July 19, 2020 – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
A message from the Rev. Helen Smith
As we begin, once again, this time of physically distanced worship, I pass on to you this prayer from one of my favourite Lutheran pastors, Nadia Bolz-Weber:
“If comparison is the thief of joy, then Lord, help me to not compare my life today to my life six months ago. Help me find the joy in THIS life, and in THIS day and to know that it is from you, and it is enough.”
Rev. Helen Smith
Book of Praise – 410 “Joyful, joyful we adore you”
- video with on-screen lyrics; differences with the text in the hymnbook; follow along on the video.
- words by Henry van Dyke Jr.; music is the Ode to Joy tune from the final movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
- this recording from an episode of the BBC programme Songs of Praise, recorded at Royal Albert Hall, London.
Prayers of Approach and Confession
Creator God, we have felt your trustworthiness in the ground beneath our feet, your warmth in the sunshine, your power in the wind. Redeemer God, in Jesus Christ you have shown us the way, and offer us life in abundance, and new life when we have struggled. Spirit of the living God, you comfort and challenge us, renew and empower us. Creator, Redeemer and Spirit, one God, we offer to you our worship and our praise.
Mighty and merciful God, you have called us to be your people, and claimed us for the service of our Saviour Jesus Christ. We confess that we have not lived up to our calling. Forgive us when we have wished ill for our enemies. We have been timid and frightened, reluctant disciples, forgetful of your presence and of how your Spirit strengthens us. Forgive us, we pray. As you have chosen us, and claimed us in our baptism, help us to choose Christ’s way in the world, and to proclaim his good news with joy and conviction. Give us your Holy Spirit that we may be provided with the gifts of grace needed to fulfil our calling to be your people.
We pray in the name of Jesus, and continue to pray as he taught,
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 a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Thanks be to God for the forgiveness God give us.
The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Jonah 3:1–5, 10 <– this links to on-line text of the NRSV bible
Christian Education Coordinator Laura Alary has crafted a video for this week, about which she writes:
“The sermon this week is on a text from Jonah, so I decided to read the story of Jonah from my own book, Read, Wonder, Listen: Stories from the Bible for Young Readers (Wood Lake Books, 2018).
As I was reading it, I was struck by its message of universality—a message that shocked and upset a lot of people, including Jonah himself. Perhaps this makes it an ideal story for these days when our shared vulnerability makes plain our interconnectedness. It never hurts to be reminded that we are all in this together.”
He’s not exactly a model prophet,
this Jonah character.
We read just a piece of his story —
it would be a great treat for you
to take a few minutes to read the whole story —
it’s just a couple of pages.
In part one of the story, God says to Jonah,
“Go to the great city of Nineveh
to speak against it for its wickedness.
And Jonah hops on the first boat going the opposite direction
and nearly gets everyone on board killed
before they figure out he is the source of their troubles
and pitch him into the sea.
Which solves their problem
but makes his significantly worse.
Then God sends an alternate form of transportation, a great fish,
who swallows him,
lets him think about his options in the dark for three days,
then spits him out on a beach.
We started to read at Part Two,
which starts out almost exactly like part one:
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.”
Except that this time,
our reluctant prophet does what he is told
and heads for Nineveh.
It’s not that he doesn’t want to be a prophet.
He may have been happy to go to Jericho,
or Bethel, or Shechem —
you know, one of those nice Judean cities.
But not Nineveh.
That’s out of the question.
Nineveh was one of the oldest and greatest cities of ancient times.
It was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, what we now call Iraq,
and hostile to Judea.
Jonah — understandably, I’d say — doesn’t want any part of this:
he knows what usually happens to God’s messengers,
he knows he won’t last two seconds in Nineveh,
and he wants no part in any crazy scheme God might have
of saving that wretched city.
If that godless place is going to hell,
that’s just fine with Jonah.
He’s not going to intervene.
But God has other plans,
and as Jonah sits on the beach after the big fish incident
he figures he’s going to be part of God’s plan
whether he likes it or not.
It’s not that he suddenly has a soft spot for the Ninevites,
it’s that God is not giving him any choice.
If there is any consolation,
it might be fun to pronounce judgment on them.
They have devastated Jewish cities,
and killed countless Jewish people.
They took the survivors of those raids
back home with them as slaves
to be their cooks and chauffeurs.
He might come to a sticky end,
but at least it would be a chance to tell those Ninevites
what he really thinks of them.
So he goes to Nineveh,
and heads for their Nathan Phillips Square.
Maybe he sets up a little soapbox there.
Maybe he rents a big tent, like an old-time revival.
And he prepares himself mentally,
reminds himself of their wickedness,
and how much they deserve the harshest judgment
that God can dream up for them.
Then, when a decent crowd has gathered,
he clears his throat to get their attention
and delivers his pulpit-pounding sermon,
“Forty days more,
and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
That’s it — eight words in English.
Don’t you wish all sermons could be like that?
Jonah might have had more in his notes
than those eight words,
but I guess we’ll never know.
Before he can take a breath,
everyone in the entire city repents,
right on the spot.
The king declares a fast,
they all put on sackcloth and ashes
including the animals
and he calls them to turn from their evil ways.
They all cry to God for mercy
and plead for their city to be pardoned.
And God decides, just as quickly,
to spare them all.
Part three is the aftermath.
Now, you’d think this would be a good news story —
one eight word sermon
and Jonah is a super-hero prophet
the talk of the town.
Just imagine the headlines —
Biggest City in Enemy Empire Repents.
But Jonah is not happy.
In fact, if we read the concluding chapter,
he is furious with God.
He didn’t want the city to be spared.
He wanted it to go up in flames,
and he wanted to be able to watch.
How does he look now,
walking into the belly of the beast
giving them his best hell-fire and damnation sermon —
well, he is a beginner at this —
telling them that before spring comes they’ll be toast,
only to have God tap him on the shoulder, and say,
“Um, excuse me Jonah, I’ve changed my mind.”
It makes him look like an idiot, a failure.
Everyone in this story repents, except our prophet.
The Ninevites repent,
even the sheep and the goats repent—
but not Jonah.
He goes off into the desert to sulk,
saying he now wants only to die.
He can’t stand it that God relented,
that God went soft on the Ninevites and showed mercy
when they deserved only judgement.
Then God has a little fun with Jonah.
One day God causes a bush to grow
to give poor Jonah some shade from the sun.
Then the next day God sends a worm to do its best on the bush
which withers and dies.
Then Jonah sulks even more because he has no shade
and begs God again to end his miserable existence.
And God asks the self-absorbed Jonah
“Is it right for you to be angry about your bush?”
The book ends with Jonah, steadfastly claiming his right
to be hurt, and angry, and petty
and God claiming the divine right to be merciful
and to care about the city.
We’ve all been there
wanting to claim for ourselves God’s mercy
while insisting only on God’s judgment for others.
We rejoice when blessings come our way
whether we deserve them or not —
maybe even try to justify for ourselves
why we really deserve them after all.
But when such blessings come to our neighbour
who doesn’t go to church,
who plays music I don’t like, and too loudly,
and doesn’t keep her lawn free of weeds,
then we get resentful.
Why her and not me?
Maybe we even look at our own city
in much the way that Jonah looked at Nineveh,
or at least some of its people,
some of its neighbourhoods.
Maybe we wish God would somehow judge it,
clean it up so it’s more the way we want it,
so the people who are homeless would all be banished,
those who wear weird clothes locked up,
the sketchy parts of town that make us nervous given a makeover,
and all the low-lifes be shipped somewhere else.
If only they could all be more like us, good, church-going folk.
Maybe like Jonah, we are sometimes jealous
of what we share in our faith community here.
and we forget that all around us are others
who are longing for what we know and experience.
Maybe we are reluctant to open our doors, and our hearts, to others;
especially if we see them as being different.
Maybe we want to protect our blessings for ourselves.
and are hesitant and unwilling to reach out
to those we have considered strangers and even enemies
for fear they just might become friends.
Our faith is too good to waste on the likes of them.
I wonder if God is saying to the church:
“Go into the city,
maybe not with a message of judgment like Jonah’s,
but more like the announcement of good news
and the invitation to follow
that Jesus gave in the gospels.
“Go into the city,
maybe not with an attitude like Jonah’s
but with a genuine openness to find partners
in my project of building the kingdom,
and work with them to make this place
into one which really works together
around some common goals
and cares for those in need.”
I wonder if God is asking us
to declare to our city God’s goodness and mercy,
to announce God’s love for all people
God’s desire to lift them up from all that pulls them down,
to provide for them what they need to be safe and secure,
God’s vision for a city where none are in need,
all are provided for,
and people work together to build communities
where we all look out for one another.
even for those folk downtown
who make me nervous at night?
even for the people without work
who ask me for money?
No, it might not seem fair
when we try so hard to live the way we should,
that God wants to reach out to them too,
but that’s grace,
and it is God’s to give out.
And maybe, from where God sits,
all those distinctions that we make
between ourselves and all those ‘other’ people
are completely irrelevant.
Maybe God, filled as always with love,
sees us all
as people who are hurting, who need to be held
as sick, in need of healing
as lonely, in need of a friend,
as struggling, in need of mercy
as made in God’s image and bringing God joy,
and reaches out to us all in love.
To Jonah, and to us, God says,
“Should I not be concerned for this city?
And maybe you, as my people,
could join me in announcing to it,
the love I have for them.”
- “Old-Time Religion” with “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”. Arrangement by American composer Mark Hayes, © 1998 by Shawnee Press, part of 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
Almighty Compassionate God, you care for all people. Whether they are here around us or in far off places, you care enough to call people to bring the good news to all. You care about our country during these pandemic times. You care about countries like Syria, Palestine/Israel, Brazil, the United States, who have deeper problems and needs than we do.
You care about those who are sick, in pain, in the hospital, home bound and in nursing homes, your compassion extends to them. You care about those who carry heavy burdens, broken hearts, grieving, lonely and anxious, your compassion extends to them as well. You care for the people losing their jobs, losing their homes, losing their bank accounts as well as those who have had none of those for a long time.
Lord we thank you for your compassion, your care, your mercy and the good news of your son, Jesus Christ.
We pray for those in crowded refugee camps, with destroyed homes behind them and uncertainty ahead. We pray for those who are hungry. Use your church, O God, to provide for those in need.
We pray for our governments. Help them rule with your wisdom, with mercy, generosity, kindness.
We pray for our enemies. Help us to follow your way of love for all.
We pray for those whose health is a constant and major concern. Be with those whose health is compromised so much that they have no hope of ever feeling totally well again. Be with those whose lives have been changed forever by Covid-19. Give them courage for the frustrating obstacles of life.
We pray that your call to get up and go to the city might again reverberate through our souls today. May we hear again the challenge to be your disciples. Give us the power to bring change and transformation to the people of the world. Give us the power to provide hope for the world-weary. Give us the vision of a world transformed.
May we hear again eternal words of hope which tell us that however dark the world becomes the darkness cannot ever overcome the radiant light of Jesus Christ
May we hear again those simple words: “Come, follow me,” and may we come, just as we are, and know again the depth of your grace and love for us. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Book of Praise – 761 “Who’s goin’ to tell the story”
- video with no on-screen lyrics; sung lyrics are the same as in the hymnbook, and are repeated below.
- words and music by American composer Natalie Sleeth (1930–1992)
Who’s goin’ to tell the story? You and I!
Tell of the Lord’s great glory? You and I!
Who’s goin’ to let the whole world know?
Help his disciples grow and multiply? You and I!
Who’s goin’ to bring the kingdom? You and I!
Who’s goin to spread the gospel? You and I!
Who’s goin’ to do the kindly deed?
Comfort the one in need and help supply? You and I!
Jesus came to bring us good news, sent to earth by God above!
And the good news that he brought us is the word of love!
Who’s goin’ to feed the hungry? You and I!
Care for the sick and lonely? You and I!
Who’s goin’ to let the whole world see
People can live in harmony? Let’s try! You and I!
- words by Natalie Sleeth, © copyright 1976 Hinshaw Music, Inc., part of the Fred Bock Publishing Group.
- Words re-printed by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. AMEN (Romans 15:13)
© Copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church