Fixing the Church: “Forgive us our sins…”

This week’s worship service for Harrow United Church continues my series on lines from The Lord’s Prayer, and also recognizes that this was “Reformation Sunday”, which marks the beginning of the Protestant movements that eventually broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, to form new Christian denominations. Included with the YouTube video of the service is a short video made available in 2017 by National Geographic, marking the 400 year anniversary of Martin Luther’s publication of 95 Theses of contention with the policies and teachings of Rome.

Our worship service also features two organ/bag pipe duets by Larry Anderson and John Woodbridge.

What follows here is the text of the Learning Time, notes from the teaching time about the spiritual practice of humility, and the pastoral prayer.

Learning Time: “Forgive us our sins…”
Jesus and his disciples had few possessions. They travelled from village to village to share the message of direct access to God’s love. It was only after Jesus’ earthly life, his death on the cross, and the first Easter, that the movement got organized. Followers began to meet weekly, outside the local synagogue, or in homes of believers. They were drawn together by the spark Jesus had brought to them, the wild and free spirit of God’s love.

The Jesus followers chose leaders. They appointed visitors to look in on widows, the sick, and the poor. They collected food and money to share with those in need. For these good works, they began to need systems, and rules.

The Jesus movement was, from the beginning, a missionary movement. Local congregations collected money to support travelling preachers, and sent money to other congregations when they were in need.

The movement spread, following the trade routes established by the Roman conquerors.

The Jewish religious leaders began to see the Jesus movement as a rival, which needed to be suppressed. They sent out enforcers with authority to accuse followers of the Jesus Way with blasphemy, a crime punishable by stoning.

The Jesus followers broke ties with mainstream Judaism, and gradually became their own institution, the Christian Church.  After a few hundred years, the fastest growing faith in the Roman Empire was adopted by the Emperor Constantine. He gave Christianity royal approval.

The Emperor imposed a command structure on the church, with arch-bishops (cardinals) rather than generals, bishops rather than colonels, and priests rather than captains. He ordered the hierarchy to define official teachings, choose which documents would be scripture, and establish a headquarters.

With the Emperor’s backing, the church flourished, and spread to every land controlled by Rome, and beyond. Long after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, the church held power as the official religion of Europe. The church placed the crowns on the heads of kings and queens.

The more powerful, and wealthy, and established the church became, the less it resembled those first gatherings of Jesus followers, excited by the news that God loved each person, regardless of earthly status. The quiet voice of the spirit was at times overwhelmed.

Along with an affection for rules, rigid militaristic structure, and close relationship with kings and queens, the church absorbed the values of the predominant culture. Faithfulness and patriotism, as we see to the south of us, make dangerous partners. The church is co-opted, and has no voice to challenge bad government. It’s hard to have a prophetic voice, to speak for those on the fringes of society, when you’ve chosen to cater to the powerful.

The church moved from being an offshoot of Judaism to an often blatantly anti-semitic organization.

It became less a source of hope for the poor and hungry, and more a chapel for the rich and powerful, who found it useful to have an unending supply of cheap labour.

The church built the largest, most elaborate buildings in every town. They sought the friendship, and money of landowners, government officials, the powerful. The church found itself condoning slavery. It blessed explorers who claimed huge tracts of land for European kings, disregarding the humanity of the original occupants, who were not white or Christian. Even in those cruel times, there were brave voices who would ask, is this really what Jesus would have us do?

The Jesus Way began in the Middle East, but as its command centre moved to Europe, Christianity became, for lack of a better term, a white people’s religion. Look at holy paintings and stained glass from most of the last 1500 years. Up until very recently, Jesus and his friends look more like merchants from Venice than peasants from Palestine. Their brown skin was white-washed, so that even today, people are shocked to learn Jesus did not have blonde hair and blue eyes.

After many centuries, church, government, and business interests were so deeply inter-twined, that when a European country raised an army to fight in Crusades to try to take back the Holy Land from Muslim control, it was hard to tell if this was a king’s idea, or a pope’s idea. Either way, these very expensive wars seem far removed from what Jesus was all about.

There were some prayerful souls, like Saint Francis, who believed he had more in common with faithful Muslims than his religious superiors would admit. There have been in every era of the church, the quiet, mystical types who were lit with the spark that fired Jesus up, the wild and free spirit of God. But often, practical concerns of the institution washed over, and threatened to drown the spark.  

Huge cathedrals and armies to fight Crusades were expensive projects. One massively successful way to raise money was the sale of indulgences. An indulgence was essentially forgiveness for sin, which could be purchased from an authorized agent of the Pope. Those agents carried a license that allowed them to sell indulgences, and collect a commission on each sale.

In 1517, a Catholic monk named Martin Luther, a scholar at the University of Wittenberg in Saxony, nailed 95 Theses to the door of a church. His purpose was to open discussion about what he saw as religious malpractice, on the part of the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church.  
Luther particularly objected to the selling of indulgences. He was all in favour of forgiveness, but did not believe forgiveness could, or should be bought and sold. Jesus taught us the Lord’s Prayer, in which we simply ask God, “forgive us our sins…”  

Luther is only the best known of the Reformers. Movements to fix the church began all over Europe. An important tool was the Bible, reproduced cheaply after the invention of the printing press, and moveable type.  

Martin Luther fed the revolution of thought by translating the Bible into German. Other scholars made the Bible available in their own local languages. Until then, the few copies made were in Latin, the official language of the church.  

When every book had to be hand-copied, and most people never learned to read, Bibles were only in the hands of the very wealthy. Even local priests were often illiterate, and relied on stories and teachings they had memorized.  

Open access to the Bible made it possible for priests lower down the power structure, and lay people, to get another perspective, and to ask questions. It was not long before there were breakaway churches, led by preachers who became alienated from the Roman Catholic Church, and moved from trying reform it, to founding their own “protesting” or Protestant churches.   

The United Church of Canada is a Protestant church, descended from a family tree that includes Methodists, who broke away from the Anglican Church, which had earlier broken away from the Roman Catholic Church. We also have Presbyterian and Congregationalist ancestors, who believed the church is to be run, from the bottom up, not from the top down. When they started their churches, they did not appoint bishops, or archbishops.  

An historian named Phyllis Tickle, used the analogy of “The 500-Year Rummage Sale” to describe changes over the years. Tickle said the church “cleans house” roughly every 500 years, deciding what to dispose of, and what to keep, to make room for new things.  

About 2000 years ago, Jesus appeared on the scene, and offered a way to know God, and live a faithful life without being bogged down by the rules and institution of the Jewish faith.  

After Jesus’ earthly life, his followers began, perhaps inadvertently, to create another huge institution, that thrived as the Holy Roman Empire grew.

When the empire collapsed around 500 years later, the church focused on preserving its teachings, in monasteries and convents with vast libraries.

Around the year 1000, the Christian Churches of the East, the Orthodox Churches split away from Rome, and the two branches went their separate ways. Each half of the split had to decide what was essential for them to keep, and what should go in the rummage sale.  

In the 1500’s, beginning with Martin Luther, the Reformation led to more splits, as groups discarded parts of Catholic teaching and practice that no longer rang true for them.  

We are now into the 21st century, the next 500 years. There have been so many changes in culture, the way economies are organized, and the way information is shared. We have learned so much about how the universe works. People live their lives so differently from 2000 years ago.  

How we do church, and what values we uphold, and which projects we consider important, have always been influenced by what is happening in the world we live in.  

We are living in a strange new time. What new strategies are we going to need, to best serve God’s people? What will we decide we absolutely want to keep doing? What new things will we feel lead to trying, to see if they fit? What will end up in the rummage sale?   This is a time for deep and careful listening to that quiet voice, the wild and free spirit of God, who continues to speak, and who will lead us towards what God has for us to do. Amen  

Spiritual Practice: Humility
I see a relationship between our capacity to accept, and to offer forgiveness, and humility. Humility means not putting yourself either above or below others; it means not thinking about your position on a scale. Some who know the most about the practice of humility are in addiction recovery programs. Here is some wisdom from that world:  

Be Grateful –Be grateful for the gifts you have been given.
Be Unique – Don’t compare yourself with other human beings.
Be Teachable –Many things you believe may be false and you have so much to learn from other people.
Be Kind – Practice kindness. When you practice kindness, you experience the fulfillment of feeling connected to other people.
Be Free – Let go of your expectations. It doesn’t matter how great you are at making plans, predicting outcomes or how adamant you are in your beliefs. Life will always produce results that you did not expect or want.  

Pastoral Prayer

Dear God of Continuing Revelation;  Help us learn, even if by trial and error, what is real, what is meaningful, and what is necessary for life, and for love. Help us to learn to let go of those things that are charming distractions in our lives. Help us to give our hearts and imaginations to worthy things.

Help us keep our minds and hearts open to new insights, and to the ways our assumptions may get in the way of see new truths.

We pray for all who suffer, all who grieve, all who feel lost, and all who are afraid. We pray for people we know, for people we don’t know, and we pray for ourselves. Help us learn how to live with confusion, uncertainty, and unrealized expectations. Help us to see love at work in the world, in spite of our disappointments- the tragic ones, the trivial ones, even the imagined ones.

We pray for people who suffer at the hands of others. Those who are victims of sexual predators. Those who face discrimination because of their ethnic or cultural background, their appearance, their gender, their orientation, or their economic or social status. We pray for vulnerable people everwhere.

We pray for those who are hungry. We pray for those who lonely. We pray for those who are depressed. We pray for those who feel trapped in addictions and compulsions.

We pray for caregivers and volunteers, and good samaritans, and helping hands. We pray for protestors and prophets, for whistle-blowers and others who take a stand for what is right.

We pray for poets and musicians and painters and thinkers and people who make things to improve life for others. We pray for the leaders of our faith communities, and for all others who interest themselves in the spiritual well-being of others.

We pray for this congregation, and its expanding sense of mission. Help us to sort out what you need and want us to do, God.

We pray in the name of Jesus, who also gave us a very good 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

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 July 5, 2020

This week’s video features an interview with my good friend, the Rev. Dr. Sam Parkes, who is United Methodist pastor serving a congregation in Mary Esther, Florida. Sam and I have been friends since the years he was working on his Th.D in Homiletics, at Emmanuel College, and the Toronto School of Theology.

The video also contains two clips from the Canada Day Drive In Community Worship service we held at the Harrow Soccer Complex Parking lot- including one of the Rev. Elise Chambers, of the Southern Trinity Anglican Parish, offering pastoral prayers.

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 31, 2020 (Pentecost)

Link to this week’s worship video

link to our announcements video for May 31, 2020

gimmick pictureThe video opens with a great version of “Lean on Me” by Harrow’s own boy band, “Gimmick”: Greg Iler, Barry Mannell, Jeff Csikasz, and Jeff Gorick. We are so fortunate to have each of them as members and leaders in Harrow United Church.

 

 

May 31 is Pentecost Sunday. It’s the beginning of a new season on the liturgical calendar, and it is often celebrated as the “birthday” of the Christian church. The story from Acts 2 describes a moment in which a group of Jesus’ close friends and disciples have an experience of meeting the Holy Spirit, that fires them up to share the Good News of God’s love.

Here are the scripture readings for today:

John 20:19-23
20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Acts 2:1-21
2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
12:3b No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;

12:5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;

12:6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.

12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

12:8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,

12:9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,

12:10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

12:11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

12:13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

This week, the Harrow News will publish my newest pastoral message. I did something a little different this time- an exercise of imagination. What if one of the writers of the New Testament Epistles wrote a letter to the faithful in Harrow? 

To the people of Harrow, and surrounding communities, and all others created, loved, and blessed by God: Grace and peace to you. It seems such a long time since we have seen each other face to face!

I give thanks for the multitude of ways you are blessed, and in turn, offer numerous blessings to others, especially those in need.

We face many challenges. Much we take for granted has been disrupted. Your sadness over your losses is real, but do not allow your grief, your frustration to justify abandoning the efforts to keep the most vulnerable among us safe.

As Paul, our brother in faith once wrote, “I have the right to do anything,” you say- but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”- but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

I appeal to you to live out of a spirit of hope, and generosity, even in these trying times. Resist the temptation to follow the counsel of the loudest, the most extreme, those who care ultimately only for themselves. Resist also the temptation to grasp on to quick and simple solutions to complex problems. Avoid the trap of the “blame game”.

Place your real faith, your confidence in God, the Creator of the Universe, as revealed to us in love. Let “Jesus-like” love, that places the well-being of others before our own, guide and inspire us. This love is it’s own reward, and is most pleasing to God.

I continue to pray for those who have suffered the loss of loved ones, and were denied, by current circumstances, the consolation of the community gathered around them for a funeral. Our hearts are with them.

Pray for your elected officials, and those appointed to preserve the common good. We may not all be called to serve in positions of power and authority, but each of us, each day, can be kind. We can be unselfish. Let us not squander these opportunities, but instead, actively seek ways to be of help, and to show support to those who place themselves at risk on our behalf.

Some of you have asked, “How do we continue in the life of faith, when we no longer gather on the Lord’s Day? Are we not instructed to worship and pray together? Are we not to be devoted to  breaking the bread and sharing the cup?”

The way of faith, revealed to us in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, is often difficult, but only becomes impossible when we attempt it without God.  God is always prepared to help us. God is always with us, even, and especially in these times when we cannot be with each other.

The people of the Way, followers of Jesus, grew as a movement long before we had the resources to build meeting places, which became our places of worship. In the earliest days, the homes of believers were the places in which faith was shared, taught, and lived.

You are not alone in your struggles, your questions, your anxieties for the present, and the future. We are all joined, united by God’s Spirit, who prays with and for us, often in sighs too deep for words, and with the wisdom of the One who truly knows us, for they were present as all things were created.

Do not abandon the ways of God, for God has surely not abandoned us. We share in the promise of God’s love, which is deeper, wider, higher, more encompassing than any of the things which frighten or threaten us. There is more to us than our fear, and there is more to our existence than the present situation.

You are God’s beloved. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. Amen

That “Epistle” was an experiment. The Learning Time for this week was another! There is no transcript, because instead of a prepared message, the Learning Time is a video of a conversation I had with the Rev. Robin Sherman, who is the minister at Tecumseh United Church. Robin and I have been friends for years, and it was a true delight to interview her, as part of my Pentecost Season series on “Spirited People”.

Here are my pastoral prayers for this day:

God of Creation, God who sent us Jesus, God who accompanies and guides us as the Spirit;

In this season of Pentecost we give thanks for the promise you have given, through the millenia, through the prophets, through the communities of faith, and in the hearts of those who seek to follow Jesus, that You are always with us. Your Spirit is wild, untamed, and not bound by the walls of certain buildings, or even by our sometimes small, and limited imaginations. You are so much more, and so much more available to us than we think. This is such a good thing, especially now, much of what we have come to expect from our church community is not possible. We miss getting together in the same physical space. We miss each other’s faces, and voices, and presence, not delivered on some little screen. We miss working together. We miss singing together, praying together, having conversation together after a worship service.

We worry about those who are even more isolated than usual, because of the pandemic precautions we are observing. We pray for those who spend all or most of their days and nights within the same four walls, in rooms that can feel very small. We remember those who have suffered losses recently, especially those who were also denied the possibility of all things we normally do, to honour a life, and mourn a death.

We pray for those who are sick. There are those who require elective surgeries and other procedures, who are now waiting to hear when they can be scheduled. There are those who need to see their dentist, their counselor, their therapist, or other specialist.

We pray for those who rely upon twelve step programs and other support groups, to help them in their struggles with addiction and co-dependency.

We pray for those who do not feel safe in their homes.

We pray for those who are feeling sad, lonely, dispirited. We pray they will know that despite the physical separations we are experiencing, that they are not totally alone. God is with each of us.

We pray for those who continue their efforts on the front lines. Paramedics and firefighters and police officers. Personal support workers, and nurses, social workers, medical technicians and physicians. Researchers and clinicians. Administrators and security staff. Maintenance workers whose jobs have never been so obviously essential.

We pray for our civic leaders, elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.

We pray that in these times of heightened anxiety and worry, that we will all be guided by compassion and decency. We pray that this time of crisis we can remember to be our best selves, and to expect the same from our decision-makers and public servants.

We pray with gratitude for the members of the Canadian Armed Forces, who are being called upon in these times to do work that is literally changing and saving lives.

We pray for the well being of the residents and staff of all long term care facilities, homes for the aged, and rehabilitation hospitals.

We pray for those who are compelled by circumstances to return to work, even though they are unsure about their safety. We pray for those whose jobs are in question. We pray for business owners and managers who are trying to navigate in this challenged economy.

In this Pentecost season, which in part is a celebration of the miracle that people from different places and varied backgrounds can, with the Spirit’s help, grow to understand each other- our prayers also include the lament that in recent days, stories have been appearing that remind us of the tragic evils of racism, and assumed white privilege. We pray for the family and friends of George Floyd, the man killed this week in Minneapolis while being subdued by a police officer.

We pray for all people of colour who live with the consciousness that too often there seems to be a different set of rules and laws for some. We pray with thanks for the courage and grace of Christian Cooper, the young man who survived a very real threat in New York’s Central Park, and who lived to accept the apology of the woman who tried to convince the police that an African American man was prepared to harm her.

We pray for a spirit of reconciliation and harmony, and justice.

We pray for the leaders of Harrow United Church, and the people we serve in Jesus’ name. Help us to find our way into this new time. There are questions about how to continue our ministries, and how to raise the funds we need to support them.

We pray for Rev. Robin Sherman, and the leaders and members of Tecumseh United Church, and the people they serve. Help her, and other faith leaders, to trust that the faithful work they do is sufficient and important.

We pray for all the faith communities, service groups, social agencies businesses, levels of government and public service who are striving to be of help. We pray for the Harrow Food Bank, and the Windsor Downtown Mission, and the people they endeavour to assist.

We make these prayers as followers of Jesus, who taught us to pray in this way:

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

The worship video ends this week with a powerful rendition of “We Are Not Alone”, from a recording of the Senior Choir from 2006.

Announcements for May 31, 2020

The big winner in the HUC online pub style trivia night, with a score of 69 out of a possible 80 points, was the “J-Squared” team of Janet and John Woodbridge. A donation of $69 will be made to the church’s general fund, in celebration.

 On Friday, June 5, from 10 am until noon there will be a Drive Thru Food Drive Drive at Harrow United Church, 45 Munger Street East, Harrow. We are collecting donations for Windsor’s Downtown Mission.

Drive up, pop your trunk and we will safely lift the food out of your vehicle, and into our pickup truck! Our volunteers will wear masks and keep a safe social distance.

The Mission has an urgent need for:

Canned fruit/vegetables/meats/protein

Cereal boxes and granola/protein bars

Fruit cups and Mr. Noodles

Gloves, masks, cleaning supplies, disinfectant wipes

We will also be accepting cash and cheques made out to Windsor’s Downtown Mission.

This will be Harrow United Church’s third Drive Thru Food Drive to benefit the Mission. Last time we collected over 800 pounds of food, which was delivered the same day, to help the front-line efforts of the Mission, who serve some of the most vulnerable people in our area.

If you’d like to volunteer to help on that day, email us at harrow_united@hotmail.com

Coffee with Rev. Darrow! 10:30 am this coming Thursday morning, June 4. 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

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

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 24 worship service was read 163 times, and viewed 123 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.

 

 

 

 

Worship for May 17, 2020

We have learned that hundreds of people are accessing our worship resource each week. We would love to know more about you, and if there are ways we can be of help to you. Please fill in as many of the info boxes as you wish, and click on the “submit” button to send it to us. We will keep all your responses confidential, and will not use your email address in annoying ways!

Link to ShoeBox Video for May 17, 2020

Link to Worship Video for May 17, 2020

Link to announcements for May 17, 2020

We had help this week with our worship service from the members of the online confirmation class, who did the readings for the video.

united church of canada crestWe began most of our online confirmation classes by reading or hearing “A New Creed”. It was on page 6 of our confirmation resource, called Jesus 24/7. This creed, or statement of faith has been part of the life of the United Church of Canada since 1968. In 1998, a line was added to indicate that we are called to live with respect in creation, an idea that seems even more important these days.

A New Creed

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.  

First Scripture reading for today:

This is a reading from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, which contains stories about the adventures of Paul, and other early missionaries, as they brought the message about the Jesus Way of living, to people in countries in the Middle East, and Europe. Saint Paul was a convert to the Jesus Way who had once persecuted those who strayed from the Jewish faith. In our reading from the version of the Bible called the message, we hear him speaking in a town square in Athens, to people who have not yet heard of Jesus.

areopagus

The above photo is the place outside of modern Athens identified as the location, in ancient times, of the Areopagus.

Acts 17:22-31 The Message (MSG)

So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with.

“The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’ Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?

“God overlooks it as long as you don’t know any better—but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and he’s calling for a radical life-change. He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right. And he has already appointed the judge, confirming him before everyone by raising him from the dead.”

May God bless us, and helps us find hope and meaning in this story.

Second Scripture Reading for Today:

Our Second reading is taken from the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John, which scholars believe was written down at least 90 years after the earthly life of Jesus. The editor who gathered and arranged the stories may have included this passage to be of help to people who were trying to understand a new way of thinking about God at work in the world. People spoke about seeing God in the life and the words of Jesus, and in the Creator of the World, the one Jesus taught them to call Father. In this passage, Jesus introduces a third way of talking about God, as a “friend, or the Spirit of Truth”. Followers of Jesus have puzzled ever since about how to think of God as a Trinity- one God, with at least 3 different names, and ways of relating to us.

“If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!

“I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.

“The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.”

We pray that God the Creator, God the Spirit, and God we meet in Jesus, will be with us, and help us to grow in understanding. Amen

 

Learning Time for May 17, 2020

At the beginning of the Jesus movement, the first missionaries told people they met, who were fellow Jews, that Jesus was this remarkable person who encouraged them to think about God not as a forbidding judge with an endless list of rules, but as a gracious, loving parent. Jesus taught them they could call the creator of the universe Abba, which in Aramaic means “Daddy”. Jesus spoke kindly, and looked upon people with the eyes of love, and when they were near him, they felt God was with them.

The Jesus movement grew, and soon there were hundreds, thousands of people who’d met Jesus, or heard him speak, or heard someone who knew Jesus talk about him, and the effect he had on them.  That’s how it worked during the earthly life of Jesus.

Today we heard a reading from John’s Gospel, which scholars believe was first composed anywhere from 90 to 110 years after the earthly life of Jesus. It was written to bring the Good News to a community of people who never had the chance to meet Jesus in the flesh.

I think that when the writer put the Gospel of John together, they were working as a good preacher. They gathered stories about Jesus,  and told them in such a way that they would help their own small faith community- these folks who had never met Jesus in person, but who longed to feel connected to him, and his message about God’s love.

90 years before, Jesus had burst upon the scene. He gathered a following, and told them about a new way of living, and about a kingdom of God that would never end. But it all ground to a halt when was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. People who knew him watched him die, and helped to bury him. That was a tragic, sudden end to the Jesus Way.

Just as his closest friends were coming to terms with his death, and they sunk into the depths of sadness, they began to hear that he had been resurrected- he was back. Some of Jesus friends met him again, talked with him, even ate a meal with him. It must have warmed their hearts, and given them hope. But, Jesus said he couldn’t stay. He had to leave. How could what he started carry on without him?

That would have been hard enough for the original disciples to comprehend. The people for whom the Gospel of John was written were 2 or 3 generations removed from those times. They only had the stories.  They did not have the benefit, the blessing of seeing Jesus in the flesh. How could they connect with him, and his message?

John told them about the Last Supper, in which Jesus made a series of short speeches to his closest friends, which scholars now call the Farewell Discourses. In the portion we heard today, Jesus seemed to talk about things that hadn’t yet happened. He talked about leaving, and returning, before he’d gone anywhere. I wonder if the gospel writer included these words to encourage the people in his own faith community, to help them see how they could be part of what Jesus had started, even though he was not physically with them. He quoted Jesus as saying,

“I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.”

Jesus seemed to say that even after he was gone, he’d make sure the God he called Father would still be present with his friends. There were two parts to being aware of God’s presence. The first part was Jesus’ commandment to keep on loving each other as he had loved them. The second part was a promise that God would send another Friend, who would always be with them, called the Spirit of Truth.

This short passage laid the foundation for the development of ideas about the Trinity, which two hundred years later became an official church teaching. The doctrine of the Trinity describes God as three persons in one.

God the Creator, who Jesus called Father. Jesus, the Son, in whom God shone so brightly, and the Spirit, who is with us, guides us, and bridges the gap between us and God, and us and other people.

When we talked about the Trinity in Bible Study this week, one person said they think of the Spirit as love. I do too. I think of love as a force in the universe, that begins with God, and flows through everything, including you and me, and connects all things. We are always in the midst of, surrounded by, immersed in, God’s love.

The Spirit connects us, and inspires and empowers us to keep on loving each other. In this strange time of isolation, when we are unable to sit around a table and share a meal with people we long to see, unable to gather as a faith community in one place, it seems important to remember, that we are always connected, and we are always surrounded by God’s love.

Saint Paul was an early missionary of the Jesus Way. He travelled to Athens, the intellectual and cultural centre of Ancient Greece, where he met and talked to people who were not Jewish, and who had never heard of Jesus. He looked for a way to share the basic message of his faith.

Athens was home to a large number of temples and gathering places, for many kinds of religions, and schools of philosophy. In his wanderings around the city, Paul noticed a shrine dedicated to “The God Nobody Knows”, an invisible god.

When Paul had the opportunity to speak at the Areopagus, a kind of open-air meeting place, where philosophers gathered for deep thought and discussion, he said,

“The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him!”

Another translation says it this way. “God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being.”

In the times we feel alone, it is good to remember that God is with us. When we grieve because we can’t gather with people we’d love be with, it is good to remember that on a deeper, spiritual level, we are all connected- we are all part of something bigger than us.

We are always with God. We are surrounded, immersed in God, wherever we are. Thanks be to God for that. Amen

 

Pastoral Prayer

Today I’d like us to take a silent moment to remember those who are very ill, those who are dying, their families, and those who care for them. How unfathomably sad it is, to consider the situation of those who die alone, and those who find themselves grieving, under strange conditions, in these strange times.

 

Lord, have mercy.

 

I’d like to continue in prayer with a prayer of thanks for Health Workers:

Holy One,

We give thanks for those who care for the sick at this difficult time.

For diligent family practitioners and experienced specialists,

we thank you.

For care-full nursing staff

We thank you.

For cheerful housekeeping workers,

We thank you.

For attentive care aides,

We thank you.

For skilled X-Ray Technicians,

We thank you.

For administrators and support staff,

We thank you.

Holy One, we know that in hospitals and care homes,

in emergency rooms and in intensive care units,

the work of healing is dangerous and challenging,

and we thank you for those willing to serve.

(time of silent reflection)

We acknowledge the sacrifice and continual pressure that is

the lot of those who care,

and we thank you for work they do for us, and for the communities to which we belong.

Holy One,

May your Love sustain them, your Peace surround them

and your Holy Spirit inspire them through the most challenging times,

Amen

 

I offer thanks for the recovery experienced by my former classmate, the Rev. Justin Weber, who pastors a Quaker congregation called  Honey Creek-New Providence Friends Church Waterloo, Iowa. He also runs an antique business called “The Pickin’ Preacher”.

Justin Weber photo

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

 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, in Jesus’ name. Amen

Link to Announcements on Video

Announcements for May 17, 2020

Something new! Join Rev. Darrow for coffee time, 10:30 am this coming Tuesday morning, May 19. Email him at revdww@gmail.com for your ZOOM invitation.

Are you game for online Trivia? Rev. Darrow will host a Pub-Style Trivia quiz, with questions of local interest, most written by members of Harrow United Church. You are responsible for your own snacks and other refreshments! Next Saturday night, May 23, starting at 7:30 pm. Send an email to revdww@gmail.com to register your team. Pick a team name, for extra points.

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. This coming week we will talk about the story of the Ascension, the final moment in Jesus’ earthly ministry, as described in Luke 24:40-53, and Acts 1:1-11. It has interesting parallels with a story about Elijah, found in 2 Kings 2:1-13. 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 10 worship service was read 156 times, and viewed 92 times.

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!

The video we posted last week on YouTube for the youngest children has been viewed 13 times. (We hear that some of the kids like to watch it more than once.)

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.

We have concluded the online Confirmation Class. Rev. Darrow asked the members of the class to help with the readings for today’s worship service. Thank you to Keira, Ben, Lilia and Lauren.

Welcome to our brothers and sisters in faith from Essex United Church. Rev. Darrow is the pastoral charge supervisor for their congregation while they are in search of a minister, and attends their board meetings.  Rev. Lexie Chamberlain was doing Sunday Supply at Essex before the coronavirus changed things. Last week, Essex United gave Rev. Darrow room in their weekly newsletter for an invitation to join us in our online worship.

Writing during this pandemic

cropped-finalist-sticker-a.pngJust over a year ago I experienced the rush of excitement that came with having my first novel, “The Book of Answers” included on the short list for the “Unhanged Arthur”. It’s a prize for unpublished crime novels, co-sponsored by Dundurn Press and Crime Writers of Canada.

Link to announcement of nominations

20190523_192551I had a great time at the awards banquet. It was held in the banquet hall of Toronto’s historic Arts and Letters Club, which felt a lot like Hogwarts.

I was not at all shocked when another book, The Scarlet Cross, by Liv McFarlane won the award. For me, it was more than enough to make the move from the “long list” of ten, to the “short list” of five authors from across Canada whose work was considered for this honour.

It did come as a surprise that all five finalist’s works were to be read by the acquisitions team at Dundurn. They are a Canadian publishing house with an impressive list of books and authors.

I have had good, and useful feedback on my first serious effort, and I continue to learn the craft. My writing mentor said most first novels don’t end up being published. I am okay with that, and have moved on to work on a second story, tentatively called “The Book of Secrets”. It involves some of the characters from the first novel.

The editors at Dundurn might not be waiting with anticipation, but I look forward to sending them the new one to consider, when the time comes. (I just checked their website, and Dundurn is not currently inviting new submissions, so I guess there’s no great hurry!)

As  one of my fellow nominees, Heather McLeod noted recently, fiction writers in this strange time have to contend creatively with the pandemic. Do they set their story before COVID-19, during, or after?

For me, it seems too soon to write about life after COVID-19.  I have seen new micro-fiction set “during”, which captures some of the mood, and the questions of this time.

My first novel was set roughly in modern day. (Which was pre-COVID-19) That was the plan with my current effort, but I have found it hard to make the mental leap back into a world (even a fictional one) in which people are not worried about physical distancing and quarantines.

It’s the same problem I watching tv shows and movies, unless they are clearly historical pieces. What are they doing on that crowded street?

I do want to get back to the work (play) of writing about my protagonist, Tom Book, and his family and friends (and enemies). Whenever I do make the dive into the part of my brain where imaginary world lives, it’s still an interesting place to be.