Celebrating Epiphany and Home Communion Jan 3, 2021

Our first worship service for the New Year is an opportunity to ponder the story of God offering the Magi “another way” to get home after their visit to Jesus, which allows them to avoid having to report back to King Herod.

“Another Way” is a theme of this worship service. In the grip of a pandemic, and under lockdown rules, we are all finding ways to adapt to circumstances. We can celebrate communion in a new way.

Back during the first lockdown, in March and April, I adhered carefully to the guidance offered by the General Council Executive of the United Church of Canada, that “virtual communion” could happen, if the video of the worship service was livestreamed to those watching on their own devices. We were discouraged from having a recorded service. The idea was to retain the sense that we are all “together”, while still being safely apart.

I still agree with that idea, and also think that it is impossible to limit God. God existed before time started, and some theologians say that God is present in all moments of time, simultaneously. So who is to say that God can’t be with each person, at each moment, while they watch the communion video, and ask God to bless their bread and cup?

We do the best we can, and find “another way”.

Our service includes some beautiful music, old and newly recorded, as well as a lyric video of the James Taylor song “Home by Another Way”, and a clip of Naomi Woods reading “Refuge” by Anne Booth and Sam Usher.

Here is the text of the Learning Time: “Going by another way”

I remember going to a hardware store in Windsor with our landlord, a wise, practical, chain-smoking, hard-working, big-hearted wiry little old Ukrainian man.

John and I were looking for a kit to install an air conditioner in an attic window. The store clerk had trouble understanding what John wanted, and maybe couldn’t get it all through his accent. It was a frustrating conversation, and we ended up leaving the store, to look elsewhere. As we walked away, we heard the clerk mutter “stupid bohunk”.

John was such a good man. He must have read my face, because I really wanted to go back and have words with the clerk. John shook his head, and gave a look that seemed to express both gratitude for my indignation, and resignation to the cruelty and ignorance of some people.

John said, “Whaddaya gonna do?”

We went on with our mission, picked up what we needed at another store, and installed the air conditioner. It was one of those times when an elder’s wisdom won out.

John was right, I think, to have us walk away from the guy in the hardware store. Who knows why the clerk spat out his racial hatred in that moment.  As the Scottish theologian Ian McLaren wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

People are facing all kinds of hard battles these days. We have all the usual things like racism, and misogyny, and homophobia. We have poverty and its related diseases and issues. People struggle with mental health, and addictions. People live with the cruel legacies of childhood neglect and abuse.

People get sick from things in the air, the water, the soil. Sometimes there is help for them.

People live with grief, and regret, and loneliness, and fear. Some people are so weighed down by debt and obligation they never want to answer the phone. Some people have made big mistakes, or little ones, in relationships, and feel like life is spinning apart, leaving them in pieces.

Parents worry about children. Children worry about their parents, while at the same time trying to find a way to be themselves.

Hospitals and care facilities are filled with folks who struggle with illness, and aging. Families face tough decisions about the care of loved ones. Ailments, accidents, diseases, and illnesses come upon people, and cause devastation with little warning.

We get old. We get sick. We think about death, or try not to think about death.  All of this just comes with being human, being alive, making our way in the world.

Then a pandemic comes along, and adds whole new layers of complication, crisis, limitation and sometimes desperation. Businesses, and jobs, and our basic patterns of life are all threatened. Things we have taken for granted have been taken away, or drastically limited, changed, under lockdown.

There is so much that seems beyond our control, that just happens to us.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

One of the problems we face is that even though we may feel like we are fighting a hard battle, there may not actually be anyone to fight.

Who should we get mad at, because the pandemic has led to a lockdown? Does it help to call our leaders names, or pass on weird conspiracy stories that claim to explain the secret reasons we are all wearing masks, and waiting for vaccine shots?

When the guy in the hardware store was so stupidly rude and cruel to my friend John, a part of me wanted pick up something sharp or heavy- it was a hardware store after all, and explain things to him. As if that would change anything, make anything better. John’s “Whaddya gonnna do?” reminded me that there has to be another way.

The wise men, or magi, or as James Taylor calls them, those guys, had an encounter with King Herod, who personifies evil in this story. He wants the magi to pay him a call on the way back from meeting the newborn, to tell him how to find the baby. Herod does not want this little one to grow up to be a rival to his power. His invitation to the magi to come back and see him was an offer they were not supposed to refuse.

After having successfully followed the Bethlehem Star, the wisemen are warned in a dream to go home by another way- to avoid a confrontation with Herod. I love this story about God using stars and dreams to guide them, and offer them another way.

Jesus was born into a world in which rich and powerful people make decisions that cause poor people to leave their homes, and seek shelter against the cold night. It is a world in which an evil ruler can hatch plots against real or imagined enemies. It is a world in which violence is perpetrated against innocent and defenseless children. It is a world in which it is possible to feel insignificant, helpless to make things better. In other words, it is our world.

The gospels bring the Good News about God’s love for all people, and were written for people like us, living in a world in which there are many hard battles, often against faceless, nameless enemies.

Epiphany is the English word that comes from ancient Greek words “Epi-phanos”, which translate roughly as “manifestation” or “appearance” or “making known”. It means that something previously hidden has been revealed. A sunrise is a kind of epiphany, a moment when darkness is sliced open by light, and everything changes.

The word epiphany gets used in non-religious ways to point to the moment in which something suddenly becomes clear.  A good example is when the apple fell on Isaac Newton, and he had a sudden insight into the existence of gravity. There is a similar story about Albert Einstein struck as a young child by being given a compass, and realizing some unseen force was making it move.

In the Gospel according to Thomas, an interesting, and strange, and mystical text that did not make it into the New Testament, Jesus is quoted as saying, “I’m the light that’s over everything. I am everything; it’s come from me and unfolds toward me. “Split a log; I’m there. Lift the stone, and you’ll find me there.”

That is a way of expressing the startling news of the Incarnation, the claim the Christian church has made almost from the beginning, that one of the things we learn from Jesus is that God is not distant, and uninvolved, looking down on us from some lofty height. God is with us in the midst of this reality.

We don’t wait until we die and depart this existence to meet God. God is in the apples, and compass needles, and in the light, and in the split logs, and in the vulnerable child of Bethlehem, and in you and I. This is not to say that you are God, or that I am. The poetry of the Incarnation says to us that God is here, with us. God is with us, and there is hope of another way. Amen

December 27, 2020 Worship Service for Harrow United

The last Sunday of 2020. For the worship service we dove into the video archives, and came out with some joyous treasures. The bell choir from 2017, and the candle-lighting and Impromptu Nativity Play from 2018.

Below is the text for the scripture readings and prayers.

Dedication of our offerings:

We have so much for which to be grateful, even now.

Most of us are safe and warm in our homes.

We have food enough, and clean, safe water to drink.

We are blessed, and we share from our blessings to make a difference for others.

We give of our time, our money, our creativity.

We offer leadership, compassion, and sometimes, hard work.

Sometimes we give less than we could.

Sometimes we give more than we can afford.

Sometimes we doubt that what we are able to do,

could ever make a difference.

But it does. We do, with your help God.

Our giving makes us different, for the giving.

Our giving makes the world different.

We ask God to bless it all. Amen

Luke 2:1-20  (The Inclusive Bible)

In those days, Caesar Augustus published a decree ordering a census of the whole Roman world. This first census took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All the people were instructed to go back to the towns of their birth to register. And so Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to “the city of David”—Bethlehem, in Judea, because Joseph was of the house and lineage of David; he went to register with Mary, his espoused wife, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her delivery.  She gave birth to her firstborn, a son; she put him in a simple cloth wrapped like a receiving blanket, and laid him in a feeding trough for cattle, because there was no room for them at the inn. 

There were shepherds in the area living in the fields and keeping night watch by turns over their flock.  The angel of God appeared to them, and the glory of God shone around them; they were very much afraid.  The angel said to them, “You have nothing to fear! I come to proclaim good news to you—news of a great joy to be shared by the whole people.  Today in David’s city, a savior—the Messiah—has been born to you.  Let this be a sign to you: you’ll find an infant wrapped in a simple cloth, lying in a manger.” 

Suddenly, there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in high heaven! And on earth, peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”  When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see this event that God has made known to us.” 

They hurried and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger;  once they saw this, they reported what they had been told concerning the child.  All who heard about it were astonished at the report given by the shepherds. 

Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart.  The shepherds went away glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as they had been told.

Matthew 2:1-12 (The Inclusive Bible)

After Jesus’ birth—which happened in Bethlehem of Judea, during the reign of Herod—astrologers from the East arrived in Jerusalem  and asked, “Where is the newborn ruler of the Jews? We observed his star at its rising and have come to pay homage.” 

At this news Herod became greatly disturbed, as did all of Jerusalem.  Summoning all the chief priests and religious scholars of the people, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.  “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they informed him. “Here is what the prophet has written: 

‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,

are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,

since from you will come a ruler

who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

Herod called the astrologers aside and found out from them the exact time of the star’s appearance.  Then he sent them to Bethlehem, after having instructed them, “Go and get detailed information about the child. When you have found him, report back to me—so that I may go and offer homage, too.” 

After their audience with the ruler, they set out. The star which they had observed at its rising went ahead of them until it came to a standstill over the place where the child lay.  They were overjoyed at seeing the star and,  upon entering the house, found the child with Mary, his mother.

They prostrated themselves and paid homage. Then they opened their coffers and presented the child with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  They were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went back to their own country by another route.

The Christmas Play (from Dec 23, 2018)

Pastoral Prayers

Gracious God, we pray this day

for all who make the spiritual journey to Bethlehem- for those who are seeking

God’s presence and peace in their lives.

We pray for all who are poor and cold

and hungry like the shepherds,

that they may hear good news.

We pray for all who are wandering and searching like the magi,

that they may find the place to leave their gifts

and their burdens.

We pray for all who are busy, hurried,

preoccupied like the innkeeper,

that they may know the peace

that comes from genuine acts of hospitality.

We pray for all like Herod who have power,

that they may use it with good will.

We pray for ourselves—we who need comfort, peace and joy,

even in this starlit season,

and all the days of our lives.

We pray for those places in the world, and in the lives of people around us,

in which peace and joy are deeply needed.

We pray for those who are ill, for those who feel alone, for those who are grieving, and for those who feel lost. We pray for those who are travelling.

We offer all of our spoken prayers, and the unspoken prayers of our hearts, in Jesus’ name. Amen

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 and Commissioning

Hope, Peace, Joy and Love come to us as spiritual blessings,

and bring with them the capacity to endure,

even when life is disappointing, feels difficult, and is at times overwhelming.

We pray for the blessings of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, for ourselves,

for those we will encounter as we leave this time of worship, and for our world.

We pray for the blessing of God the Creator, God the Spirit, and the God we meet in Jesus. Amen

“From our House to Yours”

Here is the link to our YouTube video, “From Our House to Yours”. It’s a kind of Christmas Eve present to folks connected to two faith communities to which we are connected: Harrow United Church, where Darrow serves as the pastor, and Essex United Church, where Lexie has been doing Sunday Supply.

We hope the video will offer you a glimpse into some of the ways we celebrate the birth of Jesus, and get your thinking about the ways that celebration happens at your house.

https://youtu.be/wub3ZtL4oLw

At the end of the video we have included pictures of some favourites, from our collection of Nativity sets. The image below is a photo of the Veggie Tales characters in Bethlehem.

one of those other things I write

I set up this blog as a place to put things I write, some of which have no other home. I realized a few days ago that most of what ends up posted here is to some degree, related to my work as a pastor.

This winter and spring I took part in a micro-fiction contest, just for the challenge. The assigned genre was romance. The piece had to include a knitting needle, and a seniors residence, and was limited to 100 words.

Muscle Memory

The years had been hard on us both, but oh, those clear blue eyes. Bright as when we first found each other, behind the toolshed at the Baptist Boys Camp.

My weary heart had leaped when Lou-Ann wheeled Gerald in. She announced, “Sunny Rest’s newest resident has consented to teach the knitting class I’ve organized.”

I focused on his hands. He pretzel looped yarn around the needle, and pulled the tail. Those soft, sure fingers. Did he know me?

Lou-Ann asked me, “Marvin, how does he do that without looking?”

Gerald winked, and I said, “Some things you don’t forget.”

I am also including the feedback from the judges. I think some of their comments were bang on, and every bit of constructive feedback contributes to the development of the craft.

Dear Darrow Woods,

The feedback from the judges on your first round submission from the 100-word Microfiction Challenge 2020 is below.  You should be proud of rising to the challenge and we hope you find the feedback helpful.  Because you placed in the top 20 of your group, you have advanced to the 2nd Round kicking off at 11:59PM EDT (New York time) on Friday, June 26th.  Congratulations and best of luck in the 2nd Round!

”Muscle Memory” by Darrow Woods –     WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1499}  There’s real power in that “some things you don’t forget” in this love story between Marvin and Gerald. I like the suspense in the question “Did he know me?” and the poignancy in the answer. Names give the piece its ring of authenticity: Baptist Boys Camp, Sunny Rest, Lou-Ann. Also, great title!   {1689)  I love how you establish that depth of your hero Marvin’s feelings for Gerald by his bold response to his clear blue eyes. Nice moment when Gerald winks as Marvin explains how he does all that needle work without looking.  {1815}  I loved the sense of time passing in this story. In less than 100 words, the writer has managed to conjure a lifetime of love and affection. The story ends on a humorous and hopeful note — I was delighted by these characters.   WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1499}  What we know of the love has to do with “clear blue eyes” and “soft, sure fingers.” I’d like a bit more about the romance, about Gerald, and I’d prefer the details to be less familiar (clear blue eyes) and more remarkable.   {1689)  Good job creating a story of lost romance. Now consider: ONE — Now clear up a few things. How long were they together? How long have they been apart? Why did they part? As you can see from my questions, you have created a powerful moment. You don’t have to answer them all–or maybe any of them–but you do need to clarify just a little bit more so that we understand why–and how deeply–this moment matters to your hero. I suggest that this moment should be as powerful and meaningful as you can possibly make it. TWO — Make room for these changes by cutting 1 to 5 words from several sentences in your story.  {1815}  I would have loved to know more about the speaker. What has happened to him between the Baptist Boy’s Camp and now? What kind of life has he led? Who is he as he returns to this boyhood love?

Gift Bag Sunday School for Dec 20: Love

https://youtu.be/qpyYt50rblM

Here is the link to this week’s YouTube video.

We hope your family enjoys it- a lot of love went into making it!

If you are looking for something special for Christmas Eve, please come by Harrow United Church between 6-7:30 for our “Drive-Thru” Nativity.

Drive in to the church parking lot at the elevator entrance, where you can drop off donations to the Food Bank, and receive a special Christmas gift bag from the church. Then drive to the back of the parking lot to see our live nativity, sheltered behind the church building.

Worship service for Dec 20, 2020 “Love is like a nest”

https://youtu.be/-2yXHmXKPfM

Above is the link to this week’s service, which we recorded on Friday afternoon. I am grateful to all the people who worked to bring this together:

Musicians: Larry Anderson, Laurene Csikasz, Sue Timpson-Mannell

Reader: Gilliam Lamoure

Videographer: Stephanie Csikasz

Cameras: Beth Graham, Dennis Graham

Sound: Dennis Graham

Video Control Room: Scott Mannell

Video Editing: Dennis Graham

Below is the transcript of my “Learning Time”.

Learning Time: “Love”

Watch the video “Adjustments” https://youtu.be/EYFnX8fZo30

Stephanie is very talented. Dennis and I have been looking for a way to use her video as part of a worship service ever since her proud mother Laurene shared it with us.

I emailed Stephanie to ask her permission, and noticed that her email includes the words “Lil Chick”, which of course made me think of the first video we watched this morning. Love is like a little chick hatching from an egg, and needing to be cared for in the nest.

Stephanie is like a lot of grown birds, that went off to university and college, never imagining the year we have had, and not expecting to be back in their parent’s nest.

We have a couple of those birds at home these days. Lexie and I are happy to have them, and it’s not what any of us had expected.

So, like Stephanie’s movie reminds us, we make adjustments.

I don’t know if it always went smoothly at Stephanie’s house, or whether some birds got their feathers ruffled in the process.

I know at my house there have been days, and evenings, when we wished the nest was a little bigger, or maybe had soundproofed rooms.  The younger birds stay up later than the old ones.

But we make it work. We make adjustments, because we love each other. We put up with stuff. We get over things.

There is a lot of that happening these days, for most of us. Life is not going the way we imagined. Things we have been looking forward to have been put on hold, or cancelled.

It tests our patience, challenges our ability to shrug things off. It makes people sad, and sometimes cranky.

Turn on the news, or look at the computer for a while, and you see and hear a lot of complaining, second-guessing, blaming, back-seat driving going on.

It’s easy to be loving, and generous, and friendly, and patient, and kind, when things are going our way. When there is trouble, or even just inconvenience, and disappointment, we have to dig a little deeper, for the capacity to cut each other some slack, to be respectful, to remember that everyone has sadness, and suffering, and trouble in their lives.

I take great comfort, and hope, and inspiration from imagining Jesus being born, and wrapped in cloths, and layed in a manger. Maybe the manger was padded with hay. Maybe it looked a bit like a nest.

He came into the world under less than ideal conditions. The world was kind of a mess. A corrupt local government, manipulated by the Roman Empire, was making life hard for the poor people. There was a privileged ruling class who did very well, and a lot of peasants left scratching away, like chickens in dirt, trying to make a living. There were wars, and racism, and crime, and violence, and diseases we have never heard of. Life was hard for most people.

Jesus was born a vulnerable little chick, placed in a makeshift nest, and in need of love and care.

I remember when each of our children , our little chicks were born. They were born under much better conditions than Joseph and Mary could provide. All the same, at each birth I felt a mix of gratitude and fear, excitement and anxiety, at the gift, and responsibility of caring for a new life. Their vulnerability worked its influence on me.

Each time, I prayed, God help us. God help me.

I think the vulnerability of those we love, and the inadequacy we may feel, to protect and care for them, is a deep, visceral prayer, that connects us, by love, to the source of all love.

God is love. Jesus is born, and God enters the world in a way that reaches us, not just through our minds, but through our deeper selves- our hearts, our guts.

Babies, and little chicks, are messy and noisy and wonderful, and need a lot of help, especially in the beginning.

You often hear that new babies don’t come with an instruction manual. You can get a lot of books, and find lots of advice online, but that’s not how all the learning comes.

Each child is a teacher. We learn how to care for them, as we discover who they are. The relationship changes us, as the love grows.

We often hear it said that God was born into the world at the first Christmas, or that love was born that day. That’s kind of true, but also confusing, because God was already in the world, and love was already in the world. There were lots of babies, lots of baby chicks born before Jesus came along.

I think what we can see in the story of Jesus’ birth is a profound lesson not so much about when love was born, but how it is born into the world over and over again, each time we are confronted with the vulnerability, the preciousness, the neediness, of another life. That’s how love reaches us, and does it amazing, miraculous work within us. Amen

Harrow Ministerial Drive In Carol Singalong

The Harrow Ministerial Association is a group of pastors and lay leaders from Harrow and Colchester. In a normal year, our major ongoing work is serving a weekly community dinner in the basement of Harrow United Church. With that “off the table” during the pandemic, we have been finding other ways to safely bring folks together, and to offer hope. 

With the help of community partners, we held successful drive-in worship services on Canada Day, and on Labour Day Weekend, in the parking lot of the Harrow Soccer Complex.

To help our community get in the Christmas spirit, we had a Drive-In Carol Singalong, in the parking lot of Sellick Manufacturing. We hired Big Silver, a local company that does outdoor movies, to project music videos from our churches on the wall of the factory, and broadcast the sound through an FM transmitter.

We encouraged folks to decorate and light up their vehicles, and their efforts added to the fun.

Many who attended the Carol Singalong brought generous donations for the Harrow Food Bank. Our celebration of Christmas is not complete without consideration of those in need.

The link is to a YouTube video of all the carols we sang along with on Sunday, December 13, 2020.

https://youtu.be/jJ6lpvzcBr8