August 1, 2021 – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
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Message from the Rev. Bob Smith
Welcome to our worship today at Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church. Our worship today has as its focus the praises we bring to God in response to God’s grace and goodness in our lives. Sometimes formal and structured, other times spontaneous and ecstatic, the Bible repeatedly invites us to open our hearts in praise to God, and in fact, especially the Psalms, gives us lots of examples that we can use as a sort of template for our own praises.
I know, it would be a lot better to be gathering together to do that in person for our worship, but that will be coming soon. We can take today as a preparation, a practice session, for the joy that will ours when we can really sing our praises together.
Grace and peace to you,
Rev. Bob Smith
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.
I will sing to the Lord,
for God has triumphed gloriously.
The Lord is my strength and my might.
God has become my salvation.
You brought your people in and gave them your land,
The place that you made your dwelling place.
The sanctuary that your hands established.
The Lord will reign forever and ever.
Book of Praise – 321 “Praise to the Lord the almighty”
- Video with on-screen words with some differences from those in the hymnbook. Follow along on the screen.
- Words: original text (1680) by German theologian and hymn-writer Joachim Neander (1650–1680); English translation (1863) by English educator and hymn-writer Catherine Winkworth (1827–1878); music: tune “Lobe den Herren”, likely based on a German folk melody. Words and music in the public domain.
- This video created by the Chet Valley Churches, in south Norfolk, England.
Prayers of Adoration and Confession, the Lord’s Prayer
Gracious God, who invites us to gather together in worship and to make our entire lives a spiritual offering of praise to you, we come before you in this hour. Receive our worship, we pray, and speak your word of life and hope to us, so that we may be filled and empowered for life in your name. All praise be to you O God, Creator, Redeemer and Holy Spirit.
God of abundant love, we confess as we come before you, that we have come to take your presence and provision for granted; that we forget to see our well-being as the miracle of grace that it is; that we move about in the beauty of your creation and fail to notice its incredible diversity and beauty; that we are surrounded by signs of your presence and opportunities for service and hesitate to give ourselves to that work. In a moment of silence we make our personal confession to you.
Forgive us, we pray. Teach us to acknowledge your goodness and acknowledge it with joy, to give ourselves as your co-workers in the world, and to praise you with our whole lives, for it is in Jesus’ name that we ask it. And hear us now as we join together in the prayer that 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, hear the good news. As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our sins from us. For all who are truly sorry for your sins, know that you are forgiven.
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Our Biblical nobody for today’s sermon is Miriam. Miriam is Moses’ big sister. And through all the dramatic confrontations and heroic leadership of her little brother, Miriam is hardly mentioned.
He has conversations with God, he gets an audience with the mighty Pharaoh he performs miraculous signs at the wave of his hand, and leads the people of Israel out their slavery in Egypt to seek a new life in a far-away promised land. And through it all, Miriam is in the background, part of the crowd, no doubt rejoicing in their new freedom but also marveling at what a great leader her little brother has become.
She did have a part to play when Moses was just a baby, and his mother set him adrift in a basket on the river to escape Pharaoh’s plan to kill all the Hebrew baby boys. Miriam followed the basket at a distance to see what would happen, and when Pharaoh’s daughter discovered Moses, Miriam came forward, offering to get one of the Hebrew women (her mother), to come and nurse the baby. Her courage probably saved her brother’s life, and kept alive God’s plan to free God’s people. So, Moses survives Pharaoh’s ethnic cleansing, and even though he is brought up in Pharaoh’s palace, it is under the care of his own mother, and very likely his big sister Miriam as well.
It is later, when Moses is a grown man, that he is called to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt. Under his leadership, the desert wandering of the Israelites fills a major section of the Old Testament, but probably the biggest and most dramatic moment comes near the beginning at the Red Sea.
And to make a long story short, the Israelites, defenceless and on foot, find themselves with their toes in the water of the Red Sea, with the Egyptian army, with horses and chariots, and armed to the teeth, quickly bearing down on them. There is no way out. It looks like the game is up for the Israelites.
But Moses stretches his hand out over the sea, and by God’s power the waters are divided on either side, leaving dry land in between. The Israelites set out through the gap. But the army, with their horses and chariots, pursues them, trying to take advantage of the same route that God has provided.
Again at God’s command, Moses, safely now on the other side with all the Israelites, stretches out his hand again. The waters come back together, and the Egyptian army, caught in the middle, is wiped out. Moses and the people are safe, and the way to a new life lies before them.
Crossing the Red Sea is a defining moment for the Israelites, even to this day. This is their rite of passage by which the people became a nation. At this point, as the Bible records it, Moses sings an extended song of praise, praising God for protecting them and giving them a way to safety. Our Call to Worship this morning was part of Moses’ song in Exodus 14.
When Moses is finished singing, Miriam, the invisible big sister, steps forward — she wants to lead her own praises. Now, she has not figured in this story at all up until now. She hasn’t even been mentioned since her brother was a baby.
You have to wonder what’s been going on in her head through all this, with all the wonderful things her little brother has been doing. Is she thinking, “What makes him so great? Heck, if I hadn’t been there when he was a baby, he wouldn’t be with us today at all. I helped to feed him, change his diapers, teach him to walk. I remember showing him how to tie his shoes. What makes Moses so great?”
Now, we don’t know that she is thinking that at this point, but later on, there is some jealousy and rivalry between them, because Miriam and Aaron, her other brother, challenge Moses’ leadership.
But whatever she is thinking here, when Moses’ song of praise ends, and before the “Amens” have faded, she steps forward onto the stage. She has a tambourine in her hand, and without hesitation, steps right up to the microphone. All the other women fall in with her as she sings and dances, “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”
It’s a shorter song than Moses’, but I’m sure just as heartfelt, and the difference is it comes from a woman, and it comes with tambourine and dance. It’s a spontaneous outpouring of love and praise to God, an ecstatic rejoicing for the victory God has given them.
Maybe because of her own leadership at this point, Miriam is referred to as a prophet, a title not often used for women in the Bible. Some Biblical scholars actually think that Moses’ song may well have been added many years later, and that Miriam alone was really the worship leader at this moment. Regardless, she may have set a pattern, because in a few other places later in the life of this nation, it is the women who get the people up on their feet, singing and dancing their praises to God.
You have to wonder if the worship of the church at least in our tradition, has not lost something since Miriam sang and danced on the shores of the Red Sea. When’s the last time you danced in worship? When’s the last time we did anything completely spontaneous, as part of our worship?
People who study these things think that the concept of dancing began as a religious act. There was nothing of our sense of dance as art, as in ballet, or dance as a stylized activity that couples or groups did. In ancient times, the most common occasion of dancing was as an act of worship. It was very likely an essential part of early religious festivals.
The Psalms speak of praising God with song and dance, with shouts of joy and exclamations of glory, with tambourine and trumpet.
So what happened to our worship? Where is Miriam today? The biggest movement we have normally in worship now (at least when we actually gathered for worship) is the kids running up for their story or the processional hymn, when we used to do that to open our worship.
Our worship is a little more like the “solemn assemblies” that the prophets suggested did not impress God all that much.
Maybe the prophet Miriam’s gift to the people of God as she dances at the sea shore, is the permission to move a little, to let our hair down, to be a little less scripted a little more spontaneous. What if our minds could hardly contain our joy at the goodness of God in our lives, and our bodies unable to sit still when we think of all that God has done for us?
Picture Miriam, sitting beside you in your pew, tapping her feet to the music, snapping her fingers on the off beat, and squirming in excitement at the thought of the goodness of God in her life.
Our daughter, Laura, spent a year in Africa, in Malawi, and told us about a church service she attended which would correspond to our harvest thanksgiving. Unlike our practice of passing a plate for the offering, the worshippers there regularly bring their gifts forward to place on the plate at the front. On Thanksgiving, the offering is actually the first fruits from the field — corn, sweet potatoes, peas and nuts — and this day the people brought them forward with joy, dancing up the aisle with their offering to God of the goodness of the land.
Back when Helen and I were in Thornhill, there was a wedding at the church where both bride and groom, and virtually all of the guests, were from Jamaica. I was there just to unlock the doors — they had their own minister to officiate, which is just as well, because I don’t know nearly as many moves as this guy did. Laura came over with me, and we watched part of it from the balcony.
The church was full, and the brilliant colour of the women’s dresses was breathtaking. Every available flat surface was covered with beautiful flowers. They had a DJ for the service itself, with a huge PA system that made the windows rattle. The music was still pounding in my ears hours later.
When things were about to start, which was late of course — they were on “island time” — the groom and minister took their places. The DJ hit it with the music, and the bridal party came forward. There had to be eight or ten couples of bridesmaids and ushers, all strikingly beautiful and handsome. They came up the aisle in pairs, arm in arm, as if they had all the time in the world, swaying and moving with the music. When they got to the front, the woman twirled, the man bowed to her, and they separated to take their places in the line, which by the end reached from one wall to the other.
When it was the bride’s turn a young boy about 8 years old, wearing a tuxedo, came running (and I mean running) up the aisle, ringing a bell and shouting, “The bride’s coming! The bride’s coming!” The air was electric with anticipation by this point.
The DJ hit a new tune, which pounded out from the speakers, two cute little flower girls spread rose petals in her path, and the bride with her father made her entrance and slowly made her way up the aisle. She would have put the queen to shame that day. Up at the front, the ten bridesmaids were all swaying together like a chorus line, in time to the music, the ten groomsmen (along with the minister) were swaying a bit too, and snapping their fingers with the pounding beat. The people were shouting and cheering by the time the bride got to her place at the front.
Now there’s a spectacle! I think Miriam would have approved. You got a sense that something pretty important was happening, something that lifts the spirit excites the soul, and moves the body. And that was just the entry. That part took at least ten minutes, and the service had still not started yet.
I think as a whole, the church in our tradition may be a bit less up tight than it used to be. As I think back to that wedding, maybe it is thanks to those who have come from other parts of the world who have added to the colour and movement of our worship. Maybe Miriam and the Caribbeans and Africans are challenging the rest of us to go just a bit further in responding in praise for God’s goodness to be a little less stuffy and predictable in our worship, and really to let the Spirit move us.
We too have been brought through dangerous waters, we too have been released from the things that enslave us, we too have been shown the way, we too have been given nourishment when we were hungry and drink when we were thirsty, we too have been given new life in Christ, we too have things to celebrate and be thankful for.
May our voices and bodies respond in gratitude. The conclusion of the 150th Psalm can be a model for our worship — just picture our prophet Miriam leading the band —
Praise God with trumpet sound
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
- “Amazing Grace”. Words (1772) by composer and clergyman John Newton (1725–1807). Music (1835; tune “New Britain”) by American composer William Walker (1809–1875); this arrangement by American composer and arranger Mark Hayes (1953–). Words and music in the public domain. This arrangement copyright © 1998 GlorySound, a division of Shawnee Press Inc.; 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
Loving God, you are the giver of every good and perfect gift in our lives. You provide for our needs and from our abundance, we return to you these gifts. Bless them for your work, to build up your church and bring glory to your name.
God of love, you have made us, you have come to us in Christ, you have given us your spirit, all to show that you love us as we are, and invite us to find in you our life. We praise you that you have blessed us in this way, and pray that you would let your light shine in us so that others may see you in us, and give you glory.
You draw all the world together, to be one family. Teach us to be open to welcome and include everyone. Help us to reach out, to break down the barriers that divide the words peoples, races, classes and religions. Help us to seek a unity in our society and around the world where all are welcome, all are safe and secure, all have enough of the things they need, all have opportunities to be all that you call them to be.
You give us great gifts — of time, resources, talents and insights. Help us use these gifts to tend and care for all you love. Help us to minister to those who are alone, hungry, homeless, without hope, or in danger. Give us a generous spirit, a caring heart, and open arms to welcome in your name all who are in need. We pray for the sick and hospitalized, that you would bring your healing, and that they would know your peace. And we pray for the bereaved, that they would know the consolation of your presence, and the hope of resurrection that you give us.
We pray for those whom we have elected to govern us at every level, and set those policies which will shape our common life. Help them to represent their constituents and to lead us with wisdom and insight, dignity and mutual respect. Help us all in our communities, province, nation and beyond, to build bridges across our differences, that we may build together on those things that make us strong, and seek a life together which resembles the kingdom which you are building on the earth.
Great God of hope. You have saved and delivered us, lifted us up and given us life, and you alone are worthy of praise. Help us as your children to praise you with our lives, and to offer life and hope to everyone we meet, and to give you the glory, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Book of Praise – 422 “Sing a new song unto the Lord”
- Video with on-screen words with some differences from those in the hymnbook. Follow along on the screen.
- Words (a paraphrasing of Psalm 98) and music by American composer Daniel L. Schutte (1947–). Words and music copyright © 1972, 1974, 1979 Daniel L. Schutte. Administered by New Dawn Music.
- Recording made February 2021 by St George in the Pines and St Michael Anglican Church in Banff and Canmore, Alberta.
Commissioning and Benediction
Go now in peace,
to make your life a song of praise to God.
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.
- “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 2021-07-31 14:15 – First Version.