January 24, 2021 – Third Sunday after Epiphany
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A message from the Rev. Helen Smith
Today we give thanks to God for Kate McGee, Executive Director and Chaplain of Boarding Homes Ministry. Kate has provided these worship resources for us. Boarding Homes Ministry co-creates communities of welcome and inclusion with people who live with mental illness, addictions and poverty. Through home visits and community education, this ministry reduces social isolation wrought by stigma. Through non-denominational spiritual care, it meets deep human needs for recognition, connection, and meaning. Our mission budget at Guildwood includes $600. for this ministry. We are grateful to Kate for bringing this ministry to us with these resources.
Rev. Helen Smith
Book of Praise – 717 “We cannot own the sunlit sky”
- video with on-screen words exactly as in the hymnbook.
- Words (1992) by American pastor, theologian and hymn-writer Ruth Duck (1947–). Music (tune: “Endless Song”) attributed to American hymn-writer Robert Lowry (1826–1899). Words copyright © 1992, GIA Publications, Inc.; music in the public domain.
- Video recorded at Redeemer United Church Of Christ (Sussex, WI) on May 16, 2020.
Prayers of Approach and Confession
God of justice and compassion, we lift up our hearts to you today: hearts full of adoration and hope, hearts bearing grief and brokenness, our whole hearts we give you. All that we are we offer to you today. We honour and adore you, God of mercy and protection; your strength is our strength, your tenderness our tenderness. Today we are in many places, but with one voice we declare your praise.
Because of your abiding love and mercy, we are able to come before you in vulnerability. Because we are loved we can tell the truth: that we turn away from you, that we hurt each other, and that we fail to live up to the enduring values and morals you have set before us. We lay our fragility at your feet, merciful God, and ask for the grace to live our love for you more fully in this world. Help us to do justice, love kindness, and to walk ever more humbly with you. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
God’s grace is doing a new thing. Can we not perceive it? Behold God makes all things new. Thanks be to God for the gift of new life. Amen.
The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6: 24–26)
“Lighter than a Breath”
Agnes waits in silence. She sits smoking in the backyard, no matter the weather, folded into a too-big navy coat, and if you greet her, she might respond with a word or two. She lifts the cigarette to her mouth, inhales, exhales. If you encountered Agnes somewhere outside the backyard, maybe on King Street, you might sweep past her, lighter than a breath, and you would likely have a blessing in mind for anyone you meet. But the number of people who just sweep past Agnes without noticing her might eventually come, for her, to feel more like being battered. Because when a person is not seen, it hits like a thud, even when it’s just an oversight. Especially when they’re just an oversight.
This is where, if this were a polished ad for a mental health charity, you might learn a bit about Agnes: that Habitant Pea Soup is her favourite, that she wishes she could have a dog and a little garden, that her mom died when she was two, that her dad was not good to her. But I can’t tell you Agnes’ story, because she hasn’t told me, and I’m ok with that. Agnes lives mostly in silence, and sometimes I visit the place where Agnes lives.
My struggle, as chaplain of Boarding Homes Ministry, and more fundamentally as a soul searching for those spaces where love can expand, is to find a way to see Agnes. To see her in a way that honours her wish for very few words, but also not to sweep by her without a glance. To see her and to regard her, to stay in her silence and shower her with compassion, to lay reverence at her feet.
So Boarding Homes Ministry has an unusual mission. Even in a land of plenty, we are surrounded by injustices that are crying out to be made right, both material and spiritual. The world our lay ministry teams encounter is well outside most of our comfort zones. (We have had members of Guildwood Presbyterian on our Scarborough team for many years, and you are currently represented by the steadfast and loving Maureen Monk).
The people we are friends with live in boarding houses because they are too ill to work, and their incomes are so low that this is what they can afford. And while we work with other non-profits to right some of the larger material wrongs, our own mission is different. Our friends have frequently been isolated, especially because of the corrosive effects of stigma on people living with mental illness and addiction. Our mission is companionship and love. When there isn’t a pandemic raging, that means we go into people’s houses and we get to know them, we enjoy their company, we celebrate their gifts, and we offer them all the reverence and adoration due to children of the living God.
The psalm today says we’re all lighter than a breath. It says: if you put us on the balances, rich and poor alike, and weighed down the other side, we’d all go floating up together. It warns us not to set our heart on riches, robbery or extortion — good ideas all, especially poignant if you’ve ever been in a boarding home, and easier said than done, then and now. It rails against people who might assail another human being, battering as if they’re a leaning wall or a tottering fence, with a blessing in their mouths and a curse in their hearts. That sounds familiar, that sounds just about right. That sounds like us. Up in the air we go, our good intentions as weighty as feathers.
The psalmist’s tone shifts from fist-shaking anger at the crowd’s injustice to an open palm, leaving us suspended in air together, rich and poor alike. The psalmist, all the while, is resting in God.
This is how you rest in God, the psalmist says. Here, I will show you, so you can feel it. Trusting God is like being safe in a fortress. Knowing God is knowing that God is solid as a rock. Being loved by God is like being protected in a refuge. See what it feels like to feel anchored in your body, grounded in the heavy earth, surrounded by solid walls, so you can know what it is to have an anchor in your soul, strong and steady and true. The psalmist tells us: when God is your rock, you will never be shaken.
The psalm has the undercurrent of a sweet love song, because the psalmist keeps singing to God that God “alone” is their rock and their salvation. “For God alone my soul waits in silence”. For God alone. My own one, my dear one, my only one. God’s oneness is spoken with devotion. My one and only.
But there’s more! (With God, there’s always more). The oneness of the beloved is spoken to our hearts in as many ways as will reach us.
A thousand years of rabbinical commentary rests on one little line of this psalm, verse 12. In the translation we’re using today, it reads “Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this”, but you could also translate it as “God spoke one thing, I heard two”. There’s such a long tradition of debate in part because elsewhere in the Jewish tradition it is held that God has the ability to speak multiple things at once, and that the same passage of scripture is subject to multiple interpretations. Those two might just be related, and the implication is that this multiplicity in message should inspire more trust in God, not less. Across cultures, this fits with our human experience of the divine, through all sorts of encounters, in meditation and in prayer, in the midst of ritual and when we least expect it. It’s just like the psalmist conveys to us: God’s perfection is both simple and manifold. You have to experience it to believe it.
The current of multiplicity running through this psalm of trust is the balance of God’s justice and mercy, of God’s power and steadfast love. Again, this pairing is reflected in Jewish texts throughout history, often spoken in the liturgy in the same breath: Chesed (Lovingkindness/mercy) balanced with Gevurah (judgment/power). The psalmist teaches us that trust in God rests on both. Both sides of the scale must be equally weighted.
Because a world filled with merciful love and no justice would be cruel, perverse, chaotic, and frightening. Without offering protection, structure, and safety, merciful love would swiftly come to offer no comfort at all. And a world filled with justice but no mercy would be orderly and rigid, less chaotic but just as cruel. When it’s up to us — and it quite often is — we fail to strike the balance. Trusting in God comes out of an experience of God’s perfect balance. It’s not a brain-first assent to God’s rulebook. It comes from the experience of God’s love: grounded in safety, showered in compassion.
In the work of Boarding Homes Ministry, being stretched in the imbalance between our compassion and the world’s injustice causes daily pain. But it causes daily pain for our friends in the houses, too, and although we can’t change poverty, mental illness, or the housing crisis overnight, we can stay with them and love them in the meantime. We are not perfect, and the scales are wobbly, and we do not have the power to right all the wrongs. But the wrong of abandonment: that’s within our power. The wrongs of isolation and stigma and heartbreak: we can fight those with our love. So we aim imperfectly to live the prophet Micah’s maxim: Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.
In a very real way, the poetry of this psalm reflects the way we encounter God in our hearts. It’s simple and complicated, heavy and sweet. Our trust in God is like a choir inside us, reverberating with many voices of assent. Every part of us sings the love song, the child parts and the old parts, the hurting parts and the joyful parts.
We anchor in the safety of God’s justice and power, and we lie back and float supported by God’s merciful love. Never one without the other, always anchored, always floating. When we encounter the living God, every part of us offers love and receives love. We breathe in, and we breathe out. We are lighter than a breath.
- “How Can I Keep from Singing?”, by American composer Robert Lowry (1826–1899). Music in the public domain. This arrangement copyright © 2021 by Rachelle Risling; used by permission.
- Performed on the keyboard and mixed 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.
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Hope
God, your generosity reaches all the ends of the earth. We thank you today and every day for the gift of life and breath, and we hold in prayer all those who struggle to breathe because of this deadly virus. Bless the health care providers, the patients and their family members. Give comfort and peace to all those who are suffering. You are the source of healing and wholeness, and we trust in you.
Thank you for all of the ways of being human. We all have blind spots: help us to drop the scales from our eyes when we need to see people as people, as your beloved children. Give us the grace as a community to offer welcome and hospitality, and to root out stigma and practice true inclusion.
We give you our gratitude for the spark of life in each of us, and for the precious time you have given us here on this earth. With the help of your grace, we commit to using our gifts to transform this world for the good. Let us sing our gratitude through service, that others may know your generosity through the work of our hands and the words that we speak.
You are the Sovereign of Justice: we will do the work of justice.
You have infinite tenderness for your vulnerable children. In gratitude for your great mercy, we will strive to look upon all your children with the eyes of Love, regardless of the challenges that Love may present.
Mighty God, you are the source of all creativity, generativity, growth and splendor of this earth. We commit to be attentive to the needs of this planet, from a reverent attentiveness to your working in nature, to the urgent and complex climate crisis that we face together. And we commit to righteous action in your name, to preserve life in all of its many forms. We know that each of these is an expression of your love.
God, your abundant goodness is powerful, protective, and strong. We thank you for all of the ways that you have given us safety, and for the freedom that comes with your loving guidance. Help us to be strong but not rigid, protective but not paternalistic, that through us our fellow human beings may know your great Love.
Holy God, you are our sweetness and our joy. May we accept each moment of our lives as a point of connection with you. Amen.
Book of Praise – 762 “When the poor ones”
- Video with on-screen words exactly as in the hymnbook.
- Music and original Spanish words (both 1973) by Spanish singer and composer Miguel Manzano and Spanish author Jose Antonio Olivar. English translation (1989) by American missionary George Lockwood (1946–). Music and Spanish words copyright © 1973 Miguel Manzano, J. A. Olivar. Exclusive agent: OCP Publications. English words copyright © 1989 United Methodist Publishing House.
- This recording made by First-Plymouth Congregational Church, Lincoln, Nebraska, on November 8, 2015.
May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace in believing so that you may abound in hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. (Romans 15: 13)
Copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Last updated on 2021-01-23 at 12:25 – first version