When was the last time you felt really, really thirsty? Remember that feeling, and imagine you are thirsty now. When was the last time you felt really lonely, or alone, or lost, or confused about who you are, and what you should do? Can you remember that feeling?
Thirst is a powerful metaphor for that kind of spiritual need, that we may not have an exact word for, that is about this thing we need, in order to be who we really are, to know the peace that comes with doing what we are meant to do.
Jesus lived in a hot, dry climate, in a part of the world where people understood that water was precious. It makes sense that when they made themselves ready for a new life, when they re-dedicated themselves to living as faithful followers of God, they would use water.
Jesus’ older cousin, Elizabeth and Zechariah’s son, John the Baptist was at the Jordan River, preaching, and calling people to begin their lives anew, with a commitment to follow God, to be who God knew they could be. As a symbol of that commitment, they would enter the waters of the Jordan, and be ritually washed, baptized. It was as if they were rinsing off the residue of their old ways, and starting fresh and clean.
Jesus came out to hear what John had to say. He was part of the crowd who heard John call people to repent, to turn away from lives of selfishness and narrowness, and to turn towards God, and God’s ways. If they felt ready to do that, they could be baptized.
Immediately after Jesus had been baptized and was coming up out of the water, the sky suddenly opened up and Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and hovering over him.
With that, a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Own, my Beloved, on whom my favor rests.”
In that powerful moment the thirst in Jesus’ soul was quenched. He was filled with love, surrounded by grace, and knew exactly who he was, and what his living would be for. He knew himself to be a beloved child of God.
That is a good way to talk about what we deeply desire for ourselves, and others. We want them to know that God loves them, they are beloved children of God, they matter to God. We want to know that we matter to God. It can be so easy to wander away from that knowing, to forget who we are meant to be, as beloved children of God.
In Christian churches, baptism is usually just done once. We use the ritual to welcome, and to bless, and as an outward action that represents an inner desire, to follow God. For John and his followers, baptism was a ritual that could be repeated, as needed.
Do you remember the instructions they used to have on shampoo bottles? Wash, rinse, repeat. Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s a great marketing strategy.
If you took it literally, and to a ridiculous extreme, you could be caught in a never-ending loop of washing, rinsing, and repeating. But there is some truth in it. I don’t just wash my hair, or any part of my body once, and be done with it. Pretty much every day, I need to clean up.
This is true of all the things we do to be a healthy, fruitful people. We do them over and over again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Get enough sleep, eat things that sustain our body, breathe deeply, drink enough water, exercise. Smile, and say hello, and please and thank you. Follow through on things you said would do. Give other people the benefit of the doubt and pause a moment before judging them. Ask people how they are, and listen for their answers. Look for ways to be helpful. Give generously from what you have. Leave things better than you found them.
Most things that are important for us to do, to live well, need to be done over and over again, and have to be taught. We need to be trained, shown, encouraged, guided, supervised, held accountable. We need each other in order to be healthy human beings. This is true in our faith lives as well. We need each other’s help, and encouragement, and guidance, and teaching. These are some of the benefits of a faith community.
An vital part of what we do when we gather as a congregation, is remind each other of what we need to do, to keep ourselves healthy, and whole, and faithful. An old-fashioned word for it is “discipleship”. We are meant to encourage each other in our lives of faith. We are to comfort each other when needed, but we are also to challenge each other to keep going, keep moving, keep growing, and learning, and deepening in our understanding of God.
This morning we are picking up on a tradition started by a man named John Wesley. Wesley began his career as a priest in the Church of England. He came to see that people needed help to bring faith out of the sanctuary, and into the everyday. He did not limit his preaching to the pulpit, but took it to the streets, and spoke to thousands of people who would never set foot in a church. He organized new believers into societies, small groups that met regularly so that the members could encourage each other, and challenge each other, and help each other live out their faith.
The group leader would ask each member in turn, “How is it with your soul?” and the whole group would listen to each member. They studied scripture together, prayed together, and for each other. They worked together on projects to help others. They talked about how their faith changed and shaped their lives, and was the basis for the choices they made. Faith became personal, and real, not just something you heard about at church once a week.
The movement Wesley started was called Methodism. At first the name was a put down, coined by those who made fun of Wesley’s strict, methodical program. Over time, the movement grew into a new branch of Christianity. The Methodist Church was one of the three denominations that joined together to form the United Church of Canada in 1925.
Wesley taught that baptism, and confirmation as members of a church are outward signs of the covenant between each of us and God. God has promised to be our God, and love us, and strengthen and guide us, and help us overcome sin and weakness in our lives. In return, our covenant calls us to learn and grow in our faith, and to live out our faith in every part of our lives.
Wesley believed it helpful to offer believers opportunities to re-new their covenant relationship with God, and with their fellow believers. Wesley tended to have these covenant services around New Year’s- it seemed like a good time to make a fresh start. Wash, rinse, repeat.
When I’ve done this service in pre-Covid times I would invite people to come up to the baptismal font and dip their fingers in the water, and make the sign of the cross on their forehead. We can’t do that right now.
Instead, I am going to ask you the same questions we often ask when parents present their child to be baptized, or when we baptize an adult. It won’t be a test, because we’ll have the questions and answers up on the screen.
The learning time (formerly known as a sermon, but that’s another story) for Sunday, October 18, 2020 is also part of my ongoing series on the Lord’s Prayer. This week’s line was “give us this day…”.
Here is the transcript for the readings, learning time, teaching about spiritual practice, and pastoral prayer:
Introduction to the First Reading: Exodus 16:1-30: Beth Graham
Our first reading is from Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, called The Message. We will hear a story from the journey of the freed Hebrew slaves, as they make their way from captivity in Egypt, to life in their new land. The travel was hard, and they complained they were hungry, and missed the meals provided by their Egyptian slave-masters.
In the story, God provides manna, which the travelers must rise early with the dawn to gather. There is no stock-piling of food, except on the day before the sabbath, when they are to take a holy rest. On all other days, they work for their sustenance.
Exodus 16:1-30 (The Message)
On the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left Egypt, the whole company of Israel moved on from Elim to the Wilderness of Sin which is between Elim and Sinai. The whole company of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron there in the wilderness. The Israelites said, “Why didn’t God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You’ve brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!”
God said to Moses, “I’m going to rain bread down from the skies for you. The people will go out and gather each day’s ration. I’m going to test them to see if they’ll live according to my Teaching or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they have gathered, it will turn out to be twice as much as their daily ration.”
Moses and Aaron told the People of Israel, “This evening you will know that it is God who brought you out of Egypt; and in the morning you will see the Glory of God. Yes, he’s listened to your complaints against him. You haven’t been complaining against us, you know, but against God.”
Moses said, “Since it will be God who gives you meat for your meal in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, it’s God who will have listened to your complaints against him. Who are we in all this? You haven’t been complaining to us—you’ve been complaining to God!”
Moses instructed Aaron: “Tell the whole company of Israel: ‘Come near to God. He’s heard your complaints.’”
When Aaron gave out the instructions to the whole company of Israel, they turned to face the wilderness. And there it was: the Glory of God visible in the Cloud.
God spoke to Moses, “I’ve listened to the complaints of the Israelites. Now tell them: ‘At dusk you will eat meat and at dawn you’ll eat your fill of bread; and you’ll realize that I am God, your God.’”
That evening quail flew in and covered the camp and in the morning there was a layer of dew all over the camp. When the layer of dew had lifted, there on the wilderness ground was a fine flaky something, fine as frost on the ground. The Israelites took one look and said to one another, man-hu (What is it?). They had no idea what it was.
So Moses told them, “It’s the bread God has given you to eat. And these are God’s instructions: ‘Gather enough for each person, about two quarts per person; gather enough for everyone in your tent.’”
The People of Israel went to work and started gathering, some more, some less, but when they measured out what they had gathered, those who gathered more had no extra and those who gathered less weren’t short—each person had gathered as much as was needed.
Moses said to them, “Don’t leave any of it until morning.”
But they didn’t listen to Moses. A few of the men kept back some of it until morning. It got wormy and smelled bad. And Moses lost his temper with them.
They gathered it every morning, each person according to need. Then the sun heated up and it melted. On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, about four quarts per person.
Then the leaders of the company came to Moses and reported.
Moses said, “This is what God was talking about: Tomorrow is a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to God. Whatever you plan to bake, bake today; and whatever you plan to boil, boil today. Then set aside the leftovers until morning.” They set aside what was left until morning, as Moses had commanded. It didn’t smell bad and there were no worms in it.
Moses said, “Now eat it; this is the day, a Sabbath for God. You won’t find any of it on the ground today. Gather it every day for six days, but the seventh day is Sabbath; there won’t be any of it on the ground.”
On the seventh day, some of the people went out to gather anyway but they didn’t find anything.
God said to Moses, “How long are you going to disobey my commands and not follow my instructions? Don’t you see that God has given you the Sabbath? So on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. So, each of you, stay home. Don’t leave home on the seventh day.”
So the people quit working on the seventh day.
Introduction to the Second Scripture Reading: Beth Graham
Our second reading is from Matthew’s Gospel, in the 6th chapter. This morning we are hearing it from a new translation. David Bentley Hart is a philosopher and theologian who was raised Anglican, and converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. In his translation, published in 2017, he attempts to present the early Greek texts in English that is as unfiltered and unadorned as possible, while also acknowledging that personal bias is inevitable.
And when you pray do not be like those who are playacting; for they love to pray while standing in the synagogues and on the corners of streets, so that they may be visible to men; I tell you truly, they have their recompense in full. But, when you pray, enter into your private room and, having closed your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father, who watches what is secret, will reward you. And when praying do not babble repetitious phrases as the gentiles do; for they imagine that they will be listened to by virtue of their prolixity. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Therefore, pray in this way:
‘Our Father, who are in the heavens, let your name be held holy;
Let your Kingdom come; let your will come to pass, as in heaven so also upon earth;
Give to us today bread for the day ahead;
And excuse us our debts, just as we have excused our debtors;
And do not bring us to trial, but rescue us from him who is wicked.
[For yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory unto the ages.]’
For, if you forgive men their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;
But if you should not forgive men, neither shall your Father forgive your offenses.
Ministry of Music
Learning Time: “give us each day our daily bread”
That long story Beth read for us from the Book of Exodus came from the adventures of the ancient Hebrew people. With Moses as their leader, they escaped captivity in Egypt, where they had laboured as slaves. Even though life in Egypt had been brutal and demeaning, there came a point early in their journey through the wilderness when the Hebrews began grumbling: “Why didn’t God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You’ve brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!”
Perhaps the thrill of their escape had worn off, and it had sunk in that their problems were far from over. They’d eaten all the food they’d carried away from Egypt, and there wasn’t much in the desert for them to forage or hunt.
Maybe the Hebrews were getting “hangry”. The combination of hungry and angry is self-explanatory. When I hear it used to describe a crabby spouse, or a child who is acting out, it can sound judgemental, and a bit demeaning.
“Don’t mind Dad, he’s just hangry. Get him a snack and he’ll be better.”
On the other hand, I hear a useful truth in it. It is humbling, and also a little liberating, to be reminded that our mood, our capacity to cope with life, and interact with others, is greatly dependent on our physical well-being. If we remember the very real mind-body connection, we may be more compassionate of ourselves, and of others.
But back to the Hebrews. It’s a commonly held idea that Pharaoh put the Hebrew slaves to work building pyramids, but it’s not true. The age of pyramid building was over long before the Hebrews were in Egypt. The pyramids were built by other, earlier slaves. It’s too bad, because it would have been great to make a connection to the Egyptian pyramids, and the image of a pyramid used to explain the ideas of Abraham Maslow that we saw in the video earlier.
Maslow was a psychologist who studied human motivation. In 1943 he published his theory of a hierarchy of human needs.
From the bottom up, each level of a pyramid can represent human needs. We might think of each level as questions that need to be answered, if the person is to thrive.
The base of the pyramid represents needs of our bodies. Questions such as: Where will we get water to drink, our next meal, exercise, a place and time to rest?
The next level is about our need to feel safe. Do we have shelter? What is that growling and clawing we hear outside? Is there law and order where we live? Are there reasons to be afraid?
The level above that is about connection. Does someone care what happens to us? Do we have friends? Do we feel accepted? Are we part of a family, a community?
Above that come questions of esteem and identity. Do we know ourselves? Do we like who we are? Do we have the respect of others?
Even higher on the pyramid come the needs of our mind. Does our life make sense to us? Does our life have meaning? Is there beauty in our lives?
At the very top of the pyramid, Maslow placed our need to grow into the best possible version of ourselves. (I would say this is being the person God dreams we can be.) Some call this highest level transcendence, awareness of, and connection to something beyond ourselves.
Maslow’s theory is that unless the “lower” needs are addressed, it is difficult for a human to thrive, and deal successfully with the questions higher on the pyramid. It may be hard for me to make a new friend, when I am worried about where the next meal will come from. It can be hard to imagine what I could do to make a better future for my community, if I am not sure about a roof over my own head.
Think of those poor Hebrews, out there in the desert. Moses wanted them to get up each morning and keep on marching toward a Promised Land they had never seen, but they were hungry, and didn’t know where to find food for their children.
This is a bit of the scripture we heard earlier: God spoke to Moses, “I’ve listened to the complaints of the Israelites. Now tell them: ‘At dusk you will eat meat and at dawn you’ll eat your fill of bread; and you’ll realize that I am God, your God.’”That evening quail flew in and covered the camp and in the morning there was a layer of dew all over the camp. When the layer of dew had lifted, there on the wilderness ground was a fine flaky something, fine as frost on the ground. The Israelites took one look and said to one another, man-hu (What is it?). They had no idea what it was.So Moses told them, “It’s the bread God has given you to eat. And these are God’s instructions: ‘Gather enough for each person, about two quarts per person; gather enough for everyone in your tent.’”
This is the story that echoes in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, in which Jesus taught his followers to look to God for their basic needs. The translation we heard today phrases it, “Give to us today bread for the day ahead”.
Our faith teaches us to depend on God for our very lives, and all we need to thrive, but it may be hard to remember that, if our bellies are empty, or the kids are crying and there is no food in the house. If our physical needs are not met, it can be hard to be “spiritually-minded”.
You may have heard that Donald Trump was really hoping to be awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize. Since the world has not gone completely nuts, that did not happen. I am happy to say that on October 9, the prize was awarded to the United Nations World Food Program, or WFP, which is active in more than 80 countries helping people achieve food security.
Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said the WFP was awarded the prize “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”
Peace is more possible, when people do not have to worry about feeding their families. That’s true in developing countries that are still working their way out of the mess of their colonial past. It’s equally where we live.
This congregation, along with other faith and community groups, has a good history of supporting the Harrow Food Bank, which supplements the food needs of many local households. I hope we will continue that important work.
We have also held several very successful drive thru food drives to gather donations for Windsor’s Downtown Mission. We are doing another one on Friday, October 30, between 11 am and 1 pm. We will also collect blankets and winter clothing.
These are important ways to help people we may not know, but whose basic needs are real. This month has also seen a brand new initiative come on the scene, and it’s already making a difference.
I asked Taylor Gorick, one of the founders of Project Hope: Windsor Essex to tell us about the Harrow Community Pantry. She made a video for us, that takes us right inside. Let’s watch!
Video: Taylor Gorick tells us about Project Hope: Windsor Essex and the Harrow Community Pantry
Spiritual Practice: Charity The community pantry is an exciting experiment. From what Teri and Taylor have told me, the initial build, and stocking of the shelves has been well supported, and the pantry is being visited, and people are getting things they need.
As Taylor explained in the video, their model is not complicated. Those who have items to spare, or who can afford to buy extra when they go to the grocery store, or make a cash donation, can do that, and those who are in need, can visit the pantry. It’s very biblical.
The 2nd Chapter of Acts describes the early Christian community operating with a similar model. When they met once a week for a common meal, it was also a time to share worldly goods. Listen to these verses, and you will hear again the connection between faith, and daily bread, and physical needs, and spiritual maturity.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
This building we meet in had its start as a Methodist Church. John Wesley, the Anglican priest who started the Methodist movement had a simple motto when it came to worldly goods. In one of his most famous sermons, “The Use of Money” his three preaching points were “Earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.”
Wesley’s message was not meant to fill the church’s bank account. It was a plea for generosity and a plea for compassion for the poor and needy. He said, “money is an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends. In the hands of God’s children it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked.” During the coming week, in your quiet times, your prayerful times, I invite you to consider your own spiritual practice of charity.
Providing God, source of all life,
We often pray “give us this day our daily bread”,
and most of us, most of the time
have no worries in this regard.
You have given us so very, very much.
We have bread, and meat enough,
and vegetables and fruit,
to fill our plates, and our bellies.
We don’t really have to worry, all that much, about our daily bread.
Loving God, forgive us for living as if this were true for all people-
As if in all places there is the abundance,
and often over-indulgence
that is part of our daily reality.
Help us to open our hearts, and minds.
Help us to live with gratitude.
Transform our gratitude into deeper generosity,
so that our prayers, our hopes, our dreams and our actions,
can be focussed less on ourselves, and more on your vision for this world.
We pray that our will can be more like your will.
We pray that we can overcome, or abandon the temptation,
to trespass against others, in our pursuit of riches and status and power we don’t actually need.
We pray also that we can use the good gifts,
and resources you have placed in our hands,
to address the needs of your people.
There are many ways that people need to be fed.
Help us feed our need for meaning and purpose,
as we work for the good of others.
We pray for all those who are hungry.
We pray for all those who are in pain.
We pray for those who feel hopeless.
We pray for those who are lonely, and those who grieve.
We pray for those who thirst for kindness,
for a compassionate listener.
We pray also for our congregation,
that our community of faith can be a place to learn about your love.
We give thanks for all those who have found their way here,
and for the difference they make in the world when they go out from this place.
We give thanks also for the life and work and witness of Jesus,
the One who gave us the Lord’s Prayer, which we now say out loud together:
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
Commissioning and Blessing:
Jesus responded to God’s call, to live a life of witness and service.
We are invited to follow his path.
We are called to offer love, and hope, caring and light.