July 25, 2021 – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
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Message from the Rev. Helen Smith
We gather, virtually, from home or holiday, from times of celebration, or times of struggle. Whatever is happening in our lives, may God bless us, everyone, in this time of 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.
based on Psalm 22, a Psalm of Lament
In a world ravaged by pollution, war and hatred, a country struggling with racism, colonialism, where lives can be broken with disease, with struggle, with loneliness, with poverty of spirit, with economic poverty, with apathy, anger, or despair, we cry:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
May the Holy Spirit open our ears to hear, our minds to understand and our hearts to worship. Come, let us worship God.
Book of Praise – 497 “Word of God across the ages”
- Video with no on-screen words; sung words differ slightly from those in the hymnbook. Start the video, then use the words printed just below.
- Words (1953) by American minister Ferdinand Q. Blanchard (1876–1968). Music (1797; tune “Austria”) by Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732–1809). Words and music in the public domain.
- Performed March 2, 2012, as part of the 12th Annual Hymn Festival “The Incarnate Word” at First Presbyterian Church in Salem, Oregon, by the Chamber Orchestra, Concert Band and Concert Choir of Corban University.
Word of God across the ages
comes a message to our life,
source of hope, forever present
in our toil and fears and strife,
constant witness to God’s mercy,
still our grace, whate’er befall,
guide unfailing, strength eternal,
offered freely to us all.
Guide unfailing, strength eternal,
offered freely to us all.
Story of our wondrous journey
from the shadows of the night,
garnered truth of sage and prophet,
guiding forward into light,
words and deeds of Christ the master,
pointing to the life and way,
still appearing, still inspiring,
in the struggles of today.
Still appearing, still inspiring,
in the struggles of today.
In the tongues of all the peoples
may the message bless and heal,
as devout and patient scholars
more and more its depths reveal.
Bless, O God, to wise and simple,
all the truth of ageless worth,
till all lands receive the witness
and your knowledge fills the earth.
Till all lands receive the witness
and your knowledge fills the earth.
Prayers of Approach and Confession
Living God, we come to you in wonder. We have known your works as creator, upholder, in-dweller, lover of all. We have known you in our own times and in our own lives and in the lives of our neighbours. Before the mystery of your presence all around and within, it is right for us to be silent and to offer thanks and praise.
But, living God, we also come to you in anger and despair. We look out and see children dying of hunger, nations torn apart by war, greed and corruption blighting the lives of millions. We see our complicity in much of this, our compromised lives, our broken hearts, our broken promises, and before the mystery of evil rampant and injustice unpunished, we ask, “Where were you, God, when all this went so wrong? Hear us as we lift our voices to you and cry, “O God, why have you forsaken us.” In silence then, before the mystery both of your presence and of your absence, we wait upon you now.
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; And by night, but you do not answer.
Slow us down, loving God. Let us be still in your presence, and remember your gracious deeds in our lives, for you, Lord, are our strength.
God of all, we confess that we have not placed you in the centre of our lives. We make excuses for ourselves and forget that you speak to us through our hearts, minds and consciences. We have been blind to the reminders of your presence with us. We have hardened our hearts in our busyness and neglected our neighbours.
Merciful God, heal us, forgive us and renew us. 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.
In our transactional society, it does not seem unreasonable to expect that as a faithful follower of Jesus, I will be exempt from dead ends, muddy detours, and cruel treatment, disease, disaster.
But, as you and I know, that doesn’t happen. Often things don’t turn out the way we expect. That God’s followers don’t get preferential treatment in life is often the case. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. Why do bad things happen to good people? Well, it is Biblical. In the Biblical stories of the interactions that people have with God, we see that bad things do happen to good people, and good things can happen to those we might say are bad people, that Maude was, to say the least, a bit misguided.
Our little person for today is the prophet Habakkuk, one of the more minor of the Minor Prophets. In addition to having a name that there is no agreement on how to pronounce, (You say HA bakkuk and I say Ha BAK kuk) he also struggles with when bad things happen to good people. Most prophets, take Amos, for example, speak God’s word to us. They are preachers calling us to listen to God’s words of challenge and God’s words of comfort. Most prophets are in your face, not given to tact, as they insist that we pay attention to God. Habakkuk speaks our word to God. He gives voice to our bewilderment, articulates our puzzled attempts to make sense of things, and faces God with our disappointments with God. He insists, with a prophet’s characteristic no-nonsense bluntness, that God pay attention to us.
The circumstances that led to Habakkuk’s outbursts took place in the seventh century BC. This is later than most of the other prophets. Assyria has come, conquered, and gone, defeated now by the Babylonians. Habakkuk is in the southern kingdom of Judah, Amos and Hosea were in the north. Habakkuk is troubled by the evil running rampant in Judah and brings his honest concerns to God. “How long, how long,” says Habakkuk, “How long must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (1: 2).
And God answers, “Okay, I’m listening. Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to send the Babylonians! (1: 5–11)
And Habakkuk goes ballistic. “What! Using such evil people as your instrument, that is an even worse injustice. How can you allow the wicked to devour the more righteous? Judah isn’t perfect, but it is sure better than Babylon.” How can God use the godless military machine of Babylon to bring God’s judgement on God’s own people, using a godless nation to punish a godly one? It didn’t make sense and Habakkuk was quick and bold to say so. He dared to voice his feelings that God didn’t know God’s own business. Not a day has passed since then that one of us hasn’t picked up and repeated Habakkuk’s bafflement: God, you don’t seem to make sense.
Habbakuk, this prophet companion who stands at our side in our attempt to understand what is going on, when bad things happen to good people, waits and he listens. “I’m going to stand on my watchtower and look to see your answer to my complaints.” Habakkuk says to God.
Yes, we can yell at God. God is big enough to take it and it is this honesty, this transparency, that is needed in a relationship of trust. That is what the psalms of lament are all about. And then, having done that, we need to wait. The prophet second Isaiah, writing about 100 years after Habakkuk tells us to keep on waiting, waiting, waiting, and we will renew our strength. (Isaiah 40)
And God answers. In reply to his questions, Habakkuk is told that the divine order surely comes. God has a definite time when his purpose will be fulfilled, the appointed time, God’s time, not ours, the Kairos. The time may seem slow from a human standpoint, but ultimately, God’s purpose will be fulfilled. And in the meantime…. The righteous, God reveals to Habakkuk, will live by their faith, by their trust, their hope in God (2: 4). They will not live by reliance on self, reliance on personal resources like the Babylonians do, full of themselves but empty of soul.
Habakkuk waits from his watchtower, and he listens … which then turns, in chapter 3, into praying, and he finds himself inhabiting the large world of God’s sovereignty. He recounts God’s merciful deeds, full of poetic creation and exodus imagery, the brightness of the sun’s rays coming from God’s hand, deliverance from slavery, horses & chariots coming through the sea. Can you recount when God has worked mercifully in your past? Where today do we need this mercy again?
Habakkuk is a prophet for all faithful people, of whatever era, who find ourselves living “in the meantime”: In the time between the revelation of the promises of God and the fulfillment of those promises, in the time between their redemption, when God made his purpose clear, that God loves the world, that God’s will for us is blessings, life in abundance, and the final time when that divine purpose will be completely realized. He is a prophet for faith in the meantime, when it looks like God’s purpose is hidden. He speaks of that faith and to that faith which lives in the world as it is and yet which knows that that world is not all there was or is or is to come. He speaks and shall ever speak to those of us who live in the meantime, and who look forward to that day when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (2: 14)
Habakkuk prays his prayer of faith in the midst of living in the meantime, in the midst of the chaos his country is in. He declares and works through his questions about the injustices of life. He stirs up vivid memories in Israel of God’s mercy, of God’s creativity. And that leads him to write,
“Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails,
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold,
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.”
And this must have become a hymn for those times as it is followed with the instructions:
“To the leader: with stringed instruments.”
Countless faithful people have shared Habakkuk’s faith, his trust in God, and thus also found his joy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor, theologian, and founding member of the Confessing Church in Germany. He is known for his resistance to Hitler, his opposition to Hitler’s euthanasia program and Hitler’s genocidal persecution of the Jews. Bonhoeffer was accused of being part of a plot to assassinate Hitler and was arrested in April 1943. He lived the remaining two years of his life (he was hanged by the Nazis in 1945) in prison and concentration camps. Yet he wrote from his prison cell: “By good powers wonderfully hidden, we await cheerfully, come what may.”
Cathy Graham was a caring, charismatic person of great faith and trust in God, and she was also a person with cancer. Her family had set up a hospital bed for her in the middle of their living room, and that is where I found her, when I went to visit her. She was in great pain. “Cathy,” I said to her, “don’t you just want to curse God and die? I will never forget her response: “God has been loving and merciful to me all my life. I will not curse God now.”
Habakkuk starts out exactly where we start out with our puzzled complaints and God-accusations. In waiting and listening he finds that the believing in God life, the steady trusting in God life, is the full life, the only real life. He calls us to face the enigmas of life in faith by living and acting faithfully, confident that ultimately the issues are in God’s hands, and waiting patiently for the time when God’s sovereignty will be made clear.
Here’s how Eugene Peterson puts it in his paraphrase, The Message:
“Though the cherry trees don’t blossom
and the strawberries don’t ripen,
Though the apples are worm-eaten
and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the sheep pens are sheepless
and the cattle barns empty,
I’m singing joyful praise to God.
I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Saviour God.”
And Peterson includes the instruction:
“For congregational use, with full orchestra.”
- “Precious Lord, take my hand”. Hymn 675 in the Book of Praise (Presbyterian Church in Canada, 1997). Words (published 1938) by American evangelist and composer Thomas Andrew Dorsey (1899–1993). Music adapted (ca. 1855; tune “Precious Lord”) for the hymn “Maitland” from an earlier gospel tune by American composer and geologist George Nelson Allen (1812–1877), then arranged for “Precious Lord, take my hand” by Dorsey; this arrangement by Rachelle Risling. Words copyright © 1938 Unichappell Music Inc.; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A. Music in the public domain. Original arrangement copyright © 1938 Unichappell Music Inc.; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A. This arrangement copyright © 2021 Rachelle Risling; used by permission.
- Vocals and guitar 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
Gracious God, like Habukkuk, the prophet of old, we search for your ways in the world. We bring our offerings as symbols of our commitment to continue the search for peace with justice in our local and global communities. We offer these gifts because we know that change is possible. We offer these gifts for the transformation of ourselves and our world for the good of all.
We give thanks, O God, for the joy of creation, for all that is made and given; for the springing forth of new vision, the flowering of hope.
We give thanks for the joy of re-creation, for times of rest and stillness that renew us, for times of play and laughter that refresh us, for all the nourishes and restores our spirits.
We give thanks for the visions that inspire our longings, for love that brings strength and tenderness, for all that touches our deepest core.
We give thanks for the rhythms of the seasons, for all that grows, blossoms and fades, for the seeds that are buried and spring again, for the constant renewal of life from the earth and in our lives.
Life giving God, we offer to you the images we have seen of a world of people who fall far short of their potential. We see the discrimination that holds people back, the refugee camps, the ghettos, the people who are hungry, those who are afraid, those who are lonely, those who are ill. Sometimes we see these images in our own mirrors.
Life giving God, we offer you, too, the images which help to sustain our hope in the redemptive power of Jesus Christ: the health care workers, putting themselves at risk to work to end the pandemic, our church’s mission project for the local Foodbank, decisions of our national church that proclaim that your love includes everyone.
Giver and saviour of life: strengthen us to play our part in the story of creation and re-creation as it continues to unfold. Help us to give of ourselves, to discover our gifts, to bring life to others and thus find reason to dance for joy, with full orchestra. We pray in Jesus’ name. AMEN.
Book of Praise – 662 “Those who wait upon the Lord”
- Video with on-screen words exactly as in the hymnbook.
- Book of Praise (Presbyterian Church in Canada, 1997), p 846. Words are English traditional from Isaiah 40: 31. Music (tune: “Eagle’s Wings”) is English traditional arranged by Scottish hymn-writer and Church of Scotland minister John L. Bell (1949–) affiliated with the Iona Community. Words and music public domain. Arrangement copyright © WGRG The Iona Community (Scotland), used by permission of G.I.A. Publications Inc.; used in the video by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Vocals and keyboard performed by GCPC Music Director Rachelle Risling.
- Audio and video recording copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
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 2021-07-24 14:30 – First Version.