Harrow United Church Worship for May 31, 2020 (Pentecost)

Link to this week’s worship video

link to our announcements video for May 31, 2020

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

 

 

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

Here are the scripture readings for today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are my pastoral prayers for this day:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord’s Prayer: (together)

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name,

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done,

on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil:

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

forever and ever. Amen

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

Announcements for May 31, 2020

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

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

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

The Mission has an urgent need for:

Canned fruit/vegetables/meats/protein

Cereal boxes and granola/protein bars

Fruit cups and Mr. Noodles

Gloves, masks, cleaning supplies, disinfectant wipes

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

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

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

Coffee with Rev. Darrow! 10:30 am this coming Thursday morning, June 4. Email him at revdww@gmail.com for your ZOOM invitation.

Do you know of someone who is sick, in need of food or other necessities, or could just use a pastoral phone call? Contact Rev. Darrow at revdww@gmail.com

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

Thank you to Dennis Graham, John Woodbridge, Larry Anderson, and the Virtual Choir, for all the work they do to make these worship resources possible. Our May 24 worship service was read 163 times, and viewed 123 times.

The “opening theme” for our latest worship videos is a piece for guitar composed and played by the mult-talented Joel Woods, who also appears in the videos for our youngest ShoeBox Sunday School students.

ShoeBox Sunday School, led by Naomi Woods, has 27 children registered. There are online classes at 9:30 am and 10:30 am each Sunday morning, using materials delivered to households in, you guessed it, ShoeBoxes!

If you know of children who would like to be part of ShoeBox Sunday School, please let us know.

 

 

 

 

Worship for April 26, 2020 from Harrow United Church

Worship Video for April 26, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning Time and Prayers:

“At home with Jesus”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayers for April 26, 2020

Loving God; We have so many causes for prayer.

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

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

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

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

We pray for those in situations never before experienced.

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

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

We pray for those whose day is radically different.

We pray for those who must leave their usual workspace,

for those breadwinners who must work at home.

We pray for those who have lost their jobs

We pray for those whose financial security has gone,,

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

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

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

in their suffering, and in their fear.

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

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name,

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done,

on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil:

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

forever and ever. Amen

 

 

Harrow United Church Easter 2020 Worship Service

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

Link to Video of Easter Worship

Scripture Lesson:   John 20:1-18

Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We trust in God.

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

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

Thanks be to God.

Naomi and Joel sing “Thine is the Glory”

Pastoral Prayers

God of Love, and Hope, and New Life;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come,

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

Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive them that trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil:

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

Forever and ever. Amen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh now, now

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of Hope and New Life

sidewalk chalk

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

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

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

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

Please send your photos to me at:

darrow@revdarrow.com

 

Filling up on Hope, Joy, and Faith

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

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

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

I can think of at least two ways.

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of boxes….empty-cardboard-boxes

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

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

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

Laundry and hand soap, hand sanitizer, wipes

Canned tuna, salmon, chicken, ham

Peanut butter

Bread

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

Canned beans

Canned fruit-in own juices or light syrup

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

Canned Vegetables-Low sodium/no salt added

Pasta sauce, tomato sauce, gravy

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

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

Worship for March 29, 2020

Link to audio file for this at home worship

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 4:1-11 from The Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jeff and larry making music

VU 222 Come, Let Us Sing

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

we have stood silently too long;

surely the Lord deserves our praise,

so joyfully thank God for our days.

 

2            O thirsty soul, come drink at the well;

God’s living waters will never fail.

Surely the Lord will help you to stand,

strengthened and comforted by God’s hand.

 

3            You dwell among us and cause us to pray,

and walk with each other following your way;

our precious brothers and sisters will grow

in the fulfilling love they know.

 

4            Deserts shall bloom and mountains shall sing

to the desire of all living things.

Come, all you creatures, high and low,

let your praises endlessly flow.

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

Isaiah 35:1-7  from The Message 

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

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

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

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

Thurman wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s pray:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Just 3 good things

graphic-collection-number-3-neon-delightfull

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meditation on wheels

ride of silenceThe Ride of Silence…

Tonight we number many but ride as one
In honor of those not with us,

friends, mothers, fathers, sisters, sons
With helmets on tight and heads down low,
We ride in silence, cautious and slow
The wheels start spinning in the lead pack
But tonight we ride and no one attacks
The dark sunglasses cover our tears
Remembering those we held so dear
Tonight’s ride is to make others aware
The road is there for all to share20190515_185448
To those not with us or by our side,
May God be your partner on your final ride.

http://www.rideofsilence.org

I took part in Kingsville’s first Ride of Silence last night.  The Ride is an annual event in many places, that had its start in Dallas, Texas in 2003. In the words from the official website, the ride happens to:

  • To HONOR those who have been injured or killed
  • To RAISE AWARENESS that we are here
  • To ask that we all SHARE THE ROAD

THE RIDE OF SILENCE WILL NOT BE QUIET

On May 15, 2019 at 7:00 PM, the Ride of Silence will traverse and unite the globe as nothing before it. Cyclists will take to the roads in a silent procession to honor cyclists who have been killed or injured while cycling on public roadways. Although cyclists have a legal right to share the road with motorists, the motoring public often isn’t aware of these rights, and sometimes not aware of the cyclists themselves.

out of serviceIt was a beautiful night to be out with 38 other cyclists, most of whom took the temporary vow of silence quite seriously. We formed up behind a Essex-Windsor EMS ambulance, whose flashing lights drew attention to us, and brought a sense of solemnity to what we were doing. One rider quipped (before we fell into silence) that it was comforting to see the “Out of Service” sign that hung from the back of the ambulance.

At 7 pm, the poem “The Ride of Silence” was read, and we started out. It was lovely to have this as a meditation practice, a literal spiritual exercise, that included a sense of ritual, community, purpose, and the holy. Also, after the ride, there was beer. Many of the riders parked their bikes behind the Outdoor Alley Patio behind the Banded Goose Tap Room at 15 Main Street.

Does blood have a gender?

blood donor cardI gave blood his week. After I’d already answered the screening questions, the secondary screening/identity confirmation person asked me what my “sex” is, and indicated there are only 2 choices. I asked them why I was being asked about my sex, rather than my gender identity, and why there were only two options, male or female. Really, in 2019? I wonder what it must be like for the people I care about who identify as non-binary. I also wonder why sex or gender is relevant, after a donor has already passed the screening for risks. Does blood have sex or gender?

To be clear, this ridiculous and unnecessary question did not stop me from donating blood. The person asking the question explained they were required by “higher up” to ask the questions. I refrained from saying that so am I!

“What hooks us?” (Mark 1:14b-20)

The story of Jesus’ call of the fisherman is so familiar we may not think about how weird it would be, for 4 guys with jobs, families, homes, obligations, and connections to their community, to literally drop everything. To let the fishing nets fall at their feet, step over and around them, and start following Jesus. That happened when Jesus called to Simon and Andrew, and again a little further down the beach, Jesus called to James and John, and they followed.

Can you imagine a situation in which you would walk away from the life you have been living, to start over, with only the clothes on your back, and whatever is in your pockets? The only person I can think of who has done that is my friend Marvin, who left his home in Liberia as a refugee during a horrible bloody civil war.

It probably reflects my comfortable middle class Canadian bias that I kind of assume if these fishermen were willing to drop everything and follow Jesus, they did not have much to give up. They were probably just barely surviving and Jesus offered them something better. Maybe following a freelance, itinerant rabbi would pay better than being a fisherman. But James and John were working in a family business with their father. They had hired hands, which suggests they were at least doing well enough to pay other people.

What could Jesus have said to inspire these four to walk away from their old lives, and follow him? The New Testament offers these quick stories that are like scenes in a movie trailer- they give us clues to the big picture, but leave a lot out. I think Jesus already knew these four men.

Two Sundays ago we heard the story of Jesus being baptized. Tradition says John the Baptizer was Jesus’ cousin, and his role was to be like a herald, who went ahead to announce that someone important was coming, and people needed to pay attention. In The Message it says:

“John the Baptizer appeared in the wild, preaching a baptism of life-change that leads to forgiveness of sins. People thronged to him from Judea and Jerusalem and, as they confessed their sins, were baptized by him in the Jordan River into a changed life. John wore a camel-hair habit, tied at the waist with a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild field honey.

 As he preached John said, “The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life. I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out.”

If Simon and Andrew, and James and John were amongst those interested in what John the Baptist preached, they may have already been thinking about changing their lives. They may have met Jesus through John’s group. When the time came for Jesus to recruit his team, they would have had time to mull over what he represented.

For most people the experience of a calling, responding to a deep spiritual prompting from God is usually not an instant lightning bolt kind of thing. That happens too, but for most people it is gradual. A nagging thought, an idea that won’t go away, or keeps coming up in different ways and does not let you ignore it. It may take years of decades, even most of a lifetime before we finally get to the point when we act on the calling, sometimes because we can no longer do anything else but change our life.

There can be a sense of being called toward something new- like the early disciples who dropped their nets to follow Jesus. There can also be a sense of being called away from something- the realization that there is something, or perhaps more than one thing about our life that we need to change. We may not need to change our job, or our address, but we may need to change the focus of our lives.

I counselled a person this week who has moved from one bad relationship to another. She is not an alcoholic, but has spent her life taking care of, being abused by, and cleaning up after drunks and addicts. This has cost her a lot, and she is beginning to say she wants a different life, before it is too late.

Life is short. We only have so much time. To what do we want to give that time? As Jesus said in the Gospel, “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”

Because life is short, and we only have so much time, it is important to live it well. By living well, I don’t mean a self-oriented, consumer-oriented version of life, in which we keep score by having the best stuff, the most toys, the newest and shiniest of everything. By living well I mean more basic things like: having a clear conscience; making a positive difference in the world; being at peace with God, others, ourselves; being able to sleep at night; not living in constant fear or dread; knowing our life matters, to God, to other people, to the world; knowing we are loved, and able to share love with others; not taking ourselves too seriously; being open to new challenges, continuing to grow and learn; having fun.

If we don’t have this kind of spiritual nurture, no amount of material wealth, or power, or prestige will fill the emptiness inside. We may need to change our lives. We may need to stop feeding our egos, and start feeding our souls.

A lot of the problems in our world, and in our own lives are rooted in our addiction, or attachment, or devotion to the wrong things. We are too easily hooked on the “junk food” that seems to feed our hungry ego, when what we really need is soul food. According to the Franciscan priest and spiritual writer Richard Rohr, the three most common varieties of ego-feeding junk food are these core compulsions: to be successful; to be right; to be in control.

The call from God is to repent, to turn our lives around, to focus on what is really important, rather than such soul-starving distractions. This call is not just for those first fishermen turned disciples, or other saints, or spiritual heroes. God wants each of us to have whole, and holy lives. Following God means letting go of things that hold us back from the life meant for us.

A couple of weeks ago when we repeated the vows of baptism and confirmation, I talked about how the instructions on shampoo bottles used to say “wash, rinse repeat”. This is how it is with the call to follow God in full and holy living. We need to wash, rinse, and repeat, over and over again, because we keep complicating and confusing our lives, and getting distracted, and falling for the temptation to follow the wrong things.

The good news is that we can change our lives, and get back to soul food, and wean ourselves off the junk food. There is a spiritual basis for a new and better life.  Over the millennia, Christians have realized that it can be very helpful to have a daily plan, that includes the practices we do everyday, to keep ourselves on track. Just as an athlete or a musician needs to practice to keep in shape, to nurture their gifts, and maintain their skill, we need daily practice to stay spiritually healthy.

This past summer my daughter and I made a pilgrimage to the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta.  The original Ebenezer Baptist Church still resounds with his sermons, played over the audio system in the sanctuary. In the museum just down the street I saw, amongst other ordinary things, a pair of his shoes, his razor, and one of his suits, the trousers of which he put on one leg at a time, like any other person. Even a modern saint like Dr. King, who rose to world fame, and influenced so many, lived a human life, in which he recognized the need for daily spiritual practices, to keep on track.

In a book called “Rules for Prayer”, the author William Paulsell gathered a list of seven things Dr. King strove to do every day, for his spiritual fitness and well-being, and helped him be the person, God was calling forth.

  1. Meditate daily on the life and teachings of Jesus
  2. Live in the manner of love
  3. Pray daily to be used by God
  4. Sacrifice personal wishes
  5. Perform regular service for others
  6. Stay in good bodily and spiritual health
  7. Pray for the oppressor

We could do a lot worse, and hardly do any better, than to follow a daily rule like this one. Amen