Worship Service for March 12, 2023

March 12, 2023 – Third Sunday in Lent

A livestream of this service was not made, thus a video recording of the live stream is also not available. Previous livestreams and other worship and music video content is available on our YouTube channel, and audio content can be found at our SoundCloud site. Music copyright details are provided for information only since the service was not streamed or recorded.

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Call to Worship

L: Just as the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness
P: the Spirit sends us into places of uncertainty where we confront our weakness and insecurities.

L: Here we are taught to pay attention to those whom others discard.
P: Jesus insists that God is revealed in unlikely people.

L: Jesus offered living water to the Samaritan woman at the well who was the wrong religion, the wrong gender, and had the wrong marital status.
P: We, too, are a gathering of nobodies, yet Jesus claims us as somebodies who all have a place.

L: In Christ, there is neither insider nor outsider, invited nor shunned, accepted nor rejected.
P: We, too, are called to see beyond outdated categories and to offer living water to the thirsty.

L: It is those who have been rejected who most need to know acceptance.
P: Let our gatherings be a place for those who have been told they don’t belong.

Lighting of the Christ Candle

This is the Christ Candle. We light the candle to help us remember that Jesus Christ, the light of the world, is with us in every place and every time.

Opening Hymn

“Come let us sing to the Lord our song” (Book of Praise 1997 Hymn 412). Words (1976) by American musician and composer Jim Strathdee (1941–). Music (1976; tune “Forney”) composed by Jim and arranged by his wife Jean Strathdee. Words, music and arrangement copyright © 1977 Desert Flower Music. Copyright information provided for information purposes only as music was not streamed or recorded.

Prayers of Approach and Confession, & Lord’s Prayer (sins)

Creator, Christ and Spirit, you provide what we need to live, from the bounty of creation.  God of mercy, you know us through and through and you love us.  God of hope, you have an everlasting purpose for us.  God of wisdom, you open our minds and teach and guide us.  So we come to worship you, Source of Wisdom, Son of Mercy, Spirit of Hope, offering you our prayers and our praise, trusting you to offer us the gifts we need to thrive and to serve you in the world you love.

Gracious God, we confess before you our lack of faith.  We acknowledge that when the going gets rough, we begin to assert ourselves and our needs, and we pull back from the community in which you place us.  We complain, we criticise, we blame, we demand that you fix things for us.  In your mercy, forgive us, we pray.  Help us to see where you are at work and how you are with us, even in the desert times.  Help us to maintain our unity of purpose and commitment even when the way is hard. It is in Jesus’ name that we ask this, and we join together now to offer 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.

Declaration of Pardon

The Peace

One: The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
All: And also with you.

Guildwood Senior Choir Presents

“Come Home”. Words and music (1880) originally written as “Softly and Tenderly” by American composer Will Lamartine Thompson (1847–1909). This arrangement (1996) by American composer Craig Courtney (1948–). The dedication of the piece reads: “Commissioned by Dr. Frederic G. Sanford, II, for The Harrisburg Singers and the American Composers’ Choral Festival and in loving memory of Jane Louise Albright Solomon.” Words and music public domain. This arrangement copyright © 1996 Beckenhorst Press, Inc. Copyright information provided for information purposes only as music was not streamed or recorded.

Fun with the young at heart (children’s story)

(Practicing faith)

The Life and Work of the Church (Announcements)


“You thirsty ones” (Book of Praise 1997 Hymn 190). Words (1996), a paraphrase of Isaiah 55:1–11, by Canadian composer, church musician, and co-editor of the 1997 Book of Praise Andrew Donaldson (1951–). Music (1812; tune: “Belmont”) by English composer William Gardiner (1770–1853). Words copyright © 1996 Andrew Donaldson. Music public domain. Copyright information provided for information purposes only as music was not streamed or recorded.

Scripture Reading

Exodus 17: 1–7   <– this links to on-line text of the NRSV bible

Click here for additional scripture readings from today’s lectionary. Links courtesy of the Revised Common Lectionary, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

The text from Exodus is the story of God giving water from a rock to the Israelites in the desert.

The scripture reading is followed by:

One: The Word of God.
People: Thanks be to God.


It’s funny how something as basic as water — or, more to the point, the lack of it — can transform a person, or even a whole nation, in this case, the children of Israel. Only a few weeks ago they fled Egypt, the land of their slavery and oppression. They rejoiced when Moses arose from nowhere to be their leader.  They were as amazed as anyone at the miraculous signs that he performed and their deliverance on the day of Passover. They eagerly flocked behind him when he finally led them out of Egypt away from the forced labour and miserable conditions. They hesitate didn’t at all in following him when he parted the waters of the sea and led them to safety. And they fell in right behind him when they headed into the desert of Sinai because they were going to the promised land. They were euphoric.  Nothing could stop them now.  God spoke to Moses, and Moses poked old Pharaoh right in the eye, and then they were free. They weren’t sure whether God or Moses was the bigger hero, but they were on a roll.  They were headed to a new life, full of promise and hope.  They were the chosen people.

And today, just a few weeks later, they are complaining.  No, that’s an understatement –they’re furious, they’re hostile, they want Moses’ head.  How things can change! For the third time since they left Egypt, they rise up against their leader and demand some answers.  “Why did you bring us out to this Godforsaken place to die, Moses?  Egypt wasn’t great, but at least we had water to drink there.  Is God among us or not, Moses?  If God is here, let God prove it – give us a drink.” Even if Moses can divert their rage, and say that their quarrel is with God and not him, he knows that it will be easier for them to stone him than the Almighty, and that he’d better be ready to duck fast.  He prays, almost as much to save himself, as to give the people water. And God replies, “Go on ahead of the people, take some of the elders with you for back-up, take your staff, the one you used to perform those spectacular signs back in Egypt – take it as a reminder of my presence in the past and my power to do something for you now.  Hit that big rock over there with it, and there will be water.  And don’t forget, I will be with you.”

You know, it’s hard, when you’re reading a story, especially when you’ve heard it before, to notice what is not there.  I’ve read this story many times – written several sermons on it, and it wasn’t until I was preparing this week for this sermon, that I notice something – something important – that isn’t there. The teller of this story in Exodus 17 doesn’t tell us the end of the story.  We don’t find out whether God, in fact, sent water, nor whether the people actually drank.  It’s not there – there is God’s direction to Moses, then it shifts right to their next challenge, a fight with the Amaleks. Now, from a couple of other Biblical references, (Num. 20, Ps. 95), we do find out that water did flow abundantly from the rock and that the people drank their fill.  But not here in Exodus. Now if I were writing this story, it seems to me that I would consider those things to be critical, and I would make a big deal of them.  If I were writing the story, I would write, “Moses did what God told him to do.  And, lo and behold, God was true to God’s word, and the water came gushing from the rock.  The people shouted for joy and drank their fill.  They drink until they are bloated.  The kids have water fights and splash each other. And they give glory to God, who supplies their needs.”

Did you notice what Exodus does say?  It says, “So Moses named that place in the desert.  And he does not call it ‘the place where God gave us water from the rock.’ He names it, ‘the place where the people complained, the place where they tried to push around God.’” That is what stands out for this writer.  The rock stands not as a reminder of God’s grace or provision, but of their faithlessness, their arrogance.

In the end, the story is not about thirst, as much as it is about complaining.  It is not about the lack of water, as much as it is about their conclusion that when things are hard, it means God has left them. It is not about their demand that Moses give them a drink, as much as it is about their assumption that whatever they want, God, if there is such a being, should just give it to them, and if they don’t get their way, well, God just isn’t God, I guess. They think they can put God to a test.  They feel that God is at their beck and call, and should jump through any hoop they set up.  The people are thirsty, and ask, “Is God among us or not?”  As if to say, “if God is real and is with us, we wouldn’t be thirsty.”

A woman we knew is in the prime of life, with everything going for her and the promise that it will only get better.  And it seems overnight, she gets an unexpected diagnosis, and everything changes. There are tests.  There are second opinions.  But nothing changes the fact that she has just months to live.  It is a blow to her, to her husband, to her teen-aged children, to her friends and colleagues.  A lot of us might respond to that awful news by crying out, “Why me, God?  What did I do to deserve this? Why have you left me to suffer like this? If you are there are all, God, take away my suffering.” Instead, (and this is a true story) this woman thanks God for the love she has known.  She rejoices at what wonderful experiences God has granted her, and what wonderful family and friends God has given her. She prays that even in her illness she will somehow be a blessing to others.  And she is the picture of grace and hope through the entire ordeal. A friend asks her, “Don’t you ever get mad?  Don’t you ever feel like just yelling at God, and screaming that it’s all so unfair?”  And she replies, “How could I turn against God now after all the times God has been there for me?” Oh, she prays for healing, but somehow knows that will not be, at least, not physically. So even in the desert of her suffering she also prays for a grateful heart for all God’s blessings, for a peaceful end to her days, and grace for her family and friends.  And those latter prayers are what God grants her.

Is God among us or not?  Of course, God is among us, although maybe not always in the way we might like.  God isn’t there to take away our suffering or pain but to be with us in it, to fill that moment with God’s presence. The desert is not Godforsaken, nor is any other place of human struggle or need.  It, like every other place, is God-present, God-filled, God-blessed, a place where God can be discovered and known.  By all means pray to God to relieve you of your suffering, but do that in humility, realizing that God may answer that prayer in many different ways.

There are worse things than dying of thirst in the desert.  That’s awful enough, but what’s worse is dying without having had a sense of the presence of God in your life. What’s worse is not knowing God, not having appreciated the wonder of God’s creative hand, not having seen God moving in you, not having recognized how God’s hand of grace has touched you countless times through the years, not having seen how God can be with us, even in times of hardship and suffering. What’s worse is, every time something goes wrong, assuming it’s because God has abandoned us, or that God took off for a while and left us dangling alone. The author of Hebrews tells us (Heb. 13) that God will never leave or forsake us. That is a promise we can trust, in a time of desert thirst, or when illness strikes, or when everything is going wrong, or whenever we start to despair and complain to God that it isn’t fair.  What did I do to deserve this?  Why has God rejected me? Why is God punishing me this way? I don’t think that’s the way God works.  There is no time, no place that is without God,      or completely without hope.  And there is nowhere we can go that is beyond the embrace of the love of God.

Psalm 95 refers to the incident in the desert in Exodus as that place referred to on early maps as “the place where the people complained, the place where they tried to push around God.”  It says there in the psalm that because the people test God and harden their hearts, that God “loathes them”, and lets them wander for forty years more in the wilderness, before the next generation will enter the promised land. “Loathed” is a pretty strong word.  I think the psalmist maybe goes a little over the top here. I don’t think God loathes them but loves them in spite of themselves. I think God maybe weeps for them, and is saddened by how presumptuous they are, how quickly they forget who brought them this far already.  Maybe the reason they spent so long wandering is not God’s unwillingness to bless them, but their failure to recognize the attitude God has for them, an attitude of presence and care, of blessing and hope, whatever the odds against them.  I think God maybe let them wander for forty years not to punish them but to give them time to discover God’s presence, time to learn to lean on God.

The curious thing about the story in Exodus is that in the end, God gives the people exactly what they ask for – a drink of water.  It’s too bad they don’t ask for what they really need — a change in their hearts.  Because what they do not get is the deeper message, the more crucial message, that God is indeed among them, no matter what.  Even in the desert.  Even when things are going badly, in fact, wherever they wander God is always with them. Is God among us or not?  Of course, God is among us.  No place, not even the place where we feel the most alone or lost – no place is truly Godforsaken.  God is as present there as anywhere, to hold us in love, to bring us courage, to give us hope. Amen.

Musical Reflection

“Great is thy faithfulness” Music (1923) by American composer William M. Runyan (1870–1957). This arrangement (2018) by American composer Mark Hayes (1953–). Music in the public domain. Arrangement copyright © 2018 Hope Publishing Co. Copyright information provided for information purposes only as music was not streamed or recorded.


We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of being present at 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.

Dedication of our Gifts

Doxology 306

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow” (Book of Praise 1997, Hymn 306) Based on the tune “Old 100th” with words (1989) by English hymnwriter Brian A. Wren (1936–). Words copyright © 1989 Hope Publishing Co. Music public domain. Copyright information provided for information purposes only as music was not streamed or recorded.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
praise God all creatures high and low;
praise God in Jesus fully known,
Creator Word and Spirit One.

Prayer of dedication

God whose goodness lies at the heart of every gift we give, receive these offerings, and bless those who have given them.  Through these gifts may the broken hearted be lifted up, may hope be shared, may good news be declared, and may your name be glorified, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Prayers of the People

God of grace, we praise and thank you for all the goodness you have shown to us, and of the sense of your presence in our lives which gives us hope and direction.  Thank you for the life you give us, and for inviting us to have a share in your work in the world.

We bring our prayers for the world and its people; for those without the basics of water, food, shelter, medical care, and education.  We are reminded that such people are not only in far off places, but in our own city or even in our neighbourhoods.  Teach us to care, to share, and to be on the side of those who work to change and prevent these tragic circumstances.

We pray for those who rule and govern us, in our city, our province, our country, and on the global scene, that you would guide them as they make the difficult decisions that will affect our lives and define the shape of our societies.  Give them humility and openness, an ability to seek that solution which is truly for the best in our societies, and which will bring about communities that are more and more like your kingdom, living in peace and security.

We remember the sick, that you would give them a sense of your presence so that their illness will not bring discouragement or despair.  Bring your healing where that is to be, and where it is not, surround them with that peace that only you can give.

O God, the source of all life, to humankind thirsty for hope and meaning, you offer the living water of your grace, which springs up from the rock which is the Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Give to us the gift of your Spirit, we pray, so that we may learn to profess our faith with courage and announce with joy the wonder of your presence and love.  We ask this through Jesus Christ, our saviour and our friend, who lives and reign with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever.  Amen.

Closing Hymn

“Guide me, O thou great Redeemer” (Book of Praise 1997 Hymn 651). Original Welsh text (1745) by Welsh hymn-writer William Williams (1717–1791), English translation (1771) by William Williams and by Welsh Methodist Peter Williams (unrelated to William; 1723–1796). Music (1907; tune “Cwm Rhondda”) by Welsh composer John Hughes (1873–1932). Welsh and English words as well as music public domain. Copyright information provided for information purposes only as music was not streamed or recorded.

Changing the Light

Now, it is time to change the light. The light that was in one place can now be in every place and every time going with you wherever you go.

Commissioning and Benediction

Go in peace, to watch for the hand of God in all your journeys.

And the grace the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you now and forever.  Amen.

Choral Amen

“The Lord bless you and keep you”. Words from the Aaronic Blessing. Music by English composer John Rutter (1945–). Words public domain. Music copyright © 1981, 2015 Oxford University Press; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A. Copyright information provided for information purposes only as music was not streamed or recorded.


Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”. Music (tune: “Lobe den Herren”), likely a folk melody, various versions published between 1665 and 1680. No copyright information provided as music was not streamed or recorded. 

Copyright © 2023 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church

Last updated 2023-03-12 22:45 – Added Musical Reflection and Postlude info.