June 28, 2020 – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
A message from the Rev. Bob Smith
In order to keep us all safe, we continue to meet for worship in this weird and wonderful way. It may not be ideal but with the help of the internet and print, at least we can be somewhat connected. We can still gather around the word, and be reminded of the hope that is ours in Christ. And what a blessing to hear Laura’s wonderful stories and Rachelle’s beautiful music. God’s word is alive and well, and the church has survived worse obstacles than this pandemic.
Let us worship God together.
Grace and peace to you,
Rev. Bob Smith
Book of Praise – 483 “Glorious things of thee are spoken”
- video with no on-screen words ; minor differences between the sung words those in the hymnbook; see just below for the words
- words by English Anglican clergyman John Newton (1725–1807); music by Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809); tune is used for the national anthems of Austria and Germany.
Words to the hymn (per the hymnbook)
Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God;
One, whose word cannot be broken,
Formed thee for a strong abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded,
what can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
thou may’st smile at all thy foes.
See the streams of living waters,
springing from eternal love;
well supply thy sons and daughters,
and all fear of want remove.
Who can faint while such a river
ever will their thirst assuage?
Grace, which like the Lord, the giver,
never fails from age to age.
Round each habitation hovering,
see the cloud and fire appear,
for a glory and a covering,
showing that the Lord is near.
Thus they march, the pillar leading—
light by night and shade by day—
daily on the manna feeding
which God gives them when they pray.
Saviour, since of Zion’s city,
we, through grace, a part may claim,
let the world deride or pity,
we will glory in thy Name.
Fading is all worldly pleasure,
all its boasted pomp and show;
solid joys and lasting treasure
None but Zion’s children know.
Words: Public domain
Prayers of Adoration and Confession, Lord’s Prayer
Great God, in Christ you have called us to be your people, and given your spirit and word. Give us the courage now to worship you in spirit and in truth, knowing that it may change us, knowing that you may call us to new areas of discipleship. We come to seek, to find, and to be found, with confidence not in ourselves but in you. All praise be to you, Almighty God.
Holy God, we know you call us to holy living, but we confess that often in our daily lives, what we do is often anything but holy. The harshness of our words cause pain, our actions create barriers between us and others, we act selfishly and ignore the needs of others around us. God of mercy, forgive us for Jesus’ sake. Perform in us your work of renewal and transformation so that our lives may reflect your holiness. Purify us so that all that we do and say may be a witness to your love at work in us, and lead others not to stumble, but to turn to you in joy. In Jesus name we pray, and continue to pray in the words he taught us:
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 and the Peace
People of God, hear the good news. Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. the old life has gone; a new life has begun. Friends, believe the gospel. In Jesus Christ you are forgiven.
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
(And also with you.)
Genesis 27:1–29 <– this links to on-line text of the NRSV bible
This week, Christian Education Coordinator Laura Alary has a video, about which she writes:
“Following up on the Seven Wisdom Teachings from last week, I have decided to read a book with a strong environmental message. It is called We Are Water Protectors (2020, Roaring Brook Press, ISBN 9781250203557) and is written Carol Lindstrom, an Anishinaabe/ Métis writer from Maryland. The illustrations are by Michaela Goade, an artist of Tlinglit descent.”
A weakness of mine as a preacher
was my love of examining the lives of the minor players in the Bible.
The point of all this is that
one of the real scandals of the Christian faith
is the fact that Almighty God,
the creator of the world
who gave birth to all we are and have,
before whom all people will someday bow down —
this same God decided at some point along the way,
to enlist common folk like you and me
to get the divine work done.
And it isn’t just now,
when good prophets are hard to come by
and epistle-writing disciples are not selling a lot of books.
This is the way God seems to have worked
from the very beginning.
The Bible is filled with stories of people who,
when we look closely at them,
appear a lot like… well, us.
They’re ordinary folk,
complete with warts and weaknesses
who somehow end up being vehicles of the grace of God,
agents in carrying out the will of God.
They are a mixture of good and bad,
they have moments of brilliance
beside days of dullness,
occasions of faith
together with long seasons of doubt.
There are occasional times when they get it all together,
and astound even themselves at the insights they have,
and others when, to use the Gospel description of the disciples,
“they did not understand”.
Some of these characters are just simple nobodies,
others are rogues that you wouldn’t trust
as far as you could throw them,
but God somehow finds a role for each of them.
and their little contribution is recorded for all time
in sacred scripture.
And just so that we don’t start feeling superior,
probably one reason they are there is to remind us
what a mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses
we offer to God,
and how God can use us in spite of ourselves.
Maybe it’s God’s sense of humour,
maybe God is sometimes hard-up for help,
or maybe it’s just the way God works —
that out of unlikely saints like us,
God makes a people
who are called to show to the world
that God is love.
Helen and I will be devoting our summer “preaching”
to looking at the lives of biblical individuals,
a few well-know, but more of them obscure,
to see what we can learn from them.
The Biblical character I want to look at first,
is actually anything but a nobody,
but this guy is a rogue, which makes him so interesting.
I’m talking about Jacob,
the son of Isaac,
the grandson of Abraham,
one of the outstanding patriarchs of Israel.
He is so central a link in the covenant God made with Abraham,
that his name became synonymous with the country.
In him, God’s people are happy to find their identity.
However, not to put too fine a point on it,
Jacob is a fraud and a crook,
and Genesis makes no attempt to hide that.
Let’s take a quick look at his life.
Jacob is the younger twin brother of Esau,
and the story goes he was born holding on to his brother’s heel.
His name means one who grasps or takes —
not a bad name for him as it turns out.
The two brothers, as they grow, are completely different.
Jacob is a homebody,
Esau a hunter.
Jacob is bright and conniving,
Esau slow and naive.
And they can’t stand each other.
Their mother Rebecca likes Jacob best.
With her help, in a two-stage setup,
Jacob swindles his father Isaac and brother Esau,
taking something that was not rightfully his.
First he tricks his dumb big brother in a moment of weakness
out of his birthright — his preferred place in Daddy’s will —
and all for a bowl of soup, of all things.
Then, in a carefully planned deception,
he dupes blind old Isaac into giving him
the blessing that should have been Esau’s —
the story of our reading today.
When he finds out,
Esau is ready — understandably —
to throttle Jacob,
but Rebecca, their mother, arranges for Jacob
to take off to live with her brother Laban.
Jacob and Uncle Laban have a pretty uneasy relationship at times,
but to make a long story short,
Jacob cons his uncle
out of the best of his flocks.
Later on, when Laban is looking the other way,
Jacob sneaks off not only with all the prize-winning sheep and goats,
but both Laban’s daughters,
and just about everything else that isn’t nailed down,
including the household gods.
The interesting conclusion to the Laban part of the story
is that Jacob and uncle Laban later come to a grudging truce,
and make a covenant with each other
that will establish a workable, if shaky, peace
That covenant is sealed
with what is often called the Mizpah benediction,
named for the place where the agreement is made:
“The Lord watch between you and me
when we are absent from one another.”
It really isn’t a benediction or blessing at all —
it’s a threat, that
“God will get you if you try any more funny business
when my back is turned.”
That’s the way you have to do business
with a fellow like Jacob.
One little note to the Jacob story
is how it’s an example of how what goes around comes around,
or that the way you conduct yourself
has a funny tendency
to come back to haunt you.
Jacob’s treachery and deceit
beget more of the same.
It is little wonder that when Jacob is under Laban’s care,
Laban himself tries to turn the tables
and pull a fast one on Jacob
by tricking him into marrying the wrong daughter?
Honest, this is all in your Bible.
When Jacob wakes up on the first morning of the honeymoon,
discovers in his bed the plain older sister, Leah,
rather that the pretty younger one, Rachel,
whom Jacob really loves,
and who had smitten his heart
from the first moment he laid eyes on her.
And later on, Jacob’s own sons would pull the wool over his eyes
and lie about how they had sold Joseph into slavery.
Maybe that’s an instance of the sins of one generation
being visited on the next.
In these incidents,
Jacob reaps what he sows.
The trickster becomes the casualty of trickery,
the deceiver the victim of deceit.
Are you getting the picture this man, Jacob?
He wears a black hat in this story.
He is one of those people that gives you such a bad feeling
that when you shake hands with him,
you want to count your fingers
to make sure you got them all back.
I urge you to sit down and read the whole story —
Genesis chapters 25 to 35 or so.
It’s a pretty engaging tale.
The escapades of this Biblical scoundrel
make the afternoon soap operas
look like fairy tales.
So, the question is,
“What is this snake doing in our Bibles?”
How could someone like this
possibly be such an important part
of the covenant with God’s people?
How is it that he is listed for us
as an ancestor in the faith?
Well, maybe God uses Jacob as a reminder to us all
that it is not just good, saintly people
who find themselves in a position to carry a promise,
but also sinners and thieves,
tricksters and hooligans.
Let’s not say,
“Oh, God couldn’t use me because
I’m not good enough,
or I don’t know my Bible well enough,
or I have things in my past I’m not proud of.”
Instead, we can ask with Jacob,
“Even with my faults,
even with my sinfulness and failures,
even with those things in my past that I would rather forget,
how do you want to use me God?
What are you calling me to do?
In the confusing and ambiguous lives that we all live,
how will you make your presence known?”
Maybe the story of Jacob is telling us
to get off our kick about being good people,
and to stop trying to impress God
or make God notice us,
but just to get used to the idea that God can use even us
to build the kingdom.
There is one other little incident from Jacob’s life
that gives us a bit of a hint
about how God operates.
It is just after Jacob has swindled Esau out of his blessing,
and is running for his life
to see if Uncle Laban will take him in for his own protection.
This is not exactly Jacob’s finest hour.
At night he lies down under the stars,
and doesn’t even have the decency of a guilty conscience
to give him trouble getting to sleep.
In fact, the weasel sleeps like a baby,
and even has a wonderful dream
where he sees angels climbing up and down a ladder
between heaven and earth.
Then God appears,
and instead of chewing out Jacob the scoundrel
for the shameful way he treated his brother,
God blesses Jacob the covenant bearer.
“The ground you are lying on will be your own,” says God.
“You will be blessed with many descendants
who will be a nation
in whom other nations will find blessing.
And whatever happens,
I’ll be with you wherever you go.”
Even a rotten, two-faced con artist like Jacob
needs to know that there are some things in this world
that you can’t earn, much less steal.
They can only be given.
And the best is the love of God.
We don’t deserve it.
We can’t earn it.
We can’t even explain it.
We can only be blessed with it.
Ephesians 2 puts in more theological language:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not your own doing;
it is the gift of God.”
God doesn’t love us because of who we are,
but because of who God is.
It’s on the house.
It is grace.
Grace that Jacob of all people
would be the father of the twelve tribes of Israel,
and the many times great grandfather of Jesus.
Grace that you and I of all people
would be called to carry into the world
the new covenant of God’s good news in Christ.
Saints and sinners alike —
they’re all called to carry the promise,
they’re all invited to God’s banquet.
You know, we may be more like Jacob
than we would like to admit some days,
and to him and us, our gracious God say,
“I am going to show you, in spite of yourself,
that I love you,
and want you for my own.”
- “As the Deer”, music by American composer Martin Nystrom. This arrangement “As the Deer with Fairest Lord Jesus” by American composer and arranger Mark Hayes. © 1984 Maranatha! Music. Distributed by Universal Music Group / Hal Leonard Corporation.
- Music used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Video recording © copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
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Prayers of Thanksgiving and Hope
Great God, we thank you that you love us, that you do not give up on us, and that despite our failings and weaknesses, you can still use us and perform your good works through us. We praise you that you do not judge us on our own merit, but on what your son Jesus has done in us. We thank you, O God, for all your blessings.
We pray now for others who are in need of a special blessing from you. We pray for all in this country or far away who are hungry or homeless, who are persecuted or on the run, who are in danger or the victims of violence. While we are thankful that we seem to be making progress against the Covid-19 pandemic, we know that many places are struggling and lives are at risk. We also acknowledge the presence of racism, especially against blacks, even in our own community and country. Bring your healing and your peace, your presence and your hope in all these circumstances, we pray. Supply the needs of your children, and help your church to find its role in meeting the needs of your people. We pray too for those who serve to minister to those who struggle, that your love will shine through them, and that you will bless the work of all those involved in ministry to those who are poor and homeless of our city.
We remember your church around the world O God, ministering sometimes in places of danger and oppression, in times of tension and change. Give it courage in speaking your word, and bless the fellowship of believers so that they can be a true support to one another and a source of hope to the world around it. Where your church is struggling, encourage it. Where it is divided, unite it. Where it has become complacent, light a fire under it.
We thank you, O God, for calling us into your church, to be your people in the world. We are ready, God, to hear your word; speak to us and give us courage to do your will, and to go forward, confident of your power in us. Even with all our doubts and fears and shortcomings, use us to help build your kingdom. Guide us by your loving Spirit, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
All these prayers, O God, we ask in the name and for the sake of Jesus, our saviour and our friend. Amen.
Book of Praise – 647 “Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us”
- video with on-screen words ; one minor difference to the words in the hymnbook.
- Words by English architect and hymn writer James Edmeston (1791–1867); Music by German composer Friedrich Filitz (1804–1876).
Commissioning and Benediction
Go in peace,
and whatever you do, whether you speak or act,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,
giving thanks to God through him.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you all, now and forever. Amen.
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