When everything around seems to be collapsing
into injustice and chaos Creator God, teach us to love you
and to recognise that you hold the earth gently in your hands.
When we do not know just what to do and where to turn,
teach us to trust your wisdom, so that we can discern
your presence in events around us. When we become unforgiving
and vindictive, teach us to grasp your tenderness,
and forgive us for all we do wrong. When violence, fear and hatred
seem to overtake us, teach us to receive your compassion,
and steer our lives in the ways of justice and peace.
When we think we can go it alone, teach us to depend on your grace,
so that with patience and persistence we can transform the world.
But most of all, teach us to appreciate your goodness,
for in you we have new life!
coordinator for Justice, Peace and Creation at the WCC
(Printed in this week's bulletin)
"We know that all things work together for good for those who love God..." Romans 8:28
Andrew's sermon raised some difficult questions for me today. It is easy enough, when I am having a challenging few days at work, to sit back and convince myself that everything will work out and that I am probably learning something in the midst of the difficulties. I can see God working for good in a situation like that.
It becomes harder for me, though, when I think about bigger questions of suffering or hardship. A dear aunt of mine lost her life to cancer a year ago today. She was 53, left behind a husband and two teenage daughters (and many others who loved her), and loved Jesus with all her heart. It is difficult to see how things were working together for good for her and her family.
Or in even bigger situations, like the conflict in Syria, or the decades-long civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been particularly terrible for women. There are Christians in those circumstances who have been subjected to unbelievable suffering. How are things working together for good for them? The faith and trust of Christians in these regions is nothing short of amazing, I think. How do they not become discouraged?
Maybe, in the long run, we will say that these conflicts were necessary in order to bring about peace in those places, and we will be able to say that God was working for good. But it is very hard for me to look at them now, to think of the individuals who have to endure that suffering, and see that God is working for good.
Perhaps we are meant to see good in those who are working to resolve those conflicts, to find cures for cancer. I was reminded this morning of what Mr. Rogers (one of my childhood television favourites - and a Presbyterian minister!) said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." This helps give me some hope in the midst of tragedy.
What do you think?
To me, this morning's service felt like a great commissioning. The pews were full and as we said the Lord's Prayer in unison and broke bread at the Lord's Supper together, it felt like we were one unified body. I was surrounded by friends and familiar faces, but as lovely and comforting as those feelings are, the church is not only about supporting other members if the body.
Our scripture from Matthew was the reminder that "...just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." And Rev. Hill in his sermon reminded us that this is where our focus should lay. We see God when we serve others - and not just the people we know! We see God when we take care of people who need care, even (especially!) strangers. What's more, we also see God when we see people taking care of one another. It's a beautiful circle, and God is there.
This morning felt like we were receiving blessings and peace to go out and share the same - a beautiful morning, full of outward looking. As we continue to seek God's guidance for our congregation, we look together to God, and we look to others in service.
With the holy ones before you,
feasting on your grace outpoured,
may the church now waiting for you
keep love's tie unbroken, Lord.For the bread which you have broken, Book of Praise 549
Today’s Pentecost Sunday service is one that will be indelibly etched on my memory and heart. The very Call to Worship and Prayer of Approach by Huda created an awakening to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst and in our lives. The Children’s story time, complete with all the birthday props -the cake, the gifts and the garden- windmill---demonstrated vividly the significance of that first day of Pentecost two thousand years ago and that the same power of God is still with us today. Even the dramatic reading of the Scriptures )Acts 2-1-47) by five elders, brought new life to that eventful day so many years ago.
But it was Andrew’s sermon that brought new meaning and relevance to The Day of Pentecost. He explained that wind and fire were traditional images of the presence of God and that up to that point the disciples were learners but now after the Holy Spirit descended on them, they became a church. The Church is the work of God and God sustains it. The Holy Spirit was with those who laboured to establish St Andrew’s Church in Ottawa. We too, can have a spiritual connection to the Holy Spirit, for it is the Holy Spirit within us that guides us, speaks to our consciousness, helps us in decision-making and inspires us. This application, I found very meaningful to my own life. The fact that nothing in my life is by accident, by luck, or Fate, but rather it is all ordained by God’s Holy Spirit, is powerful and reassuring.
Indeed, like David, the shepherd, the Spirit of the Lord moved in my heart.
As we today celebrate mothers, I thought I might dedicate this post to my mother and other women who have been, and continue to be, very important to me. Growing up, I was nurtured, supported, edified and cared for by loving family members, most of whom are women. I found the theme of "Letting go" quite pertinent to my personal story as I was never physically far away from my mother until I was 18 when I decided to pursue university studies and settle in Canada. Although she was supportive and did "let go", I can't imagine what my mother went through when we were apart after having both been in the same cities since I was born: "Is he eating alright? Does he have clean clothes? Is he shaving regularly?"
As Andrew spoke this morning about how in Jesus' Ascension, he effectively "let us go" but did not abandon us (big difference), I couldn't help but think of how He felt as He saw the disciples feel alone, disoriented and lost at that very moment. Was he disappointed that they thought they did not have enough faith to prepare them for what was to come without Him? Inevitably, I also thought about the parable of the Prodigal Son where the father essentially let his son go and when he could have refused to give him his share of inheritance. What love that surpasses understanding! Finally, I found the Living Faith reading about the Christian Family very positive and inclusive, especially in the passage that states that individuals can be fulfilled in God's eyes, regardless if they are single or raising a family. After all, as the saying goes, "It takes a village" and the village can include people who don't have their own children to raise.
What a great service to welcome (finally!) the arrival of spring to Ottawa! I really appreciated Andrew's words about being the leaves of the tulip - taking in the sun's energy. I have been drawn outside this week by that sun, and I am already feeling the benefits to my physical, mental and spiritual health. The Creator wants us to get out there and enjoy ourselves - to use God's love (our bulb) and the nourishment we get from scripture, prayer, and worship (our roots) to be beautiful in this world (a bloom for all to see) and to enjoy ourselves.
It made me think of a wonderful line from that movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding - during a pre-wedding heart-to-heart between the main character and her mother, the mother says, "I gave you life so that you could live it." So it is with God, we heard this morning. Mother God gave us life so that we could live it.
All good things to keep in mind as we are enjoying the tulips and the weather over the next few weeks, praising and thanking God for all that beauty.
And with that, I am off to enjoy the day outside :).
A sower went out to plant some seeds. The sowers name was Me.
Today we celebrated an all ages service under the continuing theme of the seed. Could there be a more appropriate theme?
These words Mathew 13 v 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time.
Who are we if we have no roots? How may we sow God’s word if there is no harvest from the past?
Our parents and grandparents are our roots what they have sown we shall reap. An all ages service is a place to celebrate youth in our Church family but it is also a time to celebrate those who came before. I was reminded of a silly but fun movie Hoodwinked where Red Riding Hood is surprised to find her Grandma was hiding the fact she was a secret X Games skier. We forget that our parents and grandparents “rocked it old school” in their time. It would be fun next time we hold an all ages service to reflect and enjoy new and old music and ideas that formed the tree that produced the seed that are our youth today.
Huda spoke in her sermon of the story of the Lorax from Dr. Seuss. “Unless” The past is forgotten unless someone cares. The seed will not grow unless someone cares. The world cannot improve unless someone knows the past and cares to improve upon it.
What a wonderful tie in for an all ages service. Dr. Seuss was born in 1904 even before our oldest member his first children’s books were published in the early 1950’s,Horton heard a Who in 1954 early enough for today’s youth’s grandparents to have been raised on the words of Dr. Seuss. 60 years later the stories still move us and we realize that our grandparents and parents are not so different from us after all.
As we enjoy the advantages of an all ages service we get to enjoy the sweet voices of our Children’s Choir accompanied by one of our true treasures in our hand bells we realize our church family has so much to offer. Andrew and Huda give us voices from different backgrounds and cultural historys and we get to hear the musical stylings of two generations with Peter L. and the Jonathans P. and M. We celebrate God’s word with the joy and vigour of youth and wisdom and fortitude of seniority.
James 5:7-11 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
When asked who is the sower of the seed, the word of God? Let that answer be Me.
Hope, grace and possibility. Too often when we take the time to discuss bequests and planned giving in the church we talk only of sums and what might be done with capital. Refreshingly, Rev. Herb Gale spoke today about the myriad ways gifts may multiply if we have the imagination - and the trust in God's abundant grace - to allow them. He noted that witnessing generosity inspires us and teaches us generosity, as well as demonstrating how God multiplies seeds or gifts. While giving examples of the tangible things monetary gifts can provide, he also detailed how those gifts may provide in other, more intangible and unexpected ways. His first example began with a bequest which was multiplied five-fold. But it was the unexpected gifts, the opportunity it gave to each recipient of a portion of that bequest to benefit the community, and later in the young leaders in the small community in Kenya, that were truly remarkable. In each of the examples Rev. Gale offered, what struck me was how seeds of hope, visions of opportunity and potential and inspiration were sown amongst the privileged by witnessing the generosity of those less fortunate. This theme was beautifully reflected in our children's hymn, which included the words:
We'll bring the little duties
We have to do each day;
We'll try our best to please Him,
At home, at school, at play,
And better are these treasures
To offer to our King
Than richest gifts without them;
Yet these a child may bring.
Our capacity to give is not limited by our finances, but only by our capacity to imagine and to dream.
Peace be with you.
Andrew spoke today about the power of fear to shape our lives. As we read in John, the disciples met behind locked doors because of their fear. And yet - despite their fear - the disciples went out, as Jesus had sent them, to build his church.
We heard today of some present day examples of what we might fear - crime, economic uncertainty. And this fear can paralyze us. And yet through all of our fears, God keeps coming back to us and breathing in life. We are given peace.
Where is God breathing in life today? They were some examples mentioned today in worship: the work to re-build Haiti, to care for those affected by violence in Syria, to re-plant uprooted olive trees in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
But, for me at least, there is also an element of personal peace. It is so calming, reassuring to hear Jesus say "Peace be with you." We are the Creator's beloved children, filled with life and spirit. How can we, like the disciples who have gone before us, find our peace in the midst of fear so that we can out into the world to be witnesses?
When I was growing up, I heard it said that the Sunday after Easter was a “low Sunday” – quiet, low attendance. This week there was nothing “low” about the service – church family and friends and choir were out in strength. The Easter hymns lifted us up as we sang of Christ who “leapt up high” and as the choir reminded through the anthem that “love is come again, like wheat that springeth green”. Everything about the service called us to keep celebrating Easter with movement and action and joy.I have always liked the passage from Psalm 119 that is this month’s study for the church school: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” To have it read together in the responsive Psalm and have it explained so wonderfully in the children’s time was meaningful in itself. To consider it in conjunction with the story of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35) gave it even more meaning.
Two years ago, after the reading of the story of the disciples and their walk with Jesus, I spent time thinking about a few biblical “road stories”. At that time, I pictured pathways leading to great promise, but my focus was on looking at the road and where it went on the horizon. This year, the readings, the children’s words for April and the sermon have left me thinking more actively about the act of walking the road. The service reminded us that the road is before us, not just to be looked at, but to be taken. The Word illuminates the path; we can see the path, now how will we walk it? What will I do as I walk it? Will I let my step slow or falter when the way seems steep? Or, will I follow the guidance of the sermon and go and share the Word with works and with my life?
It was lovely to hear personal words about each of the boys that received their Sunday School Bibles from Huda and Andrew. What a perfect reminder that our path is one for all ages and the Word one that we share throughout our lifetimes and across our generations.
Mary Jane A.
Easter Sunday. The biggest celebration of the year for us as Christians.
Even before the service, the day got off to a great start with a lovely breakfast in St Andrew’s Hall – to a packed house! Not an empty seat in the hall.
Moving upstairs, the sanctuary was also filled to the brim, including many people in the balcony. Huda captured the celebration perfectly with an energetic call to worship that captured the energy of the congregation. The children performed an upbeat song and Andrew and Huda traded stories of surprises in the bible with the children. Andrew finished with the greatest surprise of all … the visitation of Jesus’ tomb (by Mary Magdelene and Mary, the mother of James) to find an angel waiting to tell them of Jesus resurrection and the subsequent meeting of Jesus on the road to Galilee.
Andrew’s sermon focused on “re-surrection,” or literally, to rise (latin: surgere) again (latin: re). The first rise is the raising of humans from the earth (latin: hummus) as told in the second book of Genesis. The second rising comes from the new testament, as we heard from the 10th chapter of the Book of Matthew, ‘But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”’
This is what makes Easter such a great celebration – to really rejoice in being a Christian. To know, that if we live our lives in the Light of Jesus Christ, if we make the personal sacrifices of behave of humanity and being part of a better world, we too can look to be born again. Like the seedling in the picture of the front of the bulletin (and on the website banner), how can we also not grow when basking in the Light?
This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
So much of today’s service was of festival, rejoicing and reunion.
Joy in the festival of Palm Sunday was reflected in the faces of congregation and our speaker, Katie Munnik as all rejoiced in her visit among us. Katie reminded us of the traditions practiced at Passover in Jerusalem when Christ entered in glory. And then she reminded us of the big BUT. BUT as we honour and remember our traditions and habits, we also need to be open vessels for our God to enter into our lives so that we may be filled with His love. I am reminded that traditions and habits were formed when earlier generations came to God as open people, ready to receive His love and blessing. Our receiving of God’s love might occur in similar ways, but as individuals, we will receive this love and grace when we are truly open and listening, rather than repeating steps as by rote.
This Holy week began and will end with joy. But the journey will be long, as we accompany our Lord to his death knowing that promise of resurrection awaits us all.
So today, let us celebrate His entry into our cities and lives with thanksgiving.
This morning's service was another in the theme of "re-" words, this week: re-conciliation. We read the story of Jacob coming back to be reconciled with his twin brother, Esau (Genesis 32). It was so touching to read how nervous Jacob was about the reunion, and all the preparations he made to try and appease Esau before they actually met. (Earlier in their relationship, Jacob tricked Esau out of his inheritance. It seemed justified that Esau be a little peeved at Jacob.) To get on his good side, Jacob sent enormous troupes of livestock as gifts to Esau, before daring to meet him face-to-face.
But despite all Jacob's fear and preparations, Esau "ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept." (33:4.) This description immediately brought to mind the father of the prodigal son running out to meet his lost son on the road - the same forgiveness and unconditional love. This morning, Andrew reminded us that for Esau the relationship was more important than justice and having been wronged. And in the same way, God seeks us out and embraces us on the road with love and forgiveness.
But for me, the crux of this morning's message was what inevitably occurs after our reconciliation with God: our reconciliation with one another. The reading in 2 Corinthians 5 reminds us that closeness to God follows naturally to love for one another. Becoming more Christ-like, which is our goal in the Christian life, means accepting, embracing and loving the people around us - no matter how we may have been wronged. The love of God flows naturally through us, and then from us into those around us. What a beautiful picture of Christianity!
We celebrated communion this morning, and the church was full! So many familiar and new faces sitting around the table in the church pews.
Firstly, I was quite impressed by Calum’s reading of the litany. His voice was strong, the readings of scripture quoted were strong, and strong also was the work described on the back that we support in Guatemala through Presbyterian World Service and Development.
At the end of the children’s story time, Huda invited everyone to say the Lord’s prayer in whichever language they chose. I think this was a great invitation and very welcoming for all those to which English is not their native language.
What was the sermon about? Remembering! Remembering why you choose your partner, remembering hard memories, remembering to be grateful to God, remembering the love that sustains us. I have come home thinking more about how remembering can help me grow in understanding and be proactive in my life.
This morning’s church service, the first Sunday of Lent, was peaceful and positive. Andrew, our minister, has returned from his sabbatical seemingly reinvigorated and seems to be ready and willing to pass on some of his energy to us, in the form of his uplifting thoughts.
Upon taking the lectern, Andrew’s first comments to the elders and the congregation were a thank you. He shared his appreciation for the opportunity to take a (well-deserved, in my opinion) sabbatical that he originally planned to use as a time of study, but which ended up being a true rest period. He shared his plans to read all kinds of books, accomplish a number of tasks but in the end he simply took the time to “just be”.
Later on, during the sermon, our minister shared his thoughts on the true meaning of what it means to repent; not to confess, or to atone, but simply to change. As Christians, repentance is the act of changing, of turning ourselves toward God in order to live in his reflection. Using the scripture reading (the parable of the prodigal son) as an illustration as well on touching on the other parables from the same chapter (those of the lost coin and the lost sheep), Andrew showed us how what we see as traditional repentance (confession, atonement) comes as a result of returning to God and feeling his unquestioning acceptance. What we often fail to remember about these three stories is that they are bound by a central theme; the joy experienced by the return of what or who is lost. Hence his point that true repentance is the actual change, the turning toward Him.
Throughout the sermon, I returned continually to his earlier point – to “just be” is reinvigorating, and I kept thinking that this may be the best way to repent. By “just be”-ing, we would be better able to accept God in our lives and turn to him. And really, to “just be” is to live an honest expression of oneself, and as Huda discussed during the children’s time, being yourself and helping others is the best way to earn the love and acceptance of others.
My final thought is this: one of the main tenets of Christianity is to love one another, as God as loved us. I would go so far as to say that when you let yourself “Just be”, you are loving yourself as God as loved you. In that way, we may become a true reflection of one of His most valuable lessons to us. I extend my thanks to Andrew and Huda for sharing theirs insights and guiding us in our personal journeys.
Today we read one of my favourite Bible passages, where Paul describes Jesus as voluntarily becoming like a servant (slave), even to the point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:1-11). This is a powerful passage, not only because it describes in beautiful and vivid imagery the sacrifices Jesus made to bring us salvation, it is also one of the greatest illustrations of what Christian living should look like. If you take any solace in what Christ did for you, then this should result in overwhelming love, which in turns produces an overflowing love and concern for others. Not a selflessness born of self-pity, self-loathing or low self-esteem, but selflessness born of pure love. In the sermon, Rev. Rodger Hunter connected this to the story of the woman anointing and washing Jesus’ feet with perfume and her hair (Luke 7:36-50). The woman was so conscious of the blessing of her salvation, that she was overwhelmed with love for Christ, to the point even of reckless abandon, and totally disregard for whatever anyone else might think. And for that Jesus declared that her faith had saved her and her sins were forgiven. Isaiah also calls as to such reckless abandon, rejoicing in the Lord with our whole beings, as we are decked out in garments of salvation, like a bride and groom adorned in finery on their wedding day (Isaiah 61:8-11). May our lives this week and always be filled with such conscious joy and love, even amidst sorrow.
The service today held three very good messages for me and perhaps for you as well.
1) Ordinarily when I arrive at my seat I take a scan through the bulletin to see how the service is going to play out, and what announcements are there for upcoming events. Today I was looking for inspiration about what to write in the blog, when the thought crossed my mind “It doesn’t need to be great, it just needs to be honest.”
Perhaps it was event tomorrow night concerning the history of churches in the Ottawa valley, but the combination of the first thought and the announcement got me thinking about masonry and honesty. I once heard the word “sincerely” comes from two Latin words which roughly translate as “without wax.” In the shaping of stone, particularly for sculptures, it is argued that people used to hide flaws in their craftsmanship with wax. It was odd then, when Psalm 19 ended with the idea of asking to be cleared of hidden faults, and to be kept from having proud thoughts.
The first message for me was a reminder to be sincere in all my dealings with others, but also with myself. We all have our faults, rather than cover them up, it is probably better to deal with them and be open when we are wrong.
2) The children’s story was a pretty cool demonstration that does not work well in words, but showed the difficulty of putting all our priorities of life ahead of God. It concluded that we can make life work better when we put God first in our thoughts. I thought this an important message to keep in mind with whatever task we are doing. When we approach a problem or celebration with the sincere desire to grow into better people; the task becomes more purposeful and the celebration more meaningful. I think it is in this way that we share our lives with God.
3) The Scriptures and lesson that were presented today contained the idea of not worrying for tomorrow, that God will provide (Mathew 6 31-34). Also, that God does not need great works built, nor anything done by human hands (Acts 16-34). It is interesting to me that Paul was arguing with the Stoics, a philosophical school that holds the most important thing we can control is our attitude towards life. It is interesting to me, because I think that is the very message of Scripture. To seek to become better people through cultivating and attitude of trust in God and learning through the teachings of Jesus.
At least, those were the messages I took away.
- John M.
This morning we welcomed the Rev. Lillian Roberts to the pulpit. As the Presbytery Minister for Ottawa Presbytery with the United Church of Canada, she was speaking to us on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. She acknowledged from the beginning that the Christian Unity concept is lovely, but as she continued the sermon, we discussed that it's much more than just a feel-good idea.
One of the themes was Walking in Solidarity. It's been so icy in Ottawa lately that I knew exactly what Rev. Roberts meant by walking in solidarity. Just last night I was walking an older gentleman up his driveway after we drove him home from a group meeting. We held hands and walked each other up the slippery slope - both of us getting strength from the other. Neither of us were very sure footed on our own, but hands clasped together, we were both more confident our steps.
Rev. Roberts went on to explain that unity among Christians has a purpose, and that Christians together are more powerful as we live out the Good News of Christ with us. We are more capable of living our mission when we live it together. But the other side of our purpose is our living in celebration.
We read in John 2 how Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding feast. I love being reminded from the pulpit how we need to celebrate - Christianity, especially when we're considering our united mission and purpose, is worth celebrating! And how much more likely are people to listen to our witness of God's love for us through Christ when we are celebrating together.
Rev. Roberts concluded the service this morning saying, "Go, knowing you are a blessed people." And so we are, and so we should.
Every year we re-enact Christ's life: His conception in Advent, His birth at Christmas, His passion in Lent, His death on Good Friday, His Resurrection at Easter. In the between times we note His ministry: His miracles and parables and sermons. We condense His already foreshortened lifetime into a matter of months. We can, of course, only use what scripture gives us, and the gospels have necessary holes. Aside from a few spare verses in Luke, we are told nothing of Jesus' childhood past his infancy. We simply skip to the beginning of His ministry. And so it is that last weekend we marked the Feast of the Epiphany, singing We Three Kings as Eastern European traditions celebrated Christmas with the arrival of the Magi, and today we mark Christ's baptism. Three decades go by in one week in annual tradition. It always strikes me as a little odd - I have a vaguely whiplashed feeling, as we jump from the supposed real-time celebration of the Christmas season directly into Jesus' adulthood - but also an interesting study in contrast. In all the mystery and child-like wonder of Christmas, it can be easy to forget the nitty-gritty of the gospel, and springing ahead to Jesus wading into the Jordan feels very much like getting down to business.
And what a business it is, at that. As Huda pointed out this morning, we move from epiphany to theophany. In that moment in the Jordan, the triune God appears to those assembled: the Father, speaking His approval and acknowledgement of the Son, standing in the water, as the Holy Spirit descends like a dove and rests on Him. Imagine that assembly: the various and assorted folk who had gathered to repent, or just to observe, or maybe even to heckle. One seemingly random man stands in the water and a voice calls out from...where? and a bird sits on him. And for how long? I've often wondered how well John and Jesus knew each other. They were family, but we know from Luke that Mary had to travel to visit Elizabeth, and that she then stayed with her several months. Had John and Jesus met before? When John looked at Jesus, waist-deep in the Jordan, did he see not only God and King, but kin and cousin, peer and friend? And how might their childhoods have differed, John, the son of a priest and Jesus, the son of a carpenter? Isn't that an amazing upending of social strata: John, son of a priestly family declaring that he was not fit to tie the sandals of the son of a carpenter.
This morning left me with a lot of wondering questions, questions that cannot all be answered, but which are interesting and stimulating to contemplate. With them, as I meditate, the voice of the one in the wilderness makes the rough places in my heart more plain.
Which Star will you follow in 2013. Sunday’s sermon was truly an inspiration to me as I pondered the words of Rev. Cox. The way in which he presented the story of the Star was so simple yet so filled with thought provoking material. In his words he alluded to the lovely hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehem and the part that says “our hopes and fears of all the years”. Will we choose, this year, to follow our Hopes or our Fears? It is a choice and one that only we can make. During this worship, much reference was made of Mary, the mother of Jesus, a person we mention infrequently in or Presbyterian tradition. The anthem was simply divine, filled with messages of Mary and her Child, how beautiful.
As we enter 2013, may we remember the story by Rev. Cox, and his words of wisdom, “You never know where you will find God”. He may be in our hopes; however he surely will be there in our fears, we just need to look for him!
There are so many wonderful Christmas hymns, it is difficult to choose a favourite. Indeed, it was difficult to choose only a few for the Christmas Eve early service. A perennial favourite which we sang before Christmas Eve is, of course, Away in a Manger, and last night we closed the service by singing Silent Night. Both hymns, so dear and beloved, bear themes of peace and calm. Truly, when we portray the infant Jesus we often depict a very quiet baby, "meek and mild". But why? Was he so different from a typical baby that when he "awakes...no crying he makes"? To imagine Jesus as a sort of super-baby, one lacking in the normal, human infant responses is to diminish His humanity, to lose a vital element of the very nature of God Incarnate. As much as I do adore singing these two hymns, I find I must remind myself that He was a very normal, very human baby, one who at times would have cried to express His needs for nursing, for comfort, for warmth. And Mary, as both a child of and mother to God, would have responded accordingly, as any mother would.
But the peaceful themes so recurrent in our Christmas hymns do not come entirely amiss. While Christ's birth was humble, lowly, even objectionable and lacking in the simple comforts Mary's simple home would have provided, it also lacked pomp and circumstance. He arrived without public announcement or proclamation, without notice. People in the street would have paid no mind to the little stable where the groans of a labouring mother would have been muted by the sounds of animals and the bustle of a little town, where the cries of a baby would have been dismissed as just another child and entirely ordinary. A secret, shared only with Mary and Joseph, a handful of shepherds, and some very observant watchers of stars from Persia. And in the stable the peace of their solitude was posited against the typical noise of birth and a newborn child, the bother of animals going about their day, the sounds of people working unaware nearby. The peace of His birth was a study in contrasts and mildly paradoxical.
Last night, as we worshipped surrounded and led by our children, the sanctuary was similarly paradoxical. It was peaceful indeed, lit by candles as we sang hymns and witnessed the re-enacting of the nativity story, but it was noisy as well, as infants and toddlers, children large and small fussed and whispered and spoke and fidgeted in their seats and in the aisles. The service was far from still, and in many ways not at all peaceful. As on that night two thousand year ago, it was not, in fact, a silent night. But just as Jesus went about the normal, miraculous, amazing business of being born into our world, so our children went about their normal, miraculous, amazing business of living in our world, in our church, in God's family. And we adults, so blessed to be gifted the opportunity to experience these young souls as they journey through this life, paid witness to their wonder and their wondering.
It is very easy, at this time of year (and with all this snow!), to get caught up in the "Christmas card" version of Christmas - Huda described it as the romantic version this morning. I find myself forgetting about the real world for a few days - or forcing it out of my brain - so that I can enjoy my family's Christmas traditions.
But Huda helped to remind me this morning that it was a broken, complicated world that Jesus entered that night many years ago - a broken, complicated world just like ours today. God entered that world as a vulnerable human baby, Huda said, to break down walls - walls between us and God, walls between people, and walls within each of us.
This love is God's gift to us at Christmas. Huda asked us during the sermon if we have that love - the love that breaks down walls. If Christmas "means a little bit more," as the Grinch discovered, how will we share the love we're given at Christmas with our broken world?
I found "A Prayer for Bethlehem," included in today's bulletin, very powerful. The last few lines especially will be central in my prayers during this Christmas week.
Be born again a promise of hope, a sign of love and joy to the world. Be born again in our hearts, that we too might be called Makers of Peace and Children of God.
This morning, Andrew began the service by asking "Is it not good to be home?" At this time of the year, students return from university after that first tough term away from home, families plan to travel to be together for Christmas and others await the return of loved ones who have been away in service to Canada. It made me realize that it IS good to be home and for some that home may be different. It is wonderful to have a 'home family' as well as a church family.
We read from Luke 1: 39-56 about Mary's journey to visit with Elizabeth. The image on the Order of Service from the Jesus Mafa project in the north Cameroon shows Mary and Elizabeth running towards each other. It radiates with the humanity and the joy they felt - a scene of mutual care. Each will become a mother for the first time, tending to one another and providing mutual encouragement and strength.
Andrew noted at the end of the service that "life is more than we plan, earn or deserve" but isn't it good to know we have daily opportunities to build community, relationships and family at home and at church.
This morning, in the sanctuary, as we sang "Away in a Manger", I started thinking about singing that song as a child, and it was a beautiful moment for me - to connect with advent and Christmas seasons of my past, and to envision the Christmas seasons in the pasts of my now-deceased Presbyterian grandparents and even my ancestors. I felt a strong and beautiful sense of continuity in the song: a cord in the chords, looping through time. This notion resonates, I think, with the idea that Andrew talked about in the sermon: looking at the story of Gabriel and Mary as a tale in the present tense, not just a story about particular events in a certain location, but a living story about bringing and accepting good news in the present tense. This also resonates, I think, with Huda's children's story about reflected light: that the sound of certain lyrics and other aspects of cultural traditions and family lives can have a quality that is beyond and even outside time - if people continue to live in them, as if, as Andrew said, God was real, because, in a very real sense, that is one of the many ways in which God IS real.
- Rebecca B.
Lo, Christ Comes with Clouds. And so it was this morning as we made our way to our sanctuary to begin our Advent journey. Outside, a crèche as refuge began our contemplation in Hope. As we do, we are reminded of our Triune God’s steadfast love and care for all on earth, through all seasons and situations.
This week at St. Andrew’s Wednesday evening autumn program concluded. Working and studying together to strengthen faith led me to look at Jeremiah and so a clearer understanding of Old Testament scripture was possible for me because we had looked at the same passage just days ago. And I am often surprised at how Andrew’s emphasis on words, or rephrasing of passages, helps with understanding of scripture.
Our striving to be cognizant of community and world around us had me consider our First Nations peoples and ongoing work of Truth and Reconciliation. First Nations oral history is reflected in Luke, where writings are based on formalizing the oral history of earlier generations.
The organ prelude brought us instantly into to the joy and mystery of this advent season. Thanks be to God.
This Sunday was Covenant Sunday, one of the happiest Sundays in the church year!
The bells were ringing and the children presented a wonderful (and very realistic) play of the parable of the Good Samaritan. We all had a chance to fill in our pledges for the year. Pledging to give more of ourselves to the work of God, to be more engaged, to ensure that we will have the necessary resources to support our church and our many projects around our community. A pledge to the church and a pledge to ourselves, a reminder that we are the church and we are the ones responsible to make it happen.
Reading from Deuteronomy 30:19, Andrew exhorted us to choose life. Reminding us that God is giving us the option, that his blessing is easily available. That in times of trouble we can remember God's promise and reach out to him.
After the service we were treated to an interesting presentation by Andrew, Judy and Lorna on their trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
What a celebration this morning! We welcomed 20 (!!) new members to our church family during the 11am service, and we sang and prayed and thanked God for his great gifts to us. Which is, it turns out, just what we're called to do as people of God. Our scripture reading from Deuteronomy (26:1-11) was Moses telling the Israelites how to live in the new land. And, as Andrew pointed out in his sermon, these last words of instruction weren't rules to follow, or doctrine of God's character. They were specific instructions to celebrate. And to celebrate together - not just with the people you know, but celebrate God's goodness with all the people around you (26:11).
In this portion of Deuteronomy, the Israelites were given specific words to say when they thanked God for this gift of the promised land.
When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction... (vs, 6,7)
They were to experience the oppression again: to remember what it was like when they were wandering, what it felt like to be slaves. And then, in celebration, they were to give their gifts to God, some of the "first of the fruit of the ground."
This morning we were called to do the same. We celebrated with our new members and heard a tiny fraction of their stories. Having come to Canada from Congo, Nigeria, Syria, Thailand, Scotland, some under happy circumstances and some under unspeakably difficult times, we were each one invited to join together and give thanks for the grace of God.
In response, just like the Israelites in Deuteronomy, we were also encouraged to share our own gifts with God and his church. It's Stewardship month, and over the last few weeks we've been hearing more about opportunities that we can give some of our talents to the church. I love it that the right way to celebrate is to give back - in doing so the giving itself becomes a celebration!Maureen R.
Remember that you were slaves... But now in Christ Jesus you...have been brought near...for He himself is our peace.
Remembering. Too easily we forget. Too often we are plagued by memories that come unbidden, unwanted, unpleasant. Today, on a day and time we set aside for remembering, we force ourselves to acknowledge the realities that cannot be forgotten by those that lived them, by those currently living them. The horrors of war. The terror of violence. The loss of life before and behind and beside those who still stood. The tragedy of our failure.
As Andrew marked in prayer this morning, the cross is a measure of our shame. That the Prince of Peace should give His life for us, that such sacrifice was demanded and needed is a mark of our failure to live God's will. So, too, the following two thousand years of continued violence and war, continued conflict and hate. As Andrew noted in this morning's sermon, Christ gives us His peace, but it is we who must work His peace in the world. It is we who must reject our human ways of war-making and live His peace.
Andrew's description of Regeneration Hall in our War Museum is a fitting tribute on this day. Acknowledging the darkness, it looks toward light. It looks toward peace. We acknowledge the darkness of violence and by the Grace of Christ Almighty we look to peace, His peace. We cry out for it. We sing out, "may love alone for wrong atone". The love of God which flows through us by Christ's redemption and the Holy Spirit which inhabits us. We cry out for love.
In recounting one of Rick Mercer's rants, Andrew - and Rick - exhorted us remember to remember. And today I do. I remember pain and conflict I can barely conceive. I remember dead and wounded families, mothers and fathers and grandparents and aunts and uncles and children, babies who suffer by conflict. I remember servicemen and women who do not come home. I remember servicemen and women who come home, silent and still and shrouded. I remember those who come home with wounds, visible and invisible, forever changed by horrors experiences, by that which can not be unseen. I remember my grandfather.
I remember that, despite generations of trying, we still seem unable to find another way, a better way. Christ Jesus's way.
Today, on Reformation Sunday, listening to Huda's sermon, the prayers of Calvin and Luther as read by Andrew and - not least - the first performance of the Children's Choir, my mind turned to the notion of grace. I have often thought that irony is at the fulcrum of the universe, but, bound up with that, in Christ, there are kinder forces of love and grace. I very much enjoyed Andrew's children's story about the drowning child, so delightfully and comically enacted by the kids! It made the notion of grace clear for me in a new way. I also found it invigorating to think, on listening to Huda's account of Luther's placement of his theses on the door, of Martin Luther, as a young professor with no idea what consequences might follow from his demands for debate, asking for reform. I like the notion, as described by Huda, of reformation as an ongoing process, just as creation, conceived as an ongoing process in the present, is a compelling idea. It is not difficult, in Canada, in a time of plenty, with a great deal of comfort in one's life, to feel undeserving, especially when considering the conditions in which other people are living in places like Syria, Palestine and, this week, even New York. However, the notion of grace is helpful in that it refocuses our attention on questions of what we can do, as Andrew said, with where we stand.
The sermon today was presented by The Reverend Roger Hunter, a graduate of Knox College. Reverend Hunter who is the founder of Boarding Homes Ministry, has done 23 years of inner city ministry in Toronto. In brief, Boarding Homes nurtures Christian community by linking church visitors with residents of local boarding homes.
At St Andrews, we are planning to adopt a local home as part of our Growth Initiative ministry, which was perfectly described this morning by one of our Elders, Crawford S.
Rev. Hunter brilliantly tied this theme to his Sermon today, "Sharing the Countenances". Firstly, when the initiative at St Andrew`s kicks off, several representatives will be needed to visit the boarding home frequently to help 'reach' out to boarding residents. Who is qualified for this task? “Anyone who thinks cannot do it”. Why? Because to share these countenances especially to these types of homes, one needs to have “divine countenance”.
This morning we read a few short verses in Deuteronomy 12, where Moses starts to give the Israelites instructions for living in the promised land. This morning's verses were about worship, and how important it was that they worship together in one single dwelling that the Lord himself would choose. Andrew pointed out that their worship was to be a gathering for thanksgiving and sharing together. While the passage talks about burnt offerings and tithes and choice gifts, these aren't given as penance or an obligation, but as a way of sharing and rejoicing together - the whole group, without exception!
Last night our Upper Room group got together for a potluck (sharing food together with much rejoicing!) and we started talking about our new book for this year, A New Kind of Christianity (Brian D. McLaren). With last night's discussion ringing in my ears, I couldn't help but think of how much listening is required for living and worshipping together. The Israelites were told that "the Lord [their] God will choose [...] a dwelling for his name" (vs. 11). They had to be listening for God's voice and determine together what would be decided. At our Upper Room meeting, there were some folks with one opinion, and some folks with another opinion - not to mention the opinion of the author. I had to listen to the other voices with an open heart, willing to change my mind if necessary, to determine what I really thought the best answer was. This morning we listened to stories of workers in Malawi and learned from them, even as these workers were listening to the people of Malawi to figure out how best to serve one another. Tomorrow Andrew, Judy and Lorna are going out on a sojourn to Israel and Palestine to listen to the people there, to learn from them and to worship God together.
The Gospel reading was from Matthew, the bit about our being the light of the world. Our light can be so much stronger when we are growing together, listening and learning from one another. Brothers and sisters rejoicing together in our God.
It is with great sadness that we announce the death of the Reverend Dr. Arthur Currie. Dr. Currie was the principal minister of our congregation for twenty-five years and our Minister Emeritus since 1986. He was an important part of the life of this congregation for over fifty years. He will be greatly missed and fondly remembered by all of us.
Moses and Jesus gave us two commandments this morning: love God and love our neighbours. A message we have heard over and over again, but I liked the way that it was framed this morning. Loving our neighbours is a response to God's love for us. It is how we can praise God. The "chosen people" we read about in Deuteronomy were not to think that it was all about them - through them, God's blessings were to be for all people.
And as we saw in the gospel lesson, we aren't to let "religion" get in the way of this loving spirituality. In healing the woman on the Sabbath, Jesus showed the primacy of people - how we should always be putting a priority on taking care of each other, on sharing love.
So what does this actually mean for us today? How can we love others, thereby praising God? It was nice to have some pretty clear examples in the rest of the service. The Growth Fund for one - ways for us to share messages of love with those beyond our church. Not being constrained by Sunday worship, but using other times and places for discussion and reflection. Andrew also brought our attention to World Food Day. Ensuring that God's children in Ottawa, and Canada, and around the world are fed - literally - could be a way for us to praise God.
The final hymn today, "O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing" was a nice summary of this for me today: it starts off with words of praise, and finishes with:
My gracious Master and my God,
assist me to proclaim,
and spread through all the earth abroad
the honours of thy name.
Sharing God's love with others should be our response to God's love for us.
This week’s reading from Deuteronomy included the exhortation, “Eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD”. A fitting reading for this Thanksgiving weekend, to be sure. Andrew’s sermon noted that we are not only to give thanks, but that it is imperative that we give thanks to God. And, as he clarified from the scripture lesson, in order to fully give thanks we must fully enjoy that which we have received. How can we give thanks if we are, as he so aptly described the stereotype of the Presbyterian ethos, dour and parsimonious. There is no thanksgiving in such behaviour, no celebrating in such an outlook. And surely, surely our God calls us to joy, to exultation, to riotous praise.
This week’s worship recalled to me a blog post I read recently about “playing small”. The writer argues – and quite accurately so, I say – that when we discount ourselves, when we self-deprecate and diminish our accomplishments, our abilities, our trials and our lessons, we hide ourselves from the world. We make it impossible for the people we encounter to know and discover and appreciate and learn from the wonderful person we each are and in doing so we are not only doing ourselves a disservice, but a disservice to everyone we meet and indeed everyone, everywhere. The world needs more goodness, more awesomeness, and when we play it small we prevent our own good awesomeness from going out into the world. Shame on us! This week’s lesson with its command that the people of Israel “eat and be full”, that the people entering the promised land enjoy and make use of all the good gifts found in that new land is similar. The people are not told, “Eat a bit, but not too much because you don’t want to spoil yourselves.” Nor are they told, “Eat a bit, but only eat very sensibly and by no means should you enjoy your food.” They are most certainly not told, “Make sure you keep suffering: suffering is vital!” No, they are told to eat and be full, and then to bless the LORD.
Take all the goodness that surrounds you and eat it up, drink it in. Celebrate those good gifts, not by hoarding them away but by making a feast of them. Be wise, yes, but joyful. It is in our joy, in our riotous, uproarious praise that we gleefully thank our God, a God of good gifts, who gives milk and honey, fruits and bread and flowing streams. A God who gives us warm homes, loving families, and blessed kindred-spirit friends. Who gives us plenty and helps make ends meet. Who gives the sick healing, gives the dying comfort, gives the desperate a few more days, a few more hours of holding on. A Saviour whom we call brother, who calls us friend.
Eat. Be filled. Bless the LORD.Darlene M.
A contingent of my kids were camping with their dad this weekend and they were delayed in their return by rain...so I missed church this Sunday. However, I'm writing this week about Kids Church, which happens one Saturday a month, and which I attended with some of my kids this week. It's a great opportunity to gather with the young families of St. Andrews. The kids always bring a new and different energy into the sanctuary. Huda usually shows a little film, songs are sung, a craft is made and supper is eaten. This week's film was about Zaccheus, accompanied with a song that I remember singing years ago as a child in Sunday school myself. My favourite part of Kids Church, though, is the kids' questions. This week, for example, one little girl asked how both God and her daddy could be her father. One of my kids asked what happens to bad people, whether they lose their faces when they go to jail. It's a terrifically interesting thing to see them being inquisitive and asking those questions in the sanctuary: the answers offered by Huda and by other parents are interesting, but I like the questions the most. I am grateful to be a part of St. Andrews church family and to watch my children grow in faith here.
It was very interesting how Houdaʼs talk with the children prepared the soil for the sermon today. She talked about the Terry Fox run and introduced the idea of journey. She mentioned how sometimes on a long journey it is necessary to stop and rest for a while and then continue on the journey. The children were then asked to put their hands on the part of their bodies that they use when they breathe deeply. After taking a few deep breaths they were given a brief singing lesson and sang “This is the Day.” It sounded beautiful.
Today also marked the dedication of the choir and church school teachers. After a much deserved “rest break” over the summer they have “resumed their journey...”
The context of the sermon today was the Israelites journey to the promised land. The minister reminded us that a trip that should have taken about two weeks ended up in a wilderness “rest break” of 40 years. God gave them a chance to take a few deep breaths on the mountain and then he told them, “Youʼve stayed long enough at this mountain. On your way now. Get moving.” Moses is reminding them of all the events that led to this moment and the consequences of their disobedience but he is also laying out God’s law for them. The book of Deuteronomy is known as the second law because it compliments or agrees with the ten commandments. It is referred to as the heart beat of the Old Testament and discusses how important it is to worship the Lord God Almighty and that there is only one living God to worship and trust. The many laws show the determination for these people to live as a people pointing to the one true God. In the New Testament Jesus becomes the fulfillment of that law.
I think the journey to the promised land can be compared to Jesus journey. Jesus left the security of heaven and never looked back or complained. When completing his earthly ministry he faced it with courage and defeated sin and death on the cross. He rose again and invites us to share in this baptism. In contrast the Israelites coveted the security of their old life in Egypt and constantly looked back and complained. They failed to enter the promised land because they feared the ‘giants’ who lived there.
The story from the old testament reminds us that we need to ‘resume your journey‘ Jesus reminds us to ‘resume your journey’ but the good news is we are not alone and he travels with us. He also knows the way because he has gone there before us. Thanks be to God for Jesus’ journey.
The sermon this morning certainly issued a challenge for us - not retaliating, not seeking retribution when we are the victims of insult, injustice, exploitation, humiliation. Trusting God's judgement instead of making our own. It is, of course, a challenge not to retaliate when we are being humiliated. I found myself thinking of another difficulty, though - how do we not retaliate, but at the same time stand up for ourselves and what we think is right?
I had the opportunity, earlier this summer, to travel to the Middle East and hear from those living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (Stay after church for lunch on September 30 to hear more!) I thought of them this morning as we read from Matthew 5, "Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also..." This is such a tangible, real life situation for the Palestinians - just like the Hebrews that Andrew mentioned, they face injustice and humiliation at the hands of their occupiers every day. How can Palestinian Christians follow Jesus' words not to retaliate, but at the same time show that they are not going to back down in their struggle? How do they live faithfully in the face of this oppression?
Sabeel - the group that hosted the conference I went to in July - "goes the extra mile" by engaging in creative, non-violent resistance to the occupation. They do not condone meeting the violence they experience with more violence, meeting the injustice they face with more injustice. Instead, they - and many other Palestinians - find creative ways to show their resistance to the occupation. The West Bank side of the wall, for example, boasts graffiti that exhibits hope, frustration, anger, peace. As our group's act of resistance, we sang O Come All Ye Faithful as we walked through the checkpoint between Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Even Palestinians just going about their days - insisting that they be able to go to work and school, to visit their families and their agricultural fields. In the face of extreme restrictions on their movement, even grocery shopping is an act of resistance. I think that Sabeel and all those working peacefully for peace in the area show us how to go the extra mile - one way to serve the Lord in the face of injustice.
This Sunday our sermon was East of Eden, Andrew presented a compelling sermon dedicated to the idea that work should be a matter of service to others, fulfillment to oneself and honour to God. This comes at a propitious time as we examine the role our volunteers play in our Church life and services. If as Andrew spoke it is not the work that we are paid for but that which is of service we have been blessed with a great deal hard working people in this congregation.
I have been from time to time the keeper and purveyor of the after service dainties and potables. During these times I have found that getting to the sanctuary for the full service can be difficult. This has given me the opportunity to either listen in the vestibule or on the radio downstairs. This allowed me a rather unique take on the service. First it allows me to invite Andrew or Huda to come an speak to me almost on a one on one basis. It is as if they have come into our living room for a visit and talk about their faith. There is something very comforting about that conversation.
Our services have many excellent parts and seeing peoples faces and hearing their voices raised to praise brings a sense of family and community. To hear the sermon and the scripture read away from their familiar settings and on the radio as in days of old brings me back to a place we have too some extent lost. We have in this day and age become very visual. No longer is phone enough now it must have streaming video and live television.
Today Andrew’s sermon reminded us that responsibility is to work in service of God and others and the solitude of my hearing it reminded me it all began with the word.
Thinking about the passage from Ecclesiastes read this morning: "there is nothing new under the sun" is sobering. It was encouraging, at this time of renewal, with the academic year about to begin again, to hear Andrew's take on the notion that in Jesus everything is new. I am reminded of the quote from Albert Einstein: "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is."
At this time of the summer's culmination, with trees heavy with fruits, a garden full of tomatoes and peppers and even some corn despite the summer dry spell, I am amazed by the commonplace everyday miracles of the earth's fertility, and how the contrast between the approach of Christ and that in Ecclesiastes parallels the difference between the plural noun "tomatoes", which are the same every year, and this particular tomato, which managed to grow at our urging in this first year we have attempted growing a vegetable garden: there are tomatoes every year but this one is new. It is special: it will taste uniquely satisfying when mixed into salsa. We may be like previous generations of people, and this season's fruit may be similar in its traits to that of the past, but it is new.
Listening to the passage from Ecclesiastes, I was also struck by how very shocked its author would no doubt be by the extent to which our lives are different from lives lived in the time he wrote: we are freed from the burdens of many then common diseases: we know a great deal about the world and have been able to mobilize technology in ways he would never have imagined possible. There may be nothing new under the sun, but the unfolding of the universe is not known completely to us by any means, and, I think our task this new year is to seek to be like Einstein, in Christ, seeing and tasting a world full of miracles.
Maybe I've spent too much of this summer riding my bike, but I felt the theme of motion and action this morning. Huda talked about the phrase we often use in English, the straight and narrow. But the biblical phrase actually uses the word "strait" in the King James (Matthew 7:13-14) which is to say: tight, difficult, squeezed, a stricture. The path we're called to take is not a straight, narrow path. It's a tight, difficult, crooked path - it's not easy!
But as we read about the lukewarm church in Laodicea (Revelations chapter 3), we see how important it is to be on that narrow path, to keep taking steps ahead and not to stand still and become complacent. The importance of not being wishy-washy and lukewarm, coupled with the difficulty of the crooked, narrow path got me a bit nervous. What if I take a misstep? What if I stand still when I should be moving?
But now that I'm home and able to take a minute to reflect on the whole service, I see the answer was there all along. Each one of the songs (including the Psalm) spoke of how we're not alone on this tight, crooked path. We're walking with our Lord, and if we keep our eyes on him he will guide us in the path we need to take. Verse 3 of the children's hymn says:
As I travel through the bad and good,
keep me travelling the way I should
Where I see no way to go,
you'll be telling me the way, I know.
I'm thankful for the reminder that Jesus has already walked the difficult, crooked path and that he's there to guide as I take steps, too.
Arise, Shine; for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
What more can I say than this verse has already said about our worship at St Andrews this morning! From the opening words of Mary Jane to the final blessing by Micah this service was truly a gift from God delivered to us through the elders who participated. How these folks let their light shine this morning, the lamp was indeed upon the lamp post, lighting the way for all in attendance. The words, the music, the prayers and the power of the Holy Spirit filled our midst to overflowing.
How good and how pleasant it is for God's people to come together in unity: "Arise and Shine" as Heather shared, were not only words of her Mother but words of our God, we are to Arise and Shine, bringing forth the Glory of our Lord God to ALL people. In Judy's words, she remarked how easy it is to be kind some of the time and how difficult it is to smile and be kind to our or earthly brothers and sisters all of the time. May this be as a challenge to each of us, to strive to become more "God like" all the time keeping in mind as Ray shared, we are all called to serve not to be served. We are an unfinished work!
I commend the Kirk Session for their leadership this morning and I encourage similar services in the future.
This morning we worshipped with the people of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. When we are away from home it's always a treat to be with other brothers and sisters who love the Lord.
From the friendly greeting we received to the wonderful music and the inspiring message we heard, the Sunday morning was a blessing. The entire service was full of signs of inclusion, in a world that so often excludes people. The Minister's children's story reminded old and young alike that God loves us and cares about us.
The prayers said were heartfelt and personal. We prayed those who suffer for their faith in other lands and thanked God for those who died after living out their faith right here in this body of believers. Several invitations for chances to be part of a bigger family were given. Lemonade after church, open doors on Wednesday morning, being a part of the 4 initiatives being taken to share God's love, were mentioned in a way that invited all to join in.
But the message was the most encouraging part. Speaking on "Eat, drink and be merry" as read in Ecclesiastes and Luke, Andrew showed a new side to some old verses. Being grateful for what God has given was the thrust of the message, and God has given us so much!! Thanks for allowing us to share with you in your worship of our great God this Sunday.
For me, this morning's worship was brought into focus in the final words of the closing prayer. Andrew prayed how it's not about us, but it's about God and his faithfulness. This morning we thought about the phrase "the skin of my teeth," found in chapter 19 of Job. Generally when we use this expression, we're saying how we just barely achieved something - success captured by the skin of one's teeth. But when Job describes his condition, he is at the lowest of low, the very bottom of his strength and resolve. He's lost all his possessions, his family, his health - he says he's escaped by the skin of his teeth. This is hardly a triumphant success.
Sitting in my pew listening to Job's despair this morning, I had a hard time relating. It's a beautiful, sunny, summer day in Ottawa. I'm thankful for my family, my job and my good health. It occured to me how Job received difficulties in life that he didn't deserve, and how in the same way, I'm flooded with blessings I don't deserve. But the good part is that Job 19:25 isn't about me, or about where I'm at. For I know that my Redeemer lives..., no matter my circumstance.
Thinking of the donations we've been collecting for the Centretown Emergency Food Bank and for our Christian brothers and sisters in Homs, Syria, I know that life is not always a series of sunny Sunday mornings. But taking care of our neighbours locally and internationally is part of what it means to live knowing that our Redeemer lives. In the undeserved good days, as well as the undeserved bad days, we can reach out to one another in love, just as He loves us.
“Out of the mouths of infants you have ordained praise”. We use this expression to refer to children who inadvertently speak with adult-like wisdom, often revealing explicitly what adults are either reluctant to acknowledge or have forgotten – like a child who reminds us of the simple yet powerful beauty of a butterfly, a flower or even an ant.
The expression comes from Psalm 8, a psalm of praise to God. In the original context of the psalm, this expression is not used to refer to the adult-like wisdom of children, but rather to underline the extent of the Lord’s majesty and how he is worthy of praise. God’s glory shines throughout creation, brilliantly and unabashedly. Everything shouts God’s praises, even the smallest of creatures – even little babies.
Jesus quotes this verse when the religious leaders were indignant to hear children praising him with “Hosanna to the Son of David” – a blasphemous statement in their eyes, when not applied to God. In the book of Matthew this event is placed in Holy Week – Jesus had just entered the city on a donkey, while being praised by the people. He enters the temple, and sees that it is being used more as a marketplace than a place of worship, and he throws out the merchants and moneychangers. In the gospel of John, this incident is placed at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, right after his first miracle of changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana. In Matthew’s account, Jesus counters the religious leaders’ criticism by quoting Psalm 8. Have you never read, Jesus asks, “from the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise?” And this silences them – just as in Psalm 8, where the psalmist declares that the praise of children is a stronghold against God’s enemies. In John’s account, Jesus responds with a promise of a sign – “destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” – a prophecy of his death and resurrection.
At first blush, it is a puzzling analogy that the psalmist uses. How can praise from weak, innocent and ignorant creatures be a defense against God’s enemies? If babies praise God, they do it uncomprehendingly, at least from an adult perspective. Yet the Bible teaches us that the Lord often chooses the weak to shame the strong. By using the weak to proclaim his message, God shows teaches us that he is ultimately in control, that all good things comes from him, and that there is nothing that can separate us from his love.
Today’s sermon was about “the writing on the wall” – a phrase that is inspired by a story from the Book of Daniel. In the story, an arrogant king is warned of the impending destruction of his city by a mysterious hand that appears out of nowhere and writes a cryptic message on a wall. Daniel decodes the message for the king and reveals God’s judgement.
The phrase “the writing on the wall” has come, for us, to mean an inevitable condemnation. But in its biblical context, it also means that there is an opportunity for grace – a moment where God reminds us to turn to Him and change, and by doing so, save ourselves.
We heard another lesson today, from the gospels, of Jesus saving the woman who had committed adultery from being stoned to death. That lesson wasn’t discussed in the sermon, but it also contains the elements of “the writing on the wall.”
The men who wished to condemn the woman must have certainly thought that “the writing was on the wall.” They though that surely Jesus would judge her for her actions.
But it was in fact the men who would be judged. Jesus condemned them for judging the woman so quickly and so harshly. He reminded them that they, like the woman, were not without sin. In doing so, Jesus gave both the woman and the men an opportunity for grace – to turn to God and change, and by doing so, save themselves.
Jesus also writes in the passage – not on a wall, but on the earth. We don’t know what words he wrote – but we, like Daniel, can read this story and see “the writing on the wall” - that we are quick to judge everyone except ourselves, but that God is reminding us to turn away from sin and towards Jesus, who saves us.
Three things I promise, Holy God,
In age and youth, in life and death:
To bless your Name and cling to Christ
and listen for the Spirit’s Breath