July 4, 2021 – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
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Message from the Rev. Bob Smith
Welcome to worship on this summer Sunday at Guildwood. We may not be together, and with holidays we may even be further apart than we have for some time. But by the wonder of the technology, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, we are together. We rejoice that the Covid situation continues to improve, but for the next few weeks at least we will continue to worship in this way, and we thank those who cheerfully and tirelessly make this work. May God be present in our midst.
Call to Worship
You can listen to the audio recording of the Call to Worship with Rev. Bob Smith while consulting the text below (the audio is part of the Welcome message recording above); or just use the text below.
God has promised, I will be with you, I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, and you will receive a blessing. Do not be frightened or dismayed, for I am with you wherever you go.
Book of Praise – 291 “Thou whose almighty word”
- Video with on-screen words, with minor differences from those in the hymnbook.
- Words (1813) by English poet and clergyman John Marriott (1780–1825). Music (tune: “Italian Hymn”, also called “Moscow”) by Italian composer Felice de Giardini (1716–1796). Words and music in the public domain
- Audio performance by the Scottish Festival Singers. Video created by the Chet Valley Churches, in south Norfolk, England.
Prayers of Adoration and Confession, the Lord’s Prayer
We praise you, O God that you receive us when we turn to you, that you welcome us with open arms when come back to you. We come to you now, gathering as a people with a common love and purpose, trusting in the promise of your son Jesus, that whenever your people come together in your name, there you are in their midst. Come to us now, we pray. Fill us with your Spirit of unity and truth, that with our lives we may serve you in the world.
As we come, we confess that we are not always ready to go where you would lead us, not always ready to speak that word that you give us. Sometimes we lack the love, and the openness of heart that you would give us. Sometimes we lack the courage, and do not trust you to see us through. Sometimes we lack the eyes to see the need around us, and are not attentive to how you are at work in the world. Hear us now, as we bring our personal confessions to you… For these, and all our sins, loving God, forgive us, according to your steadfast mercy. It is in the name of Jesus that we ask it, and continue to pray together as he taught us:
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. Amen.
Declaration of Pardon
Friends in Christ, here is good news. There is no one so mired in sin that God cannot forgive, no one so far from the kingdom that God’s love cannot reach them. Believe in the good news that God offers, that in Jesus Christ, you are welcomed and forgiven. Thanks be to God.
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Like last year, Helen and I, in our summer services, plan to focus on some of the Bible’s minor players. Maybe they are mentioned only in passing. Maybe their name is found only once in Scripture, or maybe we don’t even know their name at all. Maybe they had a minor part in the whole drama of salvation, while someone more important walked by. Maybe they were in the right place at the right time, and can bask in a moment’s reflected greatness.
But for some reason they appear there in our Bibles, if only briefly. They are unlikely saints, Biblical nobodies. Their names, or at least their images, have come to us over the years and speak of the role that anyone can play in God’s involvement in the world.
The point is, when we look at them, we can see that they are a lot like us — ordinary folk complete with weaknesses and doubt who end up being vehicles of the grace of God, agents in carrying out the will of God. And in them we can find clues about how we as modern, ordinary people of faith can live for God and find a place in God’s realm.
Our Biblical character this morning — Ananias — is a real nobody. We know almost nothing about him. And after his fifteen minutes of fame, where his path crosses that of Saul of Tarsus, he fades back into Bible oblivion and we never hear his name mentioned again.
Well, we do know a couple of things. Ananias is a Christian, living in Damascus in the earliest days of the church. We are told that he is a devout man, well-spoken of by others in the faith. And for all his being a nobody in the church there, he shows uncommon courage when the opportunity arises to reach out in faith.
Most of this we have to imagine, but let’s follow Ananias through this day where he is asked to stick his neck out for God.
The day starts like any other. While he is shaving he maps out his day, with all the things he is going to accomplish at the office. He checks the morning paper while he drinks his coffee. Did Damascus edge out Antioch for the last playoff spot? It is as he is turning to the editorial page that God speaks to him in a vision.
“Yes, Lord. Here I am.” God has never spoken to Ananias this way before. Other people maybe, but never him. His heart skips a beat. God is speaking to him! He’s pretty new to this – he hasn’t even been asked to take up the offering in church yet. But God is speaking to him. What special message will God convey through his humble servant? What mission does the Almighty have for ordinary, everyday Ananias?
“Go right away down to Main Street, to Judas’ house,” says God. “There you will find a man named Saul, from Tarsus. Right now, as you drink your coffee, he is praying. And he is seeing a vision of you, Ananias, coming to his house to lay your hands on him, so that he will recover his sight.”
This not quite the mission that Ananias expects. “Whoa, wait a minute God. I’m as ready as the next person to go and minister to people, but Saul of Tarsus? You’ve got to be kidding.
“Do you realize who you’re talking about, God? This guy is public enemy number one for your people. He has already made a name for himself in Jerusalem for hunting down and imprisoning Christians. He’s a real zealot for the old ways. He thinks that anyone who believes in Jesus is a threat to the traditional faith and public peace, so he throws them in jail. He even has had some put to death.
“I’ve heard that right now he is heading here for Damascus to do the same thing to us – to round up all the believers and take them off to prison in Jerusalem.
“Don’t you understand, God? Saul is the reason that we live in complete fear as believers. He’s the reason that we have to meet in secret, and sing our hymns in a whisper, so we won’t attract attention. If Saul had his way, the church would be wiped out in a second. And he would gladly sit and watch while your people are tortured and killed for no other reason than being followers of Jesus.
“Saul of Tarsus? Lay hands on him so he can receive his sight? Forgive me for being so honest, Lord, but I’d sooner lay my bare hands on his neck and choke the life out of him, for all the suffering he has caused your people.”
“Not so fast, Ananias,” God answers. All that you say about this man is true.
But I want you to go to him because I have chosen him to be an instrument in my hand. I know it seems a little unlikely, but he is the one I will use to bring the light of my gospel to the world outside of Israel. And in time, he too will suffer terribly for the sake of my name.”
Now, what Ananias does not know is that something has happened to Saul. Three days ago, on his way to Damascus, he was still breathing threats and murder against people of the Way — Christians — and had official letters from the authorities giving him permission to bind them and take them away.
To get his attention, the risen, exalted Jesus knocked him off his horse and right onto the seat of his pants, and blinded him with a light from heaven. In his blinded state, Saul is told to continue on to Damascus and wait there until he is told what to do. For three days now, without taking any food or water, he has waited. Now, who do you think is more afraid? – Saul who now has to wait in his blindness, and submit to the very people he has come to arrest; or Ananias who knows that Saul’s reputation for cruelty is unmatched and can’t help but think that this might be a trap.
Well, Ananias goes to the house as directed but walks past it a few times before he works up the nerve to knock on the door. Maybe to encourage himself he thinks back to God’s wonderful promise to Joshua before he begins the conquest of the promised land. “I will not leave you or forsake you. I will be with you wherever you go.”
So Ananias takes a deep breath, says a quick prayer, makes a choice, and enters to face a man who would gladly have arrested him a few days before.
God has instructed him to offer to Saul a welcome and a healing and that is what he will do. He will put his best foot forward and trust that God will go with him.
Saul is a small man, not as imposing as Ananias expected. In his blindness and confusion and hunger, not nearly so frightening as he pictured him — in fact, sitting there, waiting in his blackness, he seems almost helpless, pitiful even. Reaching across his fear, he places his hand on the head of Saul. He greets with compassion the man whose very name once struck terror in the heart of every Christian:
“My brother, Saul,” begins Ananias. “Brother!” To Saul, lonely and frightened and vulnerable, there is no sweeter word. It’s a long time since someone has called him that, not in such a loving and accepting tone. Ananias continues, “Let me tell you what’s going on in your life right now. Jesus, whom you met on the road to Damascus, has sent me here today. By his power, may you now regain your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
His eyesight restored, Saul is baptised, takes some food, and begins to recover his strength. The mighty Saul is so moved by it all, he cries like a baby.
Gone is the distance and hatred between these two men — between the persecutor of the church, and one of the church’s saints; between someone in power, and a man with no power but the promised presence of God; between a man so zealous for God that he missed the boat completely, and one who by coming to him, could help him to find what he so desperately sought.
And what it takes is an ordinary, everyday member of the Christian community in Damascus to take a risk, to reach across the chasm between them, place his hand on his head, and call him brother.
Saul must have wondered what kind of love could rest in a person’s heart that this stranger would do that: — that Ananias would risk his life on the strength that God could break down even such a tough customer as him — that he would knock on his door and call him brother — that he would later take this unlikely new convert by the hand, and introduce him around the circle at their little secretive house church, still whispering for fear of Saul’s old friends. “This is our new brother, Saul. He used to be against us, but God has touched his heart and now he too is a believer.”
I picture Saul, who came to be known as Paul, more than once in the years to come, would give his head a shake as he remembered the events of those few days. He didn’t know which power was the greatest: a light so bright it could knock him off his horse; the compassion of God so deep that it could change even a hardened old zealot like him; the acceptance of a church so unconditional that they would take in and welcome the one who was their enemy; or a love so strong in Ananias that it would risk everything, and reach out to him like a brother.
Could those actions have formed part of Paul’s ability, later, to see the gospel as reaching even beyond the boundary of Judaism, across the barriers, to embrace the whole world? — something that would be foundation to his teachings. We can only guess.
And what of Ananias? We know nothing more about him. But I picture him, whenever Paul was in town — that great preacher and leader in the church — Ananias would follow at a distance. He would listen from the back of the crowd, watch for a look of recognition, and think to himself, with gratitude and humility, “By the grace of God, in my fear I went to him, and helped him wake up to his new life as a child of God.”
By the end of this scene the faithful, daring servant Ananias has moved off the stage, and we hear nothing more about him. But that’s ministry, isn’t it? It is not about recognition or privilege or honour, but about doing those things, big and small, that God calls us to do. It’s about listening for that voice, while you’re reading your morning paper, or doing your homework, or watching TV.
“Jessica, David, Linda, Bob, I’ve got something I want you to do.” It’s a voice that comes, even in the ordinariness of our lives, calling us to take a risk, rest on the promise that God is with us wherever we go, and do something extraordinary to make God’s love known in the world, and so to build up the church of Jesus Christ.
It is God who changes people’s lives, and puts them to work building a kingdom, but God can use even nobodies like us to help make that miracle happen.
- “Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2”. Music (1847) by Polish composer Frédéric Chopin (1810–1849). Music in the public domain.
- 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
Loving God, the bringing of our offering is a very personal part of our worship. There is sacrifice represented in each of our gifts. As you have blessed us, may others find a blessing through what we return to you. In this way, we pray that we may share in your work in the world, and help to build up your church in Jesus’ name.
We thank for your blessing in our lives, for all that reminds us of your goodness and provision. We thank for the life you have given us, for reaching out to us in love; for those faithful and caring people who helped lead us to you, helped us to hear your voice; and for the opportunities to do that for others. Give us the courage to seize those moments for you. To know you and your love is our deepest joy and most abiding hope, and we give you our thanks and praise.
We pray for all in need of an extra measure of your blessing: those who do not know your love or presence, that you would be real to them; families enjoying a more open time for vacations and rest, that you would renew them; families where there is sickness, reports that are not good, that you would free them from anxiety, and provide good care, healing; those reminded of the aging of their bodies, if not their spirits, in hospital or nursing homes, trying to come to terms with their frailty, that you would be with them to encourage and befriend.
We pray for the church, that you would keep us faithful and outward looking, always watchful for a chance to make your good news known to others, and to share your love with the world. We pray for this congregation, that you would bless, guide us for what lies ahead. We are grateful for the prospect of receiving our new minister, Chuck, and that with him we may continue to discover, celebrate and share the love that we have received from you.
Loving God, hear now our prayers for those needs that we alone may know, in a moment of silence… So often we do not know how or what to pray. Take our thoughts, our images, even our desire that we could pray better, and lift them up as an offering to you. Receive them, and work in our lives and the lives of others, to answer them according to your will. In Jesus’ name we ask it. Amen.
Book of Praise – 634 “Will you come and follow me”
- Video with on-screen words exactly as in the hymnbook.
- Words (1987) by Scottish hymn-writer and Church of Scotland minister John L. Bell (1949–) and his Scottish hymn-writing partner Graham Maule (1958–2019), both affiliated with the Iona Community. Music (Scottish traditional; tune “Kelvingrove”) arranged in 1987 by Bell. Words and arrangement copyright © 1987, Iona Community, GIA Publications, Inc. agent.
- Audio recording by the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, England. Video created in June 2020 by St. Michael’s, Verwood, Dorset, England.
Commissioning and Benediction
Go in peace to follow where the voice of God calls you, and to proclaim his love where the heart of God places you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you all, now and forever. Amen.
- “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 2021-07-03 12:20 – First Version.