It seems we spend a lot of our time worrying about whether we will have enough and be okay, all the way from the stories that fill the headlines, to our own day-to-day struggles. Will we be able to beat COVID? Will the Olympians be safe? Will there be some rain for the fires in BC? Will we have enough to pay the rent next month, and even to be able to retire sometime. We live our lives with a sense of scarcity, with a very commonsense idea of what is possible and what is not.
In biblical times, for most people their existence was pretty much hand to mouth — much more precarious than ours. And yet the message Jesus proclaimed was of a God of abundance. Not the abundance of hoarding up our riches in storehouses, but of being cared for and having our daily bread and something to share with others. When a huge crowd gathered around Jesus to hear his teaching and he instructed his disciples to feed them, they asked, “How do you expect us to buy enough for this many?” And from a gift of a boy’s lunch, all are not just fed, but “filled,” and with basketsful of leftovers (John 6: 1–14). There is an abundance, even beyond what we thought was possible.
There will be enough and extra. This might be Jesus’ response to our tendency to view the world and our lives through the lens of scarcity. God’s sheep are fed, and able to live in peace. By grace may we look forward in the confidence that God will provide enough, for all our needs, and with leftovers to share.
It sits in a clearing on the edge of the wood, weathered and grey, dead, a stump of a log. Yet from the heart of its rings comes a bouquet of green leaves. Life emerges out of death. The regeneration of creation is surely one of God’s miracles. Remember God’s words through his prophet, Isaiah? “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)
As we move out of lockdown, what will the new life be like? May we see again God’s creative power making all things new.
You know the challenge of the “elevator pitch”—reducing your argument or sales pitch to the duration of an elevator ride—say, 30 seconds. With the Christian faith, we might say, it is to understand and embrace the love of God for all people, and to answer the call to extend that love to others, particularly those who are vulnerable.
We are been overwhelmed by significant tragic news over the past week or two; a heat wave and terrible fires with most of a town destroyed in BC, a collapsed condominium tower in Florida, a political assassination in Haiti, and the ongoing shame of the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of indigenous children from residential schools in Canada. The psalms of lament come to mind in the sorrow we feel with such devastating news.
The two elements of our short expression of our faith are helpful here. There is the assurance of the love of God for all people, and especially the families and loved ones of those suffering from these terrible events. And there is the concern, prayers, and assistance flowing from people of faith who are in a position to help to lift them from their suffering.
May they know through our responses that God is with them.
When we are traveling we like to check out license plates. How many different provinces/territories/states can we find? It is a bit tough these days with borders closed. The slogans are always fun, trying to figure out what they tell you about the region. Alberta — Wild Rose Country, Nova Scotia — Canada’s Ocean Playground, Florida –The Sunshine State. One of our favourites is New Hampshire — Live Free or Die! So dramatic! For New Brunswick, our only officially bilingual province, the slogan is simply, “Be … in this place — Être … ici on le peut ” Just be — don’t do.
We spend most of our lives doing. It’s that old Calvinist streak in us — the Protestant work ethic that says we must be busy or we are not worthy. The Psalmist writes of being still and knowing God, of just being, and feeling the presence of God. We hope these summer months will give all of us time to just be — and sense that the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Revs. Bob and Helen Smith
A version of this message first appeared in the Saturday, July 3, 2021, edition of Tidbits.
Summer’s here, and school’s out! Well almost — just two more days.
I enjoyed school a lot. I might have helped that I did pretty well in terms of my marks. But all of it – the challenge of learning, my circle of friends, school sports and activities – were things I loved.
But even for me, I couldn’t wait for the end of June and the beginning of the holidays. Freedom, sleeping in, no homework, fooling around with my friends, travel — it was great. And especially right now, with two whole months stretching out before us, it seemed like heaven.
This has been a tougher year than normal in our schools, and that is true for teachers and administrators as much as for students. My guess is that for all of them, the arrival of summer holidays this year is especially welcome. Responding to COVID-19 seemed particularly tricky for our schools, so my guess is that the sighs of relief and the shouts of rejoicing in all the schoolyards (or living rooms!) will be heard right across the city.
From the days of creation, rest was a part of God’s design, for our enjoyment and renewal. Enjoy your holiday — you deserve it. Especially this year.
I think we are getting there. This week I did something I haven’t done for 15 months. I rode the TTC. I love the TTC. My Presto card still worked. I got on the right subway platform, remembered which end of the train to enter so that I would be at the right spot at Kennedy to get the escalator and stairs up to the LRT. And I remembered where to get on the LRT to get off at the right spot at the Scarborough Town Centre. A young woman gave me her seat. Oh yes, some seats were blocked off and we all had to wear masks.
But as, on the last stage of my journey, the bus trundled along the old, familiar route, and the recorded voice called out the stops — Dolly Varden (which I always call Dolly Parton) and Markham Road, on to Scarborough Golf Club Road and Orton Park, I felt more and more that truly, I am coming home.
Revs. Bob and Helen Smith
A version of this message first appeared in the Saturday, June 19, 2021, edition of Tidbits.
This week the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada adopted two important resolutions: the approval of same-sex marriages, and the ordination of LGBTQI elders and ministers. These questions have been before the church for many years, and have been the topic of many reports and study documents. To say the least, it has been a topic over which the church has been divided. The votes were decisive, but not overwhelming: 64% were in favour regarding marriage, and 61% for ordination.
For many, this is cause for great rejoicing. LGBTQI individuals have long felt the rejection of the church, and have suffered ridicule and shame by a body which proclaimed a God of love. For a picture of that suffering, you can view the YouTube video, “Not all are Welcome,” which was part of the report of the Rainbow Communion at the assembly (watch for the parts filmed at GCPC!). For many of those who have suffered that exclusion, this feels like a new day, and many are celebrating this huge step toward being a more inclusive church.
As many of us celebrate, we must remember that we are still a divided church over this matter, and that if we espouse a God whose love is for everyone, we are called to have compassion for those who will struggle with these changes.
Revs. Bob and Helen Smith
A version of this message first appeared in the Saturday, June 12, 2021, edition of Tidbits.
In Mark’s gospel, Mark 9: 14–29, Mark tells of Jesus’ healing of a boy who was possessed by a spirit that made the boy unable to speak. The boy’s disease manifests itself a lot like epilepsy, but we can also think of it as a metaphor for a dominant power which silences another. 215 children at a residential school in Kamloops, 66 Palestinian children, 2 Israeli children, Joyce Echaquan, George Floyd, all were silenced by the spirit of racism, by the dominant power of the day.
In Mark’s account, the disciples were unable to drive out the spirit in the boy and return his speech. They were so bound to the dominant social habits of the day they could not believe in, trust in or imagine anything beyond the dominant power arrangements and so they were reduced to impotence. But not Jesus. He heals the boy, and the boy stands tall. Jesus says, “This kind can come out only through prayer”. About this, biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann says “Prayer is a refusal to settle for what is. But this is real prayer, down and dirty. It is not nice church prayer that refuses to ask anything because we mostly do not believe that prayers are heard or answered.” (from Interrupting Silence: God’s Command to Speak Out, by Walter Brueggemann)
We are heartened, empowered by the support, the respect being given to Black Lives Matter, to those seeking equality and justice in Israel/Palestine, to the movement for truth and reconciliation between settlers and indigenous people in Canada, in response, in reaction to the silencing we have witnessed or of which we have been a part. And we are all called to follow Jesus, with a refusal to settle for what is, with real prayer, down and dirty, that the voices of those who have been silenced will be heard.
Revs. Bob and Helen Smith
A version of this message first appeared in the Saturday, June 5, 2021, edition of Tidbits.
It’s birthday time. This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, often called the birthday of the Church. Get out your red, orange, yellow clothes and put them on, signifying the fire of the Spirit that came on the followers of Jesus on that day, 50 days after Easter. Have birthday cake with candles for dessert at the Sunday dinner table. I suggest you use just a representative number of candles! It is the Spirit that can bring us together for this party, even if we are apart. Take some pictures and we will post them on Facebook or the website, or you can post them on your Facebook page.
Sunday also marks the beginning of the Season of Pentecost, or Ordinary Time, or the Growing Time. It is the longest of the liturgical seasons, lasting until the first Sunday in Advent. So there is lots of time we can fill with rich activities. The colour for this season is green, signifying life and growth. For some great suggestions of some activities you can participate in, by yourself or with your families, check out this article by Laura Alary in the newsletter of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE), Sparks and Seeds: Celebrating Pentecost and the Growing Time. I particularly like the clouds breath prayer.
Happy Birthday, Church!
Revs. Bob and Helen Smith
A version of this message first appeared in the Saturday, May 22, 2021, edition of Tidbits.
You’ve heard the story before — a group of high school students are given an assignment to produce a video together. The result was pretty good, and they share it with their classmates and friends on YouTube. And, of course, in a few days, it has gone “viral” — millions worldwide have viewed it. Like the picture of Bernie Sanders at the presidential inauguration, almost overnight it had officially become “a thing.”
When Jesus told his disciples that they would be his witnesses to the end of the earth, none of them could possibly imagine the scope of that assignment, let alone that the day would come when it would be possible to send a message around the world almost instantly. Or that it would become second nature for us as a church to be able to communicate by email, or even to worship. Thank God for those developments. It has meant that, despite the restrictions that a pandemic has imposed on us, technology allows us to be “together” in worship, even when we are apart.
Surely we should use whatever means we can to spread the good news. We suspect that to some extent we will continue to employ these electronic tools in our ministry as a congregation, even when we can worship together in person again. But where it all starts is in Jesus’ instruction to his followers, with each of us being prepared to give an account of the hope that we have in us, and to proclaim through our lives the good news of the love of God, shown to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Revs. Bob and Helen Smith
A version of this message first appeared in the Saturday, May 15, 2021, edition of Tidbits.