June 6, 2021 – Second Sunday after Pentecost
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Message from the Rev. Helen Smith
Welcome to worship. This week we are grateful to our preacher, Rev. Dr. Blair Bertrand. Rev. Dr. Bertrand is a mission liaison between The Presbyterian Church in Canada and the Church of Central Africa (Presbyterian) in Malawi. Since 2017, he has been a Lecturer and the Director of Research and Educational Quality Assurance at Zomba Theological College. As well, he serves as an Educational Consultant to Theological Education by Extension Malawi. These two institutions train future ministers and lay leaders. Presently Rev. Dr. Bertrand serves from his home in Barrhaven with trips to Malawi expected soon. You can read more about his work on his blog, missional-aries.com. We support this work through our gifts to Presbyterians Sharing. This year our budget for Presbyterians Sharing is $15,000.
Rev. Helen Smith
Call to Worship
You can listen to the audio recording of the Call to Worship with Rev. Helen Smith while consulting the text below (the audio is part of the Welcome message recording above); or just use the text below.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.
The whole earth is full of God’s glory.
Come, let us worship God.
Book of Praise – 769 “Lord of Light whose name and splendour”
- Video with on-screen words taken from the hymnbook.
- “Lord of light, whose name and splendour”. Words completed in 1916 by Welsh minister and hymn-writer Howell Elvet Lewis (1860–1953); music: tune “Bethany (Smart)” completed in 1867 by English organist and composer Henry T. Smart (1813–1879). Words and music in the public domain in Canada.
- Keyboard and vocals by Rachelle Risling, GCPC Music Director.
- Recording © copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
Prayers of Approach and Confession
God of the universe, you are always ahead of us, always around us, always within us. To you be all glory and praise.
We admit, O God, that we do not always acknowledge your presence. We think we know it all. We think that what we want is what you want, that our way is always the best way. We do not listen to the newcomer, the stranger, the Other. Forgive us our arrogance. We admit, O God, that there are different ways of seeing, different ways of being, and we often think, well, it is either my way or the highway. Forgive us our tunnel vision. We admit, O God, that we want the latest gizmo, that we must have it in order for our lives to be complete. But how much is enough, O God? Forgive us our consumerism and greed. In humility and grace, may we participate in your mission in the world. We pray in Jesus’ 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.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever.
Assurance of Pardon
God shows God’s self to us, like the waiting father, coming to meet us while we are yet a long way off, like the woman searching for her coin, sweeping until she finds it and then rejoicing that she has found what was lost. Thanks be to God.
The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
For technical reasons, the audio recording of the sermon is broken into two parts. Start by listening to part one just below, then listen to the rest in part two below that.
“The Good Mini Bus Driver”
by Rev. Dr. Blair Bertrand
I wonder how many bad sermons on mission start with the Good Samaritan? Because I feel like it is a lot, at least in the past 50 years. By bad I mean that they don’t tell us anything that we don’t already believe. They give in to something called confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is when we listen to stories or accounts that confirm our already pre-existing beliefs. This is one of the problems with fake news; it confirms things that we already believe. If we were to actually encounter the truth it would bring us up short, make us question what we believe, might even set us free. For many, the Good Samaritan boils down to a version of the Golden Rule, something many of us already believe. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is a basic ethical stance we generally believe. We hear Jesus confirming our own goodness.
But if there is one thing we should take away from this account in Luke, it isn’t that we are good. The story we call the Good Samaritan is framed by a “good” person getting told by Jesus that he might not be as “good” as he imagined. A scholar, someone who knew the Scriptural law, comes to Jesus and asks an important question for all of us to consider, “How can I inherit eternal life?” Jesus knows that the scholar has a confirmed answer to that question so he puts it back to him. The scholar then connects to parts of the Old Testament by saying loving God and neighbour. Jesus surprises the scholar by agreeing with him but then challenging him not just to believe but to do. We do not inherit eternal life by believing the right thing, says Jesus, but by believing and doing the right thing.
From the very beginning, the story is about eternal life. It is about how our beliefs and our actions relate to each other so that we can find God. The confirmation bias we normally have with this story focuses solely on our actions. Be nice. But Jesus is concerned with eternal life, with how what we believe and know plays out in our actions. And being nice will have little to do with it. Eternal life is tied up with flesh and blood, with choices we make in our everyday life. Where we hear the story as one about how to be a good person, it is really about how to be a faithful person.
As many of you know, I have been a missionary in Malawi since 2017. I currently serve two organizations there. I am a Lecturer at Zomba Theological College, a school that offers diplomas and bachelor degrees and trains future ministers in the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian. I also serve as an educational consultant for Theological Education by Extension Malawi or TEEM for short. TEEM offers distant and grass roots theological training for Christians and lay leaders across Malawi. I teach Old Testament Prophets and Theology, I write curriculum for villagers to read to the Old Testament or the Gospels. I advise a doctoral student and help to build up the best theological library in the country. My work is about faith.
What good am I though? People won’t ask this to my face but I know that they think it. After all, there are so many development needs in Malawi — high infant mortality rates, low Gross Domestic Product per capita, high HIV/AIDS infection rates, low access to electricity — shouldn’t I be doing some real good there? My answer is two-fold. First, the PCC does have a part of it that is doing good in Malawi. Presbyterian World Service & Development is the relief and development part of the PCC. Through PWS&D and its partner organizations such as an alliance of churches across the world, NGOs like the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, and even the government of Canada, the PCC does a lot of good in Malawi. I don’t have to do “good” in Malawi because my brothers and sisters in PWS&D are already doing it.
But my other response is that doing good is not enough. Jesus doesn’t say that we shouldn’t worship God or that we shouldn’t think about questions of eternal life. Or that we shouldn’t study the Bible. After all, it is a conversation between a Biblical scholar and teacher Jesus about how to understand some Old Testament passages that gives us the story of the “good” Samaritan. When I help students preparing for ministry, when I train lay leaders who work in their congregations, when I teach the Old Testament and help others to read it faithfully, I may not be being “good” but I am equipping others to be faithful.
Obviously the Good Samaritan is called “good” for a reason so my protest that being good is not enough needs to get looked at a little closer. Even more, the Samaritan can’t be good because he is also faithful. He isn’t faithful, at least not according to the standards that Jesus and the religious scholar agree on. The Samaritans were a group of people who were left behind when the Bablylonians took most of Israel away into exile. They had set up an alternative kind of Judaism that hundreds of years later was recognizable but quite different. And there is no feud like a family feud to make enemies. Samaritans were popularly reviled, thought of as backwards and mistaken. They were the opposite of faithful; they were heretics of the worst kind.
We’ve turned the word “Samaritan” into something good and in the process, we make the Priest and the Levite into something bad. We draw the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you do the right thing because the Samaritan, who doesn’t believe the right thing, is the hero and the Priest and the Levite, who do believe the right thing, are the villains.
But I’m not sure we should do that too quickly. The Priest and the Levite have rational reasons for their actions. Perhaps the victim was already dead and the robbers were using the body as bait. Because touching a dead body would make someone ritually unclean, meaning they couldn’t go into the Temple and worship, and the Priest and Levite were the people set aside to go into the Temple on behalf of all others, by not taking the risk of touching a dead body the Priest and Levite preserve the worship life of thousands of others. Who would really think that staying alive and doing your job are villainess?
In reading through the story again, I remember something that one of my colleagues at TEEM emphasizes when we teach the Bible to low literacy adults. If something gets repeated, it might be important. And something gets repeated here. Both the Priest and the Levite “passed by on the other side.” This is a story of movement, from Jericho to Jerusalem, from one side of the road to the other. The Priest and Levite cross the road. Eugene Peterson in his version of the passage nicely captures what the Samaritan’s reaction is — he sees the victim and “his heart goes out to him.” There is a difference of belief at work here but it results in a difference of place. One group believes the right thing and goes to the other side; the other doesn’t believe the right thing and goes to the victim’s side.
The story that Jesus tells points to a fundamental truth — we cannot love God and love our neighbour separately. Jesus does not condone the Samaritans belief, or more positively, doesn’t denigrate the Priest and the Levites. What he says is that we cannot draw close to God without also drawing close to our fellow humans. It is not an either/or, either love God or love neighbour. It is both/and.
International Ministries, the part of the church that sends me to Malawi, believes that we can’t do mission at a distance. We can’t fully love God unless we cross those things that divide us and be with the other. I and my family lived in Malawi until COVID-19 restrictions forced us home. We lived at Canada House, a residence that the PCC built in the 90s for mission staff like me. My colleague Rev. Joel Sherbino and his family lived there before us. Joel now ministers ¾ of his time in Paris, Ontario, and ¼ of his time equipping and helping a lay outreach program into Malawian prisons. It was an honour to help Joel in that work by providing training for lay elders at the Presbyterian church inside one of the largest prisons in Malawi. Imagine that — you support training prisoners who have found Jesus Christ to lead other prisoners to grace and truth.
Joel and myself can do what we do because we lived there. We are, in the words of the Associate Secretary for International Ministries Rev. Glynis Williams, “living links” between Malawi and Canada. We know the people. We have gone to weddings and funerals. We have preached in front of thousands and in the tiniest of villages. We have hosted people in our homes and have eaten the only chicken in a village under an acacia tree. We have the dirt of Malawi on our feet no matter where we go.
And, to be honest, we have seen some pretty shocking sights. Poverty and deprivation that go far beyond what most experience here in Canada. Sickness and lack of resources that would shock most of us. For sure we have seen joy and delight, celebration and hope, these are our friends and we love them, but we have also been there for sorrow and despair and struggle. We have seen needs that are impossible to fulfill. No amount of doing good would solve the problems we’ve seen.
And here, for me, is the deep truth of the story that Jesus tells — it is in crossing the road to be with a dying man that the Samaritan draws closer to God. To be present and with the sick and the dying, the imprisoned and the destitute, is to be present to God in a way that we cannot be if we cross to the other side of the road.
The Mini-Bus Driver story
When I first arrived in Malawi, the first week in fact, I was going down to Mount Mulanje, which is a big mountain and I was going to meet with a number of youth. I not really traveled in the country at all and didn’t drive and didn’t have a vehicle quite yet and so a driver was assigned to me.
And his name is Mahanya. His English was not super good.
We had a conversation as we drove down in his truck and we went to the retreat center and and started chatting with young people and we went for a hike and and then during this time Mahanya, who apparently had used to live in Mulanje, went into the village away from where we were and said,
“Oh yeah, I’ll come back. Don’t worry, I’ll come back.”
Because I knew that it wasn’t really a good idea to drive after night. In Malawi there’s only 11% of the population have access to electricity. There’s no streetlights, and often vehicles are decrepit and there’s no lights, and so being out after dark is a safety hazard to yourself and to all the other people.
And many people walk and they don’t stop walking just because the sun goes down. And so there are many thousands, hundreds of people walking along the side of these rather narrow road.
So near the end of the hike, and we’re coming back and it starts to get dark and in Africa, unlike in Canada, where you know you can have a sunset that goes on for hours most of the time, the sunset is about 30 minutes and so it starts to get dark and all of a sudden it’s dark. It’s very sudden.
And no, man, yeah, he’s not there and he finally shows up. And it’s just about dark and we’re off. We go and we’re zooming home and he turns on the lights to the truck and they seem to be working, but I’m a little bit concerned because the dashboard lights start flickering on and off and I’m like oh maybe there’s a short in the wire, but when that happens also the engine seems to grumble a little bit and not to be running as smooth as it might.
Now it happens more frequently in the lights dim and all of a sudden it seems there’s no electricity in the truck.
And it comes back. But I look at him and he goes, “Oh no worries, don’t worry, no stress.” As soon as he says that of course the electricity stops in the truck that the truck stops working and we have to idle off to the side. Now these roads really have no shoulder so we are stuck in the dark now at the bottom of the hill and we’re mostly in the lane of traffic and there’s lots of crazy drivers and there are hundreds of people walking by on either side of us and I’ve been in the country for a week and I’m like, “Oh my goodness, what are we going to do?” Mahanya gets out and opens the hood.
He tells me to stay in the car and people are walking by and they’re amazed that there’s this white guy sitting in the truck and Mahanya gets back in the truck and he has no battery left in his cell phone, and I’m not sure who he would call it anyways. And in hindsight, I now know that there’s no, sort of tow trucks or anything you can call and all of a sudden behind us, there are these bright lights.
And it’s a mini bus. You need to understand that public transportation in Malawi is run mostly by these independent little mini buses, Japanese built like minivans. As soon as they come into Malawi they rip the seats out and weld new seats and fit between 16 and 20 people in these little mini van.
And they are not well run. They are not well driven. They are not well insured, and they are not well liked in terms of their drivers and their conductors. They’re an necessary evil in lots of ways. They’re like the Samaritans of Malawian society: necessary, but pretty low on the social scale.
So they pull over and this guy comes up and starts saying things to Muhanya in Chichewa and all of a sudden everybody is getting out of the minibus. And this guy and his conductor are now inside our engine doing things.
In the engine and at one point there they had this long iron bar, which I have no idea where they got it from, but it must have been about 6 feet, maybe even 8 feet long and one was standing up on the edge of the on the edge of the engine block and pulling and the others were down underneath and one was kind of sticking his hand in and they were prying something in the engine. And I said, “Oh my goodness, this is going to be, this is going to take some serious magic for you to do this”, and that was the wrong thing to say because Mike the mini bus driver and said, “no no abusa (which means minister) no magic today. But we will have a miracle. Don’t worry, you just pray we’ll have a miracle.”
And sure enough, Miracle Mike came through. Somehow all this poking and prodding got the alternator to work again and the truck fired back up.
And I paid Miracle Mike, likely more than I needed to and he was going to be quite happy.
But it was an encounter.
He didn’t need to stop.
And of course, he did want to get paid, but he did it without expectation of payment.
There was a moment in which the Samaritan reached out to me.
The one who had been beaten by the side of the road.
All congregations, Guildwood included, need to make decisions, financial decisions, about your life together. I thank you for being faithful and not just good in making those decisions. Thank you for giving to Presbyterians Sharing which funds International Ministries and the work that we do in Malawi and in other countries around the world. Thank you for creating living links with your brothers and sisters in Malawi, for enabling me to get stuck on the side of the road and meet Miracle Mike. Thank you for your faithful giving and support.
The challenge for you, as it is for all of us, is how can you cross the road both as individuals and as a congregation. How do you encounter others, directly, who are beaten and left for dead on the side of the road? Not to encounter them because you are the Good Samaritan who can offer aid. But encounter them as a brother or sister in need. Encounter them so that you can encounter God. There is risk and vulnerability involved in this but the Good News is, that God has already crossed the road to be with us. In Jesus Christ, we have a saviour who knows both the pain and suffering of death and the hope and joy of resurrection. Sometimes, sometimes, that Jesus looks like a good mini-bus driver.
- “His Eye is on the Sparrow” (1905). Words by Canadian-American lyricist Civilla Durfee Martin (1866–1948). Music by American gospel composer Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (1856–1932); this arrangement by American composer Mark Hayes (1953–). Words and music public domain. This arrangement copyright © 1998 Glory Sound, a division of Shawnee Press; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Performed on the keyboard 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 Dedication, Thanksgiving and Hope
Accept our offerings O God, for the furtherance of your mission in the world.
Great, giving God, you have called each of us and blessed us and sent us out to carry out your mission in the world. We give you thanks that you have included us in your work, that you have given us purpose and meaning. We thank you for our church, for Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church, for the Presbyterian Church in Canada, for the Christian Church, world wide. We give thanks for all your co-workers, and that we too can be co-workers with you. Today we give thanks for the work of the church in Malawi. For the Church of Central Africa (Presbyterian) we thank you. For Blair Bertrand, Joel Sherbino, and their work there we give thanks. Thank you for the Mission and Outreach team at Guildwood, for their leadership in drawing us into your mission.
We pray for the Presbyterian Church in Canada, at work at the General Assembly this week. We pray for its work of inclusion. We pray for open and honest debate. We pray for Bruce Morrison, a commissioner this year. We pray for him energy and strength. We pray for the technology, that all will go smoothly.
Gracious God, we had a great weekend last week. We give thanks for the Rev. Chuck Moon. We pray for him and for his family as they work through the challenges and joys of receiving a call and responding to it. We pray for the two Presbyteries involved with our call to him, for the Session as it puts the call together.
We pray for healing of body, mind, soul, for all who are ill. We pray for those essential service workers, working so hard, so that we can put this pandemic behind us. We pray for our political leaders as they guide us in these difficult days.
This week we learned of 215 children who died at a residential school in Kamloops. We pray for all children, taken from their families, for the parents, the families of those whose children did not come home. May we honour their lives with our respect for them, with our tears, and with our actions of reconciliation.
We pray for our participation in your mission, O God. Give us eyes of discernment. Give us respect for another’s way of life. Give us an openness to see that things can be done differently from the way we have always done them. May we be truly partners with those with whom we work. Help us to see you at work in all areas of life, and to join in your work of peacemaking, of working for wholeness, for abundant life for all. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Book of Praise – 775 “Sent forth by God’s Blessing”
- Video with on-screen words; differences with the words in the hymnbook — follow along on the screen.
- Words (1964) by American Omer Westendorf (1916–1997). Music (tune: “Ash Grove”) traditional Welsh melody. Words © 1964 World Library Publications, Inc.; music in the public domain.
- This recording made by First Congregational Church UCC in Portland, Oregon, on June 7, 2020.
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. (Romans 15:13)
- “Go Now in Peace”. Words by American educator, lyricist and composer Don Besig (1936–) and American lyricist Nancy Price (1958–). Music by Don Besig. Words and music copyright © 1988 Harold Flammer Music, a division of Shawnee Press; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Performed by Rachelle Risling (keyboard) and the GCPC Senior Choir. Audio and video production by Rachelle Risling.
- Audio and video recording copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
Copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Last updated on 2021-06-05 15:38 – First version.