You can join this week’s worship service by clicking here.
Thank you to the members of Up Ahead – Winter Allen, Pete Betts, Emma Etheridge, and Bryan Spencer – for sharing the gift of music with us this week.
There’s also a short video for children which you can watch by clicking here.
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and Steve’s pastoral prayers for this week. Our weekly e-newsletter will continue to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening at St. Paul’s. If you don’t currently receive that, and would like to, please contact us and we’ll happily add you to our mailing list.
In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13
Music: Creator God You Gave Us Life; Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying; Kaleidoscope
Musicians: Up Ahead
The past couple of weeks have brought some beautiful weather, but have also brought considerable heartbreak. Here in New Brunswick, the actions of one person have jeopardized the health and safety of hundreds, as well as our hope for being able to see family and friends this summer.
Further south, the cruel and violent actions of one police officer led to the death of George Floyd – an African-American who was guilty of nothing but being black –and, subsequently, to an outpouring of grief, anger and sadness in the form of protest. To add insult to injury, the 45th president is responding in his usual way, with bigotry, blindness and bluster that compounds suffering and deliberately torments a community once again wronged – and once again told that the lives of people of colour matter less than those of white people – thereby escalating the fractures at the heart of American society.
As you can imagine, it’s been a topic of conversation in our house. The sorts of things I have said about 45 are things I can’t repeat here. What I do want to share with you is the question that Margaret asked when we explained to her and Jonathan what we were talking about. She asked: what can we do to stop people from being killed?
I try my best not to turn stories of my children into sermon illustrations, but there are times when, as parents, we are asked questions that we realize, in the moment, what we say next will help shape how our children understand life, the world and their role in it. What happens when people die? What’s a pow-wow? Why did that man kill the police officers in Moncton? What’s a pandemic?
Most of the time, they’re questions of information: what, how, why? Our children depend on our experience to fill them in on the things they don’t yet know. But this question – what can I do – is different. Because it not only suggests agency – that we can do something to help others – it arises out of compassion, out of a sense of responsibility – that we should do something to help others.
In a way, Margaret’s question pointed the way through a difficult conversation. How can we explain hundreds of years of slavery, oppression and injustice? How do we explain the complex heritage of white privilege – not only in the United States, but in Canada, too – that lifts some people up and keeps others down? We did our best to give our children the information they needed, but her question was actually the best answer. What should we do?
I’ve long been fascinated by the Russian Orthodox church. It started with the music – deep, rich, majestic – but I’ve also always been drawn to its tradition of icons. Though composed of tempera paint on a piece of wood, I learned early on that in the Orthodox tradition an icon is not painted, but is written. This is because an icon is not a picture; rather, it’s a testament, an image depicting a scriptural event or the life of a saint; a window onto the divine.
One of my favourite icons is also one of the most well-known. It was written by Andrei Rublev in the 15th c. and tells the story of the three visitors, or messengers (angels, even), who came to visit Abraham and Sarah. The biblical story is well-known for two things: the visitors’ announcement that, at a very advanced age, Sarah was indeed going to bear the child God had promised; and, that Sarah found this announcement so surprising that she laughed.
The icon is famous, however, because of what Rublev called it. It’s sometimes called The Hospitality of Abraham, but Rublev named it The Trinity. The revelation of God, Holy One, as Holy Three: relationship, mutuality, love. Three persons with one message: God is love. The experience of that love prompted trust in God’s promise, even in the midst of radical upheaval.
I mention this for two reasons. First, this Sunday is Trinity Sunday, a day when we focus on how we understand the nature of God. Second, and more importantly, how we understand God is central to how we understand the ground and purpose of life itself.
Too often, the concept of the Trinity is reduced to the irrational assertion that three is actually one. What the Trinity actually reflects is the God attested to in Genesis, who says “Let us make [humans] in our image…”; the ministry of Christ, who points his followers to God, the source of life and love; and the work of the Spirit, God’s continual presence in the world and in life. In this way, we experience God as a single intention with many voices, perhaps more like a choir than cosmic being, each voice with its own timbre, yet all singing the same song of life and love. The Put simply, the Trinity reflects our experience of God in and as relationship.
Our answer to Margaret’s question was neither perfect nor final, but it was this: you cannot stop violence, racism, or bigotry on your own. But how you live, and most importantly how you love and live with others, will help change the world. With your life, and all the privileges you know, you can learn about the lives of others, their suffering and their joy; and you can advocate for others, and be a messenger of love. These are the foundation of true relationship, love which seeks the best for others. (Poor little girl. Only seven and learning the weight of the world!)
As a family, we thought of agencies we could support, who work to help those who suffer systemic injustice. We talked about how the United Church has apologized for its part in Residential Schools and continues to work toward healing relationship with Aboriginal peoples. Jonathan remembered our experience through St. Paul’s of attending the annual pow-wow at Elsipogtog and writing letters for Amnesty International on behalf of people wrongfully imprisoned.
And then Margaret decided to write a letter to the 45th president of the United States, asking that he stop black people from being killed. That letter will almost surely not make it to his desk. And even if it does, he will almost certainly dismiss it. But writing that letter is the beginning of her journey in the Way of the Living God – Holy One, Holy Three – the ground and purpose of all life, who calls us to love our neighbour as ourselves. Amen.
God our Creator, you created all members of humankind in your image, and blessed us with your love. Help us to show that love to one another as we work to build understanding, acceptance and justice for all people. Give us strength and courage to speak out against injustice, and to work for the transformation of unjust systems that keep some in bondage while others live in privilege.
On this day we call to mind those who have been lifted into the light and peace of your presence, we remember Wes Edwards and Madeline Carter and we pray for their families and friends. We pray for the hundreds of thousands who have been lost to the pandemic, the millions who have been infected and the hundreds of millions who have been affected. Loving one, holy one, be with all who are grieving and all who are suffering.
We pray too for all who are ill, in body and in spirit; for those who are isolated and feeling alone; for those in care and for all who are facing major changes, we pray for wisdom, courage, insight and hope. For those working to keep us safe while placing themselves at risk we pray for their safety. For those working from home, we pray for renewal; for those who face this time alone, we pray for connection with others. For graduating students who are unable to celebrate in the way they expected and who now face an uncertain future, grant them courage to move into the future.
Holy One, these are trying times. We cannot be together, yet we know we need each other, and we need to be connected to others and to you. Help us to reach out to one another even as we remain apart. Strengthen us in this time to be resilient and help us to hold onto hope. We pray for all our friends and family, our church family and the broader community, for all who are working for change – for peace with justice near and far, we pray.
God of Love, we are a community which is gathered, upheld and sent into the world by your Spirit. May your Spirit bless us with wisdom, compassion and inspiration, that you will be with us through all things. We pray in the name of Jesus who became the Christ, and who taught us when we pray to say, Our Father…