February 21, 2021 – First Sunday in Lent
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Welcome message from the Rev. Helen Smith
Welcome to worship. Today we are grateful to the Rev. Dr. John Vissers for providing our worship service. Dr. Vissers is the principal of Knox College, one of the three theological colleges of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. We support Knox through our mission budget with an annual gift of $2,000. Through this service of worship may the Spirit bring us together, not only with our Guildwood Community, but also with the students, staff and faculty of Knox College.
Rev. Helen Smith
Call to Worship
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and grace to help in time of need.
– Hebrews 4:14-16
Book of Praise – 746 “What a friend we have in Jesus”
- Video with on-screen words, identical to the words in the hymnbook.
- Words (1855) by Irish-Canadian poet Joseph M. Scriven (1819–1886). Music (1868; tune: “What a friend”) by American lawyer and composer Charles Crozat Converse (1832–1918). Words and music in the public domain.
- This recording made November 18, 2018 by First United Methodist, Downtown, Houston, Texas.
Prayers of Approach and Confession
We give thanks to you, Eternal God, for your mercy that reaches out to us, for your patience that waits our returning, and for your love that is always ready to welcome us. We praise you that you have come to us in Jesus Christ, and that by your Holy Spirit you continue to come to us. Assure us of your presence with us in this time of worship, when we as a church are physically apart from one another, but together in the bonds of faith, hope, and love.
Most merciful God, whom to know is life eternal, whom to serve is joy and peace, we ask for your forgiveness on this first Sunday of Lent. We confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have note loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we might delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name. We pray in his name and continue to pray as he taught:
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.
Assurance of Pardon
Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life. Amen.
The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Friendship with Jesus
In March of 2020, when we all began to realize that a highly communicable virus had reached Canada and was growing exponentially in our midst, I was working at home on a sabbatical leave from the College. My reading and my research intersected with my anxious thoughts about what was happening in our world. In the course of some work that I was doing on seventeenth century Protestant spirituality, I came upon a relatively unknown Puritan preacher and author, James Janeway (c. 1636-1674), whose book, Heaven on Earth: Jesus, the Best Friend in the Worst Time, contains sermons preached in London in the 1660s.
The book is not particularly well known, probably for good reason. Janeway’s method is often tedious and pedantic, and like many Puritan preachers he sometimes comes across as stuffy and censorious. But here’s the thing. Janeway preached these sermons on the friendship of Jesus in the aftermath of the 1665 plague in London that killed thousands of people and the great fire that destroyed much of the city in 1666. In addition, Janeway suffered from anxiety and depression, contracted tuberculosis, and died at age 37.
Many of the same tough questions that trouble us now troubled Janeway and his congregation. When will this pandemic end? Will we be able to rebuild from the ashes? What will happen if I get sick and die? Where is God in all this?
In the face of this immense social suffering, and his own personal anguish, Janeway pointed his people to the promise of friendship with Jesus. He did not try to explain the providence of God and the mystery of evil. Rather, he simply said what he believed to be true. God was with them. Friends are faithful. And Jesus is the friend “who stands with us in all sorrows, who buoys up the soul under the mightiest waves of fear, when wars ravage, when the pestilence rages, when the nations are distressed and perplexed.”
Of all the things that Jesus said to his disciples, this is surely one of the best: “You are my friends…” Have you ever thought of yourself as a friend of Jesus, and what that might mean for your life?
In John 15:15 the Lord says to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants…I have called you friends.” Even though we might often feel that our faith is weak, or that we are not worthy of God’s love, the Lord calls us friends, he makes us his friends, he gives us his friendship. I could stop preaching here and that would be enough; that is the gospel. Jesus calls us his friends.
But what does it mean to be a friend of Jesus in this passage? We often use the word friendship very casually today. We have friends on Facebook or other social media networking sites. Sometimes when Christians speak and sing about Jesus as a personal friend, it seems superficial; it takes away from the majesty and holiness of God.
This passage in John’s Gospel is part of the Upper Room Discourse. It is the teaching of Jesus to his disciples as he prepares them for what lies ahead: his death on the cross, his resurrection to new life, his ascension into heaven, and their call to proclaim the message of Jesus and lead the new community that will emerge after Pentecost. With all this before them, Jesus wants his disciples to know that he’s got their backs: they are his friends, and he will not let them down. Notice how he describes this friendship.
First, Jesus says there are no secrets among friends. Verse 15: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I heard from my Father.”
As he prepares them for what they will face, Jesus speaks intimately with his disciples. It’s like he leans in closer and lets them in. You’re my friends. There’s nothing more to tell you. If you’ve been paying attention you will know that I’ve let you in on everything that I know; I’ve held nothing back. When you listen to me, you are listening to the Father.
As Pope Benedict XVI said about this text: “Christ tells us everything he hears from the Father, he gives us his full trust, he reveals his face and heart to us, he shows us his tenderness, and he loves us with a passionate love.”
Friendship with Jesus is an invitation to share everything with Jesus. There are no secrets among friends. Our doubts, our fears, our sorrows, our anxieties, our deepest longings — it’s all fair in love and friendship. Nothing is off limits. Have you ever thought about yourself as someone who can share everything with Jesus? That’s what prayer is. That’s what friendship is. It’s personal and intimate.
Second, Jesus says “friends sacrifice for each other.” Verse 13: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Here, of course, Jesus is predicting his own death and describing the cross in terms of friendship. He laid down his life for his friends. There is no greater love than this, he says.
We know that’s true. Someone has defined friendship in this way: a friend is someone who has your back, no matter what the cost. A friend is a kindred spirit, to be sure, but more than that, friendship is costly. A friend is someone willing to stand with us when the chips are down. Jesus is that kind of friend. His friendship led him to the cross. When Jesus calls us his friends, we are bound to the One who gave all, who held nothing back, who loved with a dying and undying love.
It is sacrificial. There’s no greater love than this, no greater friendship than this, than laying down your life for a friend. Friends sacrifice for each other. Friendship is characterized by sacrificial commitment. The friendship of Jesus is not a fair-weather friendship. It is a friendship for all seasons; friendship when the seas are stormy, not just when they’re still.
Third, Jesus says to his friends: “You did not choose me but I chose you.” We’ve all heard the saying: you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. Or, choose your friends carefully; be careful of the company you keep. Well, when it comes to the Christian life, Jesus chooses his friends.
Jesus calls us friends not because of anything we have done or not done, Jesus chooses us as friends because he loves us. This is the real meaning of the difficult doctrine of predestination. We are chosen in Christ to be God’s beloved. This is our assurance
Henri Nouwen puts it this way: “When I know I am chosen, I know that I have been seen as a special person. Someone has noticed me in my uniqueness and has expressed a desire to know me, to come closer to me, to love me. When I write to you that, as the Beloved, (as friends of Jesus) we are God’s chosen ones, I mean that we have been seen from all eternity and seen as unique, special, precious beings… From all eternity, long before you were born… you existed in God’s heart.”
Perhaps it sounds trite and hollow to say that the world needs friendship right now, in a time of global pandemic. It is nonetheless true. This is a time when we in the church should reclaim our friendship with Jesus and live out the meaning of that friendship in our world. I have been heartened to experience a new sense of community and neighbourliness when I go for my daily walks (masked of course, and practicing physical distancing). It’s been encouraging to see the ways in which many are keeping in touch with friends and family through facetime, zoom, texts, emails, and telephone calls.
I am grateful for congregations, like yours, who have stepped up to provide continuing opportunities for worship, prayer, pastoral care, and even choir practice online. And we have all been learning during this pandemic that for many of us friendship means staying home to protect others, working remotely, and participating in endless zoom meetings. And we’ve seen frontline workers who daily live out the teaching of Jesus: no one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one friends.
And it’s been good to see many people of faith practice what theologian Jürgen Moltmann calls open friendship, friendship that is not limited to those who are like us, or who believe what we believe, or who agree with us. The friends of Jesus see to it that people get food and clothing and a safe place to shelter. The friends of Jesus are not concerned only for themselves, for their churches, for their families. The friends of Jesus do not turn away from the suffering of the world.
In 1855 a man named Joseph Scriven was visiting friends near Port Hope here in Ontario when he received news from home in Ireland that his mother was seriously ill. He wrote a poem to comfort her called “Pray Without Ceasing.” The poem was renamed and set to music by Charles Crozat Converse as “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” It has become one of the most popular gospel hymns of modern Christianity. It’s been translated into many languages, including Korean, Spanish, Japanese, Hindi, Batak (Indonesia), Swahili, and German, to name but a few. It continues to be sung by Christians in worship across the global church and recorded by a variety of contemporary musical artists.
Why is this hymn so popular? Probably because it speaks simply and movingly about a theme that is at the heart of the gospel message: the friendship of Jesus. From what we know of Scriven’s life, it was written by someone acquainted with deep sorrow and grief, loneliness, anxiety and depression, a man worried about a sick and aging mother, as well as a man who knew deep faith, hope, and love in the midst of it all. He died tragically by drowning on Rice Lake. But he left us this legacy: A hymn which speaks of friendship with Jesus: Jesus, a faithful friend who bears our sins and griefs. Jesus, a refuge when other friends despise and forsake us.
Jesus, a friend who embraces and shields us, a friend who provides solace in pain and suffering, a friend in the storm of life. In this song Jesus is not a distant, remote Saviour. Jesus is a friend. We don’t know what the future holds. It’s hard not to worry. But in the midst of it all, let us hear and believe this word from Jesus: “You are my friends.” Let us be the friends in our world that Jesus calls us to be. And may the friendship of Jesus sustain us in the days to come. Amen.
- “Brother, sister, let me serve you”. Words and music (tune: “Servant Song”) by Anglo-New Zealand composer Richard Gillard (1953–). Words and music copyright © 1977 Scripture in Song; administered by Integrity Music; licensed by Capitol CMG Publishing; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A. This arrangement by Rachelle Risling copyright © 2021, used by permission.
- Keyboard and vocals performed by GCPC Music Director Rachelle Risling.
- 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
Almighty God: God of all mercies, we give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving kindness to us and to whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies that with truly thankful hearts we ma show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days.
Eternal God, our hope and help in times of trouble: We pray for those who face challenges too difficult for them, those who face debts and unemployment, those who grieve the loss of family and friends, those who face illness and death, and for all those known to us who have needs this day.
Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you. Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting; Amen.
Book of Praise – 476 “Amigos de Cristo/Friends of the Lord”
- Video with on-screen words, identical to those in the hymnbook.
- Words and music: Latin American traditional. Words and music in the public domain. This arrangement copyright © 2021 Rachelle Risling, used by permission.
- Performed by the virtual Senior Choir, with keyboard and music production by GCPC Music Director Rachelle Risling.
- This recording copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
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 2021-02-19 at 19:00 – First version