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.


“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