May 10, 2020 – the Fifth Sunday of Easter
A message from the Rev. Helen Smith
How long, O Lord, how long? I am beginning to feel like the Biblical poets. I don’t think most of us thought this physical distancing would go on for as long as it has, and it will probably be with us for some time. So — in the meantime — we carry on, as my father would say, as if we knew what we were doing. Well, some of us do know what we are doing, and Bob and I are grateful to Rob Quickert, our webmaster, Carolyn Ward who is looking after Tidbits, the Elders and Care Team who keep us connected by phone, Gaynor Tinker, Catherine MacOdrum and Linda Rouhinen who deliver these worship resources. As always, we provide these resources with the prayer that they will bring us together even when we are apart.
Rev. Helen Smith
Book of Praise – 470 “You that know the Lord is gracious”
- Video no on-screen lyrics. The sung lyrics differ from the hymnbook, primarily in the use of “ye” instead of “you”.
- Recorded by the Scottish Festival Singers on June 17, 2014.
- You can follow along using the lyrics in your hymnbook, or the ones reprinted here:
You that know the Lord is gracious, you for whom a cornerstone
stands, of God elect and precious, laid that you may build thereon,
see that on that sure foundation you a loving temple raise,
towers that may tell forth salvation, walls that may re-echo praise.
Living stones, by God appointed, each to its allotted place,
royal priests, by God anointed, will you not declare God’s grace?
Now a royal generation, tell the tidings of your birth,
Tidings of a new creation to an old and weary earth.
Tell the praise of God who called you out of darkness into light,
Broke the fetters that enthralled you, gave you freedom, peace and sight.
Tell the tale of sins forgiven, strength renewed and hope restored,
Till the earth, in tune with heaven, praise and magnify the Lord.
Words: copyright © 1950 by Hope Publishing Co. Used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
O God, on this Mother’s Day, we think of how you, with a mother’s heart, gather us as your children. You comfort and hold us in your warm embrace. When we hurt your arms enfold us. When we are afraid your wings protect us. When we are hungry you feed us with the bread of life. Your love surrounds and supports us in good times and in bad, in the midst of joy and pain. We praise you and we thank you this day that we are part of your family.
Forgive us, gracious God, for our wastefulness, for our homes with space and possessions that we do not truly need. If we have lost hope, lost patience, and become as dry, lacklustre dead stones, forgive us and refresh us. If we have become dead weights, make us again living stones. Fill us again with a passion for the Gospel.
Compassionate God, in the quietness now, we make our personal prayers to you:
our confessions of wrong doing, our need for healing.
Through the silence, Lord, hear our prayers. Silence
We pray in the name of Jesus and continue to pray as he taught, saying:
Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
God is merciful and loving. God’s mercies are new every morning. Great is God’s faithfulness. Thanks be to God that we are forgiven.
The peace of Christ be with you all.
1 Peter 2: 1-10 <– this links to on-line text of the NRSV bible
There is an advertisement that keeps popping up on my social media pages,
probably in anticipation of Mother’s Day.
It is for a bracelet, engraved on the inside with the words:
“Whenever you feel overwhelmed,
remember whose daughter you are
and straighten your crown.”
It reminds me of that line that parents will often say to their teenagers
when they are going out for the evening:
“Remember who you are.”
And they don’t’ mean remember your name.
They mean when you are at some party,
or in the presence of strangers,
in a challenging situation,
remember the core values with which you were raised.
They mean don’t engage in behaviour that contradicts those values.
And they mean remember that you are loved no matter what.
In the summer of 64 CE, a great fire destroyed much of Rome.
Nero, needing a scapegoat to blame,
selected the Christians for this dubious honour.
Suddenly to be a Christian was a criminal act.
Waves of oppression and persecution,
beginning in Rome,
washed over the Empire.
And so Peter, in Rome,
sits down to write this circular letter to the Christians in the Roman provinces
in what is now modern Turkey.
They are breaking new ground,
and it is threatening to those around them.
Theirs is a new identity
and it is life to them,
but it comes at great cost.
They are suffering great hardship,
even death, to come together as people of faith.
Friends from their circle have been taken and beaten and killed,
leaving a big, and scary hole in their fellowship.
And so when a letter from Paul arrives,
a thrill of excitement goes through this little church
and when they gather this night quietly,
and with no more than one little candle by which to read,
the anticipation is high.
They gather close and one reads the letter in barely more than a whisper.
“It will be hard for you” and they are all nodding grimly.
“The stone (that is, Jesus) on which we are building a new sort of temple,
is also a stone that will make many stumble —
they are the ones who are now making your life so difficult.”
“But don’t forget —
you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.
God’s own people.”
And with each phrase energy is pumped into that little circle.
Discouragement leaves the stooped shoulders
and backs straighten up in pride and confidence.
Eyes that were sad and tired brighten and are given new life.
“Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.”
The early church took these words of Peter
and applied them to the liturgy of the sacrament of baptism,
the sacrament of identity.
Our identity has been given to us by God and that changes everything for us.
Note all the action is God’s —
God chooses, God calls us out of darkness, God claims us, God shows us mercy.
Like almost everyone else in the world today,
we put a lot of stress on human strivings, aspirations, doubts.
We talk about human problems, frailty and falsehood.
We tell people to get out there and start living right
and thinking right or feeling right.
Christian faith is an achievement,
a goal of people earnestly trying to “get right with God”.
This all sounds reasonable in our self-help, achievement-oriented society.
But it does not sound like good news.
The good news, the gospel, says that we do not need to “get right with God.”
The good news, the gospel, says we are right with God.
We do not need to work to get anywhere.
We have arrived.
We are not miserable wretches inching our way into God’s good graces.
We are royalty who already have assigned seats in the Kingdom —
by God’s grace.
This is who we are,
not because we are basically good people after all,
not even because we are basically bad people
who must admit we are bad, start living right,
and thereby make ourselves good.
We are who we are by God’s grace.
We are who we are because God has loved us, chosen us, adopted us,
anointed us for God’s own.
We can muddy up the good news with a bunch of shoulds and oughts.
You ought to love others,
you should live a better life.
You ought to grow up and act your age.
You should give yourself to God.
Baptism says little about what we ought or should do.
It asserts who we are.
A new people. A holy nation.
We are royalty so we might as well get used to it.
It makes all the difference in the world
whether we see being Christian as something which we ought to do
or as something which we are.
When we tell our children,
“Make something out of yourselves”,
we are implying that they aren’t worth much as they are.
Better to tell them we love them,
believe in them,
know they are terrific.
Then the behaviour arises out of a desire to be who they are,
rather than a fear of what they might be.
Remember who you are.
Baptism doesn’t say
“You can be God’s own if you do this or believe that.”
How typical of modern life for us to put the shoe on the other foot
and view faith and identity as something we do,
as an achievement rather than a gift.
Baptism says, “You are God’s own with no doubts at all.”
As a bit of an aside —
in taking Peter’s words into the baptismal liturgy,
this is not to say that someone is not a child of God
until he or she is baptized.
It is saying that it is difficult for a person to know that he or she is a child of God
until he or she is baptized.
The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II did not make her a queen.
But the nation said publicly at the coronation,
“This woman is royalty, put a crown on her head.”
At baptism, the church says publicly “This person is royalty, baptize her.”
Lots of people will try to tell us who we are —
It is the work of most ad campaigns,
describing latest trends,
describing your bank accounts or lack thereof.
You can be with it – or not.
You can be smart — or not.
You can be successful – or not.
You can be part of the crowd — or not.
Lots of people will try to tell us who we are.
Remember who you are —
a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.
Once you were no people but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.
It was a similar song sung as Jesse Jackson began worship
in his inner-city Chicago congregation.
Jackson had the entire church shout with him in unison,
I was nobody.
But now, thank God I’m somebody!
There in the midst of economic and racial oppression,
when the whole world told these people that they were nothing but nobodies,
the church dared to be different and belligerently shout forth
that as God’s cherished children they were somebodies.
Who tells us who we are?
During these days of pandemic,
days which are going on longer than most of us ever thought they would,
we might start to wonder who we are.
Some of us are working from home,
and on the zoom meeting we keep forgetting to unmute the mike,
can’t quite get the technology straight.
And we feel stupid.
Some of us are laid off,
not able to go to work,
not able to exercise our creativity,
to be productive in society.
And we feel worthless.
Some of us have had our hours cut back,
and we wonder how we are going to pay the bills
and feed our families.
And we feel stressed out.
Some of us are parents of young children,
being asked to help homeschool our children,
and on top of everything else it is just too much,
and we’ve given up.
And we feel we are failures.
Some of us are students
and we have trouble with on-line learning
and we are unable to get a summer job.
And we feel anxious.
Some of us are sick
and we worry that we are a drain on our country’s health care.
And we feel we are a burden.
Some of us are retired,
and we can’t go out to our volunteer positions.
And we feel useless.
Some of us live alone.
And we feel lonely.
So listen, one more time, to Peter’s words:
even when we are physically apart from each other, we are:
A chosen race
A royal priesthood,
A holy nation,
God’s own people,
In order that we may proclaim
the mighty acts of the One who called us
out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.
Once we were not a people,
But now we are God’s people;
Once we had not received mercy,
But now we have received mercy.
We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of Sunday worship, you may sign up for pre-authorized remittance (PAR), donate online via our CanadaHelps page, or drop off your offering envelope in the mailbox at the church. Do not leave a cash donation unattended in the mailbox; instead, please call the office (416.261.4037) to ensure someone will be there to receive it. The building will be checked daily for mail and phone messages. If you are not comfortable leaving an envelope, you are welcome to contact the office (once again, 416.261.4037) and someone will pick up your offering.
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Hope
God we are thankful for the healing of the earth as life slows down. May we learn from these times, better ways to care for the earth and for each other.
We are thankful for family and friends who love us, who keep in touch. Help us to reach out to people who may be isolated at this time.
Great giving God, we are grateful that we are part of your household, recipients of your life, love and mercy. We are grateful for Jesus Christ, the solid cornerstone, and for the Holy Spirit, enlivening us to be living stones in the building of your kingdom.
As living stones, and with your help, may we build up our homes so that they are places of peace, comfort, and rest. Help us to build up our workplaces so that they are places of innovation and creativity, safety, and satisfaction, to build up our community so that the isolated may find friendship and the marginalized find welcome, and the unloved find acceptance. Build up the Church in these difficult times so that all may find their place, unique, chosen and essential to the living edifice of your grace. May everyone know their value in your economy and their significance in your eyes.
Loving God, we place into your care healthcare workers, all who are working to keep us healthy, to bring healing, to put food on our tables. May they know our deep gratitude for all they are doing.
We pray for the sick and for the dying, that they may know the fullness of life, that life in abundance that you bring.
Today, on this Mother’s Day, we pray with thanksgiving for all those who are or have been as mothers to us, giving us life and hope.
We pray for those women who bear invisible scars, those who couldn’t have a child, those who did, but lost the child through death or adoption.
We pray too, for those who cannot love their mother or their child and who no longer have the strength to try.
And we pray for those who have no day that speaks their worth, tells their story and reminds them that they are also a gift to the world.
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour, our Cornerstone. Amen.
Book of Praise – 472 “We are God’s people“
- video with on-screen lyrics; small differences in the text from the hymnbook.
- recorded on January 24, 2016, at Lake Avenue Congregational Church; Pasadena, California.
May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. AMEN (Romans 15:13)