Worship for April 26, 2020 from Harrow United Church

Worship Video for April 26, 2020

Above is the link to our worship offering for this week. The video opens with a praise song with a great message for the time we are living in, that ties in beautifully with the Gospel Lesson, and the Learning Time.

Beth Graham read John 20:19-31 for us, the passage that tells the story of the mysterious encounter two followers have with the Risen Christ, while walking the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The anthem for this week, “Stay With Us Through the Night” was inspired by that story.

The Learning Time (sermon) is called “At Home with Jesus”, and is followed by pastoral prayers and the Lord’s Prayer. The text of the learning time and the prayers will follow below.

Our hearts are with all those who are suffering, and enduring the COVID-19 pandemic.

We especially hold in prayer the victims of the horrendous crimes in Nova Scotia, their families and friends, their communities, and the first responders, and law enforcement officials who are dealing with the aftermath.

John Woodbridge and Larry Anderson recorded a moving, prayerful tribute to all those folks, and others touched by this horror. Nova Scotia Strong!

Please keep watching for the announcements at the end of the video.

Learning Time and Prayers:

“At home with Jesus”

Just three days after watching Jesus suffer a cruel death on the cross, two of his followers walked ten kilometres from Jerusalem to their home village of Emmaus. 10 kilometres is a long walk.

I have been out walking with my wife a few nights each week, but we rarely go for more than 4-5 kilometres. Most people we see on the streets respect the rules about physical distancing that are part of our new normal. We cross the street when it looks like we might get too close.

These days, we would not think of doing what the two friends did while walking the road to Emmaus. They met a stranger, walked with them, and entered into a lengthy, and deep conversation.

The two travelling companions were heart-broken at the death of Jesus. They’d heard about Jesus having appeared to some of his followers, but did not know what to make of those stories.

It’s good to remember that when we hear the Good Friday story each year, we do so knowing what we will hear on Easter Sunday. These two followers of Jesus, did not know then, what we know now.

They were, in their time, a bit like we are right now. We are in the middle of this big story that is new for everyone, and we are waiting, and hoping for good things, and praying for a good outcome. We are on a journey, not really knowing where we are going.

The two friends walking from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus took comfort in talking with the stranger they met, who became a new friend, and who seemed to know a lot about Jesus, and his God-given mission. He helped them see meaning and purpose in it all, and they began to feel better.

It seemed natural to invite their walking companion home for supper. (That used to be something we could do!) During the meal, the stranger took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them. Luke’s Gospel says that was when they recognized that Jesus was with them. An ordinary moment at the supper table became sacred.

That sounds a lot like communion, one of the sacraments of the Christian church. A sacrament is a special moment when God’s grace, God’s mystery, God’s love, touches us.

I have wonderful memories of standing at the communion table in the sanctuary of Harrow United Church, usually with kids gathered around the table, helping with the prayers, with the blessing, with the sharing of the bread and cup. When will we get to do that again?communion with the boys

I have had some preliminary conversation with our worship committee about how we can have a communion service via the internet. My strong preference is that we wait until we can do it as a livestreamed worship service, so we could all break and eat, pour and drink, at the same time, each in our own safe places.

“Communion” comes from the same latin word family as “community”. The “com” part means shared, or with, or joined. The “union” or “unity” part means one. So communion literally means joined as one. In the word “companion”, the “pan” part refers to “panis”, which means bread. A companion is one with whom we share bread.

During this time when our faith community is not able to meet in person, it seems especially important to hear today’s story. The Risen Christ was present with ordinary folks like you and me, gathered at a table in their own home, to share a meal.

I believe that God is always with us, and that there is potential in every moment of life to feel God’s presence. Any moment can be a holy moment, in which we can know that we are loved, and that we are not alone.

One of the blessings I am noticing during this strange time, when a lot of what I have taken for granted can’t easily happen, like getting a hair cut, or shopping just for fun, is that I am even more grateful for what I can do, what I do have. I am also a little clearer in my own mind and heart about what is actually important in life.

As I heard one wise person say, it doesn’t matter who has the nicest car, when you can’t really go anywhere. A lot of things that might have seemed important just a few weeks ago, are losing their glamour.

Most of us are so very fortunate, even now. We have food, and shelter, and safety. We have people who love us, who look out for us, who care what happens to us. We may get lonely, or bored, or feel stuck in one place, but we are mostly okay.

If you are feeling over-whelmed, or alone, or just need to hear a friendly voice, please, please don’t be afraid to reach out. If you send me a text, or email, or facebook message, I will be happy to give you a call, just to chat. I have had some amazing, beautiful conversations in the past few days, some with folks I had never talked with before.

We have people in our local community who are doing simple, beautiful, kind and generous things, to help other people, in this hard time. They have keyed in, consciously or unconsciously, to the basic human truth, that a very good way to cope better with our own challenges, is to help someone else. It may not lift our own burdens, but it gives us something else to focus on, to think about. It also restores our hope, because we are able to do something, even a small thing, to make a difference.

ShoeBox Sunday School logoI have had great fun this week, working with my daughter Naomi, to create ShoeBox Sunday School, which we are offering to families as an interactive way for kids to keep learning about God’s love. Volunteers delivered shoeboxes containing crafts and lessons to homes on Saturday, and on Sunday morning, children will meet with Naomi in an online classroom

There are folks out there who are not as fortunate as most of us. There are people who may not put it this way, but who crave tangible signs that they are not forgotten, that they are loved, needed, noticed, remembered. There are also far too many people who are physically hungry and thirsty, and who are just trying to survive, day to day.

truck full of food for missionHarrow United Church is doing another “Drive Thru Food Drive on Friday, May 1, 2020, from 10 am to 12 noon. We will have a pickup truck in the church parking lot, ready to receive your donations of food for Windsor’s Downtown Mission. We will also accept cash and cheques made out to the Mission.

The first time we did this, a week or two before Easter, we collected over 500 pounds of food. An unexpected bonus was that some folks dropped by with special donations to support the work of our church.

We can’t do everything, but we can do something. In the spirit of the two friends who invited a stranger to join them for a meal, we can share from what we have. Amen

Prayers for April 26, 2020

Loving God; We have so many causes for prayer.

We begin with a moment to hold in the prayer the victims, the first responders, the family and friends, the communities of those in Nova Scotia who have been devastated and shocked by the murderous actions of a serial shooter.

We hold in prayer all victims of violence, and all those who live in fear.

We pray for those who struggle at this time of huge uncertainty;

for political leaders faced with unforeseen challenges, uncharted ways, difficult decisions,

We pray for those in situations never before experienced.

We pray for moms and dads who struggle with having children at home all day.

It is difficult to find new activities; it is hard to stay creative.

We pray for those whose day is radically different.

We pray for those who must leave their usual workspace,

for those breadwinners who must work at home.

We pray for those who have lost their jobs

We pray for those whose financial security has gone,,

who have anxiety around paying rent or providing for family needs .

We pray for those who have been affected by the Covid 19 virus.

Those who are sick at home and those who have been hospitalized,

in their suffering, and in their fear.

This prayer we offer in the name of Jesus Christ, and we continue in prayer with the words of 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, the power, and the glory

forever and ever. Amen

 

 

Harrow United Church Easter 2020 Worship Service

easter stained glass HUCThere is a link below to the video of this service. The video opens with a wonderful “virtual choir” singing Morning Has Broken. Our scripture lesson is read by the members of our confirmation class. I recorded a sermon in the sanctuary, which is followed by “Thine is the Glory”, with piano and vocals by Naomi Woods, and trumpet and vocals by Joel Woods. The sermon and pastoral prayers for today will be included in this post. After the pastoral prayer, I have included an Easter Treat. Nicole Wells, who was a member of the choir and congregation at Applewood United Church in Mississauga, made a video of her singing a song by John Legend which carries a good message for the time in which we are living. I liked it so much I asked her if we could have it as part of our worship for this Easter morning.

Link to Video of Easter Worship

Scripture Lesson:   John 20:1-18

Sermon

At the end of the verses the confirmation class just read, Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to cling to him, because he had not yet ascended to the Father.

In this season of social distancing, and self-isolation, we can relate to the awkward sadness of wanting to reach out and offer someone a hug, and it not being possible.

Things have changed, and we are living in a new normal, that we do not understand, and to which it will take some time to adjust. We are hearing that phrase a lot these days.

After the first Good Friday, Jesus’ disciples faced a new normal, without their beloved teacher.

They’d enjoyed an amazing three years of travelling with him from village to village, town to town. They met thousands of people. They shared intimate moments with their teacher and friend, and grew to love and trust him, and each other. They built a tight-knit community, a family of the heart, and they were learning, slowly, hesitantly to offer love to people beyond their cozy circle.

Great things were happening. Everywhere they went, crowds gathered to get a glimpse, hear a word, have the experience of being with Jesus. There was an aura of peace, of love around their teacher, in which they felt safe, and blessed. They may have come to believe that anything was possible, as long as they were with him, and he was with them.

But not everyone was so enthused about Jesus, and his message of God’s unlimited, unconditional love, that burst through barriers of class and privilege, race and religion. Jesus was shaking things up.

Powerful people, with much to lose, conspired to silence the persuasive, subversive voice, that threatened to topple the carefully balanced system of officially sanctioned religion, puppet kings, and Roman imperial control.

Jesus was arrested on phony charges, subjected to a mock trial, and sentenced to public execution on the cross. He was beaten, humiliated, stripped of his clothing, and crucified. His closest family and friends watched his body breathe its last, and the saw to the burial of his dead body.

Then Jesus’ followers went away, most of them, and hid. At least one of them even denied ever knowing Jesus. That part of their lives was over, behind them, and they were going to have to sort out what to do next, once they were no longer stuck behind closed doors. We can relate these days to being stuck behind closed doors.

Jesus’ companions were paralyzed by grief, by fear, by the shock that comes when you lose a loved one, when your hopes about how life was supposed to be are dashed.

Have you ever got so deep into the plot of a good book or movie, or tv show, that you kind of lose track of time? Ever feel like you just want to stay with story, and maybe hope it never ends? I remember when the Harry Potter books were first coming out, and at our house we all read them, and we could not get them fast enough.  I can remember wanting to go from one to the next, with as little break in between as possible- so the spell, the charm of that imaginary reality would be sustained.

I have friends who are ardent sports fans. They are sad these days, because so much of what they almost live for, is suspended. No games to watch, listen to, read about, talk about right now. In the old normal, I can remember how some of them would follow a favorite team all the way through regular season play, and then into play offs. If their team was eliminated, they’d choose another to cheer on, if only so they could remain a little longer in that charged up fan-space.

A friend told me once, at the end of a play-off series in which his team actually did come out the victor, that it was bitter-sweet for him. He was thrilled his team came out on top, but also sad, because the time of heightened excitement was over. There would be next year, or he could change his focus to another sport- but it wasn’t the same.

These things we love, all seem to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Our earthly lives are like that as well- we are being reminded of that on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis lately. The fact that there will be, at some point, an end to our earthly life can make it all seem more precious. Every moment counts!

When I was little, and still sometimes as an old guy, there were, and are, the days when I resist going to sleep. My body may be tired, but I don’t want to let go. Eventually, my weary eyes and bones win the argument, and I do sink into slumber. I repeat the cycle of day, and night, and full day.

That’s the way of things. Day, night, new day. Spring and summer, autumn and winter, then spring again. Live, rest, wake up. Grow, blossom, wilt and fade. Life, death and new life. Sunrise, the glory of a new day, sunset, and then the new day.

There is no going backwards, and no staying still. The wheel keeps turning, the cycle continues. We see it at this time of year. Seeds planted in dark soil, in which they decay enough to break open with new growth, burst upward to find the light of day. Caterpillars that will cocoon themselves, and be transformed, and emerge as something new, that flies off into the warm wind.

Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene at the tomb where his body had been laid out for burial. When she realized who he was, she was overjoyed, and wanted to reach out, and hold him tight. He warned her against clinging to him. Things were different. A new normal.

We don’t always feel ready for the new life, the new normal. We aren’t done grieving, aren’t ready to let go of the old. We don’t want to lay our head on the pillow and let go of the day we are in.

Left on our own, we might not. We might try to stay awake, and not let go of the day. We might try to hold on to the way things were, and deny that change, and death, are the way of things. We might be that way, left on our own, and if we were in charge.

But the Easter story reminds us that we are not left on our own, and that we are not in charge. God is in charge, of life, and death and new life. The new normal.

Jesus appeared again, in a new way, on that first Easter morning. He showed to Mary Magdalene, and then to a few more of his close friends, that there was more to come.

Resurrection is a weird word. It’s not the same as resuscitation, or restoration. It has nothing at all to do with a return to the way things were, before the pain, the death, the grief. There is no promise to freeze time, and keep everything the way it used to be.

When it sank in with Jesus’ friends that there was a new normal, it startled them out of their sad stuck place, and energized them. They moved beyond the closed, tight, hidden circle, and out from behind their closed doors, and shared the message of new life, and God’s love, with thousands and thousands more people. A whole new movement, bigger than anything that had happened during Jesus earthly life, began to grow, and spread. It was like nothing any of Jesus’ first friends and followers could have possibly imagined.

I’m thinking about the food drive we had here at the church last week for Windsor’s Downtown Mission. So many people responded to the call, and drove up, and dropped off food. They dropped off cash and cheque donations. So many people offering kindness, to help people they have never met, and may never meet.

Perhaps in this time when we are all being reminded of our shared vulnerability, there is an opportunity to embrace being more kind, more generous, more thoughtful. How wonderful it would be if these qualities became more evident in our new normal.

That’s the deal, with new life. It’s not the old life. It’s new. It’s what comes next, not what happened before.  The Easter story reminds us God is still with us, offering us the energy, and inspiration, and possibility of the new day, the new normal. God is in it with us.

That’s the hope and promise of our faith, as expressed in the New Creed of the United Church of Canada:

We are not alone,
we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.

Thanks be to God.

Naomi and Joel sing “Thine is the Glory”

Pastoral Prayers

God of Love, and Hope, and New Life;

We pray for people we know who are especially challenged these days. Those who live alone. Those who are in isolation. Those who cannot visit loved ones. Those who are sick. Those who are dying. Those who are grieving. We remember the families of Delight Cracknell and Roberta McLean.

We pray for those who feel alone. Those who feel unsafe in their homes. Those who worry about their loved ones, whose work places them at risk.

We pray for our leaders, and all in positions of responsibility, authority, and duty. We pray for our communities, our county, province, nation, and all the nations. We pray for a spirit of cooperation and common cause to be at work in the conversations between levels of government, and between nations, that will nudge out the tendency towards rivalry and self-interest.

We pray for our church, and all other communities of faith who are discovering new ways to share hope and bring joy, and offer pastoral care and practical help to people in need. Bless the leaders of our church, and all other faith communities.

God who Creates, and is always at work in creation, in this season of new life, we remember that Jesus talked about ordinary things like mustard seeds and grains of wheat to encourage us to look closer at life, and the world around us, to see you at work.

If we open our hearts, and look around with loving eyes, there is much to see.

Like the persistent plants that somehow find their way to grow up through cracks in broken concrete, your love finds a way, to break through all that is weighing us down.

There is kindness in this world. People are buying groceries for their neighbours, to save them a trip to store.

There is generosity in this world. People are making donations of money, food, protective gear, to help where it is needed.

There is compassion in this world. Ordinary people with hearts of love are doing their jobs, many going beyond the call of duty, to make sure that the necessities of life are available. Brave souls with loved ones of their own, leave their homes each day to care for the sick.

There is humour, and lightness of heart in this world. Where we are still able to laugh, to make each other smile, we can live through almost anything.

There is ingenuity and curiousity at work in this world. People are setting aside the pursuit of profit and personal gain, to dedicate their efforts to make things that relieve suffering, protect the vulnerable, and make people who work on the front lines safer.

We are your people, and in this strange time in which we live, we give thanks for the glimpses of resurrection that are all around us. Let us use this time in which many of us are compelled by circumstances to lay low, sit still, and be safe, to be more watchful for those signs, more grateful when we notice them, and more bold in sharing the good news of what we see.

We make these prayer in the name of the Risen Christ, and we continue in prayer with the words Jesus gave us:

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 them that 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,

Forever and ever. Amen

Lyrics to the John Legend song: If You’re Out There

If you hear this message, wherever you stand
I’m calling every woman, calling every man
We’re the generation
We can’t afford to wait
The future started yesterday and we’re already late

We’ve been looking for a song to sing
Searched for a melody
Searched for someone to lead
We’ve been looking for the world to change
If you feel the same
Then go on and say

If you’re out there
Sing along with me
If you’re out there
I’m dying to believe that you’re out there
Stand up and say it loud
If you’re out there
Tomorrow’s starting now
Now, now

No more broken promises
No more call to war
Unless it’s love and peace that we’re really fighting for
We can destroy hunger
We can conquer hate
Put down the arms and raise your voice
We’re joining hands today

Oh I was looking for a song to sing
I searched for a leader
But the leader was me
We were looking for the world to change
We can be heroes
Just go on and say

If you’re out there
Sing along with me
If you’re out there
I’m dying to believe that you’re out there
Stand up and say it loud
If you’re out there
Tomorrow’s starting now
Now, now

Oh now, now

If you’re ready we can shake the world
Believe again
It starts within
We don’t have to wait for destiny
We should be the change that we want to see

If you’re out there
If you’re out there
And you’re ready now
Say it loud
Scream it out

If you’re out there
Sing along with me
If you’re out there
I’m dying to believe that you’re out there
Stand up and say it loud
If you’re out there
Tomorrow’s starting now

If you’re out there
If you’re out there
If you’re out there

If you hear this message, wherever you stand
I’m calling every woman, calling every man
We’re the generation
We can’t afford to wait
The future started yesterday and we’re already late

Songwriters: MARCUS JOHN BRYANT, DEVON HARRIS, KAWAN PRATHER, JOHN STEPHENS

Good Friday Worship

HUC logo color FINAL@2x

I enlisted the help of Larry Anderson, the musician at Harrow United Church, and Naomi Woods, to create a simple worship service for this Good Friday, April 10, 2020.

 

Here is a link to the audio file: audio file of Good Friday Worship

Naomi read the scripture for us:

John 19:17-30 (NIV)

Larry Anderson played a beautiful, meditative instrumental version of “Were You There” for us, which we are using as an interlude between the scripture reading and the Learning Time.

While everyone we love is living, and while some are dying under the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic, what does it mean to place ourselves in the shadow of the cross?

Crucifixion was both a very public, and a very lonely way to die. The Romans deliberately made this form of execution a spectacle. They mounted crosses on a hill, for all to see, from any direction. People who loved Jesus, and the others executed that day, could look on from a distance, but do nothing to ease their agony, or change the outcome.

These days, many of us have people in our lives we can’t visit. If someone you love is in a nursing home, or hospital, you can’t be with them, face to face. If they have a smart phone, and the faculties to use it, you might be able to facetime.

Many of us are missing coming to the church building, for worship services like the one we wanted to have today. Afterwards, we were planning to have hot cross buns, and coffee and tea. We did that last Good Friday, and it was a lovely of warmth and fellowship, after dwelling on the chilling story of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Stories of pain and death shake us, and send chills through us. We find comfort in huddling together, in the company of fellow mortals- except now, we can’t. We are still sorting out how to be a faith community when we can’t gather in the same physical space.

There is a moment in John’s story of the crucifixion, when Jesus cried out that he was thirsty. The story doesn’t say who proffered a sponge on a stick towards Jesus’ mouth- the sponge was soaked in cheap wine.  My guess is it was a guard.  Jesus’ friends would not be allowed that close. I marvel at this moment of human kindness, in the context of a story of terrible, violent cruelty. It says to me that is in our human nature- we are made, most of us, to be kind and as helpful as we can.

These days most of us are observers, while a brave few leave their homes every day, to try to help the very sick. Our hearts are with them, and our prayers.

How does it feel for those folks who are on the wrong side of the hospital doors, when someone they love, and can’t be with, is on the other side? They can’t even do what the guard did, and offer the sponge on a stick.

What was it like for Jesus’ loved ones, to watch his slow, agonizing death?

How was it for God, to watch Jesus die? Did God feel helpless?

For centuries, people have tried to save God’s reputation by saying that everything happens for a reason, according to a divine plan. They say that about the crucifixion, but I don’t believe that for a minute. I don’t think Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s idea. God’s ideas are all about love, not about causing pain.

Jesus was crucified because powerful people with evil intentions made it happen. Best as I can tell, God doesn’t stop people, weak or strong, from making their own choices. God always offers us better options, but does not prevent us from doing the wrong thing.

God’s response to what we do, or don’t do, for good or for bad, is always love. I suspect God gets frustrated with us, even so, because we do so many regrettable things.

Could God have stopped the crucifixion? I don’t think that’s the right question. I think the question is actually, when will humans stop hurting each other? We have the power of choice, and we make really terrible choices, to act, or do nothing, and there are consequences.

So what was God doing, while Jesus’ friends watched him die, and prayed for him, wishing for things to be different, and crying their eyes out?

I think God was crying too. I think that God hates seeing us hurt each other, and sorrows when we act so poorly, and wishes we would do better.

We might ask, “What is God doing right now, while our world is in such a mess?” Well, what we are going through is terrible, but honestly, for a lot of people who don’t live with our level of privilege and comfort, the world must always seem likes it’s a mess.

God has always been with all the people who have been hungry and homeless and sick, those living in war zones and disaster areas and in abject poverty long before this new crisis came along, to touch our lives. There is a lot from which most of us have been insulated. There is a lot more we should have, could have been doing, all along, to alleviate suffering, to improve living conditions, and allow more people access to proper nutrition, shelter, sanitation, education, equal rights, fair pay, and many other things we have taken for granted.

I looked it up yesterday. The numbers are changing, but worldwide, around 108,000 people have died of the Coronavirus. That is horrible. But another number is much worse. Each day, 21,000 people die of starvation. We don’t have a cure for COVID-19, but we have always had a cure for hunger. The harsh reality is that every day, under circumstances we have accepted as normal, far more people die because of things we can do something about, like poverty, war, domestic violence, hate crimes, and neglect. God cries for all of them

God has always been there, quietly pointing us in the right direction, giving us the tools and abilities we can use to make things better, kinder and more fair and just for everyone.

I think God is as frustrated as you and I are about how these things go, and how it takes humans so long to get our collective act together. So many of the efforts to clean up the messes in the world are slowed down by politics, and greed, and pride, and ego. We can be grateful in our county, province, nation, to have leaders who are doing the best they can, with this current crisis. It is remarkable to see partisan politics taking a back seat.

I think these days God is cheering on the folks who are working so bravely, and diligently to help others right now, and applying their God-given intellect and ingenuity to find the ways to bring us out from underneath the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is also incredibly inspiring to see how ordinary people like you and I are reaching out to help others as we can. When I have trouble settling down to sleep at night I think about the over 500 pounds of food we gathered a week ago, in our Food Drive for the Downtown Mission, and I remember that God really is at work in the world, in big ways and small ways. Maybe like the Roman guard daring to hold the sponge up so that Jesus could wet his parched throat. We should so what we can- even if our part is to stay in isolation.

God is love, and God has always loved us, and always will. God will never abandon us. God has big hopes for us, that we will use the gifts we have been given, to do better.

Today we reflect on Jesus being crucified, knowing that it is not anywhere near the end of the story. There is sorrow now, and death, and grief and tears, but Easter is coming, and new life is on the way.

Thanks be to God. Amen

This worship resource concludes with the full recording of “Were You There”.

An illustration I’m leaving out of my Good Friday sermon

toilet-plungerI had a moment this week when I needed to unclog a toilet, and couldn’t a find a plunger. We haven’t needed one since we moved to our new home. I don’t remember unpacking it.

Rather than being thankful we haven’t needed one for that long, or that this was the biggest problem in our house that night- I became very frustrated, because I couldn’t find a plunger.

I pondered how onerous a task it would be to order one online, and pick it up at the hardware. I found myself resenting how so much has changed in such a short time.

I get it that we have to keep each other safe, but right then, it felt like too much. Why couldn’t I just go buy a plunger?

All my stored up worry and anxiety, and concern for people I love, and for my kid’s futures, and the well-being of our communities, and my long term job prospects, and the amount in our bank account, and where I am going to get more toilet paper anyway, if I can even get the toilet unclogged, all came roiling up, overflowing. I was very crabby to my wife.

I was just frustrated, exasperated, scared.

When I paused, caught my breath, and settled down, I was able to unclog the toilet. (I used the long cleaning brush to get that back and forth suction action going.) It felt lovely to watch that water swirl away.

If only we could flush away the actual problems in the world so easily. I hate feeling powerless. I hate feeling unable to protect the people I love from terrible things. I hate when things change and nobody’s checked with me.

Are you running in circles yet?

seabrook drive imageI once had to miss a half marathon for which I’d trained hard, so I ran it as 20 laps of the street we used to live on, which was actually part of a rectangle pieced together around a little park.

Advantages of a run in my neighbourhood included not worrying about traffic, and not having to wear my hydration belt- I left water bottles on a lawn chair on our front yard.

 

The disadvantages included wondering if my neighbours thought I was losing it, and getting very bored, running the same very short route, over and over.

james campbell in his back garden 2This morning I read about James Campbell, an athlete in Cheltenham, England, who celebrated his 32nd birthday, and also raised over 18,000 pounds for the National Health Service efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, by running a full marathon in his back garden.

Campbell worked out he’d need to do 7000 laps, because his yard is just 6 metres, or about 20 feet deep. (A full marathon is 42.1 kilometres.) He did it, over the course of five hours, while thousands watched, and cheered him on, via livestream.

james campbell in his back gardenIf I’d read this yesterday I would have assumed it was an April Fools joke, but it’s been reported by a number of credible sites, including the BBC.

I woke this morning with an urge to go outside, and work off some of the nervous energy that’s been gathering within me. I also want to hear birdsong, and breathe fresh air. My wife and I get out for evening walks, and I have also made good use of the treadmill in our basement, but I think I will be getting out later, on my bike. I probably won’t go 42 km. I am grateful that I can out, and move, and sweat.

I spoke this morning with someone from my church, who lives in a senior’s residence. She told me that residents are now confined to their rooms, and will have their meals brought to them. She hopes she will be allowed to use the hallway outside her door for her exercises.

I chatted with another person, who is an active farmer. He said while some folks he knows are doing jig-saws, he’s been working on the big puzzle of how to get all his spring work done.

What are you doing, with your nervous energy? How are you coping with your current circumstances? I’d love to hear.

I’d also like to know if there are things happening in your life, and in the lives of those you love, for which you’d like prayer. I will keep your requests confidential.

 

Signs of Hope and New Life

sidewalk chalk

My wife and I were out for a walk one evening this week, and I began to take pictures with my phone, of the signs of hope and new life I saw. The image above is one of my favourites. The concrete driveway in front of this house was covered with messages and pictures. We talked (at a safe distance) to one of the homeowners, who said his daughter was having great fun putting happy things on their driveway. I asked him to tell her that she had made my evening.

I think the little girl has it right. It is important to put to positive images and words out there. Not to block out the bad news, but to keep it context.

Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are countless signs of hope and new life. I believe that, and I see it everyday.

I want your help in spreading the Good News. Please send me your photos, of things you encounter in your life, that are signs of hope and new life. I’d like to put them into a slide show that could be part of our Worship for Easter morning.

Please send your photos to me at:

darrow@revdarrow.com

 

Filling up on Hope, Joy, and Faith

Let us keep ourselves open to the power that carries our life in every moment…that we may be filled with silent gratefulness. (Paul Tillich)

Paul Tillich was a theologian and philosopher who was born in Poland in 1886, and who lived until 1965. He was a thinker who sought to build bridges between the old ideas and symbols of Christian faith, and the questions and concerns of contemporary life.

That seems as important today as ever- how do we re-fill the empty places in our lives with hope, joy, and faith during this strange time in which we are living?

I can think of at least two ways.

#1 Number One Logo Text GraphicOne way is to talk about our faith- to share our joys, our sorrows, our hopes and even our fears. I had a wonderful experience just this morning. I met online with four young people who are very involved with Harrow United Church, for our first confirmation class. They were patient, and encouraging as the old minister was learning on the go to use the Zoom video conferencing platform. They were engaged, and open and honest with their responses as we talked about God.

Is God all powerful? How we reconcile that idea with the suffering we see all around us? Do we all think about God the same way? Do we think about anything the same way?

I feel so grateful to have the members of this class in my life. We will meet online once a week for the next while.

Number 2 on stage with 2 spotlights.A second thing that brings renewed hope, joy, and faith into our lives, is doing acts of mercy, kindness, justice. It does our hearts good, it lifts our spirits, it puts spring in our step, when we know we are making a difference. It is good for us to make movement from gratitude to generosity.

As a community of faith, Harrow United Church desires to uplift its members, and also care for others, in God’s name. When we do good works, we check both those boxes.

Speaking of boxes….empty-cardboard-boxes

Friday morning, from 10 until 12 noon, we will be filling boxes in the back of Jeff Csikasz’s shiny red pickup. 2019-red-Dodge-Ram-1500-LimitedWe are collecting food and necessities for Windsor’s Downtown Mission. The staff and volunteers at the Mission are front-line heroes, responding to the needs of hungry, homeless, and hurting people- and they are running out of supplies. The population served by the Mission face the same fears and worries about COVID-19, and the need to self-isolate, and keep clean, and eat healthy, as all of us. Imagine dealing with all of that, on top of being homeless.

(We will do this again, if needed, to re-stock the Harrow Food Bank, which our church, and others in the community support year round.)

Here are things we need: (Please watch for expiration dates.)

Laundry and hand soap, hand sanitizer, wipes

Canned tuna, salmon, chicken, ham

Peanut butter

Bread

Soups: Beef stew, chili, chicken noodle, vegetable, assorted soups

Canned beans

Canned fruit-in own juices or light syrup

Pasta, whole wheat pasta, White rice, brown rice, Macaroni and cheese

Canned Vegetables-Low sodium/no salt added

Pasta sauce, tomato sauce, gravy

Fruit & Vegetable juice: individual & family size
Tea, Instant coffee, Hot chocolate

If it is raining, the pickup will be under the church carport (the elevator entrance). The tail gate will be open. We will have people around, but at a careful, social distance, to keep everyone safe.

Worship for March 29, 2020

Link to audio file for this at home worship

The audio file begins with Larry Anderson’s prelude, to help us prepare for worship.

(Once the audio begins to play, you can click back to this page, and read and listen at the same time, if you like.)

Let’s take a moment for quiet prayer. There is so much happening in the world, and we have so many questions, concerns, and anxieties. There is so much happening that still does not feel quiet real, and yet, here we are. And God is with us in the midst of it all.

I am continuing this week to look at the story of Jesus’ time in the wilderness. I think the desert could have felt to him, absolutely real, and at the same time, like a place outside of regular life and time.

Please listen as Sue Timpson-Mannell reads the story for us:

Matthew 4:1-11 from The Message

Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.”

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”

For the second test the Devil took him to the Holy City. He sat him on top of the Temple and said, “Since you are God’s Son, jump.” The Devil goaded him by quoting Psalm 91: “He has placed you in the care of angels. They will catch you so that you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone.”

Jesus countered with another citation from Deuteronomy: “Don’t you dare test the Lord your God.”

For the third test, the Devil took him to the peak of a huge mountain. He gestured expansively, pointing out all the earth’s kingdoms, how glorious they all were. Then he said, “They’re yours—lock, stock, and barrel. Just go down on your knees and worship me, and they’re yours.”

Jesus’ refusal was curt: “Beat it, Satan!” He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God, and only him. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”

 The Test was over. The Devil left. And in his place, angels! Angels came and took care of Jesus’ needs.

Sue is self-quarantined after visiting her friend in Indiana, but was able to record the scripture lessons for us on her phone, and send them in.

On Friday, I met with Larry Anderson and Jeff Csikasz, at a careful social distance, and we recorded some music. Here is Jeff singing and playing one of his favourites.

I asked for that song because of a line in the chorus that says, “In the desert you can remember your name”.

It seems to me that in his time in the desert, Jesus was called upon to remember who he was, and who he was meant to be. The tempter, or the tester offered him some shortcuts, some diversions from the path Jesus was meant to walk, and from the person he was meant to be- but Jesus resisted, and remembered his name, his identity.

The tempter knew their stuff, and the distractions offered to Jesus were pretty attractive. They are the classics, that people have always faced, and which we face today.

Jesus was offered food, a symbol for all material things. If he’d taken the devil up on the suggestion that he turn stones into bread, maybe he could have had at it, and turned the desert into a bakery warehouse. He could have turned rocks and stones, cliffs and boulders into baked goods.

Anything beyond what Jesus actually needed, to satisfy his physical hunger, would have gone to waste. There is a temptation to find comfort in having more than we need- as if we could make a strong castle out of the stuff in our lives, that would be a defense against the things that scare us.

The second distraction from his true life, from his true self, offered up to Jesus, was protection from pain and death. The devil brings him up to a high place, and says, “Since you are God’s Son, jump.”

The Devil also used scripture to suggest that if he did jump, God would send angels to catch him.

This is a tough one. We’d like to believe we are somehow protected from pain, from death. We might hope and pray the same thing for those we love- especially in these strange times. But Jesus resists the tempter on this one too. Jesus is as vulnerable, mortal, and subject to pain and grief as we are.

Jesus is a model for us, of how to live, and remember how we are meant to live, even in the face of hardship, terrible challenges, things that threaten to overwhelm.

The third challenge the tempter put to Jesus might also work on us, because it was about worldly power. What if the devil could have put Jesus in charge of all the countries of the world? The first problem, I think, is that his offer was a lie.  I don’t believe the devil could sign over all that power, because the devil is not in charge. God made all those people, in all those countries, as individuals with freedom to think, to feel, and make their own choices, for bad and for good.

We might, as we watch the news, and hear about the decisions leaders are having to make these days, wish we could have our say, or maybe take over, and do things better. If the devil appeared to me, and said, just worship me, and you can be in charge of the whole world, I might be sucked in. I might think, for a moment, that I could do better. But the reality is, I am not smart enough, creative enough, wise enough. Even if the devil had the power to put me in charge, which I think is a lie, it would be a terrible idea.

One human should not call all the shots. History is full of the stories of the miserable outcomes that occur when one person, one small group thinks they know what is best for everyone else.

All the minds, all the hearts, all the good will, of all people, are needed- not just the ego-driven desire of one person, who falls for the lie that the devil has put them in charge.

We need each other. We need to work together, in small things, and in big things, to make the world better safer, more habitable for our fellow humans, and all the other life with which the earth is teeming.

Jesus rejected the lies of the tester, and pushed back against the powerful distractions of the tempter. In the desert, Jesus remembered his name, and it gave him the strength and courage to carry on, to tell the devil to take off. And according to the story, the devil did leave, and angels came to take care of Jesus.

Jesus was still in the desert. The high places and tall towers, the piles of stones that could have been bread- all those lies, those illusions were gone. But the angels came to help him.

We are kind of in a desert. There are temptations. There are worries, anxieties, and the overwhelming sense at times, that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, whatever that is.

But we are not alone, and the desert, as strange as it seems, is not all terrible. There is beauty here. There is life. Please click on the audio file for the hymn for today. Larry and Jeff played the instrumental part. The words are below, if you want to sing along.

jeff and larry making music

VU 222 Come, Let Us Sing

1            Come, let us sing to the Lord our song,

we have stood silently too long;

surely the Lord deserves our praise,

so joyfully thank God for our days.

 

2            O thirsty soul, come drink at the well;

God’s living waters will never fail.

Surely the Lord will help you to stand,

strengthened and comforted by God’s hand.

 

3            You dwell among us and cause us to pray,

and walk with each other following your way;

our precious brothers and sisters will grow

in the fulfilling love they know.

 

4            Deserts shall bloom and mountains shall sing

to the desire of all living things.

Come, all you creatures, high and low,

let your praises endlessly flow.

I especially like the line in that hymn that reminds us that deserts shall bloom and mountains shall sing. God is still at work. In that same spirit, Sue Timpson-Mannell has a second reading for us.

Isaiah 35:1-7  from The Message 

Wilderness and desert will sing joyously,
the badlands will celebrate and flower—
Like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom,
a symphony of song and color.
Mountain glories of Lebanon—a gift.
Awesome Carmel, stunning Sharon—gifts.
God’s resplendent glory, fully on display.
God awesome, God majestic.

Energize the limp hands,
strengthen the rubbery knees.
Tell fearful souls,
“Courage! Take heart!
God is here, right here,
on his way to put things right
And redress all wrongs.
He’s on his way! He’ll save you!”

Blind eyes will be opened,
deaf ears unstopped,
Lame men and women will leap like deer,
the voiceless break into song.
Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness,
streams flow in the desert.
Hot sands will become a cool oasis,
thirsty ground a splashing fountain.
Even lowly jackals will have water to drink,
and barren grasslands flourish richly.

One of my favourite spiritual writers, Howard Thurman was a preacher and teacher, and college professor, who inspired many people, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior. Howard Thurman was an African American, born in rural Florida in 1899. His maternal grandmother had been a slave on Florida plantation. He was born into poverty, and his father died when Howard was 7 years old. He was raised by his grandmother, and his mother, who were women of deep faith.

Thurman wrote:

“There must be always remaining in every life, some place for the singing of angels, some place for that which in itself is breathlessly beautiful.”

I have been hearing all week about ways people are being like angels for each other, with words and acts of kindness and generosity. People are baking good things, and dropping them on the porches of neighbours and friends. Others are taking out the garbage, and bringing the cans back in, for those who are housebound, or just need help.

People are phoning, texting, writing letters to each other. Sending love, and showing concern as they can.

People are making extra donations to places like the Downtown Mission, who are on the front line, helping folks who have it much tougher than most of us.

We can each exercise our free will, our creativity, our compassion, to make the world a little more humane, more beautiful, and life that much more possible for others.

When we do what we can, it helps others, and that is good, but I think it also helps us to remember our name, who we are, and who we are meant to be, in these strange times, in this weird desert place where we all now live.

Let’s pray:

God of deserts and blooming flowers, of night skies and bright stars, help us, in these strange times, to remember you, and your presence with us. Help us to slow down, and breathe, and remember again who you have created us to be. May we, with our unspoken prayers, with our acts of compassion and kindness, with our careful, loving words, bring beauty and hope into the lives of others. We pray for those we know who are sick, those who are grieving. We pray for those who feel alone. We pray especially for those who are now behind the locked doors of nursing homes, hospitals, and hospice. We pray for front line workers who are tending to the needs of the sick, and who are leading the fight against COVID-19. We pray for our government leaders and their advisors. We pray for those who continue to work, so that we have what we need to live. We make all our prayers as followers of Jesus, and we ask for your blessing in his name. Amen

Before I finish this recorded worship resource, I want to thank Jeff Csikasz and Larry Anderson for their music, and Sue Timpson Mannell for the scripture readings.

I also want to announce that this coming Friday morning, April 3, from 10 am until noon, Harrow United Church will have a drive-up food and necessities collection for Windsor’s Downtown Mission.

Our goal is to fill the back of a pick-up truck with items that can help folks who face the same challenges as we do, but who may have it much worse than most of us in the county.

Imagine facing the need to self-isolate, and keep clean, and eat healthy, if you were homeless!

If you are currently sick, or under self-quarantine, don’t worry about donating to this food drive. Take care of yourselves.

We will likely do this again, if it is needed, to re-stock the Harrow Food Bank, which our church normally collects for every week.

If your household is running out of food, and you can’t get out to get to a store, please let us know, and we will do our best to help you.

This worship resource comes to you from Harrow United Church. Our building may be closed for now, but our ministry in this community continues. God bless you all.

 

Just 3 good things

graphic-collection-number-3-neon-delightfull

I woke up with an idea, and a song in my head.

The idea is that I want to do three good things today. Not the usual, routine things that are part of most days, but new things. I intend to spend some time thinking about what I can do, planning how to do it, and then doing it.

I figure this 3 step process that leads to doing 3 things, actually adds up to 9 new things for me.

Since we are spending most of our time at home, seeing the same people, in the same space- this might be a bit of challenge. Are you up for it?

I would love to hear what 3 good things you come up with.

Oh, the song in my head is Seventh Wave by Sting.

Colour your Prayers March 26, 2020

 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And the One who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 NIV adapted)

I don’t know how it is for you, but there are times when I have the need, the urge to pray, and really don’t have words. I don’t know how to say what I am feeling, and the thoughts have not coalesced, solidified enough that I can attach actual words to them.

These days, there is so much. I am carrying in my heart voices of people I talk with on the phone, pictures of folks in the church directory that I look at, while I ponder who to call next. There are the memories of things I have been told.  I think about people I am used to seeing almost every day. I think about people I have not seen for years.

I wonder about our world, and what will happen this afternoon, next week, and on and on….

That’s how I am today. Full of… prayers, questions, worries, dark thoughts, hopeful glimmers, deep love, compassion. So much. Maybe you have times like this too.

Back when I was studying and teaching contemplative practices, and offering the ministry of spiritual direction (I did that for about a decade before I came to Harrow), I developed a way to pray, when I don’t have all, or any of the words.

It starts with my art box, and a blank page.

I write down names, places, concerns. I paint over them with a colour that feels like God’s love, God’s attention. I used watercolour today, but I’ve done coloured pencils, even crayons in the past. More words, names, places come to mind, so I add them. God’s love is not limited by the size of my heart, so I add more colour. It’s a bit of bright mess- and that’s about right, for today.