Worship for February 28, 2021

You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.

Below, you’ll find Steve’s reflection and Andy’s prayers for this week.

You can find this week’s Children’s Time video here.

Second Sunday of Lent
Scripture: Mark 8: 27-38
Jesus Saw them Fishing, I Will Serve the Lord All My Days
Musicians: St. Paul’s Choir, Director: Brenda Barnes and Violin: Terri Croft (Spirit Among Us CD)

At some point we are going to be back together and some of my old marketing Profs would tell me it is a good opportunity to launch a campaign to attract some new people.

So, I went to the source of all knowledge in search of some catchy slogans that we borrow and put on a banner between our parking lots that would help attract new people.

How about: St. Paul’s: Mesmerizing for your souls or Experience the difference at St. Paul’s.         

Seeing that we will always have an online presence and we start this campaign now: St. Paul’s: Best place to connect with God connectedly!

I can hear marketing people pitching those ideas.

I can tell you the one slogan they would never recommend: “If you want to follow me, deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.” Hard words.

It has been a long time since I graded exams and I suspect most of my Profs would consider a D to be generous for that slogan. It might be memorable but it is far from trading on feeling good and it lacks humour 

Hard words and Jesus doesn’t stop there, he is blunt and tells those who had gathered, “For what will it profit them to gain the world but forfeit their life?” Even harder words. 

Well, at least Jesus can’t be accused of false advertizing.

We live in a different time and place and we don’t get just how politically charged these words of Jesus are. There he is in Caesarea Philippi, Roman territory, complete with a temple built to the Roman God Pan. And he is putting forward choices, stark choices. He is talking about self denial and cross bearing. Rome was much bigger on orgies and self indulgence. Then there was the cross, everyone knew it was Rome’s favourite way of executing anyone who dared threaten the social order. In a way, Jesus was inventing identity politics, a clear choice between the way of Caesar or following him to Jerusalem and all that would entail.    

It wasn’t an easy choice then but the people who were listening understood. They understood because they were human and they had faced troubles in their own lives. They understood, as you do, that it is the hard choices, the difficult choices that end up telling us who we are and what we are made of. . . it is about the values that shape us and how we live and how we will be remembered. 

In the Journal of Foreign Policy back in March there was a story about the pandemic and the role of the ancient church. In the Antonian Plague around the year 170 AD, when most people saw someone who was sick, they ran for cover to save themselves. Except for a new group, the followers of Jesus, who went into the streets and cared for those who were sick and dying. I don’t know what their mortality rate was but I suspect it was high.

In an earlier sermon, I talked about Cyprian, in the face of a pandemic around the year 250 he told Christians not to grieve for those they lost but to redouble their efforts to care for the living.

This got to be a pattern, so much so that Emperor Julian (360 AD) complained how the group he called “the Galileans” would care for even non-Christians. This was an affront to his Roman values of self indulgency and self preservation. Here were these people who were ignoring what made sense to him – they had taken up their cross and loved their neighbor. 

Word started to spread about this religion and this behaviour of picking up your cross and caring for others. These followers of Jesus put themselves at risk to care for others.

Strangely, people wanted to join them. They could see the power of love and compassion that flowed from them, the love and compassion that came from picking up their cross and following in the way of THE cross.

So let’s skip ahead, to our pandemic, I’m not sure how many of you heard about the over 30% increase in enrolments in nursing programs for the coming year.

I have tremendous respect for nurses but nursing is not necessarily a program that I would expect under normal circumstances where enrolment would vary greatly year over year. The working conditions are not exactly great; shift work, it can be physically demanding, sometimes nurses are subject to violence and nurses are often the ones who have to clean patients up or give reluctant patients medications.  Over the past year, I haven’t visited in the hospital very much but there are two situations that are etched in my mind when I was called in and the patients were at their worst, near their end and I remember the nurses struggling with how best to help them because like I said, the patients were at their worst. It was not pretty but it was very human and the nurses were so caring, so filled with compassion; they had picked up their crosses and carried them to bedsides.

The increase in the interest in nursing is one of the strangest side effects of the pandemic. It seems that many young people have watched the havoc that Covid has reaped and realized that there is something noble in caring for people in need.

So the cross, is it a burden? Or is it a blessing?

It is certainly not the easy way or the way to wealth.

I know it is more about serving rather than winning,
giving rather than taking, loving rather than holding back.
It is about caring and compassion for those who are hurting,
It is about welcoming the children, giving up some of our abundance for those in greater need, sometimes it is also about having hard conversations rooted in love and concern.

So the cross, is it a burden or a blessing?

I believe it is the path that leads us toward experiencing the presence of God. I also believe it is a lifelong pursuit of trying to understand and become more like Jesus.

As we continue this Lenten journey, a journey that has gone on for months. I invite you to think about the times you have picked up the cross and followed and the meaning it has for you in this time. I invite you to remember those times when others have picked up the cross to be with you and others.

During this Lenten time, we are invited to continue to follow, to follow in the way of the cross through love and compassion.

Pastoral Prayer

Holy One, in Jesus you reveal your greatest hope for us: that we would grant each other dignity and compassion, which you create in us, without counting the cost. You encourage us to appreciate the life you have placed in every person. We know that this vision is not easy, that our natural instinct is to protect ourselves and to conserve a familiar way of life.

And so, we pray, God of Mercy, for your strength and wisdom. In times when your vision for us is too much for us to bear, reveal again your persistent love and encouragement to seek your presence in all things. In times when we can see what you desire for us, give us the patience to love as you would love, the care to help those around us, and the courage of your assurance that we do not bear your vision alone.

We pray for all those in authority, that they would lead by example. We pray for nations broken by violence, for peoples divided and opposed. Heal your people, Holy One, and help us to live as one.

On this second Sunday of Lent, we pray on our spiritual journey through reflection and hope. Where there is conflict, may there be peace. Where there is suffering, healing. Where there is grief, hope. As members of this family of faith, we pray for all those who are ill in body and in spirit; all those who worry this day, or who are afraid; all those who struggle with addiction and the lingering effects of trauma; all those who feel alone in their struggles; and, all those who grieve…

God of Healing and of Hope, breathe your Spirit into us again, that we might feel your presence. Help us to meet the eyes of those around us, that we might see your presence in them. Strengthen us, and help us to reach out in love for one another so that, even at a distance or in isolation, we might never feel alone.

We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, your living example of love, who taught us when we pray top say, Our Father… Amen.