm our hearts.
You who fed the five thousand,
give us bread each day.
You who made wine from water,
pour yourself out for each of us.
You who healed the broken,
heal those who do not know they are broken.
You who ate and drank with sinners,
eat and drink with us each day.
You who were righteously indignant,
spare not your anger, but send us mercy too.
You who raised the dead,
remind us you ended death itself.
You who preside when we worship,
hear us as we pray, Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult”

Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult
of our life’s wild restless sea,
day by day his clear voice sounding,
saying, ‘Christian, follow me.’

Long ago apostles heard it
by the Galilean lake,
turned from home and toil and kindred,
leaving all for Jesus’ sake.

Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world’s golden store,
from each idol that would keep us,
saying, ‘Christian, love me more.’

In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
‘Christian, love me more than these.’

Jesus calls us: by your mercies,
Saviour, may we hear your call,
give our hearts to your obedience,
serve and love you best of all.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION (Sir Francis Drake)

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, 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: “Perhaps Love” (Denver)

FIRST READING: Psalm 9

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion;
proclaim among the nations what he has done.
For he who avenges blood remembers;
he does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.

Lord, see how my enemies persecute me!
Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death,
that I may declare your praises
in the gates of Daughter Zion,
and there rejoice in your salvation.

The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug;
their feet are caught in the net they have hidden.
The Lord is known by his acts of justice;
the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.
The wicked go down to the realm of the dead,
all the nations that forget God.
But God will never forget the needy;
the hope of the afflicted will never perish.

Arise, Lord, do not let mortals triumph;
let the nations be judged in your presence.
Strike them with terror, Lord;
let the nations know they are only mortal.

SECOND READING: Mark 4.35-41

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Jesus, Saviour, pilot me”

Jesus, Saviour, pilot me
over life’s tempestuous sea;
unknown waves before me roll,
hiding rock and treacherous shoal;
chart and compass come from thee,
Jesus, Saviour, pilot me.

As a mother stills her child,
thou canst hush the ocean wild;
boisterous waves obey thy will
when thou biddest them ‘Be still.’
Wondrous sovereign of the sea,
Jesus, Saviour, pilot me.

When at last I near the shore,
and the fearful breakers roar
‘twixt me and the peaceful land,
still supported by thy hand,
may I hear thee say to me,
‘Fear not, I will pilot thee.’

Cornelius Varley, detail of Laying Storm Anchors, undated, Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven

REFLECTION

Ten knots of steady breeze, no waves, slightly overcast (less likely to burn), a willing crew, skipper in a good mood, and worthy adversaries on the racecourse. Is that too much to ask?

Sadly, we rarely get the race we want. We sail on what is affectionately known as “Slumber Bay,” notorious for evenings without wind. And when you do get the wind you want, it can disappear in the face of something called the summer inversion, somehow related to a city filled with hot air.

And then there is the wave action, amplified by travelling across the lake, and prone to strange behavior as it approaches the shore. It tends to reflect off the lee shore, meaning your trip in and out of the basin can induce something the French like to call the “mal de mare.”

At least Humber Bay doesn’t have sharks. I recently learned that I will soon live 25 minutes from the shark bite capital of the world, a rather sobering thought. Add pythons and alligators, and I suppose you’ll find me indoors. Also, Humber Bay has no whales, which I truly appreciate after reading last week’s updated Jonah story.

A lobster diver was working off the coast of Cape Cod when he felt a large bump. Everything went dark, and he assumed he was losing consciousness after a shark bite. Not so! He was, in fact, in the mouth of a humpback whale. What followed was likely the longest and most terrifying 30 seconds of his life, until the whale thought better of the snack, surfaced, and spit him out. Clearly, we need to reconsider how we view some Bible stories.

And this got me thinking. Every year we hear about a certain storm on the Sea of Galilee, usually in summer, and we look at it as a stand-alone miracle story. We talk about faith and trust, and Jesus’ unusual relationship with the natural world—as a stand-alone miracle story. But what about other stories—storm stories—found in the pages of scripture? What can we learn when we take these stories together? I’m thinking of two others, beginning with a certain prophet fleeing to Tarshish (not Cape Cod) and then our old friend St. Paul, who also had an adventure on the sea.

The thing about Jonah is we tend to get so caught up in the digestive part of the story we neglect what came before. And since I’m a huge fan of how the story of Jonah is told, I’m going to share the good bits in the middle:

4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.

But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

Notice the sudden nature of the storm, just like the Sea of Galilee, and the fact that our protagonist finds the whole thing rather soothing. But the sailors see the peril here, just like the disciples, and begin to make a plan. First they wake up Jonah and suggest his God lend a hand. Then they cast lots to discover who is responsible—not in a malicious way—but to understand the nature of the threat. When they discover it’s Jonah, they pepper him with questions, and soon understand the problem.

We tend to forget that it’s Jonah who suggests he be thrown overboard, something the sailors refuse to do. First, it would be rude, and second it’s bad luck to throw someone overboard, and finally, racers can be disqualified if they do it. Odd that they need a specific rule for that.

So hold that story in your mind while we look at a third “storm at sea” passage, this one from Paul’s journey to Rome found in Acts 27. Paul has been arrested, and claimed his right—as a Roman citizen—to appeal the charge before Caesar. Naturally, he would go by sea, except that winter had begun. Yet Paul was determined to get to Rome.

Again, I’m going to share a short passage, mostly because it proves to me that the author (Luke) was both a physician and a sailor:

13 When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14 Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. 15 The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, 17 so the men hoisted it aboard.

His reference to a specific point of sail (“head into the wind”) and the leeward passage near Cauda tells me all I need to know about Luke the sailor.

So the journey continues with Paul having second thoughts—not about going to Rome—but about putting the crew at risk for the sake of this passage. I encourage you to read all of Acts 27—a true adventure story. It ends with an intentional shipwreck, at Paul’s suggestion, to ensure all their lives be saved.

So three storms for three very different reasons. The first is an effort to stop Jonah, the second is an effort to stop the unbelief of the twelve, and the third is just a storm—a Nor’easter, to be precise. In the first, God makes the storm, in the second God (in Jesus) unmakes the storm, and in the third, the storm is just a storm. Or is it?

Maybe the storm is a test of character, for Paul, and for the crew of this vessel. Again, it’s a longer story, but the sailors show strength of character but not casting Paul adrift, by trusting his assurances about God’s protection, and by trusting his suggestion for a controlled shipwreck. They passed the test.

Likewise, the story of Jesus and the twelve is a test of character, but not the one that’s obvious. If the test is having faith in the face of the storm, we see the outcome. But if the test is showing awe in the face deliverance, then they mostly pass. “Who is this,” they ask, “that even the wind and the waves obey him?” Even asking the question takes them a step closer to accepting that this is God’s doing—God’s endless desire to save.

And finally back to poor Jonah, the reluctant prophet, and the ultimate inside man. He also seems to fail the test of character, running in the exact opposite direction from this appointed destination, but he still goes to Nineveh. Humbled, smelly, even forsaken by the hungry monster, but he still goes to Nineveh. He might be the ultimate victim of the mal de mare (for the whale), but he still goes to Nineveh.

And this is all God asks of us. If your life is a shipwreck, try to save others on the way. If the storms of life have you in a panic, accept that Jesus is in the same boat. And if you’re swallowed up by all that life sends you, and feeling trapped inside, trust that you too will land in a better place, with God to guide you.

Amen.

Eugène Delacroix, Christ on the Sea of Galilee, 1841. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE:

Almighty and merciful God,
from whom comes all that is good,
we praise you for all your mercies:
for your goodness that has created us,
your grace that has sustained us,
your wisdom that has challenged us,
your patience that has borne with us,
and your love that has redeemed us.
Help us to love you and all your children,
and to be thankful for all your gifts,
by serving you and delighting to do your will.

Almighty and merciful God,
from whom comes all that is just,
we praise you for your guidance:
your law that guides us,
your prophets that speak to us,
your Spirit that animates us,
and your Word that leads us.
Help us to further your kingdom,
and demonstrate your mercy,
by serving you and delighting to do your will.

Almighty and merciful God,
from whom comes the desire to pray,
we turn to you when our hearts are heavy:
for the lost and those uncertain,
for the sick and those recovering,
for the sad and those tired with grief,
and for everyone who is vulnerable in your sight.
Help us to comfort them,
and demonstrate your compassion,
by serving you and delighting to do your will.
In Jesus’ name, 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: “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

The safety of this harbour Lord,
we bravely take our leave.
Tho’ wind and waves will be our way,
we’ll never cease believe
that you alone will guide our craft,
ensure our course is true.
By star and sight continue on,
Our only pilot you.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-7.png
Ludolf Bakhuizen, detail of Boats in a Storm, 1696, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

Third after Pentecost

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

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

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

OPENING PRAYER:

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

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

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

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

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

FIRST READING: Psalm 20

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

SECOND READING: Mark 4.26-34

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

HYMN OF PRAISE: “Lord, speak to me”

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

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

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

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

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

REFLECTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE LORD’S PRAYER

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

HYMN: “In the bulb there is a flower”

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

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

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

BLESSING

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

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

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

Second after Pentecost

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

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

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

OPENING PRAYER:

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

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

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

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

Dutch Delft tile depicting a farmer carrying a scythe

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

FIRST READING: Psalm 138

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

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

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

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

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

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

HYMN OF PRAISE: “We gather here”

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

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

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

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

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

REFLECTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE GREAT THANKSGIVING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE LORD’S PRAYER

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

FRACTION AND DISTRIBUTION

PRAYER AFTER COMMUNION

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

HYMN: “Let us talents and tongues employ”

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

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

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

BLESSING

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

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

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

Trinity Sunday

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

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

PRELUDE: “Freely, Freely” (Owens)

OPENING PRAYER:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

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

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

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

SPECIAL MUSIC: “We praise you, O God” (Dutch Traditional)

FIRST READING: Psalm 29

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

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

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

SECOND READING: Isaiah 6.1-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REFLECTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Isaiah braces for the worst, but then the extraordinary happens: from the brazier a seraphim retrieves a burning coal, and this coal is skillfully carried to the lips of the prophet. With this his sin is removed, and his feelings of guilt taken away. Then finally, the call and response: I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

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

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

God of transformation,
blow through us with your Holy Spirit,
and blow through our community.
Help us overcome the divisions of race,
Help us overcome systems that diminish some
and lift up others, 
and help us to listen, truly listen,
to everyone in pain.
Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

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

HYMN: “Christ is made the sure foundation”

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

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

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

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

BLESSING

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

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