The Revs. Smiths’ Message for January 17, 2021

Dear Friends,


O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 136:1

If you read Psalm 136 from beginning to end, you will see that it has 26 verses, and that the second half of every verse reads, “for God’s steadfast love endures forever.” The psalm was probably originally read responsively in worship, and 26 times in a row, the congregation’s response was the same, “for God’s steadfast love endures forever.” Do you think the Psalmist is trying to get us to notice something?

To every statement about the wonder and beauty of creation, for every item in the litany of how God’s people were brought out of slavery and given a land of their own, in every challenge or uncertainty that confronts the people of God still, that confidence and faith are still secure, because the answer is still, “for God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Maybe it is meant to teach us that the beauty and wonder of the creation around is an instance of, and a pointer to, that steadfast love of God. Maybe it is meant to be a public acknowledgement that indeed, every human circumstance, every trial or tribulation that is our lot can be answered by the steadfast love of God. Maybe it is meant to call the forgetful to remember how history bears this truth out, that wherever and whenever the people were lost or hungry, or thirsty, or sick, or oppressed, invariably they were guided, fed, healed and set free, through the steadfast love of God which endures forever.

What with political tensions in our neighbours to the south, a pandemic whose hold on us only seems to get worse, and with the coldest days of winter still ahead, we may feel at the mercy of dark forces beyond our control. To our despair, the Psalmist would probably say, remember how God has been there for you in the past, and face your uncertain future with hope. And our response, with people of faith through all the ages, will be, “for God’s steadfast love endures forever.”

May that be our confidence, our hope and our joy.

In Christ,

Revs. Bob and Helen Smith

A version of this message first appeared in the Saturday, January 16, 2021, edition of Tidbits.

The Revs. Smiths’ Message for January 10, 2021

Dear Friends,

The other day I was going for my walk down the PanAm path on the hydro corridor just west of our home. A man, walking his dog, was walking towards me, in my lane! I decided it was easier for me to move, so I moved over to the other side of the path. “Oh, the dog won’t hurt you.” said the man. “I’m not afraid of the dog.” was my reply. He laughed and said, “Yes, that is what things have come to these days, isn’t it?”

At the end of 2020, there were lots of lists around of lessons we are learning from the pandemic. One lesson common to many lists was the importance of connection, of community. That is such an integral part of our Christian faith. Luke, in the book of Acts, writes about how the early Christian community devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers, day by day, spending time together in the temple (Acts 2: 42–47).

“The Bread Cutter” (1933) by Swiss painter François Barraud (1899–1934); taken from the Wikimedia Commons.

As we look over the past few months, maintaining connections with one another has not always been easy. We can’t spend time together in the church building or visiting in our homes. That is what things have come to these days. But through phone calls, Tidbits, the website, the informal carol sing on Zoom last month, the novel methods of holding the Village Fair online and of distributing the Amnesty letters, and through prayer, we maintain our connection to one another.

And one of these days, as the vaccinations ramp up, we’ll be together — in person!

Revs. Bob and Helen Smith

A version of this message first appeared in the Saturday, January 9, 2021, edition of Tidbits.

The Revs. Smiths’ Message for December 20, 2020

Dear Friends,

The angel in the Christmas story spoke of a sign, something to indicate that God had finally acted to send the Messiah, a saviour who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you, you will find a child, wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

What are the signs of Christ’s coming today? His continuing to change the hearts of people to live for him. His moving us to acts of generosity and compassion for those in need. Movements for peace and justice, truth and righteousness. The lifting of the spirits of the downcast, enfolding of the outsiders, feeding of the hungry, giving hope to the despairing.

“Mary and Joseph register as part of the Census of Quirinius“; early 14th century mosaic, based on Luke 2:1, in the Byzantine Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, Istanbul; taken from the Wikimedia Commons.

Particularly this year, we might add the countless people whose selflessness and generosity are helping us all get through the pandemic — long-term care workers, health care workers in many roles, people providing the essential services that provide our needs, those who are reaching out to vulnerable people… the list goes on.

This will be a sign for you, that the spirit of God is moving in the hearts of God’s people and that people are responding to his call to discipleship and service. May we be able to see the signs of Christ’s coming this Christmas. And may we be a part of them — a sign to others that the Christ-child has been born in us, and that we have given him a place to rule in our hearts.

This Tidbits contains a link to our posting of this Sunday’s service to our website. We do plan to offer a Christmas Eve service as well — watch your inbox for a special Christmas Eve Tidbits link.

With wishes for a Christmas filled with joy and hope,

Revs. Bob and Helen Smith

A version of this message first appeared in the Friday, December 18, 2020, edition of Tidbits.

The Revs. Smiths’ Message for December 13, 2020

Dear Friends,

Gaudete! Or as we say in English, Rejoice!

Lunchtime last Monday, when we heard on the news that the vaccine was on its way to us, pending approval by Health Canada, which was expected to come next week, all I could think of was “Thanks be to God.” Lunchtime last Wednesday, when we heard on the news that Health Canada had approved the first vaccine, it happened again. “Thanks be to God.”

Which reminds me – Why is the advent candle for the third Sunday in Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday, pink?

Advent wreath with four violet and one rose candles, with three lit; taken from the Wikimedia Commons.

The change in colour signifies a change in mood. Up until this point in Advent the emphasis is on repentance, on preparation. But the time for the celebration of the birth of Christ is coming closer. And the mood starts to change to one of joy.

Gaudete Sunday announces this change with these traditional words: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God’ (Philippians 4: 4-6) and ‘Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob’ (Psalm 85:1). 

Blessings for Advent,

Revs. Bob and Helen Smith

A version of this message first appeared in the Friday, December 11, 2020, edition of Tidbits.

The Revs. Smiths’ Message for December 6, 2020

Dear Friends,

This Sunday, December 6, is the feast day of St. Nicholas, whom we now associate with Christmas. He was a 4th century bishop in Myra, in what is now Turkey. Known for his generosity and consideration of people in terrible circumstances, he is the patron saint of a long list of groups, including barrel makers, prisoners, children, brides, fishermen, pawn brokers and travellers.

“Two scenes from the life of Saint Nicholas”, panel from a triptych painted by Fra Angelico (c. 1395–1455), originally from the cathedral of San Domenico, Perugia; from the collection of the Vatican Museums; taken from the Wikimedia Commons.

Legends of his good deeds seem endless, and each of them seemed to add another group to the list of those who then claimed him as their saint. He provided bread for some hungry souls, and bakers were included. He is reported to have appeared to sailors, to guide them on storm-tossed seas, so then sailors joined in. And so on…

In many parts of the world, on Dec. 5, the eve of his feast day, children put their shoes just outside the front doors of their houses, and it is said that St. Nicholas comes during the night and fills the shoes with gifts such as sweets, chocolate coins, nuts and fruits to be enjoyed the next day. The Santa Claus that we have come to know developed out of the tradition of St. Nicholas, and our custom of hanging our stockings by the chimney with care on Christmas Eve may well be in homage to the shoes left by the door outside, both with great expectation of a kind visitor. And over time the notion of a caring, generous saint easily found a place in our celebration of the birth of the Saviour in Bethlehem, come to set his people free.

Grace and peace to you,

Revs. Bob and Helen Smith

A version of this message first appeared in the Saturday, December 5, 2020, edition of Tidbits.

The Revs. Smiths’ Message for November 29, 2020

Dear Friends,

Menorahs, Diwali lights, Advent wreaths. Many people of faith, at the darkest time of the year in Canada, turn to agents of light and find hope.

John refers to Jesus as the light of all people. And “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

Lit candles at the Milan Cathedral. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto.

Mary Jo Leddy, theologian and activist, wrote a book called “Say to the darkness, we beg to differ”. The title comes from graffiti found on a Queen St. West wall. The graffiti reads: “When we light a candle at midnight we say to the darkness we beg to differ.”

We are now in lockdown. Some of us have been laid off. We are to stay as much as possible in our own homes and avoid gathering with anyone, other than those in our own households.

But the light still comes. As you light your candles this Advent, say to the darkness: “We beg to differ.”

Blessings for Advent,

Revs. Bob and Helen Smith

A version of this message first appeared in the Saturday, November 28, 2020, edition of Tidbits.

The Revs. Smiths’ Message for November 22, 2020

Dear Friends,

This coming Sunday is the last in the church year, known as The Reign of Christ Sunday. A text frequently read for this is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46), one of a series of parables that Jesus uses to describe the kingdom of heaven. It is about entering the kingdom of heaven, and it is described in terms of a series of actions: feeding, giving, welcoming, clothing, visiting, and caring. And those actions are directed to those who are the most vulnerable: those who are hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned. It’s odd that there is no mention of worship, prayer, or reading scripture. Maybe the parable is telling us that the more “religious” actions are not ends in themselves, but are ultimately for the sake of tangible, caring acts of love and mercy.

“Separation of Sheep and Goats”; early 20th century reproduction of an early 6th century Byzantine mosaic; from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; taken from the Wikimedia Commons.

The reign of Christ reaches a climax here, not in a great victory won by force, but in a call to those who would follow, to do so in humility by serving ‘the least of these,’ the most vulnerable in our communities and around the world. He does not rule with pretensions of superiority or dominance, but through servanthood and compassion.

As the page is turned, and the cycle of the year begins again in just another week, the word that announces the Saviour’s coming does so with a hint about his calling: “You will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)

Grace and peace to you,

Revs. Bob and Helen Smith

A version of this message first appeared in the Saturday, November 21, 2020, edition of Tidbits.

The Revs. Smiths’ Message for November 8, 2020

Dear Friends,

One of the things that ended up in my hands in the cleaning out of my parents’ house after the they had passed away was a letter — in fact just a short note — that I have hung onto carefully ever since. It is addressed to my grandparents on my father’s side, the postmark on it reads July 1942, and on the back is the seal of Buckingham Palace. The note reads:

“The Queen and I offer you our heartfelt sympathy in your great sorrow. We pray that your country’s gratitude for a life so nobly given in its service may bring you some measure of consolation.”

It is signed by the King, George VI.

I cannot imagine what went through the minds of my grandparents when they found that note in their mailbox. The life nobly given was that of their son, my father’s brother, my uncle. My Dad also served in war. He was not one to talk about it a lot, but whenever I think of the cost of the war, I think of my uncle, and the brother my Dad lost in it. In pictures, I see that he looked a bit like my Dad. I wonder how that family dealt with it at the time. I wonder what kind of uncle he might have been if I’d had the chance to know him. I wonder if he had a girlfriend, and what that loss felt like to her.

One death, one family and a circle of friends bereaved. And the King sent out tens of thousands of similar notes to families across this country. It must have been a pain too heavy to bear.

“The National War Memorial in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, immediately following the Remembrance Day ceremonies on November 11, 2006.” Taken from the Wikimedia Commons.

Remembrance Day is a day of thanksgiving for the service of veterans and particularly to honour the men and women who gave their lives in the conflicts in which our country has been involved. For us as people of faith it is a day of prayer that we might seek the increase of peace and end the hostility of war. It is a day for us to commit ourselves to the cause of working for that peace — fostering goodwill and mutual understanding between people, and building bridges across the differences, suspicions and hostility that have too often divided the nations.

The prophet Micah foresaw a day when we would beat our swords into ploughshares, and not learn war any more. May that be our hope and prayer.

Grace and peace to you,

Revs. Bob and Helen Smith

A version of this message first appeared in the Friday, November 6, 2020, edition of Tidbits.

The Revs. Smiths’ Message for November 1, 2020

Dear Friends,

Two items to listen to this week.

“All Saints’ Day” (1888) by French painter Émile Friant (1863–1932); from the collection of the Centre Pompidou-Metz, France; taken from the Wikimedia Commons.

Firstly, as the pandemic stretches on, an addition to our pandemic playlist, “The Keep Going Song” by The Bengsons (apologies for the one spot of rough language towards the beginning, but still worth a listen).

And secondly, for all the saints, Sunday is All Saints Day. Frederick Buechner describes a saint this way: “In God’s holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints.” (p. 83, Wishful Thinking, A Theological ABC, Harper and Row, New York, 1973). As we contemplate the handkerchiefs God has dropped into our lives, listen to these words from Fred Rogers, as he accepts his Emmy Award.  We may be repeating an earlier Tidbits, but this time we have it in Mr. Rogers’ own voice.

For all the saints, Hallelujah!

Revs. Bob and Helen Smith

A version of this message first appeared in the Friday, October 30, 2020, edition of Tidbits.

The Revs. Smiths’ Message for October 25, 2020

Dear Friends,

October 31, 503 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his criticisms of the church of the day and propositions for its renewal to the door of Wittenberg cathedral. And thus began what we know of as the reformation of the church. John Calvin, from Geneva, was a second generation leader of the Reformation, born about a quarter century after Luther. It is Calvin’s work and leadership in Geneva that enabled the Reformed tradition to spread worldwide. Of all the reformers, his teaching is reflected in shape and teachings of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Portrait of John Calvin” (16th century) by Titian (1490–1576); from the collection of the United Protestant Church of France; taken from the Wikimedia Commons.

Calvin gave a central place to scripture but he was not a literalist. He believed that through the reading of scripture and its explication in a sermon, the Holy Spirit can help us hear God’s for us, in our time and place. The Bible is a means for us to receive that living Word, a set of texts that speak anew to every generation.

Our Church History Professor at Knox College, Dr. Allan Farris, described the church with the expression “Reformed, yet always reforming” or “Reformed, yet always being reformed”.

In these days of isolation, distancing, with no end in sight, may we hear and heed what reforming word the Spirit is saying to the church.

Grace and peace to you,

Revs. Bob and Helen Smith

A version of this message first appeared in the Saturday, October 24, 2020, edition of Tidbits.