August 15, 2021 – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
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Message from the Rev. Bob Smith
Welcome to the service of worship at Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church. We come as a community — it’s right there in our name — but it still doesn’t look or feel like one. We rejoice that just a week from now, we will be able to be together in our sanctuary, but for this last week we meet through the internet, giving thanks for the technology and the volunteers that make that possible. May we experience God’s presence even now.
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.
Let us open our hearts to the sunshine of God’s love,
Let us open our soul to the gentle wind of God’s Spirit
Let us open our ears to hear the good news of Jesus Christ,
a word that renews us again and again.
Glory be to God, Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit,
who loves, saves and renews us.
Let us worship God.
Book of Praise – 457 “Now thank we all our God”
- Video with on-screen words, with some differences from those in the hymnbook.
- Original German words (c. 1636) by German Lutheran clergyman Martin Rinkart (1586–1649); English words (19th century) by English hymnwriter Catherine Winkworth (1827–1878). Music (1647; tune: “Nun Danket”) by German composer Johann Crüger (1898–1662). Music, German words and English translation all in the public domain.
- This recording by Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California.
Prayers of Adoration and Confession, the Lord’s Prayer
God of power and love, in every age you give transforming, life-giving power — converting chaos to creation, old lives to new, doubt to faith, and death to life. In every age, you call your people to become new creations and to serve you with confidence and courage. We praise you for the possibilities of the great things that you can do in us, and for the hope we have in you. We give you glory, great God, who creates, redeems, and sustains, one God forever.
We come with thanks for all that fills us with joy and peace, but at the same time we seek your forgiveness for how often we take them for granted, and forget that they are gifts, that they come to us as the fruit of your love and not by the work of our hands. Forgive us, we pray. Help us to be aware of the many ways you touch us, heal us, fill us, encourage us, and send us on our way rejoicing. And teach us to live in the world with faithfulness as your children, following in your way, and open to where your spirit would lead us. We ask this in Jesus’ name, and we join our voices now to pray in the words that Jesus 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
Paul writes, if anyone is in Christ there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! Know that you are forgiven, and be at peace. Thanks be to God.
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Part 1 of the audio for the sermon is just below; part 2 is inserted further below inline with the text where it picks up from part 1.
You know about the question of whether the glass is half-empty or half-full. It’s about your viewpoint. It’s the same glass, the same water in it, but two very different ways of looking at it. Do you see the strengths of your situation, and not just its problems — the possibilities and potential for what lies ahead, and not just the huge obstacles that fill our field of vision? It’s all a matter of perspective, of attitude.
Caleb, today’s minor player from the Bible, is a person who leans toward looking at the possibilities, and leaving the details up to God. And God’s verdict on Caleb is that, as someone with a different spirit, he will be blessed.
The story takes place as the children of God approach the promised land. With wonderful signs, and great miracles, they have been released from slavery under Herod in Egypt. Under Moses’ leadership and God’s presence and protection, they have crossed the Red Sea, have been kept alive in the desert, and now have finally come to their destination.
This is a pivotal moment for the people of God. They are about to take hold of the promise that has kept them going for generations. God told their ancestor Abraham 500 years before that he would give his descendants a land — and here they are. For all those years, that promise has kept them going. Their whole history up till now has pointed to this moment. The promised land is just over there, across the Jordan River.
But they still have to take the land, and Moses has to plan the strategy, so he picks twelve spies, one from each of the tribes, to go in and get the lay of the land.
Is it as rich and fertile as they hoped? How well fortified is it? Are the restaurants any good? Nice playgrounds for the kids? You have to know what to expect when you go in to conquer a land. So the twelve spies go off and slip quietly into their future homeland, under the cover of darkness. And Caleb is one of them.
Waiting for their return is like waiting for Christmas, or your final marks. The days drag by. Finally, forty days later, a shout goes up from a guard, “The spies are back, the spies are back!” The wandering pilgrims crowd around, wanting to hear for themselves about their dream land. Moses demands their report, and all ears strain to catch it.
“Well, Moses, it’s like this. It’s a good news-bad news story. The good news is that the land is magnificent — better than any of us dreamed. There are crops and flocks. Food to eat by the truckload. The land is prosperous, the wine is good. There are even some restaurants with extensive but unpretentious menus, with a sort of exotic charm and reasonable prices.”
“Okay,” says Moses, “we get the picture, so what’s the bad news?”
“Well, it’s like this. The land is good. But the cities have strong, high walls. The soldiers are well armed and trained. The army is a tight, strong, fighting machine.
And the people? They’re huge — they will stomp all over us. They will crush us under their boots like a bunch of grasshoppers. We don’t stand a chance.”
The spies’ main spokesman looks around to his fellow-spies for support, and they’re all nodding their heads. “Yup, Moses, it’s just like he said. We wouldn’t have a prayer. There’s no way. They won’t give up without a fight, and we could never win.
Or at least ten of the twelve are nodding. But then Caleb, supported by Joshua, gets the floor. “Wait a minute, there’s a minority report here. Those other spies are right about how wonderful the land is. They’re even right about the strength of the cities and the size of the people. But they’re wrong in saying that we couldn’t take it. With God’s help we could overcome those people, and we should go over right now and do it.”
The discussion goes back and forth for a while, but the long and the short of it is that the people see only a half-empty glass, and get cold feet. They lament the day they ever left Egypt for this crazy idea of chasing after the dream of a promised land. And they lose their nerve.
It is so close, and they have waited so long. But they can’t do it. They look the promise right in the face, have their mouths watering at the thought of that wonderful land, and then they turn their back on it. The challenges are too big. “We would have been better off to have stayed back in Egypt, or even perish in the desert, than to die by the sword here. Let’s go back to Egypt — back to slavery.”
This is one of those times when it looks like God loses patience with the people. The word from heaven sounds a lot like us parents when we’ve had it up to here with our children.
“How long do I have to put up with your whining? After all I’ve done! What do I need to do to get it into your heads that I am here, that I am able to see you through your difficulties?
“I got you out of the grip of Pharaoh’s slavery in Egypt. When your feet were getting wet in the Red Sea, and Pharaoh’s army was coming up fast behind, I gave you dry land to walk on. When you were thirsty, there was water from a rock, when you were hungry, bread from heaven. But you still don’t get it. For you to want to go back to that slavery means you never really left it.”
“All you can see are the difficulties, the reasons not to believe. What about all the reasons I’ve given you to believe that I can help you do anything? You have come through so much with my help. But you still can’t believe.
“So you are not going to get the prize. Take a good look across at those beautiful green hills over here, because you will never see them again. None of you will set foot in the promised land. You will go from here, and waste another generation wandering around in the wilderness. Every adult here today will die in the dessert. Your children may see the promised land, but none of you deserve it.”
“Only Caleb is different,” God says (and Joshua too). “He has a different spirit. Of all of you, he is the only one who will cross the river when the time comes.”
There are always lots of reasons not to do something new, different, risky. There are lots of reasons to stick with the old, the familiar, the tried and true. In many ways the other spies are just being prudent, responsible. The trick is to discern the times when it is God that is calling us to take that risk, and to step out in faith.
Caleb has a different spirit and God commends and blesses him for it. Let’s look at what that spirit looks like.
It is a spirit of memory — it is based on what God has already done. Maybe you can look back on times when you have known God’s presence or direction, some time when you stepped out in faith and God honoured your courage. Maybe you could see it only after the fact, and then you realize that things just worked out better than you could ever have expected, and you recognize that as grace. We can use the memory of what God has done for us in the past to give us courage for greater ventures and accomplishments in the future.
It is a spirit of courage. Caleb knows that nothing great is accomplished without risk, without stepping out in faith. No great success is realized without some setback, some discouragement along the way. In a group, no significant accomplishment is achieved without debate and some opposition. And it takes courage to stand up to that, to believe, in spite of the challenges, that God will complete the good work begun in us. Caleb looks at exactly the same thing as the others, and has the courage to see the challenge in terms of God’s resources, and not their own.
It is a spirit of faith, not in themselves, but in what God could do in them. That’s what makes this story different from the motivational self-help language of succeeding by focussing on the possibilities. This is God’s work. Caleb knows that without God’s help, they probably will be crushed. What his fellow spies forget is that God is with them, and has already promised them this prize. Years later, Paul would write, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4: 13)
It is a spirit that is prepared to stand alone. That can’t have been easy for Caleb, and it’s never easy for us when we think we’re the only one in our corner. It’s not easy for any of us to be the only one to take a different road when the whole crowd is tempted away by other desires. It’s not easy at work to abide by principles that everyone around you thinks are old-fashioned. It’s not easy to be the only one with the dream of what God is calling you, your family, your community, or your church to do, and to have to try to share your enthusiasm.
It is a spirit of realism, not a spirit of blind optimism, that thinks we can and should do anything. Don’t forget, Caleb saw all the giants that the others did. His spirit is realistic, but also grounded in a belief in what God can do in them, in spite of the odds. And again, it is based on what God has done in the past, God’s intervention in bringing the people all this way, to the doorstep of the promised land.
So, what are the big unknowns that lie before you? Maybe it’s a career choice, in a crazy job market. Maybe it’s the most hopeful but responsible way to ease out of our Covid restrictions for families, work places, school, and the church. Maybe it’s a decision about relationship that is weighing on you. Maybe it’s the year ahead at school, or heading for the first time to high school or university, after a year of learning filtered through a computer screen. Maybe it’s the page we will soon turn as a congregation into a new chapter in our journey together under the leadership of a new minister. What spirit will we have, as make with the choices that lie ahead for us?
Maybe we can bring to that future and its uncertainty Caleb’s spirit of faithful confidence. God calls the people to have that kind of spirit, to receive the blessings, and enjoy watching what can happen when we give ourselves over to the plans God has for us.
When you say you can’t, you won’t. It’s true in life, in love, true in our careers, in the church, true in our lives of faith. Maybe it is a gift of the grace of God, to see the glass as half-full to say “Yes” to the possibilities of what God can do in us.
May the spirit of Caleb be found in us. so that God will be able to accomplish great things in us, to build up the work of God in the world.
- “This Little Light of Mine”. Music is a gospel tune of unknown origin. Music in the public domain. This arrangement copyright © 2021 Rachelle Risling; used by permission.
- 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
We praise you, God of all creation, that out of your goodness we have these gifts to share. We bring them now, gifts to honour you, and for the work of your church in the world. Accept and use these offerings for your glory, and for the service of your kingdom.
God of abundant gifts, we thank you for your bounty poured out, for guidance given, for opportunities placed before us, for the gifts of the members of this community of faith, for the blessings of love, community and support that you bring to us just at our times of need and despair, and above all, the good news of your love which has found us and brings us life.
Loving God, we remember in prayer those who are in need of strength and encouragement for the things that they face. We pray for those who are poor and needy, who do without the things that we take so much for granted, food, clothing, housing, education, medical care. Supply their needs, we pray, and where there are individuals, agencies, and governments who are in a position to help, or to change their circumstances, give them a spirit of compassion and build up their efforts so that all your people can live with peace and justice.
Those for whom life holds little hope or promise — those who have been disappointed, rejected, let down by others, always seeming to lose out on what life has to offer. Stand close to them, remind them of the identity they have as your children, and help them to know that to you they have infinite worth.
We pray for the nations of the world in their affairs, peace between the nations, peace among the nations, and for those who govern us, our prime minister, premier, mayor, and all our elected officials who administer the affairs of all levels of government. Fill them with a spirit of compassion and service, of wisdom and discernment as they make the decisions that will affect the lives of so many, and may their work result in our communities and province and country being places where all your people can live in peace with justice.
Great God, pour out on us your gifts, to fill us up and give us life. Give us the courage to live abundantly and enthusiastically in your name, and use us to be your ambassadors in the world. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Book of Praise – 641 “One more step along the world I go”
- Video with on-screen words, with a few, minor differences from those in the hymnbook.
- Words and music (1971; tune “Southcote”) by English poet and songwriter Sydney Carter (1915–2004); both copyright © 1971 by Stainer & Bell Ltd.
- This video created by the Chet Valley Churches, in south Norfolk, England.
Commissioning and Benediction
Go now in peace to love and serve God,
with courage and in hope.
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 2021-08-14 15:20 – First Version.