September 20, 2020 – Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
A message from the Rev. Helen Smith
Once again we welcome the Rev. Harry Bradley, recently retired from Knox Presbyterian Church, Agincourt. We are grateful to Harry for providing these worship resources. Next week we have a candidate preaching for the call to minister among us. Hard copies of the worship resources will be delivered as usual. For those with access to the internet, the service next week will be livestreamed. God continues to move us forward in these interesting times.
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.
Come, now is the time to worship!
We come seeking God and discover God in our midst.
Come, lift up your hearts in praise and prayer.
As people who encounter the presence and power
of God among God’s people,
we join in rejoicing with songs of thanksgiving.
Together, as the people of the living Christ, we worship God!
Book of Praise – 475 “I am the church! You are the church!”
- Video with on-screen words, identical to the words in the hymnbook.
- Words and music (tune: “Port Jervis”) completed in 1972 by Americans Richard Kinsey Avery (1934–2020) and Donald Stuart Marsh (1923–2010); words and music © copyright 1972 Hope Publishing Co.
Prayers of Approach and Confession, Lord’s Prayer
Spoken by One / Spoken by All
Almighty and eternal God. By your grace, you call us together from our many places to be your people, to follow your Spirit, and to share the joy of Christ’s redeeming love with all whom we meet.
Give us the courage to follow Christ Jesus wherever he will lead us. Provide us with your enlivening Spirit who will strengthen us as we seek to find where God is already at work in our neighbourhoods and in our wider world. As we follow where you lead us, might we fulfill the mission and purpose for which you have made us.
God, send us forward on our faith journey with new hope by following your abiding presence.
O God, we have no righteousness of our own. We have bent and ignored your law of love. Your commandments inform us but do not transform us. We give lip service to your Word but seek to avoid its implications for our lives. We recognize some of our errors, but many remain hidden from us.
In your boundless mercy, Lord, deliver us from our sins.
Help us to seek your forgiveness and to discover the new directions where you are leading us as your people. We pray, in the presence of Christ Jesus. Amen.
As the gathered people of God, we continue in our ceaseless prayers in the manner that Jesus encouraged his disciples to pray often, saying,
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
God comes unexpectedly to those willing to wait and listen and trust. The Spirit amazes and astonishes even those who wait expectantly.
There is more to life than the things we can see — and more in the things that we see than our eyes can discern.
So, too, God is more than we can know or think. Even now, the Holy Spirit is resting on you and on this family of God’s people. Do not be afraid.
Spoken by One (the greeting) / Spoken by All (the response)
May the Peace of Christ be with you,
and also with you.
Numbers 9: 15–24 <– 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 are grateful to be able to feature a few resources she has recommended. This week, it’s the “Godly Play” YouTube channel. She notes that “Godly Play” has a similar philosophy and style to the “Children and Worship” program we use at GCPC.
“Churches, Temples, and Tabernacles”
Ask people on the street “Where do you think you would find God?”
and I would guess that many, if not a majority would sayin a sacred place where people gather, such as a church, or a temple, or a tabernacle.
For many, God is generally associated with holy spaces; buildings where people of many faiths gather for worship. Surely, if anyone was looking to find God, it seems logical that visiting a place of worship — be it a Christian Church, or an Islamic mosque, or a Jewish synagogue, or a Hindu Temple — would be a good place to begin the search.
Indeed, whenever I’ve asked many a Christian to describe their church, more often than not, they begin by telling about the building and its location. So how did this notion of associating God with a physical location come about in the Christian Church?
In the earliest times, those who followed Jesus as God’s chosen “Messiah” or “Christ” met on Sundays — the “first day” of the week — to worship God whom they knew through Jesus, wherever it was possible. Their organization was rather informal with the emphasis placed not so much on where they met but on the relationships that were nurtured within the community of faith.
Often they gathered as small groups in the homes of other followers where, they enjoyed a communal meal and worshiped by breaking bread together. At other times, some would gather in the town’s marketplace to share the gospel of Christin a public space where the notions of many different faiths were debated openly.
Later, when those who followed Jesus the Christ were persecuted by the local authorities, the Church gathered to worship in secret places out of the public eye. Wherever two or more were gathered together, there the Church of Christ existed!
Things changed dramatically for the Christian community during the early part of the fourth century of the Christian Era. At that time, the Roman emperor, Constantine, won a significant battle at the Milvian Bridge outside Rome over his foes, consolidating his political power over the vast empire. It is said that Emperor Constantine based his victory on a vision where he saw a “Chi Rho” symbol — the two first Greek letters of the Greek word for “Christ” — leading his armies to success.
Although Emperor Constantine didn’t necessarily become a Christian follower, his victory did usher in a time of peace throughout his vast empire. Consequently, the emperor declared Christianity as a “favoured” religion that not only legitimized their faith but also afforded Christians more benefits than ever before. Followers of Jesus were no longer persecuted and no longer had to hide in the catacombs.
The Roman authorities gave resources to build huge buildings adorned with gold and silver, develop a class of leaders, formal clergy, who wore the finest vestments and who led the people in elaborate worship services, and, these leaders engaged with the people in power to establish “orthodox” beliefs and complicated doctrines that were deemed “official” for all to accept.
What began as a dynamic movement of sharing the “good news” of Jesus the Christ as the community of faith spread in taking God’s message to the ends of the known world quickly became an established social institution. uniform and static. People still came to “church” but God was nowhere to be found.
Our reading from the Hebrew scriptures this morning tells a similar story. We pick up the story of the people of Israel after they’ve escaped their slavery in Egypt and crossed the Red Sea on their journey to the “promised land.”
Our reading from Numbers is part of the book that sets out in great detail the various parts of Israel’s liturgical or worship life. The focus in this chapter is on the “tabernacle” — a place of worship — that went with the people of God their forty-year journey through the wilderness. In particular, the focus is given to the “ark of the covenant.” It was the “ark” that held within it a copy of God’s commandments and was placed in a separate tent within the tabernacle representing God’s presence in the midst of God’s people. The “tabernacle” was portable; it could be quickly erected or taken down as needed, depending on where God was leading the people next.
Much later in history when the people of Israel finally arrived and settled into the promised land, under the reign of King David and then his son, Solomon, this moveable presence of God was made permanent in building the Great Temple in the capital city of Jerusalem. There, each year, the people from miles around were required to make a pilgrimage to the Jerusalem Temple to worship and make their sacrifices to God.
Over time the holy temple became known as “the house of the Lord.” With all the best intentions, the great Temple in Jerusalem was revered as a religious institution.
Much like what happened later with Constantine, the Jerusalem Temple began to change the people’s idea of the nature of the God whom they worshipped, and who they were as God’s people.
The word “tabernacle” meant a tent; something that could be packed up and moved very quickly from place to place. The God whom the people followed was a “God-on-the-move.” The passage read from the Hebrew book of Numbers speaks of the Tabernacle as the place where God dwelt among God’s people, using the imagery of a “cloud” the guiding presence of God leading the people from place to place on their journey of faith.
“Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, resting upon it, the Israelites would remain in camp and would not set out; but when it lifted they would set out. At the command of the Lord they would camp, and at the command of the Lord they would set out.” [Numbers 9: 22f.; NRSV]
God is not confined to a single space. Consequently, neither is God’s people—the Church! Professor Terrence Fretheim, says,
“To have such a portable sanctuary is also more accurately to reflect the God who dwells there. This is the way not only for the people, it is also chosen by the God of this people. This is a God who is on the move, who cannot be localized be pinned down to one time and place. … It would be much easier to have a sanctuary that is tied down and a god who is fixed. Israel’s God, however, is a God who dwells in a travelling tent, as do the people.”
More importantly, this God whom they follow is not “out there” in some remote “heaven”; God takes up residence among God’s people. God is intimately involved with the journey of those who follow God. Little wonder, then, that when the Christian evangelist, John, begins his gospel with the proclamation that in Jesus of Nazareth God became a human being, he writes that
“the Word became flesh and lived [or, more literally, ‘made a tabernacle’] among us.” [John 1:14; NRSV]
We come to be a part of God’s called-out people — the Church — not by going to a specific building to find God; but by accepting the invitation of God to enter into a holy relationship and discovering God in the presence of Jesus the Christ, the Living Word of God who stands in the centre of the gathered community whenever and wherever they meet!
Even Paul of Tarsus, one of the most prolific missionaries of the Christian movement, takes a moment to remind the early Christian community in the city of Corinth that God in Christ is found within the gathered people:
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple
and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? … For God’s temple is holy,
and you are that temple.” [1 Corinthians 3: 16f.; NRSV]
God, whom we know in the risen Jesus, is not limited to Jerusalem or Judea. God’s Spirit is not just to be found in the Jerusalem Temple or among those who worshipped in the “First Church of Jerusalem.” If we are truly searching for God, we’d be best to look at how Christ is at work in our neighbourhood through the daily witness of God’s people.
If we’ve learned anything about the Church this past time of quarantining and the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that the Christian community doesn’t cease to exist and the mission of the church of showing God’s compassion to others in need doesn’t stop just because we weren’t allowed to gather physically inside this building. We, as God’s people, could still speak with one another, and even worship together online.
From the middle of March until now, I was able to “gather” with people who are part of a Presbyterian congregation in West Toronto, along with others who, like myself, physically lived in other parts of the city. I was able to gather with people as far away as places such as British Columbia, parts of the United States, and even Scotland!
What defined us as a “Church” was not the place where we were; rather, it is the worship and dynamic fellowship that united us as one people in Christ Jesus at that moment transcending the miles that physically separated us. In those moments, we became the “Church.”
A short while ago, I came across a cartoon on Facebook that caught my attention. At the top of the image is a statement: “Where the Church is.” Below that caption is an ordinary city street where people are going about their everyday routines and activities. And in those many different places we see a number of cartoon balloons with an arrow pointing to the many people with a simple descriptive word: “Here!” Some people are riding on the bus. Others are at work, or shopping, or sitting on a park bench. Still others can’t be seen, but the arrows point to various office buildings in the distance.
In every case, the arrows point to this variety of people in very ordinary but different places but wherever they presently are is “Where the Church is”.
The Church of Christ is wherever the Lord goes before usleading us to be “the Church of Jesus the Christ” to new places and new people.
We don’t “go to Church.”
We ARE the Church whenever and wherever we are people of Christ journeying with God’s presence leading us into our neighbourhood and world.
- Hymn “Blessed Assurance”. Words completed 1873 by American poet Fanny Crosby (1820–1915). Music completed 1873 by her friend, American composer Phoebe Knapp (1839–1908). Both in the public domain.
- This arrangement by American pianist Larry Dalton (1946–2009), © copyright 2004 Word LLC, part of The Lorenz Corporation; 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, 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 – 477 “Your hand, O God, has guided”
- Video with on-screen words; with some differences from the words in the hymnbook; verse 3 is omitted entirely.
- Words first published in 1865 by English scholar Edward Plumptre (1821–1891); music (tune: “Thornbury”) completed 1898 by English organist and composer Basil Harwood (1859–1949). Words and music in the public domain.
- This recording from the August 14, 2011, episode titled “Fife’s Finest” of the BBC programme “Songs of Praise”, filmed at Dunfermline Abbey (a present-day Church of Scotland congregation).
Spoken by One / Spoken by All
May God’s glory endure forever. May God take pleasure in works done through us.
We have found renewal in our time together. Now God sends us forth to serve in Jesus’ name.
May the Spirit lead and guide us each day.
We have acknowledged our many gifts. Now we seek to use them for the common good of all God’s people.
We are one body of Christ with many members. When we work together, much good is accomplished.
We commit ourselves as people of vision and action. The peace of God blesses us and equips us to go out with God to serve.
Go now to be the Church of Christ wherever God’s Spirit leads you. As you go, may God’s blessing of Grace, Love, and Peace inspire you to witness to God’s Glory in all that you do, today and always. Amen.
- “All Glory, Laud and Honour”. Original Latin words composed in 820 by Theodulf of Orléans (c. 750 – 821). The English words are by Anglican clergyman John Mason Neale (1818–1866), perfected through various revisions between 1851 and 1861. The music (1603; tune: St. Theodulf) is by German cantor and composer Melchior Teschner (1584–1635), and was originally composed for the hymn “Valet will ich dir geben”.
- This arrangement by American composer David Lantz III, © copyright 2003 Hal Leonard Corporation; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Video recording © copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
© copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Updated: September 25, 2020 – added musical meditation and organ postlude videos along with corresponding descriptive text