Fifth Sunday of Easter ~ May 10, 2020
Note: Each time you see a musical link in the liturgy, mute or lower the volume on your device before clicking on the link. Once you have done that then click on the link. If an ad pops up, you can then “Skip Ad” and not be disturbed by the noise of the advertisements. Once you see that the music is beginning then unmute or raise the volume on your device. This will allow a more meaningful worship experience for you. Peace be with you.
Prelude: How Great Thou Art Swedish melody arr. D. Miller https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOpd3Jxnfjo
We acknowledge that we live and work on the unceded, ancestral and traditional territories of indigenous peoples. We accept that Mother Earth and the peoples near us and around the world are all our relations. Thanks be to God.
Let us worship God together.
Introit: Exsultate Deo A. Scarlatti
Sing joyfully to God our strength; sing loud unto the God of Jacob!
Take the song, bring forth the timbrel, the pleasant harp, and the viol.
Blow the trumpet in the new moon, at the time appointed for our feast day. [Psalm 80]
Call to Worship: We worship today remembering and honouring all those who identify as female. Centuries of women are our sisters and we celebrate the lives they have lived. We hold up half the sky and we see its beauty stretched out before us. We have discovered the Divine in us, around us and between us. We celebrate this day and all that is before us. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Hymn: Christ is Made the Sure Foundation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bC0tgG_blE
Prayer of the Day: Loving and persistent God, who searches for us like a mother in search of healing for her daughter, continue to seek after us until we respond,
giving you the respect, adoration and commitment that you deserve; so that we, as a Community of Faith, may be known and experienced as healers and peacemakers. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Listening for THE WORD
Hymn: Seek Ye First https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GS2xzxf6dZY
Scripture Reading: John 14:1-14 (read by Meghan Martin)
14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. This is the story of our faith. Thanks be to God.
Choral Anthem: Esto les digo K. Lange
This I say to them: If two of you gather and agree, here on earth,
about what you ask in prayer, my Father, who is in heaven, will grant it to you.
Reflection: by Steven Ansley
This was not the sermon I had intended to give when Jay offered it to me. In a flash of insight, I knew immediately how I was going to talk about my own personal journey these last several years, tie it into the evolution of the Church, and talk about hope for the future. And it was going to be funny, and people were going to come away feeling lighter and full of purpose. But, nothing remains untouched in this age of pandemic. Not even sermons. So, while I mourn the passing of one idea, I embrace the same scripture from a different angle.
Those of you who know me well will know that I am quite fond of film. For all my formative years spent in pew, just as many have likely been spent in a darkened movie theatre. And one of the things I miss most in this time of isolation is going down to the Cinematheque with my friends for an art house film followed by a long discussion over a piece of pie.
I bring this up, mainly, because my love of film has made me an amateur theorist on, the nature of heroism. In one of my favourite films, High Noon, a town marshal learns that an outlaw is riding toward town to get revenge on him. He tries to rally the town, but one after the other, each citizen turns him away due to fear, pride, ambition, or greed. Left with no one to count on, the marshal puts on his guns, ready to die for a town that cares nothing for him. I suspect that there are many first responders, seeing crowded beaches and anti-lockdown protests, feel this way sometimes. So, the question remains ‘why?’
Tell you what, let’s put a pin in that for now.
The gospels are not just a story of Jesus, but also the disciples: Those well-intended, stumbling people trying to keep up as they decode parables, witness mind-bending miracles, and make assumptions only to have them deconstructed in real time. While it was undoubtedly an amazing time of life, it is easy to imagine it being taxing on their minds and hearts. Science tells us that we often react to being told that we’re wrong the same way we react to physical pain. So, it takes a certain grit to ask questions at risk of being shot down, and then re-examine our assumptions; something the disciples no doubt grappled with on a daily basis.
Our reading comes from what is referred to as the Farewell Discourse: the events of the Last Supper and the last dialogue between Christ and his disciples before he is arrested and sentenced to death. For some, it is the last time that they will see their leader and friend before seeing him nailed to a cross. We often depict it as a solemn and holy occasion, but on the human side of things, I imagine it was a very uncomfortable dinner. Imagine if the most important person in your life told you that everything your life had been about was ending and that they will die. And then they shrug as they say that you will disown them. This gives some idea of the atmosphere.
But then, something important happens. Jesus tells them all is not lost. God has a place for them, he will take them there, and, what’s more, that they already know the way.
Thomas – whom I often feel doesn’t get enough credit – says, probably with some weariness, what everyone is thinking, “We have no idea what you’re talking about. And even if we did, how the heck are we supposed to get there?”
And then we come to that line, that famous line that everyone remembers, even if they completely forget the rest of the passage: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’.
Obviously this is problematic to our modern pluralistic sensibilities, met in liberal circles with an uncomfortable shuffling as we suddenly contemplate our shoes. Meanwhile, across the aisle and throughout history, this line is stripped of context and emblazoned as a battle standard: ‘Embrace Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour, or else…’
But that misses the whole point. As we’ve heard before, John was writing for a very specific group of people; a people maligned by Jews and persecuted by Romans. It is a text written for a suffering minority, not a national or institutional Church. Further, if we look at the original Greek, the phrase “If you know me, you will know my Father also”, we find that this conditional sentence is a conditional of fact. Meaning, it might be better understood to mean “If you know me (and you do), you will know my father also”. It is a word of comfort, not a condemnation or a threat for future generations. It is a promise that lends strength to what Jesus says after, which is “From now on, you do know him and have seen him”. This is a promise that the disciples have attained the personal transformation that they were seeking.
But the disciples aren’t quite convinced. In times of trouble, sometimes the only thing more terrifying than condemnation is vague reassurance. Philip does what many of us might do, and bargains: show us the Father. Give us a sign and that’ll be enough to shore us up. Jesus’ answer, ‘Don’t you know me…after so long?’ blasts a subtext heard loud and clear over two thousand years later: ‘Haven’t you been paying attention? Everything I said and did showed the Father to you, because we are two threads in the same stitch. Just as you and I are.’
In other words, Jesus is not the only the hero of the story. He is the mentor to the other members of this Hero’s Journey: the disciples. This is their final lesson before the test of the crucifixion, and the reward of the resurrection; before they are commissioned to spread all that they have learned. To paraphrase Joseph Campbell: “Those who know… that the Everlasting lies in them…drink the brew of immortality and listen everywhere to the unheard music of eternal concord”. They are on the final path to becoming the heroes of the story; sent out to mould people as they have been moulded; to create followers of Christ inspired by his Word and acting after his example; to create heroes in their own story.
And despite what was to come, that’s what they did. Despite his denials, Peter becomes the rock of the Christian Church. Despite his skepticism, history suggests that Thomas spread Christ’s teaching beyond the bounds of the Roman Empire, going as far as Kerala in India. Despite the omens of death, Christ walked into Gethsemane. Why do it? So that we could hear the words, so that we could know the Father, so that we could be the heroes of the story.
In these terrifying times, it can be hard to see the good being done, much less how we can add to it. Even now, as the curve begins to flatten, we are inundated with stories of body counts, people out of work and closing businesses. As ever, the media tells us a great deal about what’s wrong, but gives us few solutions. There is so much uncertainty about life: uncertainty about the next year, the next day, and the next hour. And I fear the only antidote is acceptance.
We don’t know what the future will be like this pandemic, but we know it won’t necessarily be easy. Businesses will close, bodies will be unburied, and the traumas of this time may stretch down into the decades. My grandparents grew up in the Dustbowl during the Great Depression. To the end of her life, my grandmother always put her cups in the cupboard upside down. I came of age in the Post-9/11 world and entered the world of work just as the market hit bottom the last time. There may never be a day when I can board an airplane without thinking about what might happen; or contemplate a job search without knots forming in my stomach. This plague may stretch on, and the economic consequences stretch on still longer. The young graduates of this world may face the kind of privation not seen in over a decade, perhaps even a century. It is so very easy to give in to fear or worse fatalism. It would be so easy to say it’s all over or that it makes no difference.
Nevertheless, most of us continue on physically distancing, making and wearing masks, making phone calls to the isolated, enduring the crushing loneliness and the uncertainty. Why? For the same reason the marshal goes to fight outnumbered and unloved and Jesus marches towards death at Gethsemane. Yes, it might make us safer – make others safer – but deep down I think there is some granular certainty, some objective truth: it is, objectively, the right thing to do.
As Albert Camus’ existential hero said in The Plague “I have no idea what’s awaiting me, or what will happen when this all ends. For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing.”
There will come a time for each of us to be the hero. For those of us on the frontlines, that time is now and it is constant. I thank God every day for you and I know we all do as well. For the rest of us, our heroism can and must take other forms. There will come a time for each of us to show strength, whether it is buying groceries for an at-risk neighbour, having a zoom chat with a church member stuck at home or an isolated friend, writing chalk slogans on the sidewalk, banging pots at 7:00 pm, helping a young person in our lives find work or support, praying for the sick and the frightened.
Our new ministers will soon arrive from Saskatchewan. They will have to isolate for fourteen days, alone in a strange city, without the consolation of their friends and family. It is the worst way I can imagine beginning a new life. Making them feel welcome, cared for, and safe would be the best proof that Shaughnessy and God’s church possess good intentions and vitality to execute them out in the world. Even apart.
We do not know when this trial will pass, or what comes after it; but I do know that this will be the time for us to be the heroes in our own story. The Church, led by Jesus our way, truth, and life, will do what it has always done at its best: feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, give shelter the homeless, ransom the captive, visit the sick, and, yes, bury the dead.
The challenge lies ahead. To know God is to rise to meet it; to pray and praise without ceasing; to fight on with all the courage, decency, kindness, and will that we possess.
May it be so. Amen.
Choral Anthem: In My Father’s House P. Stopford
Hymn: Blessed Assurance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pnMbfXnP7YY
Pastoral Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer: (led by Meghan Martin) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8qubzWMx5k
as we settle into prayer this Mother’s Day Sunday we give thanks for all of the life giving forces in our lives. For the women who raised us, who guided us, and who continue to inspire us. For our Mother Earth whose beauty calms and connects us. And for your own mother-like love which sustains us. For all of these sources of life, we give you thanks.
Gracious God, as we reach a new stage in our fight against COVID-19 we give thanks for the leadership shown here in BC and around the world. We pray that you will grant those who have worked so hard for so long an opportunity for rest. We pray that you will grant each of us the patience and perseverance that we need to continue to take actions to protect one another.
Compassionate God, we pray for everyone experiencing illness, and in particular those who are struggling with their mental and emotional health at this time. We pray for those who are awaiting medical treatment and we ask for your blessing on those who have passed away and who are mourning the loss of a loved one. In particular, we pray for Betty Snodgrass and her family as they mourn the passing of Andy. In our hearts we name to you all of those for whom we have concern this week and we trust that you will surround them with your healing and your strength.
Loving God, although so much of our focus is on one disease right now, we know that does not put a halt to corruption, racism, poverty and other hardships. We pray for the people and places around the world that are in need of your loving care. In particular, we pray for those who continue to live with opioid addiction and we pray for those who are struggling to meet their basic needs. We also pray for those members of our community who are targeted with racist violence. With our new appreciation of our interconnectedness, help us to see their struggles as our own and take steps to ensure the safety and security of all people.
Holy One, within our church community, we are preparing for that time when we bless Rev. Jay’s move to her new communities of faith and welcome our two new Ministers, Rev. Dave and Rev. Deb. We appreciate the challenge in our community and Dave and Deb’s communities of parting with one Minister and welcoming another without having the chance to gather. We ask for your blessing on all of the communities of faith affected and your strength and guidance for our Ministers during this time of transition.
Finally, God, we pray for ourselves. The list of things we have left undone seems to grow every day. The list of people we want to connect with weighs on our minds and we wonder if we are doing enough for those who are less fortunate than us. Help us to be compassionate towards ourselves and others at this time when routines and norms have been upended. Give us patience and give us courage to continue to find new ways to be Christ’s servants in the world today.
Hear us as we pray as Jesus taught using the words of our Indigenous Australian neighbours.
Great Spirit, Creator of all,
from the stars to all the earth,
loved and respected be your name.
May it happen that all should live in your way
following your purpose for all creation.
Enable us to find what we need for today’s journey.
Forgive us when we go wrong
as we forgive those who wrong us.
Have compassion on us when we are being tested.
Do not abandon us to fear and evil.
Our hope is in your new community.
You are the one who can transform all creation,
making everything new,
now and for all eternity. Amen. Indigenous Prayer from Australia
Response: Ubi Caritas https://youtu.be/hHkmOi5Wzgo
Our Offering: In response to God’s great love for us we return to God a portion of what has been given to us. Take a moment now to offer the gifts of your time, your talent and your money for the work of ministry. Prepare to give the offering away. As you do, tap that part of yourself where gratitude resides. Give thanks and give back to God. No gift is too small, and all gifts are sincerely appreciated.
Choral Anthem for Reflection on the Offering:
O God Beyond All Praising G. Holst, arr. D. Forrest https://youtu.be/7G_u734OP-c
Prayer of Dedication:
Great God, we give our offerings to you from the gifts you have given to us.
Thank you for your provision, for your presence, for your love.
May these offerings further your purposes through Shaughnessy Heights United Church and all those who serve you. Amen.
Hymn: The Church’s One Foundation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHCqXL3mCwU
Commissioning and Benediction:
Be witnesses in the world of God’s resurrection power by caring for the safety of others and doing so with all the confidence, joy and courage of an Easter people. Shout with all your might that the God of Life has had the last word, for Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!
Postlude: Tu es petra (You are the Rock) H. Mulet https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nh9nozKnO0Q