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ShoeBox Sunday School video for little ones

ShoeBox Sunday School logoWe have posted the first ShoeBox Sunday  School  video for our youngest students.

link to ShoeBox Sunday for little ones

Sunday morning, there will be a class for 5-8 years old online at 10 am, and the class for older kids will start at 11 am. A link will be sent to families who have registered their kids to be part of the class.

If you are in the Harrow area, and would like your kids to be part of this new adventure, you can email us at Harrow United Church

We need to know:

-Names of kids, and their ages.

-Your name, email address and phone number.

-Your address, so that we can deliver the ShoeBox that will contain lessons and materials for the class

ShoeBox Sunday School is part of the ongoing ministry of Harrow United Church

 

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Worship for April 26, 2020 from Harrow United Church

Worship Video for April 26, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning Time and Prayers:

“At home with Jesus”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayers for April 26, 2020

Loving God; We have so many causes for prayer.

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

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

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

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

We pray for those in situations never before experienced.

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

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

We pray for those whose day is radically different.

We pray for those who must leave their usual workspace,

for those breadwinners who must work at home.

We pray for those who have lost their jobs

We pray for those whose financial security has gone,,

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

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

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

in their suffering, and in their fear.

This prayer we offer in the name of Jesus Christ, and we continue in prayer with the words of the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name,

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done,

on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory

forever and ever. Amen

 

 

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Worship for Sunday April 19, 2020

link to worship video

We begin our worship with Jeff Gorick offering a lively version of “This Little Light of Mine”

Then Gillian Lamoure reads our Gospel Lesson for the day:

Doubting ThomasOur reading is from the Gospel of John in the 20th chapter, as found in the translation called “The Message”. It tells the story of an encounter between the Risen Christ, and the person who has often been called “Doubting Thomas”. May God bless each of us, as we listen for meaning and hope in these words.

 Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side.

The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”

Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”

But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”

But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.

Thanks be to God for being with us in the reading and the hearing of these words. Amen

Zoom cartoon doubting thomas

Rev. Darrow’s Learning Time: “Helpful Signs”

Thomas wasn’t with Mary Magdalene that first Easter morning. She’d gone out, well before the sun was up, to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Instead of that sad task, she had an encounter with a mysterious figure outside the tomb.  When he spoke her name, Mary recognized him as her teacher and friend, somehow risen from death. But Thomas did not see what Mary saw, or hear what she heard.

Thomas wasn’t there on the next day either, when some of the disciples were gathered together behind closed doors, and Jesus appeared to them, and wished them peace. Thomas was not in the room, when these things happened. He did not hear or see what they did.

The other disciples told him about seeing Jesus, and he’d likely also heard Mary Magdalene’s story. Thomas said to his friends,

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

More than 20 centuries after the first Easter morning, and at least 1900 years since the stories were first written down, modern followers of Jesus have often labelled this disciple as “Doubting Thomas”. There have been a lot of “don’t be like Thomas” sermons over the centuries.

To be honest, I’d be with Thomas. I’d be asking questions, and wanting a little more to go on than, “really Tom, we really saw him, honest!”

There’s nothing wrong with expressing doubt, or wanting more information before drawing your own conclusion. Thinking for yourself does not make you less faithful. I would argue that God gives us all our faculties, and we are meant to use our minds at least as much as we use our hearts in our sincere efforts to understand, and to draw conclusions.

Thomas did not see or hear all that his friends had, but he would have clear and powerful memories of watching Jesus die a painful death on a Roman cross. That was the last time he’d seen Jesus. It would be a huge mental and emotional leap to go from those profoundly disturbing memories, to placing trust in what he was being told, that Jesus had somehow been resurrected.

Can we blame Thomas for hesitating, for wanting more evidence, before trusting what he was being told, about the next chapter in the story of Jesus? Life as Thomas had known it, as a disciple of Jesus, his friend and teacher, had been suddenly, violently disrupted, interrupted, and taken away.

You and I are living in this strange time, in which so much we have taken for granted has been interrupted, or taken away. Some things may never be the same. We may hope for a new life, beyond the current crisis, but what will it look like? I certainly do not envy our national, provincial, municipal leaders, who are called upon to make decisions and plans, and offer us comfort and reassurance. We should keep praying for them!

I can relate to Thomas, who may want to believe there is something coming up, some kind of “next”, to which he can look forward.  If he can see the Risen Christ for himself, perhaps all is not lost. I find myself looking for signs of hope, signs of life that transcend, and point beyond our current reality. I want to believe we will be okay, even if things are different than I have been used to, and never go quite back to the old “normal”.

On Easter Sunday, police in Toronto were called to a grocery store that had been inadvertently left unlocked, with all the lights on. The owner had meant to comply with Premier Ford’s order that grocery stores remain closed on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, to give workers time to rest and be with their families. Something happened, or didn’t, and on Sunday morning, people found they could walk in and shop. The escalators were even running- it’s a big store.toronto loblaws

People calmly made the rounds with their carts, picking up necessities. It was only when they returned to the front of the store that it sunk in there were no cashiers, and none of the self-check out machines were working. People wrote out lists of what they had put in their carts, saying they’d be back when the store was actually open for business, to settle up.

I love this story. I love that the first people who found the open, un-staffed grocery store did not call all their friends to come on down and loot the place. I love that no one grabbed all the toilet paper, or steaks, or hand sanitizer. People just did their shopping, and then puzzled out how to pay for it later. Someone even called the police, to report the problem, to see that the store was protected.

It wasn’t as if this was Sanford’s, our neighborhood grocer. That store in Toronto is owned by one of the big faceless corporations. It might have been easy to rationalize emptying the shelves, in Robin Hood style, stealing from the ultra-rich to meet the needs of simple folks just trying to get by.

The good news is that people who went to that grocery store on Easter morning did not abandon their decency, their morality, their sense of fair play. Even in these strange times, they held on to the best part of themselves, what might be called the better angels of our nature.

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas was offered what he needed, to believe what his friends had told him. I like to think the experience also gave him confidence, the ability to trust  that the love he had known through Jesus, and the community that surrounded him, this love that came from God, was going to go on. Thomas and his friends might only see and hear the Risen Christ a few more times, but the love would always be with them.

I believe that for most of us, most of the time, the clearest evidence we can have that God’s love is real, and active in the world, is how we are with each other. The old saying “we are the hands and feet of Christ” reminds us that by our words and actions, we can allow God’s love to flow through us.

This is a time when the world, and all the people we love in the world, and all the people we don’t even know, need, perhaps more than ever, all the signs of God’s love they can get. The world needs us, the people around us, need people like us, to let God’s love flow through.

We need to see the best in people, and they need to see the best in us. I have no doubt about that. Amen

hands and feet poster

Prayer for April 19, 2020

In our Gospel reading for today, there is a beautiful line that says that when the Risen Christ appeared to the disciples in that locked room, he took a deep breath and breathed into them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

There is a form of prayer that I find especially helpful these days, adapted from a Tibetan Buddhist spiritual practice called Tonglen.

It is something we can do, to be with others, to be helpful to the world, in this challenging time. It is as simple as breathing, offering good intentions.

We breathe in, and accept the pain and sadness of those we know, those we are worried for.

Breathing out, we pray for peace.

Breathing in, we accept the pain and suffering of those we don’t know, who need help.

Breathing out, we pray for healing.

Breathing in, we accept the confusion and frustration of those who are doing their best and finding it hard.

Breathing out, we pray for calm, for courage, for confidence.

Breathing in, we accept the doubts, the worries, the fear of those around us, especially those who are working on the front lines, to keep us safe, and to make sure we have what we need.

Breathing out, we pray for strength, for reassurance, for hope.

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

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come,

thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive them that trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory,

Forever and ever. Amen

There are some announcements on the video, following the close of worship.

 

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More like a marathon than a sprint

Over the Easter weekend, I had virtual chats with some clergy colleagues, and a common theme was that most of us are busier than ever, and are having to learn new ways to function, in this strange time.

couch-potatoIn my early forties I started running long distance, after having been a happy and plump couch potato, for quite a while. The process of training to build the capacity to run 42.2 kilometres taught me a lot.

I remember from my marathon preparation that I need both consistency and variety in my training regime. Consistency requires setting up a schedule, so that I know what I am meant to do each day. Variety means not doing the same thing with each block of training time.

So I am working on my own schedule, so that there is a structure to my days, but not boring, grueling, sameness. I am building in blocks of time dedicated to leading classes, creating worship, reaching out with pastoral phone calls, working with congregational leaders and colleagues, as well as doing things for the good of mind, body, and spirit.

I have some ideas to share with the Harrow United Church faith community, that I hope may help us make this time of enforced (and necessary) isolation more like a retreat, and less like jail.

I will offer a weekly online “bible study” based on one of the scripture passages I will talk about in my “learning time” in the weekly worship resource. This would be a video chat, so we can hear and see each other. 

digital bible study All you need is your computer, tablet, or smart phone, an internet connection, a bible, and paper and pen.

If you want to be part of this ZOOM based online discussion, email me and I will send you a link.   revdww@gmail.com

The first online Bible study will be next Wednesday,  April 22 from 10:30 to 11:30 am. Bring your own coffee (or beverage of choice).  The passage we will talk about is Luke 24:13-35, which is the story of an encounter with the Risen Christ, on the Emmaus Road. Here is a link to the scripture, as found on Bible Gateway.

Emmaus Road story

I am also looking into the possibility of offering an online Sunday School class. Please let me know if there are kids in your house who would want to take part. (It may require a big person to be with them, to help with activities.) The idea would be to drop off a shoebox at your house containing what you would need for the at home crafts and activities, then we’d all meet online at the same time (In a ZOOM room) for the class. We are calling this ShoeBox Sunday School, but that does not mean it has to happen on Sunday- although it could!

Shoebox-1000(In related news, if ShoeBox Sunday School happens, we will need some shoeboxes. I know we have a few in my house, but may require more.)

 

 

I like the look of this free online course, for those who like to read, and may even enjoy writing their own poetry:

A Fierce and Enduring Gratitude (A free on-demand eCourse: How Poetry Supports Us In Good Times and Bad with Dale Biron)

 We’ve all experienced difficulties and losses in our lives. From health challenges to losing friends and loved ones. From career and business setbacks to divorces. Perhaps our most heroic act in the face of such loss is simply allowing our hearts to break and then transforming that pain into compassion, healing and finally service. In this eCourse, we will explore poems as wise and timeless tools that can support us on our path back to gratitude, happiness and yes, even joy.

poetry e-course link

If you are more into creating something visual or working with your hands, you may want to check out these “art therapy” suggestions. I would love it if you tried a project, and sent me a photo of the results.

Art Therapy link

Many people, young and old, enjoy colouring as a spiritual practice, as a stress-reliever, or just as a fun way to pass the time. It’s a little less daunting than creating our own art from “scratch”. I would love to see photos of your masterpieces!

colouring pages

Finally:

pub quizMy family is taking part in a weekly trivia game with some friends spread across the country, that is something like a pub trivia night. We are doing this as a video chat, and it works quite well. (My adult children are very adept at using the technology!)

I was thinking that if Harrow United Church folks are interested, we could set one up for the congregation. (You’d need to provide your own beverages and snacks!) Again, email me if that is something you’d like to do, or help with. revdww@gmail.com

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Harrow United Church Easter 2020 Worship Service

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

Link to Video of Easter Worship

Scripture Lesson:   John 20:1-18

Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We trust in God.

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

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

Thanks be to God.

Naomi and Joel sing “Thine is the Glory”

Pastoral Prayers

God of Love, and Hope, and New Life;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come,

thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive them that trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory,

Forever and ever. Amen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh now, now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Good Friday Worship

HUC logo color FINAL@2x

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

 

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

Naomi read the scripture for us:

John 19:17-30 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God. Amen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was just frustrated, exasperated, scared.

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

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