SEPTEMBER 13, 2020 – FifTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
A message from the Rev. Helen Smith
Today we are grateful to the Rev. Harry Bradley for providing our worship resources. Harry is a retired minister in our Presbytery. He retired last year from the ministry at Knox Presbyterian Church, Agincourt. God’s blessings on us all as we unite in worship.
Rev. Helen Smith
Call to Worship
Spoken by One / Spoken by All
At several points in the worship service, Rev. Bradley uses a call and response structure. The minister speaks the words of One, shown in normal text, and the congregation responds with the word of all, shown in bold text. As here, the sections where this applies are prefaced with the “Spoken by One / Spoken by All” heading.
Your Word, O God, is a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths.
We gather to receive the gift of your Word, Lord,
and to listen for your message to us today.
Accept our offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach us your Way for our lives.
Speak to us in our moments of praise and our times of prayer so that
we may rejoice in your guiding presence always.
Together, with open ears and open hearts, we worship God!
Book of Praise – 498 “Sing them over again to me”
- Video with on-screen words, identical to the words in the hymnbook, but just verses 1 & 2, with a repeat of the third line of verse 1.
- Words and music (tune: “Words of Life”) completed in 1874 by American composer and hymn-writer Philip Bliss (1838–1876); both in the public domain.
- Audio by the Joslin Grove Choral Society; video by Islington Baptist Church, Etobicoke.
Prayers of Approach and Confession, Lord’s Prayer
Spoken by One / Spoken by All
O God, whose foolishness is wiser than our wisdom, and whose weakness
is stronger than our strength, draw us to yourself.
We delight in the abundance of prosperity with which you have blessed us. Even more, we delight in the gifts we have received in Christ Jesus, your Living Word among us.
O Lord, we hear Christ, but only dimly, and nowhere as dimly as when he calls us to love our enemies. We seldom surprise those who injure us with the response of forgiving love, as Christ said we must do.
Forgive us, Lord; we are but children and do not know what we are doing. Help us, by the working of the Holy Spirit, to hear your word again and to have the courage to put the message of Jesus into our daily actions.
As people who listen carefully to your holy Word, inspire us to allow your life-giving message be absorbed within our hearts so that our thoughts, words, and actions would be guided by your abundant and compassionate love. As faithful listeners, we pray always in the manner that Jesus encouraged those who follow in his Way to say:
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.
Declaration of Pardon
Spoken by One / Spoken by All
Our God is full of mercy and will forgive all of our sins.
Through Jesus Christ, we receive with joy this Good News and go in peace.
Spoken by One (the greeting) / Spoken by All (the response)
May the Peace of Christ be with you,
and also with you.
Acts 20:7–12 <– this links to on-line text of the NRSV bible
Though the wonderful Laura Alary has now resigned from the post of Christian Education Coordinator, after eight dedicated years, we will continue to feature 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.
“Warning: Preaching May be Hazardous to Your Health!”
In my forty years of preaching, it is a rare occurrence
that at the end of a worship service,
someone greets me by saying:
“Reverend, your sermon was far too short today!”
More often, their words convey the opposite concern,
sometimes communicated gently and other times quite bluntly.
Long, lengthy sermons have been the source of many jokes.
There is a story of a Sunday School teacher
who was leading her pupils up from her classroom
into the sanctuary near the end of the service.
As the class approached the door to the sanctuary,
the teacher quietly asked her pupils:
“And why is it necessary to be quiet in the church?”
After a brief moment of silence, one young girl whispered,
“Because people are sleeping.”
The short story of a young man, Eutychus, who fell asleep on a window ledge,
while listening to a lengthy message by the apostle Paul,
and plummeted to his apparent death
has always struck me as oddly humorous.
On the surface of it, however, this story doesn’t seem funny at all.
The writer, Luke, tells of an incident that happens
while the early Christian missionary, Paul of Tarsus,
was staying a few days in Troas in Asia Minor
on his final journey to Jerusalem.
By now, Paul’s reputation had preceded him,
and on his last evening with this Christian community
he was invited to their worship.
The room where this Christian fellowship was meeting was on the third floor
of a small house that was crowded and stuffy.
In order to get some relief, a young man we know only as “Eutychus,” —
oddly enough, his name was literally translated as “Lucky”—
found a spot on a window ledge to rest.
Paul spoke on at some length, lasting well past midnight.
At some point someone noticed that this young follower, “Lucky”,
who had been on the verge of nodding-off was no longer seen.
Investigating, they noticed that he had fallen asleep
and was now now lying on the ground three stories below.
Of course, this would have been terribly tragic
if Paul hadn’t gone to this young man and restored him to good health.
More curiously, we are told, following this upsetting event,
the apostle Paul return to the gathered congregation
and continued to speak until it was dawn!
The humour, of course, is in not in his unfortunate accident—
“Lucky” certainly wasn’t lucky that night—
rather, it is assuming that Paul’s lengthy discourse
being the cause of his fall.
As William H. Willimon, an excellent preacher himself, once wrote,
“As sometimes happens on occasions when the church gets together,
the preacher for the day in Troas went on a bit too long….
Young Eutychus—whose tribe was to increase throughout Christendom during lengthy sermons—
‘sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer.’”
Almost “tongue-in-cheek” one could draw a warning from this passage
such as “Preaching may be hazardous to your health!”
In his humorous and insightful book, Surviving the Sermon (1992; ISBN 9781561010646),
the author, David Schlafer, notes that
behind the many jokes about long-winded preachers
is a deeper message:
“Why do cartoons of preachers and humorous anecdotes about preaching
strike such responsive chords?” he writes,
“…much sermon humor consists of inside jokes,
and much of the frustration it thinly veils
suggests deep hunger on the part of the listeners.”
How, then, can we avoid Eutychus’ fate?
When we gather in worship, how might it be possible
for the sermon to be more helpful than harmful to us?
A first step is remembering that people in the pews
are encouraged to be active listeners
rather than passively waiting to hear something
from the preacher.
While, for the majority of us, as long as our ears are properly functioning,
hearing comes naturally to us.
Unless there is a physical impediment, we will hear a variety of noises,
and many of us learn what ones to register and
which sounds will become “background noise.”
“Listening,” however, is an active skill that we need to develop and exercise.
If we are truly listening to the message being given,
we will not be content to sit quietly
expecting whoever has the responsibility for delivering the sermon
to fill us with his or her insights or reflections.
Listening to a good sermon is not a “one way street” from preacher to people.
Listening engages us with the message that we’re interacting with at that moment.
Good sermons demand a response from us.
Some biblical scholars, in an attempt to defend Paul’s lengthy address in Troas
by noting that the Greek word “dialegomai”,
often translated in English Bibles as “preaching,”
is actually the root word for “dialogue.”
They argue that this discussion reflects Paul’s rabbinic tradition of teaching
by way of question and answer, dialogue and debate.
Still, preaching is, as David Schlafer notes, “not a monologue, but an unfolding conversation of the people of God—a conversation about and with God,
and about their struggles to know and be faithful to God.”
Good worship involves participation in and interaction with the scriptures.
A good sermon is a conversation where each listener is invited
to engage in a dialogue with various “voices” that we discover
in that sacred conversation with God’s Word.
And, like any good conversation, we will hear different voices,
each one bringing their own contribution to the discussion.
We begin by listening to the “voices” found in the biblical text.
Often, when the sermon begins, we are quick to ask,
“What’s in it for me?”
We automatically presume that these materials were written for us
to offer guidance or instruction to assist us
in living out our Christian faith today.
The truth is that everything that we find in these sixty-six documents
that we refer to as “The Bible” were originally intended
for someone else.
This library of inspired writings of the people of God
were composed, written, and revered by people who lived
very different lives in a very different world.
When they wrote their materials,
these people of faith were, for the most part,
writing to express how God
encountered the challenges of their time in
“the here and now.”
We need to ask, “What did this passage of scripture mean
to those who first heard these words?”
“What events or attitudes were these writers responding to
“What meaning did the author intend to say
to those original listeners?”
Only when we appreciate how these words of God were heard
by those in the past
are we ready to listen to these words in a new situation today.
Roger Van Harn in his book, Pew Rights: For People who Listen to Sermons
(1992; ISBN 9781579105587) remarks:
“When we listen to sermons,
we have the right to hear the story around the text.
Sermons that ignore the world in which the text lived
and do not respect
the distance between that world and our world
are not likely to help us hear God’s message now.”
Next, we listen to the “voice” of the World that we live in today.
Here is where the person preaching can be much help in assisting the listeners
to provide a “bridge” to move carefully from the world of the past
to the present.
Much of the task of the minister weekly is to help prepare this bridge
between these two worlds to help the listener to navigate on their journey
from biblical times to our times.
Whenever the scriptures are preached,
they are being re-interpreted to speak meaningfully to the world
of the listeners.
Although many of the issues or circumstances
that we encounter in North America 2020
are drastically different than Judea or Asia Minor of 30 A.D. or before,
for God’s Word to address God’s people today, we need to know
what challenges in our present situation resonate
with those events of the past.
The twentieth-century Protestant theologian, Karl Barth, reportedly once said
that a good preacher reads the Bible in one hand
and a newspaper in the other.
In that regard,
the preacher needs to be aware of the “voices”
within his or her congregation.
Of course, these congregational voices will become more vital
in identifying the particular concerns, challenges, and opportunities
facing the people in the pews as they seek to witness to their
faith each day.
Listening and engaging in sermons is never meant
to be a solitary exercise.
Discerning a message from the text is a co-operative venture.
The scriptures are the inspired stories of the whole people of God.
Any good, insightful conversation
involves listening to the personal stories of one another,
and how the biblical text is revealed
in our personal experience.
The stories of the past are re-discovered in our
experiences of today.
The Scriptures are the books of God’s community of faith,
and together we can encounter God’s Word
as our word for our fellowship now.
Every time the minister rises to preach,
she or he recasts something written long ago to different people
in a very different world
to what is happening in our own world today.
In that way, old words are able to speak with a new meaning to us
as God’s people today.
the Associate Professor of Preaching and Worship
at Princeton Theological Seminary,
explains in his book, The Senses of Preaching,
(1988; ISBN 9780804215701)
the need to listen to all our “voices” together.
“If we are talking about forgiveness,
we need to tell some piece of experience in which
there is forgiveness.
If we speak of grace,
then what is the experience of grace in the lives of ordinary
We are trying to say what the Christian faith looks like
when it is experienced by the couple on the front pew,
the family midway back, the single person,
the teenager in the balcony.”
Telling stories found in our everyday life can make the words of Scripture
come alive with new importance.
As Thomas Long explains,
“The use of human experience in sermons,…
takes out the territory of genuine religious experience.
It says, in effect, it is possible to experience the holy
in the midst of life,
and this is what it looks like when it happens.”
The task of listening to a sermon isn’t over
until we listen to the “voice” of God
who addresses us in the midst of our everyday living.
Healthy sermons are not meant to be mere entertainment.
David Schlafer puts it simply when he writes,
“…preaching is not so much the solo speech of a particular individual
as a conversation within the Christian community.”
Good sermons will travel with us s a faithful community,
long after we’ve left the worship service.
This is how we actively listen to the voice of God’s Spirit
who makes the message alive in our daily walk of faith.
I’ve often said, “A sermon isn’t completed until the message
begins to change your life in some way in the week ahead.”
Very often, it will be a question that will provoke and challenge us
to explore it more deeply
so that our eventual answer will begin to change our lives,
day by day, to make us more like Jesus in our response
to the concern.
As David Schlafer notes,
“Those who listen to preaching can learn to engage it,
and the transforming power that comes through it, …
Sermons need not be endurance exercises
through which God’s resurrecting life
takes actual shape and direction for those who listen.
Sermons can become sources of spiritual survival.”
Are you ready to join in the conversation?
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, 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.
Book of Praise – 500 “Open my eyes that I may see”
- Video with on-screen words, identical to the words in the hymnbook.
- Words and music completed in 1895 by American composer and hymn-writer Clara H. Scott (1841–1897); both in the public domain.
- This recording by Valdosta First United Methodist Church, Valdosta, Georgia, 2012.
Spoken by One / Spoken by All
May the word of God fill us with hope so that
we may face life’s uncertainties with confidence each day.
May our teacher, Jesus Christ, send us out into our world
as disciples certain of his words and power.
And may the Holy Spirit make God’s word both challenging and inspiring
so that we can live life fully doing good wherever you are.
Blessed are the ones who go in the name of the Lord! Amen!
© Copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church