July 11, 2021 – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
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Message from the Rev. Helen Smith
We are hoping that these weeks without in-person worship are numbered. However, one of the positive results of the pandemic is the opportunity we have had to reach people through technology. If you would like this outreach to continue after we are back to in-person worship please let us, or one of the elders know. And in the meantime, we continue. We pray God’s blessing on us, wherever we are, as we use these resources for worship.
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.
From the corners of the world, from the confusion of life, from the loneliness of our hearts, we come to worship. To feed our minds, to fire our imagination, to free our hearts, come, let us worship God.
Book of Praise – 449 “Lord, listen to your children praying”
- Video with on-screen words exactly as in the hymnbook, but with an additional verse, and verse one repeated; follow along on-screen.
- Words and music (1970; tune: “Children Praying”) by American musician and singer-songwriter Ken Medema (1943–). Words and music copyright © 1973 Hope Publishing Co.
- Recorded and produced for St. John Lutheran Church in Romeo, Michigan, May 2020.
Prayers of Approach and Confession
God of peace, God of justice, Jesus taught his disciples and us to pray and to never lose heart. But frankly God, there are times that wear us down and we feel fainthearted. We feel weary and close to giving up. There are times when we do lose hope and give up. Remind us again of your presence with us, of your renewing, life giving power. Help us to persist in the pursuit of justice for all, to put words into action, feet to our prayers, and so manifest in our lives the kingdom living that honours all.
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
Sisters and brothers, our God is a God of compassion and mercy and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. Be at peace. God is with us.
The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Our little person for today is not a real, historical person. She is in a story that Jesus told his disciples, to encourage them to pray, and not to lose heart. The disciples were not to lose heart if the kingdom did not come quickly or if their prayers were not immediately answered, or in the face of injustice. They would need to remember this story when not too long after this Jesus would be crucified. And they would need to remember it when Luke wrote this story down, forty years later, and many were becoming impatient at the delay in the Lord’s coming. They were undergoing injustice, persecution, denunciations, trials, martyrdom. And it was all taking too long. So Luke reminded them, and us, of this story that Jesus told.
There are only two people in this story, a judge and a widow. A judge, then as now, was a person of extraordinary power. We read in Deuteronomy that a judge must not be partial, but hear out the small and the great alike (Deut. 1: 17). The judge was to administer justice according to the righteousness of God, but the judge in the parable is a law unto himself who has no sense of accountability to people or to God. He neither feared God, nor had respect for people. He doesn’t even bother to hear this case, presumably because he knows there’s nothing much in it for him.
Now, what about the widow? Just the word “widow” speaks volumes about the plaintiff. Widows in the Bible were extremely vulnerable and marginalized. They are resourceless. A widow could not inherit her husband’s estate. The Torah repeatedly calls on ancient Israel to care for widows. Widows were dependent on the compassion of the community. Think of Ruth and Naomi, in the book of Ruth, homeless, left to live on what was left in the fields after the harvest. In the early church, care of widows was recognized as a Christian responsibility and was given a special role in the community.
This widow was the victim of some injustice. We don’t know exactly what it was. It was probably some exploitation which would have been business as usual in a patriarchal society. We do know there were lots of obstacles in her way. She didn’t know anyone in authority who could exert influence. She had no money to bribe the corrupt judge. No one would expect the widow to speak up. But she does. She calls into question the norm. She nags. She hassles. She keeps knocking on the judge’s door until her knuckles are bleeding. This widow was demanding justice. And she just refused to give up. She’s got nerve! She is persistent.
The judge finally gives in, not out of a sense of justice or moral obligation, but because he is tired of her knocking on his door, following him around the neighbourhood. He is embarrassed that the neighbours might see her. She was a disgrace. Jesus made clear that the judge’s motive was not concern for the woman or regard for God. In response to the victim’s persistence, the judge not only decided to hear her case but also to grant her justice. The surprise is that even a person of poor character may be persuaded by persistent pleading to act justly. The point here seems to be that those who pray to a just and loving God should never give up. If an unjust official could be persuaded to act justly, how much more could God be trusted to act justly. And a second level meaning might be found in the importance of never giving up the cause of justice, no matter who has the power. Keep praying, Jesus says, to the disciples and to us.
Just as an aside here, Jesus is not talking about the prosperity gospel, you know, where people seem to want to believe that God will intercede at our urging and do what we want God to do. Annie Dillard calls that “God sticking a finger in, if only now and then.” God is regularly given credit for finding a convenient parking place. Super Bowl champions thank the God who secured their victory (though we hear little from the losers’ locker room on the subject). The winner of the lottery gives God credit for the $295 million jackpot. In I Chronicles, a heretofore unmentioned man by the name of Jabez is remembered as the one who prays: “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from hurt and harm.” (1 Chr. 4: 10). God complied, and on that basis some twenty-first-century Christians are persuaded that God has unclaimed blessings for us, that God want us to be selfish in our prayers, that it is appropriate to ask God to increase the value of your stock portfolio, and that God will open the storehouse of heaven if you pray persistently.
The issue here is justice, not using God to get what one wants or needs. What God knows we need and what we think we want are not at all the same thing. The early church certainly prayed for many things it did not receive: safety, protection from persecution, for instance. It did receive what it most needed: a sense of God’s loving presence and attentiveness, and the strength and resilience and fortitude it needed to survive. According to Jesus, by far the most important thing about praying is to keep at it. He tells this parable so that his disciples will keep praying and not lose heart. Walter Brueggemann, Biblical scholar, writes: “He urges his disciples, ‘Stay active in this transaction, for staying active in this transaction will fend off despair.’” (Brueggemann, W, “Interrupting Silence”, p. 87.) Frederick Buechner, writer and Presbyterian minister, writes on prayer: “keep on beating the path to God’s door, because the one thing you can be sure of is that down the path you beat with even your most half-cocked and halting prayer, the God you call upon will finally come, and even if he does not bring you the answer you want, he will bring himself. And maybe at the secret heart of all our prayers that is what we are really praying for.” (Buechner, F, “Wishful Thinking”, p. 71)
Jesus told this parable of the persistent widow so we would pray always and not lose heart. In this day of fast food, microwave ovens, emails, texts, we are not a persistent culture. We hate to wait. There are lots of promises of quick fixes, drugs, alcohol, violence. We are in an environment where, as Christians, we often feel we are singing the Lord’s song in a foreign land and it is easy to lose heart. We go to Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans, to let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good, overcome evil with good. We put bumper stickers on our cars, encouraging random acts of kindness. Violence continues, peace is not happening. We are called naïve and foolish. Sometimes it seems to us that God doesn’t care, that justice will not come about. That is why we need this parable.
Persist, Jesus says. Hang on. Don’t lose heart. Keep on proclaiming God’s love, keep on upholding the hope of a world at peace and persist in seeking the justice that will bring that hope to fruition. Put feet to your words, as the widow did who pursued the judge. Persist for justice.
In a certain city there was a corrupt bureaucrat who neither feared God nor respected people; and there was a mother on welfare in the same city who kept coming to him and saying, “Make my landlord fix the furnace and insulate the walls. I can no longer afford to pay the heating bills and my children are freezing.” For a while the bureaucrat refused to listen, busying himself with more important things, that would raise his profile in the community, but the woman kept coming to his office every day with her three children and each day she would make her plea again. After several weeks of this, he thought to himself, “If I don’t give this woman what is right, she will pester me to death. And it is so embarrassing to have these grubby kids in my posh waiting room.” An order was issued. The furnace was replaced and the insulation was installed in the walls. The next day the woman was back in the bureaucrat’s office with her children. She thanked him for what he had done, and then she said, “Now, let me tell you about my plumbing problems.”
- “Pass It On”. Words and music (1969) by American church music composer Kurt Kaiser (1934–2018). Words and music copyright © 1969 Bud John Songs (Admin. EMI Christian Music Publishing); used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A. This arrangement copyright © 2021 by Rachelle Risling; 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 Dedication, Thanksgiving and Hope
Accept our offerings O God. May they be used to further the cause of your justice in the world.
Today we celebrate all those women and men, youth and children, who are like the persistent widow. They persist in the cause of right. They will not keep quiet. They insist on raising the issues again and again. They campaign for unpopular causes, write letters, send emails, sign petitions. They pick up their pens or take to the streets in peaceful demonstrations. We celebrate their steadfastness, their down to earthness. They are blessed with both stubbornness and courage to change the world. Thank you for their persistence.
Thank you for your justice at work in the world. Thank you for hearing our prayers and answering them, for showing concern and protection.
O God, like the persistent widow, we continue to cry out for justice. We plead for those who cannot speak for themselves. We stand up for those whose rights have been violated. We seek peace with justice for those who need both. We pray for justice for those who are the weakest. We think today of Amnesty International and other groups that work for human rights. We pray with thanksgiving and with hope for them.
We pray for people in western Canada, having to leave their homes because of wildfires, for those who have lost their homes to the fires, for those who are fighting the fires. As we pray for the end of the fires, we pray too for the earth, for our just care of the creation.
We pray for those who are ill, or anxious; we pray for those who mourn, and particularly we pray for Carole Lidgold and her family, giving thanks for Gord’s life and service. We pray for those who are lonely or sad; for those who are despairing or defeated; for those who are hungry or homeless; for those whose relationships are breaking apart; for those who are bullied or abused; for those who cannot find work; for those who are over-worked. In silence now, we pray for those on our hearts and minds today:
O God, hear our prayers. Come down the path we have beaten to your door, and may your presence, your justice be felt. In Jesus name we pray. AMEN
Book of Praise – 746 “What a friend we have in Jesus”
- Video with on-screen words, verse 1 only, exactly as 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 by the Knox College Virtual Choir, April 2021.
- See if you can spot one of our members singing!
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 2021-07-10 11:25 – First Version.