August 2, 2020 – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
A message from the Rev. Helen Smith
Happy Civic Holiday Weekend. This week I got a haircut. And Bob and I had lunch on a restaurant patio. Both the person who cut my hair and the wait staff who brought us our lunch wore masks. By the time you receive this, Toronto may be in stage 3 of reopening. Yet, in the interest of public health, things are not quite as they used to be. And we continue to provide these worship resources online and on paper as a means to worship together, and at the same time, stay safe.
Rev. Helen Smith
Book of Praise – 708 “When Israel was in Egypt’s land”
- video with on-screen lyrics that are the same as in the hymnbook.
- the hymn is a negro spiritual with unknown composer and lyricist.
- this recording published June 14, 2020, by St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Owen Sound.
Prayers of Approach and Confession
God of grace and glory, make your presence known to us as we try to shut out the noise of the world and focus on you. Jesus Christ, may your name be praised from the rising of the sun until the midnight hour; may your name always be honoured among us. Spirit of holiness, breathe on us all and bind us in Christian love and servanthood. O God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, be known to us today. Transform our lives and our community into the image of Jesus Christ.
We praise you, O God that in Christ you seek to unite all things in heaven and on earth, and to reconcile all people to one another and to you. We confess that your new creation is not yet complete in us, and that we feel everywhere the barriers that separate us from one another. Barriers of nationality, race, sexual orientation, language, age, gender and position. Forgive us, and fill us with your spirit of oneness, for the sake of your son, Jesus Christ. In his name we pray, and continue to pray together in the prayer 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
Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old life has gone; a new life has begun. Receive this new life that is ours in Christ and be at peace. Amen
The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Exodus 1:8–22 <– this links to on-line text of the NRSV bible
While Christian Education Coordinator Laura Alary is on holidays, we’ll be featuring a few resources she has recommended. This week, it’s “Tucked In: Bedtime Stories and Prayers with Episcopalians and Others”, a Facebook page with stories and more. You can check it out here.
Today’s little person is actually two people,
two women whose acts of heroism and civil disobedience
defy the powers of destruction and death.
It’s an old story —
almost an archetypal story
and its basic shape has been repeated — sadly — many times over
in the course of human history.
There are two threads that are woven together in this tale
one rising from deep human failing
and the other from a strength that could move mountains.
The first thread is a lust for power.
Maybe it has good beginnings
in a desire to make something of ourselves
and shape our own destinies.
But then it gets out of hand, and very soon,
gaining a little power creates a hunger for more.
And then we see ruthless people in authority
wanting to secure their position
by wiping out any threat to it,
no matter how small or insignificant.
Did we see this in Syria
where to protect their position,
tyrants turned their armies
even on their own people?
Or in the Nazi scapegoating of the Jewish people
at the time of the Second World War?
Or when the president of the United States
has the troops clear out a peaceful protest
so he can have a photo op in front of a church, holding a Bible
and later threatens to bring in the army?
And the second thread to this story
is that wherever the first thread of the abuse of power is present
there we will find people — ordinary, everyday people — without power
who will resist it.
They carry in them the notion that we are made to be free
that we should be able to determine
the course of our own lives.
And the more that powerful people try to take,
the more the ordinary people
find courage to stand up to them,
even at great personal cost.
It is an often told tale.
In all of those situations,
there were some ordinary people who defied the abuse of power,
in order to protect loved ones and homeland
and to say, “We will not willingly give in to tyranny.”
And we see it in the life of ancient Israel.
Remember the story of Jacob and his twelve sons?
Out of jealousy, Joseph is sold by his brothers,
to slavery in Egypt,
He soon rises to a position of prominence there.
And later, during a time of famine in Canaan,
his brothers come to Egypt looking for food,
and Joseph arranges for Jacob to move his whole family there.
the Israelite people in Egypt multiply and become established,
and when a new king comes along to rule over Egypt,
he feels the threat of their growing strength and numbers.
So the king’s first move is to enslave them,
imposing forced labour on them,
making their lives a living hell
in the way they are treated.
And when the Israelites continue to grow as a people,
the king makes his second move.
And here’s where today’s little people enter the drama.
He goes to two midwives of the Israelite people,
named Shiphrah and Puah,
and says to them,
“In your role as midwives for the Hebrew women,
if they give birth to a boy, I want you to kill it,
but if it’s a girl, let it live.”
That is the hateful depth
to which a lust for power will stoop.
Now I’m just guessing here,
but it seems to me that what might lead a woman to become a midwife,
is a love of life,
and of a mother’s role in bearing life into the world.
Maybe there’s even a spiritual element to it for her,
of helping a mother
in her sharing in God’s miracle of creation
by bringing new life into being.
I suspect it might be a calling for a woman,
to be at the side of another woman
at that moment of such fear and pain in the delivery
and such joy if it goes well
or sorrow if it doesn’t,
and to be so committed to her sister in her labour,
that she will be to her
whatever the moment calls from her.
Whatever took Shiphrah and Puah into that line of work,
a work which brings life,
when the king tries to enlist them
to be, instead, agents of death,
they say no.
The text tells us that they feared God.
meaning that they figure
that God is on the side of the oppressed, enslaved Israelites,
on the side of mothers who have carried life growing within them,
on the side of life itself,
and they let all the babies live.
The king goes after the midwives
and questions them:
“Why have you done this,
and let the boys live?”
And they answer,
“It’s like this, your highness.
You see, Hebrew women aren’t like Egyptian women.
They’re strong and vigorous,
and they deliver their babies before we even get there.”
I’m guessing that’s a white lie.
But I think it’s brilliant —
what man in that day, or this,
is going to be drawn into a discussion with two midwives,
about how quickly women give birth?
And their answer works.
We don’t get the king’s response,
but it seems that the Hebrew people continue to have babies
and the midwives continue their sacred work
of assisting women in their experience of giving birth,
and their nation grows ever stronger.
And we read in the very next chapter
that a particular Hebrew boy is born,
and lives, despite the danger of his times.
This little guy is named Moses,
and he will grow to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt
to the land God has promised them.
The two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah,
defy the king’s order,
and even when pressured by him,
hold their ground with courage,
and have the gumption to come up with a response
that ends the conversation.
They could not have known
the full importance or impact of what they were doing.
They simply acted with courage
to protect those who could not protect themselves,
mothers and their babies.
I recently read the book “I Shall Not Hate”
by a Canadian-Palestinian doctor of obstetrics and gynecology,
who worked in Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Now living in Canada, he is a Professor of Global Health at U of T.
And Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish has become a spokesman for reconciliation
between the two countries where he lived and worked.
He continues to try to build bridges of peace
between those two countries
that have been fighting for so long,
even after three of his own daughters
were killed in an Israeli attack in 2009.
He explores in the book what might lead to a solution there,
and he writes about organizations that bridge the divide,
and especially, the power of the midwives.
“You can find midwives on both sides of the line
promoting peaceful coexistence…
I believe women should take part in brokering peace
and midwifery is an international language
that can be spoken by all women in the world.”
I think he is onto something
and Shiphrah and Puah
should maybe be named patron saints of a movement
grounded in the gentle power of the midwife.
These two would not be enlisted in the king’s cause.
They did not speak his language of death
and would have nothing to do with his casual taking of life.
It was simply not in them,
and their courage kept the story of their people alive.
There is another story in the Bible,
about another insecure king
who could be threatened by a baby
The king in that instance was Herod,
and the baby, Jesus,
and in that story it is the interventions of angels
that helps the holy family escape,
and the little child who would be King, live.
Where is God in these stories?
God is on the side of those
who are on the side of life.
God is at the side of mothers
bearing new life into a dangerous world.
God’s activity is with the midwives
encouraging mothers giving birth
gently helping to ease their little ones into the world
and bravely resolving to keep their focus
only on that which brings life.
It’s amazing when you think about it,
that the names of these two ancient heroines
are recorded for us in Scripture.
In the broad sweep of Scripture’s story
it’s mostly the names of the very famous that are written down,
and most of those were men, not women.
But whoever wrote down these events,
recognized that Shiphrah and Puah deserved to be remembered by name,
for the part that they played in protecting the babies.
A small act by two pretty ordinary women
brave enough to defy the king
to be committed to life
and so be God’s agents in the world.
God can be active in the most ordinary people and situations
to bring life.
It was true then and it is true today,
even amongst and within us.
May we be open to God’s Spirit of life,
May we be as courageous as Shiprah and Puah,
standing up to ruthless power in whatever situations we find ourselves.
- “Shall We Gather at the River?”, words and music by American preacher and composer Robert Lowry (1826–1899).
- Vocals and guitar performed on July 31, 2020, by Rachelle Risling, Music Director of GCPC.
- Words and music in the public domain. This arrangement © copyright 2020 Rachelle Risling; used by permission.
- This audio 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, 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 where we hear your word, where we are reminded of your love, and where we can encourage one another in the faith.
We pray for your 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 remember those who are sick, that you would be with them in their pain and uncertainty, and you would bring to them strength and healing. We pray for friends and family who are travelling, and away on holidays. Give them a good rest, restore their energies, rebuild family ties, and keep them safe as they journey.
We pray for our families, for children and youth who have had an extra long break from school and for parents who are caring for them. 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 seek to be faithful and to work together to provide ministry to one another and to our community in these strange days. We pray that you would guide us as we plan, give us courage for the challenges ahead, show us how to love and support and encourage one another. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Book of Praise – 648 “I’m gonna live so God can use me”
- video with no on-screen words; sung words are the same as in the hymnbook, to a slightly different arrangement; words reprinted just below.
- the hymn is a negro spiritual with unknown composer and lyricist.
- this performance by the IMANIA Women’s Chorus with the ECW Day Choir at Trinity & St. Philip’s Cathedral, Newark, NJ, on October 3, 2010.
I’m gonna live so God can use me anywhere, Lord, anytime
I’m gonna live so God can use me anywhere, Lord, anytime
I’m gonna work so God can use me …
I’m gonna pray so God can use me …
I’m gonna sing so God can use me …
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