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.
Fourth Sunday of Epiphany
Scripture: Mark 1: 21-28
Music: Don’t Be Afraid, The Light of the World
Musicians: St. Paul’s Senior Choir and Soloist, Terri Croft (Spirit Among Us CD)
I want you to imagine you are back in church and you are intently listening to the sermon, well listening to the sermon anyway. So far, on a scale of 1-10, it’s about a 5 or 6. Then the back the door opens and this wild looking man walks in. He is heavy set, long beard, and a shaved head. Everyone is focused on him.
People are thinking, “Who let him in? What happened to the ushers and greeters? Did he follow the Covid protocols?”
Then he starts shouting, “What are you doing to us? Have you come to destroy us?”
Then people start thinking, “He must be mentally ill or something like that.” “How is Berube going to handle this?” “Who is going to deal with this guy?” “Could he hurt someone?”
Well I hate to disappoint you but it isn’t going to happen, at least not on this video. Even if a wild man burst in, unless I handled it really well, I would just delete it and start the sermon over. Trust me; I’ve started over on a number of occasions.
I should tell you in my 30 years; I’ve never had anything like this happen. A dog wandered into the middle of a service once. She left after about five minutes. I don’t think she found the sermon very interesting. There have been a couple of medical emergencies and there have always been great nurses and others in the congregation who stepped up to help out. A couple of times, a homeless friend, who did look like a wild man, Joe Bourque, wandered in and what I am proudest of is that people made him feel welcome. My stories are pretty tame in comparison to this one that Mark tells.
Mark sets the scene in the synagogue in Capernaum. It is a pretty little town in the north of Israel on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was at the start of Jesus’ ministry and he is in the synagogue on the Sabbath and a wild, demon possessed man bursts in and starts shouting. Jesus stops preaching, walks up to the man and says, “Silence! Come out of him!” The man convulses, the evil spirit cries out and leaves the man.
It was a dark time. The people of that day lived hand to mouth and they were always on the verge of starvation, always waiting for the next famine. The land was occupied by a brutal foreign power that helped the religious leaders feather their own pockets. So, they focused their sermons on obeying the law and not God’s love for them. People hungered for good news in their darkness. Then, that day, Jesus spoke and drove out the unclean spirit. Suddenly, there was a ray of light in the midst of their darkness.
This past year seemed dark to us. You can list the same things I can;
– the pandemic and everything that goes along with it,
– systemic racism and everything that goes along with it,
– threats to democracy and everything that goes along with it,
– and everything else and everything that goes along with everything else.
Quite frankly, I am tired of the darkness.
But it is hard to ignore it – at least for me.
As I was out walking Annie, my dog, we paused and I stood watching children, all in masks, playing in the school yard. In that moment, I decided to tear up the part of the sermon that listed, delineated and pontificated on the darkness. It struck me that instead of cursing the darkness that my faith, our faith calls us to two things; be not afraid and search for the light of God.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe it is important to face the darkness; for when we realize there is darkness we realize there is also light. As the young poet Amanda Gorham said at the inauguration,
“For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it,
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
For months, we have lived with the shroud of the pandemic hanging over us but there is light. At the start, I remember a conversation with a leading scientist who was predicting maybe three years before a vaccine, Then he said, he had never seen the level of co-operation that he was witnessing. Yes, vaccinations have slowed for a couple of weeks but it is miraculous how quickly the scientific community has developed something that will allow all of us to hug family and friends alike; to be able to sit at the bedside of a hospital patient and gently hold their hand and in so doing pray. There is light.
Then there is the story of Laurent Duvenay-Tardiff, a starting linebacker for the Super Bowl champion Kansas City and a Harvard Medical school graduate. After winning the Super Bowl, early in the pandemic, he knew he needed to respond. He hadn’t finished his residency so he couldn’t function as a doctor. Instead, he became an orderly in a care facility in Quebec. As time moved on he decided to give up his huge NFL salary and continue to care for those in need. There is light.
When we decided to ask for money instead of socks because we didn’t want people out shopping I was hoping for maybe a couple of hundred dollars. Instead we ended up with well over a $1,000. Your generosity is a light not just for me and for the people working on the street but more important for those most in need. Sometimes, there is little we can do alone but together we can bring light.
As I watched those children playing, I knew if I asked them why they were wearing masks they would answer, “To keep others safe.” Their light was even shining through their masks. Young and old alike, in caring for others, we bring light.
The story about Jesus in the synagogue was meant for the less fortunate in Jesus’ time. Mark was showing them light and that there was hope. That he had come to walk among those who were disadvantaged and discouraged and offer God’s light.
Still today, many of us need a sign of hope – a glimpse of light in the midst of our own fear and darkness; we can pause and turn to Jesus and ask for hope and strength – for light. Sometimes in just pausing and asking – a glimmer of light appears.
This past year has been a time of great pain in many ways hasn’t it? We’ve watched the news coverage in horror and have been challenged to our core. Many of us have faced our own darkness. I’ve wondered, we’ve wondered where God is in the midst of darkness?
The people of Mark’s day lived through their own darkness. And they saw that God was speaking, that God’s light was with them. The Son of God walked into their lives in a small town and spoke words of peace and hope.
“What is this?”, they asked. The reality was, God had come near, bringing a glimpse of light rooted in hope and the deep love of God.
This is our prayer. This is our need, to cast aside the darkness, to lay down our fears and know that God’s light shines for us and through us.
For we are not alone. We live in God’s world. Thanks be to God.
O God, our light, our beauty and our comfort, in Jesus, you bring us into your new creation, revealing the old ways and the new; you show us the power of our words and actions to transform lives, even including our own. You shape us into your people, giving us strength for the journey, setting our feet on a good path. God of every good gift, draw near now as we pray; calm our breath, and help us to trust in you.
God of Justice, with Jesus we share indignation toward systems of oppression, laws which benefit one group unfairly, practices which marginalize those who need you most. We feel and hear the frustration of those who are forced to live outside the circle of privilege.
We pray that you would remove the obstacles to self-giving and compassion. We pray for all those who have political and financial responsibility for the lives of others. We pray for our earthly systems of justice, that they may reflect your vision of peace and equality. Free us from the judgments that cloud our minds. Fill us with your love.
God of Healing and Wholeness, we pray for our friends and families and people of this community. We pray for those far from us, near to our thoughts, and for those who, though near to us, feel distant because of disagreement and conflict.
In this time of pandemic, remind us that better days are coming. Help us to remember that we need each other, that being apart may be required, but is not what you desire. Help us to reach out, in the ways we can, to foster those habits of the heart that make us who we are: your people, who live as your love made visible.
We pray for those who are ill in body and in spirit; for those in hospital and in care home; for those on the front lines of care and support; for those who have suffered and those who have stood with them. We pray for those who have died and gone before us… and for those who grieve…
God of Promise, hear us as we pray. Be with us as we seek your presence, at home and at work, in life and in loss. We ask it Jesus name, who taught us when we pray to say, Our Father… Amen.