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

 

Worship for June 7, 2020

Rainbow

Link to Worship Video for June 7, 2020

Link to announcements video for June 7, 2020

link to ShoeBox Sunday School video for June 7, 2020

This weekend’s worship video begins with a great piece from the Harrow United Church Senior Choir. The rest of the service is titled “From our Ark to Yours”, and features contributions from all of us living in our little ark, waiting for the current floods and storms to subside. Joel Woods did one of the readings, and Naomi tells the Noah story from a children’s bible. Joel and Naomi also offered their version of “Arky Arky”, a song they both sang, and led, often, in Sunday School at church camp. Rev. Lexie Chamberlain and Rev. Darrow Woods both contribute sermons, and Darrow also offers pastoral prayers. The video ends this week with greetings to the Harrow community from a few folks Darrow had virtual coffee with this week.

Scripture Reading:

Noah’s story spans four chapters of the Book of Genesis. Here are excerpts from the paraphrase called The Message.

Noah was a good man, a man of integrity in his community. Noah walked with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

The Earth had become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting—life itself corrupt to the core.

God said to Noah, “It’s all over. It’s the end of the human race. The violence is everywhere; I’m making a clean sweep.

“Build yourself a ship.”

“I’m going to bring a flood on the Earth that will destroy everything alive under Heaven”.

Noah did everything God commanded him to do.

All the underground springs erupted and all the windows of Heaven were thrown open. Rain poured for forty days and forty nights.

Noah and his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth, accompanied by his wife and his sons’ wives, boarded the ship. And with them every kind of wild and domestic animal, right down to all the kinds of creatures that crawl and all kinds of birds and anything that flies. They came to Noah and to the ship in pairs—everything and anything that had the breath of life in it, male and female of every creature came just as God had commanded Noah. Then God shut the door behind him.

The flood continued forty days and the waters rose and lifted the ship high over the Earth. The waters kept rising, the flood deepened on the Earth, the ship floated on the surface. The flood got worse until all the highest mountains were covered—the high-water mark reached twenty feet above the crest of the mountains. Everything died. Only Noah and his company on the ship lived.

The floodwaters took over for 150 days.

The ship landed on the Ararat mountain range. The water kept going down until the tenth month. On the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains came into view. After forty days Noah opened the window.

He sent out a raven; it flew back and forth waiting for the floodwaters to dry up. Then he sent a dove to check on the flood conditions, but it couldn’t even find a place to perch—water still covered the Earth. Noah reached out and caught it, brought it back into the ship.

He waited seven more days and sent out the dove again. It came back in the evening with a freshly picked olive leaf in its beak. Noah knew that the flood was about finished.

He waited another seven days and sent the dove out a third time. This time it didn’t come back.  The flood had dried up. Noah opened the hatch of the ship and saw dry ground.

Noah disembarked with his sons and wife and his sons’ wives. Then all the animals, crawling creatures, birds—every creature on the face of the Earth—left the ship family by family.

Noah built an altar to God. He selected clean animals and birds from every species and offered them as burnt offerings on the altar. God smelled the sweet fragrance and thought to himself, “I’ll never again curse the ground because of people. I know they have this bent toward evil from an early age, but I’ll never again kill off everything living as I’ve just done.

Then God spoke to Noah and his sons: “I’m setting up my covenant with you including your children who will come after you, along with everything alive around you—birds, farm animals, wild animals—that came out of the ship with you. I’m setting up my covenant with you that never again will everything living be destroyed by floodwaters; no, never again will a flood destroy the Earth.”

“This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and everything living around you and everyone living after you. I’m putting my rainbow in the clouds, a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth.”

May these words be a blessing to us, as we seek to experience the presence of God in each day.

 

Rev. Lexie’s Learning Time:

When we were expecting our first child, we did many of the things new parents do.  We went to prenatal classes, we read the book, “What to expect when you’re expecting.” And we prepared the nursery.   We painted the nursery and put a boarder around the room.  We went with a Noah’s ark boarder.  It had caricature pictures of animals all smiling floating safely inside an ark.  We ordered a Noah’s ark crib set.  It had a picture of Noah and the animals, all of them looking happy and peaceful.  Surely, the not an accurate representation of someone who has been feeling confined in a small space for a long period of time!  In the top right corner of the baby quilt was a picture of a dove flying toward the ark with an olive twig in its beak, a rainbow hung in the other corner.  This was the age of bumper pads, so of course we tied the pads on to the sides of the crib, wanting to do everything possible to make this a welcoming, loving, safe place for our little one.

I am not sure exactly what prompted us to go with the Noah’s ark theme.  Being a clergy couple, it may not surprising that Bible stories carry quite a bit of importance within our lives.   We are not Bible thumpers.  We don’t go to our churches carrying our Bibles with us.  I don’t think we even have any pictures of ourselves holding a Bible.  The stories within the Bible run deep within us.  They were stories we had learned as children; they were stories that tickled our imaginations.  We don’t read them as factual stories of history, but rather we read them as stories which contain a sacred truth.  They are stories that invite us to think, to reflect upon life.  They were stories we hoped to share with our children.

The Noah’s ark story is a great Bible story.  It’s a rise and shine and give God the glory, glory and “Everything is hunky dory, dory” kind of a story.  Except for the fact that it’s not.

There is a dark underside to the Noah’s ark story. Noah floating safely on the ark is a wonderful bright and cheery scene.  The rest of the world, according to this story, however, would have been flooded, animals and people would have drowned.   This is the part of the story we do not teach in Sunday school.  This is the part of the story we do not like to shed light upon.  But many of our stories have shadowed sides.  People drowning in poverty, in hunger, in debt, in alcoholism.  Cultures drowning, gasping out for air, for hope, for comfort that a mamma is supposed to bring.

Oh, there is a dark underside to many of our human stories and for a long time, no one wanted to talk about it.  We would rather not focus on that part of the story.

Two weeks ago, we caught a glimpse of the dark underside of racism which is prevalent within the American society when police officers held down George Floyd and killed him.   This despicable act has helped to point out the racism that runs deep within the American culture.  But we would be naive to think that it only exists in the United States.  Racism runs deep within our culture as well.   Some of you may not want to admit it.  Some of you may not want to see it.  But if you have talked to any of our black colleagues, if you have listened to our first nations brothers and sisters then you would have heard their stories.  Life has not been fair.  Workplaces have not been fair.  Churches have not been fair.

The fact that this past week, the president of the United States of America stood in front of a Episcopalian church with a Bible in hand for a photo op makes it appear that he knows all too well that some Christians, some churches, will use the ‘word of the Lord’ to support their bigoted, racist thoughts.  This president appears to know the Bible has power and authority, but he does not seem to understand the power and authority that it calls its people to!  This is the Bible that has prophets speaking to crowds saying you are called to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.  This is the Bible that has the stories of Jesus, a leader who walked with migrant fishermen and taught them to share with others.  Jesus was the kind of person who reached out to people of different cultures and traditions, the woman at the well, the Syrophoenician woman.  He told stories that broke down barriers of race such as the story of the good Samaritan.  Jesus was person, who when facing opposition to his words of justice, did not hide.  He did not hunker down, or bunker down, but rather he stood with dignity knowing that he was showing a way of love and peace to those who were watching.  The Bible is a powerful book.  If you read the Bible and only see a Jesus who supports you and your ways, then perhaps you are not seeing the whole picture.  Jesus story challenges us and inspires us.

The Bible is an ancient collection of books.  It was written by people trying to make sense of their world and where God was active within their world.  The story of Noah’s ark is a story of a world in chaos.  The ancient story writers understood chaos.  They, like us, knew there were bad things that happened within their world.  They knew there were times when they needed to change things and start again.  The prophets warned communities that things need to change.  Sometimes we need to have a fresh start.

That’s what the story of Noah’s ark says to me.  It is a story of a fresh start.  It is a story that teaches us there are some things that need to be washed away.  Things such as injustice, racial profiling, homophobia, arrogance, ignorance, narcissism, greed.

Do I think there was a flood that covered the whole wide world?  No.  Do I think there was a time when ancient story tellers decided that the world needed to hear a story about a new beginning?  Indeed, I do!  I think the ancient people needed to hear a story about hope, about how the chaos and negative of the world could be changed…can be changed.  Those writers understood the importance of teaching a story of hope……because when the world is a mess, when the world is dark and scary and dangerous, we need to hear stories of hope.  Love is the ark that can save us.  Justice needs to float high on the tides of change.  We need to make this world a safe place for everyone.  We need to speak to injustice.  We need to stand with and for those who are hurt and hurting.  WE need to offer olive branches of hope.  When we talk to our children, or our grandchildren, we need to teach them to love and care for everyone.  When we look at our school curriculum and Sunday school curriculum we need to see where our biases are being supported.  If all the children in the pictures are white, if Jesus is white, it we only tell the Caucasian side of the story, then we are not getting the whole story!

I had such hopes and dreams for our little girl when she was born into the world. Today, our baby is 21, and she teaches me about systemic racism.  She, and her younger brother are opening my eyes to ways in which my traditional ways of thinking, need to be challenged and need to change.  We cannot protect them from the harsh realities of life.  They need to know the whole story, so they can learn and so our society can grow.  I can not ignore the whole story.  As a parent, as a Christian, I need to learn and grow.  Times have changed in this last week….and yet for some families, times have not changed.  For black families, for families of colour, for first nations families, some things have not changed.  We need to be doing better.  We need a new start.  Dear Lord, start with me.  Amen

Darrow’s Learning Time for June 7, 2020

A man named Noah, who had three sons, was faithful, and respected in his community, lived in a time when the world was going to hell in a hand basket. One translation says the Earth had become a sewer, with violence everywhere. Sounds like things haven’t changed much. The story says God wanted to make a clean sweep, and start over.

Every feel like that? That maybe you have made such a mess of things, that you need a do over? Ever say exactly the wrong thing, and hurt someone, make them very upset, and wish you could hit a button like on a video game, and start again fresh? I was talking to a friend this week who lives in the American mid-west. He and his family are a safe distance from the big protests and scary street scenes, but even so, he expressed deep sorrow, despair for his country, and wondered what it take to make a clean, fresh start.

Ever get into a situation, and say or do something,, and realize it was a huge error, and you never should have gone that way? You might be filled with sorrow, regret, frustration, feelings of helplessness. Even anger. The story suggests God felt this way about the whole world.

This speaks volumes about how God was viewed, in the time this story began to be told. This version of God could be very judgmental, run out of patience- and act rashly. God could look at the whole planet, with all its beauty and complexity and say, “I’m going to scrap it and start again.” This sounds like a little kid having a temper tantrum, pushing away all the blocks because the tower fell down.

I have to tell you I expect more of God than that! I expect God to be ever-loving, ever kind, ever compassionate, to never give up, and always see the potential for good, even when I can’t. The picture of God in this story is more like me on a bad day, than the God Jesus told us about, and showed us.

But back to the story.  God told Noah to build a boat. A big boat. Because a flood was coming that would cover the whole world, and wash away, drown, wipe out, kill, every living thing not on the boat when the waters rose. Noah and his family were to gather 2 of every kind of living creature, along with enough food and water to keep themselves, and all the creatures alive.

This is another place the story leads to troubling questions, especially for those of us raised to believe that everything in the Bible is exactly, literally true. Every living creature? Really? Even wombats and water buffalos and Canada geese and Amazonian tree frogs that never lived in the Middle East, where Noah built his boat?

Noah and sons would need a fleet to carry the millions of species with which we share the planet. There are 270 species of turtles, tortoises and terrapins alone, and more than 900 thousand species of insects. We have all these beautiful fossil records of dinosaurs, some of whom were bigger than boats. Wow, God created a lot!

If we sail too far along the course of questions like “how could they gather 2 of each”, and “how could they house them”, we are sunk, or at least the story sinks, under the weight of impossibility.

Unless of course, a story can be a vessel to carry truth, even if it does not describe things that actually happened. Most of us would admit the story of Santa Claus flying around the world on Christmas Eve carries some valuable truth, along with the sleigh-full of presents even after we find out it isn’t exactly, totally true!

Can the Noah story carry truth, even if the boat could not carry all 11 species of skunks, 15 species of hedge hogs, and all the sub-species of caribou, 2 of which are now extinct? Santa’s reindeer are actually caribou, by the way.

I think it can, and does. Underground springs, and the windows of the heavens opened, and waters flooded the earth for forty days, destroying all living things, except the fish and other water creatures, who are never mentioned.

Noah and his family, and their incredible zoo, floated above the watery graves of all the people, and all the plants, and animals. We may feel these days like we can relate to this family, stuck together, with no way to get out. A lot of us have been spending more time in close quarters with our loved ones than we are used to.

The world outside the ark, with deep waters and raging storms and nowhere safe to land, was a scary place. If we watch the news, or look at too much social media, we may feel that way about the world around us. We are glad to be safe in the ark, and we look forward to when we can safely leave.

The story says Noah and his families floated around aimlessly for 150 days before running aground on a mountain. And then the waters went down. Where did the water go? That makes me scratch my head. When I pull the plug on the kitchen sink or the bath tub, the water runs down the drain. If the whole earth was flooded, to where could all the water drain?

We know the part about Noah sending out a raven, and then a dove, and realizing the flood was about done when the dove returned with the olive sprig in its beak. Seven days later Noah sent the dove out again, and the bird never returned. Noah opened the hatch and saw dry land.

Noah and his family left the ark, along with all the animals they’d tended. Noah built an altar, and chose animals and birds from every species, killed them, and burned them as sacrifices on the altar. I don’t remember that part from Sunday School! I am sure I would have wondered, “Why take care of the animals for so long, and then kill them?”

But in the story, Noah’s sacrifice of the animals had an incredible effect. God smelled the sweet fragrance of the fire at the altar and said, “I’ll never again curse the ground because of people. I know they have this bent toward evil from an early age, but I’ll never again kill off everything living as I’ve just done.  For as long as Earth lasts,  planting and harvest, cold and heat, Summer and winter, day and night will never stop.”

The story says God set up a covenant with Noah and his descendants, and promised to never, ever do it again, and put the rainbow in the sky as a sign of that covenant, that promise between the Creator, and all of creation.

So do we think this a story about God changing God’s mind? Or maybe, just maybe, is it a story meant to change our minds, open our hearts about God, and how God actually loves us?

This is a story with a rainbow at the end to remind us after every storm, that God never gave up on us. God is always with us, even in the midst of the storms.

It’s June, and we are at the beginning of Pride Month. I love that the rainbow flag has been adopted by folks who proudly say they are worth loving, even some folks gave up on them. I am grateful the world is catching up, and realizing that every person is a child of God, and absolutely loveable for who they are. Human ideas have always been smaller, more limited than God’s amazing love, and we have a lot of room to grow.

I think the Bible is many things, and one of its most important functions is to trace the evolution of our human ideas about God.  We can move from fearing a God who would destroy everything if we didn’t offer the right kind of sacrifice, to trusting a God who loves us, and who will be with us through our best times, and in the moments we wish we never had to face.

I believe God did not change God’s mind. God was always, always about the love, and it just seems to take us humans a while to figure it out, to trust that it is so. God loves us, and will never give up on us, even in the times we might be tempted to give up on ourselves. Amen

Pastoral Prayer

God of life and death and new life, of beginnings and middles and endings, and new beginnings, of now, and of then, and of always. Thank you for being with us, in the midst of it all.

There are many these days, who are feeling confined, as if they were on a journey with no end, floating on a sea of uncertainty, and not knowing when they can get off the boat, or what the world will be like, once the flood waters have receded.

Be with all those who are living with anxiety in these confusing times. We pray especially for families for which life was already difficult. We pray for those who struggle to make ends meet day to day, week to week. We pray for those dealing with health challenges, with issues of dependency and addiction. We pray for those who struggle with depression, and other mental health concerns.

We pray for those who are living with illness, with grief, with loneliness, with despair. We pray for those who are dying, and we give thanks that it is possible to learn, with help, to live well, and to die well.

We pray for all those working hard, in these unusual times, inside and outside the home.We pray for those who are juggling too many tasks, those having to learn new skills quickly, and those extending themselves to help family members and neighbours with the every day efforts to get by.

We pray for our leaders and policy makers, our front line workers, and ourselves.

We pray for with concern, and with hope, for the ways the poison of racism is coming to the forefront, in our lives, in the news, and in public conversation.

We pray for all those who have been hurt, and for those who currently live in fear. We pray that all humans can learn to value all other humans, as beautiful, wondrous gifts. We pray that we can work together to make our communities, our families, our institutions, ourselves, more open-hearted and open-minded.

We pray with thanks for those who feel the call to put themselves out there for peaceful protests. We pray with gratitude for the majority of law enforcement officials, who work for the good of their community, and do not act out of malice or hatred.

We pray for needed change in the hearts of those who have been raised to see people, and the world through the lens of colour and race. We pray that this healing growth begin, and continue, in each of us.

We pray for Harrow United Church, the community it serves, its members, friends, and its leaders. We pray that we will find our way through the challenges of the present time, so that we can thrive, even as we discover new ways to share God’s message of love and hope in the world.

We pray for all those we know, and the many we don’t yet know, who are in search of meaning, and joy, and community, and friendship.

We give thanks, and we pray for those offer themselves as caregivers and helpers for those who are unwell, and those who live with mental illness.

We pray for all who are hungry for hope. We pray for those who sometimes feel they are in way over their heads in deep water. Be with them, and lead us to become more aware of those around us, who we may be able help, in small ways, and in bigger ways.

We make our prayers as followers of Jesus, who gave us a good way to pray, 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

Announcements for June 7, 2020

On Friday we had our third successful Drive Thru Food Drive Drive for Windsor’s Downtown Mission. We are grateful to the newspapers and other media outlets who have responded to our press releases, and helped publicize the event.

The food and other donations were delivered the same day, to help the front-line efforts of the Mission, who serve some of the most vulnerable people in our area.

Thank you to all the kind people who made donations, and to the volunteers who helped collect them.

 Thank you to Dennis Graham, John Woodbridge, Larry Anderson, and the Virtual Choir, for all the work they do to make these worship resources possible. Our May 31 worship service was read 239 times, and viewed 154 times.

 Rev. Darrow will be on vacation from June 8 to the 14. Next week’s worship will be a very special presentation of music that inspires faith.

ShoeBox Sunday School, led by Naomi Woods, has 27 children registered. There are online classes at 9:30 am and 10:30 am each Sunday morning, using materials delivered to households in, you guessed it, ShoeBoxes! We also make a YouTube video available each weekend for our youngest students.

We have reached out to the ShoeBox households to ask how the lessons have been going for the students, and to get a sense of what to do this summer.  In “normal” times we would have planned a picnic to conclude Sunday School in mid-June. These don’t seem like normal times.

Last week’s Worship Video included a conversation between Darrow and the Rev. Robin Sherman, the minister of Tecumseh United. Darrow has recorded a few other conversations with colleagues, including one with Justin Weber, the pastor of Honey-New Providence Friends Church in Iowa. Justin was recently released from hospital after 57 days, and is recovering, and living with the aftermath of COVID-19. Darrow will edit the hour and a half conversation, and likely make it part of the worship video for June 21. These conversations are part of the “Spirited People” series for the season of Pentecost.

 

Harrow United Church Worship for May 24, 2020

Link to May 24, 2020 worship video

link to ShoeBox Sunday School video for May 24, 2020

link to announcements video for May 24, 2020

HUC logo color FINAL@2x

Introduction to today’s readings from Scripture

First we will hear the story of the end of the earthly ministry of a prophet of Ancient Israel, Elijah, which includes a moment at which he passes on the mantle of responsibility to his protégé’ Elisha. There are echoes of that story, in the two separate accounts we will hear from the New Testament, about the departure of the Risen Christ, as experienced by a group of Jesus’ disciples.

2 Kings 2:1-13

When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”

But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.

The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.

Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.

13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.

Luke 24:45-53

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

 

Acts 1:1-10

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Learning Time: “Now What?”

(Begins with a short clip from a movie)

That’s the end of Mary Poppins, the magical nanny worked wonders with the Banks family, helping parents and children re-discover their love for each other. Have you ever thought about Mary Poppins as a kind of Jesus figure? She left the Banks family, and her other friends behind, as she ascended into the London sky, high above the kites. She left something of her spirit, with them.

All our scripture stories for today are goodbye stories.

Elisha was a student of Elijah, a prophet of ancient Israel. Prophets were a bit like travelling monks, who taught about God, settled religious disputes, and reminded the people of Israel they were meant to follow God’s ways. Some, like Elijah, seemed to have special abilities, to heal people, to help them, and do things that looked like magic.

When Elisha learned his teacher was to leave him, he asked for “a double portion of his spirit”. He wanted Elijah’s blessing, and the assurance God would still be with him.

Elijah was known as a miracle worker. When he needed to cross the Jordan River, he took off his cloak, also called a mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water. The river divided, allowing them to walk across a dry bed. Which brings to mind another story, about Moses.

When Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, they were pursued by Egyptian soldiers, who sought to return them to forced labour. Moses held up his staff, and the waters of the Red Sea parted. The escaped slaves walked across the dry sea bed. When they were safe on the other side, the waters crashed back down, washing away the chariots, horses, and the Pharoah’s army. That began the Israelites’ long trek across a wilderness to find a new life.

After 40 years in the wilderness, the Israelites were about to cross the Jordan River, to enter the Promised Land for the first time. Moses stood at the edge of the water and told the Israelites he would not be joining them. He appointed Joshua as his successor, and gave him, and the people his blessing, before he died.

Powerful symbols from these stories have made their way into our culture. We talk about dying as “crossing over”. In the old days, a groom might carry the bride over a threshold, through a doorway, to symbolize the transition from one way of being, to another. In literature, crossing a body of water is often a symbol of a new start. In movies, the beginning of a hero’s travels will often include crossing a bridge. It’s a visual symbol of moving from the old life, to the new. Often it’s an act of courage, just to make the crossing. A bridge over troubled water. Sometimes it’s a fresh start.

We use water when we baptize people. Water has the power of life and death. We can’t live without it. We use it to clean, to refresh ourselves. We splash our faces at the beginning of a new day. Tears stream down our faces when someone we love dies.

I’ve been talking this weekend with my friend Margaret, who is recovering from the very recent ordeal of losing her husband to cancer. It all happened so quickly. Just when she was absorbing the news that he was very ill, they learned things were progressing much quicker than expected, and within just a few weeks, Don had died.

Margaret is doing the best she knows how, with help, to carry on. She has two new grandbabies, her career, good friends, and lots to keep her busy. She told me this morning that weekends are the hardest, that being alone in her house is still very difficult, and that right now, she cannot imagine ever being happy again.

We do not always welcome change, and we certainly do not relish loss. It is painful when loved ones die- even when death is also a release from terrible suffering and hardship.

Elisha faced not only the death of his friend, but the end of his time as a student of holy ways. With the death of his mentor, he also pondered the burden of carrying on Elijah’s prophetic work.

Elisha watched as Elijah was carried off to heaven in a chariot of fire, pulled by horses of fire. We have no earthly idea what that means, but Elijah was gone. All that was left behind was his cloak, which Elisha picked up. The cloak, or mantle became a symbol of leadership and mission, like a superhero putting on their cape before going on duty. The last image in this story is of Elisha taking the cloak, and striking the water, and once again crossing the dry river bed of the Jordan.

We also heard two versions of the story of Jesus’ last earthly day.  As Moses did not enter the promised land, Jesus would not physically be with the disciples as they moved on. Jesus said that they would be clothed with power from on high. That’s like the cloak, or mantle, Elisha inherited from his teacher.

In the ascension story from the Book of Acts, after Jesus disappeared into the sky, the disciples suddenly saw two men dressed in white standing beside them. The strangers asked, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?”

That sounds like the story in Luke’s Gospel of the first Easter morning, “very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.  In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

The story of Jesus’ Ascension, his saying goodbye to earthly life, has all the mystery and wonder of his Resurrection. Jesus passed from one way of being into another. We don’t necessarily understand it any better than his first followers did.

Jesus’ disciples, like Elisha, and any of us might rather time stand still, and things not change, and they need not face losing someone they love and rely upon. We might prefer to freeze time at a perfect moment, before the sad things happen.

The hope, and the comfort in these stories is there is life beyond grief, and loss and change. God does not abandon us, when we cross a bridge, move to a new place, begin a new chapter.

Before Jesus left the disciples, he promised they would not be alone. He passed on the mantle, the cloak of leadership, and said they would receive power of the Holy Spirit. We will hear about that next Sunday, as we celebrate Pentecost. It’s a day we remember we are never alone, because God’s Spirit is with us, always. Amen

I have sometimes talked about holy whispers, invitations from the Spirit to step outside of our comfort zone, and do something that is needed in the world. I encourage you to begin each day with a prayer, asking God what you should do today. The idea is to open our hearts, and imaginations to the possibility that God is with us, and has things for us to do, that perhaps no one else can do.

God may be waiting to guide you, perhaps take you across a bridge, into new territory.  I heard a great story this week, about someone from the congregation who did just that. I’ve asked Laura George to share her story with you.

(The video includes Laura’s story.)

Pastoral Prayers for May 24, 2020

Loving God;

Today we listened to the story of Jesus’ Ascension. Once more, he said goodbye to his closest friends, and to his earthly life. He left them with work to do. They were sent out into the world to make new disciples, to offer care, to baptize, to welcome new followers into the fold. We also heard about Elisha, left behind by his mentor, Elijah, to go back out into the world, and carry on.

God, how do we carry on, after loss, while we are in grief? We need the assurance that you are with us, as we dare to move towards a new reality, one that we were not asking for, one that we may not be ready to fully embrace.

Our world is in the midst of a big change. Many of us are leading daily lives that are very different from what we knew, just a few weeks ago. For some, the changes are less obvious.

We don’t know what the new life, the new world will be like. We don’t know how we are going do things we once took for granted.

We may feel, at times, like Elijah, like Jesus’ friends, wondering if we have been left to our own devices and desires, and not knowing if we have it in us, to make our way in this strange new territory.

Help us wake up to the realization that it has always been this way. Things are always changing, and you are always with us. Help us to realize that you are ever-present, and always ready to fill us with the love, the courage, the energy, the passion to live, even through the weird and confusing seasons of life.

Help us to quiet ourselves, so that we are able grow in our awareness of you in our midst,  in this shared worship time, and in the rest of our week.

Help us to grow in the desire to be faithful people,

to love in your name, to put you first in our lives,

to continue to learn and grow,

to take risks and make sacrifices to serve your people,

to call out for justice and mercy in the world,

and to pour our lives out in love, in response to your love for us.

 

We pray for all those, who like ourselves,

Have big questions about Jesus, and faith, and the workings of the universe.

 

We pray for those who are having an especially hard time these days. Those who have suffered recent loss. Those who are very sick. Those who are lonely, and isolated.

We pray for those who are caught in the traps of addiction, and despair, and co-dependence.

We pray for those who need encouragement and help to begin the work of changing their lives.

We pray for those who are aging, those who are chronically ill, those who are in pain.

We pray for those who are depressed, and those who care for the afflicted.

We pray for those who are on the front-lines of the efforts to care for those touched by the coronavirus, and for those who are working to keep us safe, and warm, and well-fed.

We pray for victims of violence, and those subject to terrorism in many parts of the world.

We pray for those who do not have what they need to live,

and for those who cannot seem to live without things they don’t actually need.

We pray for those who are unemployed,

and for those who work too hard, and for those who work,

and still do not have what they need to sustain the lives of those in their care.

We pray for our congregation, and all those who now join us for weekly worship and prayer, over the internet, in this unusual time.

Help us remember who we have been,

give thanks for who we are,

and be open to who you would have us be.

We make these spoken prayers, and the unspoken ones in our hearts, in Jesus name,

and we continue in prayer using the words Jesus taught:

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

 Over the past few weeks I have talked about Justin Weber, a man I knew during my time at the Earlham School of Religion, a Quaker seminary. Justin is the pastor of a Quaker meeting, or congregation, in Iowa. I have kept up with the story of his entrance into hospital as the first COVID-19 patient in his area, his days in an induced coma, the long weeks of recovery, and finally, this week, his release from the hospital. I want to share with you now some video shot by a local television station, of Justin’s farewell to the hospital staff who cared for him, and nursed him back to health, for 57 days.

 

At the end of the video, Justin, who loves to sing, leads a powerful rendition of the doxology. Let that be our blessing today, as we end this time of worship.

 

Announcements:

New time for coffee with Rev. Darrow! 10:30 am this coming Thursday morning, May 28. Email him at revdww@gmail.com for your ZOOM invitation.

Do you know of someone who is sick, in need of food or other necessities, or could just use a pastoral phone call? Contact Rev. Darrow at revdww@gmail.com

Harrow United Church will hold another Drive Thru Food Drive, from 10 am-12 noon, on Friday, June 5. If you’d like to volunteer to help on that day, email us at harrow_united@hotmail.com

The Official Board will meet by conference call on Tuesday evening, 7 pm, on June 3.

Online Bible Study continues each Wednesday morning, starting at 10:30 am.

To join the class, email us at revdww@gmail.com for a ZOOM invitation.

Thank you to Dennis Graham, John Woodbridge, Larry Anderson, and the Virtual Choir, for all the work they do to make these worship resources possible. Our May 17 worship service was read a staggering 216 times, and viewed 81 times.

The “opening theme” for our latest worship videos is a piece for guitar composed and played by the mult-talented Joel Woods, who also appears in the videos for our youngest ShoeBox Sunday School students.

ShoeBox Sunday School, led by Naomi Woods, has 27 children registered. There are online classes at 9:30 am and 10:30 am each Sunday morning, using materials delivered to households in, you guessed it, ShoeBoxes!

If you know of children who would like to be part of ShoeBox Sunday School, please let us know.

Harrow United Church is definitely not part of the group of Ontario churches pressuring Premier Ford and his cabinet to allow them to re-open their buildings for worship services. In fact, not one United Church congregation has signed on to support this effort. The leadership of the United Church of Canada, at a national and regional level, supports making these decisions based on science, and the best advice of public health officials. Check out Rev. Darrow’s article on this topic, in this week’s issue of the Harrow News.

Today’s worship service re-purposed videos of the Ascension Sunday Service from June 2, 2019. We thought it might do our hearts good to see the inside of the sanctuary, filled with life.