July 12, 2020 – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
A message from the Rev. Bob Smith
So, is it hot enough for you? I was thinking about facing another Sunday when we cannot be together for worship. But then I thought, I’ve worshipped at Guildwood in the summer, and let’s just say it was a bit warm. Maybe there’s a hidden blessing in not being together.
In the first century church, worship never had anything to do with a building. But it did include being together. It is now almost four months since we have gathered, and still, hot or cold, we cannot be together safely. So we reach out to one another in other ways. One is this electronic version of worship. I hope it brings some blessing and hope to you.
Grace and peace to you,
Rev. Bob Smith
Book of Praise – 321 “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”
- video with on-screen lyrics; major differences to the words in the hymnbook; follow along on the screen
- Words: original text (1680) by German theologian and hymn-writer Joachim Neander (1650–1680); English translation (1863) by English educator and hymn-writer Catherine Winkworth (1827–1878); music: tune “Lobe den Herren”, likely based on a German folk melody.
- This recording by the Altar of Praise Chorale.
Prayers of Adoration and Confession, Lord’s Prayer
O God in whom we live and move and have our being, even at a distance, we come together in your presence to hear your word and sing your praises. Gather up the prayer of each heart into one harmony of worship and service, that we might truly be one body in Christ. Accept us, our prayers, and the thoughts of our hearts for we are yours in Christ.
God who loves and leads and empowers, we confess to you now that we often ignore your call to service, and doubt your ability to shape and use us for your good work. We sell ourselves short and say we aren’t good enough. We fail to see the good that you have done in us, or acknowledge the role we might have in building up your reign on the earth. Give us courage as your people, we pray. Help us to be confident workers in your vineyard, eager to offer the gifts of the Spirit that are present in us, and ready take the risk of discovering what you can accomplish in us. In the name of Jesus we ask these things, and we join our voices now in the prayer than 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
Friends in Christ, hear the good news. The mercy of God is from everlasting to everlasting. I declare to you, in the name of Jesus, you are forgiven. Thanks be to God. Amen.
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
(And also with you.)
Genesis 29:15–30 <– this links to on-line text of the NRSV bible
This week, Christian Education Coordinator Laura Alary has crafted two videos, about which she writes:
“I have chosen two books which suggested themselves to me as I was contemplating the ups and downs of these pandemic days.
The first, My Many Colored Days (and yes, I left out the “u” because it was published in the States) was written by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) and published posthumously, one of the few books he wrote without also illustrating it. He wanted his story about feelings and moods to be illustrated by “a great color artist who will not be dominated by me.” It took two decades before husband-and-wife team Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher were chosen to create the images for the book.
While it is important to acknowledge that we all have a range of feelings—and sometimes very mixed-up days—there are certain practices and habits of mind that can help us through them. One of these is the practice of gratitude—intentionally looking for things that are good or beautiful or praiseworthy, and actually saying thank you for them. The second book, Thank You God for Everything (by August Gold; illustrations by Wendy Anderson Halperin; G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers; ISBN 978-0399240492), shows us a little girl doing exactly that.”
This is the story of two sisters,
Leah the older, and Rachel the younger.
Leah who has weak eyes,
and Rachel who is “lovely in form and beautiful.”
Leah has weak eyes?
Actually, nobody is really sure
what the original Hebrew means here,
weak, dull, lacking in sparkle?
wrong shade of make-up?
For me, I doubt there’s anything wrong with Leah’s eyes at all.
This all about comparing her to her little sister.
The point is, Leah’s eyes are not as nice as Rachel’s.
And neither is anything else about Leah’s appearance.
Rachel is lovely in form and beautiful —
she has a nicer figure than her big sister
she moves more gracefully,
clothes hang more attractively on her,
her hair holds its shape better,
she has a nicer smile —
in short, she is stunningly beautiful,
and Leah is not.
There is nothing wrong with Leah,
except that she is not Rachel.
And Leah is reminded of this everyday.
When the hired hands are around
they are all eyes for Rachel,
but pay no attention to Leah.
All Rachel has to do is look at them in that way of hers,
and they would follow her to the ends of the earth,
but Leah, they don’t even notice her —
it’s as if she were invisible —
Potential suitors are lined up at the door for Rachel,
but no one calls for Leah.
I wonder what that has done to Leah over the years.
I wonder what her self-esteem is like,
living in the same house with a knock-out like Rachel.
Does she go jogging to get her weight under control?
practice moving in front of a mirror
to mimic Rachel’s way?
shop for clothes that will make her look as good as Rachel?
It’s no use.
She will never be as attractive
as her little sister Rachel.
So it’s no surprise to Leah
when this distant cousin, Jacob, shows up,
and pretty much falls for her beautiful little sister at first sight.
She has seen it all before,
watching from the shadows
while Rachel gets all the attention.
[If this is sounding a little familiar,
you may recall it from the sermon a couple of weeks ago
about what a scoundrel Jacob was.]
Pretty soon, Jacob has moved in —
sleeping on the couch for awhile
until he can find work.
Well, the sisters’ father Laban has work to be done,
and pretty soon,
he and Jacob have worked out an arrangement.
Jacob will work for him for seven years,
in return for being able to marry the lovely Rachel.
Sounds like a high price to me,
but, hey, it must be love.
Leah is sort of happy for Rachel…
but couldn’t someone notice her for a change,
Will anyone ever love her?
Has she any hope of ever being married?
The years go by, and Jacob and Rachel are always together
holding hands whenever they get a chance
laughing at their secret jokes,
blushing when anyone speaks of their far-off wedding day.
And through all of it,
Leah is in the background.
The Bible says, the seven years seem to Jacob like only a few days,
because of the love he has for her.
And we’re all meant to say,
Ah, isn’t that sweet.
And Leah just wants to gag.
Seven years of hard work later,
the wedding day finally arrives.
But at the last minute,
Laban switches Leah for Rachel,
the daughter with the weak eyes for the beauty,
and walks the wrong one up the aisle, to say “I do.”
Hard to imagine Jacob not noticing,
but you know, bridal veils and all.
In fact, even harder to imagine,
Jacob and Leah take to their marriage bed that night,
and it is not until the light of day the next morning,
that Jacob gets a good look at her,
and realizes he’s been had.
Laban has tricked him,
and he has married the wrong sister.
Jacob complains to Laban,
and Laban’s response is,
didn’t you read the fine print?
Maybe I forgot to tell you,
but we have this custom
that the younger can’t marry before the older.
but rules are rules.”
After some hasty negotiations,
a second deal is worked out.
Jacob has to keep Leah,
the daughter who had little chance of ever being married off;
and for another seven years of work,
Jacob can have Rachel as well.
Now we aren’t told if another seven years seem to Jacob
like just a few more days
because of the love he has for Rachel.
But when all is said and done,
the Bible does tell us very simply,
of the two sisters he has married,
Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah.
So the question is,
how does Leah, the plain older sister,
feel about all of this?
How does it feel to know
that the only way she ended up having a man in her life
is by deception?
that she and her sister will share the same husband
but that he really loves her sister more?
And how does it feel
that this has a lot more to do with looks,
and how her sister can move her hips
and flick her hair out of her eyes,
than any deeper qualities.
Because, goodness knows,
no one has ever taken the trouble to look at her,
“the sister with weak eyes,”
to see if she has any deeper qualities.
It’s not so much that Rachel is chosen over Leah,
but that Leah is not even considered.
She is completely overlooked,
and not just by Jacob,
but by everyone who is dazzled by Rachel’s beauty.
Leah is the one not loved,
not even noticed.
Leah is any one of us
who can’t find a date for Saturday night,
let alone a marriage partner,
the one who is the last one taken — the leftover —
when teams are picked for baseball,
the one who is not chosen for
the job, or the special assignment,
or class president, or king or queen of the prom,
the one who falls in the gold medal race,
when the whole world is watching,
or who never got to the final at all.
And the message for Leah and us, we think, is
that we’re losers,
we don’t count,
we messed up,
How else do you deal with the fact that this world worships and rewards
beauty and athleticism
and charm and being articulate
and having a good sense of humour?
Those of us that don’t have those wonderful qualities
are just not as good
and will never go as far.
Anyone who has been rejected or overlooked for another
whether in love, or in school, or in the workplace,
or maybe even in the church,
knows what it feels like.
We may put on a brave face,
but there is a little something that dies inside of us
when that happens.
We begin not just to suspect, but to believe
that we are no good.
The good news, though,
is that we are children of God,
who find our life in Christ.
The message of the world may be so deafening
that any other word is hard to hear.
And the values of the world after a while
seem to be so compelling
that nothing else seems to matter.
But the harder to hear message
is that we belong to God;
and the more compelling value
is that God loves us.
This is the God who for a lark
dresses the lily up in exquisite beauty,
but loves and cares for us even more.
This is the God whose eye is on the sparrow —
you can buy two of them for a penny in the market —
but who values us even more highly.
This is the God of the great reversal,
who loves to stir up the world’s way of thinking
by taking the last first and the first last.
This is the God who
honours weakness over strength
foolishness over wisdom
the lowly over the highly regarded.
That’s because God’s grace is so big,
so outrageous in the world’s terms,
so free and undeserved,
that none of those other things ultimately matter.
You want proof?
Let’s go back to Leah,
the sister with the weak eyes,
the consolation prize in Jacob’s hunt for a wife.
Now I haven’t tried it, but I’m sure it’s true,
that having two wives for one husband
is not recommended at the best of times.
The story of life in Jacob’s family
is shaped mostly by the competition and rivalry
between his two wives.
Jacob’s sons are born
against a background of bitterness and jealousy
between the two women.
Now, beauty is one thing,
and it certainly won over Jacob.
But in that day,
the ability to produce children —
and let’s be honest, in that day, that means sons —
is far more important.
And in Jacob’s family,
when the whole ugly soap opera is over,
Rachel may be the wife of Jacob’s choosing
and the prettier of the two,
and the one he loved,
but Leah has played a far greater role
in the family
and in the course of history for the people of Israel.
Of Jacob’s twelve sons
whose descendents would become the twelve tribes of Israel,
the lovely Rachel was the mother of only two,
four were borne by the wive’s maids,
and the plain Leah was the mother of six,
not to mention a daughter as well.
And while Jacob continued to show favouritism amongst his children,
and doted on those borne by Rachel,
it is Leah whose name is recorded in the Biblical family tree
as the many-times-great-grandmother of King David,
and the many-more-times-great-grandmother of Jesus.
The circumstances were not ideal
for giving us any hope for a harmonious household,
much less a holy nation.
But somehow, in God’s strange ways,
children are brought into this world,
a nation is formed,
and a covenant preserved.
And Leah, the sister with the weak eyes,
whom no one thought could even get a date for Saturday night
not to mention a husband —
Leah is an indispensable part of the story.
Every one of us is infinitely precious to God,
and will be blessed by God,
just because we are who we are.
but even more, because God is who God is.
And the more you feel that the world tries to write you out of the story,
or diminish your sense of identity
or ignore your gifts,
or overlook your insights,
the more the Gospel message is
that you are held close to the heart of God,
and have an indispensable role to play
in building up the reign of God.
It is not because of anything we are or can do.
It is not the esteem that others have for us
or our good looks or charm
or anything else
that defines our value as human beings.
Stunning beauty or the one with the weak eyes,
fast runner or couch potato,
great thinker or mental midget…
God loves you
and is looking out for you
to bless you beyond your wildest dreams.
Does anything else really matter?
- “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” (Op 43, 1934) by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943). This arrangement © 1998 the Hal Leonard Corporation.
- Music used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Video recording © copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
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
Loving God, we praise you for your goodness and your kindness that has blessed us, and given us so much. We praise you for the warmth of the summer sun and its life-giving rain, for the chance to get away on holidays, for homes and community to return to, employment that uses our gifts and gives us responsibility. For families where love is given and received and burdens shared. For our church family where, even when we are apart, we come to hear your word, to be reminded of your love, and to encourage one another in the faith.
We pray for you world, O God. A world sick with pain and struggle, where conflicts divide and cause untold suffering, where greed spoils the land and water, and brings its own oppression. Where hurt and anger spill over into violence and death. We pray that your spirit would reign in the hearts of all people, that the energies of the nations could be turned to offering a helping hand, to rebuilding, to bringing hope and healing. We pray for those who have little, and who face huge obstacles and difficulties in their lives, that you would encourage them in their struggles and bless their efforts to provide for their families and make a living. In this time of pandemic, we give thanks for the progress that we are making, and pray for regions and countries who continue to struggle and where infection rates are high.
We pray for our families, for children enjoying the break of the summer, for students as they prepare to return to school. We pray for families where there is tension and misunderstanding, where marriages are strained, where respect and love have been lost. Restore those relationships, O God. Help us to forgive, to care, to love again, and to make room for your spirit to reign.
And we pray for our church family, as we long to be able to worship again in person, as we seek a new minister, and as we work together to provide ministry to one another and to our community. We pray that you would guide us as we plan, give us courage for the challenges ahead, show us how to love and support one another, and that we would always give you the glory for the great things you have done.
Eternal God, you direct and protect all who put their trust in you, and without you nothing is strong, nothing is holy. Fill us with your mercy and grace, so that, with you to rule and guide, we may use the good things of this life to build up things of eternal worth for you. Through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
Book of Praise – 651 “Guide me, O thou great Redeemer”
- video with on-screen lyrics; major differences to the words in the hymnbook; follow along on the screen
- Words: original Welsh text by Welsh hymn-writer William Williams (1717–1791), English translation by William Williams and by Welsh Methodist Peter Williams (unrelated to William; 1723–1796); music: tune Cwm Rhondda by Welsh composer John Hughes (1873–1932).
- recorded by Grace Community Church; Sun Valley, California.
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.
© Copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church