Click the link to watch the worship video: Worship for May 3, 2020
The video opens with a celebratory announcement about our successful food drive, followed by our Virtual Choir singing the 23rd Psalm.
Scripture for this day, was read on the video by Gloria Gorick:
Let us open our hearts, and still our busy minds, and allow space in our lives for the Word of God.
Our first reading for today is from the 10th chapter in the Gospel of John. We hear Jesus describe compare himself to the faithful shepherd who knows, cares for, and protects the sheep of their flock. We reminded not to fall for the lure or false promises of those who may not have our best interests at heart.
“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Our second reading for today, from the New Revised Standard Version, is perhaps the most well known, and cherished of the psalms. The 23rd Psalm reminds of God’s promise to always watch over us, and guide us, and hold us safe. It affirms the words found in our United Church creed, that in life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us, and we are not alone.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I 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 goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
God’s Word is food and drink to hungry and thirsty souls. We give thanks that God has prepared a table for us.
Learning Time: The Good Shepherd
Most of us are safe, thank God, and sheltered, and fed and watered. Most of us know where our loved ones are, and that they are okay. I say most of us, because I know, from talking with people in our own community, and in our circles of family and friends, that not everyone is safe, and sheltered, and fed and watered. Not everyone knows where their loved ones are, or if they are okay. There are people who do not have it as a good as most of us.
Part of what makes this current pandemic different, from the background misery and despair, and hunger, and pain, and death suffered by so many in our world, every day, is that this one, COVID-19 is touching our lives. Many of those becoming ill, and many of those who have died, have been ordinary people, like most of us.
We are used to the privileges of safety and security, the luxuries of running water and safe warm homes, and a steady food supply, and being able go where we want, when we want, and being able to buy what we want, when we want it. We are not used to being told to stay home, or to waiting in line to pick up staple items at the grocery store , or wondering if we will be able to buy everything we need, or want.
Most of us have been pretty comfortable, and have been sheltered, insulated, protected from the un-official pandemics that kill far more people, and rarely make the front page of the newspaper. There are other, far more prevalent, and far more dangerous causes of violence and suffering, and death out there. Greed. Selfishness. Racism. Hatred. Elitism. The mistaken belief that certain people are entitled to a good life, a great life, no matter the cost, or the consequences to others.
It is terrible, and massively frightening that there is, as yet, no proven cure for COVID-19. But in a way, it is more terrifying, and humbling, that 21,000 people die every day from hunger, which is something for which we do have a cure, and most of us don’t lose sleep over that. We have somehow accepted that this just the way it is.
Having the tools to make the world a better, safer, more humane, and just place, is only part of the challenge. There must also be the political will, the deep desire, to place the good of others before our own comfort and privilege.
Today we heard Gloria Gorick read two very well known pieces of scripture, that both use the image of a shepherd.
We often hear Psalm 23, at funerals, where the words “The Lord is my shepherd” speak to our hearts as a very personal hope, and promise. At a funeral we often think first about the person who has died, and pray they are safe with God. We may also think of ourselves, and our other, living, close family and friends, and hope and pray that God is also with us.
If I am being totally honest, in a moment like that, at the graveside of a loved one, or at their death-bed, my focus is quite narrow- I am primarily thinking about my own cares. I want the Lord to be “my” shepherd, and take care of me, and mine.
In the other reading, from John’s Gospel, we get a glimpse of what it would be like to be the shepherd. The shepherd is the one for whom the gate is opened. The shepherd calls each member of the flock by name, and leads them out. The shepherd goes ahead of the flock, and they follow.
This passage is about the shepherd’s relationship, not just with each sheep, but with the whole flock. The Lord is not just my shepherd, but our shepherd, and it’s a big flock. This shepherd has come for all of us, not just the people like me, or the ones I like.
There is an image that has been haunting me. I spoke about it with the Bible Study group on Wednesday, and some of them had also seen it on Facebook, or in the news. It is of a protester in Tennessee, at one of those rallies at which people are pushing for the lifting of restrictions on movement, on gathering, and on working. They want to go back to work, and for the economy to start up again and recover.
The protester in the Facebook picture is wearing a mask over most of their face, that makes them look more like a bandit than someone following health protocols. They are also holding up a sign that says, “Sacrifice the Weak, Re-Open Tennessee”. Every time that picture pops up on my Facebook, I leave a comment that says, “We are all weak.”
I am grateful to live where we do, and to have a system of government that is trying to help people through this time, and make it possible for folks to stay home and limit the spread of the virus. I wonder what it would be like to live in the Southern U.S., where poverty is widespread, and millions live without health insurance, and where governments have not stepped up to replace lost income. But even so… “Sacrifice the Weak, Re-Open Tennessee”.
I know there have been similar protests as close as the Michigan state capitol in Lansing, and at Queen’s Park in Toronto. Premier Ford pointed out the protesters standing not far from where health care workers going to the big Toronto hospitals had to walk every day, to carry on trying to save lives.
Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
The shepherd we follow has come for all of us sheep, and makes no distinctions between the strong and weak, those who contribute to the economy, and those who do not.
In this Gospel passage, Jesus also describes himself as the gate. This a great metaphor. A gate keeps the sheep together, inside the pen. The gate is also a barrier, to keep out those who would come to steal and kill and destroy.
This is not just a literal story. It is a parable that offers the reminder that our souls, our spirits, need protection against the forces, the influences, that might otherwise steal in, and take advantage of our anxiety, our fear for ourselves, and for our loved ones. We need an antidote for greed, for selfishness, for a narrowing of compassion.
The best antidote, the real cure for the infections of greed, selfishness, is love. To love like Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who wants us to have life, and life in abundance. We can administer this cure ourselves, by loving others in God’s name. There is nothing like focusing on the needs of someone else, to break the spell of feeling sorry for myself.
I had a great time on Friday morning, with Vivienne and Lauren and Ben Wood, and Jeff Csikasz,, helping collect food and money donations at our Drive Thru Food Drive for Windsor’s Downtown Mission. We added in all the remaining food in the church’s food cupboard, from earlier Sunday morning donations, to the food that people brought on Friday, and piled it in the back of Jeff Csikasz’s truck. He drove to the mission with over 800 pounds of food, to help some of the most at-risk people in our area. We thanked every person who came by with donations, and most of them thanked us, and told us they were happy to help.
If I become a hoarder, of food, or toilet paper, or compassion, there will never be enough for me, to make me feel safe and happy. Even though life is harder than I am used to it being, if I live out of gratitude for the life God gives each of us, and share as I am able, and reach out to care for others- I can celebrate, and experience abundant life, and be grateful for the joy in small moments. Amen
God, you are our Shepherd, and the creator of everything we truly need.
You made this world in which we live, and you fill it with good things.
We give thanks for fresh air, for bright spring days, for clean water, and good food to eat.
We give thanks for the generosity and kindness we experience.
We give thanks for opportunities to pass that kindess and generosity along.
God, You are a source of comfort and peace in the most trying times.
You are the shepherd of all those who feel lost, or sad, or sick, or lonely.
You are the shepherd all those who are dying, and all those who are grieving.
We pray for those in your flock who are feeling the sadness of loss. We remember today especially the family of Mary Defour. Be with them, and surround them with your love.
You give us places and times of calm, to be still.
Help us to use those moments to count our blessings, and to live with gratitude.
We give thanks for the life of Mary Defour, and all she has meant to us.
As we think of family and friends and neighbours close to where we live, we also take time to remember those in other places, who are facing hardship, and loss, and grief. We continue to pray for the people of Nova Scotia.
We pray for the members of the Canadian Forces, for those killed in the helicopter crash, and those who are still missing. We remember their comrades, those involved in the search. We remember their families, and friends.
Guide, us, good shepherd, in the times we feel like we are in a strange land, that we do not recognize.
We pray for all those who are on the front lines in our collective efforts to protect ourselves, our families, our neighbours, our country, from the spread of COVID-19. We pray for health care workers, and clinical researchers. We pray for leaders and officials at all levels of government. We pray for those making business decisions that effect the delivery of goods and services. We pray for farmers, and agricultural workers.
We pray for ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things, in this strange time, so that most of us can lead healthy and safe lives.
We pray for our faith community, Harrow United Church, and all other churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, prayer groups, meditation circles- all the gatherings, many of which have moved online, but who persist in their sincere efforts to bring people together, to share inspiration and hope, and to brighten the lives of others.
We make our prayers as followers of Jesus. Amen
Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer:
Today I want to end this time of prayer with a video clip of my former classmate, Justin Weber. Justin is the pastor of a Quaker congregation in Iowa. We knew each other in the late 1980’s, and travelled together on a mission trip to Belize. A few weeks ago I asked for prayers for Justin and his family, because I learned through mutual friends that Justin was very sick with COVID-19. At that time he was on a ventilator, and in intensive care. I get daily reports about how he is doing, and read yesterday that he is out of the ICU, off the ventilator, off the COVID floor of the hospital, and now able to sit up in bed, and according to his wife, who video-chats with him, he is in good humour.
The video we will watch is of Justin singing the Lord’s Prayer as part of a worship service in his congregation about a year ago.
As we pray with him, let us remember all those directly affected by the virus. Those we know, and those we do not know.
Some announcements for this week:
Our hearts and prayers are with Camiel Defour and his family, as they come to terms with the death of Mary Defour. There will be a service to celebrate her life at a later date.
ShoeBox Sunday School is going very well! We have about 25 students registered. Naomi Woods appears in a YouTube video for the youngest students, and is online with 4-7 years old at 10 am, and with the 8 years and older group at 11 am, on Sundays. This week, Naomi’s brother, Joel Woods, appears in the YouTube video as a musical guest. Parents who want their kids to join in the fun, and learning, can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The official board will meet this coming Tuesday evening by Conference Call. The work of the church continues, even in, and perhaps especially in, these strange times.
The Harrow News is doing great work, to support and inform the community. Please consider renewing your subscription for another year, even if you are all paid up! Natalie and her staff have given space to local churches for messages from the pastors, and have also promoted our Drive Thru Food Drives for Windsor’s Downtown Mission.
Wednesday morning Bible Study with Rev. Darrow meets at 10:30 am, in your house, and in the homes of all the other participants, via ZOOM. If you would like to join in, send a request for a link to Darrow at email@example.com
Our Drive Thru Food Drive for Windsor’s Downtown Mission was a great success! Vivienne, Lauren and Ben Wood volunteered to help load Jeff Csikasz’s truck. We included all the food left in the church from our Sunday morning collections, and that was over 300 pounds! Many people came by on Friday morning, with food, clothing, cash, and cheques made out to the Mission. By noon, there was over 800 pounds of food in the back of Jeff’s truck, and some in the cab behind him. Thank you to Jeff for driving that load into Windsor, and dropping it off where it can do so much good.