July 26, 2020 “Soft Opening” Worship at Harrow United Church

It’s pretty common for new restaurants to run a “soft opening” ahead of the date when they “officially” open their doors. We had a Sunday morning worship service in the Harrow United Church building on July 26. This was the first time we’d had such a gathering since the 3rd week of March.

We limited attendance to ensure that we could safely seat people with 2 metre safety zone around them. We also provided hand sanitizer, and insisted upon all present wearing masks. We had a supply of masks on hand, in case folks needed one.

Even under the masks, it was good to see people!

This was also our first attempt at livestreaming, using Facebook. (Thank you to Sue Mannell for holding on to my phone, and pointing it in the right direction for 40 minutes!)

We were not sure how the Facebook experiement would go, so the service was also recorded on video, and Dennis Graham, our hard-working volunteer audio-video guy, has edited the video and uploaded it to YouTube. I will include a link to the service here, and below it I will add my script of prayers, readings, and the learning time.

link to July 26, 2020 video

“Soft Opening” Worship Service

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Prelude Music

Welcome: Thank you for being here, for our first worship service back in the building, since mid-March. It feels like it’s been a very long time.

Instructions

  • Please stay in your reserved seat, and keep your mask on. We are not able to socialize in the building. If you take time to visit with folks out in the parking lot, please respect the needed physical distance, and wear your masks.
  • The washroom near the kitchen is available for use, but you have to wipe down all the surfaces you touch, after you use it.

We have not been together this way in the building since March. We are fortunate to have good leaders, and good staff, who have kept things going, during this strange time. As our sign says outside, God is still at work, and working through us. Even though we have not had Sunday worship here, we have had online worship services each weekend, and we’ve offered Sunday School to 27 children. We have also conducted food drives for the Downtown Mission, helped with the Essex County Miracle, and with a Community Drive In worship service at the Soccer Complex  for Canada Day. We have also been working hard to stay in touch with people by phone, email, and Facebook. As the sign outside has said, the building has been closed, but God is still at work.

Time of Silent Reflection (ringing the prayer bowl marks the beginning and end of a time of silence)

Opening Prayer

Loving God; We are grateful you are always with us. We pray with thanks for this opportunity to be a gathered worship community, and we pray also for the members and friends of this congregation who are not able to be with us this morning. We make our prayers as followers of Jesus. Amen

 

Dedication Prayer

Generous God;

Whether we are of humble means, or have much to spare,

we make our offerings of money, time, creativity, work.

We give as a sign of our gratitude.

We give because we have a duty to help others.

How wonderful it is, that we are able to share these gifts.

God who gave us life, and who blesses us each day,

We pray that you will bless what we give, in Jesus’ name. Amen

 

Special music: Greg Iler sang “In the bulb there is flower” and Larry Anderson accompanied

Learning Time

How are you doing? Are you surviving, thriving, or just getting by in these weird times? I have heard from some folks who are used to being on their own, that staying home and avoiding crowds, is not that different for them.  I’ve also heard from a lot of folks who miss going to church, going out for a bite or a cup of coffee with friends.

We know it has been challenging for grieving families to figure out how to have a visitation, a funeral.

I think about the folks living at Harrowood, and other senior’s homes.

I think about all the people in hospital, who might like a visit.

I think about all the hard working first responders, and front line health care workers.

I think about people who go to work every day, and live with a heightened level of anxiety, and vigilance. They don’t want to do anything to spread the virus, and they sure don’t want to bring it home to the vulnerable people in their lives.

Things are not as we would like them to be. How long are things going to be this way? We may think its not fair, and then feel frustrated, because it does not matter if it seems fair, it is the way it is.

How many of us are good at waiting? How long are we good at waiting? What is the key, or secret, to being able to wait?

You may know there is a weekly schedule of scripture lessons for Sunday worship, called the lectionary. I don’t always follow it, especially when the stories are hard to work with, but our first lectionary reading is from the book of Genesis.  I have to say from the outset that it’s a hard story to love.

The story is about Jacob, and his future father-in-law Laban, and his daughters Rachel and Leah. It’s from a time and place in which the head of a family could treat his flesh and blood, his daughters, as property. It describes a world in which a man could decide he wants a certain woman, and then make an arrangement, not with her, but with her father. In this time and place, like many others, the hopes, dreams, wishes and desires of the women were not considered.

Genesis 29:16-30 The Message

Now Laban had two daughters; Leah was the older and Rachel the younger. Leah had nice eyes, but Rachel was stunningly beautiful. And it was Rachel that Jacob loved.

So Jacob answered, “I will work for you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”

 “It is far better,” said Laban, “that I give her to you than marry her to some outsider. Yes. Stay here with me.”

So Jacob worked seven years for Rachel. But it only seemed like a few days, he loved her so much.

Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife; I’ve completed what we agreed I’d do. I’m ready to consummate my marriage.” Laban invited everyone around and threw a big feast. At evening, though, he got his daughter Leah and brought her to the marriage bed, and Jacob slept with her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as her maid.)

Morning came: There was Leah in the marriage bed!

Jacob confronted Laban, “What have you done to me? Didn’t I work all this time for the hand of Rachel? Why did you cheat me?”

 “We don’t do it that way in our country,” said Laban. “We don’t marry off the younger daughter before the older. Enjoy your week of honeymoon, and then we’ll give you the other one also. But it will cost you another seven years of work.”

Jacob agreed. When he’d completed the honeymoon week, Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. (Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid.) Jacob then slept with her. And he loved Rachel more than Leah. He worked for Laban another seven years.

When the Bible records these human stories, it is telling us, this is how it was. The Bible is not saying, this is how it is meant to be. I don’t believe for a second it was ever God’s hope for humans, that we would treat each other as property, to be bought and sold, or traded off. I’d like to think that part of the reason for preserving these stories in the Bible was to say- see what they were up to? Surely we can do better than this?

No one in the story seemed to have either the will or the power to challenge the way things were, and some, especially the father-in-law, Laban, took advantage, and profited by the set-up.

Jacob was sent by his father, Isaac, to the territory of his mother’s brother, his Uncle Laban, to find a wife, because Isaac did not want him to marry a local woman, a Canaanite.  That’s a wole other story! One night on his journey, Jacob had one of those dreams that characters in the Old Testament seem to have, in which God told him his descendants would be like grains of sand, uncountable, and spread all over the world. Of course, none of that could happen unless he found a wife his father would accept.

The morning after the dream, Jacob awoke, and travelled on, and came upon an open field in which there were three flocks of sheep. The shepherd was Rachel, daughter of Laban. He was immediately taken by her, and knew he’d have to negotiate with her father if he were to have her as his wife.

He began working for Laban, until the day Laban wanted to talk with him about the future. Jacob told him he’d be willing to work for Laban for 7 years, in exchange for permission to marry Rachel. Laban seemed to go along with the plan.

After 7 years passed, Jacob was thrilled that Laban threw a wedding feast, and gave his daughter in marriage. He was less than thrilled the next morning when he woke to realize he’d actually married Rachel’s older sister Leah.

I wonder how that worked. My wife has two older sisters, and I have to tell you, there would be no mistaking one for the other. The same goes the other way. I don’t imagine my wife would have got my brother and I mixed up.

But this was the situation Jacob woke up to that morning after the wedding feast. He’d consummated the marriage, not with Rachel, but with her older sister, Leah.

When Jacob brought his concern to the wily father-in-law, Laban said that in his country it was “not done” to marry off the youngest daughter before the eldest. Laban told him to enjoy his honeymoon with Leah, and afterwards he could also marry Rachel, if he promised to work for him for another 7 years.

As I have mentioned, Laban took advantage of Jacob, and treated both of his daughters more like property than people with thoughts and feelings. Can we see any good in this story, about messed up people in a broken world?

One possibility is to way to raise up as a good example, the fact that Jacob was willing to wait, and to work for 14 years, to marry Rachel. We might say that when something is important to you, it is worth working and waiting for the right time. In our world of overnight shipping and have to have it now, short attention spans, and instant gratification, this is worth hearing.

Another possibility might be to ask what it made possible for Jacob to wait and work for so long? Could we say that God was at work, that love was the invisible force that made it possible to wait?

We are having to do a lot of waiting these days. We need all the help we can get.

The lectionary for today also offered a reading from Matthew’s Gospel, that included this parable from Jesus: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Imagine the strength of the woman who kneads bread dough made from 60 pounds of flour! In modern terms, that’s six 10 pound bags, or twelve 5 pound bags of flour. That’s a lot of flour. She had no kitchen gadgets to make her life easier. She would have had to work hard.

After she did all that kneading, she’d need to let the dough proof, so the yeast could do its work. I don’t know if that meant the woman would have time to rest, she might had to fill in the time with other work- but she’d at least have to leave the dough alone, and wait for the yeast to do its part.

The reign of God, God’s activity, the work of God, happens, sometimes invisibly, and often when we feel like we have done all that we can do. The woman had worked and pounded that bread dough, and could do no more with it, until time had passed, and the yeast did its part.

This parable speaks to me, in this time, as we collectively wait for a safe and healthy resolution to the pandemic. Part of our work is to be careful, to be good to each other, to be vigilant in our wearing of masks, of washing our hands, of keeping physical distance. Our work is to be loving, and patient, and fair with each other. Our work is to be faithful, to pray, and do acts of mercy, and not lose hope, or abandon our commitments, even though the waiting can be hard. God is with us in this time of working and waiting. Amen

 

Pastoral Prayers:

What shall we pray about, now that we are here together?

Members of the gathered worship community shared their prayer concerns.

We continue now with the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: (together)

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, the power, and the glory

forever and ever. Amen

 Blessing:

I pray that in your coming week you have moments of joy, and peace. I pray that you continue to know that you are blessed, and that you find opportunities to be a blessing to other people. I pray that we can each be faithful in working, and in our waiting, and that leave space in our lives, for God to be with us. Amen

 

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