Worship Service for January 10, 2021

January 10, 2021 – First Sunday after Epiphany

graphic of a movie film reel

Whenever you see this movie reel symbol, you can click on it to view a video segment on YouTube. If you experience any difficulties, please contact our webmaster.

A message from the Rev. Helen Smith

Welcome message in spoken audio by Rev. H. Smith. Click on the triangle at left to start listening.


The Rev. Harry Bradley has provided the worship resources for us this week.  We are grateful to him for his help as we search for a minister for our congregation.  In his prayers of hope he begins: “Our world is an anxious place full of divisions that separate us into many factions.”  This has been so evident as we reflect on the rioting in Washington this week. It has been a time of shock and sadness.  As we unite in worship, we pray for our brothers and sisters to the south of us, that peace will prevail, and unity be found in diversity.

Rev. Helen Smith

The 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 words of all, shown in bold text. As here, the sections where this applies are prefaced with the “Spoken by One / Spoken by All heading.

In rushing wind, in cleansing fire …
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

In courage found, in strength renewed …
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

In visions born, in dreams restored …
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

In hopes rekindled, in fears released …
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

In the church’s new community, in possibilities untold …
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

In rushing wind, in cleansing fire …
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Come! Let us worship God together.

Opening Hymn

Book of Praise – 757 “Come sing, O church, in joy!

graphic of a movie film reel
Click to listen to or sing along with the hymn at YouTube.
  • Video with on-screen words exactly as in the hymnbook.
  • This hymn was the 1989 bicentennial hymn for the Presbyterian Church (USA).
  • Words (1989) by American Presbyterian minister Brian Gill; music (1793; tune “Darwall’s 148th”) by English clergyman and hymnwriter John Darwall (1731–1789). Words © 1989 Brian Dill; music in the public domain. Arrangement in the video by English composer John Rutter (1945–).
  • This recording made by First-Plymouth Congregational ChurchLincoln, Nebraska, on September 9, 2018.

Opening prayers

God of grace and mercy; we gather to praise and adore you with our hearts and voices.

O God of grace and mercy, you call us to proclaim your healing and faithfully to fulfill your kingdom mission. Let us not count the cost of our wins and losses, but keep our eyes fixed on you as we seek your realm of peace.

Holy God, you call us to boldly proclaim your name, yet we are stubborn and rebellious and heedless of your call. When you call our name and send us out into uncomfortable places, we close our ears and our hearts and follow our own self-chosen paths., often in the opposite direction. By the power of your Spirit, raise us to new life that we may return to faithful living, in the strength our Lord Jesus, the Christ, we pray in the manner that he calls his followers 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.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.

The Assurance of Pardon

God is gracious: slow to anger, and abounding in compassion and mercy. For all who recognize their wrongdoing and confess it before God, in the gift of Jesus the risen Christ, all are forgiven!

The Peace

The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Prayer for Illumination

Come, Holy Spirit; when we become stubborn and unbelieving, open hearts to receive your Word, then set us free to follow in the power of Christ’s love. Inspire us to listen for your leading before we utter our own demands so that we may wait in silence for your message meant for us today.  Amen.

Scripture reading

Scripture reading of Jonah 1: 1–17 read by Rev. Harry Bradley. Click on the triangle at left to start listening.

Jonah 1: 1–17 <– this links to on-line text of the The Message bible

Click here for additional scripture readings from today’s lectionary. Links courtesy of the Revised Common Lectionary, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.


Jonah: A Whale of a Tale: Where is Your Nineveh?

The question that we are confronted with front and centre today is one that, if we take it seriously to heart, will challenge us everyday as part of God’s Church: “Where is Your Nineveh?” I suggest that this provocative question is fundamental in understanding the message of Jesus’ ministry; it is vital to engaging the Church in God’s mission today.

The story of Jonah is one that is recognized by Christians and non-Christians alike. The story of Jonah is a “fish tale” that has become a part of our common folklore. We know, for other parts of the Hebrew Scriptures, that there once was a historical prophet named Jonah, who was the son of Amittai, serving in the court of King Jeroboam II in the mid-eighth century before the birth of Jesus. Yet, unlike most of the other materials that are attributed to the great prophets of Israel or Judah, in this biblical book, there are no oracles or prophecies of any kind preserved for later generations of believers. Indeed, the “details” of the story appear to confirm that this story, composed many centuries later than the reign of Jeroboam II, the ancient court prophet, Jonah, has been made the main character of a story that is so fantastic that it borders on being unbelievable.

First of all, the story has all the ingredients of a “once-upon-a-time” tale. If we take the story as a literal re-telling of a real event, then it poses problems that stretch our credibility. A God who takes offense when Jonah chooses to go in the opposite direction than the one God desires him to go? Rather than letting Jonah “off-the-hook”, God places obstacles in Jonah’s journey even to the point of threatening to destroy the ship and all those on it in creating an overwhelming storm at sea. And then, once Jonah’s mistake is found out, in order to save themselves, reluctantly, they throw Jonah overboard, who, before he drowns, is swallowed up by a huge fish or whale where he lives for three days and three nights!

Later in the tale, when Jonah finally goes to the great Assyrian city of Nineveh, we are told that the city was so large that it took almost three days to journey from one end to the other. That is more than a slight exaggeration of the ruins of Nineveh that have been discovered. Also, there is no historical record of an Israelite prophet ever making a journey to Babylon, nor was it ever reported in known ancient records of any kind that at any time that the Jewish people ever considered the people of Nineveh as anything other than hated and sworn enemies.

Most biblical scholars today generally agree that the story of Jonah we discover here is most likely a work of fiction; a real-life character from Israel’s past who is now woven into this narrative to represent all of us. Much like the similar biblical book of Job, as we become involved in this short fish tale, we might discover that this Jonah character is not unlike ourselves. In a recent book, Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, the current professor of New Testament at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, is quick to note that this prophetic story about Jonah is not to be taken as historically or factually true in every respect but neither is this tale to be treated as simply as a children’s story about Jonah and the whale. She writes, “…its literary value is superb and its ethical lessons essential. Like the fables of Aesop and many of the parables of Jesus, the story of Jonah gives us a lesson that we do not want to hear, but need to hear.”

Viewing this story as “fiction” does not lessen the “truth” that we can find. Indeed, it is important to note that using creative stories that are able to capture our attention and teach us deeply about the nature of God and the mission of God’s people are the way that Jesus taught his earliest followers in his sharing of parables. Deeper notions about who God is and how God acts within our world of human experience can be presented in long, dry, complicated doctrines that most will not read or understand, or shared simply in story that is something the listeners can relate to easily.

The opening chapter of Jonah’s story sets up the plot that will unravel through the rest of the chapters. If we were to add an episode title to this first act, we might call it: “When God Calls, Go in the Opposite Direction — or Else!”  The opening words set forth the task that God wants Jonah to do: “Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh! Preach to them. They’re in a bad way and I can’t ignore it any longer.” [1: 1] As we will discover, we will hear these words again later in the story, reminding the listener that when God calls us to do something of God’s behalf it is not to be understood as a quaint suggestion that we can either or accept or ignore. Rather, when God calls to us it is more of a new direction than a simple “yes” or “no” decision.

Nineveh—the great city of ancient Assyria—no doubt would have caught the attention of the first ones who heard this story, as it did the ears of Jonah—and for the same reason! It was the place that no respectable Jew would want to be. Nineveh was the centre of the proverbial “Evil Empire.” After two successive historical conquests—the Northern kingdom’s conquest by the invading Assyrians, only to be followed later by the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem, by the new Persian superpower of Babylon—there would be little interest and a whole lot of hatred on the part of God’s people to have anything to do with these Ninevites. They were only enemies who had enslaved them and carted the best of Israel off to a strange and foreign land. If and when any of them would hear God send them off to Nineveh, the place that held sad and horrific memories for those listening to this story, the most natural response would be to follow Jonah, and go as far as possible in the opposite direction.

From the moment when Jonah heard a “call” by God for him to go to the wicked city of Nineveh, he did as much as he could to cover his ears, close his eyes, and shut his mouth to God’s message. Instead of going faithfully to Nineveh in the far east, Jonah immediately plans his “escape plan.” He goes down to the harbour and books a cruise to Tarshish—as far west as it is possible in the known world. Rather than enthusiastically embracing God’s mission, Jonah basically snubs God in his actions declaring “Great idea, God. Send someone else!” Jonah runs away from God as fast and as far as he can.

The story of Jonah is, as one biblical commentator, Stuart Blanch calls it, a Missionary Manifesto. The lessons and encouragements found in this fish tale are the marching orders to send God’s people into the wider world. Yet, as human beings, we don’t mind doing God’s work as long as it fits into our expectations or our plans. If, as we shall learn, this call of God to “go to Nineveh” is uncertain, unpredictable, and liable to change at a moment’s notice, then we spend more time thinking about why we ought not to do it than reasons why we should. Like Jonah, when God challenges us to go to Nineveh, we begin to look for ways to go in the opposite direction to a safer and more predictable Tarshish.

Where is your Nineveh? It can be anywhere or anyone that we fear or are uncomfortable with or feel “out-of-place.” It can be a situation where we find ourselves in the presence of people whom we don’t understand or are reluctant to trust because we’re unfamiliar or have never thought of go to before.  It can be our neighbour, or co-worker, or someone whom we do all our best to avoid because they don’t worship like us, nor live a lifestyle that we think is “acceptable.” They are those people whom we are anxious about or fear because they don’t look like us, or speak like us, or believe in God as we do. It is being placed in an environment where we feel unprepared to deal with because we’re asked questions where there are no easy or simple answers. We can even find ourselves in a place where others view us with suspicion, and question our motives for doing something. “Nineveh” is WHEREVER WE DON’T WANT TO BE! Yet, wherever or whoever is our “Nineveh” may be exactly where God may be sending us to!

The twentieth-century theologian, Emil Brunner, once put it simply, when he wrote: “The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith.” The Christian Church, by its very nature, is Missionary! The “light of God” that is revealed to us in Jesus the Christ is no good for us — or anyone else! — until we are willing to take it out and share it freely with our surrounding world.

And it is a very hard lesson to learn for many of us, particularly those who gather weekly to sit in pews. Like Jonah, we can try to run away from our task, seek to go as far away from the mission God is calling us to go, but if the church is to be the Church, we will eventually go to the Nineveh that God is sending us, no matter how reluctantly we go.

We need to know what is meant by two words: “Church” and “mission.” “Church” has nothing to with the physical structure that we meet within weekly. Within the Holy Scriptures, the word for “Church”, the Greek word, ekklesia means “the people called out by God.” To say that we “go to Church” misses the fundamental reason God called forth “the Church.” The Church is called by God to “be the Church” in their neighbourhood, especially in the places or minister to people that otherwise the Church willingly chooses to avoid. The reason for the Church’s “being” is be the living presence of a caring God in the “Ninevehs” where we live!

When we speak of “mission” we are not limiting our understanding to the many different specific ministries of a church such as a community outreach or caring for those who are disabled or dying. All those local “missions” are expressions of the “Missio Dei” or “the Great Mission of God.”  God’s Great Mission is given to all who follow God, whom we know in Jesus the Christ, and all called to be the “light of God” in Nineveh’s darkness. Left to ourselves, we would be tempted to travel to Tarshish, the safe and comfortable places that we think we can control. Still, the Church doesn’t decide the mission that want God to participate with; rather, God has a mission of compassion that God calls the Church to engage in, and, more often than not, God sends us to “Nineveh!”

Too often, like Jonah, we can presume that the mission to Nineveh is a great idea but not for us. It’s some need that needs to be addressed or ministered to but for somebody else to do. We complain that we’re not trained or skilled enough to be “a missionary.” That task is best left up to the professionals”, like the pastor or those involved in specialized missions overseas to do. But, in fact, according to the story of Jonah, and particularly the gospel of Jesus the Christ, all of God’s people are called to be “the missionaries of God” When we gather as the Church each week, it is not just a time to hear what others elsewhere are doing to be “missionaries” for God; it is to prepare, support and encourage one another to be ready and willing to go out to the “Nineveh’s” to share God’s “Good News” to people and places where otherwise we would not choose to go. God called the Church into existence to engage in God’s work not the other way around!

Nineveh and Tarshish are words that function as “locations” in this story of God’s Great Mission. Tarshish, often associated with Spain, as far west one could travel in the ancient world, is a place to find safety, practise our faith among like-minded people, and, in effect to run away from God, satisfied to be in the company of people who are just like us. It is the place where we want to be. Nineveh, on the other hand, is to the extreme east. It is a place of adventure; a place where we will have to live our faith, and trust that we will discover that God who calls us already at work in a place or situation, or a relationship where, by ourselves, we really don’t want to be. It’s rubbing shoulders with people who aren’t like us in many ways. It is having the courage of leaving the comfort of our four walls to venture out into our neighbourhoods and listen to what others are saying about the real needs of this community that need to experience God’s touch of mercy and grace. Nineveh is where we are challenged to heed God’s call, develop an outward focus, and to understand ourselves as God’s missionaries rather than just being church members.

Stephen Winward, in his commentary on Jonah writes, “Through the Book of Jonah God continues, in all ages, to challenge the new Israel, the Christian Church. Like Jonah, the Christian can be narrow-minded and hard-hearted. Like the people of Israel, the members of the Church can withdraw into a comfortable ecclesiastical ghetto, instead of venturing forth to give service and bear witness to [humankind]. We can hide the light of the gospel under a pail, clutch to our bosoms the faith entrusted to us for others, and selfishly keep within the Church of our own land the salvation intended for all [humankind]. Who then is Jonah?” Maybe “Jonah” is you or me?

When God call to us to go to where God is sending us, where are we willing to go? To the somewhat scary task of venturing to uncertain Nineveh or is our first reaction to “take a pass” and book a trip to Tarshish? To play it safe or to go on an uncertain adventure of faith out into our surrounding world? To stay with the “tried and true” or to rub shoulders with those whom we would rather avoid? To run toward God or to run away from God’s call as far as it is possible? To engage those you tend to avoid or to stay within the safe zones of your life. Remember: “Nineveh” is WHEREVER WE DON’T WANT TO BE! Yet, wherever or whoever is our “Nineveh” may be exactly where God may be sending us to! All of these questions really come down to answering one question that we need to ask each day, as it was asked of Jonah: “Where is Your Nineveh?”

Musical Meditation

“The Ash Grove” performed by Rachelle Risling. Click on the white triangle in the orange circle to start listening.
  • Music “Ash Grove”, traditional Welsh melody, a setting for hymns such as “Let All Things Now Living” and “Sent forth by your blessing”. Music in the public domain. This arrangement copyright © 2021 by Rachelle Risling; used by permission.
  • Performed on the keyboard by Rachelle Risling, GCPC Music Director.
  • Audio recording copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.

You can enjoy all our previously recorded music on our Music playlist on YouTube (our videos with audio) or on SoundCloud (our audio-only pieces).


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.

The Prayers of Thanksgiving and Hope

Divine Giver, all that we have is a gift from you, and your grace is our sufficiency. We are blessed with talents and given opportunity to develop and use all that we possess to be used in your Great Mission that through our words and by our actions others will come to know you as loving and compassionate. Pour out your Spirit upon these gifts that they may increase your blessing to others, through the grace and mercy of Christ Jesus, our risen Lord.

Our world is an anxious place full of divisions that separate us into many factions. Too often we build and encounter walls that set us apart from others, particularly those who look or live differently than we do. Break down the barriers that exist among peoples and nations; restore and strengthen our common life. May the heart of Jesus guide us so that each day we reflect his acceptance and hospitality, especially to those who feel isolated or unwelcomed. Help us to gaze past our distinctions and seek the commonality of all as children of God.

Give to your people, the Church of Christ today, a bold vision and daring love to speak and act on behalf of your Great Mission to restore all people and creation in peace. Teach us to trust the simplicity of your gospel message and travel light together. Comfort all who are suffering in body, mind, or spirit. Inspire us with a willingness to venture with God into places we otherwise would not go that we might join our Lord as we discover God already at work in the lives of the people we might meet. We pray that when you call to us, as you did to Jonah, we will listen and follow where you lead us. Help us to find the courage to look beyond our fears and uncertainties, and to persevere in going to people and places that we’d rather avoid. Keep us mindful of the needs that exist in our own communities: the struggles of those who are dealing with illness or loss; those who worship or live differently from us; or, are isolated and alone. May your Holy Spirit work within us so that we will begin to view what, at first, appear to be obstacles as new opportunities to witness to the abundant mercy of God whom we know fully in Jesus the Christ. Merciful God, hear the prayers of your people and grant that what we ask in faith we may receive according to your gracious love, through Jesus the living Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Closing Hymn

Book of Praise – 648 “I’m gonna live so God can use me

Click to listen to or sing along with the hymn from YouTube right on this page.
  • Video with no on-screen words; use the words printed just below. Sung and printed words are exactly as in the hymnbook.
  • Words African-American spiritual. Music (tune “I’m gonna live”) African-American spiritual. Words and music in the public domain. Arrangement in the video by M.R. Holland II.
  • Video by the IMANIA w/ECW Women’s Day Choir directed by Gail Blache-Gill, recorded October 2010 at Trinity & St. Philip’s Cathedral, Newark, New Jersey.


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…


Benediction in spoken audio by Rev. H. Smith. Click on the triangle at left to start listening.

Spoken by One / Spoken by All

Go to Nineveh, wherever it may be, and speak words of love — words of mercy that will cause ears to tingle and eyes to sparkle.

We go wherever God calls us so that we may speak words of hope and faith — words that cause hearts to leap and spirits to dance with joy.

Go forth as God’s people in Christ Jesus inviting others to undertake their own journeys of faith with a new confidence.

Heeding God’s call to go where the Holy Spirit leads us, we go forth to remind the world that God is speaking words of invitation still to all who will listen.

And as you go may God’s blessing of grace, love and peace journey with you always.


Choral Amen

Danish Choral Amen. Book of Praise 780. Music director Rachelle Risling (keyboard); Robert Quickert (vocals). Click triangle at left to begin listening.

Copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church

Last updated on 2021-01-26 at 22:37 – minor formatting tweaks.