Second Sunday of Advent: Peace

https://youtu.be/14Oj_qBM6rM

Here’s the link to the YouTube video of this week’s worship service. The beautiful flowers on our communion table were given to us by the Bondy family after the funeral, and celebration of the life of Mr. James “Jim” Bondy. Our prayers are with his family, and friends, and all others living with grief and loss.

Here is the text of the Learning Time for this week: Making Peace with Joseph:

My wife, Lexie and I practice yoga every morning, stretched out on mats in front of a YouTube video. We used to go to the gym, but gave that up with COVID.  Whether in person, or on the flat screen, at the end of the session the cheery, energetic, and flexible instructor brings their hands to their heart chakra, and says “Namaste”.

Namaste can mean “hello”, or “goodbye”, or “peace be with you”, or “the divine in me recognizes the divine in you”. It’s kind of a greeting, or a salute, or a blessing, or a prayer, or wish, or maybe parts of all of those rolled into one. It reminds me of “Aloha”, or “Shalom” other words with multiple levels of meaning.

Shalom is related to our Advent word for this week, Peace. Shalom comes from Ancient Hebrew, a language in which words are built on roots of consonant sounds. The letters for the Sh sound, the L sound, and the M sound form the root for a family of related words.

When Ancient Hebrew was written down, they did not fill in vowels, just the consonants, so in the Bible, where the root word in the text is Sh L M, the meaning of the word, and how to say it, is interpreted, based on the context, with a range of possible shades of meaning.

Shalom means “well-being or peace”. Hishtalem means “it was worth it.” Shulam means “it was paid for”, Mushalam means it’s “perfect.” Shalem means “whole”.

When I wish you Shalom, I can be wishing you many things, all at once: wholeness, and security, and well-being, and happiness, and freedom from worries about debts, or obligations. We lose some of that rich texture with our English word “peace”, the meaning of which is often reduced to calmness, or quiet, or the absence of conflict.

I am all in favour of quiet calm. I have visited a few places in the world, and in our own country, that remind me that to live in relative peace, without the daily threat of violence is not to be taken for granted.

This Sunday, December 6, was the 30th anniversary of the murder of 14 young women at L’Ecole Polytechnique, often called the Montreal Massacre. This horrific gender-based hate crime stands as a reminder that even though many of us live in relative peace, there is much work, and growth, and healing needed before there is real peace for all.

Actual peace, or more richly said, shalom, takes a lot of work. People need to cooperate, share resources, act to promote and protect the well being of others. They must consider the common good when decisions are made.

When the yoga teacher says “Namaste”, it often feels sincere, because we have just spent our time on the mat, doing work that contributes to well-being. We are actually building peace, and helping folks get along better. It’s hard to be in a bad mood after yoga.

In the Letter from James it says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, it someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. if one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

With the pandemic, and the economic downturn, many people are facing hard times. I am glad our church is involved not just in this season, but year round, collecting food and other essentials for familiies in need. I am grateful to all who are helping us fill our quota of stove top stuffing and canned corn for the turkey hampers. When we help to feed others, we are making peace.

We are headed towards our celebration of the birth of Jesus. Because of decades of Christmas pageants, we have our memories of the innkeeper, who depending on the script, is played either a bit mean, and says, “no, there is no room for you,” or kind-hearted, and says, “you can take shelter with the animals”. Either way, the innkeeper is a good part. They only have one line, and it moves the action along.

I can’t remember if I have said this here before- there actually is no innkeeper in the Bible story. All the Gospel of Luke tells us is there was no room for Mary and Joseph. Somewhere along the line, a director added the character, maybe to create another speaking part. Which happens, because let’s face it, not everybody can be Mary or Joseph.

Speaking of Joseph, if I asked you, what was his profession of Joseph, what would you say?

Please, please don’t say inn-keeper!

Tradition says Joseph was a carpenter. That’s based on two places in the New Testament where Jesus is called the son of a “tekton”. (It is related to our word technician.) Tekton was a common term for artisan, craftsperson, or woodworker, but also stone-mason, builder, or someone who worked with metal. The word tekton has been found in writings from that period about a shortage of skilled artisans. This could suggest Joseph was a learned person, who taught his craft to others.

Even if he wasn’t, strictly speaking, a carpenter, I am drawn to the idea that Joseph worked with his hands, and showed others how to make things. Near the beginning of our service we watched an animated video on the Advent theme of Peace. It presented Peace as being like a tree that provides a place for animals to find shelter, and birds to build their nests. Shalom is wholeness, and safety, and security, and access to what we need to live and thrive.

Making peace is hard work. Peace is like a bird’s nest, safely tucked in the branches of a tree. It does not make itself, and isn’t achieved simply by wishing and hoping.

I like the idea that Jesus could have spent his early years around someone who taught others to use their craft to make things. That’s not that different from what Jesus grew up to do- to teach his students, his disciples, how to build something good- a faithful community of people who saw it as their mission to follow the Jesus way, to love people, especially those in need, in God’s name.

That’s essentially what we are about as a church- we encourage others, and show them what we have learned, about how to build good things. We use our hands, our hearts, our voices, our creativity, our passion, our courage, our generosity, our talents, to make peace in God’s world. Amen

Gift Bag Sunday School Week 2: Peace

We miss having the kids and young families at church for in-person worship and Sunday School. We are also glad that families are being safe, and taking care of themselves.

We are offering “Gift Bag Sunday School” for the kids. Their parents can register to receive the gift bag of supplies for each week’s lesson, and we will post the link to the YouTube video for each week’s lesson, which features some very talented people from the congregation, offering action prayers, craft lessons, scripture readings, and story time.

Here is the link to our video for the second week of Advent. The theme is “Peace”.

https://youtu.be/E5JHEw0IW0s

Confirmation: 1st Sunday in Advent

We celebrated the first Sunday of Advent, for which the traditional theme is Hope, with the confirmation of Keira, Lilia, Ben, and Lauren as adult members of our Harrow congregation, and the United Church of Canada. We also shared in the sacrament of communion for the first time since mid-March. We also introduced the congregation to our newest online effort, Gift Bag Sunday School.

Here is a link to the video of the service.

https://youtu.be/Tu9plsIXAqk

Here is the text of the Learning Time:

This spring, while we were all learning how to live under lockdown, a highlight of my week, for almost two months, was the Thursday afternoon confirmation class. Ben and Lauren, Lilia and Keira and I got together via ZOOM. We worked through the chapters of a book called Jesus 24/7, which raised questions to talk about.

Is God real? What does God have to do with me? What do we know about Jesus? What does it mean to say that he died, and was resurrected from death? How do we follow the way of Jesus?

It will be of great comfort to you that we sorted out all those questions, and have all the answers. I am of course, kidding.

When I was confirmed, the process involved learning a catechism, made up of those kind of questions, with formal answers, using a lot of big words, that we were required to agree with, in order to become a confirmed adult member of the church.

The historic statements of faith are interesting, and worth knowing about. I shy away from the idea that people who wrote them actually knew more about the mysteries of God, and Jesus, and life and death than you or I.

Reading the creeds, like the United Church Creed, allows to see what has seemed to make sense over the centuries, but when it comes right down to it- Christian faith is not just about getting the words right. It is about doing the best we can, to follow the way of Jesus, and placing our trust in God, and having hope. It’s about loving God, and loving others as we love ourselves.

I said at a church board meeting a few weeks ago that I think there are 2 kinds of people- or at least two basic world views- maybe they are opposite ends of a spectrum, and we find ourselves at different places on the continuum, at different times.

At one end are the nihilists, who believe there is no meaning, nothing good, no point, no God, and if we are smart, we will be selfish, and live and scheme and do only for ourselves, and those close to us. Take care of yourself, load your weapons, and to hell with everybody else. We can see that way of thinking at work in politics, and in business, and in some people’s daily lives.

At the other end are those who place absolute faith and trust in God as they understand God, believe that life is about giving all we can to help others, and trust that God will take care of us in life, and in death. They believe that everything broken can be fixed, all injustices will be corrected, and all illness and pain can be relieved. We love people like this for their ideals, but also worry that they are not realistic, and will end up getting hurt.

Whatever statements of faith make the most sense to you, and whatever you have been taught about God and Jesus and all the rest of it, most of us live somewhere between these extremes. We try to navigate in the world- to take care of those close to us, and also do some good for others. We pray things can get better, and try to live as if they will. We can’t fix all the problems in the world, but we look for ways we can help, and we do what we can, nearby, and farther away.

A community of faith, like ours, is important, not only because together we can do more good in the world than we could on our own, but because we encourage each other, we inspire hope in each other. When Jesus sent out his disciples to share his teachings, he never sent them alone. He sent them out in pairs.

We need each other. When Keira and Lilia and Lauren and Ben were baptized, a community of faith promised their families they would support them, and encourage them.

Today we welcome Keira and Lilia and Lauren and Ben as full members of the church. We need them, and are delighted to have them. They are with us in the holy work of helping others, encouraging others, inspiring hope, and making a difference in the world.

Thanks be to God. Amen

Gift Bag Sunday School Week 1: Hope

We miss having the kids and young families at church for in-person worship and Sunday School. We are also glad that families are being safe, and taking care of themselves.

We are offering “Gift Bag Sunday School” for the kids. Their parents can register to receive the gift bag of supplies for each week’s lesson, and we will post the link to the YouTube video for each week’s lesson, which features some very talented people from the congregation, offering action prayers, craft lessons, scripture readings, and story time.

Special Memorial Service

Here is the link to our November 22, 2020 worship service. On the Christian calendar, the Sunday before Advent is the last Sunday of the year, and is often called “Reign of Christ”. It is a day to remember that even when life seems messy, and chaotic, that ultimately, God is in charge. We took our theme for the service from the last line of the Lord’s Prayer as we say it in many Protestant churches, the “doxology”: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOSYmDyM_14

This was also the Sunday we at Harrow United Church chose to remember the members of our congregation and community, and those close to us, who have died since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which we have not been able to do funerals, and offer support to grieving families, in the way we wish we could.

We believe

that neither death, nor life,

nor angels, nor rulers,

nor things present, nor things to come,

nor powers, nor height, nor depth,

nor anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us from the love of God

in Christ Jesus our Lord.     

(Romans 8:38, 39)

We lit candles in memory of those in our lives, our community, who have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

Wanda Delight Cracknell

Sarah Roberta Jane McLean

Mary Fay Defour

Annegret “Annie” Metcalfe

Nelda Virginia Vollans

William Arthur Gorick

Nancy Jean Whyte

Ronald William Reese

Edna Elizabeth “Betty” Reese

William Richard Herniman

Keith Chamberlain

David Bailey

Our service included readings by Nancy Colenutt, and very appropriate music from Barry Mannell, and Larry Anderson.

Here is the text for my learning time, as well as a teaching about the spiritual practice of Silence.

Learning Time: “for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever…”

Ever wonder why some Christians say the longer version of the Lord’s Prayer? The version we repeat most often in church, that many of us learned as children, includes a sentence that is not in the prayer as Jesus taught it to his disciples.

The extra line, which is sometimes called a “doxology”, was added sometime in the first 100 years or so after the earthly life of Jesus.

“For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen”

Scholars think that wording is based on words found in the Bible, either in the Book of Psalms, or from the part of Second Chronicles we heard read today.

A doxology is a formal word of praise to God, often part of a worship service.

The Lord’s Prayer begins with Jesus encouraging his followers to think of God as loving father, and to ask God for very personal things, like food to live for the day, and forgiveness, and the strength to forgive others. 

The doxology traditionally added to the Lord’s Prayer conveys ideas about who God is. It’s God’s Kingdom, God is the one with power, and we give glory, or praise to God. 

Unlike an earthly parent, who has human limits, and gets distracted by small human concerns, and is subject to illness, and pain, and death, God is God. God is the one who creates the universe, and gives us life, and who gives us the love we need for this life.

The early Christians, who lived in the first 100 years or so after the earthly life of Jesus, were mostly poor folks, on the fringes of society. If they were Jewish Christians, they experienced persecution from the Jewish authorities, for following their new faith outside the temple and synagogues. If they were Gentiles, non-Jewish citizens of the Roman Empire, they faced persecution for not worshipping the official gods of the Empire.

Many of the early followers were day labourers who did not own their land. They depended on finding work each morning, to earn their daily bread. Many others were slaves, who lived at the mercy of their masters.

Many of the early followers faced life and death issues on a daily basis. Life was hard.

Some of the early followers also remembered that even before Jesus was killed on the cross, he had promised his first followers that he would return to them, to save them from evil, and pain, and their daily struggles.

In the first centuries after Jesus’ earthly life, it was widely expected that Jesus would be coming back any day, and that life as his followers knew it would end, and history would be interrupted. A cosmic do-over, or re-set would happen, and an earthly kingdom of God would be established. In this new Kingdom of God, there would be no more pain, no more oppression, no more suffering, no more death, and no more grief.

Everything would be turned upside down. It’s the vision of the world we will hear about in the Magnificat, Mary’s Song, in a couple of weeks, as we move closer to Christmas.

For you have looked with favor upon your lowly servant,

and from this day forward all generations will call me blessed.

For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me,

and holy is your Name. 

Your mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear you.

You have shown strength with your arm;

you have scattered the proud in their conceit;

you have deposed the mighty from their thrones

and raised the lowly to high places.

You have filled the hungry with good things,

while you have sent the rich away empty.

If life is good, and you and your family are healthy and thriving, and have all you need, and all you desire, then the cosmic re-set is not all that appealing. But if life is hard, and your and your family have endured illness, and death, and grief, an interruption to history that restores all the good, and takes away all the causes of suffering may sound pretty good.

The hoped for cosmic do-over has not happened, so illness, and pain, and death and grief continue as part of our daily existence. Those of us who have have experienced grief and loss carry on, but we also may have questions.

Is my loved one who has died safe with God?

When will my sorrow, the pain of my grief be over?

When and how will things get better for our pandemic burdened world, where there continues to be oppression, and poverty, and war, and racism, and all the other ways people are cruel to each other?

We have questions, and the answers are beyond us, and we lean into God for hope, for comfort, and for compassion.

The answer, the reassurance we crave, is pointed to in our doxology, the words we add to the end of the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen”

God is in charge. God who loved us before we were born, who is with us, and loves each of us, each of our earthly days, who holds us close, and is with us as we die, and who welcomes us home. God is in charge of the past, the present, and the future. God loves us now, and always, forever and ever.  Amen Thanks be to God

Spiritual Practice: Silence

Each Sunday morning since September, when we returned to in-person worship, along with the learning time we’ve had a teaching about a spiritual practice. This morning, during a service in which we are remembering family members and friends who have died, it seems appropriate to consider the spiritual practice of silence.

Silence is under-rated.

Anyone who has suffered a loss can tell you sometimes, rather than a lot of words, the best way to offer comfort is to just be there, even in silence.

When words fail us, it’s okay to be silent. We needn’t fill every moment with the sound of our voice.

One of my all time favourite hymns expresses it very well:

Silence is a friend who claims us,

                     cools the heat and slows the pace,

           God it is who speaks and names us,

                     knows our being, face to face,

           making space within our thinking,

                     lifting shades to show the sun,

           raising courage when we’re shrinking,

                     finding scope for faith begun.

We are deliberate about taking a moment of silent reflection near the beginning of each Sunday morning worship service, to help us grow in our comfort with silence, and to train ourselves to listen, into the silence, for the presence of God.

Is God a Cosmic Puppet Master?

This week’s learning time was another in the series on lines from the Lord’s Prayer: “lead us not into temptation…”

Here is the link to the YouTube video of the service:

https://youtu.be/Wc3yY9avk6U

Here is the script of the learning time, and a teaching time about the spiritual practice of Examen.

Opening Prayer:

As we travel through the bad and good,

           keep us travelling the way we should;

                     where we see no way to go

           you’ll be telling us the way, we know:

And it’s from the old we travel to the new;

                     keep us travelling along with you.

(adapted from Verse 3,  Voices United  639 One More Step Along the World I Go)

Learning Time: “Lead us not into temptation”

Last spring, Pope Francis made headlines when he approved a change to the wording of the Lord’s Prayer, as it appears in the Catholic church’s official liturgy books. “lead us not into tempation,” became “do not let us fall into temptation.” The United Church has not adapted that change, but we do occasionally use different versions of the Lord’s Prayer.

Whether or not we change the words, temptation is something worth praying about.

According to Wikipedia, temptation “is a desire to engage in short-term urges for enjoyment that threatens long-term goals. In the context of some religions, temptation is the inclination to sin. Temptation also describes the coaxing or inducing a person into committing such an act… “

The old version of the Lord’s Prayer asked God to not lead us towards these bad decisions, that may result in short-term satisfaction, but have long term negative consequences. I may be tempted to eat the second piece of pie, but I will carry the burden of that choice. I may be tempted to cheat on my spouse, but any short-term excitement or pleasure won’t be worth the pain and damage it would cause, to the people I love.

The Pope’s concern was that the words in the prayer suggest that this is something God does to humans- leads us off the good path, and into trouble. I have wondered about that myself. What do you think? Is God a Trickster? Does God deliberately set up situations to tempt us, make us choose?

Critics of the Pope’s changes to the prayer point to parts of  the Bible that suggest that God either does tempt us, or allows such tests to happen. They talk about Job.

Ever read the Book of Job? I would have Eleanor read it for us this morning, but COVID might be over before she finished. It’s 42 chapters. This long story gets rolling, when Satan, or the Devil, actually tempts God, saying something like, “Yeah, so your guy Job seems to be faithful, but look at his life! He’s got it all. Wife, kids, servants, riches, land, livestock. He’s living the good life. How hard is it for him to be faithful while he’s living in heaven on earth, happy as a pig in whatever makes pigs happy?”

God and Satan enter into a wager. Will Job still be faithful, if all hell breaks loose in his life?

In short order, Job learns all his livestock have been killed or stolen. His family dies, his crops fail, his servants abandon him. When none of this seems to make him turn from his faith in God, Satan afflicts him with sores, all over his body. Job spends his days sitting under a tree, scraping at his sores with the broken shards of a clay pot.

Job is further afflicted, by three friends who come to offer comfort him, but actually spend their time debating with him. They are baffled that even though Job suffers, and cries out, he never loses faith. In the words of the story, he never curses God. That seems to be Ancient World talk for saying, God, if this is what you have for me, I am done with you. Job never does that.

We aren’t exactly like Job, sitting under a tree, scraping at our sores, but we are waiting for the pandemic to be over. We are experiencing hardship, and loss, and grief, and lot of inconvenience. We also know a lot of folks have it worse than us. Businesses have closed, and failed, because of the pandemic. Travel is restricted, and we can’t visit people the way we would like. Mental health is suffering. People are tempted to do desperate, self-destructive things.

All these setbacks could be seen as temptations- thrown in our path to test us, test our faith, to see if as Satan expected to be true about Job, our faith is conditional on things going our way.

The Pope said that when he succumbs to temptation, it is because of his human tendency to fall. It’s not because God pushed him over the edge.

Biblical scholars, at least the ones I favour, look at the Book of Job as a sacred story, that encourages deep thought about our human situation, but not as an historical record about the adventures of an actual person named Job.

Job’s story can be read in the way some folks watch horror movies- to have the vicarious experience, to go through the feelings and thoughts we would have if the actual crap hit the actual fan, but with the comfort of knowing it’s not really happening to us. We can engage in the story as a way of asking ourselves- would I still be faithful, would I still trust God, and place my life and future in God’s hands, if what happened to Job happened to me?

The alternative, that I read Job as literal history, would require me to believe God would rip someone’s life to shreds, just for fun. Just to win a bet. Just to see what would happen.

If we believe the picture of God in the Book of Job is credible, then we can’t help but wonder- if God would do that to Job, just to see how he’d handle it- does that explain the crap flying around in my life?

A few weeks ago I spoke about the image of God as a cosmic clockmaker- who made everything , wound up the clock, set it to running, but leaves it alone. That’s a picture of a distant, totally removed Creator.

The image of God in the Book of Job is more like the Cosmic Puppet-Master, who pulls all the strings. This God could make us do things, make others do things that hurt or help us. This God might change the script in the puppet play at anytime, without warning, just because they can.

But in the puppet theatre of that sort of God, none of the little figures hanging from strings- like you and me, could really make our own choices. There would be no free will. Being tempted, and doing the wrong thing, or being faithful, and staying on the right path, neither would mean much, because it wouldn’t be us choosing, it would be the puppetmaster, pulling our strings.

God has better things in mind for us. God is busy encouraging us to be good to the people in our lives, good to ourselves, and to care for creation, to take care of our earthly home.

God sent us Jesus, and God sends others into our lives, to guide us, inspire us, point us towards the better choices. I don’t think God actually makes us do good things, or bad things. I don’t think God sets up to be tested, to see whether we will pass or fail.

Life can be hard. Life is full of tests, and challenges, and decision moments, but God is always rooting for us to make the best choice we can.

With the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught that we could look at God not as a distant clock-maker or a heartless puppet-master, but as a loving parent. Those of us who are parents, grand-parents, aunts, uncles, mentors, or adopted older person in someone’s life, we know that even though we may want only good things for our kids, grand-kids, the younger folks in our lives, we can’t make them want the right things. We can’t make them choose the right things.

What can we do? We do our best to offer our wisdom, our guidance. We do our best to equip those we love to make the best of their freedom to choose. We stand ready to help when they ask, but also learn to hold back, and not interfere, even when it pains us to not dive in and fix things.

We don’t set up evil tests like Satan did in the Job story, causing pain to see how our loved ones will handle it. We don’t lead the people we love into temptation.  Neither does God. Amen

Spiritual Practice: The Examen

This may be a good day to think about a spiritual exercise that originated with Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuit order. The most famous Jesuit these days is Pope Francis, who I spoke of earlier.

Ignatius was a military man before he became a priest. When he started the Jesuit order, he developed a discipline for training the young monks and priests, that included an exercise called the Examen.

Essentially, it asks us to take time to examine the events of each day, and our responses to those events.

When my daughter Naomi was doing the Shoe Box Sunday School videos, she used a version of Examen with the kids, in which they were asked to name the roses, thorns, and buds in their lives.

The roses are the fragrant, beautiful things for which we are thankful.

The thorns are the stinging, hurtful, or difficult things.

The buds are the things where there is hope, of something good to come.

As we mature in faith, we can learn to see all of these as occasions to pray, to turn to God.

We can see a beautiful rose moment in our day, and thank God.

We can experience the pain of a thorn in our lives, and see it as a reminder to lean into God, and ask God for the strength and courage we need, to carry on.

We can notice the buds of new life and growth, and thank God for the reasons we have to be hopeful.

The exercise of Examen invites to see God in the midst of it all.

Remembrance Sunday: Forgiving Others

(Link to the You Tube video of the service)

https://youtu.be/XTnGRezei8o

Harrow United Church, like many other congregations, honours those of the local community who died while serving in the military during war-time. Worship on the Sunday closest to November 11 has a Remembrance Theme.

We’ve had to adjust the service because of COVID-19. We missed having the cubs, scouts and beavers bring the flags forward in a colour party, lead in by our piper, John Woodbridge.

We had to forego the time in the service when Bill Shea, the only member of the local Legion to serve in World War Two, stands near our memorial display as members of the congregation come forward to place their poppies on a small cenotaph.

Our video producer Dennis Graham worked with our church musicians to put the “Last Post-Silence-Lament-Reveille” sequence on-screen, because of course we could not have a live piper or trumpeter perform.

Our congregation “rolled” with the creative adaptations.

The learning time, entitled “As we forgive those…”? was another in the ongoing series on The Lord’s Prayer, and included a teaching called “Just Like Me,” based on work I have been doing in Cultivating Compassion Training.

For the first time since we have been back to in-person worship, we included hymns in the service, during which we sat and listened while our musician, Larry Anderson, play the melody on the organ, and we silently read, and pondered the lyrics.

Worship Service for Remembrance Sunday, Nov 8, 2020

Prelude

O Canada   VU 524

Lighting the Christ Candle

Jesus came into the world, amongst people like us.

Jesus shone a light of hope, a light of love.

That light still has the power to draw us closer to God.

We light this candle to now, as a sign that God is with us.

Time of Silent Reflection (ringing the prayer bowl marks the beginning, and end of a time of silence)

Opening Prayer

God is with us in our proud and noble moments.

God is with us in our sad and desperate times.

God knows both the good and the evil of which we are capable.

God hears our prayers of thanks, and our cries for help.

God loves us, when we are at our best, and when we are at our worst.

God will always be with us.

We give our thanks and praise to God.

Video: In Flanders Fields, by John McRae, recited in 2015 by veteran Fred Stevenson (he was 104 at the time, he died a few months later in June 2016, at the Veteran’s wing of Sunnybrook Hospital )      

Offertory Prayer

Hymn: 527 VU   “God As With Silent Hearts

1            God! As with silent hearts we bring to mind

              how hate and war diminish humankind,

              we pause, and seek in worship to increase

              our knowledge of the things that make for peace.

2            Hallow our will as humbly we recall

              the lives of those who gave and give their all.

              We thank you, God, for women, children, men

              who seek to serve in love, today as then.

3            Give us deep faith to comfort those who mourn,

              high hope to share with all the newly born,

              strong love in our pursuit of human worth:

              ‘lest we forget’ the future of this earth.

4            So, Prince of Peace, disarm our trust in power,

              teach us to coax the plant of peace to flower.

              May we, impassioned by your living Word,

              remember forward to a world restored.

Matthew 5:38-48 from The Message (read by Bob Lounsbury)

 “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

Matthew 6:5-14 (New International Version) (read by Bob Lounsbury)

 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

Learning Time: “As we forgive those…”?

Take a moment, and join me for a short experiment.  It may help, for you to close your eyes, or just keep them slightly open. You can also relax your face, your neck, your shoulders. Unclench any part of you that is tight.

Take a deep belly breath, hold it a second, then let it go. Do that again. Big belly breath, then let it go. Let go of tensions, and worries.

Now, with your eyes closed, or just slightly open, picture the face of someone you feel close to- a friend, relative, loved one.

Remember a time when this person was struggling, or suffering, having difficulty. How do you feel when you think about that?  Do wish you could help them, do or say something to ease their suffering?

Think about the person, and say to yourself:

This person has a body, and a mind just like me.

This person has feelings, emotions, and thoughts just like me.

This person has at times been hurt, or sad, or disappointed, or lonely, or confused, just like me.

This person has known moments of joy, peace, happiness, just like me.

This person wishes to have fulfilling relationships, just like me.

This person wants to be free from suffering, just like me.

This person wants to be healthy, and loved, just like me.

Take a moment to check in how you are feeling about this person.

Take a moment to wish the person well. Perhaps say to yourself, May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from suffering.

Now think of a person from whom you feel very distant. It might be someone you do not know well. It might be a person with whom you have had conflict. It might even be a person you find it hard to like.

Think about the person, and say to yourself:

This person has a body, and a mind just like me.

This person has feelings, emotions, and thoughts just like me.

This person has at times been hurt, or sad, or disappointed, or lonely, or confused, just like me.

This person has known moments of joy, peace, happiness, just like me.

This person wishes to have fulfilling relationships, just like me.

This person wants to be free from suffering, just like me.

This person wants to be healthy, and loved, just like me.

Take a moment to check in how you are feeling about this person.

Take a moment to wish the person well. Perhaps say to yourself, May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from suffering.

Focus again for a moment on your own breath. Take in a deep belly breath. Hold it a moment, then feel it release.

Think of a moment in your own life, when you have struggled, or suffered, had difficulty. We all have these times, because we are human.

Take a moment to wish yourself well. Perhaps say to yourself, May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering.

Take another cleansing breath, in and out, and then, if you have had your eyes closed, blink them open.  Thanks for taking that time with me.

On Wednesday there will be a Remembrance Day Serivce at Veteran’s Park here in Harrow starting at 11 am. We also take time this morning, to remember those who served, those who died, and those who were left behind.

With all that is happening in this world, it is important we pause, and remember the terrible costs incurred, when relations between people and nations, go off the rails.

We can’t help but think, and worry, and pray, about things happening in the nation to the south of us, in the aftermath of an election whose results point to monumental divisions between people.

Since September I have been meeting online once a week with people from Wyoming, Texas, Minnesota, Alabama, Louisiana and Ohio, for meditation, and conversation, and learning in a course called Cultivating Compassion Training. The experiment we just did is based on that work.

This past Wednesday evening, one day after the election, my classmates looked weary, and worried, but several also spoke of their determination to continue the work of compassion. We need to work at knowing, loving, living with each other. I am grateful to these living reminders that there are so many faithful people in the world.

On February 28, 1954 at Second Baptist Church, on Monroe Street, in Detroit, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., just 25 years old, preached a sermon entitled “Rediscovering Lost Values”. You can listen to it on YouTube. He was such a brilliant thinker, and a powerful preacher. He said,

“The great problem facing modern man is that, the means by which we live, have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live. So we find ourselves caught in a messed-up world. The problem is with man himself and man’s soul. We haven’t learned how to be just and honest and kind and true and loving. And that is the basis of our problem.” 

It was 1954, so King said man, but we know he’s talking about the basic human problem- what is in our soul, and what we allow to rule our lives.

King went on to say,

“We, we never doubt that there are physical laws of the universe that we must obey. We never doubt that. And so we just don’t jump out of airplanes or jump off of high buildings for the fun of it—we don’t do that. Because we, we unconsciously know that there is a final law of gravitation, and if you disobey it you’ll suffer the consequences…  so we just don’t jump off the highest building in Detroit for the fun of it…

But I’m not so sure if we know that there are, are moral laws, just as abiding as the physical law. I’m not so sure about that. I’m not so sure we really believe that there is a law of love in this universe, and that if you disobey it you’ll suffer the consequences.”

He was right. We can’t sustain our relationships, our families, our communities, our country, or the relations between countries, unless we abide by the moral laws. When asked about the most important law, the ultimate commandment, Jesus said, in Matthew 28:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Anyone who tries to love another person knows it is not always easy. We are not always good to each other. We have differences of opinion. We make mistakes. We hurt each other. We put ourselves ahead of others. We break the moral laws of the universe, and the consequences are as real as if we jumped off the highest building in Detroit, or Harrow, for that matter.

It can be hard, hard as the ground we’d land on, if we jumped. Relationships can be hard. Families can be hard. Relations between groups of people can be even more difficult. We get polarized, separated because of our beliefs, our political views, our ethnic backgrounds, our sexual orientation, our gender identity.

Differences of opinion or belief, or attitude can become entrenched. We can become convinced of the correctness of our position, the wrongness of those on the “other side”. Strongly held viewpoints can make it near impossible for people to get past barriers they themselves have erected.

People end up hating each other. When that happens, the most horrible things result. We are gathered here to mourn what happens when humans act on the worst of their impulses, and situations arise when peaceable solutions no longer seem an option.

Jesus offered us a teaching that would help us in these times when we become so hurt, so stuck, so polarized. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Forgiving a person does not always mean we forget. We often have good reasons to remember, and to be cautious. When Jesus sent out his followers to do mission work, he warned them there would be trouble, and they would encounter bad behaviours. He told them to “be as shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.”

If we go into a situation and get hurt, it serves us to remember that, and pay attention. It is a survival skill, to learn to avoid places where we might get hurt, and those who might not have our best interests at heart.

At the same time, living with that kind of vigilance can wear us down. Many a preacher and counselor has made the point that forgiveness is as much for ourselves as it is for the other person. It is important for the health of hearts and souls to not become all crusted inside with bitterness and resentment.

It seems to me that what Jesus was getting at, with the teaching imbedded in the Lord’s Prayer, is the connection between being forgiven, and offering forgiveness to others. Recognizing our own brokenness, our own tendency to fly off course, or miss the mark, we can recognize that in others. If we can accept and forgive ourselves, we are more likely to do the same for others. I think it may also be true, that as we learn to forgive others, to accept their limits and brokenness, we may be less hard on ourselves. These things are steps on the road to peace. Amen

Ministry of Music:

Remembering Harrow’s honoured dead: (read by Brian Ciphery)

1914-1918

Robert Bailey

Carmen Hauser

John Baxter

Robert Martin

Frederick Cookse

A. Murray

Charles Cornwall

W. Mickle

Eli Gerard

1939-1945

Leonard Andrew

Stewart Elford

Ross Baltzer

Francis Hicks

Albert Burling

Ray McCarthy

Ernest Ciphery

Eugene McClellan

Charles Darby

James Monk

Henry Craig

Clifford Robertson

Albert Day

Arthur Stepharnoff

Anthony Deverecker

Max Wright

Prayer for Peace

God of all of us, help us to remember who you are, and who we are meant to be.

Help us to love others, and to see the good in others.

Help us to resist the temptation to label other people and nations,

And to see them only as problems to be overcome, and enemies to be vanquished.

May we remember the costs incurred when we rely only on human solutions.

Help us to work for peace in the world. Amen

Please stand for the Last Post, Silence and Reveille           (video)

Words of Remembrance:

They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old.

Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

we will remember them.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

Prayer:

Eternal rest grant unto them, O God,

and may perpetual light shine upon them.

May their souls, through your mercy, rest in peace.

Hymn  VU 679 Let there be Light

1         Let there be light,

           let there be understanding,

           let all the nations gather,

           let them be face to face;

2         open our lips,

           open our minds to ponder,

           open the door of concord

           opening into grace;

3         perish the sword,

           perish the angry judgement,

           perish the bombs and hunger,

           perish the fight for gain;

4         hallow our love,

           hallow the deaths of martyrs,

           hallow their holy freedom,

           hallowed be your name;

5         your kingdom come,

           your spirit turn to language,

           your people speak together,

           your spirit never fade;

6         let there be light;

           open our hearts to wonder,

           perish the way of terror,

           hallow the world God made.

Commissioning and Blessing

Jesus challenges us to love, not just our friends, but also our enemies.

Jesus calls us to live beyond our own ego, our own biases, and our fears.

This is a holy calling, to be peacemakers.

We cannot do it on our own. We need God’s help.

We pray together seeking the strength, the peace, the blessing of God.

We give thanks for all the ways we are blessed by God. Amen