November 1, 2020 – Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
A message from the Rev. Bob Smith
Welcome to our worship today. November 1 is All Saints Day, a day on which we celebrate all the saints, living and dead, as part of one universal church. By “saints” we mean not just the famous ones like St. Mary or St Paul or St. Andrew, but the ordinary, everyday people of faith, perhaps who helped us in the formation of our own lives of faith, or who accompany us now in our journey of following Jesus.
In the traditional Great Prayer of Thanksgiving in the service of the Lord’s Supper, the invitation to join in the Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy) is prefaced with these words: “Therefore with apostles and prophets, and that great cloud of witnesses who live for you beyond all time and space, we lift our hearts in joyful praise…”
That is the communion of saints, those whom we honour today. It is you, it is me, it is all who in any time or place bowed before God to acknowledge Jesus as Saviour and to follow in his footsteps.
We remember them all today, and celebrate our part in the great family of faith.
Grace and peace to you,
Rev. Bob Smith
Book of Praise – 371 “Love Divine, all loves excelling”
- Video with on-screen words; minor differences with the words in the hymnbook.
- Words (1747) by English Methodist leader and hymn-writer Charles Wesley (1707–1788). Music (1844; tune: “Hyfrydol”) by Welsh musician Rowland Huw Prichard (1811–1887). Words and music in the public domain.
- This recording made by First-Plymouth Congregational Church, Lincoln, Nebraska, on May 21, 2017.
Prayer of Adoration, Confession and Lord’s Prayer
God of all the ages, we thank you that as you have been with your people in ages past, you are with us today. We praise you for the example and faithfulness of your saints throughout the ages, and for how you call us to join with them in working to build your reign on the earth. Together we praise you, God, who made us, who came to us in Christ, and who is present in us now through the Sprit, for all your goodness and for the life we have in you.
Eternal God, in every age you have raised up men and woman to live in faith, and to die to take their place in glory. We confess that we are often indifferent to your will. You call us to proclaim your name, but we are silent. You call us to do what is just, but we remain idle. You call us to live faithfully, but we are afraid.
In your mercy, forgive us, God. Give us courage to follow in your way, so that we may one day join with those from ages past who have served you with faith, hope and love, and inherit the kingdom you promised in Jesus Christ. In his name we pray, and join our voices together in the prayer that he taught us:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
Declaration of Pardon and the Peace
Friends in Christ, hear the good news. In Christ, we are given new life. The old is gone away. The new is before us. We are freed to live fully in the present, in the name of Jesus. Thanks be to God.
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
(And also with you.)
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.
One of the toughest moments of my ministry came one Saturday when a member of the church died — we’ll call him Dave. Dave was an elder of the church, and a thoughtful and deeply committed man of God. He was involved in everything, a gifted man who never shied away in helping out any way he could with leadership in many aspects of the church’s life, and who was always bubbling over with energy and enthusiasm for the things of God and the life of the church.
That Saturday a good number of the people of the congregation had turned up for a day of prayer and strategic planning, as the congregation worked to discern a shape for its ministry for the next few years. Strategic planning was Dave’s thing, and this day was his baby — he had set it up, and was to be involved in leading it.
Everything was within minutes of getting underway. Dave, large as life, had been bustling about, greeting people, making sure everything was just right. He went into the church lounge to sit down for a second, and in moments had slumped over, and was gone. A heart attack had taken him.
It was horrible. Someone tried to revive him, another phoned for an ambulance. But it was too late. This larger-than-life man of God, this saint, whom we all loved and respected and leaned on, was gone.
In our shock and confusion, we cancelled the day’s event, figured out what to do with all the food, had a prayer together, and after a while went our separate ways to deal with our own feelings and thoughts.
In that little time we had together before we left, there were all the feelings you would expect, disbelief, sorrow, tears. We talked for a few minutes about our friend.
It was Dave’s widow, who showed, I thought, uncommon courage and faithfulness, when she declared to us all in that tragic moment, “Sure we’re all sad that Dave is gone. But isn’t it great he died in a place he loved and doing work he loved. And it’s really not all that bad,” she said, “it’s just that one of God’s saints has changed his address — he has gone to his reward, thank God.”
She had been around. She was not belittling the road of loneliness and grief that she knew would be hers to walk. She was hanging on to that line that we confess in the creed, that “we believe in the communion of saints,” and to the hope that is ours in Christ, that not even death can shake.
The church late in the first century is not nearly so confident. When John records his vision in Revelation, it is for a church tormented by persecution and clouded by doubt.
They gather in isolated pockets of faith, fearing for their lives, worrying that if someone is absent it is because they have become yet another martyr for their faith.
They have to be wondering… “What about the promise of blessing and peace, what about the abundant life that Jesus promised? What about the reign of God being built in our midst as we live our lives in faith? What about our struggle and suffering?”
John’s words are steeped in apocalyptic imagery that would have been familiar to the early Christians. It draws on themes from the Hebrew Scriptures and relies on symbolism that makes sense to them, but not to their persecutors.
John’s vision has been terribly abused. John is not making political predictions about a world twenty centuries in the future. I don’t think we should even pin much importance to any detail about how John describes that place, or if it is even helpful to think of it as a “place.”
He is giving a word of hope to a struggling church in his own day of which he is a part.
He is not trying to frighten people into faith with predictions of a terrible end. He is writing to a church that believes it is already living that terrible end right now, that is already suffering for what their faith calls them to do and say.
And he writes to encourage them, and give them hope.
And John is saying, “All will be well. You are living out a struggle that unites you to people of faith in every age, those who have gone before, and those who will follow. The struggle is bigger than this existence and it culminates in being drawn finally, into the full presence of a loving God.
“So keep the faith, stand firm in that faith, because all those promises are true. I know it may not look like it now, but they’re true. It may not be until we join the celebration beyond this life, but the victory is ours in Christ.”
You may feel alone now but one day you will join in a great multitude from every tribe and people and language — so many they can’t be counted. You may be dressed in the rags of poverty and persecution now, but one day you will be dressed in the robes of joy and victory, as you take your place in that great congregation.
You may huddle in fear now and under the cover of darkness, but one day you will stand proud and strong before the throne of God and bask in the light of God’s glory.
You may whisper your prayers now for fear of those who seek to harm you but one day you will shout God’s praises with the multitude and join your voice with the heavenly chorus.
You may be suffering and in want now, but one day you will take your place before the throne, without thirst or hunger, without pain or even death. You may be in mourning now for your loved ones whose blood has been shed, but one day you will see that they have been given new life, by the sacrifice of the one whose blood was shed for our salvation.
You may mourn the loss now of those who have died and sorrow over those who have been killed for their faith but one day you will see them in glory in a place where God will wipe away every tear from your eyes, and you will rejoice in the victory that is yours in Christ.
In John’s words, the early church finds hope. Through those words, God gives them the strength to stand together in spite of the persecution and to hang on to the hope of a victory beyond those things we can now touch and see, where God reigns in glory and the saints sing God’s praises.
The saints of God are connected in one great body, those still working to build the reign of God on earth and those who have gone to their reward in glory. And while we struggle along here, we are cheered on our way but the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us.
There was a woman — we’ll call her Barbara — in a previous congregation that I served who shared with me some insights that came to her about the death of her mother. Barbara grew up in a very small town, and her family faithfully attended the little church there. She had sat week after week in church with her family looking up at a banner over the chancel with the first verse of the 34th psalm, “I will bless the Lord at all times.” She had read it a thousand times in her formative years. And for all those years those were just words to her, just another nice verse from the Bible.
Well, Barbara had moved to the city, married and had her own children. In time, her mother became ill, and after a valiant struggle, died I think in her late 50s at an age where the family was not at all ready to let her go. The whole experience had been quite hard on Barbara, to the point that it was forcing her to struggle with deep issues of faith, and exactly what it was that she believed.
It was a week of two after her mother’s death, Barbara was back in her little home town to be with her father, and on Sunday they went to church together. She sat there waiting for the service to start, sitting in the same pew their family had used over all those years. She looked up, as she had done so many times, at the words over the chancel, “I will bless the Lord at all times.”
It was like a light went on in her head. “Now I get it,” she said to herself, “This is what it that verse means. I can bless God even now, because she is still with God. She has run the race and kept the faith and has gone to be with God.”
The hope God gives us is strong enough to let us bless God at all times, even in the middle of struggle, even through loss and death. A lot fell into place for Barbara in that moment. She understood that God’s love extends even beyond this life, to that place where the saints live in glory, and we can bless God who is bigger and stronger even than death.
The scriptures remind us that we who are still here are also saints, engaged in the task of helping to build the reign of God. But from our perspective here where the rubber meets the road for us, where it all matters, and where it finally has to make sense is in the final “change of address” — the crossing over to becoming one of the saints above, whether in the death of someone we love, or at the prospect of our own death.
Is it true?
Is it true? The theologian Karl Barth claims that that is the question that pulls us back to these pews, to this sacred space, week after week. It’s a desperate question, and we look to the preacher and to God, to give us an answer that will give us the hope to keep going. Is it true — this hope God offers us in Christ? Is it true — the promise of a place beyond tears and pain, a place of beyond the grip of death, the dawn of a yet more glorious day in heaven? Is it true?
Well, says John in Revelation, “Yes, it is true. You can bet your life on it. All will be well, because salvation has already been achieved for us and no threat or loss or disappointment can take it away. Christ has gone before us, and salvation is his to offer to us.”
Whatever you are going through the victory ultimately is God’s. And Christ promised that he was going on ahead to make ready our place around that throne above.
For Dave who died so suddenly, and whom we all still needed, for Barbara’s mother, who also died too soon, for our own friends and family members who have joined that multitude, for all the other saints to whom we have had to say good bye, and one day for each of us, the promise is true.
God’s saints journey from love to love, changed from glory into glory, surrounded by that great multitude of witnesses who have gone before us. And at the dawn of a yet more glorious day, they join their voices to that heavenly chorus, and take their place around the throne of grace. Thanks be to God.
Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving, and honour and power and might, be to our God forever and ever!
- “Make me a Channel of Your Peace”, words and music by South-African songwriter Sebastian Temple (1928–1997); words and music © copyright 1967 OCP Publications; 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.
Prayers of Dedication, Thanksgiving and Hope
We offer these gifts, O God, because you have given us all things, and we want to thank you. Use them so that your church may be built up and your name be given glory. And as we think of the saints who have served you through the ages, we give to you our very selves, that through us your word may be proclaimed in the world.
We thank you, O God, for your great love for us, and for your invitation to call ourselves your children. We bring to you now our prayers for the world, that you would hear the cries of your people in need, and act to save and redeem them.
We pray for those in the world who are in need, O God, those who struggle, those who sorrow, those whose pain is deep, those who have been hurt too many times. We think of those who live in areas of conflict and terror, and particularly the innocent and vulnerable who seem to suffer the most. We thank you for those who are helping, those who give to see suffering relieved, for those who stand for the cause of peace and justice, those who work to protect our planet, for leaders who work to solve the difficult issues before them.
We pray for this congregation, and its ministry within our community and beyond. Bless us in our life together, and make us one in our love for one another, and in devotion to sharing your good news. Give us a desire to know you better, and to give ourselves to your service. In our common life may we have a true heart for those beyond our walls who need to hear your good news, both in the knowledge of your love, and in their needs which we may have a role in helping to meet.
We pray for those who are sick and who look to you for healing, those whose health is in decline, and who dare to call out only for peace, and those who are grieving who look to you for consolation and hope. We thank you for your saints to whom we have had to say good-bye, and give thanks for what they meant to us, and how your kingdom was stronger for their part in it. They are part of that great cloud of witnesses, and we thank you for the encouragement of their faithfulness. We think of committed leaders today, and thank you that we can look to their leadership to help us understand your word, and your calling to the church. And we celebrate your calling to every one of us, as your modern saints, to be involved in your work in the world.
Eternal God, neither death nor life can separate us from your love. Grant that we may serve you faithfully here on earth, and in heaven rejoice with all your saints who sing your praises and proclaim your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Book of Praise – 611 “For all the saints”
- Video with on-screen words; one minor difference to those in the hymnbook; the video features verses 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, and 8.
- Words (1864) by the Anglican Bishop of Wakefield William Walsham How (1823–1897). Music (1906; tune: “Sine Nomine”) by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958). Words and music in the public domain.
- Audio recording by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.
Go now in peace,
to join with all the saints,
in giving God glory.
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
Updated: November 4, 2020 – added musical meditation video along with corresponding descriptive text