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.

 

 

 

 

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

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.

Jon Batiste, C.S. Lewis, and Love

 

american-singer-jon-batiste-with-his-keyboard-1530092302Jon Batiste is a musician from Kenner, Lousiana. (You drive by it on the way from Louis Armstrong Airport, if you are headed into New Orleans.) He grew up in a musical family, and also seems to be a deeply spiritual person. It comes through in his music, and even in the name of his band, which is Stay Human- he named it that to remind himself and his bandmates that human interaction during a live musical performance can uplift humanity in the midst of the “plug in/tune out” nature of modern society. He believes in using music to connect people, bring them together. He often organizes free street performances that he calls “love riots”.

He’s become quite famous, largely because of his role as the music director on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. A few years ago, my son and I got to meet him, and his whole band, after a concert. He was quite kind to my son, who at the time was learning to play the melodica, which Jon Batiste also plays. I think it comes through in the video, that Jon Batiste loves what he does, and that he’s pouring love out. His song “Let God Lead” is a great rendering of 1st Corinthians 13.

We begin to succeed
when the cares of our lives
begin and end
with the hurt of others

We begin to breathe
when the wounds of others
become relieved
with the love of others

 He who looks around and finds who’s in need
has made the best investment as a human being

 He who looks around to find who’s in need
has made the best investment in his legacy

 I say that love will never force,
love will never quit,
love ain’t never lose
love ain’t never miss

 Of all things lasting there remains only three
what money can’t buy only these will succeed
faith hope and love,

but the greatest of these
is love

 so here is a formula for a real hard situation,
just let God and let love
lead the way

Let love lead
Let God lead

Can love strut (no way)
can love destroy (no way
can love belittle (no way no)
can love pose
can love be proud
can love rejoice with a mother’s pride
love stands up when other’s won’t
love prevails without want
love puts up with anything
God is love and love is God

Let God Lead video

Love is a word we hear a lot, maybe a little more than usual around Valentine’s Day. I think it’s an important word, that deserves some caring attention.

Christians get a lot of ideas about how to love, from the New Testament. The New Testament we read is a translation, based on earlier texts, the oldest of which were written in an ancient form of Greek called Koine’.

The first translations were from Koine’ into Latin, which became the official language of the Roman Catholic church. Much later on, the Bible began to be translated into languages spoke by ordinary people.

The first English translations appeared early in the 17th century. Translation is far from an exact science. Anyone who speaks more than one language can tell you that it can be challenging to find a word in one language, that is close enough, to the word or idea you were thinking, in another language.

The translators struggled, and did the best they could, and sometimes took shortcuts, and over-simplified things, in their efforts to create a clear, readable English version.

The original versions of the New Testament used at least 4 different words, that were all translated to the English word “Love”.

C.S. Lewis, was a British writer well known for the Chronicles of Narnia. He was a respected academic and lecturer at Oxford and Cambridge, and good friends with JRR Tolkien, who wrote The Lord of the Rings.

the four loves bookIn the late 1950’s Lewis wrote a series of lectures for the BBC called The Four Loves. They were popular in Great Britain, but thought of as too risque’ for the United States, because in them he dared to discuss human sexuality.

The four words that were all translated into English as the word “love”, are: Storge, Phileo, Eros, and Agape.

Storge, or Affection, is the most simple of the loves. We can have affection for a thing, or enjoy a particular flavor of ice cream, or get engrossed in a tv show, or take up collecting a certain thing. This kind of love might be the starting place for the other kids of love. At its best, this kind of love awakens us to what we like, what we appreciate in the world, and in people. Taken to an extreme- the love of things for their own sake can be an unhealthy replacement for the deeper kinds of love, and result in hoarding, or obsessive collecting.

Phileo, or friendship is what it sounds like, the love of affiliation. Friendship may arise if we spend time with someone with whom we share similar interests or concerns, passions, or commitments. Friendship can grow into genuine appreciation for, and concern about another person, but it has its roots in what we have in common.

Eros is the kind of love some Americans did not want C.S. Lewis to talk about on the radio. It is love with the added energy of sexual attraction. The positive expression of this is the desire to bring joy and happiness to another person. Erotic attraction can be the gateway that leads to a real partnership between people. The immature expression of this kind of love can result in objectification, in which possessing the person feels like the goal. This unhealthy kind of erotic attraction often has little to do with the actual person, but only an illusion of them, or what fantasy they seem to fulfill.

Agape is considered by Lewis, and many others, to be the highest, most unselfish of the loves. In the King James Version of the passage from 1st Corinthians 13, where we read “Faith, Hope, and Love, and the greatest of these is love”, the text uses the word Charity. Faith, Hope and Charity. Charity in the old-fashioned sense is about giving without expecting reward- not even a tax receipt.

C.S. Lewis thought that of the 4 loves, Agape was the one that went most against human nature. Where Affection, Friendship and Erotic Love all contain a component of there being something in it for me, Agape love is totally about giving. It gives all, and expects nothing, asks for nothing in return.

This is the kind of love considered to be the most like the way God loves us- without condition, and with total generosity. This is a love that risks everything, and does not count the costs. It is also, paradoxically, what makes us the best we can be. It is not about how we feel, but about the kind of person we choose to be. C.S. Lewis said it like this:

The rule for all of us is perfectly simple.  Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did.  As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets.  When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love them.  If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking them more.  If you do them a good turn, you will find yourself disliking them less.

Jon Batiste sang it this way:

He who looks around and finds who’s in need
has made the best investment as a human being

 He who looks around to find who’s in need
has made the best investment in his legacy.

 

God seduces us- notes from The Universal Christ

wwoz screen shotWhile compliling these notes from today’s reading of The Universal Christ, I heard an unusual song, that repeated the line “we are living in the absence of the sacred” several times. I was listening to one of my favourite internet radio stations, which is the live feed from WWOZ in New Orleans. https://www.wwoz.org/

I went to the Stream Archive, so I could replay the song, and learn more about it. It was written and performed by Spencer Bohren, an American blues and folk artist who was born in Casper, Wyoming, and is now based in New Orleans.Spencer Bohren

Here is a link to it: https://youtu.be/Q6zStmRAGbc

Here is a link to his website:

https://www.spencerbohren.com/makin-it-home-to-you

It seemed such an apt song to reference, while I gathered quotes from a chapter in Rohr’s book in which he speaks with hope and practicality about the presence of God in our daily reality.

Here are the sentences that spoke to me today:

When you can honor and receive your own moment of sadness or fullness as a gracious participation in the eternal sadness or fullness of God, you are beginning to recognize yourself as a participating member of this one universal Body. You are moving from I to We.

…humanity has never been separate from God—unless and except by its own negative choice. All of us, without exception, are living inside of a cosmic identity, already in place, that is driving and guiding us forward. We are all ‘en Cristo’, willingly or unwillingly,

Every single creature—the teen mother nursing her child, every one of the twenty thousand species of butterflies, an immigrant living in fear, a blade of grass, you reading this book—all are “in Christ” and “chosen from the beginning” (Ephesians 1:3, 9). What else could they be?

I have never been separate from God, nor can I be, except in my mind.

Without a Shared and Big Story, we all retreat into private individualism for a bit of sanity and safety.

Every religion, each in its own way, is looking for the gateway, the conduit, the Sacrament, the Avatar, the finger that points to the moon. We need someone to model and exemplify the journey from physical incarnation, through a rather ordinary human existence, through trials and death, and into a Universal Presence unlimited by space and time (which we call “resurrection”). Most of us know about Jesus walking this journey, but far fewer know that Christ is the collective and eternal manifestation of the same—and that “the Christ” image includes all of us and every thing.

Jesus can hold together one group or religion. Christ can hold together everything. In fact, Christ already does this; it is we who resist such wholeness, as if we enjoy our arguments and our divisions into parts.

We would have helped history and individuals so much more if we had spent our time revealing how Christ is everywhere instead of proving that Jesus was God. But big ideas take time to settle in.

You might wonder how, exactly, primitive peoples and pre-Christian civilizations could’ve had access to God. I believe it was through the universal and normal transformative journeys of great love and great suffering, which all individuals have undergone from the beginnings of the human race. Only great love and great suffering are strong enough to take away our imperial ego’s protections and open us to authentic experiences of transcendence.

Just because you do not have the right word for God does not mean you are not having the right experience. From the beginning, YHWH let the Jewish people know that no right word would ever contain God’s infinite mystery.

God needs something to seduce you out and beyond yourself, so God uses three things in particular: goodness, truth, and beauty. All three have the capacity to draw us into an experience of union. You cannot think your way into this kind of radiant, expansive seeing. You must be caught in a relationship of love and awe now and then, and it often comes slowly, through osmosis, imitation, resonance, contemplation, and mirroring. The Christ is always given freely, tossed like a baton from the other side. Our only part in the process is to reach out and catch it every now and then.

…for ordinary mystics like you and me, the kind of seeing I’m describing is a relational and reciprocal experience, in which we find God simultaneously in ourselves and in the outer world beyond ourselves. I doubt if there is any other way.

Nothing to believe here at all. Just learn to trust and draw forth your own deepest experience, and you will know the Christ all day every day—before and after you ever go to any kind of religious service. Church, temple, and mosque will start to make sense on whole new levels—and at the same time, church, temple, and mosque will become totally boring and unnecessary. I promise you both will be true, because you are already fully accepted and fully accepting.

Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ. The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition