January 17, 2021 – Second Sunday after Epiphany
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
Once again we are grateful to the Rev. Harry Bradley for providing our worship resources today. Our prayers continue for an end to this pandemic, for an end to the isolation and loneliness we may be feeling as we hunker down in our homes. May these resources bring us together in spirit as we join in common 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 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.
Wait for the Lord…even when waiting isn’t easy or comfortable.
Wait, trust, and hope.
Wait with hope and trust, even when God’s presence isn’t obvious or clear.
Wait, trust, and hope.
Wait for Christ to lead you forward … even when all seems dark and we are confused.
Wait, trust, and hope.
As we worship our God this day, know that the Spirit of Christ is with us now.
Book of Praise – 410 “Joyful, joyful, we adore you”
- Video with on-screen words; slight differences from the words in the hymnbook.
- Words (1907) by American author and clergyman Henry van Dyke Jr. (1852–1933); tune (“Hymn to Joy”) by German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), from the Finale movement of his Symphony No. 9 completed in 1824; arrangement by English organist and composer Edward Hodges (1796–1867), at one point organist of the Anglican Cathedral Church of St. James in Toronto. Words, tune and arrangement in the public domain.
- From an episode of the BBC programme “Songs of Praise”, recorded at Royal Albert Hall, London.
Spoken by One / Spoken by All
Shine on us today, gracious God, for we need the light and salvation you offer freely to us. You invite us, O God, to live in your ways, and you give us to each other to know and to love.
Come to each one gathered here, and to all who are part of this community of faith.
Come to our city, our nation, our world, to still the quarrels and to break down the barriers of distrust among us. Help us to be slow to listen to others who are different from us rather than to react quickly in criticism that serves only to build walls.
Come with good news of health and wholeness for everyone. Do not cast us off, do not forsake us, O God of our deliverance and renewal.
Trusting in your promise of grace and mercy, let us pour out our hearts before God.
Forgiving God, we repent of all the ways we turn from you. You call to us, but we do not listen; you show us your path, but we prefer to go our own way. Forgive us, heal us, and lead us back to you, that we might show your mercy to others. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Together, as those who follow the One who calls us to live lives of compassion, we join in the prayer that Jesus encouraged 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
Beloved in Christ,
the Lord is loving, merciful, and just. Therefore, we are reconciled with God and to one another, that we might walk in God’s peace and love. As we repent each day, our sins are forgiven.
The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Prayer for Illumination
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, who created this earth, speaks to those who listen, wait, and hope. Listen, wait, hope…for God is speaking to us now. Amen.
“Jonah: A Whale of a Tale: Can We Change?”
A few years ago, my son, Paul, experienced a “falling-out” with someone within our family.
Of course, in any conflict, rarely is one side 100% responsible for “the wall” that divides one from another. I know the person who hurt him, and, in my son’s opinion at the time, she was someone he couldn’t trust any longer. He became jury and judge. In the heat of his anger, he had already decided that the relationship was over. My son declared this other person to be beyond reconciliation or redemption. The wall between him and the other person had been building for sometime before the current “blow-up.” I also knew that this person, whether intentionally or not, had said and done things that upset my son a little more than a year before our present conversation. As our telephone conversation was coming to a close, my son asked me this simple question: “Dad, can people change?” He was asking me if it’s ever possible for a relationship to have a “second chance.” At the heart of the story of Jonah is a tale all about change; it’s about “second chances.”
Today’s reading from Jonah, chapter three, picks up where the first chapter left off. After spending some time reflecting on his situation in the belly of the whale or “large fish,” God causes the creature to spit Jonah out onto a shoreline. If Jonah thought that some how he had evaded God, in the next moment God calls to Jonah again: “God spoke to Jonah a second time: ‘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.” [3:1]
One thing that hadn’t changed was God’s call to Jonah. It is a word-for-word restatement of the opening words of this story. God calls to Jonah once more to take God’s message to the wicked people of Nineveh. This was not an easy request to fulfill. Remember from my last message, “Nineveh” is the place where we really don’t want to be; a place or person where we don’t feel comfortable at or with. Historically, the relationship between the people of Israel and the hostile people of Nineveh was anything but cordial. Conditioned by hundreds of years of anger and fear, any person of Israel who heard this yarn for the first time would agree with Jonah that the only good Ninevite was a dead Ninevite! Israel had suffered enough at the hands of these invading conquerors in the past who plundered their nation and carted many of their ancestors into exile that any contact with Nineveh was best avoided. Yet, again, God sends Jonah to the one place where no respectable Jew would want to go. This time, however, when offered a “second chance” by God, Jonah headed toward Nineveh without question.
When Jonah finally reached the outskirts of the city of Nineveh, he did what he believed God wanted him to do. In a sermon that amounts to be a mere four Hebrew words, Jonah tells the people that if they don’t “repent” they will be obliterated, “Change your ways…or else!”
Not exactly what we would call “Good News.” We can imagine that Jonah shared this word of God with a self-righteous glee. As far as he was concerned, he was witnessing the eve of destruction; in forty days his heathen enemies would be destroyed and become a soon-to-be-forgotten footnote in the dustbin of history. Jonah may have thought, “Why worry? After all, these are ‘Ninevites’, my enemies. They deserve what they’re getting. They’re not like me; why should I care? Good riddance! These people can’t change, can they?”
What does it mean to “repent?” As we will discover, the heart of God’s message to our world is one of compassion and mercy. Yet, before the “second chance” is offered, the one receiving this gift must first genuinely acknowledge that wrong that put the wall between the two in the first place. Before God’s grace can save us, God’s grace must judge us. God’s grace is like a searchlight that before it can show us a new way for us to go in our future, it must shine its light so we see us as we presently are, with all of our ugliness of sin. Repentance — a turning away from our past and a willing turning toward a new way of living, opening up a new future — is the first step toward restoration of any relationship. As far as Jonah was concerned, “a leopard doesn’t change its spots” nor would he expect the hated and fearful savages of the Ninevites suddenly change their ways a complete one hundred and eighty degrees and go the other. For Jonah, it was a foregone conclusion: Go reluctantly to Nineveh; preach a message of doom and gloom; and then find a safe place outside the city to watch what Jonah thought would be certain destruction.
Then, something totally unexpected happens! In one short sentence we are told: “The people of Nineveh listened, and trusted God.” Unbelievable! It is the “turning-point” of the story. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of the day, from King to the lowliest peasant actually listened to God’s call to look at their lives squarely and honestly, and willingly decided to turn their lives around to the way of God. Jonah’s witness to God impacted those who experienced him. The Ninevites actually listened and made a change. The people whom to Jonah seemed least likely to change changed! If that wasn’t enough to upset Jonah, what happened next did: “God saw what [the Ninevites] had done, that they had turned away from their evil lives. [God] did change his mind about them. What [God] said he would do to them he didn’t do.” The headline in the Nineveh News the next day would read: “Destruction Delayed!” “Genuine Change of Heart Results in a New Start!” God gave the Ninevites “a second chance.”
To those listening to this story, possibly even more surprising than the hated Ninevites willingly repenting with a desire to change their ways is the startling revelation that God changed! Sometimes, we can think of God as unchangeable. The temptation is to think that God is merely a God of justice, punishing those who we believe have unfairly wronged us. It leads us into thinking that once God speaks judgment there is no possibility of a saving action. With the notion advanced in this story that with sincere repentance on the part of the Ninevites that God chose to change God’s “mind”, it suggests that relationships are dynamic not static. Justice is tempered by God’s Compassion. If our “enemy” or “Ninevite” genuinely acknowledges their wrong action and sincerely tries to change the situation for the better then repentance can lead to restoration. The possibility of a “second chance” is never taken off the table. Some people, however, are not comfortable with that possibility.
One of the central questions of this brief tale is one that arose among God’s people after they had returned from their many years of enslavement and exile in the foreign nation of Assyria and, later, Babylon. Is God’s “second chance” only reserved for those who were considered as part of God’s special or “chosen people”, or, is God gift of mercy open to anyone, even those in Nineveh? Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish scholar who teaches New Testament at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, in her discussion of the meaning of the Jonah story, puts the question about whether or not God can “change” God’s mind on such matters bluntly, when she writes:
“Jonah does not want a merciful God who offers second chances; he wants a God who will destroy Nineveh for its current great wickedness and so conform to the prophecy. The book prompts us to ask what sort of God we want: the one who forgives or the one who destroys? It asks what we want our enemy fate to be: to be erased from the earth, or allowed to work toward reconciliation? [M]ercy without justice is intolerable, but so, the book of Jonah insists, is justice without mercy.”
Our role in God’s mission is not to think that we’re “God’s police” to judge who is “in” and who is “out” of God’s mercy. As followers of Christ, God’s “light’ of the world, we are to go to our “Ninevehs” — those places that we’d rather not be, or those people who are so different from us that we avoid them — not to be “judge and jury” but to honestly look at where they are presently headed, and repent. Like Jonah, we may be surprised when those whom we do not think are “listening” to our message may actually be open to God’s invitation to receive “a second chance.”
It is not up to us to decide who will be destroyed and who is worthy of saving. No matter how “faithful” or “righteous” we think we are, it is not up to us to decide who is “in” and who is “out” of the grasp of God’s mercy. It’s God’s mission and we are invited to participate in this sharing of grace with all.
Some of you may be wondering how I answered my son’s question that day? My response to his question, “Dad, can people change?” was, “Of course, Paul, people can change. If I didn’t believe that people could change, I would have never accepted God’s calling of pastoral ministry that I’ve been doing for almost forty years!”
As for my son’s relationship with the other family member, I can say that those two are closer than they have been in many years. Personal relationships, of course, are dynamic and always in a process of being challenged and growing. Maybe our brief conversation began to change his mind? I don’t know. One thing I do know, though, is that the book of Jonah reminds me that if God is able to offer a second chance once the Ninevites are willing to “repent” then who am I to think that I’m not able to change as well, and start to work toward the possibility of a new relationship with those who live in my “Ninevehs”?
- Music “Pachelbel’s Canon in D”, by German composer Johann Pachelbel (1653–1706). 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.
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 the People (Thanksgivings & Intercessions)
Holy God, through signs of grace you reveal your glory to all the world. By men and women of long ago, you spoke to all and called them into a relationship of love. At the appropriate time, you sent your son, Jesus the Christ, to be the light ot the world, so that all may know the brightness of your love. Fill us with your grace this day that we too may bear witness to his light, especially in how we relate to those who are different from us. Help us, by the presence of your Holy Spirit, to continue to share that message that not only causes others to examine themselves honestly but to open ourselves up to the possibility of a new and second chance.
Today, we pray for the mission of your Church, that we may journey to the “Ninevehs” of our lives to proclaim your “good news” of new hope without hesitation or fear. Inspire us to witness to a life that speaks the truth in love, that your mercy may reach to the ends of the earth as we serve the common good of all.
We pray for all who suffer because of fear, of isolation, and of illness, that we may heed their cries of anguish that we may offer our consolation and comfort. We remember and keep in our hearts all those who have died and pray for those will die today, that they and their loved ones may know and experience your peace.
In a difficult and tumultuous time, we pray for those in governments on every level, locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally. May they receive wisdom to exercise their governance with true justice grounded in mercy.
Lord, you are the giver of all good things that enrich our lives. With thanksgiving, we remember all those who have shaped us in your ways, O God. Receive our prayers as we seek your will in our lives that we may go out to witness to your unbounded mercy in our words and by our actions. We humbly pray all these things in the name and strength that calls us forward in faith, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Book of Praise – 39 “God of mercy, God of grace”
- Video with on-screen words exactly as in the hymnbook.
- Words (1834) by English hymnodist Henry Francis Lyte (1793–1847), based on Psalm 67; tune (“Dix”) written in 1838 by German composer Conrad Kocher (1786–1872), and adapted in 1861 by English organist William Henry Monk (1823–1889). Words, tune and adaptation in the public domain.
- Video released August 10, 2020, by St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Victoria, BC.
Spoken by One / Spoken by All
Repent and trust in the Good News that God is with us and calls us for a purpose!
May the God of second chances renew your sense of call to inspire you to go out and share the Good News of forgiveness and hope in Christ Jesus with all!
May God bless you, providing you with a listening ear.
May Christ bless you, giving you the words you need to truly follow in his way.
May the Holy Spirit bless you, instilling in you the boldness
to seek God’s Grace and Mercy.
May the Lord Almighty; Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit,
bless you and give you peace, today and always. AMEN.
Hallelujah! Praise God! Amen!
Copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Last updated on 2021-01-16 at 01:43 – first version